Friday, October 30, 2015

Third GOP Debate

I watched the third GOP debate. Meh.

Let’s have some fun taking down Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is wrong about inflation. It’s easy to rip apart Ted Cruz’s tax plan as unsound. And his best moment of the Republican debate was also completely wrong:

Cruz’s attack on the moderators was smart politics — but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

The Republican primary has thus far been a festival of outlandish policy. The candidates seem to be competing to craft the tax plan that gives the largest tax cut to the rich while blowing the biggest hole in the deficit (a competition that, as of tonight, Ted Cruz appears to be winning). And the problem is when you ask about those plans, simply stating the facts of the policies sounds like you’re leveling a devastating attack.

The article (and others) then goes through specifics. I think Kasich sounds the most reasonable, but no Republican is listening to him. It looks like everyone is saying it’s going to be Marco Rubio vs. Ted Cruz.

Catherine Rampell argues, The Republicans are right. We in the media do suck. “We in the media suck because we have rewarded their rampant dishonesty and buffoonery with nonstop news coverage. Which, of course, has encouraged more dishonesty and buffoonery.”

“In the end, the biggest applause lines were all media insults. They came from Rubio, Ted Cruz and Christie. Guess whom CNBC then crowned the winners of the debate? Rubio, Cruz and Christie.”

Nate Silver argues both sides in Maybe Republicans Really Are In Disarray refering to both the whole party and the state of nomination process.

Enceladus, Saturn's Amazing Snowball Moon - The Atlantic

In Focus shows us Enceladus, Saturn’s Amazing Snowball Moon “Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus (504 kilometers or 313 miles across), is the subject of much scrutiny, in large part due to its spectacular active geysers and the likelihood of a subsurface ocean of liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter has studied Enceladus, along with the rest of the Saturnian system, since entering orbit in 2004. Studying the composition of the ocean within is made easier by the constant eruptions of plumes from the surface, and on October 28, Cassini will be making its deepest-ever dive through the ocean spray from Enceladus—passing within a mere 30 miles of the icy surface. Collected here are some of the most powerful and revealing images of Enceladus made by Cassini over the past decade, with more to follow from this final close flyby as they arrive.”

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I didn’t realize that Cassini flew through the plums. The NY Times reported, Cassini Seeks Insights to Life in Plumes of Enceladus, Saturn’s Icy Moon.

Discovering life was not on the agenda when Cassini was designed and launched two decades ago. Its instruments can’t capture microbes or detect life, but in a couple of dozen passes through the plumes of Enceladus, it has detected various molecules associated with life: water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, molecular nitrogen, propane, acetylene, formaldehyde and traces of ammonia.

Wednesday’s dive was the deepest Cassini will make through the plumes, only 30 miles above the icy surface. Scientists are especially interested in measuring the amount of hydrogen gas in the plume, which would tell them how much energy and heat are being generated by chemical reactions in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the moon’s ocean.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The One Thing That Makes SUPERGIRL Better Than MAN OF STEEL

Devin Faraci describes in Birth. Movies. Death., The One Thing That Makes SUPERGIRL Better Than MAN OF STEEL “There’s one thing that Supergirl gets right that Man of Steel completely whiffed, and while it’s a small thing it is, in a very real sense, the only thing that matters. In Supergirl Kara Zor-El wants to be a hero.”

And I agreed, but thinking about it a little more clarified something else for me. First off I didn’t like Man of Steel. Parts were ok but it definitely got Superman wrong and it didn’t need to be dark. The line that clinched it for me was Pa Kent telling Clark that perhaps he should have let a school bus crash (was it over a bridge) and let all of his friends die. Sorry that’s not Superman or Pa Kent.

Usually I hear that the difference between Superman and Batman is that Superman is a “boy scout” and that this is a trait that makes the character boring. I have to agree that there aren’t a lot of great Superman stories, particularly compared to Batman, but it doesn’t have to make the character boring. The 1978 film certainly wasn’t.

But what this article got me to realize is that Superman the character wants to save people. That may be a definition of hero, but it’s a different one from Batman. Batman (certainly recent incarnations of him) wants to stop criminals. Phrased as “saving people” it really describes what’s wrong with Superman in Man of Steel, because he doesn’t do that. He’s dragged into the hero role because of Zod and destroys a city and kills his adversary. None of this was about saving people (or even wanting to stop criminals, rather he was drafted into it).

The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules, Pt. 3

I’ll be out tonight seeing The Assassin as part of IFFBoston Fall Focus at the Brattle, so I’m recording the debate and we’ll see if I can stomach watching them. Matt Taibbi has published The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules, Pt. 3.

Sen. Marco Rubio Should Resign While Running for President

The Sun Sentinel of south Florida wrote an editorial on the age old problem of presidential candidates neglecting their current offices, Sen. Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off. I thought this made a good point in Rubio’s case:

True, it’s not easy to raise money and run a presidential campaign while doing your day job. But two other candidates — Sens. Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders — have missed only 10 Senate votes during their campaigns for the White House. You, on the other hand, have missed 59, according to a tally by Politico. This includes votes on the Keystone pipeline, the Export-Import Bank and trade, to name just a few.

It is unpersuasive — and incredible, really — that you say your vote doesn’t matter. ‘Voting is not the most important part of the job,’ you told CNN.

And it is unconscionable that when it comes to intelligence matters, including briefings on the Iran nuclear deal, you said, ‘we have a staffer that’s assigned to intelligence who gets constant briefings.’

And you want us to take you seriously as a presidential candidate?

Two weeks ago, you took to the Senate floor to excoriate federal workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to do their jobs. You said, ‘there is really no other job in the country where if you don’t do your job, you don’t get fired.’

With the exception of your job, right?"

Teal Pumpkin Project

A friend mentioned this to me, I hadn’t heard of it. The Teal Pumpkin Project “Launched as a national campaign by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project raises awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season.”

They seem to be pushing the allergy angle but a friend mentioned it in terms of diabetic kids that can’t eat candy. You can paint a pumpkin teal or just print out a sign but they also have a map you can register on so others in the neighborhood can find your house. They have ideas for non-food treats you can give out. Nice idea.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Solar System Model To Scale

Every Solar System Image You’ve Ever Seen is Wrong. Till Now. “Two wonderful filmmakers, Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, figured out what’s wrong with every image of the solar system we’ve ever seen. In every one, they say, space gets cheated. Planets get exaggerated. And in their short film To Scale: The Solar System, they fix that. What they do is build our solar system with the heavenly bodies true to scale, which means the sun, Mercury, Venus, and, all the way out, Neptune (sorry, Pluto) are crazily small. Space, meantime, gets back its vastness. As you see here, their Earth is a little marble.”

100 years of tax brackets, in one chart - Vox

Vox has a clever chart, 100 years of tax brackets, in one chart. I would not have thought of the format. It’s interactive on the site and clearly shows the number of brackets and where they kick in, though not so much rates.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Font Lets Anyone Learn Japanese

This is very clever. Amazing it hadn’t been thought of before.

New font lets anyone learn Japanese “A U.K. company named Johnson Banks has come with an ingenious way to include English pronunciation in Japanese katakana characters. The company has dubbed this new font cleverly as ‘Phonetikana,’ where each katakana character featured a few English letters to help English speakers say the word properly.”


Note that Kanji is stolen from the Chinese and a glyph is basically a word. But Katakana is also commonly used in Japan and is an alphabet. Hiragana is another alphabet they use typically for foreign (non-Japanese) words. We English speakers have it easy with just one alphabet. I found once I saw Katakana I could better pronounce Japanese transliteration because I realized they have the five vowels and then all the other letters are a combination of a consonant and a vowel (e.g., ka, ki, ku, ke, ko). So when you have a word like Katakana it become obvious that it’s pronounced: ka-ta-ka-na or sumimasen is su-mi-ma-sen.

Exxon's Climate Lie

The Guardian reports Exxon’s climate lie: ‘No corporation has ever done anything this big or bad’ “In the last three weeks, two separate teams of journalists — the Pulitzer-prize winning reporters at the website Inside Climate News and another crew composed of Los Angeles Times veterans and up-and-comers at the Columbia Journalism School — have begun publishing the results of a pair of independent investigations into ExxonMobil. Though they draw on completely different archives, leaked documents, and interviews with ex-employees, they reach the same damning conclusion: Exxon knew all that there was to know about climate change decades ago, and instead of alerting the rest of us denied the science and obstructed the politics of global warming.”

Instead, knowingly, they helped organise the most consequential lie in human history, and kept that lie going past the point where we can protect the poles, prevent the acidification of the oceans, or slow sea level rise enough to save the most vulnerable regions and cultures. Businesses misbehave all the time, but VW is the flea to Exxon’s elephant. No corporation has ever done anything this big and this bad.

ThinkProgress reports, Exxon’s Climate Cover-Up Should Be Investigated By DOJ. “Sharon Eubanks [A former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who prosecuted and won the massive racketeering case against Big Tobacco], who now works for the firm Bordas & Bordas, told ThinkProgress that ExxonMobil and other members of the fossil fuel industry could be held liable for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) if it’s discovered that the companies worked together to suppress knowledge about the reality of human-caused climate change. She said that, considering recent revelations regarding ExxonMobil, the DOJ should consider launching an investigation into big fossil fuel companies.”

Meanwhile some economists looked at Climate Change and Economic Production by Country

Economic Impact of Climate Change on the World

When you look at it this way, ExxonMobil’s lie could be the most consequential one in history.

Update: At least, Poll Finds Fewer Americans Than Ever Doubt Climate Change Is Happening.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Teen Who Hacked CIA Director's Email Tells How He Did It

Wired writes Teen Who Hacked CIA Director's Email Tells How He Did It. As are many hacks now, it's less an issue of breaking of code and more social hacking of the companies offering you services.

He says they first did a reverse lookup of Brennan’s mobile phone number to discover that he was a Verizon customer. Then one of them posed as a Verizon technician and called the company asking for details about Brennan’s account.

‘[W]e told them we work for Verizon and we have a customer on scheduled callback,’ he told WIRED. The caller told Verizon that he was unable to access Verizon’s customer database on his own because ‘our tools were down.’

After providing the Verizon employee with a fabricated employee Vcode—a unique code the he says Verizon assigns employees—they got the information they were seeking. This included Brennan’s account number, his four-digit PIN, the backup mobile number on the account, Brennan’s AOL email address and the last four digits on his bank card.

‘[A]fter getting that info, we called AOL and said we were locked out of our AOL account,’ he said. ‘They asked security questions like the last 4 on [the bank] card and we got that from Verizon so we told them that and they reset the password.’ AOL also asked for the name and phone number associated with the account, all of which the hackers had obtained from Verizon.

On October 12, they gained access to Brennan’s email account, where they read several dozen emails, some of them that Brennan had forwarded from his government work address and that contained attachments. The hacker provided WIRED with both Brenann’s AOL address and the White House work address used to forward email to that account."

2 economists imagined a financial crisis without stimulus or bailouts. It’s … ugly.

Vox wrote 2 economists imagined a financial crisis without stimulus or bailouts. It’s … ugly.

"So Blinder and Zandi used the Moody's model to simulate how the economy would've looked if no special measures had been taken in the wake of the financial crisis and recession. They assume that the government's 'automatic stabilizers' — programs like food stamps and progressive taxes that help people more when the economy's suffering — took effect, and that the Federal Reserve took interest rates down to zero. They then compared the economy in that counterfactual to the actual history.

  • The recession would have lasted twice as long.
  • The economy would have shrunk by nearly 14 percent, not 4 percent.
  • Unemployment would have peaked at nearly 16 percent, not 10 percent.
  • More than 17 million jobs would have been lost, around twice the actual number.
  • In 2015, there would still be 3.6 million fewer jobs and 7.6 percent unemployment.

They did better than that, though. They also modeled the contribution of each individual policy:

  • The 2009 stimulus package cut unemployment by 1.4 points and increased GDP by 3.3 percent in 2010.
  • The Fed's quantitative easing added 1.1 percent to GDP and cut unemployment by 0.6 points in 2012.
  • The bank bailouts — specifically the TARP program and the Fed's 'stress tests' — cut unemployment in 2011 by 2.2 points and increased GDP by 4.2 percent.
  • The auto bailout cut unemployment by 0.4 points and increased GDP by 1 percent in 2010."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble.

Matthew Yglesias writes in Vox Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble. It's mostly about how badly Dems are doing in state offices and how that has a ripple effect into Congress.

Ed Kilgore refutes some of it, Are Democrats Complacent Going Into 2016?

I have no idea how Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair. I know Howard Dean promoted a 50 state solution.

Fall Is in the Air

In Focus, with some more amazing photos:

Fall Is in the Air, Part II "One last overview of autumn, my favorite season. Across the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures are dropping, harvests are in motion, festivals are being held to celebrate the change of season, animals are returning to their winter grounds, and of course, viewers are enjoying the explosion of colors among the leaves. Collected here are some more images (including a few of my own I’ve snuck in) from this year’s autumn. (See also, Fall Is in the Air, Part I.)"

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Media attention to Trump, Kim Davis, Ann Coulter: Should we ignore outrageous candidates?

Dahlia Lithwick wrote Media attention to Trump, Kim Davis, Ann Coulter: Should we ignore outrageous candidates? "‘Stop posting about Kim Davis! You’re just encouraging her!’ ‘Why are you writing about Donald Trump at all? He feeds on this!’ The shark cat on the Roomba starts to look like the only permissible social commentary."

Her argument is:

My objection was that if we—as consumers and producers and purveyors of news—decide that we will simply ignore the existence and arguments of every pundit, candidate, or religious dissenter to whom we object, it doesn’t in fact make them go away. It simply takes us out of the conversation. If I made it a policy to never post on Facebook or write articles about hugely popular public figures or movements simply because I don’t want to make them look more serious, or make their crazy worldview look legitimate, I would be elevating what we call “epistemic closure” to DEFCON 4.

This is precisely why we have a liberal media and a conservative media that cannot agree on even demonstrable facts. Because ignoring the other side is a legitimate form of political discourse.

While she has a point, I think she's missing something. It's possible to talk about the issues, even the issues that these attention seeking trolls bring up, without talking about the trolls themselves. It's possible to do a story about immigration without mentioning Trump.

It's also the case that it's possible to cover people like Kim Davis without being all-consuming about it. She'll have her 15 mins but, does every journalist have to cover her around the clock for two weeks? Does the top 20 minutes of every hour of cable news have to be devoted to her? Lithwick writes infrequently, maybe she could skip every other media circus or only write about a third of them. As she said, ignoring Ann Coulter works. Maybe the "absurd" media would serve us better by at least doing more ignoring.

FCC's Proposed Wi-Fi Rules Are Crap

Internet Inventor Vint Cerf Thinks the FCC's Proposed Wi-Fi Rules Are Crap

In order to prevent those kinds of modifications., the FCC’s proposals would limit the extent to which users can mess with the software on their routers, including preventing loading popular third-party firmwares like DD-WRT. Naturally, privacy-minded home tinkerers around the world freaked out.

Yes, that would be crap. This is much better:

In an open letter filed with the FCC today, the group has put forwards an alternative framework for how routers would be regulated, with a focus on security and openness. Their rules would require router manufacturers to post source code online, update it against security flaws frequently, and face tough FCC sanctions if they failed to comply.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital

A few weeks ago, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner bombed the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Seriously, as I wrote, US Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan. It's still a controversy and I agree with Doctors Without Borders that an investigation by a third party is needed, as the US's story keeps changing.

Today, the AP reported US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital "American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned."

Combine this with todays reported leak on the drone program by The Intercept and things don't look good for Obama.

Venn diagram of the very different debates Republicans and Democrats are having

WonkBlog posted A handy Venn diagram of the very different debates Republicans and Democrats are having that I really liked.

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How a Health-Care Reporter Shops For Health Insurance

Sarah Cliff explains, I’m a health-care reporter. Here’s how I shop for health insurance.. Yeah, the process sucks and "it's impossible to predict your medical costs" but she has some tips.

She also wrote, This study is forcing economists to rethink high-deductible health insurance.

In 2006, about one in 10 employees had a health insurance deductible over $1,000. Today? About half do. To health economists, this sounded like good news; they've long theorized that higher deductibles would force down health-care costs. The idea was that higher deductibles would make patients become smarter shoppers: If they had to pay more of the cost, they'd likely choose something closer to the $1,529 appendectomy than the $186,955 appendectomy (yes, some hospitals really do charge that much). This would push the really expensive doctors to lower their prices so cheaper physicians didn't steal their business. This was, however, just a theory. And a massive new study suggests it might have been all wrong.

When I read this I first thought, "of course, no one can tell you the price of healthcare when you have to choose, you just get an incomprehensible bill a month later. Ask a doctor what something costs, they have no idea. Mine couldn't even tell me the room number of the x-ray suite they were sending me to in the same building. Apparently, "This study tried giving workers both the tools to compare costs and a financial incentive to go with the less expensive option." I wonder how good those tools were. I always comment to healthcare professionals how I'm a software person and I'm amazed at how crappy their systems are. That at this point, everyone has seen Google and Amazon and know that systems could be simpler and yet they all have to put up with crazy complex systems that never seem to work.

The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy

The Atlantic writes about The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy. "Astronomers have spotted a strange mess of objects whirling around a distant star. Scientists who search for extraterrestrial civilizations are scrambling to get a closer look."

Kepler is a space telescope, looking at the same patch of the sky over time. The idea is to track the strength of the light coming from 145,000 stars. If they dim, on a regular basis, it's probable that planets are passing in front of the star (aka transiting the star). It's our main source of new exoplanet discoveries. The longer it looks the better the chance of spotting planets with larger orbits.

In 2011, several citizen scientists flagged one particular star as “interesting” and “bizarre.” The star was emitting a light pattern that looked stranger than any of the others Kepler was watching. The light pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation.

The article points to a paper, here's the abstract:

Over the duration of the Kepler mission, KIC 8462852 was observed to undergo irregularly shaped, aperiodic dips in flux down to below the 20% level. The dipping activity can last for between 5 and 80 days. We characterize the object with high-resolution spectroscopy, spectral energy distribution fitting, and Fourier analyses of the Kepler light curve. We determine that KIC 8462852 is a main-sequence F3 V/IV star, with a rotation period ∼ 0.88 d, that exhibits no significant IR excess. In this paper, we describe various scenarios to explain the mysterious events in the Kepler light curve, most of which have problems explaining the data in hand. By considering the observational constraints on dust clumps orbiting a normal main-sequence star, we conclude that the scenario most consistent with the data in hand is the passage of a family of exocomet fragments, all of which are associated with a single previous breakup event. We discuss the necessity of future observations to help interpret the system.

So, okay, comets. The article then says:

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star. “When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

So sure, maybe. Regardless, I expect to see lots of BuzzFeed like articles saying we've discovered an ancient alien civilization. Nope, just one crazy hypothesis that might fit the data. Obviously more research is being done (because that's what scientists do) and we'll find out more in a few years. Until then, don't believe we've discovered aliens building a Dyson Sphere.

Mossberg: The Real Trouble With Web Ads

Walt Mossberg describes The real trouble with web ads

I agree with all of this, but I think there's another reason users might want an easy way to expunge browser ads: They represent both an unwanted intrusion and a broken promise. They are, in effect, a form of spyware, scooping up information about what people do online without their knowledge and permission, supposedly in return for useful, personalized ads.

The trouble is twofold: users can't easily opt out of the spying and tracking that goes along with these ads, even if they don't mind ads themselves. And the promised personalization of ads is, at best, crude, and often useless — except in search-results pages, which provide immediate context.

In my experience, this bargain — give us your personal information and we'll give you really useful ads, tailored to you — has simply never materialized, going back to its earliest days on desktops.

The answer is for the ad industry to reform itself, so people don't turn to ad blockers. Ads need to be less intrusive, less burdensome, and smarter. Tracking needs to be more transparent, and more under the user's control. And this reform should start now, when ad blockers are still used by a small minority of users.

I agree with this wholeheartedly.

How is NSA breaking so much crypto?

How is NSA breaking so much crypto? "Based on the evidence we have, we can’t prove for certain that NSA is doing this. However, our proposed Diffie-Hellman break fits the known technical details about their large-scale decryption capabilities better than any competing explanation."

For the nerds in the audience, here’s what’s wrong: If a client and server are speaking Diffie-Hellman, they first need to agree on a large prime number with a particular form. There seemed to be no reason why everyone couldn’t just use the same prime, and, in fact, many applications tend to use standardized or hard-coded primes. But there was a very important detail that got lost in translation between the mathematicians and the practitioners: an adversary can perform a single enormous computation to ‘crack’ a particular prime, then easily break any individual connection that uses that prime.

Since a handful of primes are so widely reused, the payoff, in terms of connections they could decrypt, would be enormous. Breaking a single, common 1024-bit prime would allow NSA to passively decrypt connections to two-thirds of VPNs and a quarter of all SSH servers globally. Breaking a second 1024-bit prime would allow passive eavesdropping on connections to nearly 20% of the top million HTTPS websites. In other words, a one-time investment in massive computation would make it possible to eavesdrop on trillions of encrypted connections.

Update: Bruce Schneier's comments.

What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?

The New York Times writes What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?

When Seymour Hersh wrote his article in May there was much debate as to the validity and I figured I'd let things settle before diving in too much. This seems a reasonable attempt to followup and dive in on some of the details. As it says:

Where does the official bin Laden story stand now? For many, it exists in a kind of liminal state, floating somewhere between fact and mythology. The writing of history is a process, and this story still seems to have a long way to go before the government’s narrative can be accepted as true, or rejected as false.

It’s not that the truth about bin Laden’s death is unknowable; it’s that we don’t know it. And we can’t necessarily console ourselves with the hope that we will have more answers any time soon; to this day, the final volume of the C.I.A.’s official history of the Bay of Pigs remains classified. We don’t know what happened more than a half-century ago, much less in 2011.

The Drone Papers

The Intercept has a series of articles, The Drone Papers, describing the US Drone program. "The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The documents, provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama’s drone wars." I've just skimmed it so far but it's fascinating and damning.

The Red Drum Getaway

The Red Drum Getaway on Vimeo "A Hitchcock mashup where Kubrick is the villain. 'Jimmy was having a rather beautiful day until he bumped into Jack and things got weird.'"

This 4 minute video is fun if you love Hitchcock and Kubrick (and it's not quite safe for work).

The Red Drum Getaway from Gump on Vimeo.

Cure for cancer might accidentally have been found, and it could be malaria

The Independent reports Cure for cancer might accidentally have been found, and it could be malaria

Scientists might have accidentally made a huge step forward in the search for a cure for cancer — discovering unexpectedly that a malaria protein could be an effective weapon against the disease.

Danish researchers were hunting for a way of protecting pregnant women from malaria, which can cause huge problems because it attacks the placenta. But they found at the same time that armed malaria proteins can attack cancer, too — an approach which could be a step towards curing the disease.

Scientists have combined the bit of protein that the malaria vaccine uses to bury into cells and combined it with a toxin — that can then bury into cancer cells and release the toxin, killing them off.

The scientists have found that in both cases the malria protein attaches itself to the same carbohydrate. It is the similarities between those two things that the cure could exploit."

So this is really early and the tests have only been in mice and lots of things that work in mice don't work in humans, but it's interesting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Terry Gilliam's deleted animations from Monty Python & The Holy Grail

"To celebrate the 40th anniversary theatrical re-release of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and the release of the 40th anniversary Blu-Ray, DVD & limited edition castle gift set we've put together this video of Terry Gilliam's lost animations from the film.

The video includes an introduction from Terry G to his lost animation reel where he talks about where the artwork came from and the inspiration behind some of the animation, music by Neil Innes that didn't make it into the final cut, new animations and deleted animations of 'The Tale of Sir Robin', 'Elephant & Castle', 'Meanwhile, King Arthur & Sir Bedevere...', 'Run Away!' and 'The Tale of Sir Lancelot'."

Winners of Nikon Small World 2015

Photographing the Microscopic: Winners of Nikon Small World 2015 - The Atlantic "Nikon just announced the winners of the 2015 Small World Photomicrography Competition, and they've shared some of the winning and honored images from this year's competition with us here. The contest invites photographers and scientists to submit images of all things visible under a microscope. More than 2,000 entries were received from 83 countries this year. Enjoy a trip into a miniature world through the images below, all from the 2015 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition."

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IRS Can’t Update Woefully Out-of-Date Windows Servers Because It Can’t Find Some of Them

IRS Can’t Update Woefully Out-of-Date Windows Servers Because It Can’t Find Some of Them

"The Internal Revenue Service couldn’t transition 1,300 of its workstations from Microsoft Windows XP to Windows 7 because the agency couldn’t find them all, according to a report released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration."

"‘The IRS is only halfway through completing its upgrade of its Windows servers to an operating system that is already 7 years old,’ the audit stated."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why the Words for ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ Sound So Similar in So Many Languages

The Atlantic explains Why the Words for ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ Sound So Similar in So Many Languages

The answer lies with babies and how they start to talk. The pioneering linguist Roman Jakobson figured it out. If you’re a baby making a random sound, the easiest vowel is ah because you can make it without doing anything with your tongue or lips. Then, if you are going to vary things at all, the first impulse is to break up the stream of ahhh by closing your lips for a spell, especially since you’ve been doing that to nurse. Hence, mmmm, such that you get a string of mahs as you keep the sound going while breaking it up at intervals.

Babies ‘speaking’ in this way are just playing. But adults don’t hear them that way. A baby says ‘mama’ and it sounds as if he’s addressing someone—and the person he’s most likely addressing so early on is his mother. The mother takes ‘mama’ as meaning her, and in speaking to her child refers to herself as ‘mama.’ Voilà: a word mama that ‘means’ mother. That would have happened with the first humans—but more to the point, it has happened with baby humans worldwide, whatever language they are speaking. That means that even as the first language was becoming countless others, this ‘mama mistake’ was recreating ‘mama’ as the word for ‘Mom,’ whatever was going on with words like mregh.

'Bloom County' And Opus The Penguin Return After A 25-Year Hiatus

Fresh Air interviewed Berkeley Breathed, 'Bloom County' And Opus The Penguin Return After A 25-Year Hiatus. Here's just one interesting tidbit:

BERKELEY BREATHED: I watched slack-jawed in horror as they threw one of the 20th century's most iconic fictional heroes, Atticus Finch, under the bus. At the time - and this was a couple of months ago - it made me think that there would have been no 'Bloom County' without 'Mockingbird' because I was 12 I read it, and the book's fictional Southern small town of Maycomb had settled deep into my graphic imagination and informed it forever. If you look at any of my art for the past 30 years, there's always a small-town flavor to it.

So this summer, just a couple months ago when 'Go Set A Watchman' was causing an uproar, I went back to my files and I pulled an old fan letter from years ago. It says (reading) dear Mr. Breathed, this is a plea from a dotty old lady and from others not dotty at all. Please don't shut down Opus. Can't you at least give him a reprieve? Opus is simply the best comic strip there is and depriving him of life is murder - a hard word to describe an obliteration of your creation. But Opus is real. He lives. Harper Lee, Monroeville, Ala.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ben Carson (Mis)Quoting Daniel Webster

Ben Carson was on Charlie Rose last night. Rose tried to press him on some of his statements and Carson wasn't very forthcoming in details. I liked Rose pressing him on the unconstitutionality of Obamacare since it was passed by Congress, signed by the President, and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Their conversation on gun control (at the 44 minute mark) got me curious. They say:

Rose: When you talk about gun control, you're basically saying as I understand the conversation we had this morning, that the reason the second amendment is so important to you, is because you think people need to have guns in their homes because if the government gets out of control, they will have the opportunity to rebel. Is that a correct understanding of what you said?

Carson: That is one of the reasons for the second amendment. I talk extensively about it starting on page 60 in the new book. It is very clear because Daniel Webster said America will never experience tyranny because the people are armed.

This was obviously recorded on Wed after Carson's appearance on CBS This Morning where he said the same thing.

So I wondered a few things. First, why are we listening to Daniel Webster on the constitution? He wasn't a founding father. He was born in 1782 and was a senator and secretary of state in the mid 1800s. Clearly a constitutional scholar but not a primary source for the constitution.

Then I wondered in what context Webster said this? Google for Daniel Webster and this quote and the first few pages you get are Ben Carson saying this. Go a little deeper and it's hard to find where Webster said this at all. You do find quite a few lists of quotes on gun control. My favorite was the bottom of the wikiquote page on the second amendment, titled Misattributed. Looking for gun control quotes you see the Jefferson ones all over the place. has a page on gun control. Number 73 is interesting:

73 - Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.

                                                       Noah Webster, 1888
                    "An Examination into...the Federal Constitution" 1787

Ok, well that's interesting. Apparently on Thursday, Carson was on Wolf Blitzer and attributed it to Noah Webster. So it looks like he's confusing his Websters. Google fight suggests he's been using Daniel more often.

And Noah Webster died in 1843 so I don't know why that page is saying 1888 (I guess you can't always believe what you find on the Internet). It is true that in his 1787 book An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution he did say this. Here's page 43 of it in Google Books.

Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command; for otherwise this for would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.

But Noah Webster was arguing that a US standing army couldn't be stronger than a citizen militia. Does anyone still believe this to be the case? And Article I Section 8 gives Congress the power "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions". So armed insurrections aren't allowed and before we get too far ahead of ourselves the civil war established that succession is illegal too.

Back to Webster, the page before he was arguing that

In some nations, legislators have derived much of their power from the influence of religion, or from that implicit belief which an ignorant and superstitious people entertain of the gods, and their interposition in every transaction of life. The Roman senate sometimes availed themselves of this engine to carry their decrees and maintain their authority. This was particularly the case under the aristocracy which succeeded the abolition of the monarchy. The augurs and priests were taken wholly from patrician families. They constituted a distinct order of men -- had power to negative any law of the people, by declaring that it was passed during the taking of the auspices. This influence derived from the authority of opinion, was less perceptible, but as tyrannical as a military force. The same influence constitutes, at this day, a principal support of several governments on the Eastern continent, and perhaps in South America. But in North America, by a singular concurrence of circumstances, the possibility of establishing this influence, as a pillar of government, is totally precluded.

I wish that were still true. And if I'm supposed to just take Noah's (or Daniel) Webster's word on gun control, should I just take it as well on religion? On the following pages he states as truth that "property is the basis of power", do we still believe this? Do we still argue whether we should have standing armies? Should we still pretend that a citizen militia could combat an armed state? And lets be clear, Noah Webster was no founding father. He edited the Federalist party newspaper. And the Jeffersonians that the Tea Partiers love so much, thought he was loon.

So I'm not going to believe Carson's argument because some Webster said so. I'm going to look at the statement and figure out if it's true. Does arming citizens prevent tyranny in America? I don't think so. I think the strongest military in the world will be successful in putting down any insurrection of citizens armed with handguns, rifles and semi-automatic assault-style weapons. I think a freely elected and representative government keeps us free and I think peaceful demonstrations are far more effective in our system of government.

I think gun control is a difficult issue. I'm fine with most people owning guns for self-protection and sport. I also think guns are too prevalent in our society and some laws to regulate them could reduce our gun violence rate which is an outlier among advanced nations. I'm not sure what those laws are and if they'd do much to avoid many of the recent mass shootings, but it's worth trying something. I do think we have to stop talking about outdated arguments about armed rebellion no matter which Webster or Carson bring them up.

Friday, October 09, 2015

California Now Has the Nation's Best Digital Privacy Law

Wired reports California Now Has the Nation's Best Digital Privacy Law

California continued its long-standing tradition for forward-thinking privacy laws today when Governor Jerry Brown signed a sweeping law protecting digital privacy rights.

The landmark Electronic Communications Privacy Act bars any state law enforcement agency or other investigative entity from compelling a business to turn over any metadata or digital communications—including emails, texts, documents stored in the cloud—without a warrant. It also requires a warrant to track the location of electronic devices like mobile phones, or to search them.

The legislation, which easily passed the Legislature last month, is the most comprehensive in the country, says the ACLU."

Time for Massachusetts to catch up.

The Second Amendment Wouldn't Have Prevented Hitler

Here's what I hate about the far right Republicans, their arguments are just factually untrue. Ben Carson thinks Hitler came to power because Germany didn't have a second amendment. Matthew Yglesias points out his (and other's) fallacies, Ben Carson's far from the only conservative saying gun control caused the Holocaust .

Seriously, why can't a journalist call them out on this stuff at the time they say it; like Chris Matthews did with Kevin James when he said Obama was like Neville Chamberlain because he was an appeaser, even though he didn't know what Chamberlain did.

House Freedom Caucus

I was curious about the approximately 40 far-right members of the US House of Representatives that are causing so much trouble for the leadership. It's the House Freedom Caucus and most of the info I found came from a few articles. The membership (other than the founders) came from the wikipedia page.

It was founded in January of 2015 by 9 members. It's an invitation only group, and now has 36 members from 23 states. They are all white men with the exception of Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Raúl Labrador (R-ID) who is Puerto Rican. Very few of them have been in the House more than 3 terms; seven of them are new to the House since January.

The founding members are:

  • AZ-5 Matt Salmon, member since January 3, 2013 also 1995–2001
  • FL-6 Ron DeSantis, member since January 3, 2013
  • ID-1 Raúl Labrador, member since January 3, 2011
  • LA-4 John Fleming, member since January 3, 2009
  • MI-3 Justin Amash, member since January 3, 2011
  • NC-11 Mark Meadows, member since January 3, 2013
  • NJ-5 Scott Garrett, member since January 3, 2003
  • OH-4 Jim Jordan, Chair, member since January 3, 2007, Chair
  • SC-5 Mick Mulvaney, member since January 3, 2011

The other members are:

  • AL-6 Gary Palmer, member since January 3, 2015
  • AL-5 Mo Brooks, member since January 3, 2011
  • AZ-6 David Schweikert, member since January 3, 2013
  • AZ-4 Paul Gosar, member since January 3, 2013
  • AZ-8 Trent Franks, member since January 3, 2013
  • CO-4 Ken Buck, member since January 3, 2015
  • FL-8 Bill Posey, member since January 3, 2013
  • FL-19 Curt Clawson, member since June 25, 2014
  • GA-11 Barry Loudermilk, member since January 3, 2015
  • GA-10 Jody Hice, member since January 3, 2015
  • IA-1 Rod Blum, member since January 3, 2015
  • IN-3 Marlin Stutzman, member since, November 2, 2010
  • KS-1 Tim Huelskamp, member since January 3, 2011
  • MD-1 Andy Harris, member since January 3, 2011
  • NM-2 Steve Pearce, member since January 3, 2011 also 2003-2009
  • OK-1 Jim Bridenstine, member since January 3, 2013
  • PA-12 Keith Rothfus, member since January 3, 2013
  • PA-4 Scott Perry, member since January 3, 2013
  • SC-3 Jeff Duncan, member since January 3, 2011
  • SC-1 Mark Sanford, member since May 7, 2013 also 1994-2000
  • TN-4 Scott DesJarlais, member since January 3, 2011
  • TX-36 Brian Babin, member since January 3, 2015
  • TX-2 Ted Poe, member since January 3, 2005
  • VA-7 Dave Brat, member since November 4, 2014
  • VA-9 Morgan Griffith, member since January 3, 2011
  • WV-2 Alex Mooney, member since January 3, 2015
  • WY-1 Cynthia Lummis, member since January 3, 2009

Two representatives have recently resigned from the Freedom Caucus:

  • CA-4 Tom McClintock - Resigned on September 16, 2015, member since January 3, 2009
  • WI-8 Reid Ribble - Resigned on October 9, 2015, member since January 3, 2011

The only member I had heard of was Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina that disappeared in 2009 saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail but was really in Argentina having an affair. Yeah, South Carolina elected him to the House in a special election in 2013 and then re-elected him in 2014. I didn't know the name Dave Brat (VA-7) but he's the one that primaried Eric Cantor in 2014.

Update: Here are two articles I found interesting about the Freedom Caucus.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Clinton’s TPP Opposition Unnerves Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein explains Why Clinton’s TPP opposition unnerves me .

Clinton's reputation as a policy wonk is sterling; it's common to talk to Democratic (and, in some cases, Republican) staffers who tell you that they've never briefed a politician as sharp and informed as she is.

But Clinton's reputation as a policymaker is iffier — her critics can rattle off a long list of important decisions, ranging from the Iraq War to the bankruptcy bill, where they think she was swayed by polls or interest groups.

Clinton, of course, isn't just a policymaker — she's a politician, and particularly when it comes to reading polls and managing interest groups, she's a good one. Her vulnerability in the Democratic primary comes from the left, and to keep liberal challengers from gaining support, she needs to hold union support. Coming out against the TPP and the Cadillac tax is a great way to win over unions.

But it's not a great way for Clinton to show she's willing to make some unpopular decisions if they lead to better policy — and that has political benefits that don't show up in narrow issue polls."

And this is a broader problem for Clinton. Her political weakness, fairly or not, is that the voters and the media — or maybe it's the media and, thus, the voters — have decided that she's unusually poll-tested and calculating, even for a politician. Politically convenient policy changes don't help, and they cut against what should be her greatest asset: that she's an extraordinary policy mind who understands these issues better than her challengers, and so can be trusted to make better decisions on them.

Gun Violence Research

Vox wrote, What forms of gun control work best? Congress bans federal agencies from finding out. and talks about the ban. But they don't go the origin of the ban. For that see, Gun violence research: History of the federal funding freeze

In 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published an article by Arthur Kellerman and colleagues, ‘Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home,’ which presented the results of research funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. The article concluded that rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance. Kellerman was affiliated at the time with the department of internal medicine at the University of Tennessee. He went on to positions at Emory University, and he currently holds the Paul O’Neill Alcoa Chair in Policy Analysis at the RAND Corporation.

The 1993 NEJM article received considerable media attention, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. The center itself survived, but Congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill (PDF, 2.4MB) for Fiscal Year 1997 that ‘none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.’  Referred to as the Dickey amendment after its author, former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget — the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year — and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Kellerman stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, ‘Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency's funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up.’"

Yup, one paper caused funding to be cut. See also, Firearms research: The gun fighter "There are almost as many firearms in the United States as there are citizens. Garen Wintemute is one of few people studying the consequences."

Dynamic Scoring

So I guess now is the time when the candidates release their tax plans. So it's the season when Republicans say they'll cut taxes, which means you pay less to the government, but the government will get more money because of growth. As a result, the deficit will shrink. We've tried this before and it never works, but they keep selling it. The other option is the government gets less money and we cut spending as well, but they never want to describe what they'll cut, because it doesn't add up unless they cut military or entitlements.

So Vox describes Why Marco Rubio is insisting that his massive tax cuts will pay for themselves, explained. In it, they explain the term "dynamic effect".

There are two ways to calculate the cost of a given policy. One is to do a static estimate that simply looks at the policy in isolation. So if I cut your taxes by $10,000, a static estimate will say the tax cut costs $10,000.

By contrast, a dynamic estimate tries to account for the way people respond to policy changes. So if I cut your taxes by $10,000, you might invest that $10,000 in a company that invents cold fusion, doubles the rate of economic growth, and creates a huge surge in future revenues.

The problem with static estimates is that they're wrong. The problem with dynamic estimates is that they're impossible.

There's also, Bobby Jindal’s plan for dealing with the 47%: tax the poor. "Jindal himself estimates that federal revenue will be cut by 22 percent, or $9 trillion, under his plan. And that's after taking into account "dynamic" growth effects."

Where he sticks out is the focus on raising taxes on the poor — on shrinking the "47 percent." By eliminating the standard deduction, the personal exemption, the dependent exemption, and the child tax credit, he intends to force millions of households that currently owe no income tax to pay up.

The biggest mystery in mathematics: Shinichi Mochizuki and the impenetrable proof

The biggest mystery in mathematics: Shinichi Mochizuki and the impenetrable proof

"Sometime on the morning of 30 August 2012, Shinichi Mochizuki quietly posted four papers on his website. The papers were huge — more than 500 pages in all — packed densely with symbols, and the culmination of more than a decade of solitary work. They also had the potential to be an academic bombshell. In them, Mochizuki claimed to have solved the abc conjecture, a 27-year-old problem in number theory that no other mathematician had even come close to solving. If his proof was correct, it would be one of the most astounding achievements of mathematics this century and would completely revolutionize the study of equations with whole numbers."

The abc conjecture refers to numerical expressions of the type a + b = c. The statement, which comes in several slightly different versions, concerns the prime numbers that divide each of the quantities a, b and c. Every whole number, or integer, can be expressed in an essentially unique way as a product of prime numbers — those that cannot be further factored out into smaller whole numbers: for example, 15 = 3 × 5 or 84 = 2 × 2 × 3 × 7. In principle, the prime factors of a and b have no connection to those of their sum, c. But the abc conjecture links them together. It presumes, roughly, that if a lot of small primes divide a and b then only a few, large ones divide c.

But so far, the few who have understood the work have struggled to explain it to anyone else. “Everybody who I'm aware of who's come close to this stuff is quite reasonable, but afterwards they become incapable of communicating it,” says one mathematician who did not want his name to be mentioned. The situation, he says, reminds him of the Monty Python skit about a writer who jots down the world's funniest joke. Anyone who reads it dies from laughing and can never relate it to anyone else.

Reminded me first of Snow Crash.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Lessons Learned from Atlas Shrugged

Adam Lee is reading and reviewing Atlas Shrugged.

NASA is putting on a colorful light show in the sky tonight

The Verge says NASA is putting on a colorful light show in the sky tonight "Tonight's sunset might look rather unusual if you live on the East Coast of the United States. NASA will be launching a rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia that will release payloads of barium and strontium into the atmosphere, turning parts of the night sky blue-green and others red."

"The rocket is scheduled to launch between 7:00PM and 9:00PM ET, and the chemical payloads will be released about six minutes after liftoff. NASA says that it should be visible as far as 235 miles north of the launch site (New York City and Long Island), 232 miles south of it (near Morehead City, North Carolina), and 165 miles west (Charlottesville, Virginia). That all depends on the weather conditions, though. If you're having trouble seeing it, or live outside that area, NASA will also be streaming the event, which we will embed above when it goes live."

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

2015 National Geographic Photo Contest

2015 National Geographic Photo Contest - The Atlantic "National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015. The Grand Prize Winner will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. The kind folks at National Geographic were once again kind enough to let me choose among the contest entries so far for display here."

Go look, they're all amazing.

Privacy Fight: Apple Car Play vs Android Auto

Motor Trend in describing 13 Cool Facts About the 2017 Porsche 911 writes:

"So much for 'Do No Evil.' There's no technological reason the 991/2 doesn't have Android Auto playing through its massively upgraded PCM system. But there is an ethical one. As part of the agreement an automaker would have to enter with Google, certain pieces of data must be collected and mailed back to Mountain View, California. Stuff like vehicle speed, throttle position, coolant and oil temp, engine revs—basically Google wants a complete OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto. Not kosher, says Porsche. Obviously, this is 'off the record,' but Porsche feels info like that is the secret sauce that makes its cars special. Moreover, giving such data to a multi-billion dollar corporation that's actively building a car, well, that ain't good, either. Apple, by way of stark contrast, only wants to know if the car is moving while Apple Play is in use. Makes you wonder about all the other OEMs who have agreed to Google's requests/demands, no?"

Update: TechCrunch wrote Google Denies Motor Trend’s Claim That Android Auto Collects Key Automotive Data

TechCrunch learned that when Google initially approached automakers concerning Android Auto, it requested a deeper data set than what is currently required. Porsche could have made the decision at that time to stop working with Google and instead focus on CarPlay. It’s unclear when this early conversation happened. Google publicly announced Android Auto at Google I/O in June of 2014.

Monday, October 05, 2015


Josh Blackman announces Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! The October 2015 Term of FantasySCOTUS Is Now In Session. "Oyez, oyez oyez! Happy first Monday! Today LexPredict has launched the 7th Season of FantasySCOTUS. Continuing our successes from last year, FantasySCOTUS is sponsored by Thomson Reuters. If you’ve played before, or are new to the competition, sign up and start predicting cases."

The Grand Prize is $10,000!

Movie Review: The Martian

I saw The Martian last night and loved it. I had read the book in June and think it's a great adaptation. The story is the same, but the story telling is a little different so that the things a movie can do well it does while the things a book does well it does. You can enjoy the film just as much having read the book or not, and if you want to read the book afterwards there will be more things in it that will keep it interesting. I knew what was going to happen while watching the film and was on the edge of my seat the whole time with a big smile on my face. They nailed this.

Matt Damon is an astronaut stranded alone on Mars. He has to overcome all the various ways Mars is trying to kill him using his wit and determination. Science itself is practically a character in this film. I'd avoid watching the trailer, it gives away too much. The best description of the book I've seen is from xkcd:

It's Ridley Scott's best film since Black Hawk Down. Drew Goddard did a great job on the screenplay adaptation. The scenery on Mars is gorgeous. Matt Damon is great. The movie is thrilling, emotional and funny. I found it really refreshing that everyone in this story is smart, really smart, and no one is stereotypical socially-inept genius that's in every other film. So far it's my favorite movie of the year. Go see it.

Update: Vox talks about 5 of The Martian’s boldest scientific twists, explained.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Our Favorite Images From NASA's Incredible New Apollo Gallery

io9 writes Our Favorite Images From NASA's Incredible New Apollo Gallery

"Earlier this week, NASA uploaded an incredible treasure trove of images to a new gallery on Flickr: unprocessed photographs from all of the manned Apollo missions. They represent an incredible look into what the astronauts saw on their missions to the moon.

NASA’s astronauts are known for taking some of the world’s best pictures, but this gallery is a chance to see the raw results: untouched and unprocessed pictures of space. They’re high-resolution images that are perfect for reprocessing."

The gallery is here: Project Apollo Archive’s albums

We Now Have a Justice System Just for Corporations

David Morris writes about arbitration in On the Commons We Now Have a Justice System Just for Corporations. "How the Supreme Court twisted a 1925 law to undermine the interests of citizens, employees and small business."

In 1925 Congress passed a simple 4-page law, the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Businesses that preferred a simpler and faster arbitration process in business-to-business transactions to costly and protracted court battles urged Congress to act because federal courts often refused to enforce many arbitration clauses.

The FAA was a legislative attempt to satisfy businesses’ desire for speedy and affordable dispute resolution while also satisfying the judges’ desire for justice. Arbitration, a process in which both parties in a dispute agree to accept the ruling of an impartial third party, seemed an effective solution.

For the next 60 years the law worked as intended. Courts consistently upheld arbitration awards between businesses but also consistently held that the FAA was procedural not substantive. Arbitration did not trump federal and state laws, and the FAA did not apply to employment or consumer contracts.

In 1984 the Supreme Court flexed its new conservative muscles. In a case involving the right of Southland’s 7-11 franchisees to sue under the California Franchise Law the Court reinterpreted the 1925 law as a Congressional declaration of a “national policy favoring arbitration”. It further ruled that this national policy applied not only to federal courts but to state courts and was substantive as well as procedural. No matter how one-sided the balance of bargaining power once a business signed a contract with an arbitration clause it was forced to abide by the decision of arbiters even if they ignored relevant state and federal laws and even if the decision-making processed was biased against the complainant. Dissenting Justices vainly pleaded with their colleagues not to ignore the clear will of Congress and derail more than a half-century of uncontroversial implementation of the FAA. As Sandra Day O’Connor observed, “One rarely finds a legislative history as unambiguous as the FAA's.”

In 2001 the Court, by a 5-4 vote, extended the FAA to cover employment contracts.

He then discusses the many problems of arbitration. One telling thing:

Corporations realize the disadvantages of arbitration from the complainant’s perspective. Which is why most arbitration clauses require only the weaker party (the consumer, employee, or franchisee) to arbitrate its claims, while allowing the dominant party (the corporation) to sue in court.

And arbiters hired by the arbitration firm know that those who rule in favor of the company will be rehired and those who don’t won’t. As arbitrator Richard Hodge maintains, “You would have to be unconscious not to be aware that if you rule a certain way, you can compromise your future business.”

Gun Stuff

ThinkProgress points out the fallacies of a popular pro-gun theory, 'Good Guy With A Gun' Was On UCC Campus At Time of Massacre

The issue of whether UCC was a ‘gun free zone’ has become a source of controversy. Gun advocates argue that ‘gun free zones’ encourage gun violence by creating a space where people are unable to defend themselves.

This is not supported by the facts. According to a study of 62 mass shootings over 30 years conducted by Mother Jones, ‘not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a place because it banned guns.’ Many of those mass shootings took place in areas were guns where permitted, but not a single one was stopped by armed civilians.

Parker’s interview revealed the practical difficulties of armed civilians trying to stop a mass shooting. By the time he became aware of the shooting, a SWAT team had already responded. He was concerned that police would view him as a ‘bad guy’ and target him, so he quickly retreated into the classroom."

They also write, The Sheriff Investigating The Oregon Shooting Believes Some Seriously Fringe Things About Guns. Seems he's an Oath Keeper and probably thinks Obama is trying to take everybody's guns.

Hanlin’s letter also blurs the line between a matter that is lawfully within state officials’ discretion and something much more akin to insurrection. Under the Supreme Court’s “anti-commandeering doctrine,” states may refuse to enforce federal laws that they do not wish to devote their resources to enforcing. For this reason, provided that state law gives him the discretion to do so, Hanlin is permitted to deny his department’s resources to federal officials seeking to enforce federal gun laws.

What Hanlin may not do, however, is unilaterally assign himself the power to decide what is or is not constitutional and then refuse to “permit the enforcement” of federal laws by “federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.” This rule stretches back at least as far as the late nineteenth century, when California charged a United States Marshal with murder after the marshal shot and killed a man who threatened the life of a sitting supreme court justice. In ordering the charges dropped, the Supreme Court explained that a federal official who “is held in custody in violation of the Constitution or a law of the United States, or for an act done or omitted in pursuance of a law of the United States. . . must be discharged.”

If Hanlin believes that the federal government is acting unconstitutionally, he can file a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s action. But local sheriffs are not permitted to use the powers of their office to thwart federal officials trying to carry out their own duties.

Vox of course had a nice all inclusive piece, America's gun problem, explained.

US Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan

The NY Times reports Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan.

A United States airstrike appeared to have badly damaged a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in the Afghan city of Kunduz early Saturday, killing at least 16 people, including patients and staff members, and wounding dozens.

The United States military, in a statement, confirmed the 2:15 a.m. airstrike, saying that it had been targeting individuals ‘who were threatening the force’ and that ‘there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.’

Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters inside the hospital.

For a more harshly worded version of the story, see Glenn Greenwald's One Day After Warning Russia of Civilian Casualties, the U.S. Bombs a Hospital in Afghanistan.

Good thing the war is over.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

33 Million Americans Still Don’t Have Health Insurance

FiveThirtyEights break down the fact that 33 Million Americans Still Don’t Have Health Insurance "It isn’t a surprise that some Americans still don’t have health insurance. Despite aiming to insure ‘everybody’ in the U.S., the Affordable Care Act (ACA) left significant gaps in coverage, and decisions made by the law’s opponents have denied benefits to millions of people it was designed to help. But the new numbers reveal that most of the uninsured last year were people who should have been able to access insurance under the law. That presents a major challenge for President Obama in the final years of his term, but also an opportunity: Millions of Americans qualify for coverage but, for whatever combination of reasons, haven’t yet signed up."


Everything You Need To Know About The Big Supreme Court Cases This Term

Ian Millhiser writes in ThinkProgress Everything You Need To Know About The Big Supreme Court Cases The Justices Will Hear This Term. I thought it was a nice summary of the issues.

Gun violence in America, in 17 maps and charts

Vox provides some statistics on Gun violence in America, in 17 maps and charts "America is an exceptional country when it comes to guns. It's one of the few countries in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, and presidential candidates in other nations don't cook bacon with guns. But America's relationship with guns is unique in another crucial way: Among developed nations, the US is far and away the most violent — in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. These charts and maps show what that violence looks like compared with the rest of the world, why it happens, and why it's such a tough problem to fix."

Pluto’s Big Moon Charon Reveals a Colorful and Violent History

NASA writes Pluto’s Big Moon Charon Reveals a Colorful and Violent History "NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best color and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon – and these pictures show a surprisingly complex and violent history."