Friday, February 27, 2015

Blind Agency's Bluff

The blind working for the blind:
Stephen Manning, the deputy chief information officer for strategy and modernization at the IRS, submitted an affidavit in the True the Vote vs. IRS litigation regarding the persons and procedures used to attempt to recover Lois Lerner’s hard drive containing emails pertaining to Tea Party targeting.

The affidavit can be read here. Paragraph 14 describes the educational background of the person searching for data on Lois Lerner’s hard drive:

“According to the Specialist, prior to joining the Internal Revenue Service … training was completed through Lions World Services for the Blind.”

Sources familiar with the litigation confirm to me that the government confirmed that the IRS employee searching for the lost data was legally blind.
Literally see no evil...

The Stalin Method

I'm sure there's nothing suspicious here:
A police spokesman on the scene said Nemtsov had been shot at from a passing white car that fled the scene. The woman was being interviewed by police.

Mikhail Kasyanov, a fellow opposition leader, told reporters at the bridge: “That a leader of the opposition could be shot beside the walls of the Kremlin is beyond imagination. There can be only one version: that he was shot for telling the truth.”

Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Putin, called Nemtsov a “fighter for the truth”.

Nemtsov had been quoted as saying he was concerned that the president might want him dead over his opposition to the conflict in Ukraine. Sunday’s opposition march is intended as a protest against the war in east Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have seized a swathe of territory.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Russian news agencies that the president had expressed his condolences and ordered the security agencies to investigate. He said Putin had called it a “brutal murder”.
Which he had absolutely nothing to do with...

Degree Of Uncertainty

Not surprisingly:
Architecture and social science are fascinating subjects, but they are no quick ticket to employment. According to a new report from Georgetown University on college majors, unemployment and earnings, recent grads with degrees in these two fields had unemployment rates of 10 percent — higher even than the arts (9.5 percent). While the percent of unemployed architects and social scientists falls significantly for advanced degree holders, it still tends to be higher than in other fields.
Real jobs require real degrees...

Wrong Answer

When science gets it wrong:
When a researcher gets proved wrong, that means the scientific method is working. Scientists make progress by re-doing each other’s experiments—replicating them to see if they can get the same result. More often than not, they can’t. “Failure to reproduce is a good thing,” says Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch. “It happens a lot more than we know about.” That could be because the research was outright fraudulent, like Wakefield’s. But there are plenty of other ways to get a bum result—as the Public Libary of Science’s new collection of negative results, launched this week, will highlight in excruciating detail.

You might have a particularly loosey-goosey postdoc doing your pipetting. You might have picked a weird patient population that shows a one-time spike in drug efficacy. Or you might have just gotten a weird statistical fluke. No matter how an experiment got screwed up, “negative results can be extremely exciting and useful—sometimes even more useful than positive results,” says John Ioannidis, a biologist at Stanford who published a now-famous paper suggesting that most scientific studies are wrong.

The problem with science isn’t that scientists can be wrong: It’s that when they’re proven wrong, it’s way too hard for people to find out.
Especially when some scientists don't want to admit they were wrong...

The Magic Dress

Explaining the dress that melted the Internet:
Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the “real” color of the object. “Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance,” says Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington. “But I’ve studied individual differences in color vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen.” (Neitz sees white-and-gold.)
It's all how you look at things (besides, it's clearly gold and blue.)

Lost And Found

So that's where they went:
The IRS’s inspector general confirmed Thursday it is conducting a criminal investigation into how Lois G. Lerner’s emails disappeared, saying it took only two weeks for investigators to find hundreds of tapes the agency’s chief had told Congress were irretrievably destroyed.

Investigators have already scoured 744 backup tapes and gleaned 32,774 unique emails, but just two weeks ago they found an additional 424 tapes that could contain even more Lerner emails, Deputy Inspector General Timothy P. Camus told the House Oversight Committee in a rare late-night hearing meant to look into the status of the investigation.

“There is potential criminal activity,” Mr. Camus said.

He said they have also discovered the hard drives from the IRS’s email servers, but said because the drives are out of synch it’s not clear whether they will be able to recover anything from them.

“To date we have found 32,744 unique emails that were backed up from Lois Lerner’s email box. We are in the process of comparing these emails to what the IRS has already produced to Congress to determine if we did in fact recover any new emails,” Mr. Camus said.
I guess the dog didn't eat all of her homework after all...

Holder Goes Home

Eric Holder's final case:
“We have done independent, thorough investigations in all of the matters that we have examined, and we have brought record numbers of cases against police departments around this country,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would be able to look at this Justice Department over the last six years and say that we’ve been anything other than aggressive in trying to root out inappropriate police conduct while, at the same time, trying to establish — or reestablish — bonds of trust between communities of color and people in law enforcement.”

Throughout much his tenure, Holder has been a frequent target of criticism by Republicans in Congress, leading to some pointed confrontations. He was voted in contempt of Congress by House Republicans in 2012, and has sometimes felt disrespected during Capitol Hill appearances. He refused to dismiss the notion that some of the hostility was related to his race, but acknowledged that “it’s hard to say — you know, hard to look into people’s minds, you know, their hearts.”
Or maybe it was just because you weren't that good of an Attorney General, sir...

You Are, And Always Have Been, Our Friend

RIP Leonard Nimoy:
Mr. Nimoy, who was teaching Method acting at his own studio when he was cast in the original “Star Trek” television series in the mid-1960s, relished playing outsiders, and he developed what he later admitted was a mystical identification with Spock, the lone alien on the starship’s bridge.

Yet he also acknowledged ambivalence about being tethered to the character, expressing it most plainly in the titles of two autobiographies: “I Am Not Spock,” published in 1977, and “I Am Spock,” published in 1995.

In the first, he wrote, “In Spock, I finally found the best of both worlds: to be widely accepted in public approval and yet be able to continue to play the insulated alien through the Vulcan character.”

“Star Trek,” which had its premiere on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, made Mr. Nimoy a star. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise, called him “the conscience of ‘Star Trek’ ” — an often earnest, sometimes campy show that employed the distant future (as well as some primitive special effects by today’s standards) to take on social issues of the 1960s.

His stardom would endure. Though the series was canceled after three seasons because of low ratings, a cultlike following — the conference-holding, costume-wearing Trekkies, or Trekkers (the designation Mr. Nimoy preferred) — coalesced soon after “Star Trek” went into syndication.
Of all the souls I've encountered...but you know the rest. RIP.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

That's No Moon

What's behind the lights of Ceres?
"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin," Dawn principal investigator Chris Russell, of UCLA, said in a statement. "This may be pointing to a volcanolike origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations."

Dawn took the new images on Feb. 19, when it was about 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres — still too far away to give scientists a good look at the peculiar spots.

"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size, it is brighter than anything else on Ceres," Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, said in the same statement. "This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us."
The Ceres welcoming committee?

Walker At CPAC

Scott Walker at CPAC:

No Authorization? No Problem

If you want money, they've got it:
The U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed a request by House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., to explain $3 billion in payments that were made to health insurers even though Congress never authorized the spending through annual appropriations.

At issue are payments to insurers known as cost-sharing subsidies. These payments come about because President Obama’s healthcare law forces insurers to limit out-of-pocket costs for certain low income individuals by capping consumer expenses, such as deductibles and co-payments, in insurance policies. In exchange for capping these charges, insurers are supposed to receive compensation.

What’s tricky is that Congress never authorized any money to make such payments to insurers in its annual appropriations, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury, made them anyway.
Legalities are tricky things...

Ted Cruz At CPAC

Ted Cruz takes the stage at CPAC:

Deadbeat Moms

who owes whom?
In 2011, 32 percent of custodial fathers didn’t receive any of the child support that had been awarded to them, compared with 25.1 percent of custodial mothers. That’s a relatively small difference. And when you look at the other extreme (i.e., the percentage of parents who receive the full amount), the difference isn’t statistically significant at all: 43.6 percent of custodial mothers compared with 41.4 percent of fathers.

Then there’s the gray area in between paying nothing and paying everything. The most common amount of child support due to custodial mothers is $4,800 annually, of which $2,500 is typically received (52 percent). For custodial fathers, median annual child support is less — it’s $4,160 — and fathers receive 40 percent of the amount they’re due.

Nationally, this all adds up to a lot of outstanding child support. In 2011, America’s custodial fathers were owed a total of $1.7 billion and custodial mothers were owed $12.1 billion (keep in mind, moms who are owed child support outnumber dads almost 9 to 1).
What happens when the custodial shoe is on the other foot?

The Price Of The Angry Tweet

Why celebrities fail on Twitter:
The reasons the average person might insult, troll, or criticize the powerful are pretty easy to figure out. The very act of being recognized at all is thrilling for many. (Why else would most celebrity Instagram and Twitter accounts be harangued with an endless stream of requests for shoutouts?)

But if you can manage to anger them in such a way that they respond back, then you've really made an impression. It’s a validation, however pitiful, that you exist.

Why the people on the higher end of the social media food chain bother to respond in the first place is a bit harder to understand.

Since places like Twitter level the playing field of conversation, “It can be extremely galling for a certain type of person to be criticized by his ‘inferiors’ in a public arena,” says Boston Globe advice columnist and research psychology Ph.D Robin Abrahams.

“Give this person the means to strike back directly, and he will—regardless of the consequences.”
If you can't stand the Tweet...

Executive Expansion

Because he's the King, or something:
Obama argued that he has merely “expanded my authorities” – not broken any laws:

“What we’ve done is we’ve expanded my authorities under executive action and prosecutorial discretion as far as we can legally under the existing statute, the existing law. And so now the question is, how can we get a law passed.”

Obama called the “political process” a “separate track”:

So we’re going to have to keep on with the political process on a separate track. But in the meantime, we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we implement executive actions as we’ve discussed.
The King has spoken...

District Of Cannabis

Washington literally goes to pot:
Despite last-minute maneuvers by Republican leaders in Congress and threats that city leaders could face prison time, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city was implementing marijuana legalization as approved by voters. The new law took effect at 12:01 a.m.
Bowser, a Democrat, said the city's plans haven't changed despite a letter from two leading House Republicans warning of repercussions if the city moves forward with legalization.
"This is a major milestone on the road to ending marijuana prohibition in the United States," said Robert Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that advocates for legalization. "If the president can brew and drink beer in the White House, adults should be allowed to grow and consume a less harmful substance in their houses."
It would certainly explain the future behavior of politicians...

Laser Mobile

It's the laser engine:
In a conventional internal combustion engine, a mixture of fuel and air explodes to push down a piston, converting chemical energy into mechanical energy. The explosion is triggered by spark plugs that live at the top of the combustion chamber, using sparks to ignite the fuel air mixture. This works fine, but it’s not particularly efficient, since the ignition point is at one edge of the chamber. Engines move fast enough, and the combustion cycle is short enough, that the entire mixture doesn’t have a chance burn completely, leading to unburned fuel, which is bad for both engine efficiency and the environment. Lasers can fix this problem by igniting the fuel in the middle of the combustion chamber instead of at the outer edge. This results in a much more complete burn, so you get more bang for your buck, literally. Also, lasers can be fired with nanosecond timing (multiple times per combustion cycle if necessary), and even targeted at different areas of the combustion chamber. The increased energy output allows for leaner fuel-air mixtures, increasing overall fuel efficiency by 27 percent while lowering emissions. Really, it’s a much better way to do things. Which should not be surprising. Because lasers.
Firing on all lasers?

With A Little Help From Her Friends

Loretta Lynch is (almost) the new AG:
The vote was 12-8. The three Republicans who backed her nomination, along with all committee Democrats, were Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The next battle is on the Senate floor, where the federal prosecutor from Brooklyn is still expected to have enough GOP backing to be confirmed. But the controversy over President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration have overshadowed her nomination — particularly after her confirmation hearing last month, where she testified that those unilateral moves are legal.

Most GOP senators on the committee stressed that they could not support someone to be the nation’s chief law enforcement official who believes that the executive actions — which Republicans uniformly oppose and say are unconstitutional — are legal.
Apparently some "Republicans" oppose it less than others...

Quiet Time

What it's like to die twice:
"I had no idea, it was just black emptiness. No thoughts, no consciousness, nothing.

"Both times I was just "not there". It was just all black. I would describe it as when you take a nap. A short nap with no dream, you wake up and it feels like you've been sleeping a long time, when in reality it's only been about 15 minutes.

"The only reason I know is because the doctors were obligated to share the information with me. "So yeah, you were dead for a couple of minutes, just FYI" hahaha.

"So if the doctors wouldn't have said anything I would've just thought that I took a dreamless nap."
He was just restin'...

The Line Forms To The Left

Well, Maduro wanted his country to be like Cuba:
Amid skyrocketing inflation and a contracting economy, Venezuelan consumers have been faced with widespread shortages of products. Nicol├ís Maduro’s government blames hoarders looking to destabilize the government, but businesses and economists say it’s the result of government price controls that discourage production and restrictions on foreign currency and make it difficult for manufacturers to purchase raw materials.

Food, car parts, cooking oil, detergent, and household appliances have all been in short supply. But it’s toilet paper that has been the iconic product of the shortage, with fresh rolls quickly running out from stores amid overwhelming demand. In late 2013 the government seized control of a toilet paper factory and announced plans to import millions of rolls, but shortages have continued.
in Caracas, toilet paper wipes you...

The Anti-Sharpton

Byron Allen has a few things to say:
Allen told The Daily Caller that top media interests are actively freezing out and in some cases destroying black-owned media companies — and they’re paying Reverend-turned-MSNBC host Al Sharpton to give them racial cover to do it.

As for Washington politicians like Obama? According to Allen, they’re bought out by the very same interests, and they’re playing a part.

Allen, 53, is the chairman and CEO of the production company Entertainment Studios, which joined with the National Association of African-American Owned Media to file a $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit this week against Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Sharpton’s National Action Network, the NAACP, the Urban League, and former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker. Allen and his fellow plaintiff also filed a $10 billion suit against AT&T and DirectTV.

“It’s cheaper to give Al Sharpton money than it is to do business with real African-American owned media,” Allen told TheDC. “What Comcast does is they give Al Sharpton money so he doesn’t call them racist. That is the issue here.”

It’s an issue that Allen, the cool longtime host of shows like “Real People” and “Entertainers,” talks about with off-the-air passion.
At least someone is...

Sweeping The Web

Well, here it comes:
On its surface, the plan is aimed at barring service providers from creating paid "fast lanes" on the Internet, which consumer advocates and Internet companies worry would edge out cash-strapped startups and smaller Internet-based businesses. Chairman Tom Wheeler said it would ensure an "open, unfettered network."

But the rules, more broadly, would put the Internet in the same regulatory camp as the telephone by classifying it like a public utility, meaning providers like Comcast or Verizon would have to act in the "public interest" when providing a mobile connection to your home or phone.

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, who delivered some of the most scathing criticism of the plan Thursday, warned the policy represents a "monumental shift" to "government control of the Internet."

Further, he accused the FCC of bending to the will of Obama, who last fall came out in favor of such a sweeping regulatory plan.

Pai said the FCC was reversing course from past positions for one reason: "President Obama told us to do so."
They do what they're told...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Owing Obamacare

Silly rubes, you thought it was free:
A release put out by the consumer tax preparation company says that 53 percent of those signed up for insurance through Obamacare received too much subsidy support during the year. As a result, Obamacare consumers owe the IRS an average of $530, which is deducted from any refund to which they were entitled. With an average refund of $3,100, the net impact was to cut tax refunds for Obamacare enrollees by 17 percent.

A smaller group, about one-third of enrollees, were entitled to an additional refund averaging $365. The cause in both cases were incorrect estimates of annual income. H&R Block suggests that when individuals signed up for Obamacare, they were probably using their 2012 income as a guide. If their income went up in 2014, then the subsidies they were eligible for would decrease. The difference shows up on their tax returns as a debt owed the IRS.
They forgot to read the fine print. Sort of like Congress...

In His Own Rant

Mein Kampf is going to be published again:
The publication is particularly controversial because it will be printed by a state funded body, meaning the taxpayer will pick up the bill. Previously all copies of Mein Kempf were kept under lock and key in the Bavarian State Library, with permissions to view them being hard to obtain.

Despite this the book is widely available outside of Germany, and has been used as a text book for a wide variety of fascist groups since the end of WWII. It has even been produced in comic book form in Japan, and it is popular with Hindu nationalists in India.

Nazism remains a very delicate subject in Germany with many feeling an ongoing sense of shame about the country’s past. Most Nazi memorabilia is illegal in Germany as is displaying the swastika.
The past is always there, unfortunately...

Gruber Gone

Gruber is out of work:
Under pressure from Gov. Charlie Baker, four gubernatorial appointees on the Health Connector Board resigned today -- including Jonathan Gruber.

George Gonser, Jr., John M. Bertko, Gruber and Rick Jakious all resigned from the board today, according to the Governor's Office.

All four members were appointed by former Gov. Deval Patrick. The resignations give Baker control of the 11-member board, which also includes two Baker administration bosses. Board chairwoman Marylou Sudders is Baker's secretary of health and human services and board member Kristen Lepore is the secretary of administration and finance.

Gruber, an MIT economics professor, was videotaped saying the “stupidity of the American voter” was key to getting the Obamacare reform passed. His comments sparked outrage and a congressional hearing.
The stupidity, it burns...

Don't Play The Game

Playing to lose?
It is no secret that teams in all level of sports, at times, play to the standings. College teams may sit down their starting running back once its ranking is secured. Professional teams also may feel little incentive to win if a few more losses translate into a higher draft pick.

But school officials questioned why a high school team would be instructed to lose. The game got so obvious that a referee called the two coaches together after one of the players tried to score in the wrong basket.

"That is when I called both coaches together and told them we are not going to make a travesty or mockery of the game," the referee's account said, according to The Washington Post. "WE ARE NOT GOING TO START TRYING TO SHOOT AND SCORE FOR THE OTHER TEAM."
Everyone's a loser...

The Head

Who wants a new body?
Canavero hopes to assemble a team to explore the radical surgery in a project he is due to launch at a meeting for neurological surgeons in Maryland this June.

He has claimed for years that medical science has advanced to the point that a full body transplant is plausible, but the proposal has caused raised eyebrows, horror and profound disbelief in other surgeons.

The Italian doctor, who recently published a broad outline of how the surgery could be performed, told New Scientist magazine that he wanted to use body transplants to prolong the lives of people affected by terminal diseases.

“If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it, in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else,” he said. “I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”
Just make sure you don't get a trade-in...

It Tastes Like...

Finally-the edible cup:
This edible coffee cup was invented in a partnership with food scientists at The Robin Collective to coincide with the launch of KFC’s Seattle’s Best Coffee across its UK branches. The cup itself is made of biscuit, which has been wrapped in sugar paper and then lined with a layer of white chocolate, which melts over time, softening the biscuit enough to melt in your mouth.
On top of that delicious blend, a spokesperson for The Robin Collective told the Telegraph that the cups are also infused with a selection of “mood improving aromas,” like ‘coconut sun cream,’ ‘freshly cut grass’ and ‘wild flowers,’ which “evoke the positive memories we associate with warm weather, sunshine and summer holidays.”
You can have your cup, and eat it, too...

No Laughing Matter

I'm sure the Ukrainians find her hilarious:

We Can't Disagree

Why can't we all just get along?
“Nobody wants to associate with anybody who doesn’t agree with them politically,” she said. “You can’t have a conversation, people won’t listen to each other, they listen to different media, and those different media (outlets) tell different stories about the very same thing that you’re watching unfold in front of your eyes.”

The lack of common ground, Clinton asserted, was making it more difficult to get things done politically.

“You cannot run a great country like that, and this is the greatest country and it’s time we start acting like it and working like it again,” she said.
Democracy is messy, ma'am...

Final Cut

Lois Lerner had a good payoff:
Over a three-year period, Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt division at the heart of the IRS targeting scandal, received a 25 percent retention bonus—averaging $43,000 a year—on top of her regular salary.

The federal government uses retention bonuses to incentivize valuable employees who are considering retirement or private sector jobs to stay at their agencies.

Former acting IRS commissioner Steven T. Miller recommended Lerner for a $42,000 retention bonus in December 2009, when she first became eligible for retirement.

“Ms. Lerner is eligible for retirement and as an attorney with extensive experience would likely command a much greater pay and benefits if she left the Service,” Miller wrote. “Without a retention incentive she will leave the Service.”

Miller said that there was no senior official ready to take over the position if Lerner left, and that “her unique blend of specialized technical expertise, broad organizational knowledge, and leadership skills cannot be matched.”
As if they couldn't find somebody else to target the opposition...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Emotional Science

Understanding our feelings:
For many centuries, the sorts of mental states to which “emotions” now refer were typically called either passions or affections. The ancient Greek and Roman Stoics were notoriously anti-passion; they taught that man should use reason to battle all feelings, in order to avoid suffering. The Christian theologians Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo thought that was a bit much, so they carved out a separate category of good, virtuous feelings, which they called affections—things like familial love and compassion for others—and distinguished them from “evil” passions such as lust and rage.

Around the mid-18th century or so, Dixon writes, these passions and affections were lumped together under the umbrella of emotion. In the early 19th century, Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown was the first to propose emotion as a theoretical category, opening the door for scientific research. But though he was eager to study it, Brown couldn’t define it.

“The exact meaning of the term emotion, it is difficult to state in any form of words,” Brown said in a lecture. And so it has remained.
Nothing more than feelings...

Life On Ice

Attempt no landings here:
There are a few ideas on how to penetrate the 1-18 mile ice crust and get to the ocean. Perhaps something as simple as a heated wire unspooled from a lander with a camera and some basic sensors. But since Europa’s oceans might be 100 miles deep — or more — it doesn’t seem practical at this point.

Another idea involves some kind of drilling machine capable of both smashing through the ice and then maneuvering in the ocean. How the machine maintains contact with the lander would be a problem no one has figured out how to overcome.

One thing is sure; the mission to Europa won’t be cheap. In a time of severe budget restraints, it might not be wise or practicable for NASA to designate a mission to Europa as a priority. The moon and Mars beckon us and those missions will also be very expensive, taking most of the agency’s budget over the next decade.
Watch out for black monoliths...

The Game Theory Of Life

Why do we cooperate?
Nature includes numerous examples of cooperative behavior. For example, vampire bats donate some of their blood meal to community members that fail to find prey. Some species of birds and social insects routinely help raise another’s brood. Even bacteria can cooperate, sticking to each other so that some may survive poison. If extortion reigns, what drives these and other acts of selflessness?

Press and Dyson’s paper looked at a classic game theory scenario—a pair of players engaged in repeated confrontation. Plotkin wanted to know if generosity could be revived if the same math was applied to a situation that more closely resembled nature. So he recast their approach in a population, allowing individuals to play a series of games with every other member of their group. The outcome of his experiments, the most recent of which was published in December in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that generosity and selfishness walk a precarious line. In some cases, cooperation triumphs. But shift just one variable, and extortion takes over once again. “We now have a very general explanation for when cooperation is expected, or not expected, to evolve in populations,” said Plotkin, who conducted the research along with his colleague Alexander Stewart.

The work is entirely theoretical at this point. But the findings could potentially have broad-reaching implications, explaining phenomena ranging from cooperation among complex organisms to the evolution of multicellularity—a form of cooperation among individual cells.
You evolve me, I'll evolve you...

Life Without Brian

So it seems that being without Brian Williams isn't so bad, after all:
Sure, CBS and ABC evening newscasts also were up, across the board, week to week. But ABC and CBS newscasts didn’t have to pull their anchors while the network investigates disputed claims he’s made over the years. The NBC broadcast, ably anchored by Lester Holt since NBC News suspended Williams for just that, averaged more than 10 million viewers for the fourth time this season. In fact, Nightly is the only evening news program to surpass 10 million viewers during a broadcast week in the past eight years.
Maybe they should do this more often...

Blogging In The Years: 1945

The flag is raised at Iwo Jima:
The United States Flag was raised on the crater's rim at 10:35 a.m. by the 28th Regiment, signaling the end of one phase of the five-day-old struggle.

From Suribachi, whose slopes had been blasted by battleships and dive-bombed by carrier planes, the Japs (Editor's note: a disparaging word used to describe the Japanese that was in common use at the time) had raked marine positions throughout the southern sector with deadly mortar and artillery fire.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz announced the victory in a brief communique soon after one which had reported only minor advances through Thursday against fierce opposition.

The earlier communique, covering marine casualties only through 6 p.m. Wednesday, disclosed that 644 marines had been killed, 4,168 wounded and 560 were missing. Since then severe battles have raged.

In the same 58-hour period, a total of 1,222 enemy dead were counted.

No invasion of the Pacific war for a comparative period has cost so many American casualties. At Tarawa, previously considered the bloodiest fight of the war, marine casualties for its entire 72 hours slightly exceeded 3,000.
And here, the moment itself:

WHO Wants What?

The World Health Organization wants to control your kid's diet:
Banned without exception are pastries, croissants, cookies, sponge cakes, wafers, fruit pies, sweet buns, chocolate covered biscuits, cake mixes, and batters.

The list goes on: “Chocolate and other products containing cocoa; white chocolate; jelly, sweets and boiled sweets; chewing gum and bubble gum; caramels; liquorice sweets; spreadable chocolate and other sweet sandwich toppings; nut spreads, including peanut butter; cereal, granola and muesli bars; marzipan.”

Advertising for ice cream, frozen yogurt, ice pops, sorbets, and energy drinks would also be banned.

“The list is not exhaustive and may be added to when used nationally,” the report said.
No one will be allowed to eat anything. So say the Food Police.

Dumpster Living

Slumming in the trash:
He's an Environmental Studies professor who he says he wanted to prove you can be happy and healthy in a very small space the way millions of people live around the world. Very small is an understatement try 33 square feet compared with the almost 2,500 square feet of the average American home.

In reality, it was sometimes less than ideal. He did have some amenities though, like a mailbox, air conditioner, and eventually solar power.

Wilson says he wants to be the ultimate one-percenter: Create only one percent of the waste of the average home, and use one percent of the energy and water.
That's called poverty, professor...

War Correspondence

No, Bill O'Reilly didn't lie:
Don Browne was the NBC News Miami bureau chief at the time, and he oversaw the network’s Falklands coverage. And Browne told O’Reilly his account was accurate. As opposed to some of the other accounts, which have to some extent downplayed the danger, Browne said the situation “got progressively more intense” and there were demonstrations in Buenos Aires every day.

Both O’Reilly and Browne recalled a “very intense situation where people got hurt” and how “this was an extremely violent and volatile situation” where reporters were in danger.
More so than Brian Williams ever was...

Save The Animals

Protecting animals from PETA:
PETA operates a large shelter at its headquarters in Norfolk, where every year the vast majority of cats and dogs taken in are euthanized. The shelter came under fire last fall after it euthanized a Chihuahua that was inexplicably snatched from its owner’s porch by a PETA contractor on the Eastern Shore.

So the timing was perfect for a bill put forward by Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin) that has emerged from both houses of the state legislature and that defines a private animal shelter as “operating for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes.” Under the current code, that description is only one of several that can describe a shelter.

Supporters say the bill clarifies the law — but makes it harder for organizations such as PETA to euthanize animals without first trying to find them homes.

In 2014, according to state reports, PETA took in 2,631 cats and dogs. All but 307 were euthanized.
They literally love animals to death...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Where Were You When The Web Ended?

Hopefully it won't be in Washington:
“We respectfully request that FCC leadership immediately release the 332-page Internet regulation plan publicly and allow the American people a reasonable period of not less than 30 days to carefully study it,” Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly said in a statement Monday. “Then, after the commission reviews the specific input it receives from the American public and makes any modifications to the plan as appropriate, we could proceed to a final vote.”
....

“With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right,” the commissioners said. “And to do that, we must live up to the highest standards of transparency. Transparency is particularly important here because the plan in front of us right now is so drastically different than the proposal the FCC adopted and put out for public comment last May.”
Enjoy the Internet while you can...

The Ancient Heart

Humans seem to have had compassion for a long time:
Evidence has been found that humans living more than 3million years ago may have looked after and even helped each other to survive before they learned to speak, and these emotions may have actually helped intelligence and reasoning evolve.

Researchers point to a skull, dating back 1.5 million years, found with no teeth, suggesting people in the group may have helped this early human find soft food to survive. And evidence of tracks found in east Africa - dating back 3.5million years - appear to show adults being followed by a child.

The findings, revealed in a study by Penny Spikins of York University, undermine current theories that early humans were characterised by violence and competition, killing each other in a desperate battle to survive.

'Evolution made us sociable, living in groups and looking after each one another, even before we had language, ' Spikins, a human origins researcher, told the Sunday Times.
The early milk of human kindness?

Court TV

Al Sharpton, racist:
Comcast is one of the biggest companies to employ a chief diversity officer, and its practices have been lauded by many including Black Enterprise magazine, which recently named it as one of the 40 best companies for diversity. The lawsuit figures to face many hurdles, from the sufficiency of its allegations to possibly the First Amendment, but for now it presents a larger portrait of a media company that isn't carrying many fully owned black channels and the dangers of allowing it to grow bigger.
"We do not generally comment on pending litigation, but this complaint represents nothing more than a string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations," responds Comcast in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
Sharpton tells us that he "welcomes the opportunity to answer the frivolous allegations" and says he will be bringing counterclaims for defamation.
According to the lawsuit, Comcast and TWC "collectively spend approximately $25 billion annually for the licensing of pay-television channels and advertising of their products and services, yet 100% African American–owned media receives less than $3 million per year."
Not only a racist, but a cheap one, at that...

The Invisible Bank

No data here:
Critics of the Export-Import Bank are seething over the removal from a government Web site of previously public data earlier they say helps them detect cronyism.

Between January 29 and February 13, officials at the bank removed disclosures listing businesses that applied for financing at the bank but were denied, a source at the bank told The Hill.

“During a regular quarterly review, it was decided to reformat the way data is presented,” the source said. Under the changes, bank officials are no longer disclosing denied applicants.

But critics of the Ex-Im, created to help U.S. companies finance overseas endeavors, say that information helps illuminate how the bank chooses which businesses to finance.
Maybe they should work for the IRS...

Snowed Under

No more snow, please:

Not A Fan

The voice of the next generation?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Other Awards

It's the alternative to the Oscars:

The Unreal World

Ed Driscoll takes a look at Amazon's adaptation of "The Man in the High Castle":
If you’ve ever seen the mid-1990s HBO adaption of Robert Harris’ seminal novel, at first glance The Man in the High Castle appears very much to be Fatherland: The TV Series, albeit set in an alternative America rather than Berlin of 1962. (And as the sci-fi Website IO9 notes in their review of the pilot, nothing has ever made a simple shot of ash falling on the ground in the middle of Arkansas or Alabama seem so chilling.)

But reading the descriptions of the Dick’s novel, and pondering the implications of the pilot’s Emmanuel Goldstein-ish film within-within-a-film is a reminder that we’re firmly in Dick’s patented “what is reality” territory. Just watching the pilot, I was having the response that everyone had to the finale of Patrick McGoohan’s equally allegorical 1967 TV series The Prisoner: What Does It All Mean, Maaaan?

In short, despite a few slightly clunky CGI shots (we are talking made-for-TV after all): Mind. Blown.
Like, totally?

The Eternal Mind Of Homer

Is The Simpsons just a dream?
Reddit user Hardtopickname formulated his theory from a throwaway line in the classic Season Four episode "Homer The Heretic," which aired on October 8, 1992. The story ends with Homer talking to God in a dream sequence. When Homer asks God about the meaning of life, the Supreme Being tells him that he'll find out when he dies. When Homer complains that he can't wait that long, God responds, "You can't wait six months?"

Flash-forward six months, to April Fools' Day, 1993, and the episode "So It's Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show." As the title suggests, this is a fix-up episode of scenes from earlier episodes, with a new framing device in which one of Bart's pranks puts Homer in the hospital with a dangerous concussion that renders him comatose. The clips are recontextualized as stories the family members tell the catatonic Homer in the hope that he'll wake up. At the end of the episode, Homer recovers, and goes on to resume his wacky adventures. ("Me lose brain? Why I laugh?")

Or does he?
It's Homer's world, everyone else in Springfield is just animated in it...

Blogging In The Years: 1980

America proves that it can still be a winner:

Food, Glorious Food

Why I don't pay attention to the "experts":
How did experts get it so wrong? Certainly, the food industry has muddied the waters through its lobbying. But the primary problem is that nutrition policy has long relied on a very weak kind of science: epidemiological, or “observational,” studies in which researchers follow large groups of people over many years. But even the most rigorous epidemiological studies suffer from a fundamental limitation. At best they can show only association, not causation. Epidemiological data can be used to suggest hypotheses but not to prove them.

Instead of accepting that this evidence was inadequate to give sound advice, strong-willed scientists overstated the significance of their studies.
They seem to do this all too frequently...

Piercing The Veil

James Lileks ponders the future:
Am I worried about time and trends passing me by? Not at all. This has always been just what it is since the very first entry, and while it’s expanded in length and subject, I am not going to convert it to a series of sharable snacks for Facebook feeds. Perhaps that’s unwise. But I hate Facebook and have no desire to spend any time there, so tailoring the Bleat or lileks.com for Zuckerberg’s dull blue borg cube would be like spending a lot of time and money getting fitted for clothes I don’t like so I can blend in amongst people I don’t know in a country I don’t like. . . .

Anyway: it worries me a little that “blogs are dying,” because if so we lose the idea of a place where people speak their piece, as oppose to speak in pieces.

While most blogs weren’t deathless examples of great writing, there was the opportunity for individualism, and you don’t get that from a Pinterest page. You don’t get it from a feed of things snipped and reblogged and pinned and shoveled into The Feed. The web turns into bushels of confetti shoveled into a jet engine, and while something does emerge out the other end, it’s usually made impressive by its velocity and volume, not the shape it makes.
All is change...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

And Your Books For Free

It's the local crackdown on...free books:
This is what conservatives and libertarians mean when they talk about overregulation disincentivizing or displacing voluntary activity that benefits people. We've constructed communities where one must obtain prior permission from agents of the state before freely sharing books with one's neighbors! And their proposed solution is to get scarce public art funds to pay for the needless layer of bureaucracy being imposed on the thing already being done for free.

The power to require permits is the power to prevent something from ever existing. This lovely movement would've never begun or spread if everyone who wanted to build a Little Free Library recognized a need to apply and pay for a permit. Instead they did good and asked permission never.

Radical libertarians who object to all zoning and building codes are told that they're necessary to keep refineries from operating next to day care centers and to ensure that houses don't fall down in earthquakes or burn up due to faulty wiring. And like most, I favor some zoning laws and building codes. One needn't even be a squishy libertarian to object when power ceded to government for such purposes is then used to interfere with a harmless activity to which almost no one objects.
Well, one could argue that an educated populace that can read might be harmful to local bureaucrats...

Blogging In The Years: 1965

Malcolm X is dead:
Malcolm’s murder, almost certainly at the hands of the Black Muslims from whom he had defected, came on a bright Sunday afternoon in full view of 400 Negroes in the Audubon Ballroom, a seedy two-story building on Manhattan’s upper Broadway. Characteristically, he had kept his followers waiting for nearly an hour while he lingered over tea and a banana split at a nearby Harlem restaurant.

Entering the auditorium at last, Malcolm cried “As-salaam alaikum [Peace be unto you].” The audience replied in unison: “Wa-alaikum salaam [And unto you be peace].” Suddenly a disturbance broke out several rows back. “Get your hand off my pockets!” a man shouted. “Don’t be messing with my pockets!” At the distraction, Malcolm raised his hands. “Now brothers!” he cried, “Be cool, don’t get excited . . .”
Live by hate, die by hate...

Wingman

Watch out for those rocks:

Common Green Ground

Utilities companies bring people together in the Sunshine State:
Currently, Florida consumers can buy electricity only from utilities. The coalition’s initiative, which requires more than 680,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, would remove that restriction and authorize third-party sales.

It is the latest standoff between the amalgam of renewable-energy advocates across the country and utilities at a time of rapid growth for the solar industry. In the first three quarters of 2014, 50% more solar power came online than in the same period in 2013, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Florida alliance members say they resorted to a ballot effort because elected officials in Florida have failed to develop a comprehensive clean-energy policy and utilities have used their monopoly position and lobbying muscle to stifle competition from the solar industry.
Let the market decide?

National Sin Tax

The Feds want to go after your sugar:
“Taxation on higher sugar- and sodium-containing foods may encourage consumers to reduce consumption and revenues generated could support health promotion efforts,” the committee wrote as part of the recommendations released this week.

Such taxes have mostly failed to gain traction around the country, though voters in Berkeley, California, approved a special, per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in November. In New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to cap the size of sugary drinks sold in restaurants and other venues at 16 ounces, but legal challenges spearheaded by the beverage industry brought down the effort in the courts.

Other ideas put forth by the committee were placing nutrition labels on the front of food packages and requiring public buildings to serve healthier foods. The committee also suggested incentives for eating fruits and vegetables, though it didn’t detail how that could work. Panel members said incentives might be vouchers for farmers markets or subsidies for growers or grocery stores.

The panel endorsed adding a line on the nutrition facts label for added sugars, which the Obama administration has already proposed. It also backed the administration’s standards for healthier school lunches.
And we've seen how well that effort has gone...

Looking For Utopia In The Wrong Places

Why our educational system is no guarantee of wealth and happiness:
Our political culture’s faith in education as a ritual that brings prosperity raining down from the heavens is positively religious in its intensity. Obviously a good education is enormously important to career success, as well as good citizenship and personal fulfillment, but we ended up viewing education as an expensive blended fuel to be poured into the engines of life – the more of it people get, and the more expensive it is, the further they’ll go.

The American people were long ago bludgeoned out of demanding value for their education dollars, to the point where college is now a hugely expensive remedial education for all the subjects high school and grade school didn’t teach well – a point that will be driven home all the more forcefully if President Obama’s fantasy of “free” community college comes true. “Free” community college would amount to a couple more years of high school, protracting adolescence and making those hyper-expensive advanced degrees even more of a class signifier. Instead of turning high school into a six-year affair, we should be asking very tough questions of our highly-compensated educational bureaucracy about why our kids aren’t emerging from the public school system with the well-rounded education they need to make solid practical decisions about the next steps in their lives.

Another aspect of ritualized utopianism is our loss of respect for vocational education and the “dirty jobs” celebrated by TV host Mike Rowe, who campaigns for young people to investigate skilled trade work. There are solid careers out there in trades where employers perpetually complain about a shortage of hard-working, eager apprentices, even in times of chronic high unemployment.
If you want it, earn it...

Sharing The Love

Scott Walker weighs in:
"You should ask the president what he thinks about America," Walker told The Associated Press while in Washington for a weekend meeting of governors. "I've never asked him so I don't know."

Earlier in the week, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at a New York event, with Walker in attendance: "I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America."

Democrats have assailed Giuliani for questioning the Democratic president's love of country, and they urged the potential field of Republican presidential candidates to rebuke Giuliani for his comments.
Obama's All-American critics?

First Amendment On The Job

Where freedom of speech doesn't always apply:
I’d love to live in a world where everyone could just speak their mind without any consequences, but we don’t. As the author notes, the First Amendment doesn’t assure you a lack of reprisal for your opinions from private business… just from the government. And while some states have attempted to put measures in place to prevent such things, the reality is that they are nearly unenforceable. Unless the employer is a complete idiot (and the type of person who generally doesn’t remain financially successful for long) they can always find ways to work around those rules. If they don’t care for you spouting off about liberals or conservatives at the water cooler, they can simply decide that your work isn’t quite as good any more. Or perhaps the business outlook isn’t as good as they thought and it’s time to cut back. Sometimes it can be for no reason at all, because nobody in the private sector is assured a job.
A cubicle isn't necessarily a soapbox...