31 March, 2013

Twitter Blog

Twitter Blog: Starting today, we are shifting to a two-tiered service: Everyone can use our basic service, Twttr, but you only get consonants. For five dollars a month, you can use our premium “Twitter” service which also includes vowels.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Shame of Three Strikes Laws | Politics News | Rolling Stone

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Shame of Three Strikes Laws | Politics News | Rolling Stone:
The end result of this political shift was an unprecedented explosion of the American prison population, from just more than a million people behind bars in the early Nineties to 2.2 million today. Less than five percent of the world's people live in the United States, but we are home to about 25 percent of the world's prisoners, a shocking number.

Another result was that instead of dealing with problems like poverty, drug abuse and mental illness, we increasingly just removed them all from view by putting them in jail. It's not an accident that so many of the most ridiculous Three Strikes cases are semicoherent homeless people or people with drug problems who came from broken homes. It wasn't a cost-efficient way of dealing with these issues – in fact, in California at least, it was an insanely, almost criminally expensive burden on taxpayers – but it was effective enough as a way of keeping the uglier schisms of our society hidden from view.

Who Guards The Most Sacred Site In Christendom? Two Muslims

Who Guards The Most Sacred Site In Christendom? Two Muslims: Every morning, at 4:30, Adeeb Joudeh travels from his apartment outside the walls of the Old City to bring the cast-iron key to the church, just as his father and his forebears did before him.

Once there, he entrusts the key -- looking like a 12-inch (30-centimeter) long iron wedge -- to Wajeeh Nuseibeh, who knocks at the gate to call the priests and the pilgrims who spend the night praying inside. From inside the church, a wooden ladder is passed through a porthole to help him unlock the upper part of the enormous door.

Then, he unlocks the lower one before handing the precious key back to Joudeh. The ritual is reversed every evening at 7:30, after hundreds of tourists and pilgrims have left the church.

30 March, 2013

Majoring in English | The Feminist Wire

Majoring in English | The Feminist Wire: The first attempts in a creative writing course are often thinly veiled versions of ourselves, but when I got the peer critique, Your white character needs to be more sympathetic, I was still stung by its implication. Why does any character need to be sympathetic at all? I wrote myself into the white stepmother as much as I did the cheating Latino father, the disillusioned Latina mother, the Latina child caught in the middle of it all. But out of all the characters in that story, it was the white woman that my reader was most concerned with saving. The U.S. education system trains you to read the universal voice as a white heterosexual male’s voice, and too many deviations from that path get you sent to the Ethnic Fiction section.

Congressional Abdication | The National Interest

Congressional Abdication | The National Interest: Until finalized, the agreement was kept from public and media scrutiny, to minimize any debate that might have put it into jeopardy. From the overt and palpable body language of the executive branch, it was clear that opening up such an important and time-sensitive issue for congressional or public scrutiny would be counterproductive. When this writer asked to read the full document in the weeks before it was signed, I was required to do so inside a soundproof room normally reserved for reviewing classified materials, even though the proposed agreement was not itself classified. And from the logbook I signed before being able to read (but not copy or take with me) the agreement, it appears that I was the only member of the Senate who at least at that point had actually read it.

Congress did not debate or vote on this agreement, which set U.S. policy toward an unstable regime in an unstable region of the world. By contrast, the Iraqi parliament voted on it twice.

Lessons Learned from YouTube's $300M Hole - Hank's Tumblr

Lessons Learned from YouTube's $300M Hole - Hank's Tumblr: For those of you who don’t know, John and I were recipients of part of YouTube’s “Original Channel” funding initiative. We used that money to start Crash Course and SciShow. We were extremely excited to get the chance to have some real capital to spend on content, and the result has been great…we are extremely grateful to be a part of this program.

It was a great thing for us…but it might have been a bit of a dopey idea.

There were a lot of recipients of this money, and many of them were major media companies trying their hand at online video that received some fat checks, up to $5M a piece, to launch TV-like channels. What we all found out is that, no matter how hard you push them and how much money you spend on them, YouTube doesn’t work like TV…and funding it that way is daft.

A Conservative Case for SSM

Contra Erick: No Compromise, No Regrets | RedState: Hopefully, the above is enough to establish my Christian, conservative bona fides (and yes, the order of those adjectives is deliberate) as well as they can be established without sitting down and actually having a conversation with me.

Then there’s this: I’m also a firm advocate for legalization of same-sex marriage.

ZDF TV Miniseries Reopens German Wounds of WWII Past - SPIEGEL ONLINE

ZDF TV Miniseries Reopens German Wounds of WWII Past - SPIEGEL ONLINE: World War II ended 68 years ago. It has certainly taken time to grapple with the history of that period, but by now virtually everything has been studied, examined and said. For future generations, enlightenment no longer occurs through knowledge and confrontation with the hard facts of real barbarism, but through emotions. It's as if the Germans, even the very young, to whom tales of the Nazis must feel as if extraterrestrials were at work, still shudder when they think about what their grandmothers and grandfathers were capable of. As if they were afraid that certain patterns of character and behavior could be passed on to future generations.

Hopeless after Foreclosure

The Weeklies:
The Ramada families became homeless because they could no longer pay rents and mortgages and found little help to slow their fall. In 2011, Colorado ranked eighth in foreclosures nationwide. When families in Jefferson County, which encompasses Denver’s western suburbs, lost their home in the recession, they flooded a market that had the lowest number of rental vacancies in ten years. The Section 8 program in the area dispenses vouchers through a random lottery that typically has about 2,500 applicants; in any given year, only 30 to 40 spots become available. The school system, which keeps the best records of homelessness in the county, says the number of homeless students rose from 59 in 2001 to 2,812 in the current school year. Unable to find another home and unable to find space in the county’s shelters, which hold fewer than 100 beds, the new poor disappeared into the suburban landscape wherever they could find a roof. With nowhere else to go, they turned the Ramada Inn into an impromptu SRO.

What Major World Cities Look Like at Night, Minus the Light Pollution | Collage of Arts and Sciences

What Major World Cities Look Like at Night, Minus the Light Pollution | Collage of Arts and Sciences:
Three years ago, Cohen embarked on a grand plan to help remedy this situation. He’d give city dwellers a taste of what they were missing. The photographer crisscrossed the globe photographing cityscapes from Shanghai to Los Angeles to Rio de Janeiro, by day—when cars’ head and taillights and lights shining from the windows of buildings were not a distraction. At each location, Cohen diligently recorded the time, angle, latitude and longitude of the shot. Then, he journeyed to remote deserts and plains at corresponding latitudes, where he pointed his lens to the night sky. For New York, that meant the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. For Hong Kong, the Western Sahara in Africa. For Rio and São Paulo, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and for Cohen’s native Paris, the prairies of northern Montana. Through his own digital photography wizardry, Cohen created seamless composites of his city and skyscapes.

28 March, 2013

4-Billion-Pixel Panorama From Curiosity Rover Brings Mars to Your Computer Screen | Wired Science | Wired.com

4-Billion-Pixel Panorama From Curiosity Rover Brings Mars to Your Computer Screen | Wired Science | Wired.com: In the meantime, we can enjoy this mosaic created by photographer Andrew Bodrov of Estonia, whose previous panorama let you stand on Mars next to Curiosity. The entire image stretches 90,000 by 45,000 pixels and uses pictures taken by the rover’s two MastCams. The best way to enjoy it is to go into fullscreen mode and slowly soak up the scenery — from the distant high edges of the crater to the enormous and looming Mount Sharp, the rover’s eventual destination.

Jane Mayer for Democracy Journal: Dark Matters

Jane Mayer for Democracy Journal: Dark Matters:
Bravin explains that the small cadre of Bush Administration officials who designed the legal process for Al Qaeda suspects and other detainees were ideological radicals intent upon proving that, as commander in chief, President Bush had absolute executive authority to disregard international law and other legal norms in accordance with the executive branch’s interpretation of “military necessity.” Under this “new paradigm,” suspects would have virtually no legal rights. Instead, as stated in the draft copy for the new military commission system these officials were designing, it was “not practicable” for military commissions to follow “the principles of law and the rules of evidence” that defined American justice. Instead of customary notions of due process, detainees would have no presumption of innocence, no right to proof beyond reasonable doubt, no right to confront or cross-examine their accusers—whose hearsay testimony could be admitted against them—and no right to remain silent. Their own statements, coerced under torture, could be used against them too. The only standard was that evidence must have some “probative value.”

2000, the Year Formerly Known as the Future — We Live in the Future — Medium

2000, the Year Formerly Known as the Future — We Live in the Future — Medium: Later, once time had turned 1984 from dystopia to past, the year 2000 reclaimed its role as the embodiment of the future. All of our hopes and fears and crazy ideas about technology received the timestamp 2000.

Looking back, it never fails to amaze me how distant this past future appears. Let’s time-travel back to the year 2000 and have a look.

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? - NYTimes.com

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? - NYTimes.com: For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?

How the Science of Swarms Can Help Us Fight Cancer and Predict the Future | Wired Science | Wired.com

How the Science of Swarms Can Help Us Fight Cancer and Predict the Future | Wired Science | Wired.com:
For example, when Couzin flashes light over the shiners, they move, as one, to shadier patches, presumably because darkness equals relative safety for a fish whose main defensive weapon is “run away.” Behavior like this is typically explained with the “many wrongs principle,” first proposed in 1964. Each shiner, the theory goes, makes an imperfect estimate about where to go, and the school, by interacting and staying together, averages these many slightly wrong estimations to get the best direction. You might recognize this concept by the term journalist James Surowiecki popularized: “the wisdom of crowds.”

But in the case of shiners, Couzin’s observations in the lab have shown that the theory is wrong. The school could not be pooling imperfect estimates, because the individuals don’t make estimates of where things are darker at all. Instead they obey a simple rule: Swim slower in shade. When a disorganized group of shiners hits a dark patch, fish on the edge decelerate and the entire group swivels into darkness. Once out of the light, all of them slow down and cluster together, like cars jamming on a highway. “That’s purely an emergent property,” Couzin says. “The sensing ability really happens only at the level of the collective.” In other words, none of the shiners are purposefully swimming toward anything. The crowd has no wisdom to cobble together.

Will the Chinese Be Supreme? by Ian Johnson | The New York Review of Books

Will the Chinese Be Supreme? by Ian Johnson | The New York Review of Books: Subramanian argues persuasively that China will eclipse the United States even if Washington pulls off an increasingly improbable 1990s-style turnaround—balancing the budget and getting growth back on track. Thus the common view in Washington is wrong—the game isn’t America’s to lose; barring some sort of catastrophic meltdown, China will win. Within the foreseeable future it will surpass the United States as the world’s biggest economy and, if Washington continues the economic policies that the fiscally conservative author considers suicidal, China will be in a position to dominate it politically as well. The best Washington can do is prepare for relative decline.

Our Band Could Be Your Band: How the Brooklynization of culture killed regional music scenes - Washington City Paper

Our Band Could Be Your Band: How the Brooklynization of culture killed regional music scenes - Washington City Paper: Let’s talk about Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a place where artists gather. There are galleries, and loft parties, and record stores. A dude who presses vinyl lives there. So does a dude who makes stickers and a woman who books a venue. Because there’s an infrastructure that supports getting shit done, people do shit, and a lot of the shit they do is cool. Someone is a recording engineer. Someone is a graffiti artist. Someone has a blog. There’s a lot of energy, and a lot of people to know. Information—“Know a cheap place to print posters?” or “Who can play the tambourine in my Jefferson Airplane cover band?”—is the coin of the realm.

It’s great.

But Brooklyn has a downside. Those who abandon their RMS to come to Brooklyn risk co-option by an aesthetic Borg.

27 March, 2013

More great commentary from Peggy Noonan

Two Thoughts and a Question Answered:
An important part of being a good public servant is having a strong sense of the reality all around you. It is important if you’re in Congress to understand that you work for and within an institution no one trusts. When people don’t trust you, you should try to build trust. The word comprehensive is not, now, a trust builder. It is experienced as a four-syllable threat. So don’t be comprehensive if you don’t absolutely have to. Be simple, straight, quick and clear.

Why do senators and representatives forget they are not trusted? Some of them forget because they’ve been there a long time: When they arrived, Congress was respected. They can’t quite absorb the fact that it isn’t anymore.

Gay Marriage / Politics

2013=2003? � Unqualified Offerings: The number and range of people coming out in favor of gay marriage right now is amazing. OK, maybe not so amazing, given the opportunistic politics of it. Still, I’m impressed by the very fact that supporting gay marriage is the politically opportunistic course of action. When shameless political cowards are all on the bandwagon, something has changed.

26 March, 2013

Return-free filing and interest-free politics | RedState

Return-free filing and interest-free politics | RedState:
An interesting story at ProPublica, prepared with assistance from NPR, chronicles efforts to bring “return-free tax filing” to the United States.  It’s a system already used in a few other countries, and more-or-less duplicated by a few business partnerships in the U.S., but it’s something the Internal Revenue Service could implement nationwide.

Basically, the idea is to have the IRS prepare the equivalent of a 1040EZ or simple 1040 return for every taxpayer.  They’ve already got the data needed for this – the sort of simplified return submitted by about 40 percent of Americans is based entirely on W-2 forms, state tax information, and standard deductions.  Much of the public would be spared the drudgery of plugging these numbers into “simple” tax forms that many nevertheless find confusing and intimidating.  Everyone else would be free to ignore the pre-filled form from the IRS, or incorporate its data into the more elaborate returns they prepare.  The idea would be to offer a shortcut to the sizable number of people who don’t really do anything except add up the numbers from a couple of standardized printouts, pray to God they got it right, and send it off to the IRS.

While acknowledging the reasonable objections some have raised to the concept of return-free filing, the ProPublica article judges that the major reason it’s not happening is lobby

Beyond “The Crisis in Civics” – Notes from my 2013 DML talk

Beyond “The Crisis in Civics” – Notes from my 2013 DML talk:
If we want civic participation that is thick, impactful and scaleable:
- We need to get beyond distinctions between politics and activism and think about agency – our goal is to help people bring about the change they want to see in the world.
- We can’t just develop new digital tactics – we need to think about levers of change and understand who we’re hoping to impact and why we believe they can help us make change.
- We need to help people climb ladders of engagement while broadening their understanding of issues, so they can build their own ladders for others to climb.
- We need to understand that thick participation at scale means devolving control away from the center and trusting that the people we are inviting into our movements will shape them going forwards.

Remember: A Country Is Not a Company - Stephen Kinsella - Harvard Business Review

Remember: A Country Is Not a Company - Stephen Kinsella - Harvard Business Review: The single European currency project, in depriving member states of the ability to issue their own currency, has created the conditions for something close to national insolvency when economies slump. With high debt-to-national output ratios, current account deficits, fiscal deficits, and, putting it mildly, shaky banking systems, the debtor countries of Europe look very much like insolvent firms to the markets. Their sovereign power to issue currency is gone, meaning only painful deflation through the wage channels are possible. Leaving the currency union is very, very costly. The solution is national austerity. Indeed, in some cases, like Cyprus, Ireland, and Italy, the banking systems are so big relative to the rest of the economy as to make the sovereign itself almost vestigial.

Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World

Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World: Henrich soon landed a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to take his fairness games on the road. With the help of a dozen other colleagues he led a study of 14 other small-scale societies, in locales from Tanzania to Indonesia. Differences abounded in the behavior of both players in the ultimatum game. In no society did he find people who were purely selfish (that is, who always offered the lowest amount, and never refused a split), but average offers from place to place varied widely and, in some societies—ones where gift-giving is heavily used to curry favor or gain allegiance—the first player would often make overly generous offers in excess of 60 percent, and the second player would often reject them, behaviors almost never observed among Americans.

Embrace, extend, extinguish: How Google crushed and abandoned the RSS industry | ZDNet

Embrace, extend, extinguish: How Google crushed and abandoned the RSS industry | ZDNet: Summary: Most of the commentary I've read so far about the loss of Google Reader has been about its use as an RSS client. But that's a red herring. The real victims were companies that had planned in 2005 and 2006 to build RSS sync engines. Google stomped them out of business like Godzilla sweeping through Tokyo.

25 March, 2013

Scotland is......not a real country

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The Centroid | Orion Magazine

The Centroid | Orion Magazine: SINCE THE FIRST DECENNIAL CENSUS in 1790, the center of population has moved roughly 870 miles southwest, from a point near Baltimore to a tiny hamlet in central Missouri at the fringe of the Mark Twain National Forest. The movement of the center is driven by regional population growth. It’s pushed and pulled by a kind of urban magnetism: the larger the population of a city or town, the greater the tug.

To trace the path of the centroid is to skim a great narrative spanning 220 years. That narrative is the nation’s history of growth, with each point along the way emerging as a sort of chapter: the rise of industrialism in the Northeast, the expansion of the western frontier, the waves of European, Latin American, and Asian immigration, the post–World War II population boom.

Check Shipping Delivery Time Maps to Avoid Overpaying

Check Shipping Delivery Time Maps to Avoid Overpaying: Ricky refers to UPS delivery time maps (pictured above), which you can generate here. FedEx also offers delivery time maps, and hot pink indicates overnight and aqua for two-day shipping. You just enter the originating zip code to find out lead time. If you're just sending someone a package this is a pretty straightforward task, but a lot of the time you just want to find out how quickly you'll receive a package from an online retailer. Always check the shipping location first with these maps before paying more. If you're looking for this information from a third-party seller on Amazon.com, you can usually find it on the store's info page (and see the state directly in the listing). Checking only takes a few minutes and can save you a lot of money on shipping costs.

Andrew 'Weev' Auernheimer Sentenced to Three and a Half Years | Politics News | Rolling Stone

Andrew 'Weev' Auernheimer Sentenced to Three and a Half Years | Politics News | Rolling Stone: To the extent that cyber attacks are a legitimate concern, there certainly need to be strong distinctions in the law made between defacing a website or collecting emails on the one hand and a engaging in a "cyber 9/11" on the other. The fact that they both involve computers can't be a sufficient reason for someone like Matthew Keys to face a maximum of 25 years in prison. As it stands now, lawmakers are behind on the technology and prosecutors have major incentives to at least threaten defendants with massively disproportionate sentences. The added irony that AT&T, the target of Auernheimer's action, and other telecoms were granted retroactive immunity after spying on Americans without warrants – a crime far more significant than anything Weev, Swartz or Keys did – only heightens the sense of injustice.

Rand Paul Is Right On Marijuana, And That Should Scare Democrats Into Action | ThinkProgress

Rand Paul Is Right On Marijuana, And That Should Scare Democrats Into Action | ThinkProgress:

PAUL: The main thing I’ve said is not to legalize [drugs], but not to incarcerate people for extended periods of time. I’m working with Sen. Leahy. We have a bill on mandatory minimums. There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for non-violent crimes. And that’s a huge mistake. Our prisons are full of non-violent criminals.
I don’t want to encourage people to do it. I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things you should be doing. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t want to promote that. But I also don’t want to put people in jail who make a mistake. There’s a lot of young people who do this, then later on in their 20s they grow up and they get married and they quit doing things like this. I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives.
Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use and I really think, you know, look what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids. particularly in the inner city, they don’t get lucky, they don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things, and I think it’s a big mistake.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh : Holy Week: Meet The Enemy Who Loves You

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh : Holy Week: Meet The Enemy Who Loves You: In her eyes there was that huge grief I had caught sight of when we drove up: a depthless love that said, If I ever lost you, especially to something so stupid, I don't know how I would go on. You are dearer to me than my own life. Somehow, in that weird way of connecting dots that eight-year-olds have, I knew two things: I knew my mother was my sworn enemy, that she was crushingly disappointed in me, would never trust me again and, basically, was ready to kill me were it not for the fact that death would spare me the weeks of being grounded I deserved. But also in that moment, I knew she was my best friend, my shepherd, my defender, the one person I knew who would gladly die for me in a heartbeat. And that's when I began to cry.

Every Holy Week, I think back to that moment, now fifty years ago

Why "Reading devices" are about to get a pass from the FAA

Reading devices – Marco.org: Would I be permitted to be productive at all, or is only consumption allowed? Could I write? Code? Draw? Compose? Run some reports? Reboot a server? Why specifically make an exception for reading with everything our modern devices can do?
Last year, the agency announced that an industry working group would study the issue. The group, which first met in January, comprises people from various industries, including Amazon, the Consumer Electronics Association, Boeing, the Association of Flight Attendants, the Federal Communications Commission and aircraft makers.
Oh. (Emphasis mine.)

24 March, 2013

Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America | Planet Money

Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America | Planet Money: The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. People on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

In other words, people on disability don't show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs -- who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that -- is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It's the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.

For the past six months, I've been reporting on the growth of federal disability programs. I've been trying to understand what disability means for American workers, and, more broadly, what it means for poor people in America nearly 20 years after we ended welfare as we knew it. Here's what I found.

On Pope Francis

New World Pope | The Weekly Standard:
And that, perhaps, is the best way to understand the strange and interesting character of Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentinian just elected pope. He is an advocate of the poor who has consistently opposed the Argentinian government’s ostensible programs for the poor. A social activist who rejects most social reform. A churchman who refused many of the elaborate trappings of his office while promoting the power of the church. A populist who denies almost every request for an interview. A leftist who denounces the state power and cultural changes demanded by the left. A reactionary who despises the accumulation of wealth and the libertarian freedoms praised by the right. No attempt to impose liberal and conservative definitions on him will succeed. Pope Francis simply won’t fit in those categories, mostly because the ancient religious insights of Christianity—taken, as he takes them, in their undiluted form—cannot find an easy place in the modern world.

All of which makes him quite possibly a saint, in the mode of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. The question, of course, is whether the church can survive a saint like that. Francis of Assisi would have made a horrendous pope; he proved an awful manager of even his own order, as far as that goes, his administrative legacy a drag on the Franciscans until Saint Bonaventure finally regularized them. From Saint Crispin the shoemaker to Saint Louis the king, the Catholic understanding has always been that nearly any human profession can be turned to God’s service. That has never meant, however, that one form of sanctity is appropriate for every sort of job, and the kind of saintliness for which most commentators are praising Pope Francis is not, on its face, the kind the church may need in a pope.

Sadaqa | A Street in a Strange World

Sadaqa | A Street in a Strange World: The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“Sadaqa is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.”

He was then asked: “From what do we give sadaqa every day?”

The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.”

He also said: “Your smile for your brother is sadaqa.”

- Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98

Oh, RedState.... / Oh, Biden.......

Joe Biden claims Gabbie Giffords was killed at Tucson[*] attack.: “Shot and mortally wounded.” …And, behind him and to the right?  That kid with the glasses?  Yeah, him.  Take a gander at 0:14: he is giving The Look to Biden. The look that says Dear God in Heaven, I am sharing a stage with a certifiable lunatic.  Who is a heartbeat away from the Presidency.  Eat your vegetables, Barack Obama!  Take healthy exercise!

On Cyprus Deposits and the options that are being worked out today

Walking back from Cyprus | vox: On Friday 15 March 2013, European leaders trespassed on consecrated ground. They insisted that Cyprus impose losses – euphemistically dubbed a 'solidarity levy' – on insured depositors with Cypriot banks as a condition to receiving EZ/IMF bailout assistance. Entering Friday’s meeting, the leaders had four options on the table:

Give Cyprus a complete bailout (estimated to cost €18 billion).
Restructure the outstanding Cypriot bonds, €4.4 billion of which are governed by Cypriot law and €3.8 billion by English law.
Haircut excess deposits in the Cypriot banking system; that is, deposits in excess of the €100,000 minimum covered by the local deposit insurance scheme. These represent about half of the total deposit base.
Haircut the insured deposits.

None of these are pleasant.

Becoming the All-Terrain Human - NYTimes.com

Becoming the All-Terrain Human - NYTimes.com: Kilian Jornet Burgada is the most dominating endurance athlete of his generation. In just eight years, Jornet has won more than 80 races, claimed some 16 titles and set at least a dozen speed records, many of them in distances that would require the rest of us to purchase an airplane ticket. He has run across entire landmasses� (Corsica) and mountain ranges (the Pyrenees), nearly without pause. He regularly runs all day eating only wild berries and drinking only from streams. On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe’s roof — over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex’d climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet — and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete.

Forget the Cellphone Fight — We Should Be Allowed to Unlock Everything We Own | Wired Opinion | Wired.com

Forget the Cellphone Fight — We Should Be Allowed to Unlock Everything We Own | Wired Opinion | Wired.com: While Congress is working on legislation to re-legalize cellphone unlocking, let’s acknowledge the real issue: The copyright laws that made unlocking illegal in the first place. Who owns our stuff? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed.

We live in a digital age, and even the physical goods we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred.

The issue goes beyond cellphone unlocking, because once we buy an object — any object — we should own it. We should be able to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it … without asking for permission from the manufacturer.

A oft-quoted profile of the King of Jordan

The Modern King in the Arab Spring - Jeffrey Goldberg - The Atlantic: Leader after leader—many of whom were extremely old, many of whom merely had the appearance of being old—made small-bore requests and complaints. One of the men proposed an idea for the king’s consideration: “In the old days, we had night watchmen in the towns. They would be given sticks. The government should bring this back. It would be for security, and it would create more jobs for the young men.”

I was seated directly across the room from the king, and I caught his attention for a moment; he gave me a brief, wide-eyed look. He was interested in high-tech innovation, and in girls’ education, and in trimming the overstuffed government payroll. A jobs plan focused on men with sticks was not his idea of effective economic reform.

The Great Hog-Eating Confederacy – The New Inquiry

The Great Hog-Eating Confederacy – The New Inquiry:
Of the many miles Swedish merchant and man of letters Carl David Arfwedson traveled throughout the United States some of the toughest, as he would later note in an 1834 account of his wanderings, lay between Columbus, Georgia and Ft. Mitchell, Alabama. Rutted, rock-strewn, sometimes disappearing altogether in dark woods, the way at one point sent wayfarer, horse and carriage tumbling headlong into a river. The perils of rough passage were compounded by those of rough company. Cutthroats and bandits stalked the area, adversaries against whom Arfwedson’s guide, a seven-year-old boy, would likely not prove much use. Eventually there came into view a hut hidden among the trees, a discovery Arfwedson no doubt made with relief.

21 March, 2013

Veterans on Iraq War, 10 Years After, Part 3 - NYTimes.com

Veterans on Iraq War, 10 Years After, Part 3 - NYTimes.com: War’s end found me in another type of swamp — the cable news circuit. I was a young, relatively clean-cut Iraq veteran living in New York, so December 2011 proved a busy time for my one sports coat. “Was it worth it?” they asked. “What did it all mean?” they demanded. I stared at the small red light of the camera and did my best to boil down multitudes of ambiguity into pithy talking points, longing for the clarity of war.

A Problem Google Has Created for Itself

A Problem Google Has Created for Itself:

Here's the problem: Google now has a clear enough track record of trying out, and then canceling, "interesting" new software that I have no idea how long Keep will be around. When Google launched its Google Health service five years ago, it had an allure like Keep's: here was the one place you could store your prescription info, test results, immunization records, and so on and know that you could get at them as time went on. That's how I used it -- until Google cancelled this "experiment" last year. Same with Google Reader, and all the other products in the Google Graveyard that Slate produced last week.

The Best Move For Cyprus Might Be To Hold A Gun To Its Own Head - Business Insider

The Best Move For Cyprus Might Be To Hold A Gun To Its Own Head - Business Insider: The big news today is that the ECB has given Cyprus a deadline.

If it doesn't have a deal in place by Monday, then it's over. The ECB will not be providing any emergency liquidity to its banks at that point.

Expect a busy weekend, as the government scrambles.

20 March, 2013

‘Tonight’ Show Expected to Return to New York, With Fallon - NYTimes.com

‘Tonight’ Show Expected to Return to New York, With Fallon - NYTimes.com: NBC has settled on two new stars for “The Tonight Show”: Jimmy Fallon and New York City.

The network has made a commitment to Mr. Fallon, the current host of its “Late Night” program, for him to succeed Jay Leno as the next host of “Tonight,” according to several senior television executives involved in the decision. As part of the agreement, the show would move from Burbank, Calif., back to New York, where it started in 1954 with Steve Allen as host.

The First Days of Francis

The First Days of Francis:
It really is quite wonderful, what we’re hearing and seeing from Rome. The plain shoes. The plain watch. The slightly galumphy look as he does his walkabouts. The reason he took his name: “How I wish for a poor church, and for a church for the poor.” The report I received of his taking the employee elevator in the Vatican, not the papal one— “Your Holiness!” exclaimed a surprised Swiss Guard. His kissing of the hands of his “brother cardinals” after they would attempt to kiss his ring. The sweetness of his plunging into the crowds. His stopping the jeep Tuesday morning when he was riding around St. Peter’s Square: He saw a disabled man being held by a friend, and stopped to show affection and gratitude. The surprise walkabout Sunday at church. The surprise phone call he made to thousands of Argentines who held an all-night prayer vigil for him Monday in Buenos Aires: “Thank you for praying, for your prayers, which I need a lot.”

All this can be called mere symbolism but it’s good symbolism, and good Francis knows it is needed.

Barack Obama vs George Washington

Barack Obama vs George Washington:The concept of an “eternal”, and “unbreakable” alliance with any other single country is a statement George Washington would have regarded as deeply corrosive of foreign policy and domestic governance. To declare it in the language of the foreign country has even deeper resonance. It is now the governing principle of both political parties – and the primary reason we may once again be headed to war with unforeseeable consequences in the Middle East.

Mistakes, Excuses and Painful Lessons From the Iraq War - Bloomberg

Mistakes, Excuses and Painful Lessons From the Iraq War - Bloomberg: I supported the Iraq War, and I’m sorry.

I have my excuses, of course. I was a college student, young and dumb. I thought that if U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell and former President Bill Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair all thought it was necessary, then that was because they had intelligence proving as much. I thought there was no way the Bush administration would neglect to plan for the obvious challenges of the aftermath. I turned on the war quickly when I saw how poorly and arrogantly it was being managed.

What Do Members of Congress Tweet About?

What Do Members of Congress Tweet About?:
As it turns out, it’s not always about hitting a deer with your car.  Here is a guest post from political scientist Heather Evans.

I led a group of researchers from Sam Houston State University that set out to figure out what members of the House and their competitors were tweeting about in the last two months of the 2012 election. In total, 67,119 tweets were coded for 1,119 individuals.....

Reddit launches first original video series: 'Explain Like I'm Five' | The Verge

Reddit launches first original video series: 'Explain Like I'm Five' | The Verge: Reddit just launched it first original video series on YouTube, "Explain Like I'm Five (ELIF)." The series, an educational comedy, consists of three episodes based on one of Reddit's user created forums (subreddits) of the same name, where users (Redditors) strive to answer each other's questions on complex subjects as simply and straightforwardly as possible. "It was more inspired by the content in the thread posts than actually quoting them or using them directly," Erik Martin, Reddit's general manager, told The Verge in a phone interview. Still, Martin commended the subreddit for having the idea in the first place, writing in a post today: "Hope you enjoy this little experiment, and keep up the great work in this community."

Cool article, great layout, Alison Brie

The Nielsen Family Is Dead | Underwire | Wired.com:
From Game of Thrones to the new Arrested Development, television is better than ever. And it’s not just a lucky accident. Turns out that networks and advertisers are using all-new metrics to design hit shows. Under these new rules, Twitter feeds are as important as ratings, fresh ideas beat tired formulas, and niche stars can be as valuable as big names. Case in point: Mad Men and Community’s Alison Brie.

The Revolt of the (Republican) Elites - NYTimes.com

The Revolt of the (Republican) Elites - NYTimes.com: Parties need reliable voters before they need anything else. A party elite can rebel against its own base successfully, but only if there’s a bigger base waiting to be built. A G.O.P. that moves to the center on social and economic issues simultaneously might achieve that kind of expansion. But jettisoning cultural conservatives in order to protect an unpopular economic agenda is just as likely to have the opposite effect — losing more in disaffection than it gains through outreach, and consigning G.O.P. elites to exactly the kind of purer-but-smaller, permanent-minority fate that their revolt is intended to escape.

Catching Up With Charismatic - America's Best Racing. The Jockey Club

Catching Up With Charismatic - America's Best Racing. The Jockey Club: Charismatic’s Kentucky Derby was no less dramatic than the rest of his career. The colt was in seventh at the first point of call before moving up into the top three after a mile. Charismatic waited until midstretch to collar stablemate Cat Thief and take the lead. But the race wasn’t over, as he had to hold off a late-closing Menifee to win the race by a neck.

19 March, 2013

What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew – Casaubon's Book

What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew – Casaubon's Book: We hate being told we must be saints or angels, because we’re doing something really ordinary and normal – that is, taking care of kids in need. If some children showed up dirty and hungry and needing a safe place on your doorstep, you’d care for them too – we just signed up to be the doorstep they arrive at. The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents. This also stinks because if we’re saints and angels, we can’t ever be jerks or human or need help, and that’s bad, because sometimes this is hard.

Religion Without God by Ronald Dworkin | The New York Review of Books

Religion Without God by Ronald Dworkin | The New York Review of Books:
The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like and just as profound as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than we are.” They feel an inescapable responsibility to live their lives well, with due respect for the lives of others; they take pride in a life they think well lived and suffer sometimes inconsolable regret at a life they think, in retrospect, wasted. They find the Grand Canyon not just arresting but breathtakingly and eerily wonderful. They are not simply interested in the latest discoveries about the vast universe but enthralled by them. These are not, for them, just a matter of immediate sensuous and otherwise inexplicable response. They express a conviction that the force and wonder they sense are real, just as real as planets or pain, that moral truth and natural wonder do not simply evoke awe but call for it.

Whispers in the Loggia: In the Vatican, The Pope of Chaos

Whispers in the Loggia: In the Vatican, The Pope of Chaos: All of four days into his new ministry, Papa Bergoglio's style has already spurred significant tweaks to three pillars of the traditional apparatus surrounding the papacy: the liturgical shop (e.g. Guido Marini, now all in linen – something that, in times past, the Tradition-minded lead MC didn't even do on Good Friday), the press operation (given the Pope's penchant to veer into long stretches off-script, requiring immediate transcription and translation)... and perhaps the most formidable fiefdom of all, the security services.

How We Thought, and Think, About Iraq

How We Thought, and Think, About Iraq: Thumbnail image for IraqInvade2.jpgI'll try to work through a number of items on this topic today. Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the start of the ruinous invasion of Iraq.

Every policymaker knew, or should have known, that allegations of WMD were wildly overblown at best, and pure fiction at worst.  This information was available to everyone with a security clearance (everything that would subsequently come out about Saddam's purported nuclear and biological programs was available: I read it all, and was briefed on it, while the war resolution was being debated; the only surprise was the non-existence of chemical warfare stocks, which were always a red-herring for Americans outside of Iraq and its immediate neighborhood).  A case could be made that war supporters were duped by neo-con hawks in the Administration and their cheering-gallery in the media-- but the information was there, and there were plenty of informed sources telling policymakers the truth.  Nobody can claim they weren't warned.

18 March, 2013

Copyright needs an update

Pallante 032013: I think it is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act, which will need to be more forward thinking and flexible than before. Because the dissemination of content is so pervasive to life in the 21st century, the law also should be less technical and more helpful to those who need to navigate it. Certainly some guidance could be given through regulations and education. But my point is, if one needs an army of lawyers to understand the basic precepts of the law, then it is time for a new law.

The Washington Monthly - The Magazine - He Who Makes the Rules

The Washington Monthly - The Magazine - He Who Makes the Rules: As of now, there’s no guarantee that either Obamacare or Dodd-Frank will be made into rules that actually do what lawmakers intended. That’s partly because the rule-making process is a dangerous place for a law to go. We might imagine it as a fairly boring assembly line—a series of gray-faced bureaucrats diligently stamping laws into rules—but in reality, it’s more of a treacherous, whirling-hatchet-lined gauntlet. There are three main areas on this gauntlet where a rule can be sliced, diced, gouged, or otherwise weakened beyond recognition.

Cyprus will see bank runs tomorrow

The Cyprus precedent | Felix Salmon: t might seem a little bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but the lines in front of broken ATMs certainly suggest that there will indeed be a substantial bank run out of Cypriot banks when they reopen on Tuesday morning. (Cyprus’s loss, here, is likely to be Latvia’s gain.) Cyprus has been relying up until now on its status as an offshore financial center, especially for Russians. That has bloated its banks with deposits, and if the deposit bubble bursts, the government has no money at all to bail out the banks. Cyprus’s president, Nicos Anastasiades, said today that he was forced to choose this path because the only alternative was the collapse of Cyprus’s two major banks, with “catastrophic” consequences. What he didn’t say is that those banks aren’t remotely safe yet — not with the prospect of a massive bank run hanging over their heads.

The price of gov't assistance economics

Food stamps put Rhode Island town on monthly boom-and-bust cycle - The Washington Post: At precisely one second after midnight, on March 1, Woonsocket would experience its monthly financial windfall — nearly $2 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Federal money would be electronically transferred to the broke residents of a nearly bankrupt town, where it would flow first into grocery stores and then on to food companies, employees and banks, beginning the monthly cycle that has helped Woonsocket survive.

Three years into an economic recovery, this is the lasting scar of collapse: a federal program that began as a last resort for a few million hungry people has grown into an economic lifeline for entire towns. Spending on SNAP has doubled in the past four years and tripled in the past decade, surpassing $78 billion last year. A record 47 million Americans receive the benefit — including 13,752 in Woonsocket, one-third of the town’s population, where the first of each month now reveals twin shortcomings of the U.S. economy:

Going to High School when 6% of students are shot in a year

Harper High School, and finding solutions to complex problems:

I think the two part episode This American Life recently released on Harper High School in the south side of Chicago is some of the best work they’ve ever done. Trying to understand the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago and its implications for children growing up in this violent environment, TAL placed three reporters in Harper for five months.
In the previous academic year, 29 current and recent students were shot. Eight were killed. And Harper’s student body is just over 500 students.....

The core problem Harper faces is that their students are going to school in a war zone. That war zone is the product of social forces far beyond the control of the hardworking and brave people at Harper: the flood of handguns in the neighborhood, gang rivalries that began with the drug trade and now center on multi-year patterns of vengeance and revenge. Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin suggests we consider the violence in Englewood as a disease, infecting those impacted by it and making them more likely to engage in violent behavior. Some of Slutkin’s critics argue his analysis ignores the larger socioeconomic problems – the drug trade and the violence it has helped engender are reflections on the lack of real economic opportunity for people of color who live on the South Side of Chicago.

Leveson report: Only a gutter press can keep clean the gutters of public life - Telegraph

Leveson report: Only a gutter press can keep clean the gutters of public life - Telegraph: Yes, as some of us have been saying since long before Leveson was even a twinkle in the PM’s eye, it would be a good thing if there was a beefed-up regulatory body that had the power to impose rapid and draconian fines and to demand apologies for the falsehoods and intrusions perpetrated by all contracting papers.

But if Parliament agrees to anything remotely approaching legislation, it will be handing politicians the tools they need to begin the job of cowing and even silencing the press; and what began by seeming in the public interest will end up eroding the freedoms of everyone in this country. It is a completely retrograde step, and will be viewed with bemusement by human rights organisations around the world.

Los Angeles Review of Books - Pleading Out: America’s Broken Public Defense System

Los Angeles Review of Books - Pleading Out: America’s Broken Public Defense System: It isn't hard to see why. In 2007, the last time the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed the nation’s indigent defense services, there were 957 public defender offices employing 15,000 full-time staff. These offices handled about 80 percent of the country’s criminal cases, on a combined budget of $2.3 billion. In that same year, 2,330 state prosecutor offices employed 78,000 full-time staff. Their budgets were falling, but with a total of $5.8 billion in the kitty, their means far outstripped that of their defender colleagues.

Faced with a larger and better-funded prosecution regime, defenders can’t keep up.

TWILIGHT OF THE GULLIBLE | More Intelligent Life

TWILIGHT OF THE GULLIBLE | More Intelligent Life: Ridpath gave an assured performance, received with applause. He stressed that there had been no classic UFO sightings since the advent of the new generation of technology, and, especially, the mobile-phone camera, whose ubiquity, it might have been thought, should almost have guaranteed convincing photographic evidence of the inquisitive green men and their conveyances. This leads to a further, hopeful, thought: could it be that the advance of technology and information-sharing is finally, after several thousand years, making us less gullible and credulous?

Rights are Rights. Period.

Charles Krauthammer's false statement about the US Constitution | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk: "Now we're talking about a larger, more controversial issue: the killing-by-drone in Yemen of al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki. Outside American soil, the Constitution does not rule, no matter how much Paul would like it to."

That italicizied claim from Krauthammer - that "outside American soil, the Constitution does not rule" - is a very common assertion and thus widely believed. But it is factually false. And there can be no reasonable dispute about this.

Smartypants: As talk about the "drone war" heats up, their use is actually going down (updated)

Smartypants: As talk about the "drone war" heats up, their use is actually going down (updated): Many people assume the release of that paper came from a whistleblower in the White House. But I have always maintained that it probably happened with the President's blessing. The fact that it coincides with the time that the actual use of drones has come to a practical standstill leads me to think that President Obama believes we might have reached that "tipping point" Johnson referred to in which our efforts should no longer be considered an 'armed conflict.'

Establishing a "drone court" with oversight from the judicial and/or legislative branches of government would essentially usurp the powers granted to the President via the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and end the indefinite war.

Google Reader joins graveyard of dead Google products - Slate Magazine

Google Reader joins graveyard of dead Google products - Slate Magazine:

It’s hard to lose a loved one, especially if that loved one is a Google service. That’s why we’re opening the gates of the Google Graveyard, a virtual space for grieving. Buried in these hallowed grounds are some of Google’s ill-fated services. Some, like Google Reader, lived long, prosperous lives, full of admiration and glory. Most, like Google Wave and Google Buzz, struggled to carve out a place in this harsh, unforgiving world where technologies continuously clash and innovation reigns king. But whether these services transformed our productivity or only polluted our inboxes, they all touched our world in some way.

Click on a grave to leave a flower, and let the healing process begin.

17 March, 2013

Musical Chairs (Choosing the Right Seat) | Big Mischief by Alex Cornell

Musical Chairs (Choosing the Right Seat) | Big Mischief by Alex Cornell: One of the most complex social situations you will encounter is the 45 seconds that elapse while deciding where to sit for dinner at a restaurant. Your choice should appear natural, unbiased and haphazard if executed properly. Timing is everything.

These 45 seconds determine how enjoyable your next 2 hours will be. Once the pieces start to fall into place and people take their seats, your choices narrow. People sit, seemingly at random, and if you don't take the appropriate measures, you're inevitably stuck at the least interesting end of the table.

I have compiled the above infographic to assist you with some of the common configuration patterns:

16 March, 2013

If we really want to win the homosexuality debate, we have to confront the biblical passages here and their underpinings.

If we really want to win the homosexuality debate, we have to confront the biblical passages here. They are based, in part, on biblical misreadings or mistranslations. I think this can be won theologically, however irrelevant that debate to public policy. So long as Christianity = anti-gay, the slide towards irrelevance will continue. Senator Portman, Homosexual Marriage, and the Death of Principle | RedState: First, Christian opposition to homosexuality does not depend upon one’s “faith tradition” but upon the unchanging Word of God. Scripture explicitly condemns homosexuality in Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3-5, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, and Jude 7. Homosexuality is not a subject on which Scripture is silent. It is not up for debate or interpretation – the language is clear. What Senator Portman now supports is in direct defiance to the Word of God.

With Blessing, Pope Shows an Openness to Other Faiths - NYTimes.com

With Blessing, Pope Shows an Openness to Other Faiths - NYTimes.com: “Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God,” he said. “May God bless you.”

Top Stories - Quartz

Top Stories - Quartz: And, indeed, Google Reader has long been accessible in Iran, where it is the most popular RSS reader. Iran would probably have to block all of Google and its many popular services in order to keep its citizens from using Reader. YouTube, by contrast, is easier to censor, though it is also owned by Google, because the video site is located on its own domain, youtube.com. Reader is also harder, though not impossible, to block because it uses more secure technology known as HTTPS.

One photographer's journey inside Iran - The Big Picture - Boston.com

One photographer's journey inside Iran - The Big Picture - Boston.com: New Zealand photographer, Amos Chapple, made three visits to the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2011 and January 2013. Chapple "was amazed by the difference in western perceptions of the country and what I saw on the ground…" He goes on to say that every traveller he met inside Iran had the same sense of surprise. The government continues its anti-western campaign, but Chapple explains what was once a popular sentiment has long since faded with Iranians. Chapple describes this as a "constant embarrassment for ordinary Iranians. In the time I spent there, I never received anything but goodwill and decency, which stands in clear contrast to my experience in other middle eastern countries."

George Orwell on the Filibuster

George Orwell on the Filibuster: Regarding today's Politico stor:
  • It takes 51 votes to "pass the Senate."
  • It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.
  • Through the past six-plus years, the GOP minority-power strategy in the Senate has deliberately aimed to make the filibuster, historically a rarity, seem routine and acceptable. Every news account that presents the super-majority 60-vote threshold as the "necessary bar" for Senate passage, and a majority of 55 votes as "certain defeat," ratifies this strategy. Especially in an "informed" insider political-specialist publication.

The Cost when you can't trust the state with your kids' food.

From One Hub, a View of China’s Worldwide Underground Milk Powder Network | Tea Leaf Nation: For Chinese citizens, and especially young parents, milk powder safety—and food safety in general—has been an incessant worry, with new small-scale scandals erupting every few months, including a recent finding of some baby formula tainted with mercury and aflaxotonin, a highly carcinogenic substance. A new food safety law and central government statements claiming that 99% of Chinese dairy products are safe have been unable to restore consumer trust. Middle-class parents choosing to feed their child foreign milk powder might spend anywhere from 25-40% of their monthly salary (at an average price of 200.7 RMB per kilogram in 2012).

TSA's decision on small knives was a tough but sensible one - Ask the Pilot - Boston.com

TSA's decision on small knives was a tough but sensible one - Ask the Pilot - Boston.com:
Last week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it would rescind its longstanding ban on the carriage of small knives. Effective in mid-April, passengers can once again carry implements with blades of up to 2.36 inches onto airplanes.

The decision has raised the ire of some, including flight attendant unions, who have called the decision reckless and dangerous.

However, if you ask me, this is one of the more positive things TSA has done in a long time, and will make the checkpoint process at least marginally less tedious. That some are opposed to the changes is not surprising, but the backlash strikes me as counterproductive.

The origins of middle eastern states

Iraq war 10th anniversary: George Bush’s invasion of Iraq has accelerated the collapse of the Middle East’s European-imposed borders. - Slate Magazine: Before WWI, the countries we now know as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey did not exist. They were all part of the Ottoman Empire, and had been for 500 years. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the face of war, the British and French made plans to weave the territories into their own empires. Country names were coined, boundaries were drawn, tribal leaders were anointed, coopted, or traded promises for their obeisance. As it turned out, though, the war exhausted the British and French—their treasuries and their people’s patience—and over the subsequent two decades, their empires collapsed. But the borderlines they drew in the Middle East survived. These lines bore no resemblance to the natural, historic borders between tribes and sectarian groups; often they divided the members of a group from one another, or imposed the rule of minorities over majorities. The western-installed rulers of these artificial states survived too, and one of their main tasks was to oppress the groups, or buy them off, or play them against one another, in order to sustain their own rule.

On genes and modern medical research

“We Gained Hope.” The Story of Lilly Grossman’s Genome – Phenomena: Not Exactly Rocket Science: It started with a slight twitch. Steve and Gay Grossman both noticed it in their daughter Lilly in 1998, when she was just one-and-a-half years old. By the time she was four, the twitches had grown into full-blown muscle tremors. They wracked her whole body at night and were painful enough to wake her up.

to work in finance

The Epicurean Dealmaker: Curriculum Vitae: This, I freely confess, is a lamentable oversight. For the metamorphosis through which said tadpole transforms itself into said bullfrog is neither simple, obvious, trivial, nor pain-free. Many (most, really) are the novitiates entering the holy precincts of my industry who never take their final vows, and few indeed are those who manage not only to climb the slippery pole to the even slipperier platform of Managing Director but also, mirabile dictu, to stay there. A young tadpole, just starting out, would be wise to learn the path lying ahead of her before she chooses to undertake such a harrowing journey. Let this post, then, serve both for my penance and your edification.

Urban Explorers - Going where few go for the sake of discovery

Best Urban Explorers and Place Hacking Stories - GQ March 2013: Newsmakers: GQ: By day they work as computer programmers and stock boys and academics. But at night they are known as urban explorers. The Brooklyn Bridge, London's Shard, Notre Dame—each structure is an expedition waiting to happen. Each sewer, each scaffold, each off-limits site is a puzzle to solve. No wonder the cops are after them. Matthew Power embeds with the space invaders and sees a world—above- and belowground—that the rest of us never knew existed

Silent on Saudi Arabia

Silent on Saudi Arabia:
Two of Saudi Arabia's most prominent human rights activists, Mohammed Fahd al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed, were sentenced over the weekend to lengthy jail terms. As Ahmed al-Omran reports today for the Middle East Channel, the sentences were not a surprise (when I met him in January, Qahtani told me that they were inevitable), but the optics for American foreign policy are frankly appalling. Their sentencing was sandwiched between John Kerry's first visit to Riyadh as secretary of state and a visit by Attorney General Eric Holder. Neither appears to have publicly said anything whatsoever about this case nor about any of the massive human rights and democracy issues in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or the rest of the GCC.   

Evgeny Morozov’s “To Save Everything, Click Here” | Whimsley

Evgeny Morozov’s “To Save Everything, Click Here” | Whimsley:
As Steven John­son says, when his “peer pro­gres­sives” see a social prob­lem, they design a peer net­work to solve it. But what has hap­pened to the cit­i­zens in this net­work? They have been reduced to dumb fol­low­ers of sim­ple rules. The rich­ness and com­plex­ity – all the inter­est, in fact – lies in the struc­ture of the net­work. If the out­come isn’t what you want, well tweak the incen­tives, adjust the topol­ogy of the net­work, pro­vide an addi­tional option for the nodes (sorry, peo­ple) to choose from. For all its talk of bottom-up, decen­tral­ized think­ing, the Internet-centric solu­tion­ists end up with an impov­er­ished per­spec­tive of indi­vid­ual behaviour.

14 March, 2013

Rand Paul: Get the government out of marriage | RedState

Rand Paul: Get the government out of marriage | RedState: The notion of extricating the government from the marriage business altogether has long been advocated by libertarians, and gains new currency among the general Republican population as perception grows that defending traditional marriage is an electorally thankless task. Social conservatives generally insist upon it, but a good number of otherwise approachable voters, especially young people, favor gay marriage. It might fairly be said that the culturally-influenced “default” position, for people who don’t really count marriage as a top concern, now favors gay marriage, where 10 or 15 years ago it was almost certainly opposed. That’s a significant tipping point for any issue: the moment of casual acceptance. It makes this an issue some Republicans would prefer to quietly table.

Beltway “whistleblowing” groups: not-curiously silent on Barack Obama’s lack of transparency. | RedState

Beltway “whistleblowing” groups: not-curiously silent on Barack Obama’s lack of transparency. | RedState: …once you understand that the individuals and groups involved are not particularly dedicated to transparency as much as they are dedicated to attacking Republicans using transparency as a club. At best groups like CREW prefer access to accountability – well, at least when a Democrat’s in office. Then they can get the stuff that the rest of the Beltway craves – access, visibility at court, the warm feeling of public recognition that they are worth cultivating – without having to do any of the messy things like demand transparency and hold feet to fires. It’s so awkward to do it to one’s friends, after all. Best to save it for when those people are in office.

Really, I wouldn’t mind so much, if groups like CREW would just stop pretending that they were brave.

Does the Pope Matter? by Garry Wills | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Does the Pope Matter? by Garry Wills | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books: Christ, founding his church, did not choose Peter because he was above others, but because he was not above them:

He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man… All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by a strong man upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.

In the coming election, we do not have to fear Dante’s hell-bound popes, Acton’s mass-murderer popes, or Newman’s in-need-of-death pope. Happily, we can expect the new pope to be a man ordinary and ignorable, like Saint Peter.

Bad Pills and Missing Science: How the Medical System Fails Us | Hazlitt

Bad Pills and Missing Science: How the Medical System Fails Us | Hazlitt: The best currently available evidence, which is from a systematic review of all the studies ever done on this question, which amounts to dozens, shows that about half of all clinical trials that are for the treatments we use today have never been published. It also shows that trials with positive results are about twice as likely to be published as those with negative results. This means the evidence that we use is incomplete, but it’s also systematically distorting and exaggerating.

For that situation to have arisen in the first place should be extraordinary enough. But we’ve known about it since at least the 1980s and we’ve failed to fix it. We’ve failed several times over. Every set of regulations, legislation, codes of conduct and so on that have been tried have failed. And worse than just failing, they’ve delivered false reassurance that the problem has gone away, so we’ve stopped trying to fix it. And that’s the position we’re in today.

13 March, 2013

Full Disclosure

Why the World Needs a Kickstarter Veronica Mars Movie | TIME.com: [Update: I should note, in the interest of somewhat complicated disclosure, that the movie would be made for Warner Brothers, which is currently a sister company of TIME in Time Warner--though, also in fairness, under the terms of Time Inc.'s spinoff plan, it will no longer be a sister company by next year when the movie is made and any profit realized. So consider that connection, or future lack of connection, accordingly.]

12 March, 2013

Newspaper Paywalls: Here’s Why They’re Really Doing It | Cognoscenti

Newspaper Paywalls: Here’s Why They’re Really Doing It | Cognoscenti:
For a long time, we had a deal. You paid a little bit for the newspaper, but it was kind of a token amount. We took your eyeballs and sold them to advertisers for big money, and that’s what paid for almost everything. They got an audience, we got cash, you got news. Great job, everyone! Meeting adjourned.

In those days, it made sense to charge readers a little something for the dead-tree version because it cost so damn much to produce. Union contracts, printing presses, barrels of ink, huge piles of newsprint, trucks, paperboys — it’s a pretty serious operation, and each new copy adds to the costs.....

Man, I wish that would have worked. But now we have to try to get money from you for the privilege of using our digital product. It’s a big change to the unwritten contract we used to have, and you need to understand that.

On back-seat driving the Catholic Church

Choosing a Pope, Day 1:
But when they just prattle on with their indignant words—gender, celibacy, irrelevant—well, they’re probably not trying to be constructive. One might say they’re being vulgar, ignorant and destructive, spoiled too. They think they’re brave, or outspoken, or something. They don’t have enough insight into themselves to notice they’d never presume to instruct other great faiths. It doesn’t cross their minds that if they were as dismissive about some of those faiths they’d have to hire private security guards.

Uncle Sam's Counterpart?

When America Was Female - Garance Franke-Ruta - The Atlantic: From the 18th century until the early decades of the 20th, Columbia was the gem of the ocean, a mythical and majestic personage whose corsets or breast-plates curved out of her striped or starred or swirling skirts with all the majesty of a shield. She was honored from the birth of the nation -- "Hail, Columbia!", whose score was first composed for the inauguration of President Washington, was an unofficial anthem until the "Star-Spangled Banner" displaced it as the official national one in 1931 -- to the birth of the recording and film industries, which is why we have had Columbia Records and Columbia Pictures. Yes, that lady with the torch at the start of the movies isn't just some period-costume-wearing chick -- she is a relic of this earlier personification of America, immortalized forever by the most American of industries.

Why Don’t the French Speak English? - The Daily Beast

Why Don’t the French Speak English? - The Daily Beast: Fleurot’s articles address what some believe to be one of the biggest reasons French students are disadvantaged compared to European neighbors who seem to absorb English as part of growing up: the fact that almost all foreign-language television and many Hollywood films are dubbed, rather than subtitled, in France. The practice is driven both by popular demand and by the French state’s attempts to block invasion by foreign languages, especially English. While what the government calls the “cultural exception” —that French culture won’t be left to the ravages of the market—is certainly understandable, it can have unintended side effects, like insulating the French population from linguistic awareness they need in a world increasingly dominated by English.

US Citing Security To Censor More Public Records : NPR

US Citing Security To Censor More Public Records : NPR: WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year, but more often than it ever has it cited legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

Rebuilding Violent Places: Sandy Hook Elementary and Utoya Island : The New Yorker

Rebuilding Violent Places: Sandy Hook Elementary and Utoya Island : The New Yorker: Architecture has a special relationship to memory. And to disaster. The memory palace, that celebrated mnemonic device wherein Roman orators remembered passages from speeches by visualizing themselves walking through corresponding passageways in imaginary buildings, has its legendary origin in the story of a sole survivor retracing his steps through a recollected dinner party, in order to recover the bodies of friends buried by a catastrophic roof collapse.

Schumpeter: Pope, CEO | The Economist

Schumpeter: Pope, CEO | The Economist: The church cannot take its success in the global South for granted. It is under pressure from lean start-ups with more vigorous marketing. Its market share in Latin America has declined from 90% in 1910 to 72% today, thanks to the growth of Pentecostalism. The Latin American church is responding by borrowing Pentecostal techniques such as holding “liberation masses” in soccer stadiums and allowing priests to speak in tongues. But Benedict refused to meet Marcelo Rossi, a charismatic priest who has sold more than 12m CDs, during his visit to Brazil. Jeff Immelt, the boss of General Electric, says his firm needs to disrupt itself with new ideas from the emerging world if it is not to be disrupted by emerging-world rivals. The next pope, likewise, needs to understand that he is not just the bishop of Rome.

Pryce should have done what Huhne asked: Don't. Talk. To. A. Newspaper | Marina Hyde | Comment is free | The Guardian

Pryce should have done what Huhne asked: Don't. Talk. To. A. Newspaper | Marina Hyde | Comment is free | The Guardian: I have used those ghastly, mendacious, yet deliciously tempting words to someone whom I – and perhaps you – fervently wished would Talk To A Newspaper. I have said: "It would be great to hear your side of the story."

What is meant by these words, and what anyone who says them means, is that it would be great for other people to hear your side of the story. But it will not be great for you. Oh no. The business of other people hearing your side of the story will not bring you any happiness, even though it truly seems like it might.

We can fly the friendly skies again – feel free to bring a knife! - The Globe and Mail

We can fly the friendly skies again – feel free to bring a knife! - The Globe and Mail: Were the TSA to have suddenly banned a few new things in the name of our security – maybe wristwatches, clutch purses or the wearing of vertical stripes on Wednesdays – there would have been grumbling, of course.

However it’s this equally free-association-style unbanning, the sudden announcement that you had previously overestimated the danger of sharp pointy objects, that may cause people to question the rest of their doctrines.

It just feels as if Willy Wonka is in charge.

We can fly the friendly skies again – feel free to bring a knife! - The Globe and Mail

We can fly the friendly skies again – feel free to bring a knife! - The Globe and Mail: Were the TSA to have suddenly banned a few new things in the name of our security – maybe wristwatches, clutch purses or the wearing of vertical stripes on Wednesdays – there would have been grumbling, of course.

However it’s this equally free-association-style unbanning, the sudden announcement that you had previously overestimated the danger of sharp pointy objects, that may cause people to question the rest of their doctrines.

It just feels as if Willy Wonka is in charge.

The So Called Adults Within the GOP Are Stupid | RedState

The So Called Adults Within the GOP Are Stupid | RedState: If you listened to the average Republican — not conservative — pundit on the right, it has been just ridiculous that Chris Christie was not invited. These people are more outraged over that than the ACU giving Mitch McConnell a 100% conservative rating. The adults in the GOP just cannot get over it.

The fact is, and to repeat myself, the ACU is good at giving people cover. They have given Chris Christie cover. Do you really think it is hurtful to Christie, headed into a campaign year in New Jersey, to be dissed by the conservative political action conference?

Come on people, smarten up.

"Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment"

Robert Benchley, on work
"Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment"

Trust, but Verify: What Facebook's Electronics Vending Machines Say About the Company

Trust, but Verify: What Facebook's Electronics Vending Machines Say About the Company:
Electronics vending machines show that Facebook trusts its employees to do the right thing.

But the Facebook system is different. No person controls the supplies of the small items. For example, they have nice Sennheiser headphones inside this vending machine. Any Facebook employee can simply walk up, swipe his or her ID card, and grab a new pair. There's a nominal price listed, but employees don't see that number debited from their paychecks or anywhere, really, outside of the IT vending machine. For them, it's simply swipe and go. The system trusts them to use their own judgment about what they need.

11 March, 2013

Half of Destructoid's readers block our ads. Now what? - Destructoid

Half of Destructoid's readers block our ads. Now what? - Destructoid: Relax. We're still friends.

Last month, I learned that the primary way we support Destructoid was quickly shrinking due to a browser plug-in: the ad-blocker. On the bright side, it brought some closure on why our ad checks never quite kept up with perky site traffic or growing bandwidth bills.

No, I'm not going to chainsaw your face for installing an ad-blocker. Chances are, though, you understand that blocking ads denies us some coffers and you probably feel a little bad about it, but all ads intrinsically annoy you. That's okay. Still, it is enough for me to say that it's a problem facing my site and other sites like it, and a few weeks ago, I started to appeal to readers to whitelist us -- that mostly failed.

Is asking for nickels the best way to future-proof a gaming site?

09 March, 2013

Russell Brand: My life without drugs | Culture | The Guardian

Russell Brand: My life without drugs | Culture | The Guardian: I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat (Hackney is starting to seem like part of the problem) inhaling fizzy, black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what is surprising is that my reaction is not one of gratitude for the positive changes I've experienced but envy at witnessing an earlier version of myself unencumbered by the burden of abstinence. I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was, who, for all his problems, had drugs. That is obviously irrational.

The mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.

Mission Accomplished: Iraq as America's biggest Blunder (Van Buren) | Informed Comment

Mission Accomplished: Iraq as America's biggest Blunder (Van Buren) | Informed Comment: In the dark humor of that moment, we christened the place the Potemkin Chicken Factory. In between media and VIP visits, it sat in the dark, only to rise with the rooster’s cry each morning some camera crew came out for a visit. Our factory was thus considered a great success. Robert Ford, then at the Baghdad Embassy and now America’s rugged shadow ambassador to Syria, said his visit was the best day out he enjoyed in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq, sent bloggers and camp followers to view the victory project. Some of the propaganda, which proclaimed that “teaching Iraqis methods to flourish on their own gives them the ability to provide their own stability without needing to rely on Americans,” is still online (including this charming image of American-Iraqi mentorship, a particular favorite of mine).

Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe Ruined Him, and Now He Gets $100,000 - Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic

Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe Ruined Him, and Now He Gets $100,000 - Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic: After making Vera look like an eager would-be sex trafficker, what did Breitbart and O'Keefe do when it was reported that he had in fact called the police? What did they do when the California Attorney General investigated the case and affirmed as much? Did they append a correction to the story and apologize? Did they do what they could to give this man back his reputation?

They did not.


"The Answer to That Question Is No.":
Sen. Rand Paul covered many miles of territory in his filibuster yesterday, but after Sen. Ted Cruz arrived on the floor, a framework for the filibuster took shape. Cruz had asked Attorney General Eric Holder to answer a hypothetical question: Could an American citizen, in America, be taken out by a drone "while sitting at a cafe"? Holder blew off the question. "On the facts you have given me," he said, "this is a hypothetical, I would not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate." When Cruz arrived in the Senate, he informed Paul of this offense, and Paul dug right in.
This hour, Holder has sent a letter to assuage Paul's concerns:
Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 2.11.04 PM
The letter was released while Paul sat in for a CNN interview—his second of the day. It was good enough for Paul to announce he was dropping his objection to John Brennan's nomination to lead the CIA.

Rand Paul Drone Filibuster: The Senator Has a Point | New Republic

Rand Paul Drone Filibuster: The Senator Has a Point | New Republic: Scoff all you want, but here's the thing: The prospect of the government or local law enforcement using armed drones to target people on American soil was discussed as a very real issue at a recent gathering of the drone lobby that I attended in Newport News, Virginia, the subject of a piece in the current issue of the magazine. The two-day gathering, organized by the Hampton Roads chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (aka the drone lobby), was focused on the vast opportunities and equally big challenges of the civilian market for drones—for crop monitoring, package delivery, police search and rescue efforts, you name it. There was much talk about the ethical quandaries and potential popular resistance associated with these uses.

07 March, 2013

The Good, Racist People - NYTimes.com

The Good, Racist People - NYTimes.com: I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

06 March, 2013

Over $8B of the Money You Spent Rebuilding Iraq Was Wasted Outright | Danger Room | Wired.com

Over $8B of the Money You Spent Rebuilding Iraq Was Wasted Outright | Danger Room | Wired.com: The legacy of all the money the U.S. wasted in Iraq might be summed up with a single quote. “$55 billion could have brought great change in Iraq,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently told the U.S.’s Iraq auditor. In fact, the U.S. spent $60 billion in its botched and often fraudulent efforts to rebuild the country it invaded, occupied and recast in its image.

With the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion looming, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, considers $8 billion of that money wasted outright. And that’s a “conservative” estimate, Bowen tells Danger Room.

“We couldn’t look at every project — that’s impossible — but our audits show a lack of accountability,” Bowen says. “We are not well structured to carry out stability and reconstruction operations.”

John Brennan and Obama's Transparency Test : The New Yorker

John Brennan and Obama's Transparency Test : The New Yorker: Brennan’s careful choice of words in describing what he learned from the report underscores the urgency of it reaching a broader audience. He specifically singled out the unreliability of “the information I was given at the time” as the reason for changing his mind now. Piecing that comment together with other public statements made by several of the senators who have also read the report, what emerges is the strong suggestion that the report did not just uncover cruel and unjustifiable interrogation and detention practices by the C.I.A. but, perhaps more significantly, it revealed a pattern of misrepresentation by agency officials, who appear to have misled the White House, Justice Department, and Senate about the efficacy of their clandestine programs.

Three Quotes That Explain Why Another Obama Judicial Nominee Was Just Filibustered

Three Quotes That Explain Why Another Obama Judicial Nominee Was Just Filibustered:
"What is unprecedented is the fact that the Senate, for the first time in 200 years, last Congress chose to filibuster judges for the purpose of defeating them. That had never been done before in the history of the Senate... What Senate Republicans are contemplating doing and what I think they should do is to get us back to the precedents that were established prior to the last Congress, in which judicial appointments were given an up-or-down -- that is, a majority -- vote."
Mitch McConnell, March 27, 2005, on the argument for ruling a judicial filibuster out of order. An eventual compromise would allow three Bush judicial nominees to get up-or-down votes, without changing filibuster rules..
It will make it easier to confirm nominees in general. On judges now there will be two hours post cloture, and on other nominees it will be eight hours.
Carl Levin, January 24, 2013, on the Democrats' decision not to push ahead with filibuster reform that would have allowed more up-or-down votes.

"Senate Republicans have blocked the confirmation of federal appeals court nominee Caitlin Halligan for the second time, denying President Barack Obama a key judicial appointment. Republicans say Halligan is too liberal to sit on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and cited [sic] her work on lawsuits against gun manufacturers... A majority of senators, 51, supported her nomination, but Democrats needed 60 votes in the 100 member Senate to get it past Republican objections."

The Associated Press, March 6, 2013