31 July, 2012

The key to victory for the U.S. women's gymnastics team lies with its vault, the Amanar, a 2.5 Yurchenko - Grantland

The key to victory for the U.S. women's gymnastics team lies with its vault, the Amanar, a 2.5 Yurchenko - Grantland: What she's doing is one of the most exciting things in gymnastics. When Maroney vaults, coaches and gymnasts from around the world — coaches and gymnasts who've pretty much seen it all — stop to watch. During the team final at the 2011 world championships in Tokyo last fall, where the U.S. hit three Amanars in a row to build a huge lead over the Russians and never looked back, Maroney's 2.5 was the highlight. After she won the 2011 world vault event final (where two different vaults are required instead of only one; Maroney's second vault is nearly as gorgeous as her Amanar), she was considered a lock for the gold on vault at the Olympics — if she could make the team. The Americans are that deep. Their biggest competitors, as a rule, are each other.

How Speedo Created A Record-Breaking Swimsuit: Scientific American

How Speedo Created A Record-Breaking Swimsuit: Scientific American: That began the most revolutionary aspects of the system: redesigning the goggles and cap. They scanned the heads of athletes from around the world and merged the results in a software program to generate an average head shape, one that fits 95 percent of people. Santry, who has developed helmets for cyclists, noted that time trial racers use an aerodynamic teardrop shape. They designed a swimmer’s cap that does something similar,building a place for a woman’s hair that creates a tail on the back of the head.

“From research done in Beijing we knew goggles and caps caused a lot of drag, but this time round we had the internal expertise and time to produce a research-driven goggle from scratch,” Santry adds. “This allowed us to really get playing in that area and take the crazy superhero-type sketches to reality.”

Southern Europe Plagued by Corruption and Political Mismanagement - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Southern Europe Plagued by Corruption and Political Mismanagement - SPIEGEL ONLINE: Jobs for your friends, contracts for your relatives, cash handouts for everyone: that's how politics works in Sicily. Now the island is on the verge of bankruptcy. It's an example of the underlying problem plaguing many parts of the southern European countries now struggling to contain the euro crisis.

Robert Reich (The Terrible Economy and the Anti-Election of 2012)

Robert Reich (The Terrible Economy and the Anti-Election of 2012): President Obama has apparently decided against advancing any bold ideas for what he’d do in the second term, even if he has a Congress that would cooperate with him.

He’s sticking to a worn script that says George W. Bush caused the lousy economy, congressional Republicans have opposed everything he’s wanted to do to boost it, it’s slowly on the mend anyway, the Bush tax cuts shouldn’t be extended for the rich, and we shouldn’t take a chance electing Romney.

Yet the public wants bigger ideas from the President, and wants to know what he’ll do in his second term to get us out of this mess. A New York Times-CBS News poll released last week showed that a majority of voters believe the president “can do a lot about” the economy. That’s a double-digit jump from the fall of 2011.

30 July, 2012

Grey Area: How ‘Fifty Shades’ Dominated the Market by Emily Eakin | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Grey Area: How ‘Fifty Shades’ Dominated the Market by Emily Eakin | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books:

Beginning in 2009, Leonard posted, under a different title, a version of the Fifty Shades trilogy on a well-trafficked fan-fiction forum devoted to the Twilight series, the vampire-themed romance blockbusters by Stephenie Meyer. Leonard’s “TwiFic” shed Meyer’s supernatural story line and transposed the largely chaste love story of her protagonists, Edward and Bella, into a sexually explicit register. Like many fan-fiction writers, Leonard uploaded her work in serial installments, a method that enables readers to weigh in as the story progresses and allows writers to incorporate feedback as they go. Writers also read one another’s fan fictions and can infer, from the number and tenor of reader responses, what kinds of stories are popular. Leonard’s story reportedly received more than 37,000 reviews, and was read by untold thousands more who did not post reviews.

Early in 2011, after amending the work and expunging all traces of its connection to Twilight, she contracted with a small Australian press to publish it as the Fifty Shades trilogy, in ebook and print-on-demand paperback formats. By March of this year, when Vintage acquired the rights to the trilogy for more than a million dollars, all three books were at or near the top of The New York Times’ combined print and ebook bestseller list.

David Maraniss: What drives the Obama doubters and haters? - The Washington Post

David Maraniss: What drives the Obama doubters and haters? - The Washington Post: There are Obama doubters and haters out there who claim with righteous anger that they are “vetting” the president, something they say the mainstream media never did. Some of them have said that my new biography — unwittingly, they argue, for I am too dumb to understand what my research has unearthed — proves that Barack Obama’s defining memoir is phony and that his entire life is a fraud. My intent is not to defend Obama or his book; he can take care of himself, and I have my own questions about “Dreams From My Father,” which I make clear in my book. But when comparing the liberties Obama took with composite characters and compressed chronology — which he acknowledged in the introduction to his memoir — to the stretches his most virulent detractors have taken in building their various conspiracies, I believe that they are the frauds and fabricators.

The American Scholar: The Weak - William Deresiewicz

The American Scholar: The Weak - William Deresiewicz: The day, of course, is ubiquitous as a unit of organization, regulated by our cycles of waking and sleep. But when we think about work, the dominant fact of our lives, we think about the week. Just consider the feelings the words arouse. Day: nothing much, except a little bit of hopefulness, maybe. Week: dread, languor, tedium, woe. Yes, we sometimes speak about making it through the day, if we’re having a bad one, but as Erma Bombeck knew, we always speak about making it through the week. Despite the etymology of the word, it is the week, and not the day, that has become the repository of the quotidian: of triviality, of drudgery, of routine. Days differ; weeks are always the same. Days begin with dawn; weeks begin with Monday. “Thousands of petty annoyances and grievances”: that’s the week all over.

Brian Phillips on Olympic rhythmic gymnastics - Grantland

Brian Phillips on Olympic rhythmic gymnastics - Grantland: Obviously — I mean, obviously — gender has something to do with this. RG is often not just girly, it's aggressively, in-your-face girly; it's an h-bomb of girliness.4 Looking at the overall culture of the sport, you sometimes get an impression of an ancient, complex civilization made up entirely of 12-year-olds named Bethany. The core aesthetic of RG is … well, there are leotards on which the sequins have sequins. There are pinks that cut your brain. Words like "butterfly princess" and "Euro Disney halftime show" and "the crime scene after the Easter bunny is beaten to death with a vintage Patrick Nagel print" flutter into the mind. If you're a fan who's got the least bit of insecurity about the sports you are watching, it is really, really easy to feel like, OK, at least pro wrestling involves smashing things. It is really, really easy not to give RG a chance.

[Spoiler: he was facinated, and for good reason. This stuff is tough]

Conservatives and the State | Francis Fukuyama

Conservatives and the State | Francis Fukuyama: A new kind of conservative might look at the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt for inspiration. Just as in the present, American capitalism in the late 19th century had generated powerful new interests, particularly the railroads and oil interests that provoked huge conflicts with farmers, shippers and their own workers. Roosevelt believed that no private interest should be more powerful than the American state, and set about to ensure that by going after Northern Securities and other trusts. One imagines that if he had been president during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, he would not have been satisfied with the regulatory hodgepodge that is Dodd-Frank, but would have sought to break Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase up into smaller pieces that could safely be allowed to go bankrupt if they took undue risks. If a new breed of conservatism could put Wall Street in its place, then it would have much more credibility taking on public sector unions and other interest groups on the left, just as Roosevelt did.

The Anders Behring Breivik Norway Massacre Story: Newsmakers: GQ

The Anders Behring Breivik Norway Massacre Story: Newsmakers: GQ: When the sun went down, H�kon was in a boat not far from shore. Divers were in the lake, searching the depths for bodies that might have been drowned, and H�kon was providing security. It was very quiet. H�kon could hear waves licking at the sides of the boat, and then, from the island, he could hear something else: a chorus of chirping and buzzing and snippets of pop songs. In the darkness, he saw tiny lights flickering on, then off, then on again, like fireflies. There were hundreds of them, scattered along the Lovers' Trail and on the lawn below the cafeteria and in the tent field and where the bodies lay. Mobile phones lighting and ringing and nobody answering.

"There was nothing you could do," H�kon said. "You just had to wait until they ran out of electricity."

29 July, 2012

If the universe was 10 years old...

An Evolving Perspective | Inside Singularity University | Big Think:

With respect to the cosmos, mankind has just been born. Hypothetically, if our 14 billion-year-old universe were scaled down to just 10 years (for the sake of comparison), dinosaurs would have been extinct 17 days ago, our earliest relative Lucy would have been playing around on the Savannah 19 hours ago, modern humans would have first appeared 80 minutes ago, the birth of Jesus just 46 seconds ago, and the declaration of independence would have been signed a mere 5 seconds ago! Think about that for a moment: what does 5 seconds mean to you in the scope of 10 years?

In the scheme of things it’s totally insignificant, yet throughout this glorious history of ours we time and time again think we have it all figured out. From the notion that the earth is flat, to the belief that we are the center of the solar system, we have this anthropomorphic tendency to think we know more than we actually do. In 1900, the esteemed scientist Lord Kelvin proclaimed “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics.” This sentiment was echoed by several other experts of his time, yet little did they know, science was on the brink of discovering both the theory of special relativity and quantum mechanics - phenomena that totally shattered our preconceived notions of the universe.

‘Teach Your Children Well,’ by Madeline Levine - NYTimes.com

‘Teach Your Children Well,’ by Madeline Levine - NYTimes.com: After all, as Levine notes, the inconvenient truth remains that not every child can be shaped and accelerated into Harvard material. But all kids can have their spirits broken, depression induced and anxiety stoked by too much stress, too little downtime and too much attention given to external factors that make them look good to an audience of appraising eyes but leave them feeling rotten inside.

Beijing vs London

...four years ago we saw a government intent on showing that it had arrived, by demonstration every sort of "hard" capability: power, precision, magnificence, mastery, control. This year we saw a system comfortable enough with itself to put on a show that was jokey, irreverent, and sometimes simply chaotic and weird. (Hospital beds lighting up to spell "NHS"??? Mary Poppins vs. Voldemort??)

On becoming a cyborg – SciencePunk

On becoming a cyborg – SciencePunk: Someone has let a bored teenager into the Foley artist’s suite of my mind. My shoes ring like milk bottles on the paving stones. I kick a leaf and it makes a sound like a crisp packet. Birds tweet obscenely. They swoop from tree to tree and I can hear the tips of their wings pressing together. A man on the other side of the park pops the lid of a soft drink with a rifle crack. Above it all, the strange sighing rasp is still there, breaking waves of an ocean suspended above me. I reach up and pull out the songbirds. The ocean above me collapses instantly, crashes down as cotton wool, insulates me from all that unnecessary noise. Silence presses in on me. I feel swaddled and safe again.

28 July, 2012

More people are putting off parenthood. What will that mean for their kids? - The Washington Post

More people are putting off parenthood. What will that mean for their kids? - The Washington Post: The irony is that when you have a child at 45, you’re ensuring that your children will grow up faster than you ever had to. It guarantees that your kids will have a little less of the freedom you enjoyed because they’ll be taking care of you a little earlier. Having an older father means I don’t feel right leaving New York or turning off my cellphone for three days. I push away fantasies of pressing the reset button on my life and moving far away. Even if my dad were in Olympian shape, I still wouldn’t want to squander my last decade with him living thousands of miles apart. Losing my mother in my formative years was gut-wrenching, and all of my grandparents had died by the time I turned 25. (My father, whose mother had him at 19, didn’t begin this parental caretaking process until he was in his early 60s.)

It’s one thing to decide to have children late or not at all. It’s another thing to feel that you have no other choice.

The Prodigal Frum | The Nation

The Prodigal Frum | The Nation: Frum says he has committed an unpardonable sin within a political movement. There are three cardinal rules of getting along with people, he says: “You don’t tell people they’re bad writers, you don’t tell people they have no sense of humor, and you don’t tell people that they’ve mishandled a political negotiation. There are a lot of things that people will forgive, but those are the unforgivable.” And Frum broke the third rule, telling his confreres that they had mishandled a political negotiation. “You’re saying, ‘You put party before country, and you tripped over your own feet putting party before country. You didn’t even deliver a win for your party.’”

Ten years from now, Frum says, “when every conservative in Washington says the things I said, they will still blame me for saying them. And furthermore, they will always begin saying them with the phrase, ‘Look, I have no regard for David Frum. I’m no David Frum.’”

27 July, 2012

Rahm Emanuel’s dangerous free speech attack - Salon.com

Rahm Emanuel’s dangerous free speech attack - Salon.com: Obviously, it’s perfectly legitimate for private citizens to decide not to patronize a business with executives who have such views (I’d likely refrain from doing so in this case). Beyond that, if a business is engaging in discriminatory hiring or service practices in violation of the law — refusing to hire gay employees or serve gay patrons in cities which have made sexual orientation discrimination illegal — then it is perfectly legitimate to take action against them.

But that is not the case here; the actions are purely in retribution against the views of the business’ top executive on the desirability of same-sex marriage:

Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act | openDemocracy

Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act | openDemocracy: At this point, instead of going after Putin’s enemies, I was going after his own personal economic interests. I imagine his team analysed how best to deal with me. They probably considered a number of options including arresting me like Khodorkovsky, but the problem with that approach is that they would have become just as much of a hostage to the situation as I would have been. Instead, they came up with a much cleaner way of shutting me down. As I was flying into to Moscow in November 2005, I was stopped at the border, detained for 15 hours, then expelled from the country. Several weeks later, I received an official note from the Russian foreign ministry saying that they had declared me a “threat to national security”. For a little while, I hoped that it was some mid-level corrupt decision that would soon be overturned. Once I realised that it wasn’t a mistake, it was clear that I needed to do everything possible to protect myself and my people. I didn’t assume that I was going to be any better off than Khodorkovsky. At that point I made two important decisions: to get my capital and my people out of Russia as quickly and quietly as possible.

How I hacked my brain with Adderall: a cautionary tale | The Verge

How I hacked my brain with Adderall: a cautionary tale | The Verge: The super-jolt of energy novice users experience mellows after a few days of use and changes character dramatically. It does become a very sufficient coffee replacement: a little ritual combined with chemical stimulation that motivates you to get out of bed. But coming up daily on Adderall has less to do with a caffeinated sensation than it does with becoming a detail-oriented post-human, a machine following self-imposed routines with little regard for anything outside the routine’s scope. It turns out that my Adderall self has a knack for accounting, spreadsheets, and administrative tasks that my unstimulated self would normally shy away from: an inbox-zeroing robot bent on eking out every last ounce of productivity my heightened senses could spit out. Keeping up with the moving parts of being self-employed, as I am, is easy on Adderall. It feels almost robotic, as if I'm hiring an assistant to take care of the books. But an Adderall prescription is much cheaper than hiring a competent assistant, and I always know I can trust myself (even if it is a different version of myself) to keep it honest when it comes to my bottom line.

Karl Rove: He's Back, Big Time - Businessweek

Karl Rove: He's Back, Big Time - Businessweek: The Crossroads groups are staffed leanly, with about 20 people, half of them junior researchers peering at laptops. Apart from his satirical mug shot, Rove is nowhere to be seen on this day. He holds no official position at Crossroads, draws no salary from the groups, and doesn’t get reimbursed for plane fare or lunches. He spends most of his desk time at Karl Rove & Co., a legally separate firm a few blocks away that oversees his media activities and well-paid public speaking. Rove, according to colleagues, devotes about a third of his working hours to Crossroads, almost all of it fundraising and private kibitzing with donors. At those skills, he has few rivals. “What Karl says goes,” says contributor John Dowd. “I trust him.”

Why America's Funniest Home Videos Won't Die | Wired Magazine | Wired.com

Why America's Funniest Home Videos Won't Die | Wired Magazine | Wired.com: Unless you happen to spend a lot of time around little kids or the elderly, it has probably been years since you’ve seen America’s Funniest Home Videos (or AFV, as it has now become known). This is understandable, given that technically speaking it’s the uncoolest show on TV, a saccharine medley of “did I do that?” moppets, frazzled pets, and homegroan puns, all strung together by a lite-ska musical theme. Even by network TV standards, AFV is radically square.

But as dorky as it is, AFV may be one of the most subtly influential shows of the past two decades. Need proof? Just check your Facebook feed. Chances are pretty good that in the past few weeks somebody posted a video that was short, serendipitous, and brazenly stupid—a cocky skateboarder wiping out on a rail, perhaps, or a cat facing down a metronome. Millions of such quick-blip distractions now rove the web, and for that we have AFV to thank and/or blame.

London Olympics 2012 | These Knock-Down, Shrinkable Games | By Hugh Pearman - WSJ.com

London Olympics 2012 | These Knock-Down, Shrinkable Games | By Hugh Pearman - WSJ.com: Today things are different. Recession or no recession, national pride is at stake. But while there are a few architectural showpieces, London has not tried to compete with Beijing. Compare the main stadiums for the two Games and that is very apparent: Beijing's lavishly overengineered "Bird's Nest" stadium, designed by the architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron with artist Ai Weiwei, was built purely to impress and with no long-term role in mind. In contrast, the skeletal-white Olympic Stadium in London was designed—by sports specialist Populous with architect Sir Peter Cook—as a minimal structure. Its circling 'crown' of ring beams is actually made of sections of ready-made steel gas pipe bolted together.

There may never be peace

There may never be peace: Rule 7: “There cannot be a deal on sovereignty of the Old City”

The core of the Jerusalem identity issue is the Old City, and a main lesson of 2000/2001 (from Camp David through to the parameters proposed by President Bill Clinton) is that it is not possible to do a deal dividing sovereignty there between the Israelis and the Palestinians, particularly when it comes to the Temple Mount/Haram-al-Sharif. The 1947 UN partition plan got it right—there will have to be some kind of special arrangement, at least for the Old City. There are models, and sovereignty could be given to God (leaving Israeli and Palestinian mortals to agree only to administrative arrangements), or kicked into touch (as when Olmert, in his potentially taboo-breaking 2008 offer to Abbas, suggested an interim arrangement for the Old City). Without such a deal, there will be no wider Israeli-Palestinian deal. And without an Israeli-Palestinian deal including a satisfactory resolution of the Jerusalem issue, Israel will never be accepted by the Islamic world.

The Three Lies Michele Bachmann Tells about American Muslims (Saunders) | Informed Comment

The Three Lies Michele Bachmann Tells about American Muslims (Saunders) | Informed Comment: Indeed, a large-scale new study conducted by a group of U.S. researchers who examined the Koran passages quoted by 2,000 Islamic terrorists and supporters found no suggestion that any of them want to convert the West to Islam – - rather, their messages are of a nationalistic nature, based on preserving the separation of Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. It’s no coincidence that “Muslim tide” figures such as Thilo Sarrazin in Germany and Christopher Caldwell in the United States express admiration for the “civilizational strength” of Muslim fundamentalist believers: They share the same core belief in independent and divergent civilizations.

Fear drives opposition to gun control - CNN.com

Fear drives opposition to gun control - CNN.com: Americans support gun rights because they believe guns are necessary for self-protection. As the Georgia lawmaker who introduced the law allowing guns to be carried in bars explained:

"Folks were being robbed, assaulted -- it was becoming an issue of personal safety. The police aren't going to be able to protect you. They're going to be checking out the crime scene after you and your family's been shot or injured or assaulted or raped."

At the same time, people hesitate to own guns themselves because they recognize that keeping a gun in the house is a dangerous thing to do. A gun in the house minimally doubles the risk that a household member will kill himself or herself. (Some studies put the increase in suicide risk as high as 10 times.) An American is 50% more likely to be shot dead by his or her own hand than to be shot dead by a criminal assailant. More than 30,000 Americans injure themselves with guns every year.

25 July, 2012

Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich: At the beginning of June 1998 I leave behind everything that normally soothes the ego and sustains the body - home, career, companion, reputation, ATM card - for a plunge into the low-wage workforce. There, I become another, occupationally much diminished "Barbara Ehrenreich" - depicted on job-application forms as a divorced homemaker whose sole work experience consists of housekeeping in a few private homes. I am terrified, at the beginning, of being unmasked for what I am: a middle-class journalist setting out to explore the world that welfare mothers are entering, at the rate of approximately 50,000 a month, as welfare reform kicks in. Happily, though, my fears turn out to be entirely unwarranted: during a month of poverty and toil, my name goes unnoticed and for the most part unuttered. In this parallel universe where my father never got out of the mines and I never got through college, I am "baby," "honey," "blondie," and, most commonly, "girl."

How Leopold Munyakazi's Hiring Challenged Goucher College's Good Intentions -- New York Magazine

How Leopold Munyakazi's Hiring Challenged Goucher College's Good Intentions -- New York Magazine: I was incredulous, filled with a mixture of anger and self-doubt. As their Rwandan companion nodded quietly in agreement, the producers from NBC demanded to know how Goucher could have sheltered such an evil man. They wanted to film me reacting to the indictment, but I refused. I hid behind the Scholar Rescue Fund, protesting that Leopold had been screened and certified, and that was all we knew. Later, in a New Republic story that was part of the flurry of early, short-lived interest in Leopold’s case, the producers were even quoted as describing my attitude as “flippant."

Ex-federal official calls U.S. classification system ‘dysfunctional’ - The Washington Post

Ex-federal official calls U.S. classification system ‘dysfunctional’ - The Washington Post: The now-declassified two-page memo is titled “What a Wonderful Success,” and it contains praise from Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the NSA, for agency employees involved in the program. Two paragraphs were marked “secret.” One of them praised the merits of the program and spoke of getting members of Congress to see how it worked. In the other, a team member was lauded for “an excellent job” of briefing Alexander on the program.

The U.S. Economic Policy Debate Is a Sham - Bloomberg

The U.S. Economic Policy Debate Is a Sham - Bloomberg: The debate about the long-run challenge posed by the federal budget deficit has also become divorced from economic reality. The same panel of economists was almost unanimous in agreeing that “long run fiscal sustainability in the U.S. will require cuts in currently promised Medicare and Medicaid benefits and/or tax increases that include higher taxes on households with incomes below $250,000.” Only one in 10 was uncertain. None objected.

Likewise, popular tax deductions such as that for mortgage interest didn’t fare well in the surveys and would be on almost any economist’s list of targets for reform. Yet neither party is willing to propose such policies.

The consensus, of course, can be wrong. On the probable consequences of economic reforms, though, leading economists are more likely to be right than politicians running for re- election. Their solidarity needs to be taken seriously. Too much of what passes for economic debate in Washington is the product of faith, not evidence.

It’s time to put economics back into the economic debate.

Men's Journal Magazine - Men's Style, Travel, Fitness and Gear

Men's Journal Magazine - Men's Style, Travel, Fitness and Gear: I must have taken a few seconds too long. A police officer strode up and planted himself in front of the car, then pulled out a digital camera and started taking pictures of Sunday's license plate. Under his left arm, he had a metal baseball bat.

Sunday, incensed, got out of the car. "Why are you taking pictures? Tell me what I've done." The policeman pointed to a sign: NO STOPPING. NO WAITING. Sunday continued to protest, and the cop snapped a few more photos, then walked over to the passenger door, opened it and got in.

This is how arrests work in Nigeria. Because cops don't have cars of their own, they sit in yours and demand to be taken to a station. They don't really want to go anywhere; they just want money. But Sunday, knowing he was in the right, refused to budge.

The cop got back out of the car. His partner came to take his place. The second cop was huge – probably 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. He was so tall he couldn't fit inside the Camry and had to crane his head out the window.

London 2012 Olympics: How Danny Boyle got 60,000 fans to keep mum over opening ceremony dress rehearsal - Telegraph

London 2012 Olympics: How Danny Boyle got 60,000 fans to keep mum over opening ceremony dress rehearsal - Telegraph:
Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire and the award-winning stage play Frankenstein, has already gone public with much of what he has planned for the ceremony, which is entitled Isles of Wonder and borrows from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Aerial photographs of the stadium have already shown the set-pieces taking shape, including an idyllic rural scene complete with livestock and a cricket match, and a gritty representation of the Industrial Revolution.

But from the reaction of those who saw the rehearsal, there are still plenty of breathtaking surprises in store.

Pete Hendrick tweeted “If you’ve got plans for Friday night, cancel them. Opening ceremony is out of this world. Danny Boyle, I salute you.”

24 July, 2012

To Model the Simplest Microbe in the World, You Need 128 Computers

To Model the Simplest Microbe in the World, You Need 128 Computers:
What a pathbreaking computer simulation tells us about the future of biotechnology.

Mycoplasma genitalium
has one of the smallest genomes of any free-living organism in the world, clocking in at a mere 525 genes. That's a fraction of the size of even another bacterium like E. coli, which has 4,288 genes. M. genitalium's diminutive genome made it the first target for Stanford and J. Craig Venter Institute researchers who wanted to simulate an organism in software.

The bioengineers, led by Stanford's Markus Covert, succeeded in modeling the bacterium, and published their work last week in the journal Cell. What's fascinating is how much horsepower they needed to partially simulate this simple organism. It took a cluster of 128 computers running for 9 to 10 hours to actually generate the data on the 25 categories of molecules that are involved in the cell's lifecycle processes.

This five-ring circus is only for those in love with white elephants | Andrew Rawnsley | Comment is free | The Observer

This five-ring circus is only for those in love with white elephants | Andrew Rawnsley | Comment is free | The Observer: I will now resume my silence on the subject before I am detained by the Olympic thought-police. I acknowledge that the Games will bring some transient thrills to those who watch them and more lasting satisfaction to successful competitors. I wish the best to our medal hopefuls to whom we now look to salvage some national pride. People who claim to be expert say that the United Kingdom has a very good chance of coming fourth in the medal league table. That would be impressive for a nation of 60-odd million people inhabiting some wet rocks in the north-east Atlantic. For all the blunders during the build-up, I have a hunch that the actual event will be largely successful. I hope so. Even an Olympiphobe doesn't want to give to the French the satisfaction of being able to crow that they would have done it so much better.

Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two : The New Yorker

Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two : The New Yorker: Extreme wealth may have satisfied every pink-Cadillac dream, but it did little to chase off the black dog. Springsteen was playing concerts that went nearly four hours, driven, he has said, by “pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred.” He played that long not just to thrill the audience but also to burn himself out. Onstage, he held real life at bay.

“My issues weren’t as obvious as drugs,” Springsteen said. “Mine were different, they were quieter—just as problematic, but quieter. With all artists, because of the undertow of history and self-loathing, there is a tremendous push toward self-obliteration that occurs onstage. It’s both things: there’s a tremendous finding of the self while also an abandonment of the self at the same time. You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.”

5 dudes, 1 piano

Quote For The Day

Quote For The Day:
"You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right!" - Mitt "You Didn't Build That" Romney.

23 July, 2012

America Magazine Franciscan Leadership Declares 'Solidarity' with LCWR

America Magazine Franciscan Leadership Declares 'Solidarity' with LCWR: A statement from the seven Franciscan (OFM) Provinces in the United States in support of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been released. This is the first men's religious order publicly declare their solidarity with the LCWR and also to critique the Vatican's Doctrinal Assessment. To my mind, for the Franciscans to not only stand with the sisters but to call the Vatican's approach "excessive" evidences a deep displeasure with the way that the reform of the sisters' organization is proceeding. It is fathers and brothers coming to the defense of their sisters.

22 July, 2012

Bo Xilai: power, death and politics - FT.com

Bo Xilai: power, death and politics - FT.com: “Bo and his ambition were seen as the most dangerous force in Chinese politics and people inside the party always compared him to Hitler,” said one senior Chongqing official who worked closely with Bo. “He was a Marxist-Leninist who opposed western liberal democracy, but the irony is that if the Chinese people were allowed to vote, he probably would have been elected president.”

"I Really Resent You Using the Word 'Torture'": Q. & A. with Jose Rodriguez : The New Yorker

"I Really Resent You Using the Word 'Torture'": Q. & A. with Jose Rodriguez : The New Yorker: In your book, “Hard Measures,” you write, “I cannot tell how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labelled ‘torturers’ by the President of the United States.” That struck me and also confused me a bit. After all, your book argues that practices generally regarded as torture are necessary, and you express pride in carrying them out. Was the problem that the President used the word “torture”? Or just that he spoke openly about something you felt ought to be kept secret?

The practices the C.I.A. used were not torture. If that is the way they are “generally regarded” then the general impression is wrong. That is one of the reasons I wrote “Hard Measures.” The techniques we employed were sometimes harsh, but fell well short of what is torture. My problem with what the President said had nothing to do with secrecy—it had everything to do with the fact that he, too, mischaracterized what was done by C.I.A. officers. These actions were undertaken at the request of his predecessor, judged to be legal and not torture by the Department of Justice, and briefed to appropriate members of Congress.

Share And Share, But Not Alike | The Global Mail

Share And Share, But Not Alike | The Global Mail: But of more profound concern in the long run is the way Zuckerberg has solidified his grip on the company, particularly in the aftermath of the IPO. Zuckerberg has set up a dual-class share structure at Facebook which gives Class B shares (the shares he owns) 10 times the voting power of ordinary Class A shares. As a result, he owns 18 per cent of stock in the company, but solely controls 57.1 per cent of the voting power.

The implications for corporate governance of this brand-new public company are ominous. Facebook has listed itself under the "controlled company" exception to corporate governance rules for publicly listed companies. Unlike other publicly listed companies, a controlled company is not required to have an independent board. It is not required to have independent directors, who are responsible for determining remuneration for executives. Instead, it is Zuckerberg who is in charge of appointing directors to the board.

My 91-Year-Old Grandfather Helped Blow Up the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946 – Tablet Magazine

My 91-Year-Old Grandfather Helped Blow Up the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946 – Tablet Magazine: The romantic militancy of my grandfather’s childhood dream should not shock me: I’ve known since I was young that the man I call Saba was partly responsible for the King David Hotel bombing, one of the largest terrorist attacks of its time. The operation against Britain’s military and administrative headquarters in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946, left 91 people dead. Of them, 54 were civilians. Twenty-eight were British. Seventeen were Jews.

Although there was always an uncomfortable kernel of truth beneath the family joke that my grandfather was a terrorist, the reality of Saba Shraga’s background had seemed like a fable until I moved to Tel Aviv last year, where he still lives with my grandmother, Savta Margalit. On the one hand, he was a hero, decorated by the state of Israel for his contributions to the pre-Israel Zionist paramilitary group Irgun Tzvai Leumi (commonly known as Etzel). The photos on their wall picture him with the likes of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, long-time member of Knesset Uzi Landau, and, of course, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who headed the Etzel before entering politics and, eventually, signing the Camp David peace accords with Egypt as prime minister in 1979.

21 July, 2012

Where Obama Shines - NYTimes.com

Where Obama Shines - NYTimes.com: Over all, though, the record is impressive. Obama has moved more aggressively both to defeat enemies and to champion democracy. He has demonstrated that talk of American decline is hooey. The U.S. is still responsible for maintaining global order, for keeping people, goods and ideas moving freely.

And, partly as a result of his efforts, the world of foreign affairs is relatively uncontentious right now. Foreign policy is not a hot campaign issue. Mitt Romney is having a great deal of trouble identifying profound disagreements. If that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what is.

Atul Gawande: Why the Uninsured Are Still Vulnerable : The New Yorker

Atul Gawande: Why the Uninsured Are Still Vulnerable : The New Yorker: In 1973, two social scientists, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, defined a class of problems they called “wicked problems.” Wicked problems are messy, ill-defined, more complex than we fully grasp, and open to multiple interpretations based on one’s point of view. They are problems such as poverty, obesity, where to put a new highway—or how to make sure that people have adequate health care.

They are the opposite of “tame problems,” which can be crisply defined, completely understood, and fixed through technical solutions. Tame problems are not necessarily simple—they include putting a man on the moon or devising a cure for diabetes. They are, however, solvable. Solutions to tame problems either work or they don’t.

Solutions to wicked problems, by contrast, are only better or worse. Trade-offs are unavoidable. Unanticipated complications and benefits are both common. And opportunities to learn by trial and error are limited. You can’t try a new highway over here and over there; you put it where you put it. But new issues will arise. Adjustments will be required. No solution to a wicked problem is ever permanent or wholly satisfying, which leaves every solution open to easy polemical attack.

Romney kept reins on Bain, bargained hard on severance during absence - Boston.com

Romney kept reins on Bain, bargained hard on severance during absence - Boston.com: Romney and his partners had decided that, in his absence, five managing directors would oversee the company. And in Palm Beach it became clearer that Romney was unlikely to return — but would retain his title as chief executive officer and sole shareholder.

The Palm Beach meeting, which has not been previously reported, demonstrates the duality of Romney’s role as he parted ways with Bain, an issue that has sparked controversy in his presidential campaign. Romney has said in financial disclosure statements that he “was not involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way” after Feb. 11, 1999. But he was still legally the CEO, with numerous duties and obligations that were his alone, until early 2002.

Headed after Sorkin, guns blazing

The Hack List - Salon.com: Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals. He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic “everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid” attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.

Stuck in the Mud | Foreign Affairs

Stuck in the Mud | Foreign Affairs: By the end of 2014, NATO needs to remove about 100,000 shipping containers full of equipment and 50,000 wheeled vehicles from Afghanistan; it will leave behind any unused fuel. NATO officials point out that in order for all International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military equipment to be removed from Afghanistan in time, a container would have to leave the country every seven minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, starting now -- a tough order. Many of those containers and vehicles will have to travel along the northern route. For its part, ISAF is still counting on removing at least a third of its cargo in Afghanistan through Central Asia.

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math | Politics News | Rolling Stone

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math | Politics News | Rolling Stone: If the movie had ended in Hollywood fashion, the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 would have marked the culmination of the global fight to slow a changing climate. The world's nations had gathered in the December gloom of the Danish capital for what a leading climate economist, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, called the "most important gathering since the Second World War, given what is at stake." As Danish energy minister Connie Hedegaard, who presided over the conference, declared at the time: "This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one. If ever."

In the event, of course, we missed it. Copenhagen failed spectacularly. Neither China nor the United States, which between them are responsible for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, was prepared to offer dramatic concessions, and so the conference drifted aimlessly for two weeks until world leaders jetted in for the final day.

The Virtuous Mr. Bai Fang Li — Paulo Coelho's Blog

The Virtuous Mr. Bai Fang Li — Paulo Coelho's Blog: Using the money he earned from peddling trishaw, Mr. Bai Fang Li has contributed to finance more than 300 poor students in their tuition fees and living expenses, helping them to complete their studies.

19 July, 2012

The Future of Manufacturing Is in America, Not China - By Vivek Wadhwa | Foreign Policy

The Future of Manufacturing Is in America, Not China - By Vivek Wadhwa | Foreign Policy: Many CEOs, including Dow Chemicals' Andrew Liveris, have declared their intentions to bring manufacturing back to the United States. What is going to accelerate the trend isn't, as people believe, the rising cost of Chinese labor or a rising yuan. The real threat to China comes from technology. Technical advances will soon lead to the same hollowing out of China's manufacturing industry that they have to U.S industry over the past two decades.

The Anders Behring Breivik Norway Massacre Story: Newsmakers: GQ

The Anders Behring Breivik Norway Massacre Story: Newsmakers: GQ: He senses other kids around him, also moving in a slow half-crouch. In the middle distance, he sees a girl coming out of the showers. She's wearing gray sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt with auf stenciled on it. Apparently she did not hear the bangs or the screaming while she was in the showers, because she is walking calmly along the path toward the man with the guns.

The distance between them closes. She is only a few feet from the man when she stops, tenses. It looks to Adrian like she senses something is wrong, like she wants to run.

The man raises his right hand. He shoots her in the head.

The girl crumples to the ground.

Adrian thinks it looks nothing like it does when someone gets shot in the movies.

The man stands over her, fires once more. Her body jerks.

Adrian runs.

Winston Churchill, the author of victory | TLS

Winston Churchill, the author of victory | TLS: But he was not a real historian, and his clever Oxford men could not make him one. For Churchill, the past was never a foreign country, and they did not do things differently there: King Alfred, Marlborough, Chatham and Washington were his contemporaries, who surely thought and felt as he did. Even then his worst defect was his complete lack of objectivity. In 1964, Randolph rashly gave Marlborough to an on-and-off friend. Evelyn Waugh had already mocked Churchill as “a master of sham-Augustan prose”, a writer with “no specifically literary talent but a gift of lucid self-expression” whose work did not survive close attention. On this occasion, Clarke admits that Waugh’s “inveterate distaste for Winston Churchill and all his works” found some justification. “I was everywhere outraged by his partisanship & na�ve assumption of superior virtue”, Waugh ruthlessly replied to Randolph. “It is a shifty barrister’s case not a work of literature.”

Investors’ 10 Most Common Behavioral Biases | Above the Market

Investors’ 10 Most Common Behavioral Biases | Above the Market: Loss Aversion. We are highly loss averse. Empirical estimates find that losses are felt between two and two-and-a-half as strongly as gains. Thus the disutility of losing $100 is at least twice the utility of gaining $100. Loss aversion favors inaction over action and the status quo over any alternatives. Therefore, when it comes time for us to act upon the facts and data we have gathered and the analysis we have undertaken about them, biases 2 and 3 – unjustified optimism and unreasonable risk aversion – conflict. As a consequence, we tend to make bold forecasts but timid choices.

18 July, 2012

"Dying in Court" by Peter Singer | Project Syndicate

"Dying in Court" by Peter Singer | Project Syndicate: UTRECHT – Gloria Taylor, a Canadian, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Over a period of a few years, her muscles will weaken until she can no longer walk, use her hands, chew, swallow, speak, and ultimately, breathe. Then she will die. Taylor does not want to go through all of that. She wants to die at a time of her own choosing.

CommentsSuicide is not a crime in Canada, so, as Taylor put it: “I simply cannot understand why the law holds that the able-bodied who are terminally ill are allowed to shoot themselves when they have had enough because they are able to hold a gun steady, but because my illness affects my ability to move and control my body, I cannot be allowed compassionate help to allow me to commit an equivalent act using lethal medication.”

How the Gorgeous, Sometimes Fictional Sound of the Olympics Gets Made - Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic

How the Gorgeous, Sometimes Fictional Sound of the Olympics Gets Made - Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic: "In Atlanta, one of my biggest problems was rowing. Rowing is a two-kilometer course. They have 4 chaseboats following the rowers and they have a helicopter. That's what they need to deliver the visual coverage of it," Baxter explains. "But the chaseboats and the helicopter just completely wash out the sound. No matter how good the microphones are, you cannot capture and reach and isolate sound the way you do visually. But people have expectations. If you see the rowers, they have a sound they are expecting. So what do we do?"

Well, they made up the rowing noises and played them during the broadcast of the event, like a particularly strange electronic music show.

"That afternoon we went out on a canoe with a couple of rowers recorded stereo samples of the different type of effects that would be somewhat typical of an event," Baxter recalls. "And then we loaded those recordings into a sampler and played them back to cover the shots of the boats."

When the Army Was Democratic by William Pfaff | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

When the Army Was Democratic by William Pfaff | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books: Up to Vietnam, the United States Army had been a people’s army. When the country thought it had to fight a war, it raised an army of citizens. The citizens defended the country and its beliefs, often making family and economic sacrifices to support the war effort. They enabled America’s wars. They also prevented them. The army was a democratic army, and the government was compelled to recognize and respect the popular will and the will of the civilian soldiers and ROTC and OCS officers who manned it. What fundamentally was destroyed in Vietnam was the democratic army. The all-volunteer professional army enables undemocratic wars, ideological in nature and inspiration, and, it would seem, without real end.

The Pentagon's New Generation of Secret Military Bases | Mother Jones

The Pentagon's New Generation of Secret Military Bases | Mother Jones: Unknown to most Americans, Washington's garrisoning of the planet is on the rise, thanks to a new generation of bases the military calls "lily pads" (as in a frog jumping across a pond toward its prey). These are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.

Around the world, from Djibouti to the jungles of Honduras, the deserts of Mauritania to Australia's tiny Cocos Islands, the Pentagon has been pursuing as many lily pads as it can, in as many countries as it can, as fast as it can. Although statistics are hard to assemble, given the often-secretive nature of such bases, the Pentagon has probably built upwards of 50 lily pads and other small bases since around 2000, while exploring the construction of dozens more.

The Strange Neuroscience of Immortality - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Strange Neuroscience of Immortality - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education: My conversations with Hayworth took place over several months, and I was struck by how his optimism often gave way to despair. "I've become jaded about whether brain preservation will happen in my lifetime," he told me at one point. "I see how much pushback I get. Even most neuroscientists seem to believe that there is something magical about consciousness—that if the brain stops, the magic leaves, and if the magic leaves, you can't bring the magic back."

I asked him if the scope of his ambitions ever gives him pause. If he could achieve immortality, might it usher in a new set of problems, problems that we can't even imagine?

"Here's what could happen," he said. "We're going to understand how the brain works like we now understand how a computer works. At some point, we might realize that the stuff we hold onto as human beings—the idea of the self, the role of mortality, the meaning of existence—is fundamentally wrong."

Inside Iraq: the British peacenik who became key to the US military | World news | guardian.co.uk

Inside Iraq: the British peacenik who became key to the US military | World news | guardian.co.uk: On the face of it, Emma Sky was not an obvious candidate to send to Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war. She had never been to the country before, and had opposed the coalition's invasion. She had only been to the US once and was instinctively suspicious of the military, perhaps especially the US military.

Yet on Friday, 20 June 2003 , two months after the war began, Sky boarded a flight from RAF Brize Norton, the only woman among 200 soldiers, and headed into the 50C heat and post-conflict chaos of Basra, the city in the south where the British were based.

Two weeks earlier she had been working as an international development adviser for the British Council in Manchester; now she found herself in charge of one of the most volatile regions in Iraq. The journey from north-west England to north-east Iraq owed a lot to fortune, her determination, and some barely scriptable coincidences. But Sky is the first to concede the random nature of her appointment reflected much broader failures in planning and strategy that would ultimately draw the country into a civil war.

The Cost Of Free Doughnuts: 70 Years Of Regret : Planet Money : NPR

The Cost Of Free Doughnuts: 70 Years Of Regret : Planet Money : NPR: A lot of the online services you probably use are free. Gmail is free. Facebook is free. Yahoo News and NPR are free (though we certainly solicit contributions!). But increasingly, online companies are trying to figure out how to start charging, at least for some services, some of the time.

But today, we have a cautionary tale about charging for things that were once free. It's the story of how one small mistake moving away from free can cause trouble that's impossible to fix.

The story starts when Russ Roberts, a George Mason University economist, started hearing about how veterans don't like the Red Cross. That struck him as odd, and when he asked about it, he always got the same answer: the doughnuts.

Oscar Wilde, responding to a bad review of "John Wilde's" play

John is an admirable name:
John is an admirable name. It was the name of the most charming of all the Disciples, the one who did not write the Fourth Gospel. It was the name of the most perfect of all the English poets of this century, as it was the greatest English poet of all the centuries. Popes and princes, wicked or wonderful, have been called John. John has been the name of several eminent journalists and criminals. But John is not amongst the many delightful names (they included, besides Oscar, Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) given to me at my baptism. So kindly let me correct the statement made by your reckless dramatic critic in his last and unavailing attack on my play.

How Google is becoming an extension of your mind | Internet & Media - CNET News

How Google is becoming an extension of your mind | Internet & Media - CNET News: Google could have us all headed for a mind-blowing future -- if the company can back away from targeted advertising and better help users manage their personal information.

16 July, 2012

The Generations of Men: How the Cycles of History Shape Your Values, Your Idea of Manhood, and Your Future | The Art of Manliness

The Generations of Men: How the Cycles of History Shape Your Values, Your Idea of Manhood, and Your Future | The Art of Manliness: Strauss and Howe argue that the last five centuries of Anglo-American history can be explained by the existence of four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern every 80-100 years, the length of a long human life, or what the ancients called a “saeculum.” These generational archetypes are: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. Each generation consists of those born during a roughly 20 year period.

Brian Shaw, the Strongest Man in the World : The New Yorker

Brian Shaw, the Strongest Man in the World : The New Yorker: Like other very large men, Shaw has a surprisingly sweet nature. His voice is higher and smaller than you’d expect, and he tends to inflect it with question marks. His face has the bulbous charm of a potato carving. “He’s almost overly friendly,” Terry Todd, a former champion weight lifter and an instructor at the University of Texas, told me. “It’s like he thinks that if he’s not you’ll be frightened of him and run away.” At six feet eight and four hundred and thirty pounds, Shaw has such a massive build that most men don’t bother trying to measure up. His torso is three feet wide at the shoulders; his biceps are nearly two feet around. His neck is thicker than other men’s thighs. “I know I’m big,” he told me. “I’ve been big my whole life. I’ve never had to prove how tough I am.”

The Cyclops Child | Psychology Today

The Cyclops Child | Psychology Today:

Probably every physician can think of one patient who affected him more than any other. The patient who has haunted me through the years was a child that I saw for only a little time at the very beginning of my career. I was an intern at a Catholic institution. I mention that because it seems to me relevant to the ethical considerations that swirled about the care of this infant. When this child was born, the obstetrician, looking at it was horrified. It was a “monster.” That was the medical term used to describe a grossly misshapen baby. The doctor was concerned, then, first of all, about the effect on its mother of seeing the child. Therefore, he told the parents that it was born dead; and that the body had been disposed of.  But the child was alive. This particular “monster” had deformities that were not consistent with it living for any length of time. The obstetrician must have recognized that immediately and chose to spare the parents the special anguish of looking at and knowing about this abnormal birth. But did he have the right to tell them a lie about such a critical matter? I’m not sure that there is a law to deal with such a strange situation, but I am sure the obstetrician violated medical canons. He short-circuited the parents’ wishes and concerns. Plainly, they had the right to know the truth. If a medical malpractice action had been instituted, the doctor would have been liable. By telling this lie, he was risking his career. The other people in the delivery suite were also complicit and also liable. As far as I was concerned, however, he had done the right thing.

15 July, 2012

Wrong Way Down the Danube | Foreign Affairs

Wrong Way Down the Danube | Foreign Affairs: The assault on the philosophers is just one example of the disturbing turn away from free and open democracy in Hungary that has taken place since Orban came to power in April of 2010. A day before the government announced its investigation of Heller, some 60 European luminaries, including the late Vaclav Havel, published an open letter decrying the state of affairs. "Hungary's government," the letter warned, "is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle democracy's checks and balances, to remove constitutional constraints, and to subordinate to the will of the ruling party all branches of power, independent institutions, and the media."

14 July, 2012

Friedrich Hayek, on liberty

Friedrich Hayek, on liberty:
“If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty"

Territory Jam: Satellite Television and Public Space in Tehran: Places: Design Observer

Territory Jam: Satellite Television and Public Space in Tehran: Places: Design Observer: Observers of Iranian politics can be forgiven for ignoring this recent headline: Police clamp down on satellite TV users. [1] The crackdowns on rogue television viewers have been reported periodically for the better part of two decades, though they're usually overshadowed by news of international economic sanctions, rigged parliamentary elections and the specter of war with Israel. Nevertheless, the satellite dish, or mahvareh, has been a fixture on Tehran’s roofscape since the early 1990s, serving up American reality shows, Latin American telenovelas, domestic and international news, and dozens of other illegal alternatives to the ideological and religious conformity of the six state-controlled channels.

Outside Online Print This | Catch Me If You Can

Outside Online Print This | Catch Me If You Can: When Robert Wood Jr. disappeared in a densely forested Virginia park, searchers faced the challenge of a lifetime. The eight-year-old boy was autistic and nonverbal, and from his perspective the largest manhunt in state history probably looked like something else: the ultimate game of hide-and-seek.

Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space and Revolution in Egypt: Places: Design Observer

Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space and Revolution in Egypt: Places: Design Observer: But the occupation of Tahrir Square, day and night, by mass numbers of peaceful protestors, had an over-arching purpose: to bring international attention to the demands of the people, to force the government to step down, and to pressure the military — constitutionally obligated to protect the people not the regime — to take action and topple Mubarak. And ultimately it was this peaceful occupation of an important urban space in the nation's major city that brought down a repressive and tenacious government.

12 July, 2012

When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide: 'People Staring at Computers' | Threat Level | Wired.com

When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide: 'People Staring at Computers' | Threat Level | Wired.com: I’ve learned you have to be careful when you get lost in an idea. As an artist, you have to get a little lost. Otherwise you won’t discover anything interesting. But you have to avoid getting so lost that you’re unable to walk away and keep exploring. This isn’t to say artists should avoid things just because they’re illegal — one of our most important responsibilities is to challenge every kind of social norm. But I would advocate balance. Even if you’re operating in a legal gray zone, it’s essential to spend time reflecting on your own ethical boundaries, and considering the ramifications of your actions. I’m sure Apple could have made things much more complicated. It would have been an infinitesimally small percentage of their already unreasonable legal expenses. But for me, it could have turned into years of lost time. Some journalists and bloggers were especially excited to report that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act specifies “up to 20 years in jail”.

What Terry Sullivan's Reinstatement at U. Va Really Tells Us about the Future of Higher Ed | | AlterNet

What Terry Sullivan's Reinstatement at U. Va Really Tells Us about the Future of Higher Ed | | AlterNet: U.Va – like all American public universities – was built on a funding model that no longer exists, and no university president has the power to change that. At most (as Terry Sullivan’s first two years at U.Va demonstrate), they have the power to slow down and moderate the process of privatization. The real power – and the real problem – lies elsewhere.

Pants, a history: How the horse is to blame for our excessively warm legwear.

Pants, a history: How the horse is to blame for our excessively warm legwear:

In a series of intriguing posts at the Social Evolution Forum, Peter Turchin, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut, suggests that we can blame being hot on the horse. Take, for example, the Romans, who traditionally wore tunics. As Roman soldiers began to use cavalry in battle they started covering their legs to make riding more comfortable. Knights of the middle ages, who were often on horseback, continued this practice for the same reason. Because of this, “wearing pants,” Turchin writes, “became associated with high-status men, and gradually spread to other males.”

Of course, this argument leaves a lingering question. The horse is no longer a common mode of transportation, so why do pants persist? In answer, Turchin tells of the ancient Chinese King Wuling, who feared that, despite the benefit to mounted battle, everyone would laugh at him for wearing trousers. Cultural norms, in other words, are hard to buck. These days men find themselves in an opposite situation to Wuling: Hot legs or not, even David Beckham wears pants under his skirts.

11 July, 2012

Pressing On the Upward Way

Pressing On the Upward Way: While most of Appalachia is poor, Southeast Kentucky, where the mountains start turning into hills, is the worst off. There was never enough coal for deep mining that would at least provide well-paying jobs. The ground, mostly black slate, is too rocky for farming, though some families grew tobacco on a few flat bottomland pastures until the government bought them out in the 1990s. Five of the poorest counties in the United States—Owsley, Clay, Lee, Knox, and Wolfe—touch here, huddled along a swath of wilderness, the Daniel Boone National Forest, that divides them from the rest of the state. Owsley County does the rest of these small, poor counties the favor of being a little bit smaller and a little bit poorer. Less than 200 square miles, slightly bigger than the city of New Orleans, it’s shaped like a bowl with hills on the edges and the low, slow south fork of the Kentucky River cutting through. It has the distinction of being the poorest county in the United States with a majority-white population.

The Chickens and the Bulls: The rise and incredible fall of a vicious extortion ring that preyed on prominent gay men in the 1960s. - Slate Magazine

The Chickens and the Bulls: The rise and incredible fall of a vicious extortion ring that preyed on prominent gay men in the 1960s. - Slate Magazine: In the year following the Western Union arrest, the NYPD and the FBI, working in parallel (and sometimes at odds), would uncover and break a massive gay extortion ring whose viciousness and criminal flair was without precedent. Impersonating corrupt vice-squad detectives, members of this ring, known in police parlance as bulls, had used young, often underage men known as chickens to successfully blackmail closeted pillars of the establishment, among them a navy admiral, two generals, a U.S. congressman, a prominent surgeon, an Ivy League professor, a prep school headmaster, and several well-known actors, singers, and television personalities. The ring had operated for almost a decade, had victimized thousands, and had taken in at least $2 million. When he announced in 1966 that the ring had been broken up, Manhattan DA Frank Hogan said the victims had all been shaken down “on the threat that their homosexual proclivities would be exposed unless they paid for silence.”

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, by Tom Junod - Esquire

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, by Tom Junod - Esquire: You are a historic figure, Mr. President. You are not only the first African-American president; you are the first who has made use of your power to target and kill individuals identified as a threat to the United States throughout your entire term. You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy. You have authorized kill teams comprised of both soldiers from Special Forces and civilians from the CIA, and you have coordinated their efforts through the Departments of Justice and State. You have gradually withdrawn from the nation building required by "counterinsurgency" and poured resources into the covert operations that form the basis of "counter-terrorism."

10 July, 2012

Boston Review — Chris Hedges: War Is Betrayal

Boston Review — Chris Hedges: War Is Betrayal: The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do.

I saw this in my own family. At the age of ten I was given a scholarship to a top New England boarding school. I spent my adolescence in the schizophrenic embrace of the wealthy, on the playing fields and in the dorms and classrooms that condition boys and girls for privilege, and came back to my working-class relations in the depressed former mill towns in Maine. I traveled between two universes: one where everyone got chance after chance after chance, where connections and money and influence almost guaranteed that you would not fail; the other where no one ever got a second try. I learned at an early age that when the poor fall no one picks them up, while the rich stumble and trip their way to the top.

Explorers of the Underground | Exploration | OutsideOnline.com

Explorers of the Underground | Exploration | OutsideOnline.com: His words put me in mind of a quote by Camus. "As a remedy to life in society, I would suggest the big city," Camus writes. "Nowadays, it is the only desert within our means."

No offense to Camus, but the surface city isn't nearly desert enough. My own remedy is the other city, the city you access as an urban explorer. In terms of silent solitude, Zen-like peace, discovery and self-discovery, it is the truest man-made desert you can find.

Lessons from a Demigod | Humanities

Lessons from a Demigod | Humanities: As I tell my students, whatever their values or religious traditions, they will save themselves a lot of trouble in life if they realize that they will grow old and eventually die. They can run marathons every weekend, eat nothing but organic vegetables, and have all the cosmetic surgery they want, but, in the end, it will not save them. They should take care of themselves, of course, for it would be a terrible waste not to strive for a long and happy life, but so much heartbreak has come to those who, like Gilgamesh, would not accept that they are mortal. Let them believe what they will about life after death, but this life has an ending for all of us, just as it had a beginning.

08 July, 2012

We’re getting wildly differing assessments : SCOTUSblog

We’re getting wildly differing assessments : SCOTUSblog: Our problem at the moment is that someone is trying to crash the blog. At 10:00 exactly, hackers are launching a “distributed denial of service” attack with 1,000 page views per second to try and bring us down. It does not work; our tremendous Deputy Manager Max Mallory has spent months augmenting our capacity, and the hackers give up after a few minutes. We do not know how many readers are on the Live Blog for the opinion announcement; our data at the time indicates it is rapidly approaching one million. During the day, we will receive 5.3 million hits (more than ten times our all-time daily high) from 1.7 million unique readers.

The Courtroom audio is also piped into the Solicitor General’s office at the Court. There, an Administration lawyer is waiting, Blackberry in hand. The White House, fearful that our Live Blog will crash under the load and perhaps unaware that electronic devices are not allowed in that office, has arranged for the lawyer to listen to the proceedings and send email updates every thirty seconds.

For Romney, avoiding risk means obscuring his own positions - Page 2 - Boston.com

For Romney, avoiding risk means obscuring his own positions - Page 2 - Boston.com: Romney has plainly calculated that he can win without explaining what he’d do as president, and seems intent on becoming the “generic Republican candidate” that pollsters include in surveys (and that often outperform real Republicans). He seems to be making two assumptions: The country is in such dire shape that simply being against Obama is enough, and his background at Bain Capital is a sufficient qualification to get him elected. His campaign is a sustained exercise in avoiding risk.

05 July, 2012

Did you know there was a rebuttal to the Declaration of Independence? - Dave Ross Blog - MyNorthwest.com

Did you know there was a rebuttal to the Declaration of Independence? - Dave Ross Blog - MyNorthwest.com: declaration

Today, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but haven't you ever wondered how the British reacted to it?

Did you know there was a rebuttal?

Well, there was. A 142 page rebuttal (pdf- page 107) by a Tory pamphleteer named John Lind titled "Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress", and written in the same snarky tone as an attack ad.

But like most attack ads, it also contained a few facts that the rebels didn't want to face. You remember the part where the Declaration says King George (quote) "has incited domestic insurrections among us..."?

John Lind points out that what the rebels were really upset about was that the King had "offered freedom to the slaves."

Print: � Thank you for killing my novel � Print - Salon.com

Print: � Thank you for killing my novel � Print - Salon.com: It was a very, very odd feeling to read this after a sequence of odd (read: horrendous) feelings from the night before. I was glad that the Times wanted to talk about it, and I was impressed by the playfulness and the levity of the email, but I also thought: This may be the most sadistic moment of belated fact-checking in the history of mankind. The New York Times, the paper of record, had written a fictitious character to verify a fact.

On purpose.

Naturally, I wrote back in the voice of my book’s protagonist.

Privacy, Silence, Neutrality and Anderson Cooper — IGF Culture Watch

Privacy, Silence, Neutrality and Anderson Cooper — IGF Culture Watch: The false neutrality of silence is clear in this story about Jitters and Bliss Coffee. The company claims to be neutral when it comes to marriage. They say they don’t have a public position on the matter, and “respect the views of all their customers.” To demonstrate that neutrality, they joined up with the National Organization for Marriage to offer NOM members a non-Starbuck’s coffee option, since Starbuck’s has taken a position supporting marriage equality.

That is the neutrality of the status quo, being nakedly manipulated to preserve itself. Our silence, their silence, anyone’s silence is a vote for NOM, is a vote for the bias and prejudice that are woven into the fabric of current law.

In this politicized environment, privacy equals silence, and silence equals — well, not death anymore, but certainly some spiritual damage. That was the unholy balance that Cooper upset. Neutrality is a primary virtue of the journalistic profession, but when “neutrality” means “the status quo,” and if the status quo is, itself, biased, then neutrality is not neutral. Anderson Cooper’s coming out helps expose that truth.

Always wanted to see what this would look like.

"Premature Ignition":
San Diego's fireworks show was intended to span 18 minutes but a technical glich caused all of the fireworks to go off in a matter of seconds:

More video here and here.

Well, this is ironic

International - Jeffrey Goldberg - Hamas Official Endorses the Mossad's Assassination Methods - The Atlantic: Hamas Official Endorses the Mossad's Assassination Methods

Does infinity exist? | plus.maths.org

Does infinity exist? | plus.maths.org: Submitted by mf344 on July 2, 2012

In the latest poll of our Science fiction, science fact project you told us that you wanted to know if infinity exists. Here is an answer, based on an interview with the cosmologist John D. Barrow.

04 July, 2012

The Audition

The Audition: Mike Tetreault has spent an entire year preparing obsessively for this moment. He's put in 20-hour workdays, practiced endlessly, and shut down his personal  life. Now the percussionist has 10 minutes to impress a Boston Symphony Orchestra selection committee. A single mistake and it's over.  A flawless performance and he could join one of the world's most renowned orchestras.

03 July, 2012

A New Record for Retractions? - ScienceInsider

A New Record for Retractions? - ScienceInsider: An investigating committee in Japan has concluded that a Japanese anesthesiologist, Yoshitaka Fujii, fabricated a whopping 172 papers over the past 19 years. Among other problems, the panel, set up by the Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists, could find no records of patients and no evidence medication was ever administered.

"It is as if someone sat at a desk and wrote a novel about a research idea," the committee wrote in a 29 June summary report posted in Japanese on the society's Web site.

Letters of Note: The novel is a wonder

Letters of Note: The novel is a wonder: On October 27th of 1924, 28-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald sent a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, along with an early draft of his new novel, tentatively titled The Great Gatsby. That missive, and Perkins's delighted but constructively critical response, can be enjoyed below.

Investigation: Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts, Tax Loopholes, and Mysterious I.R.A. | Politics | Vanity Fair

Investigation: Mitt Romney’s Offshore Accounts, Tax Loopholes, and Mysterious I.R.A. | Politics | Vanity Fair: For all Mitt Romney’s touting of his business record, when it comes to his own money the Republican nominee is remarkably shy about disclosing numbers and investments. Nicholas Shaxson delves into the murky world of offshore finance, revealing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to skirt tax laws, and investigating just how much of Romney’s fortune (with $30 million in Bain Capital funds in the Cayman Islands alone?) looks pretty strange for a presidential candidate.

German Dominance in Doubt after Summit Defeat - SPIEGEL ONLINE

German Dominance in Doubt after Summit Defeat - SPIEGEL ONLINE: Monti, a former European Union competition commissioner, managed to defeat Merkel with her own weapons. He blocked a €120 billion ($150 billion) growth pact until the Friday morning. He knew that Merkel could not go home without the package. She needed it in order to get the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party to support the fiscal pact, which is intended to force signatory countries to practice strict budgetary discipline, in a key parliamentary vote on Friday. (In the end, the fiscal pact passed with the necessary two-thirds majority.)

Monti was able to prevail because he had a powerful ally. The balance of power in Europe has shifted since new French President Fran�ois Hollande came into office. His predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had usually supported the German position in the end. But Hollande has forced Merkel onto the defensive with his own proposals, securing Spain and Italy as important allies.

Why Are Jim Thorpe’s Olympic Records Still Not Recognized? | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine

Why Are Jim Thorpe’s Olympic Records Still Not Recognized? | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine: The discovery of Thorpe at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, the government-run boarding institution for Native Americans he attended from 1904 to 1913, between bouts of truancy, is a well-worn story. In 1907 he was ambling across the campus when he saw some upperclassmen practicing the high jump. He was 5-foot-8, and the bar was set at 5-9. Thorpe asked if he could try—and jumped it in overalls and a hickory work shirt. The next morning Carlisle’s polymath of a football and track coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, summoned Thorpe.

“Have I done anything wrong?” Thorpe asked.

“Son, you’ve only broken the school record in the high jump. That’s all.”

Dad bait.

Autonomy by Josh Barro, City Journal Spring 2012: Advocates of mass transit like to point out that it isn’t the only form of transportation that gets public subsidies. In particular, road construction and maintenance have benefited from increased taxpayer subsidies over the last decade and a half. “Most drivers still believe that transit eats a huge chunk of transportation funding while roads are self-supporting,” laments Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog. But while it’s true that the government subsidizes all modes of transportation, road subsidies remain a small component of public and private spending on auto travel and are hardly the key factor that is making transit uncompetitive. A fair look at the whole picture shows that government subsidizes mass transit much more heavily than it subsidizes driving and that transit’s problems go far beyond subsidies for cars.

02 July, 2012

Colorado Wildfires: The Aftermath

Colorado Wildfires: The Aftermath:
Still burning near Colorado Springs, the Waldo Canyon fire is now the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, claiming 346 homes and two lives. Residents of affected neighborhoods, who were briefly allowed to return and survey the damage, described "unreal" scenes where houses that burned down to their foundations stood side-by-side with homes that appeared completely untouched. While the Waldo Canyon fire is now 55 percent contained, it is only one of dozens of fires still blazing across the west. [36 photos]

Smart Power Meets Field Experiment

Smart Power Meets Field Experiment:
From the NY Times Magazine’s profile of Hillary Clinton:
In September 2010, Clinton announced the creation of a partnership led by the United Nations Foundation to provide 100 million cleaner and more efficient stoves around the world by 2020, and she has since used every opportunity to implore world leaders to adopt policies to encourage their use
From a new working paper by Rema Hanna, Esther Duflo, and Michael Greenstone (via Shankar Vendantam):
We find no evidence of improvements in lung functioning or health and there is no change in fuel consumption (and presumably greenhouse gas emissions). The difference between the laboratory and field findings appear to result from households’ revealed low valuation of the stoves. Households failed to use the stoves regularly or appropriately, did not make the necessary investments to maintain them properly, and usage rates ultimately declined further over time. More broadly, this study underscores the need to test environmental and health technologies in real-world settings where behavior may temper impacts, and to test them over a long enough horizon to understand how this behavioral effect evolves over time.

01 July, 2012

Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld - Telegraph

Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld - Telegraph: Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld, who has died aged 88, escaped from Occupied France to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE); parachuted back on sabotage missions, he twice faced execution, only to escape on both occasions, once dressed as a Nazi guard.