Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Scientists regenerate spinal cord in injured rats with stem cells

Ars Technica reports Scientists regenerate spinal cord in injured rats with stem cells "While previous studies have shown progress in regenerating certain types of nerve cells in injured spinal cords, the study is the first to coax the regrowth of a specific set of nerve cells, called corticospinal axons. These bundles of biological wiring carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord and are critical for voluntary movement. In the study, researchers were able to use stem cells from rats and humans to mend the injured rodents."

A Nightmare Is Unfolding in the Great Barrier Reef

A Nightmare Is Unfolding in the Great Barrier Reef "If scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, you might want to book tickets soon. This week, marine biologists dropped some horribly depressing news: the Great Barrier Reef is dying. The world’s largest reef is in the midst of a widespread coral bleaching event, and scientists aren’t sure whether it will fully recover."

An Open Letter to Trump Voters from His Top Strategist-Turned-Defector

Here's a fun read. I don't know if it's real, but I'm seeing it mentioned in several newspapers. An Open Letter to Trump Voters from His Top Strategist-Turned-Defector. The author is Stephanie Cegielski, apparently the former director of a pro-Donald Trump Super PAC.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Apple Naming Inconsistencies

Here are the names of the current products available from Apple:

  • MacBook, MacBook Air (11" and 13"), MacBook Pro (13" and 15")
  • Mac mini, iMac (21.5" and 27"), Mac Pro
  • iPad mini 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro (9.7" and 12.9")
  • iPhone SE, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus
  • Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, Apple Watch Edition
  • Apple tv

And every place it says "Apple " above, it's really this symbol, Apple Logo which I can't make reliably appear on your screen. If you can the last two lines look like:

  • Watch Sport, Watch, Watch Edition
  • tv

All the capitalization above is as it's found on Apple's website. I don't understand why "mini" and "tv" aren't capitalized.

I don't understand why the laptops and iMac have inch based sizes and the iPhone just has "Plus" and now "SE". Or why S and SE are in boxes.

They seem to be trying to deal with 3 versions of things where the low end is "mini" (no capital) and the high end is "Pro" (capital) and the middle is either nothing (the watch), Air (the laptop and iPad) or i (the iMac).

The Apple Watch seems the most egregiously different. The main watch having no moniker seems odd, but at least Sport makes sense. Edition is just the completely wrong kind of word in this position.

Here's an attempt at bringing these closer in alignment:

  • MacBook (12", 14"), MacBook Pro (13" and 15")
  • Mac Mini, iMac (21.5" and 27"), Mac Pro
  • iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Plus
  • iPhone Mini, iPhone, iPhone Plus
  • Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, Apple Watch Wealth
  • Apple TV

This clearly doesn't clean up everything, they have two much invested in the iMac and iPhone names, but it's a start. The computers use Mini and Pro to designate less or more capabilities. The iPad and iPhone use Mini and Plus to designate size. If every other year they give a little bump to the iPhone, instead of a new number use Pro. So one year the biggest iPhone you could be would be the iPhone Plus 6 and the next the iPhone Plus 6 Pro (maybe that's not great, maybe say 6.5 or just go with 7). I'm willing to stick with iMac over just Mac to indicate it has a built in display (which the iPhone and iPad do too and argues that it should have been called iWatch).

I'm basically arguing that the MacBook line should subsume the MacBook Air line, which seems inevitable. Also that the iPad Pro was a mistake in naming. They should have stuck with size and strived to the keep the capabilities the same. The 9.7" iPad Pro should have replaced the iPad Air and both should have just been called iPad. They did it the way they did so that they could get more money for the "Air" and still sell the regular non-Air for a year or two at a slightly lower price.

The Apple Watch Wealth is a joke, but come up with something better than Edition. Gold seems like the obvious choice, but it's confusing with the Rose Gold and Gold colors the Sport comes in.

And don't get me started on the difference between Apple Music, iTunes Store, iTunes, and the iOS Music app; I really don't understand it all details.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

There Were 5-Hour Lines to Vote in Arizona Because the Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act

The Nation reports There Were 5-Hour Lines to Vote in Arizona Because the Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act.

But many other Arizonans left the polls in disgust. The lines were so long because election officials in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, the largest in the state, reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 200 to just 60—one polling place per every 21,000 voters.

But after the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, Arizona could make election changes without federal oversight. The long lines in Maricopa County last night were the latest example of the disastrous consequences of that decision.

This impacted voters across the county, but some more than others. There were predominantly Latino areas in Maricopa County with no polling places. “It is no coincidence many poor and predominantly Latino areas didn’t get a polling place,” wrote Arizona Republic columnist Elvia Diaz.

The problem with giving states complete freedom in voting is that problems have no recourse. Maybe the ACLU gets someone to sue and in a couple of years Arizona is forced to change their voting procedures to something else that may or may not fix the problem. With Section 5 of the VRA states had to get approval before making changes. The problem is, since states legally have more authority over voting than the federal government, it was only some states covered, those that had a history of manipulating voting to disenfranchise minorities. So Justice Roberts and others found that to be unconstitutional because it wasn't applying the law equally to all the states. The right answer is to have Section 5 of the VRA cover all states. Of course then Congress will try to defund the Justice Department organization that pre-clears the voting changes.

Gridlock, schmidlock. The Obama admin keeps doing cool stuff

Jared Bernstein points out Gridlock, schmidlock. The Obama admin keeps doing cool stuff.

I was reminded of this when, in my perusal of this AM’s papers, I saw pieces on the soon-to-kick-in overtime rule, which will boost the pay of millions of middle-wage earners, the fiduciary rule against ‘conflicted advice’ from investment advisers, which has the potential to save billions in the aggregate for retirement savers, and a new disclosure rule wherein firms that hire outside advisers to block union organizing drives have to reveal what they’re up to.

Just to remind you of some of the other pro-worker changes the administration has managed to cobble together (including stuff just mentioned for completeness and links):

  • Updating the overtime threshold
  • The new fiduciary rule to block conflicted investment advice
  • The new transparency rule on employer negotiations with outside anti-union consultants
  • New IRS rules for Treasury to go after tax inversions
  • A fair-hiring practice–‘Ban the Box’–for government hiring to help those with criminal records (though the rule needs to be extended to federal contractors)
  • An executive order that makes it harder for large firms with labor law violators to get federal contracts
  • A $10.10 minimum wage for federal contractors (the federal min wg is still $7.25)
  • Paid sick leave for federal contractors
  • The creation of a new, tax-favored savings vehicle: myRA

And a bunch of other stuff too, including the immigration actions to extend some legal status to certain undocumented persons (the court challenges to these policies are now uncertain), barring employers from retaliating against those who discuss their compensation, enhancing work/life balance at federal agencies, and barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I’m also impressed by the extent to which Obama’s been able to normalize relations with Cuba, which is also opening up some trade possibilities (and with no big, divisive ‘free trade agreement’ to boot!)."

Assessing the candidates' overall truthfulness

The StarTribune on Assessing the candidates' overall truthfulness "Below is a snapshot of where their Truth-O-Meter scorecards stood as of this week using PolitiFact’s system of rating the accuracy of statements made."


I'm shocked.

NASA Finally Got A Close-Up Look Of Mysterious Bright Spots On Ceres

Vox writes Those mysterious bright spots on Ceres? NASA finally got a close-up look "In the summer of 2015, as NASA's Dawn spacecraft approached the dwarf planet Ceres, scientists kept seeing a pair of bizarre shiny dots peering back."

Cerces Occator Crater

The crater is 57 miles across and 2.5 miles deep. "The latest images," NASA announced, "taken from 240 miles above the surface of Ceres, reveal a dome — with fractures crisscrossing the top and flanks — in a smooth-walled pit in the bright center of the crater."

So why is the crater shiny? In a paper published last December in Nature, scientists argued that the reflection may come from a magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. The idea is that Ceres has a salty layer of water ice just beneath its surface. At some point in the past, asteroids pummeled the dwarf planet, bringing that mixture to the surface. The water ice then evaporated away in the sun, leaving only the bright-colored hexahydrite behind. And because the rest of the planet is so dark, those bright spots stick out. Still, this needs further exploration. The existence of subsurface water ice remains one of the central mysteries of Ceres.

James Hansen sea level rise climate warning passes peer-review.

"Scientists warn of dramatic climate shift much sooner than expected" (via kottke). James Hansen sea level rise climate warning passes peer-review. "Last summer, James Hansen—the pioneer of modern climate science—pieced together a research-based revelation: a little-known feedback cycle between the oceans and massive ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland might have already jump-started an exponential surge of sea levels. That would mean huge levels of sea level rise will happen sooner—much sooner than expected. Hansen’s best estimate was 2 to 5 meters (6–15 feet) by the end of the century: five to 10 times faster than mainstream science has heretofore predicted."

"Hansen and his co-authors describe a world that may quickly start to spin out of control if humans keep burning fossil fuels at close to our current rate. “It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization,” the study reads. And given the assumed accelerated pace of melting, all this could happen just decades from now, not centuries."

We're screwed. And we still have to deal with shit like this:

ClimateProgress reports If You Catch And Use Rainwater In Colorado, You Are A Criminal "In a state where recreational marijuana was legalized two years ago and extreme weather has caused serious concerns, one mundane drought-fighting tool remains illegal: using rain barrels to catch rainwater from roofs for use in gardens."

"Opposition to rain barrels is driven by an entrenched agriculture and water lobby, grounded in a strict interpretation of water law. Colorado is one of many states that operate under a prior appropriation system whereby people with “senior” water rights get access before those with “junior” water rights. In a water-constrained world, they argue, there won’t be enough to go around. And senior water right holders are worried that urban farmers and lawn-lovers will impinge on their allocations by collecting rain off their roofs."

Oh Wait—Donald Trump Decides He Has a Foreign Policy Team After All

Kevin Drum writes: Oh Wait—Donald Trump Decides He Has a Foreign Policy Team After All. His team contains:

  • The "COO of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003-04 under Paul Bremer"
  • The Inspector General of Bush's DoD who resigned in 2005 following charges that he "slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines.". His father was expelled from the John Birch Society for extremist rhetoric
  • A 1980s Lebanese militia member responsible for massacres during Lebanon's 15 year civil war
  • The founder and former Managing Partner of Global Energy Capital

Only the best.

How Alfred Hitchcock Blocks A Scene From Vertigo

Pretty interesting explanation (and diagram) of how Hitchcock positioned the characters and camera in an otherwise mundane scene of two men talking in an office.

How Donald Trump happened: Racism against Barack Obama.

How Donald Trump happened: Racism against Barack Obama. is a good article on the racist aspect of Trump's appeal. Here are two paragraphs I liked:

But this analysis ignores the extent to which Trump reflects specific choices by Republican and conservative elites. From indulging anti-Obama conspiracy theories to attacking him as an enemy of the United States, conservatives chose to nurture resentment and anxiety and distill it into something potent. You can draw a direct line to the rise of Trump from the racial hysteria of talk radio—where figures like Rush Limbaugh, a Trump booster, warned that Obama would turn the world upside down. “The days of [minorities] not having any power are over and they are angry,” said Limbaugh to his audience. “They want to use their power as a means of retribution.”

The good news is that movements like Trump’s tend to fade away. The bad news is that, even in defeat, they are influential. One antecedent to Trump—Alabama Gov. George Wallace—never won a national party nomination. But he had massive impact on the direction of national politics, giving Richard Nixon raw materials for his “Southern Strategy” of racial resentment that would shape and define American politics for the next four decades.

The iPad Pro's embedded Apple SIM

Apple had an event on Monday and announced a few expected things. The 4" iPhone turned out to be roughly an iPhone 6S in the body of an iPhone 5.

They also announced a new iPad Pro, in the body of an iPad Air 2. So it's 9.7" display and works with the Apple Pencil and does a few other new things. It has the camera bump from the iPhone 6 but it apparently doesn't make the iPad wobble if you lay it flat on a table. People are whining that it doesn't have the big iPad Pro's 4GB of RAM instead it just has the iPad Air 2's 2GB (which has been great for me). One new thing is a new embedded Apple SIM card on the wireless models. TechCrunch explains the details of The iPad Pro's embedded Apple SIM and which carriers use it or lock you in.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why terrorism flourishes in Brussels

The Boston Globe explains Why terrorism flourishes in Brussels. I thought this was a very good introduction to the specific problems as opposed to all the people who'd never heard of Molenbeek yesterday spouting off today as if they're experts.

Still, Molenbeek is a place apart, its largely Turkish and Moroccan population poorly integrated into mainstream Belgian society. Making room for immigrants can be tricky in any society, but in Belgium, there are some additional hurdles. For instance, some jobs require fluency in both established languages — French and Flemish — which is a demanding request for any immigrant.

Over time, disaffection in Molenbeek has been stoked by radical Islam, brought to Belgium in the 1970s by a group of Saudi-trained imams. Their literalist vision was quite different from the brand of Islam practiced by Belgium’s North African immigrants, but over time the more radical figures have built a following.

Even as radicalism flourished, Belgian intelligence agencies have repeatedly failed to prevent terrorist plots. Again, this is where Belgium’s political and linguistic divisions seem to make a big difference. Belgium is a federal state, split between a French-speaking south and a Flemish-speaking north. The central government is actually fairly weak, leaving a lot of power in the hands of local governments — which makes coordinated intelligence-gathering particularly difficult and complicates efforts to amass nationwide resources for an effective, antiterrorist crackdown.

Sarah Palin To Be The Next Judge Judy

People reports Sarah Palin Signs Deal to Be TV Judge on New Courtroom Show. "The onetime vice presidential candidate has been tapped to preside over a planned reality court show that would premiere next year, if it gets picked up by stations. She signed a deal in February with Montana-based production company Warm Springs, a source close to the process tells PEOPLE."

I hope no station I like picks it up, because any station that does, I'll never watch again.

The So-Called Biden Rule

The Biden Rule is a fiction.

In the 14 years 1972-1986 the court was pretty stable, just two changes, Stevens replaced Douglas and O'Connor replaced Stewart. Then in the 6 years 1986-1992 there were four changes:

  • 1986: Warren Burger -> Scalia
  • 1987: Lewis Powell -> Kennedy (after Bork's June nomination was rejected in October)
  • 1990: William Brennan -> Souter
  • 1991: Thurgood Marshall -> Thomas

The Clarence Thomas nomination was certainly contentious and it came after the failed Bork nomination. The Supreme Court term was about to end and Justices usually retire just after the term to give the most time for a confirmation before the next term. Justice Harry Blackmun was 83.5 years old and Justice Byron White had just turned 75 a few days before. People didn't know if they would retire and while none did in 1992, in the next two years two did Byron White who was replaced by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Harry Blackmun was replaced by Stephen Breyer.

Biden made a long speech suggesting ways to repair the damage done to the institution by the Thomas confirmation and to depoliticize the process. He wanted more consultation between the President and Senate, particularly when they were of divided parties and he wanted a broader evaluation process so that the hearings themselves were less important. Obviously he wasn't successful.

Here is Biden's full 1.5 hours speech from June 25th 1992. Remember, there was no vacancy at the court when he said this.

Here are some relevant parts:

9:32 - 9:34: "As a result, it is my view, that if a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not, and not name a nominee until after the November election is completed. The Senate too Mr. President must consider how it would respond to a Supreme Court vacancy in the full throws of an election year. It is my view that if the President goes in the way of Presidents Fillmore and Johnson and presses an election year nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nominee until after the political campaign season is over. And I sadly predict Mr President that this is going to be one the bitterest, dirtiest presidential campaigns we will have seen in modern times. I'm sure Mr. President after uttering these words, some, some will criticize such a decision and say that it was nothing more an attempt to save a seat on the court in hopes that a Democrat would be permitted to fill it. But that would not be our intention Mr. President, if that were the course we were to choose as a Senate, to not consider holding hearings until after the election. Instead it would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process. Otherwise, it seems to me Mr. President we will be in deep trouble as an institution."

9:44: "Others will say that I'm not being contentious enough. They suggest that since the court as moved so far to the right already, that is it too late for a progressive Senate to accept compromise candidates from a conservative administration. They would argue that the only people we should accept are liberal candidates which are not going to come, nor is it reasonable to expect them to come, from a conservative Republican president. But I believe that so long as the public continues to split its confidence between the branches, compromise is the responsible course both for the White House and for the Senate, therefore I stand by my position, Mr. President, if the President consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices Kennedy and Souter. But if he does not as is the presidents right, then I will oppose his future nominees, as is my right."

So to compare it to the current situation. We're obviously "in the political season". We're a little earlier than the end of June and this is a vacancy produced by a death, not a planned retirement (which Justices often time during the presidency of their own party). Any hearing would definitely be contentious. It's clearly a political issue because Scalia was a conservative icon and Obama should not be expected to nominate a conservative (as Biden said of Bush Sr. nominating a liberal). By Biden's ideas, Obama perhaps shouldn't have nominated anyone until after the election, but he nominated the most moderate of his choices, someone Republican Senators have said would be a good pick, he did okay nominating someone with advise of the Senate. Now the Senate should do some investigation behind closed doors and if there isn't wide consensus, put off public hearings until after the election, so in mid November, the so-called lame duck period.

It's not ideal because it affects more than just the fall term. But it's also completely different than what the Republicans are describing. They typically say that Obama shouldn't nominate anyone, that the next president should, and they won't consider any nominee he makes. McConnell has softened his statements a little saying perhaps they'd consider someone in the lame duck session. The problem with that is, it is politicizing the situation even more, they'd presumably do this only if Republicans lost in the election (either the presidency or perhaps the Senate majority). Biden was trying to improve the process while there was no vacancy, McConnell actions have all been partisan.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

This Week in Trump

The New York Times writes, Republican Leaders Map a Strategy to Derail Donald Trump.

Republican leaders adamantly opposed to Donald J. Trump’s candidacy are preparing a 100-day campaign to deny him the presidential nomination, starting with an aggressive battle in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary and extending into the summer, with a delegate-by-delegate lobbying effort that would cast Mr. Trump as a calamitous choice for the general election.

But should that effort falter, leading conservatives are prepared to field an independent candidate in the general election, to defend Republican principles and offer traditional conservatives an alternative to Mr. Trump’s hard-edged populism.

The names of a few well-known conservatives have been offered up in recent days as potential third-party standard-bearers...Among the recruits under discussion are Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was suggested as a possible third-party candidate at a meeting of conservative activists on Thursday in Washington.

Coburn would rather back someone else and Perry seems like a horrible choice since on Sept 11, 2015 he was the first to drop out after yet another debate disaster (seriously, can this man speak without sounding like an idiot?)

Matthew Yglesias says, Donald Trump is Republican leaders' fault. "The fact of the matter is that the Trump phenomenon is entirely their fault — the malign consequence of years of willfully reckless misconduct of public affairs followed by months of cowardly dilly-dallying." He cites many elected Republican leaders who refused to call Trump a racist crank when he spouted his birther theories in 2011.

Leaders didn't scold or repudiate the birthers in their ranks because they were actively courting them. At a time when Trump's only known interest in national politics consisted of spreading wild, racially tinged anti-Obama conspiracy theories, Mitt Romney proudly stood beside him on a stage to accept his endorsement in the 2012 primary.

Later, Republicans invited Trump to speak at their 2012 convention. All of which is just to say that Trump is, in a very literal, very practical, very banal sense, entirely the fault of the Republican Party leadership. They knew in 2011 and 2012 that he wasn't a serious thinker about public policy and didn't have any longstanding commitment to conservative philosophy. But they embraced and promoted him as a political figure not despite his ugly conspiracy-mongering but because of it — doing so at a time when he had no other conceivable connection to Republican Party politics.

Then in their pledge to support anyone that won the nomination "Republican leaders vouched for Trump's fitness to serve".

Party leaders could have taken any number of opportunities — the time he approvingly cited a fictional war crime, his lavish praise of Vladimir Putin, his vile slurs of Megyn Kelly, his evident lack of knowledge of any policy issue, or his repeated incitements toward violence at his rallies — to simply admit that the pledge had been a mistake. They said they would support Trump, but they had never really meant it at the time and shouldn't have said it, because Trump is clearly unsuitable for the presidency.

But they didn't. Even in the course of a Tuesday night concession speech in which he implicitly lambasted Trump, Marco Rubio hewed to the line of party loyalty. Paul Ryan says he will support Trump if he is the nominee. Mitch McConnell and the entire Senate Republican caucus are holding a Supreme Court seat open for Trump to fill. And Republican strategists are currently advising candidates on how to Trumpify their own campaigns.

The question for Republican leaders is whether they will continue to legitimize Trump in the name of party unity, or do the right thing and disavow him. The preferred path of least resistance, obviously, is to choose not to choose. To have senators and House members in contested races distance themselves from the unpopular Trump even while the party as a whole mobilizes behind him to keep turnout and morale up. But politics is about making choices, and this is a time for choosing. Despite his anti-establishment credentials, Trump has been boosted and elevated by the Republican establishment every step of the way. If they don't stop that — and soon — they are all complicit in the consequences, no matter how much they quietly dream of a brokered convention to save them.

I recently found the twitter account, Propane Jane, and she is writing a lot of good stuff, including.

That's how they ended up w/Trump. He represents the GOP's lack of leadership and its outright refusal to admit its own terrible mistakes.

Nobody in the GOP wants to tell the White electorate (Indie or GOP) that they've been selling them horse shit for the last 50 years.

Last November Vanity Fair asked, Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In!.

For mental-health professionals, Donald Trump is at once easily diagnosed but slightly confounding. “Remarkably narcissistic,” said developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Textbook narcissistic personality disorder,” echoed clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis. “He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics,” said clinical psychologist George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior. “Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”

Raw Story wrote a similar article in January, A neuroscientist explains: Trump has a mental disorder that makes him a dangerous world leader.

Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan describe the many clips I've seen of the violence at Trump events and how Trump himself is supporting it. As Democracy Now does so well, they put it in context, Fascism: Can it Happen Here?.

Paxton gave a short history of the rise of fascism in Germany: "In the election of 1924, [Hitler] did very poorly, for a marginal party. Then you have the Depression in 1929 and 1930. ... There’s this huge economic crisis with tens of millions unemployed, and there’s also a governmental deadlock. You cannot get any legislation passed." Paxton continued, "The German Weimar Republic really ceased to function as a republic in 1930, because nothing could be passed. ... So, between 1930 and 1933, President von Hindenburg ruled by decree. And the political elites are desperate to get out of that situation. And here’s Hitler, who has more votes by this time than anybody else. He’s up to 37 percent. He never gets a majority, but he’s up to 37 percent. And they want to bring that into their tent and get a solid mass backing. And so ... they bring him in."

So here's the crazy thing, while a few months ago it seemed like the Democrats had only the slightest chance of taking back the Senate and a zero chance of taking 30 seats back in the House to get a majority, now the chance of the latter isn't zero anymore. Why experts think Trump could hand Democrats a House majority.

A Trump or Cruz nomination wouldn't guarantee a down-ballot disaster for the GOP, but operatives on both sides admit it would inject much more uncertainty into races - especially if it were Trump. For one, given Hillary Clinton's high unfavorable ratings and Trump's willingness to adapt his message to fit changing political conditions, anything from an extremely close race to a total Clinton blowout seems possible in November.

Second, if November does turn into a Democratic rout, it's impossible to know just how bad it could get for Republicans sharing a ballot with Trump or Cruz. On one hand, past presidential blowouts in years like 1964, 1972 and 1984 haven't led to dramatic sea changes in House seats. On the other, there hasn't been a true presidential blowout in 20 years. Today, rates of split-ticket voting are at all-time lows and House candidates are defined by their party and the top of the ticket more than ever.

They currently don't see a way for the Dems to get 30 seats, but they do cite 10 districts (half with Democratic incumbents) where Republican support is weakened by a Trump or Cruz nominee. As Vox put it "Paul Ryan will probably be speaker in 2017 just as much as he is today. But while four months ago the idea that he might not be seemed totally crazy, as of mid-March it doesn't seem crazy at all."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Merrick Garland would shift the Supreme Court left. A lot.

Eric Posner writes in Slate Merrick Garland would shift the Supreme Court left. A lot. and I agree with everything in the article. After pointing out the obvious, that swapping Scalia for Garland will change the 5-4 tide from conservative to liberal, and pointing out both sides overturn the other sides decisions, he concludes with:

Of all the bizarre and broken features of the American political system, the selection of Supreme Court justices tops the list. The justices claim the last word on the most controversial issues of our time—abortion, gun rights, religious freedom, affirmative action, gay marriage, campaign finance. Yet they are unelected, unaccountable, out of touch—drawn from a tiny elite of Ivy League–educated lawyers—and completely inexperienced in politics. Possibly to resolve the cognitive dissonance of elite rule in a democracy, the myth has arisen that the justices decide these issues by applying the “law” when in fact they apply their ideological commitments in legal guise. So powerful is this myth that it would be considered the highest breach of political etiquette for anyone to ask Judge Garland for his views on the very political controversies he will resolve. Not only are we denied the right to vote for or against this man who will decide these issues for the next two decades at least; we are not even allowed to know what he thinks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Once again: Why you shouldn't blindly install things on your Mac

iMore explains Once again: Why you shouldn't blindly install things on your Mac.

It seems that people who accidentally misspell a URL and end it with .om versus .com are being redirected to sites that only exist to serve malware. Sites many of us visit every day have been spoofed, such as Citibank, Dell, Macy's and Gmail. Our testing hasn't seen the issue on the listed sites, but it's always better to be safe than sorry."

The only popups I run into that tell me to install something are for flash and they've always been legit. But still, whenever I see one I never click yes in the popup, instead I dismiss it, open the flash system preferences on my mac and install from there. That way I know I'm going to the real site.

I'm also mostly immune to the described attack because all such sites I regularly visit I have Safari bookmarks for and to visit them I use the bookmark via Quicksilver (Spotlight will serve the same function). The bookmarks also include HTTPS so I visit them securely.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Can John Oliver Get Americans to Care About Encryption?

The Atlantic reports in, Can John Oliver Get Americans to Care About Encryption? about the research they did for their 18 min segment last night:

According to some of the people who were consulted for the show, John Oliver’s team spent weeks speaking to technology experts and advocates. They reached out to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation, as well as independent experts like Matt Blaze, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was featured in the episode.

Given Oliver’s conclusions, it wasn’t surprising that the technology community seemed very happy with how the episode turned out. ‘John Oliver and his team have a track record of distilling complex subjects into easy-to-understand and hilarious explainers, and their recent piece on encryption is no different,’ said Ross Schulman, the senior policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute. ‘It was a complete and accurate analysis of the many reasons backdoors in our devices are a horrible idea.’"

If a freaking comedy show can do this, why can't a real news show? Jon Stewart showed up real news shows by being able to pull up old clips highlighting hypocrisy within a day when no one else could. I've finally seen some news programs doing this with Trump, so that ability has propagated. Clearly 60 Minutes does extensive research, but why is it that even on 24 hours news networks there is just no time ever in a week to show anything of any depth. MSNBC has gutted their once good weekend morning shows to be political horserace coverage all the time (except for prison shows) so you can always here some mostly uninformed talking head talk about the meaning of the latest poll or extoll extemporaneously on the latest gaff.

While I wasn't a huge fan of Samantha Bee on The Daily Show, I love her new show Full Frontal which is weekly and seems to be somewhere between Jon Stewart's Daily Show and Oliver's show. Chris Hayes says he gets the question all the time from fans of when he was on (his old weekend show) Up about why (his current weeknight show) All In doesn't cover things in as much depth. He says it wouldn't be possible to do that in a daily format. It could be with more staff and I think MSNBC is currently wasting his demonstrated talent in such a format.

The Two Misconceptions Dominating The Encryption Debate

TechCrunch describes The two misconceptions dominating the encryption debate.

In the first he points out that the government already has access to more data than it's ever had before or knows what to do with:

The majority of global networks – including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Skype – operate with full visibility into user accounts and often their activities, rendering this data available to law enforcement with a warrant request. That includes metadata, a rich unencrypted layer in our expanding profiles – who we talk to, where and how often, where we spend time and with whom, and what our interests are.

Widespread visual surveillance — from cameras on public utility polls and transport to commercial data collectors time-stamping and geo-tagging billions of photos of license plates – supplies an exhaustive picture of ourphysical activity. Law enforcement has access to a historically unprecedented amount of information, capable of mapping out countless connections between people, businesses, locations, and things – sometimes with and sometimes without a warrant.

Current trends in technology are only adding to the pool of data that law enforcement can draw from. When vulnerability is injected into technology used worldwide, it becomes everyone’s liability."

And this will only get worse with the Internet of Things (as more and more things are connected to the Internet). The second is the obvious one, we only want a backdoor for warranted government access; but of course there's no way to enforce that any such backdoor is not also used by bad guys. That's the part that non-technical people have problems understanding or believing (this is not going to be fixed any time soon by smart people trying harder).

John Oliver covered part of this brilliantly and hilariously last night:

More Americans Killed by Toddlers than Terrorists

I had missed this meme, "Toddlers killed more Americans than terrorists in 2015". Snopes says TRUE: More Americans Killed by Toddlers than Terrorists.

Noting that "in most cases, the toddlers are killing or injuring themselves," Ingraham counted 58 total toddler-involved shootings in 2015 as of 17 December of that year. In 19 instances a toddler shot and killed themselves, and in two others, the toddler shot and killed another individual. That brings the total of toddler-involved shooting deaths in the United States in 2015 to 21.

By contrast, if we count both the Chattanooga shootings and San Bernardino as strictly terrorism, 14 Americans were killed in San Bernardino and five in Chattanooga. As such, 19 Americans were killed in instances of suspected, reported, or potential Islamic terrorism in 2015. If you count an American victim of the Paris attacks, that number rose to 20.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Future Economists Will Probably Call This Decade the 'Longest Depression'

Brad DeLong, Future Economists Will Probably Call This Decade the 'Longest Depression'

Economist Joe Stiglitz warned back in 2010 that the world risked sliding into a 'Great Malaise.' This week, he followed up on that grim prediction, saying, 'We didn't do what was needed, and we have ended up precisely where I feared we would.'

The problems we face now, Stiglitz points out, include 'a deficiency of aggregate demand, brought on by a combination of growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity.'

He says the only cure is an increase in aggregate demand, far-reaching redistribution of income and deep reform of our financial system. The obstacles to this cure, he writes, 'are not rooted in economics, but in politics and ideology.'"

"What we need now is 1) debt relief to unwind the overhang and 2) much tighter financial regulation to prevent the growth of new fragilities. And if those prove inconsistent with full recovery, then we need massive government spending on infrastructure and other investments financed by money printing until full employment is reattained."

Thank you Donald Trump

Some random blog, Kids Prefer Cheese, has a nice post, Thank you Donald Trump.

People, I believe that Donald Trump is teaching many of us a valuable lesson. He's performing an important public service, and I for one am grateful.

I'm one of those guys who thought, hey we really don't need affirmative action anymore, women are treated with respect and dignity now, facism is a relic of a bygone age.

But Trump is showing me/us that a large chunk of US adults (what like 25-30% or so?) are racist, sexist, xenophobic, economically illiterate morons."

Michigan Blue Collar Wages

Jared Bernstein points out, Real earnings, real anger "I realized this AM that it would be interesting to look at the trend in real manufacturing wages for blue collar workers in Michigan. While the national real wage has been flat, that of MI has fallen steeply. Nothing you wouldn’t know if you follow this sort of thing, but if you’re trying to figure out why a bunch of voters are pissed off right now, here’s a picture."


Scott Walker was first elected governor in 2011 and last year signed a right to work law (after saying for years that he wasn't interested because unions were cooperating with him).

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Inside the Koch Brothers’ War on the VA

Martin Longman writes Inside the Koch Brothers’ War on the VA

In the next issue of the Washington Monthly, investigative journalist Alicia Mundy reveals how the Kochs and their network have executed, with meticulous detail, a plan to get Washington to outsource the health care of millions of our nation’s veterans to corporate sector providers. Among other revelations, Mundy shows:

  • that stories about veterans dying while waiting for VA care in 2014 (the ‘scandal’ that sparked the current call for privatization) turned out to be baseless.
  • that these claims were cooked up by the Koch-funded group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) and key Republicans precisely to stampede Washington into passing legislation to outsource VA care.
  • that the first round of outsourcing has been a fiasco.
  • that independent research mandated by that legislation shows that the VA continues to provide the same or better quality care than do private sector providers.
  • that the commission now making the outsourcing decisions is stacked with members and allies of CVA and representatives of private sector providers.

To read the full story, click here. And check back Monday to see our whole new exciting March/April/May issue.

The Stunning Facts on Crime and Imprisonment Everyone Is Ignoring

Mike Males writes in The Washington Monthly, The Stunning Facts on Crime and Imprisonment Everyone Is Ignoring "Young-age crime, gun violence, school dropout, and other ills are declining while the imprisonment rates among middle-aged whites are rising."

Friday, March 11, 2016

Andrew Bacevich: Why Is No Candidate Offering an Alternative to Militarized U.S. Foreign Policy?

Great interview by Amy Goodman of Andrew Bacevich, Why Is No Candidate Offering an Alternative to Militarized U.S. Foreign Policy?

Why Trump's Endorsements Should Scare Your Pants Off

Matt Taibbi today on Why Trump's Endorsements Should Scare Your Pants Off

The significance of all of these endorsements can't be understated. The way you build a truly vicious nationalist movement is to wed a relatively small core of belligerent idiots to a much larger group of opportunists and spineless fellow travelers whose primary function is to turn a blind eye to things. We may not have that many outright Nazis in America, but we have plenty of cowards and bootlickers, and once those fleshy dominoes start tumbling into the Trump camp, the game is up.

People like Chris Christie and Paul LePage and Jeff Sessions surely know what Donald Trump is all about. Under normal circumstances, they wouldn't be debasing themselves by endorsing him. After all, they didn't, at least not until he became the practically inevitable nominee.

These are just half-smart politicians who think they see the writing on the wall and are making a move sooner rather than later, so they can nail down better jobs later on, or maybe just a line of communication. Christie, who if you haven't heard yet was once a federal prosecutor, is probably gunning for the attorney general job. And LePage practically came out and said he was looking for a post after his endorsement, explaining that he believed Trump would make a great president "if he puts together a good team." Hint hint!

Watch an Amazing 'Ghost Octopus' Discovered in the Deep Sea

National Geographic lets you Watch an Amazing 'Ghost Octopus' Discovered in the Deep Sea "The deep sea just got a little spookier with the discovery of a ghostly octopod off the Hawaiian archipelago. A remotely operated vehicle with the Okeanos Explorer, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship, captured the pale cephalopod swimming slowly about 2.6 miles (4.3 kilometers) deep."

Screen Shot 2016 03 11 at 2 12 33 PM

For one, the octopus has very few muscles, and is almost gelatinous in consistency. This is likely because there's little food in the deep sea, and it takes a lot of energy to build muscles. (See 'Huge Swarm of Gelatinous Sea Creatures Imaged in 3-D.') 

What's more, its wraith-like appearance is due to a total lack of pigment cells, or chromatophores, which are useless in the dark depths. But the newfound creature's tiny eyes are probably functional, Vecchione says."

Trump and the News Media

Here's Matt Taibbi from a couple of weeks ago, How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable. Entertaining as Taibbi always is.

It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go.

And Trump is no half-bright con man, either. He's way better than average.

It's been well-documented that Trump surged last summer when he openly embraced the ugly race politics that, according to the Beltway custom of 50-plus years, is supposed to stay at the dog-whistle level. No doubt, that's been a huge factor in his rise. But racism isn't the only ugly thing he's dragged out into the open.

Trump is no intellectual. He's not bringing Middlemarch to the toilet. If he had to jail with Stephen Hawking for a year, he wouldn't learn a thing about physics. Hawking would come out on Day 365 talking about models and football.

But, in an insane twist of fate, this bloated billionaire scion has hobbies that have given him insight into the presidential electoral process. He likes women, which got him into beauty pageants. And he likes being famous, which got him into reality TV. He knows show business.

That put him in position to understand that the presidential election campaign is really just a badly acted, billion-dollar TV show whose production costs ludicrously include the political disenfranchisement of its audience. Trump is making a mockery of the show, and the Wolf Blitzers and Anderson Coopers of the world seem appalled. How dare he demean the presidency with his antics?

But they've all got it backward. The presidency is serious. The presidential electoral process, however, is a sick joke, in which everyone loses except the people behind the rope line. And every time some pundit or party spokesman tries to deny it, Trump picks up another vote.

Here's the thing:

Trump had said things that were true and that no other Republican would dare to say. And yet the press congratulated the candidate stuffed with more than $100 million in donor cash who really did take five whole days last year to figure out his position on his own brother's invasion of Iraq.

Why do the media hate Trump? Progressive reporters will say it's because of things like his being crazy and the next Hitler, while the Fox types insist it's because he's "not conservative." But reporters mostly loathe Trump because he regularly craps on other reporters.

And when Rubio gets exposed in the debate as a talking haircut, a political Speak n' Spell, suddenly the throng of journalists who spent the past two weeks trying to sell America on "Marcomentum" and the all-important "establishment lane" looks very guilty indeed. Voters were supposed to take this seriously?

Trump knows the public sees through all of this, grasps the press's role in it and rightly hates us all. When so many Trump supporters point to his stomping of the carpetbagging snobs in the national media as the main reason they're going to vote for him, it should tell us in the press something profound about how much people think we suck.

I think too one nice thing about supporting Trump, he doesn't ask you for money. Every other candidate, if you like them, starts relentlessly asking you for money. And if you give, they want more. Trump on the other hand, is free.

Bill Moyers posted this story by Neal Gabler, Blowing the Biggest Political Story of the Last Fifty Years. "The shocking story isn't the rise of Donald Trump but how the GOP slowly morphed into a party of hate and obstruction."

But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.

Do you remember these headlines: “Republicans Oppose Civil Rights”; “Republicans Work to Defeat Expansion of Health Insurance”; “Republicans Torpedo Extension of Unemployment Benefits”; “Republicans Demonize Homosexuals and Deny Them Rights”; “Republicans Call Climate Change a Hoax and Refuse to Stop Greenhouse Gases”? No, you don’t remember, because no MSM paper printed them and no MSM network broadcast them. Instead, the media behaved as if extremism were business as usual.

I don’t think the media would deny their indifference. They would say they don’t take sides. They’re neutral. They just report. Partisanship is for Fox News and MSNBC.

Of course, this is utter nonsense. Accurate reporting means taking sides when one side is spouting falsehoods. I am still waiting for the media to correct the GOP pronouncements that Obamacare has cost us jobs and sent health care costs skyrocketing – both of which are screamingly false. I am not holding my breath.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Obamacare Didn’t Pave The Way For Donald Trump, The Gop’s Response To It Did

Ezra Klein wrote one of the best articles I've seen in a while, Obamacare didn’t pave the way for Donald Trump. The GOP’s response to it did.

There are two ways to look at Obamacare. One is that it was more or less American politics working as it's supposed to.

Democrats won two wave elections in a row and amassed a tremendous amount of political power. That done, they turned to their top priority: health reform. They recognized that their majority, though large, wasn't particularly liberal, and in a bid to win over both moderate Democrats and Republicans, they abandoned their single-payer dreams and their public option hopes and crafted legislation based on Mitt Romney's successful, bipartisan Massachusetts reforms.

The final bill passed the House, passed the Senate, and was signed into law by the president. The vote fell on party lines, but then, most major votes these days fall on party lines. Obamacare is now covering about 20 million people at a cost lower than anyone anticipated. This is the political system doing its job in a polarized age.

But there's another popular narrative of Obamacare — that it was a hijacking of American politics in order to pass radical, unconstitutional legislation that forever transformed the country.

In this telling, Democrats won a hefty majority on a message of unity and moderation and then rammed socialized health care down the country's throat. They bought off interest groups, exploited parliamentary loopholes, and ignored the clear will of the people. The GOP's lockstep opposition was driven by the danger posed by the legislation and the corruption of the process. The Tea Party — which had its roots, remember, in the administration's housing policies, not in Obamacare — was a necessary reaction to the Democrats' unforgivable decision to use a transient majority to permanently reshape America.

Longtime readers won't be surprised to know I think the first narrative is basically true and the second narrative is rather overwrought. But the second narrative is widely believed on the right. It's what the Republican Party has been telling its voters for years. It's what Kraushaar is gesturing towards in his column. And I think there is reason to believe it's partly what's driving Trump.

The Republican Party could have reacted to Obamacare the way it, say, reacted to Medicare — and Medicare actually was a single-payer health care plan. But in that case, Republicans negotiated over the legislation, and 70 House Republicans and 13 Senate Republicans voted for the final bill.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Shocker: Donald Trump Lies About His Policies

Vox writes Donald Trump lies — yes, lies — about his policies. And he does it constantly.. I'm not even remotely surprised.

But Trump is a frontrunner, not a curiosity, and his policy plans reveal two important things about his candidacy.

First, he lies constantly and fluently about what his policies actually are. Second, his advisers — whoever they may be — are leading him toward conventional Republican plans even on the issues where Trump has promised to throw out Republican orthodoxy.

This is why the details of Trump's plans matter — they speak to issues both of character and of staffing. There's nothing new about candidates exaggerating the benefits of their campaign proposals, but Trump's lies are something else entirely — his policies are often directionally different from the language he uses to sell them. Trump will routinely promise his plan is up when it is actually down.

But when Trump's plans diverge from his rhetoric, they don't diverge at random, which is what you might expect if Trump wasn't paying attention, or simply didn't know what he was talking about and was tasking some interns with turning his pronouncements into policy. Instead, Trump's plans tend to diverge in the same direction — toward conventional Republican ideas, which implies that he's relying on a fairly conventional set of advisers to write these proposals.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Daughter of Civil War vet still getting a pension

Kottke writes: Daughter of Civil War vet still getting a pension "Private Mose Triplett was 19 when the Civil War ended in 1865. Later in life, he married a woman 50 years younger than him and, in 1930, they had a daughter Irene. Irene Triplett is now in her mid-eighties and gets a monthly benefit check from US Department of Veterans Affairs for her father's service so many years before. This story is from 2014, but I looked for Triplett's obituary and found nothing, so I'm assuming she's still alive and collecting that pension."

Amazing. Hard to believe that there's someone alive today who's father fought in the civil war. It really wasn't that long ago.

The Dizzying Cityscape of Hong Kong

In Focus on The Dizzying Cityscape of Hong Kong "In Hong Kong, space has always been at a premium. The small autonomous territory, part of the People's Republic of China, houses more than 7.3 million residents within just 426 square miles (1,104 sq kilometers)—resulting in one of the highest population densities in the world: 17,150 people per square mile (6,650 people per sq kilometers). In such a limited and popular environment, developers tend to build as tall as possible, leading to a bristling cityscape that has led some to call Hong Kong a concrete forest. Reuters reports that home prices in Hong Kong have risen by 120 percent since 2008, with prices in the luxury market being pushed up by wealthy buyers from mainland China. The market has cooled in recent months as investors wait to see which direction China's slowing economy will trend."

Main 1500 500

Kevin Mitnick's advice on protecting laptops, smartphones, and more

MacWorld has Kevin Mitnick's advice on protecting laptops, smartphones, and more. Nice simple tips for everyone.

First OS X Ransomware Found in Transmission BitTorrent Client Installer

The Transmission.app installer was infected on March 4th, 2016 and it was found yesterday, so the window is small. If you installed Transmission this weekend, you should read this in detail. The malware waits 3 days before activating, so you have time to remove it. You can otherwise read it in detail because it's interesting. :) New OS X Ransomware KeRanger Infected Transmission BitTorrent Client Installer.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Trump is closer to what most Republicans believe than the ‘establishment’ candidates are

WonkBlog says Trump is closer to what most Republicans believe than the ‘establishment’ candidates are "Across these three representative issues, 60 percent of the Democratic electorate supports Democratic candidates’ policies strongly (or more so). But only 35 percent of the Republican electorate supports their candidates’ positions."

Maybe this provides a little more hope as well, For Voters, Facts Should Be the Lifeblood of Democracy. "James Fishkin has run his conferences around the world. Every time he holds one he gets the same results. They are nothing short of extraor dinary. Voters aren’t dumb. They are ignorant. When you expose them to the relevant information they are able to digest it and make sense of it. This suggests that democracy can work. It means charlatans can be stopped." The problem, as the article points out, figuring out a way to educate them that works.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Top Ten List of Things That Are Going Great in America

Kevin Drum has a nice list of the Top Ten List of Things That Are Going Great in America

CBS CEO: “For Us, Economically, Donald’s Place in This Election Is a Good Thing”

The Intercept reports: CBS CEO: “For Us, Economically, Donald’s Place in This Election Is a Good Thing” "Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, celebrated Donald Trump’s candidacy for the second time on Monday, calling it ‘good for us economically.’ Moonves, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference at the Park Hotel in San Francisco, described the ‘circus’ of a presidential campaign and the flow of political advertising dollars, and stated that it ‘may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say.’"

This is the current problem with the fourth estate, it has to be run as a business. The incentive is not to provide the most informative news, but the news that delivers the most money. When TV started and radio frequencies were given out, providing news was part of the bargain that the media had to give to make use of the public airwaves. Not so much anymore and news divisions are just another profit center. So this year we have at least one party, who's primary is being run a wrestling match and it's being covered as one as well. You get what you incentivize and we're doing that wrong.

Top 10 Movie Twists of All Time

CineFix presents the Top 10 Movie Twists of All Time. It's a good list. It spoils lots of films (and warns you about it up front). They mention a lot of their runner ups, but they dive in on their 10 picks.

I'll try to do better, if you haven't seen these movies, go see them first then watch this fun compilation. I haven't seen Orson Welles' F for Fake but it's been on my list for a couple of years.

  • Planet of the Apes (1969)
  • The Sting
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • Charade
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Fight Club
  • The Third Man
  • F for Fake
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Psycho

I can quibble with some of their rankings, but it's a good list. They're hampered by having each ranking be a category, so two films with a similar twist, even if they're effective, don't make the top 10. So The Usual Suspects and The Matrix would have made my top 10. The Sixth Sense and The Crying Game might have as well (though I don't think those films were as good as their endings).

House of Games should have been mentioned. Twelve Monkeys too.

Other films mentioned that I highly recommend if you haven't seen them:

  • Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
  • Brazil (1985)
  • The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
  • Oceans Eleven (2001)
  • Memento (2000)
  • A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  • Inside Man (2006)
  • The Prestige (2006)
  • The Man From Earth (2007)

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Romney Looks the Fool Bashing Trump

I was in the car when I heard the end of Mitt Romney's anti-Trump speech today. It just seemed so hollow and I realized that the Republicans have no one of presidential stature that can speak for the party. The only two living past presidents are Bush Sr, who was never that liked (one term and he was never Reagan) and Bush Jr who has been largely discredited even by those that supported him at the time (though for different reasons than the Democrats discredit him). W wasn't a help to Jeb.

And no Republican presidential nominee has good standing. Bob Dole is 92 and hasn't been in office in 20 years. Perhaps he'd be liked but he's not talking and as soon as anyone mentions that Obamacare is basically his idea he'd be completely discredited. John McCain was liked but then he blew his reputation in 2008, picking Sarah Palin and loosing to Obama. Since then his power in the party has only declined because he's not conservative enough. And then there's Romney. He was never the real pick of the party, coming in second in each primary while everyone else took turns in first. He never had the religious wing of the party and by losing to (socialist, muslim terrorist fist-bumping) Obama he lost all credibility and hasn't been heard from since until today.

The party doesn't like anyone in Washington. Not McConnell, or other senior senators (ask Lindsey Graham). And in the House they had no one to take over after Boehner stepped down, having to beg Paul Ryan to take it. He's been mostly quiet, trying to wrangle the tea partiers and not get too much heat for making deals to keep the government running while doing nothing else.

So who is there for the "establishment" to trot out to discredit Trump? Using Romney is hilarious. My barber had Fox News on and they immediately brought up clips of Trump endorsing Romney and Romney saying exactly the opposite of what he said today, just four years ago. My barber said "who's the hypocrite now?". This might be the first election where the media learned from Jon Stewart how to bring out past clips in the news cycle to discredit whatever they say today.

I asked my barber (a born again Republican) if there's anyone who the majority of the Republicans respect that could speak for them? He immediately turned it around asking if there's any Democrat I could name. I said Obama and Bill Clinton. While they certainly have their detractors, both would be listened to if they came out with an opinion/endorsement. HIllary is probably going to win the nomination so she's by definition widely respected (as much as Romney was in 2012). I think on financial matters Elizabeth Warren is the most respected figure in the party. I asked him to name someone and the closest I could get is "I could name someone I like".

I think the best shot the Republican party has of regaining any semblance of control is this. They need to go to Roger Ailes and have him push the story on Fox that they uncovered a Republican establishment conspiracy that lied about climate change. It turns out climate change is real.

  • This gets the country working to save the world
  • It lets Fox off the hook for lying about it for so long
  • They get to blame at least part of the establishment that the voters seem to hate
  • It gives Fox a leg up on the Koch brothers
  • It further discredits those that have fallen out of favor with Fox (Palin, Beck, Coulter)
  • They can push for tax cuts on green companies and investments
  • It lets Fox News discredit Trump (climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and Palin should be energy secretary)
  • They still need to come up with a viable candidate (maybe Kasich who hasn't called climate change a hoax)

It's obviously a farfetched pipe dream, but that's as good as I've got.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Movie Review: Knight of Cups

Knight of Cups is the latest film by Terrence Malick. That should be enough to give you some clue about the film. Apparently the issue with Tree of Life is that it had too much plot, this film too is devoid of that problem.

Christian Bale is evidently someone having a midlife crisis. We see him in various vignettes, at party at a mansion, at a modeling shoot, walking down the street, walking on rooftops, at the seashore, under a dock, on a dock, in the LA river, driving in LA, driving in Las Vegas, driving in the desert, walking through a wind farm, well you get the point. Various people are in and around pools in all stages of dress. At times he's with his brother (Wes Bentley), his father (Brian Dennehy), his ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), and various women he's hooking up with (it's a long list including Natalie Portman and Freida Pinto). These aren't as much scenes as they are montages of imagery (sometime scenery, sometimes actors). If they do bring up a semblence of a plot point (an unwanted pregnancy), don't worry, they are dropped completely within a few minutes.

There's a seen of a tarot card reading, and by that I mean that there are images on the screen of Bale in a shop sitting at a table across from a woman turning over cards which look like they could be tarot cards. She speaks in another language and someone who might be standing behind her translates into English but it just sounds like the broken musings of the voiceover anyway. There's nothing that anyone would call a reading or a fortune. However, the film is broken into segments with title cards that seem to come from the Tarot (the moon, the hanged man, death, the hermit, etc.) I tried to see a connection between the titles and the following segment and never once found one. I mean that quite literally.

I saw Freida Pinto on a late night show, she said there was no script, she got several pages of enigmatic phrases that was supposed to help her. She saw Bale on set and wanted to discuss some lines to work on each other with, and then he told her that he didn't speak in the film. Here's another similar story. It seems obvious that they shot a bunch of footage and then spent a couple of years trying to edit it together into something coherent and failed utterly.

Bale and some of the characters have voiceovers (sometimes it's dialog but the camera is so infrequently on someone's face the assumption is it's not). That's fine in abstract, Malick's films are more poetry than prose and there should be a place for that in film. Two lines stood out to me and I found the quotes on IMDb.

Dennehy says: "You think when you reach a certain age things will start making sense, and you find out that you are just as lost as you were before. I suppose that's what damnation is. The pieces of your life never to come together, just splashed out there." I'm perfectly comfortable with the notion that there is no meaning of life. But seriously, if you're searching for one, hopping between LA parties, strip clubs and Las Vegas is so obviously not the way to find it. Now sure, many people have tried this method, but do need another movie about hiow unsucessful that will be? Do we need an abstract film on that?

A priest says: "If you are unhappy, you shouldn't take it as God's disfavor. Just the contrary. Might be the very sign He loves you. He shows His love not by helping avoid suffering, but by sending you suffering, by keeping you there. To suffer binds you to something higher than yourself, higher than your own will. Takes you from the world to find what lies beyond it." The priest is basically facing the camera when he says this, it's hard to not take it as the purpose of the film. Malick brought us this two hour film to make us suffer and through that we can come out better for it. That would be fine if it worked, but I learned nothing from the experience that I didn't know in the first five minutes.

It's sad that Malick has so much talent and so little to say. I hope he gets help.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

4 Reasons Iran's Election Is a Bigger Deal Than You Think

The Republican party might be turning authoritarian and voting for nationalism but Vox points out 4 reasons Iran's election is a bigger deal than you think

Tens of millions of Iranians voted on Friday, for parliament and for the body that will likely pick the next supreme leader, in an election with still-uncertain but potentially major consequences for the country, its future, and its relationship with the outside world. So-called moderates swept the vote, seemingly defeating the hard-liners who've long dominated Iran's government.

It's worth a couple of important caveats. No two Iran analysts agree on who counts as a liberal-leaning 'reformist' versus a 'moderate' versus a 'hard-liner.' Iran does not have formal political parties, so we have to use fuzzy terms and imprecise measurements of which ideological factions are rising or falling. And, crucially, Iran's elected officials have real power, but they're limited by unelected authorities like the supreme leader."

  1. The trend points toward a rise of moderates in Iran
  2. Iranians approve of the nuclear deal and opening with the West — and push for more
  3. It puts pressure on the supreme leader
  4. The election's hidden and potentially historic significance: on picking the next supreme leader

The Myth and the Reality of Donald Trump’s Business Empire

The Washington Post has a good article The myth and the reality of Donald Trump’s business empire "Given all the ‘truthful hyperbole’ out there about Trump, it’s hard to know what to believe. Here are five of the most important things to know about Trump’s business career."

  1. He has a talent for real estate, but that hasn’t always translated well to other industries.
  2. Trump is not a self-made man.
  3. Everything Trump touches turns to "Trump."
  4. Trump’s record includes some unsavory episodes.
  5. Trump's genius is building a brand, even a mythology.

One-third of all U.S. presidents appointed a Supreme Court justice in an election year

The Washington Post puts it in perspective, One-third of all U.S. presidents appointed a Supreme Court justice in an election year "The historical record supports that position: 14 presidents have appointed 21 justices during presidential election years. A half-dozen presidents, classic lame ducks, filled Supreme Court seats even though their successors had been elected. Six lame duck presidents appointed Supreme Court justices – before their successors took office."

“Trumped" Starring Matthew Broderick & Nathan Lane

If the scammers in The Producers thought of electing Trump as their scheme...

Diffie and Hellman Receive Turing Award

The Turing Award is basically the Nobel Prize of computer science. Today, Cryptography Pioneers Receive ACM A.M. Turing Award "ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, today named Whitfield Diffie, former Chief Security Officer of Sun Microsystems and Martin E. Hellman, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, recipients of the 2015 ACM A.M. Turing Award for critical contributions to modern cryptography. The ability for two parties to communicate privately over a secure channel is fundamental for billions of people around the world. On a daily basis, individuals establish secure online connections with banks, e-commerce sites, email servers and the cloud. Diffie and Hellman's groundbreaking 1976 paper, 'New Directions in Cryptography,' introduced the ideas of public-key cryptography and digital signatures, which are the foundation for most regularly-used security protocols on the Internet today. The Diffie-Hellman Protocol protects daily Internet communications and trillions of dollars in financial transactions."

Here's a nice video explanation of their invention:

The Mindblowing Special Effects Used On 'Carol'

Funny or Die nailed it with this:

Side-by-side comparisons of movies and their remakes

"A quick three-minute look at how the same scenes were filmed in movies and their remakes." Lots of films, I'm not sure what the criteria was, but I'm amazing that barely any of the remakes are an improvement on the original shot. (via kottke)