31 August, 2012

As Romney and Ryan lie with abandon, how should journalists navigate post-truth politics? | Grist

As Romney and Ryan lie with abandon, how should journalists navigate post-truth politics? | Grist:
One effect of the radicalization of the right over the last few decades has been the discovery of just how much our politics is held together by norms rather than rules. There’s no rule you can’t filibuster every bill in the Senate by default; there’s no rule you can’t interrupt a president’s State of the Union; there’s no rule you can’t hold the routine debt-ceiling vote hostage. It simply wasn’t done. But if you shrug off the norm and do it anyway, there’s nothing to stop you.

Similarly, it seems that the lip service given to truth in politics is but a norm itself, one with increasingly tenuous hold. Political campaigns have always lied and stretched the truth, but when caught in a lie, would typically defend themselves (claim it was actually true), retract, or at the very least stop repeating the lie. Either way, the presumption was that truth-telling had some moral force; one ought to tell the truth, even if that commandment was often honored in the breach.

What’s creepy about the Romney crew is that they don’t do any of those things. They don’t deny, they don’t stop, they just don’t care at all. What they’ve realized is that, given today’s hyper-polarization and fragmented media, there’s no practical risk to lying. It doesn’t hurt them, in terms of getting votes, so why shouldn’t they do it?

The day the world went mad | George Monbiot | Environment | guardian.co.uk

The day the world went mad | George Monbiot | Environment | guardian.co.uk: The Republican party's leading lights either deny climate change altogether, or argue that people can adapt to whatever a changed climate may bring, so there's nothing to worry about.

The deluge of reality has had no impact on the party's determination to wish the physical world away. As Salon.com points out, most of the major figures lined up to speak at the convention deny that man-made climate change is happening.

When your children ask how and why it all went so wrong, point them to yesterday's date, and explain that the world is not led by rational people.

What The Apollo Astronauts Did For Life Insurance : Planet Money : NPR

What The Apollo Astronauts Did For Life Insurance : Planet Money : NPR: About a month before Apollo 11 was set to launch, the three astronauts entered quarantine. And, during free moments in the following weeks, each of the astronauts signed hundreds of covers.

They gave them to a friend. And on important days — the day of the launch, the day the astronauts landed on the moon — their friend got them to the post office and got them postmarked, and then distributed them to the astronauts' families.

It was life insurance in the form of autographs.

Trigger Warning - an opinion then retration about the sexual abuse of children

Father Benedict Groeschel Reflects on 25 Years of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal | Daily News | NCRegister.com:
 "People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to — a psychopath. But that's not the case. Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer ... It's not so hard to see — a kid looking for a father and didn't have his own — and they won't be planning to get into heavy-duty sex, but almost romantic, embracing, kissing, perhaps sleeping but not having intercourse or anything like that."

The page now says:
I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.

Vital Signs: The Woman Who Needed to Be Upside-Down | Health & Medicine | DISCOVER Magazine

Vital Signs: The Woman Who Needed to Be Upside-Down | Health & Medicine | DISCOVER Magazine: A doctor is baffled: Why did a 
giant man walk into the ER holding 
a tiny woman by her feet?

30 August, 2012

Clint Eastwood Offers Off-Script Moment - Washington Wire - WSJ

Clint Eastwood Offers Off-Script Moment - Washington Wire - WSJ: Hollywood actor and director Clint Eastwood, the Republican National Convention’s much-touted surprise guest, delivered a rambling, awkward speech that was the highly orchestrated evening’s first off-script moment.

Mr. Eastwood took the stage as the convention moved to prime-time television coverage, and talked for nearly 15 minutes with an empty chair representing President Barack Obama. Suggesting in his imagined conversation that Mr. Obama was making profane remarks, the 82-year old actor implied that lawyers weren’t suited to be president, though both Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are Harvard-trained lawyers.

The Federal Bailout That Saved Mitt Romney | Politics News | Rolling Stone

The Federal Bailout That Saved Mitt Romney | Politics News | Rolling Stone: Under normal circumstances, such ample reserves would have made liquidating Bain an attractive option: Creditors could simply divvy up the stockpiled cash and be done with the troubled firm. But Bain had inserted a poison pill in its loan agreement with the banks: Instead of being required to use its cash to pay back the firm's creditors, the money could be pocketed by Bain executives in the form of fat bonuses – starting with VPs making $200,000 and up. "The company can deplete its cash balances by making officer-bonus payments," the FDIC lamented, "and still be in compliance with the loan documents."

What's more, the bonus loophole gave Romney a perverse form of leverage: If the banks and the FDIC didn't give in to his demands and forgive much of Bain's debts, Romney would raid the firm's coffers, pushing it into the very bankruptcy that the loan agreement had been intended to avert. The losers in this game would not only be Bain's creditors – including the federal government – but the firm's nearly 1,000 employees worldwide.


When Mitt Romney says "Mr. Chairman", do you think he's referring to me? 

A Dish Reader

Politics In A Post-Truth World:
Don't you find it odd that we now treat journalists and fact-checkers as separate creatures? When Wolf Blitzer suggests that the fact-checkers may take issue with aspects of Ryan's speech, what does that make him? What does journalist even mean?

The Apollo 11 Landing Site Superimposed on a Baseball Diamond

The Apollo 11 Landing Site Superimposed on a Baseball Diamond:
Our moon landing may have been grand, but our astronauts did not go far.
[...]So, I appreciate that Maria Popova brought back this fantastic visualization of the Apollo 11 mission at Ex.plore.com. It presents the mission's travels superimposed on a baseball diamond. German space enthusiast Thomas Schwagmeier created the map for NASA's History office and it's not only revealing, but beautiful.

“Long Flights” – a somewhat serious business idea

“Long Flights” – a somewhat serious business idea:
I’m considering starting a new business venture. It’s called “Long Flight” and it’s based on my experiences writing on airplanes.

“Long Flight” facilities will be located inside Faraday cages. Once you enter the facility, your phone will be cut off from GSM and CDMA networks, and Wifi won’t work. You’ll be encouraged to download and cache anything you’ll need to read ahead of time.

Fixed duration – I work well in libraries, but I tend to leave them after I’ve accomplished the main task I’d had on my to do list. One of the reason long flights are so productive is that you’re committed to staying in a space well beyond the time you need to accomplish a task. For me, that means I get a blogpost or chapter written, but I also catch up on papers I’ve needed to read.

“Long Flight” facilities will be bookable for durations of 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 hours. We’ll refer to the duration by the names of cities – book an 8 hour session at our Boston facility and we’ll reference your stint as an “Istanbul”. You’ll be free to walk around the facility, pass other people’s compartments, access the rest rooms and snack counter, but your access key won’t let you leave the building until your session is up. (You’ll sign a waiver that prevents us from being charged with holding you against your will. And we’ll have an emergency protocol, so you can press a button and call emergency services. But if you abuse it to end your session early, we’ll ban you from the facility.)

Each pod will feature a screen that shows the progress of your flight to your “destination”. Since you’ll be ending up back in Boston, perhaps we’ll start in Istanbul and follow a great circle route back. The screen will helpfully inform you that it’s -52C outside, which should serve as an incentive to remain in the facility.

Patrick Ruffini: The Groupon Election

Patrick Ruffini: The Groupon Election: Compared to the same period four years ago, the Obama campaign is sending more than twice as many emails, and informative state-of-the-race missives from the campaign managers are practically gone. According to nycsouthpaw, where those Obama '08 emails had "data, strategy, and an air of knowingness," Obama 2012 emails are "hectoring, manipulative, full of angst, and there are just way more of them." A selection of subject lines: "SO COOL," "Up late" and my personal favorite: "(No subject)."

There is a simple reason for all of this: Because it works.

The Obama campaign does nothing if not a ton of testing. Reporters who have signed up with dozens of individual accounts report that the Obama campaign will test numerous subject lines in the first few minutes of an email send, until they settle on one version for the rest of the list. A culture of analytics is embedded through and through in Chicago, in every department from digital to field, and the campaign even has a Chief Scientist.

How Hollywood Is Encouraging Online Piracy: Scientific American

How Hollywood Is Encouraging Online Piracy: Scientific American:
For all of the apparent convenience of renting a movie via the Web, there are a surprising number of drawbacks. For example, when you rent the digital version, you often have only 24 hours to finish watching it, which makes no sense. Do these companies really expect us to rent the same movie again tomorrow night if we can't finish it tonight? In the DVD days, a Blockbuster rental was three days. Why should online rentals be any different?

When you rent online, you don't get any of the DVD extras—deleted scenes, alternative endings, subtitles—even though you're paying as much as you would have paid to rent a DVD.
Yet perhaps most important, there's the availability problem. New movies aren't available online until months after they are finished in the theaters, thanks to the “windowing” system—a long-established obligation that makes each movie available, say, first to hotels, then to pay-per-view systems, then to HBO and, only after that, to you for online rental.

The people want movies. None of Hollywood's baffling legal constructs will stop the demand. The studios are trying to prevent a dam from bursting by putting up a picket fence.

And if you don't make your product available legally, guess what? The people will get it illegally. Traffic to illegal download sites has more than sextupled since 2009, and file downloading is expected to grow about 23 percent annually until 2015. Why? Of the 10 most pirated movies of 2011, guess how many of them are available to rent online, as I write this in midsummer 2012? Zero. That's right: Hollywood is actually encouraging the very practice they claim to be fighting (with new laws, for example).

BBC News - Procrastination: Readers' tales of epic time-wasting

BBC News - Procrastination: Readers' tales of epic time-wasting: When we first got married, my wife brought home a whiteboard on which we could list the jobs that needed to be done. About a year later it disappeared. Just before our silver wedding anniversary, I found the whiteboard in our garage. There were about 20 jobs on it. None of them had been done - and most of them still needed to be done. Steve Swift, Alton, Hampshire

Guest Post: The Rot Runs Deep 2: Don't Call Out My Scam And I Won't Call Out Yours | ZeroHedge

Guest Post: The Rot Runs Deep 2: Don't Call Out My Scam And I Won't Call Out Yours | ZeroHedge: Parents want their children to join the top 10% and enjoy a security and wealth that is as illusory as the pathway they have been sold: if only you get into an Ivy League university, if only you get a 4. grade point average, if only you earn a law degree--yet none of these guarantee anything beyond an enormous expense and a shot at a roulette wheel with too many players and not enough winners.

Daraya: the defiance that led to the Syrian massacre of hundreds - The National

Daraya: the defiance that led to the Syrian massacre of hundreds - The National:
DAMASCUS // For a rather non-descript town of drab cement block buildings on the southern outskirts of Damascus, Daraya in two short months acquired a significance far exceeding its size or the apparent ordinariness of its neighbourhoods.
Until the start of last week's all-out assault by regime loyalists, which culminated with the alleged massacre of at least 300 people, the community took up the task of governing themselves - a highly emblematic piece of defiance against a regime that has long warned chaos and Islamic extremism would engulf areas outside of its strict control.
Rather than sliding into anarchy after security forces withdrew entirely from the town this summer, Daraya had instead been run with a certain quiet efficiency by opposition activists and volunteers drawn from the town's 200,000 or so population.

Is there a generation of football stars who already have been ruined and don't know it yet? - ESPN

Is there a generation of football stars who already have been ruined and don't know it yet? - ESPN: There are detailed studies being done as we speak about the danger of football, but if you want to understand the lives behind the data, sit in the McKinley Grand during induction weekend. Watch the guys walk across the lobby. Bobby Mitchell inches with a cane. Campbell needs to be pushed. They wobble, waddle and lean. Some sort of swing themselves across the room, like a gate opening and closing. A small group seems untouched by their careers -- Wehrli looks like he could still play -- but mostly, I watch them struggle between the front door and the elevator. "They're all like that," a security guard says. "It's sad."

29 August, 2012

Brett Forrest � Articles � Shattered Genius

Brett Forrest � Articles � Shattered Genius: Grigori Perelman is one of the greatest mathematicians of our time, a Russian genius who solved the Poincar�Conjecture, which plagued the brightest minds for a century. At the height of his fame, he refused a million-dollar award for his work. Then he disappeared. Our writer hunts him down on the streets of St. Petersburg.

GOP: All Talk on Eliminating Tax Breaks – No Action

GOP: All Talk on Eliminating Tax Breaks – No Action: This week, writers of the Republican platform in Tampa dipped their toe in the tax reform water by excising a plank in previous platforms defending the mortgage interest deduction. Under pressure from groups such as the National Association of Home Builders, language was quickly reinserted to protect the deduction.

The fact is that if fundamental tax reform is on the table, then so is the mortgage interest deduction. Making an exception for it automatically becomes the best possible argument for keeping the next most popular deduction and so on – until we are right back where we started. The fact that Republicans backtracked on mortgage interest the moment there was pushback from special interests doesn’t bode well for tax reform even if Mr. Romney wins.

Apple v Samsung: Verdict creates new pinch-to-zoon monopoly that's bad for consumers

Apple v Samsung: Verdict creates new pinch-to-zoon monopoly that's bad for consumers: What troubles me is the verdict upholding the US Patent and Trademark Office's decision to say that, for example, Apple should have a legal monopoly on the pinch-to-zoom feature which I think is a great example of how the modern-day patent system has gone awry.

Think about cars and you'll see that, of course, lots of different companies make cars. But they all have some very similar user interface elements. In particular, there's a steering wheel that you turn left and right to shift the wheels and there's a gas pedal and brakes that you hit with your right foot. Imagine if the way the automobile industry worked was that each car maker had to devise a unique user interface. So maybe GM cars would have a steering wheel, but Toyotas would have a joystick, and Honda you would steer with your feet and use your hands to control the gas and brakes.

28 August, 2012

Revolt of the Rich | The American Conservative

Revolt of the Rich | The American Conservative: The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves. Those super-rich, in turn, aim to create a “tollbooth” economy, whereby more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us. Was this the vision of the Founders? Was this why they believed governments were instituted among men—that the very sinews of the state should be possessed by the wealthy in the same manner that kingdoms of the Old World were the personal property of the monarch?

Why I Love 'The Newsroom': A Defense of Imperfection - Jason Bailey - The Atlantic

Why I Love 'The Newsroom': A Defense of Imperfection - Jason Bailey - The Atlantic: Last May, the AV Club's Noel Murray wrote of:
the need in our culture for everything to be "the best" or "the worst," with no room for "lousy story but terrific lead performance," or "great vocals but crummy lyrics," or "jerky third baseman but impressive starting pitching," or "wrong on abortion but right on tax reform." In our preference for all or nothing—and our tendency to push everything into the slot we've already assigned it to in our heads—I worry that we sometimes miss what we're actually seeing and hearing.
And that's what's happened with The Newsroom: Because Sorkin didn't match "the best" work of his career (The West Wing), he's made "the worst," and now let's see who can most entertainingly tear it to pieces. Take Sorkin down, write about what an insufferable windbag he's become, call his show a miserable failure. It'll get traffic—takedowns get clicks, after all. Which, when you stop to think about it, is part of what The Newsroom is rallying against in the first place.

Hillary Clinton's visit underscores new value of Cook Islands - latimes.com

Hillary Clinton's visit underscores new value of Cook Islands - latimes.com: WASHINGTON — Officials on one of Earth's most isolated archipelagoes are borrowing four-wheel-drive vehicles from private owners for the motorcade. The impending visit, according to one website, will be the biggest thing since a New Zealand rugby star ran naked from the waterfront.

The tiny South Pacific islands and atolls known as the Cook Islands have rarely been more than an afterthought to the world's great powers. Yet in their intensifying contest for influence in the Asian Pacific region, the United States and China are seeing new value in far-flung outposts that until now were coveted more for pearls and sunsets than geostrategic importance.

This Drought Is So Bad Salt Water Is Flowing Up the Mississippi, Threatening NOLA's Water Supply - Brian Resnick - The Atlantic

This Drought Is So Bad Salt Water Is Flowing Up the Mississippi, Threatening NOLA's Water Supply - Brian Resnick - The Atlantic: Saltwater has been flowing from the Gulf up the Mississippi River, and that's as much of a problem as you might think.

Due to the historic drought still searing the Midwest and taxing the heart of our agricultural economy, the Mississippi River is at its lowest flow rate in years. In Memphis, for instance, the river is 8.9 feet below baseline. While the low flow has been grounding barges and creating pockets of quicksand, it is also allowing the Gulf of Mexico to flow nearly 90 miles upstream from the mouth of the Mississippi.

26 August, 2012

Go Away - The Morning News

Go Away - The Morning News: Artist colonies are mysterious places. Available only to a select few, supposedly teeming with alcohol, affairs, and creative hoodoo. But the rumors aren’t true—if only because they lack detail. Scenes and lessons from three residencies.

25 August, 2012

n 1: The Foundation Statesmen

n 1: The Foundation Statesmen: An intriguing explanation of how the US Government, politically hamstrung at home, could act with force and purpose abroad is contained in Inderjeet Parmar’s excellent Foundations of the American Century. Throughout the 20th century, Parmar argues, the weak state was supplemented by private foundations, which took on many of the functions of government. Unelected, unaccountable, and for the most part unchecked, these foundations channeled billions of dollars into positioning the United States as a world power. Immune to the vicissitudes of democratic politics, they functioned as a shadow government, implementing the goals of what C. Wright Mills called the “power elite,” the men of affairs who moved easily from corporate boardrooms to high-ranking government office, often in or around the State Department.

Artificially Sweetened: The Story of Canned Laughter - Neatorama

Artificially Sweetened: The Story of Canned Laughter - Neatorama: Here's how Douglass worked: He'd arrive at a TV studio pulling a dolly that carried his machine in a padlocked box. The session would start with Douglass in an editing room watching the finished recording of the show, and the producer would dictate when to insert a laugh while Douglass took notes. After the meeting, Douglass would head into a room that could be locked from the inside. There, he would add the laughter. Nobody else was allowed to be present or watch him work.

24 August, 2012

American Schools are Getting Better

American Schools are Getting Better: At some point a few decades back, "reformers" who wanted to improve American education got into the habit of overstating the problems with American public education. They won a lot of political success, and have done enough things that now people who don't like the reformers also like to overstate the problems with American public education. So you have a narrative dominated by tales of failing union-ravaged schools and declining drill-and-kill reformer-ravaged skills even though the evidence suggests that, as Kevin Drum argues, the school system is actually steadily improving.

Life on board a British nuclear submarine | UK news | The Guardian

Life on board a British nuclear submarine | UK news | The Guardian: Chief Petty Officer Paul "Jakie" Foran, the likable but occasionally terrifying Scot who oversees these tests, expects dedication, and woe betide any trainee (AKA oxygen thief) who is discovered having a cup of tea in the junior rates' mess when he could be unearthing the secret of the magazine spray drench system. "To me you're useless until you're qualified," says Chief Foran. "I'm a bastard, but in a nice way."

Ex-NPR Hill reporter: Lied to daily - Patrick Gavin - POLITICO.com

Ex-NPR Hill reporter: Lied to daily - Patrick Gavin - POLITICO.com: “I realized that there is a part of covering Congress, if you’re doing daily coverage, that is actually sort of colluding with the politicians themselves because so much of what I was doing was actually recording and playing what they say or repeating what they say,” Seabrook told POLITICO. “And I feel like the real story of Congress right now is very much removed from any of that, from the sort of theater of the policy debate in Congress, and it has become such a complete theater that none of it is real. … I feel like I am, as a reporter in the Capitol, lied to every day, all day. There is so little genuine discussion going on with the reporters. … To me, as a reporter, everything is spin.”

Venus and Serena Against the World - NYTimes.com

Venus and Serena Against the World - NYTimes.com: The story has been told so many times, of these early years, when Compton got used to the sight of the little girls who would always be playing tennis at the public park — or riding around in their faded yellow VW bus with the middle seat taken out to accommodate the grocery cart full of balls — but somehow the strangeness and drama of it retain a power to fascinate. The idea of this African-American family organizing itself, as a unit, in order to lay siege to perhaps the whitest sport in the world and pulling it off somehow. “I remember even talking to my sisters and brothers,” Oracene said, recalling a time before anyone had ever heard of the Williams sisters, “and telling them: ‘The girls are going to be professional. We’re going to need a lawyer, and we’re going to need an accountant.’ ”

The Elusive Obama Doctrine | The National Interest

The Elusive Obama Doctrine | The National Interest: Obama earned the people’s trust. He and his new Democrats averted the usual hellholes because they understood the limits of American power far better than Bush had, particularly when it came to the shortcomings of military force. Yes, the United States had military superiority after the Cold War. Bush and the neocons saw this clearly. But they went on to draw the wrong conclusion—namely, that the way to exercise that superiority was to threaten force and wage war. Obama and his minions grasped the reality that American superiority can prevail in conventional wars against nonsuperpowers (driving Iraq out of Kuwait), in operations to decapitate regimes in their capital cities (Saddam Hussein in Baghdad; the Taliban in Kabul) and in commando-like operations. But unlike the Bush contingent, the Obamanites saw that conventional military superiority cannot pacify countries or resolve civil wars and vast internal conflicts. With the notable exception of Afghanistan, the new Democrats respected this reality.

The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win - Reason.com

The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win - Reason.com:
The past several weeks have made one thing crystal-clear: Our country faces unmitigated disaster if the Other Side wins.

No reasonably intelligent person can deny this. All you have to do is look at the way the Other Side has been running its campaign. Instead of focusing on the big issues that are important to the American People, it has fired a relentlessly negative barrage of distortions, misrepresentations, and flat-out lies.

Just look at the Other Side’s latest commercial, which take a perfectly reasonable statement by the candidate for My Side completely out of context to make it seem as if he is saying something nefarious. This just shows you how desperate the Other Side is and how willing it is to mislead the American People.


FOR THE 7-FOOT SET, PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PROVIDES MORE - 07.04.11 - SI Vault: Fact: An actual accounting of 7-footers, domestic or global, does not exist in any reliable form. National surveys by the Center for Disease Control list no head count or percentile at that height. (Only 5% of adult American males are 6'3" or taller.) "In terms of the growth spectrum, 7 feet is simply extreme," explains endocrinologist Shlomo Melmed, dean of the medical faculty at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The term 7-footer is itself a kind of outer limit, a far-off threshold beyond which precise measurement seems superfluous. A 6'4" guard isn't a 6-footer, after all. The curve shaped by the CDC's available statistics, however, does allow one to estimate the number of American men between the ages of 20 and 40 who are 7 feet or taller: fewer than 70 in all. Which indicates, by further extrapolation, that while the probability of, say, an American between 6'6" and 6'8" being an NBA player today stands at a mere 0.07%, it's a staggering 17% for someone 7 feet or taller.

Fear of a Black President - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic

Fear of a Black President - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic: In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.

22 August, 2012

Why we are poles apart on climate change : Nature News & Comment

Why we are poles apart on climate change : Nature News & Comment: If anything, social science suggests that citizens are culturally polarized because they are, in fact, too rational — at filtering out information that would drive a wedge between themselves and their peers.

For members of the public, being right or wrong about climate- change science will have no impact. Nothing they do as individual consumers or as individual voters will meaningfully affect the risks posed by climate change. Yet the impact of taking a position that conflicts with their cultural group could be disastrous.

Take a barber in a rural town in South Carolina. Is it a good idea for him to implore his customers to sign a petition urging Congress to take action on climate change? No. If he does, he will find himself out of a job, just as his former congressman, Bob Inglis, did when he himself proposed such action.

Print - The Truth About the World Trade Center - Esquire

Print - The Truth About the World Trade Center - Esquire: Seven years ago, when Ground Zero was just a hole in the ground and the world seemed convinced that nothing good would ever be built there, the author began the epic story of the rebuilding of downtown New York. Now, as the "Freedom Tower" reaches its full height, the inside story of boondoggles, self-dealing, common corruption, and why it's all taken so long.

21 August, 2012

The Day Hurricane Irene Nearly Drowned Prattsville -- New York Magazine

The Day Hurricane Irene Nearly Drowned Prattsville -- New York Magazine: With virtually no options, Pam pushed the kids and the pets out a bedroom window and onto the roof of an addition she had built in the place of an old porch. As the rest of the house peeled back, creating a two-foot tear with a view straight down into the dining room and kitchen, the addition, which rested on its own foundation, didn’t budge. Pam went back and forth, from roof to house, never sure when the two structures would split apart completely. She grabbed dry-cleaning bags to help shield the kids and the dogs from the downpour, and then dumped the toy-train components out of some containers and put those over the children, too. Joey wailed as he watched his new school clothes, bought the night before, and his toys, including every one of his G.I. Joes, float out a window and into the maw.

I Went To Church With Mitt Romney Sunday Morning

I Went To Church With Mitt Romney Sunday Morning: The working thesis of the chattering class has been that Romney eschews discussion of his faith for political reasons. But as the Sacrament Meeting wound down Sunday morning with the congregation singing a hymn titled "I Need Thee Every Hour" — and Romney fervently joining in — the election seemed far away. The man who would soon stand on a stage in Tampa and officially accept the Republican presidential nomination received no special welcome from his congregation. His presence wasn't acknowledged from the pulpit. And when a congregant offered the service's closing prayer, she didn't ask God to bless him with electoral success.

Instead, she asked that "Heavenly Father" guide and inspire those who were present, and help them to be mindful of others in need. When she finished, Romney said "Amen," wiped his eyes, and stood, smiling, to greet a man he appeared to know.

President Obama signs bill giving him more power over appointments - POLITICO.com

President Obama signs bill giving him more power over appointments - POLITICO.com: In the middle of election season, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have come together to give President Barack Obama more power to appoint officials to jobs in his administration without seeking approval from the Senate.

Yes, you read that right.

In the middle of election season, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have come together to give President Barack Obama more power to appoint officials to jobs in his administration without seeking approval from the Senate.

Fisking Ferguson I

Fisking Ferguson I:
To judge Obama's record on jobs, you need a better benchmark. Lets try two. The first is the last administration's first term. Here's a graph comparing the two presidents on private and public sector job growth - and remember Bush had nothing remotely like the recession that Obama had to cope with:BUSHvOBAMA_jobsREV
If you removed the blue and red labels, you'd assume that Obama was the conservative and Bush the leftist, wouldn't you? And that Obama was therefore far more successful. Yet Niall manages to argue exactly the opposite. Under Obama, there has been a serious reduction in public sector jobs - largely by state governments.

Break Up The Banks

Break Up The Banks:
I hope the Romney campaign seriously takes on this idea. We have created a financial situation in this country, with Dodd-Frank and other policies, that have stacked the banks against the American people. They have become so massive that they can do pretty much what they want because they can hire all the lobbyists they need to get what they want from Washington and if they falter or fail, the nation goes belly up.
It is absolutely a conservative imperative to break up the big banks. Conservatism should eschew public-private partnership at this level. The banks have, in effect, become an extension of the government in that they now exist in a wholly symbiotic and unhealthy relationship with Washington. If we want smaller government, we need smaller banks too.

Can Obama Win Over the Billionaires? : The New Yorker

Can Obama Win Over the Billionaires? : The New Yorker: Top Obama donors began grumbling on the first day of the Administration. “The swearing-in was the beginning of pissing off the donors,” a longtime Washington fund-raiser says. “During the inaugural weekend, they didn’t have the capacity to handle all the people who had participated at the highest levels, because there were so many.” One middle-aged widow, from whom the fund-raiser had secured fifty thousand dollars, got four tickets to the swearing-in, but none of them were together. “She was so offended!” the fund-raiser says. “And I got no credit, by the way, for bringing her in. Important donors need to be cultivated so that they’re there four years later.”

Gracy in the Great Depression

De Condimentis (15): Gravy Bastard | HiLobrow: When they added hydrolyzed yeast extract (like autolyzed yeast — the main functional ingredient in marmite) a few years later, the deal was sealed. Hydrolyzing yeast tears open the cell walls and results in free glutamates, essentially MSG, the umami flavor that makes your brain think it’s eating meat. This was gravy: thick, dark, perfect. No need for meat — America was saved.

When they added hydrolyzed yeast extract (like autolyzed yeast — the main functional ingredient in marmite) a few years later, the deal was sealed. Hydrolyzing yeast tears open the cell walls and results in free glutamates, essentially MSG, the umami flavor that makes your brain think it’s eating meat. This was gravy: thick, dark, perfect. No need for meat — America was saved.

The Crime Committed in France, by France by Francois Hollande

The Crime Committed in France, by France by Fran�ois Hollande | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books: We owe the Jewish martyrs of the Velodrome d’Hiver the truth about what happened seventy years ago.

The truth is that French police—on the basis of the lists they had themselves drawn up—undertook to arrest the thousands of innocent people trapped on July 16, 1942. And that the French gendarmerie escorted them to the internment camps.

The truth is that no German soldiers—not a single one—were mobilized at any stage of the operation.

The truth is that this crime was committed in France, by France.

19 August, 2012

Dan Ariely: Blog Archive Understanding Ego Depletion

Dan Ariely  Blog Archive Understanding Ego Depletio:
Eventually, when we’ve said “no” to enough yummy food, drinks, potential purchases, and forced ourselves to do enough unwanted chores, we find ourselves in a state called ego-depletion, where we don’t have any more energy to make good decisions. So–back to our earlier question–when you contemplate your Friday versus Sunday night selves, which one is more depleted? Obviously, the former.

You may call this condition by other names (stressed, exhausted, worn out, etc.) but depletion is the psychological sum of these feelings, of all the decisions you made that led to that moment. The decision to get up early instead of sleeping in, the decision to skip pastries every day on the way to work, the decision to stay at the office late to finish a project instead of leaving it for the next day (even though the boss was gone!), the decision not to skip the gym on the way home, and so on, and so forth. Because when you think about it, you’re not actually too tired to choose something healthy for dinner (after all, you can just as easily order soup and sautéed greens instead of beef lo mein and an order of fried gyoza), you’re simply out of will power to make that decision.

Pallets: The single most important object in the global economy. - Slate Magazine

Pallets: The single most important object in the global economy. - Slate Magazine:
And yet pallets are arguably as integral to globalization as containers. For an invisible object, they are everywhere: There are said to be billions circulating through global supply chain (2 billion in the United States alone). Some 80 percent of all U.S. commerce is carried on pallets. So widespread is their use that they account for, according to one estimate, more than 46 percent of total U.S. hardwood lumber production.
Companies like Ikea have literally designed products around pallets: Its “Bang” mug, notes Colin White in his book Strategic Management, has had three redesigns, each done not for aesthetics but to ensure that more mugs would fit on a pallet (not to mention in a customer’s cupboard). After the changes, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet, rather than the original 864, which created a 60 percent reduction in shipping costs. There is a whole science of “pallet cube optimization,” a kind of Tetris for packaging; and an associated engineering, filled with analyses of “pallet overhang” (stacking cartons so they hang over the edge of the pallet, resulting in losses of carton strength) and efforts to reduce “pallet gaps” (too much spacing between deckboards). The “pallet loading problem,”—or the question of how to fit the most boxes onto a single pallet—is a common operations research thought exercise.

A most poisonous campaign - The Washington Post

A most poisonous campaign - The Washington Post: News organizations instituted fact-checking and ad watches in reaction to earlier campaigns, when candidates were getting away with half-truths and worse, with little accountability. These have become robust and increasingly comprehensive. But they are not providing much of a check on the campaigns’ behavior.

Company man: Q&A with Bob Lutz | ChargedEVs

Company man: Q&A with Bob Lutz | ChargedEVs: The level of owner satisfaction is extremely high. Quality and reliability is extremely high. But the downside is that the political extreme right has been distorting the facts of the Volt. The Volt passed the government crash tests with a five-star safety rating, and didn’t roll over. But the testing protocol requires that even if the vehicle doesn’t roll, it has to go through the rotisserie maneuver, which is five minutes on one side, five minutes on its back, five minutes on the other side, and then back on its wheels again. At some point during the rotisserie, some fluid leaked out, and three weeks later caused a short in the battery and the vehicle caught fire. I mean, how safe it that? Three weeks should give people adequate time to exit the vehicle.

18 August, 2012

a dish reader

The Coming Generation Wars, Ctd - The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan - The Daily Beast: Many analysts assume there will be a war between the generations regarding who benefits and who pays for social programs like medicare and social security, both programs open to the vast majority of elderly, retired, or disabled Americans.

This misses a key point of both programs.

My own case as an example. I get both medicare and social security now that I'm 67 years old. But my first benefit from the programs came when I was 19. My parents sent me off to college, and sent my sister the next year. This would not have been possible without social security and medicare, which were available to my grandparents - the first generation to come of age under these programs. Without these programs, my family's money would not have stretched to cover my college costs. It would have gone, as it did in countless generations before, to taking care of elderly parents and grandparents.

The last temptation of mooseheads | Daniel W. Drezner

The last temptation of mooseheads | Daniel W. Drezner: Once the news broke, there was a whole lotta Twitter speculation about how and why this happened. Many media types assume that this was a mistake made by one of Zakaria's flunkies/assistants/interns, but in some ways that's just the proximate cause. A better question would be: why would Fareed Zakaria outsource any writing under his name to others?

I used to think that doing this kind of thing required willful negligence on the part of a writer. Now my view has changed a bit. It's still negligence, but with only a fraction of Zakaria's writing obligations, I can see all too clearly how this happened. To paraphrase Chris Rock, I'm not saying I approve... but I understand.

…My heart’s in Accra � What would it take to start a gun control debate in the US?

…My heart’s in Accra � What would it take to start a gun control debate in the US?:
One implication of Hallin’s theory is that you can often achieve political change not by winning an argument in the sphere of legitimate controversy, but by keeping your ideas in the sphere of consensus and your opponents’ in the sphere of deviance. When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announces in the wake of the Aurora shootings, “…this is just not the appropriate time to be grandstanding about gun laws. Can we at least get through the initial grief and tragedy for these families?”, we should read his apparent compassion, in part, as an attempt to keep gun control out of the sphere of legitimate controversy.
This theory also helps explain why the NRA fights all attempts to limit firearm ownership, including apparently common-sense legislation like a proposed ban on high-capacity magazines for pistols. If the NRA finds itself debating how many bullets a handgun should be allowed to hold for reasonable self-defense purposes, gun control has entered the sphere of legitimate controversy. Better to fight any attempts to restrict weapon sales as an assault on the Second Ammendement and keep all talk of control in the sphere of deviance.

Demos | Blogs

Demos | Blogs: That sense of entitlement that used to annoy the Celts, and the rest of the world too, has largely gone. Britain is a smaller place in the world than it was, and devolution has loosened it, but it has found a story again suitable to its new circumstances. The left said there wasn't one, and the right said it was ineffable but it turns out that Britain has a core national identity after all.

In the Olympic fortnight we saw ourselves partly through the eyes of the watching world and liked what we saw. Cheering happy crowds, James Bond, the Beatles, Mr Bean, a monarch with a sense of humour, all those pop songs. We are quite something still but a normal country with an abnormal past. Danny Boyle reminded us that we invented much of the modern world, though he rather glossed over the fact that we went out and ruled over a large chunk of it too. But as the last imperial generation has grown old and died we have finally lost the sense of regret and nostalgia that coloured national feeling for much of the post-war period.

17 August, 2012

Last Morning in Al Hamra - Shiva Naipaul Prize, 1987 � Spectator Blogs

Last Morning in Al Hamra - Shiva Naipaul Prize, 1987 � Spectator Blogs:
There are no crimes, but there are punishments. A woman is stoned to death. Amputations are carried out, after Friday prayers. We could never talk about these things. I felt, by the end of that interesting year, an increasing sense of oppression. I no longer wanted to spend the mornings with my two Muslim friends. We took a villa on an expatriate compound, and then a few months later we moved out of the city altogether, to one of the company `villages’ which resembled an English housing estate. It was only in the narrowest sense that you were abroad; only the heat told you, and your own tetchy bouts of homesickness. I knew that the journey upstairs to my neighbour’s flat had been, for me, a significant one. I had been offered a friendship I could not accept. It was a chance to build a bridge; but I thought, no, you swim to my side. My values were changing. When I travelled at first I used to ask what I could get out of it, and what I could give back. What could I teach, and what could I learn? I saw the world as some sort of exchange scheme for my ideals, but the world deserves better than this. When you come across an alien culture you must not automatically respect it. You must sometimes pay it the complement of hating it.

No Alpha: Bain Capital’s Investment Results | The Big Picture

No Alpha: Bain Capital’s Investment Results | The Big Picture: In my opinion, the whining (from the right!) about Bain’s outsourcing, layoffs, and the fortunes produced for insiders are misguided. That’s not why Bain should be criticized. Their fundamental flaw, at least according to the math, is that they took lots of risk, use immense leverage, and charged enormous fees, for performance that was more or less the same as indexing.

Said differently: Bain’s sins are the same sins most of Wall Street committed: Too high leverage, too much risk, excessive fees for too little performance.

Bain is worth criticizing not because they are so different, but rather, because they are pretty much just like the rest of Wall Street. And THAT’S nothing to brag about . . .

505,347,842 YouTube Channels and Everything Is On | Gadget Lab | Wired.com

505,347,842 YouTube Channels and Everything Is On | Gadget Lab | Wired.com: The old YouTube you knew (and maybe loved!) is gone. It’s been replaced by something that’s a lot more like a play-anywhere, device-agnostic, multi-channel network. It’s becoming a cable network for people who don’t have cable. YouTube doesn’t want you to watch videos anymore — not in the singular sense, at least. It wants you to stick around and see what comes next. It wants you to start watching on your phone as you head home from work, pick up again on your TV as you relax in the evening, and then nod off to its content while you’re lying in bed, as it streams from your tablet.

And mostly, YouTube is becoming a backdoor to let Google into your living room, no matter whose set-top box sits on your Ikea MAVA. And so how will YouTube pull this off? Channels.

Curiosity's Latest High-Res Photo Looks Like Earth | Wired Science | Wired.com

Curiosity's Latest High-Res Photo Looks Like Earth | Wired Science | Wired.com:
Just a small piece of a larger panoramic mosaic taken last week, the photo looks southeast to the base of the 3-mile-high mountain, which sits in the center of Gale crater. Immediately in front of the rover is the gravelly surface upon which it landed followed by two sand fields separated by a darker region. The first sand patch is about 1.5 miles away while the second is about 2 miles. Because it is a panoramic mosaic, the picture gives a skewed and foreshortened perspective.

Approximately 5 miles away is the base of Mount Sharp, pockmarked with buttes and mesas that are each about the height a several-story building. JPL’s scientists working on Curiosity have noted several times how much this landscape looks like similar areas in the southwestern United States. Curiosity will explore these areas for signs of habitability and help determine the history of water on the Red Planet.

16 August, 2012

The Astronaut Question | Space Exploration | Air & Space Magazine

The Astronaut Question | Space Exploration | Air & Space Magazine: Besides SpaceX, NASA is funding three U.S. companies—Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin—for the second stage of the Commercial Crew Development program, which is ultimately supposed to produce an astronaut-carrying craft. Former astronaut Linda Godwin has said the post-shuttle fleet is grouping into “rental cars” and “taxis.” “Rental car” is analogous to a privately built spacecraft that NASA leases from the owner, with agency astronauts taking the controls. A space taxi would be one carrying NASA mission specialists or other astro-passengers, with the craft directed by the owner-operator’s crew members.

When comparing spacecraft-driving to car-driving, one more analogy is needed: the automated, driverless car. During the 2010 VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge, four electric automatic automobiles got themselves from Italy to China. After more than a quarter-million miles on the road, Google’s Self-Driving Car now has a license to roam Nevada, albeit with an engineer behind the wheel, who, says Google, hardly ever needs to take control.

15 August, 2012

Roseland, Where Obama the Politician Was Born - NYTimes.com

Roseland, Where Obama the Politician Was Born - NYTimes.com: When Obama ran for president the first time, urban poverty was a major policy focus for his campaign. Senator Obama gave speeches on the issue, his campaign Web site had a dedicated poverty section with a variety of policy proposals, and in his platform, he committed his administration to “eradicating poverty,” pledging that “working together, we can cut poverty in half within 10 years.” But the official poverty rate has continued to rise under Obama. In May, Bob Herbert, the former New York Times Op-Ed columnist, castigated the president in the online magazine The Grio for his failure to address publicly the “catastrophe” of children growing up in urban poverty. “Barack Obama can barely bring himself to say the word ‘poor,’ ” Herbert wrote.

Ramadan in Aleppo | Foreign Affairs

Ramadan in Aleppo | Foreign Affairs: On the ground, however, the geopolitics of the struggle takes a back seat to more exigent considerations. The real story continues to be the unraveling of four decades of dynastic totalitarian rule. As horrifying as the carnage has been, the resilience of some segments of Syrian society leaves no doubt that the regime is finished. In parts of the country, an alternative to Assad's rule is already being joyously experienced and seen as worth dying for.

James Fishkin | Deliberative Democracy - Most People Are Rationally Ignorant | The European Magazine - The Opinion Magazine

James Fishkin | Deliberative Democracy - Most People Are Rationally Ignorant | The European Magazine - The Opinion Magazine:
Fishkin: There are two elements of conventionally accepted democracy. One are parliaments, and the other are referenda. Referenda involve everybody voting, and parliaments involve representatives whom everyone elects. Both of those have the value of mass participation, which is a form of mass consent. However, there are trade-offs. We generally consider four fundamental democratic values: political equality, deliberation, mass-participation, and avoiding tyranny of the majority ( the prevention of grave injustices or the violation of rights with majority support). But sometimes referendums can undermine those values – Napoleon and Mussolini both used referenda to push their agenda. The American founders thus designed a system of indirect and constitutional rule. They were afraid of an angry mob and wanted a senate that could deliberate. The trouble with the Senate and with most legislative bodies these days is that legislators don’t feel free to deliberate for the public good because of party discipline and concerns about the next electoral cycle. Legislatures have been less deliberative than they should be, and mass democracy is less deliberative than it should be.

14 August, 2012

Baroness Trumpington: 'At my age I don’t give a damn what I say’ - Telegraph

Baroness Trumpington: 'At my age I don’t give a damn what I say’ - Telegraph: Like any realistic person of her age, she thinks of last things. Her two younger brothers are dead. “With age comes much more of an acceptance. You take dying more for granted. I don’t want to go into a home and I do worry about my eyes. But I’ve got a nice little life for myself here and I have good friends upstairs who are superb to me.”

There is one positive thing about getting older. “You don’t give a damn about what you say. Other people’s opinions matter less — unless they’re medical.”

BBC News - A Point of View: Are tyrants good for art?

BBC News - A Point of View: Are tyrants good for art?:
Welles was pointing to a fact that had nothing to do with the Cold War. The arts have often flourished in regimes we'd call despotic. This isn't because artists and writers do their best work when they're being persecuted - a Romantic cliche that doesn't stand up to any careful inquiry.
It's because traditional tyrants left a good deal of freedom in society. Ancient China wasn't anything like a modern democracy, but it produced some of the greatest art there's ever been, while Mao's China produced nothing. Tsarist Russia contained many kinds of discrimination and injustice, but in the late 19th and early 20th Century it was in the vanguard of literature, painting, music and dance. The Soviet Union produced little that was even remotely comparable. The arts flourished in the empire of the Habsburgs, while Nazism produced Leni Riefenstahl's repugnant and much over-rated Triumph of the Will. Whereas authoritarian regimes leave much of society alone, totalitarianism aims to control everything. Invariably, the result is a cultural desert.

12 August, 2012

Alan Greenspan

Alan Greenspan on His Fed Legacy and the Economy - Businessweek:

The demand for buildings has gone down by almost half. We are essentially operating two different economies in the United States. One produces short-term assets like food, equipment, and software and typically accounts for about nine-tenths of the GDP. And that’s been doing tolerably well. Not great. By itself, that level of activity, if we could measure it, is operating at the equivalent of approximately a 6 percent rate of unemployment. The other tenth of the GDP is comprised of assets with a life expectancy of more than 20 years, mainly buildings. That segment of the economy has been cut almost in half. That’s a reduction of 4 percentage points in overall economic output and a comparable rise in the unemployment rate.

Cruel Summer - By Marc Lynch | Marc Lynch

Cruel Summer - By Marc Lynch | Marc Lynch: Stagnation in Egypt. Grinding insurgency in Syria. Unpunished repression in Bahrain. Frustration in Jordan. Parliamentary crisis in Kuwait. Fizzling protests in Sudan. Humanitarian woes in Yemen. Creeping authoritarianism and renewed bloodshed in Iraq. This summer has not been kind to the Arab uprisings. With the shining exception of Libya, which today celebrates its handover to an elected civilian government, almost every Arab country has sunk back into the bog of political stagnation, frustrated citizens, and in the worst cases grinding violence. Many observers have begun to give up on the hopes for change in the Arab world, and are now dismissing the Arab uprisings as a "fizzle," a mirage, or a false flag for Islamist takeovers.

It is far too soon to accept such a verdict.

On Survival

Drinking The Seagull - The Rumpus.net: What we need from life, then, is not what is presented to us, not even the seemingly hidden treasures that present themselves after the most cursory of hunts. If we want water, we must find it in seagull blood. If we want time, we must scrape it away from the bone of the day and use it as wisely and as expeditiously as we can. I won’t draw any complex metaphors between our relatively comfortable lives and Poon Lim’s, but I will say this: we are doing ourselves a disservice if we do not find some way to use his survival as a model for our own lives. We must be hopeful but more to the point inexhaustible, resourceful to the point of insanity, and eternally alert. If one possesses all these attributes, bravery is only second best.

11 August, 2012

Ignore the prophets of doom – this is a golden age for the world - Telegraph

Ignore the prophets of doom – this is a golden age for the world - Telegraph: There ought to be a name for this feeling: political myopia. It can afflict anyone who confuses what politicians do with what’s happening in the country, or what they say with what is going on in the world. Governments may be having a hard time of it, struggling with debt they ought not to have taken on. Noisy pressure groups who seek government funding may also believe that the sky is falling in. But a clear-headed analysis of the facts reveals something rather extraordinary. The crash has not even retarded, let alone halted, human progress. The world has never been richer, healthier, freer or more equal than it is today.

Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One) - NYTimes.com

Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One) - NYTimes.com: The conscious awareness of Comic Sans promotes — at least among some people — contempt and summary dismissal. But is there a font that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true? Or at least nudges us in that direction? And indeed there is.

It is Baskerville.

10 August, 2012

Joe Posnanski at the Olympics – ‘I Don’t Want to See Him Go’

Joe Posnanski at the Olympics – ‘I Don’t Want to See Him Go’: *One of the great Olympic Twitter moments came when swimmer Dara Torres wrote: “I’m betting Michael Phelps isn’t done swimming … anyone care to wager?” And Phelps retweeted it, with the comment: “Yes I would love 2!!!”

Locked-in syndrome: rare survivor Richard Marsh recounts his ordeal | World news | The Guardian

Locked-in syndrome: rare survivor Richard Marsh recounts his ordeal | World news | The Guardian: Marsh, however, did something almost unheard of: he recovered. On the third day after his stroke, a doctor peered down at him and uttered the longed-for words: "You know, I think he might still be there. Let's see."

The moment that doctor discovered Marsh could communicate through blinking was one of profound relief for Marsh and his family – although his prognosis remained critical.

The Border Between Israel and Palestine - NYTimes.com

The Border Between Israel and Palestine - NYTimes.com: These are highly controversial and extremely speculative notions, but they highlight an important underlying truth: Israeli Jews and Palestinians have much in common. Maybe — just maybe — one day the realization will dawn that the complicated, contested and highly lethal border between Palestinians and Israelis is separating brothers from brothers, and sisters from sisters.

So should the fence be torn down, the border erased? Considering the level of animosity on either side toward the other, arriving at a one-state solution would be nothing short of miraculous, even by Holy Land standards. But miracles are not only unlikely, they’re not always a good idea. The Holy Land has taught us some harsh truths about human nature: brotherhood does not necessarily imply brotherly love, and sometimes, as in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, it leads to its exact opposite — fratricide.

Romney tax dodge and Obama welfare corruption: Policy implications of campaign slurs. - Slate Magazine

Romney tax dodge and Obama welfare corruption: Policy implications of campaign slurs. - Slate Magazine: This August is different. We are suddenly drowning in policy, things that are real-world relevant, stuff that costs money and keeps thousands of bureaucrats busy. It may not seem like that. It seems like the candidates have spent a week talking about Mitt Romney’s taxes and Barack Obama’s hatred of welfare reform. But to figure out what they’re really debating, you have to understand what sort of presidents they plan to be.

Raging Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted to Light-Speed Trading | Wired Business | Wired.com

Raging Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted to Light-Speed Trading | Wired Business | Wired.com: The defense of automated trading is that it lowers the cost of trading and improves liquidity by lowering the spread between bid and ask prices. “At the end of each trading day, equities wind up in the hands of people who want to hold them for appreciation or for dividends,” says Bernard Donefer of the Subotnick Financial Services Center at CUNY’s Baruch College. “If that’s you, you don’t have to pay attention to what goes on between 9:30 and 4:00 and can still get the benefits of lower costs and faster executions.” Fair enough, but as Arnuk and his partner Joseph Saluzzi point out in Broken Markets, you also bear the risk of heart-stopping price swings when the algos shut down their programs to avoid losses for their own reasons. They aren’t in business to make money for you.

09 August, 2012

Conservative on liberal protest song

“Obama That I Used To Know.”:
I want you to watch this video (via The Blaze, via AoSHQ Headlines)…

…and I want you to contemplate this: the people who made that video are neither Republicans nor conservatives (they didn’t like Palin and they don’t like Romney). They are, in fact, criticizing Obama from the Left. And they spent time, resources, and creativity making this video, instead of doing something that might actually get Barack Obama reelected**. This entertains me, because all the creative people on our side are busy doing their best to actually, well, win.

In which Mrs. Churchill delivers a polite smackdown

You are not so kind as you used to be:
My Darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled — except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker, you can sack anyone & everyone — Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote:— 'On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme' — I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you —

Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality — (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful


I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.

08 August, 2012

Why Romney's Tax Plan is Mathematically Impossible | Next New Deal

Why Romney's Tax Plan is Mathematically Impossible | Next New Deal: How is that? Romney's plan has three goals. It starts by lowering tax rates by 20 percent. It then seeks to keep raising the same amount of tax revenues as it did before by removing tax expenditures, or the variety of exemptions, deductions, or credits in the tax code that function as government spending. As the wonks would say, it wants to "lower the rates and broaden the base." However, and this will be crucial, it excludes expenditures related to investment income and savings from being available for these cuts. Finally, it wants to maintain the current level of progressivity by making sure that the top one percent pays no less in taxes and everyone else pays no more. The Tax Policy Center analysis shows that it is impossible to do all three: enacting the Romney plan requires cutting taxes on the top one percent and raising them on everyone else.

The Olympic spirit in Team Handball

Joe Posnanski at the Olympics – Meet �lafur Stef�nsson: The Coolest Guy at the Olympics: The Olympics are so gigantic, with so many athletes, each one of them representing not only a single dream, but also the dreams of so many of their family and friends and neighbors and communities and cities and states and countries. We all have to simplify because it’s too big, so we concentrate on Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas and Jessica Ennis and some promising athlete from the neighborhood who swam eight hours a day or ran nonstop at the local track or practiced her gymnastics all day after school. But the truth is, you could walk into any Olympic arena and find a story.

Auto Correct This! - NYTimes.com

Auto Correct This! - NYTimes.com: In the past, we were responsible for our own typographical errors. Now Autocorrect has taken charge. This is no small matter. It is a step in our evolution — the grafting of silicon into our formerly carbon-based species, in the name of collective intelligence. Or unintelligence as the case may be.

Earlier this year, the police in Hall County, Ga., locked down the West Hall schools for two hours after someone received a text message saying, “gunman be at west hall today.” The texter had typed “gunna,” but Autocorrect had a better idea.

07 August, 2012

Curiosity Lands on Mars - In Focus - The Atlantic

Curiosity Lands on Mars - In Focus - The Atlantic: Curiosity's main science target, Mount Sharp, seen shortly after landing, on August 6, 2012. The rover's shadow can be seen in the foreground, and the dark bands beyond are dunes. Rising up in the distance is the the distance is the highest peak Mount Sharp, at a height of about 3.4 miles. The Curiosity team hopes to drive the rover to the mountain to investigate its lower layers, which scientists think hold clues to past environmental change.

Adrian Vermeule Reviews Michael J. Gerhardt 's "The Power Of Precedent" | The New Republic

Adrian Vermeule Reviews Michael J. Gerhardt 's "The Power Of Precedent" | The New Republic: Gerhardt argues that judges have self-interested incentives to maintain a norm of precedent through cooperation. The “golden rule,” he suggests, is that “the justices recognize the need to give the same level of respect to the precedents of others as they expect their preferred precedents to deserve.” (Here Gerhardt implicitly appeals to a game-theoretical account of precedent as an emergent norm based on reciprocity, pioneered by law-and-economics scholars such as Erin O’Hara.) He documents that it is very rare for the Court to overrule a precedent, or for an individual Justice to call for overruling one. Indeed, Gerhardt goes on to argue that there are “super-precedents” with more than ordinarily binding force; Marbury v. Madison is an example, the decision in 1803 that is conventionally cited as having established judicial authority to decide whether laws are constitutional.

The Impossible State - DPRK

Literary Review - Richard Cockett on The Impossible State by Victor Cha: Broadly speaking, Cha's explanation for North Korea's longevity is that the Kim family has constructed a state that is so ghastly that everyone else fears the consequences of its falling apart more than they look forward to its demise. Thus most of the foreign powers that matter, particularly South Korea and China, have a strong vested interest in maintaining the status quo. These countries' leaders may loathe the Kims and all their works, but they have decided that they have to pinch their noses and carry on trying to work with them - North Korea is just too bad to fail.

A Physicist on Everest: How Body and Mind Break Down at Elevation [Excerpt]: Scientific American

A Physicist on Everest: How Body and Mind Break Down at Elevation [Excerpt]: Scientific American: As a climber goes up even higher in altitude, into the so-called death zone, the dangerously thin air above 26,000 feet, there is so little oxygen available that the body makes a desperate decision: it cuts off the digestive system. The body can no longer afford to direct oxygen to the stomach to help digest food because that would divert what precious little oxygen is available away from the brain. The body will retch back up anything the climber tries to eat, even if it’s as small as an M&M.

The consequence of shutting down the digestive system is, of course, that the body can no longer take in any calories. Lacking an external fuel source, the body has no choice but to turn on itself. It now fuels itself by burning its own muscle—the very muscle needed to climb the mountain—at a rate of about two pounds per hour.

At the Olympics: Hype vs Reality | MikeMarqusee.com

At the Olympics: Hype vs Reality | MikeMarqusee.com: The big Olympic message is that individuals can overcome their environment or disadvantages through determination and self-will. This is entirely in keeping with the neo-liberal ethic, the cult of individual success in a competitive market.

This reading of sport ignores two fundamental realities. First, the critical role of collective support for each of the performers, not one of whom could have developed their skills to Olympic levels without the immense infrastructure of social support which makes it possible to realise individual talent. And secondly, the fact that elite sports performers are by definition exceptions. For the great majority, including many with athletic abilities, environment is not transcendable, no matter how “determined” they are.

A man walks into a bank - FT.com

A man walks into a bank - FT.com: Patrick Combs deposits a junk-mail cheque for $95,000 – for a joke. The bank cashes it

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking | Gadget Lab | Wired.com

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking | Gadget Lab | Wired.com: In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

In many ways, this was all my fault. My accounts were daisy-chained together. Getting into Amazon let my hackers get into my Apple ID account, which helped them get into Gmail, which gave them access to Twitter. Had I used two-factor authentication for my Google account, it’s possible that none of this would have happened, because their ultimate goal was always to take over my Twitter account and wreak havoc. Lulz.

Italian villa: The once palatial rustic retreats from the Renaissance that now lie abandoned | Mail Online

Italian villa: The once palatial rustic retreats from the Renaissance that now lie abandoned | Mail Online: A grand staircase lies in ruins - the steps have crumbled; its ornate railings covered in dust. On the decaying, bare walls, a splash of coloured panelling provides the last vestige of splendour.

This once-great Italian villa would most likely have been home to nobility during the Renaissance - but now, it and many others have been abandoned.

Yet there is still beauty to be found - frescoes depicting angels and rustic scenes, and vaulted ceilings which have managed to ward off the ravages of time.

To document their sad demise, photographer Thomas Jorion has roamed the north of the country - from Piedmont and Lombardy to Tuscany and Emilia Romagna - for his gallery series, entitled Forgotten Palaces.

06 August, 2012

Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment -- Daily Intel

Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment -- Daily Intel:

I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy.

5 Ways You Don't Realize Movies Are Controlling Your Brain | Cracked.com

5 Ways You Don't Realize Movies Are Controlling Your Brain | Cracked.com:
This is why, when some people point out how racist the Lord of the Rings stories are (i.e., orcs are evil by virtue of being born orcs, dwarfs are greedy because they are dwarfs, Aragorn is heroic due to his "blood"), it's both correct and unfair. It's correct because, yes, that is the way Tolkien's universe is set up -- nobody in the stories hesitates to make sweeping generalizations about a race, and they're always proven right when they do. Frodo's magical sword didn't glow in the presence of enemies, it glowed in the presence of a certain race (orcs). Go write a movie about a hero with a gun that glows in the presence of Arabs. See what happens.

"Seriously, Sting? That's profiling. And I won't allow my cutlery to take part in it."
But it's also unfair, because Tolkien clearly didn't sit down and think, "I'm going to increase the net weight of racism in the world in order to firmly establish white dominance! And I'll do it with elves!" He was just writing what he knew. Of course a guy born in 1892 assumed that Nordic races were evolved and graceful, that certain other races were born savages and that midgets love axes. Hell, he could have been the least racist person he knew, and he'd still be the equivalent of a Klansman today. Whether or not the agenda was intentional is utterly irrelevant.

I can't emphasize this enough -- there is no conspiracy. Yeah, you'll occasionally have a movie like Act of Valor that is transparently intended to boost military recruitment, but 99 percent of the time, the movie's "agenda" is nothing more than a lot of creative people passing along their own psychological hang-ups, prejudices, superstitions, ignorance and fetishes, either intentionally or unintentionally. But they are still passed on to you, because that's what stories are designed to do. Michael Bay feels a certain way about women, and about the role of women in the world, and you will leave his movie agreeing with him just a little bit more than when you came in.

We need more criticism, less Liking.

Writers and readers on Twitter and Tumblr: We need more criticism, less Liking. - Slate Magazine:
Reviewers shouldn't be recommendation machines, yet we have settled for that role, in part because the solicitous communalism of Twitter encourages it. Our virtue over the algorithms of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the amateurism (some of it quite good and useful) of sites like GoodReads, is that we are professionals with shaded, informed opinions. We are paid to be skeptical, even pugilistic, so that our enthusiasms count for more when they’re well earned. Today’s reviewers tend to lionize the old talk-show dustups between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal or Noam Chomsky (the videos are on YouTube), but they’re unwilling to engage in that kind of intellectual combat themselves.* They praise the bellicosity of Norman Mailer and Pauline Kael, but mostly from afar. Mailer and Kael are your rebellious high school friends: objects of worship, perhaps, but not emulation. After all, it’s all so messy, and someone might get hurt.

Instead, cloying niceness and blind enthusiasm are the dominant sentiments. As if mirroring the surrounding culture, biting criticism has become synonymous with offense; everything is personal—one’s affection for a book is interchangeable with one’s feelings about its author as a person.

Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world? | Valve

Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world? | Valve:
Market-societies, or capitalism, emerged when, some time in the 18th century, the expulsion of peasants from their ancestral lands (the so-called Enclosures in Britain), and their replacement with sheep (whose wool had become an internationally traded commodity), gave rise to the gradual commodification of land (with each acre acquiring a value reflecting the value of wool that could ‘grow’ on it) and, then, of labour (as the, now, landless peasants were eager to sell their labour time for a loaf of bread, money, anything of exchange value). Once land and labour became commodities that were traded in open markets, markets began to spread their influence in every direction. Thus, societies-with-markets begat market-societies.

Interestingly, however, there is one last bastion of economic activity that proved remarkably resistant to the triumph of the market: firms, companies and, later, corporations. Think about it: market-societies, or capitalism, are synonymous with firms, companies, corporations. And yet, quite paradoxically, firms can be thought of as market-free zones. Within their realm, firms (like societies) allocate scarce resources (between different productive activities and processes). Nevertheless they do so by means of some non-price, more often than not hierarchical, mechanism!

Letters of Note: Why Explore Space?

Letters of Note: Why Explore Space?: How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-travelling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

05 August, 2012

Raising Successful Children - NYTimes.com

Raising Successful Children - NYTimes.com: HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It’s easier when they’re young — tolerating a stumbling toddler is far different from allowing a preteenager to meet her friends at the mall. The potential mistakes carry greater risks, and part of being a parent is minimizing risk for our children.

What kinds of risks should we tolerate? If there’s a predator loose in the neighborhood, your daughter doesn’t get to go to the mall. But under normal circumstances an 11-year-old girl is quite capable of taking care of herself for a few hours in the company of her friends. She may forget a package, overpay for an item or forget that she was supposed to call home at noon. Mastery of the world is an expanding geography for our kids, for toddlers, it’s the backyard; for preteens, the neighborhood, for teens the wider world.But it is in the small daily risks — the taller slide, the bike ride around the block, the invitation extended to a new classmate — that growth takes place. In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.

NASA hopes Curiosity landing site is a Grand Canyon of Mars - Page 2 - latimes.com

NASA hopes Curiosity landing site is a Grand Canyon of Mars - Page 2 - latimes.com: Starting a couple of years ago, the MRO began sending home a data dump about the landing site finalists. The data made it clear that all of the finalists contained vast scientific possibilities, but none more than Gale Crater and its mountain.

The MRO was equipped with lasers that could peer into the planet's surface and detect the presence of minerals.

The mountain, it turned out, was once not a mountain at all. It was part of a giant, layered plateau, which was then eroded — perhaps by wind, perhaps by water — into a cone.

On its slopes, the MRO found distinct layers of rock, like those John Wesley Powell found in the Grand Canyon.

04 August, 2012

Slate on the Chinese 1%

China’s wealthy and influential sometimes hire body doubles to serve their prison sentences - Slate Magazine:
The ability to hire so-called substitute criminals is just one way in which China’s extreme upper crust are able to live by their own set of rules. While Occupy Wall Street grabbed attention for its attacks on the “1 percent,” in China, a much smaller fraction of the country controls an even greater amount of wealth. The top one-tenth of 1 percent in China controls close to half of the country’s riches. The children and relatives of China’s rulers, many of whom grew up together, form a thicket of mutually beneficial relationships, with many able to enrich themselves financially and, if necessary, gain protection from criminal allegations.

A police officer in central China agreed to discuss the phenomenon of “replacement convicts” with me so long as I didn’t refer to him by name. “America has the rule of law, but China has the rule of people,” the police officer told me. “If somebody is powerful, there’s a good chance they can make this happen. Spend some money and remain free.” According to the police officer, hired stand-ins are “not common but not rare either.” As examples, the officer listed several high-ranking mafia figures whose underlings serve time in their stead. The mafia cares for the substitute’s family and pays a bonus for the time served.

Twain on his dreamgirl - literally.

My platonic sweetheart—By Mark Twain (Harper's Magazine): This tale is long enough, and I will close it now. In the forty-four years that I have known my Dreamland sweetheart, I have seen her once in two years on an average. Mainly these were glimpses, but she was always immediately recognizable, notwithstanding she was so given to repairing herself and getting up doubtful improvements in her hair and eyes. She was always fifteen, and looked it and acted it; and I was always seventeen, and never felt a day older. To me she is a real person, not a fiction, and her sweet and innocent society has been one of the prettiest and pleasantest experiences of my life. I know that to you her talk will not seem of the first intellectual order; but you should hear her in Dreamland—then you would see!

Africa in Transition � Mali Descends into Hell

Africa in Transition � Mali Descends into Hell: In the northern part of the country, the radical Islamist group Ansar Dine and other groups have destroyed West African Islamic monuments that are World Heritage Sites – because they were apparently not Islamic enough. And over the weekend, Ansar Dine stoned to death an unmarried couple in front of 300 witnesses, according to graphic and chilling reportage by the New York Times.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS is trying to put together an intervention force of 3,000. Yet, as the president of Chad told the French foreign minister, only France (or NATO or even the U.S.) has the necessary capacity to make such a force effective. According to the press, however, there is little West African enthusiasm for French participation in an ECOWAS force and, presumably, even less for NATO or the U.S. Even with outside assistance, it is difficult to see how even a well supplied international force could impose order on the trackless deserts in the North. It could, however, retake Timbuktu, Gao and a few other population centers. But guerrilla fighting could continue indefinitely.

Dish reader on the "Five"

"I was looking at the U.S. women’s gymnastics team and it occurred to me that we’re seeing what America looks like, that is there’s an African American, Asian American and Jewish American as part of the team."

North Carolina passes law banning new science from guiding coastal policies

North Carolina passes law banning new science from guiding coastal policies: Apparently wanting to steer clear of fancy highbrow academic stuff like research or informed assessments, North Carolina has banned using recent science to guide policy making. House Bill 819, which passed today after the governor let the deadline to stop it slip, restricts all sea-level predictions used for policy-making to be based on "historical data," effectively sending science back to 1900. The law will prevent policy-makers from using a recent study by the state's Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) which predicted the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century. Developers were upset about the prediction that might cause reluctance to invest in the area.

Yglesias Award Nominee, courtesy the Dish

Yglesias Award Nominee:
"This country has a long history of discrimination against certain groups. Eventually we wind up getting it right. Right? Against women, against blacks, the civil rights movement and so on. And in justifying that discrimination when it was in place, some folks turn to the Bible and turn to their religious beliefs and said we have to have slavery because it’s in the Bible. Women have to be second-class citizens because that’s in the Bible. Blacks and whites can’t get married because that’s in the Bible. That wound up in a case. A judge wrote that in an opinion, which the Supreme Court ultimately struck that down, saying that’s not right, judge—the Equal Protection clause says you can't do that. Why is gay marriage any different?" - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.

How Cosmo Conquered the World - NYTimes.com

How Cosmo Conquered the World - NYTimes.com: The repetition can be a little numbing, but it may help explain how Cosmo, which is the best-selling monthly magazine in the United States, has morphed into such a global juggernaut. (“If all the Cosmo readers from around the world came together,” read a recent piece in Cosmo South Africa, “this group would form the 16th-largest country in the world.”) Through those 64 editions, the magazine now spreads wild sex stories to 100 million teens and young women (making it closer to the 12th-largest country, actually) in more than 100 nations — including quite a few where any discussion of sex is taboo. And plenty of others where reading a glossy magazine still carries cachet.

Organ trading.

The Illegal Trade in Organ Is Fueled by Desperation and Growing - SPIEGEL ONLINE: She was a poor Russian immigrant in Israel, he was a well-off German businessman. The case of Vera and Walter reveals a thriving illegal trade in kidneys and other organs -- and shows how it is fueled by desperation.

Monkey Cage on graphs.

Awesome tax rate graph!:
Jay Livingston posts this delight—-a graph that, instead of starting at 0, starts at the oddly-chosen value of 34%: