31 May, 2014

'Naive and Gravely Mistaken': Analysts Rebut Snowden Claims - NBC News.com

'Naive and Gravely Mistaken': Analysts Rebut Snowden Claims - NBC News.com: Snowden, defending himself during an exclusive NBC News interview with Brian Williams, said that the government had never shown “a single individual who’s been harmed in any way” by his disclosures.

But Michael McFaul, who left the ambassadorship earlier this year to teach at Stanford University, said that the revelations had damaged American diplomatic relationships with friendly countries who were upset by National Security Agency surveillance.

“That’s damage to the United States,” McFaul said. “If you’re a patriot, you don’t want to damage our relationships with our allies.”

Your Newfangled Media Algorithms are Bullshit — LadyBits on Medium — Medium

Your Newfangled Media Algorithms are Bullshit — LadyBits on Medium — Medium: I’m only getting paid two and a half cents per click on this story. That’s more than what 99.9% of contributors on Medium get paid. I have a $60,000 graduate journalism degree from Medill, nearly a decade of writing experience, and, let’s be honest, I’m super smart and seriously good at what I do. I can write and report a kickass story with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. But the algorithm that decides how much I get paid for all that badass-ness doesn’t put any value on how good I am. It cares not at all how well written this story is or how much experience I have. All that’s important is how many times you guys click.

Want to Know If Your Food Is Genetically Modified? - The Atlantic

Want to Know If Your Food Is Genetically Modified? - The Atlantic: No widely accepted science supports the idea that GMOs are inherently dangerous to people’s health or the environment. To proponents, including many in the agribusiness industry, opposition to GMOs is nothing more than a dangerous mania, and the people in the grip of it are akin to those who refuse to vaccinate their children or who deny that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate.

Yet the grassroots fervor around the topic—driven by Internet rumors, liberal anti-corporatism, and mothers concerned about their children—is undeniable. More than a million people have signed a petition to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to label GMOs, the most of any petition in the agency’s history. “Members of Congress are being asked by their constituents to take a stand on this issue,” says Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs for the pro-labeling Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C.

29 May, 2014

Alien Baby: Is Your Zygote American Enough? - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Alien Baby: Is Your Zygote American Enough? - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society: Millions of U.S. citizens live abroad. In 2012, the State Department registered 64,991 American babies born overseas. Consular and embassy officials looked to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual for guidance when it came to granting those kids citizenship. The manual draws its strength from Section 301 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952—which says that a child must be “born of” a U.S. citizen—and guides officials to be sure that the parent who is the citizen has “spent enough time in the United States to absorb American customs and values.” The thinking is that these, in turn, would be transmitted to the child. The State Department has historically interpreted “born of” to mean a genetic connection.

In Montreal, no official asked if my daughter came from my own egg because for heterosexual couples a genetic connection is usually presumed. That doesn’t hold true for same-sex couples.

Laura Fielden’s daughter was denied U.S. citizenship because the child
didn’t have a genetic or gestational connection to her American parent.

What influence do women wield in African governments?

What influence do women wield in African governments?: But the growth of women in African governance has not necessarily translated into real influence. Previous scholarship has shown that women around the world typically receive appointments to less prestigious, more “feminine,” ministerial portfolios like women’s affairs, which are rarely launching pads for greater authority. This remains true in much of Africa. Based on data from 43 African countries between 1980 and 2005, we find that women are significantly less likely than men to receive high prestige appointments in areas such as finance or defense. Women are more likely to be found in medium prestige portfolios like education, which may have sizable personnel and resources but little influence, or low prestige portfolios like culture with small budgets and narrow constituencies.

28 May, 2014

WHY THE MONA LISA STANDS OUT | More Intelligent Life

WHY THE MONA LISA STANDS OUT | More Intelligent Life: The French public was electrified. The Italians hailed Peruggia as a patriot who wanted to return the painting home. Newspapers around the world repro�duced it, making it the first work of art to achieve global fame. From then on, the “Mona Lisa” came to represent Western culture itself. In 1919, when Marcel Duchamp wanted to perform a symbolic defacing of high art, he put a goatee on the “Mona Lisa”, which only reinforced its status in the popular mind as the epitome of great art (or as the critic Kenneth Clark later put it, “the supreme example of perfection”). Throughout the 20th century, musicians, advertisers and film-makers used the painting’s fame for their own purposes, while the painting, in Watts’s words, “used them back”. Peruggia failed to repatriate the “Mona Lisa”, but he succeeded in making it an icon.

The Causes and Consequences of Political Polarization - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

The Causes and Consequences of Political Polarization - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society: We also saw further evidence of Congressional polarization, with Congress increasingly hamstringing presidents of the other party and making it more and more difficult to pass anything. Frances Lee offered some interesting evidence that the Senate has become less about policymaking and more about messaging, as the percentage of Senate staffers hired to do communications work has gone from about zero to close to 50 percent over the past half century. We saw evidence that the Supreme Court has become more polarized and that the media are contributing to this as well. Boris Shor demonstrated that many (although not all) state legislatures are becoming more polarized, and I devoted my talk to showing how many reforms designed to lessen partisanship basically don’t work.

What happened to Jill Abramson shows everything that sucks about being a woman leader - Vox

What happened to Jill Abramson shows everything that sucks about being a woman leader - Vox: That echoes reports that Abramson's brusque leadership style clashed with leadership and reporters alike (criticisms that are near impossible to read as non-gendered, particularly in the news world, where pushiness is often seen as a virtue in men). In a controversial 2013 piece in Politico, Dylan Byers wrote: "At times, [staffers] say, her attitude toward editors and reporters leaves everyone feeling demoralized; on other occasions, she can seem disengaged or uncaring."

But a look at the examples he gave shows just how gendered these discussions can get. In one instance, Abramson reportedly ordered an editor to leave a meeting to change a stale photo on the newspaper's homepage. That was played in the article as proof of Abramson's brusque, demoralizing style.

But compare that to this anecdote about how Tim Cook, head of Apple, dealt with a manufacturing problem in China:

"This is really bad," Cook told the group. "Someone should be in China driving this." Thirty minutes into that meeting Cook looked at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, without a trace of emotion, "Why are you still here?"

Since Denver legalized pot sales, revenue is up and crime is down - Vox

Since Denver legalized pot sales, revenue is up and crime is down - Vox: Violent and property crimes are down in Denver

The Denver Police Department's crime data shows that violent crime from January through April dropped by 5.6 percent compared to the same time period last year, and robberies in particular fell by 4.8 percent.

26 May, 2014

Sweden's Ice Hotel told to get fire alarms - The Local

Sweden's Ice Hotel told to get fire alarms - The Local: The Ice Hotel, which is rebuilt every year in northern Sweden out of enormous chunks of ice from the Torne River in Jukkasj�rvi, Kiruna, will this year come equipped with fire alarms - and the irony isn't lost on the staff.

25 May, 2014

Get Comic Neue

Get Comic Neue: Comic Sans wasn’t designed to be the world’s most ubiquitous casual typeface1. Comic Neue aspires to be the casual script choice for everyone including the typographically savvy.

The squashed, wonky, and weird glyphs of Comic Sans have been beaten into shape while maintaining the honesty that made Comic Sans so popular.

It's perfect as a display face, for marking up comments, and writing passive aggressive office memos.

24 May, 2014

Top Companies for Compensation and Benefits | Glassdoor

Top Companies for Compensation and Benefits | Glassdoor: Want to work for a company where employees are satisfied with their compensation and benefits? Glassdoor has announced its report of the Top 25 Companies for Compensation & Benefits, based on workplace insights shared by the people who know these companies best — their employees. The following companies stand out for high compensation & benefits ratings and insightful reviews.

Report reveals America’s top companies for pay and benefits | Daily Digest News

Report reveals America’s top companies for pay and benefits | Daily Digest News: Google tops the list, with Cotsco coming in a close second. Facebook, Adobe, and Epic Systems round out the top five, while eBay claimed the list’s final spot at number 25.

Elon Musk says he lost a multi-billion-dollar contract when SpaceX didn’t hire a public official - Quartz

Elon Musk says he lost a multi-billion-dollar contract when SpaceX didn’t hire a public official - Quartz: He’d like to expand his franchise to the defense department, but his company has faced a more challenging time displacing the incumbents there: In a no-bid process, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, received a bulk contract worth billions of dollars for 36 rocket launches earlier this year, despite plans to introduce more competition and other cost-saving measures.

Musk’s tweets yesterday focused on what happened next: The man who awarded ULA the contract, defense official Roger “Scott” Correll, was hired soon after his retirement to handle government relations at Aerojet Rocketdyne, a company that builds rocket engines for ULA.

The beverage curve: How to get the most buzz for your buck

The beverage curve: How to get the most buzz for your buck: Let's say you're hosting a Memorial Day barbecue for a bunch of your neighbors. You like most of them well enough to want them to have a good time. But let's be honest. You're not about to break out the Patron for that guy down the street who's always mowing his lawn at 5:30 AM. How do you maximize the overall buzz, while minimizing the impact on your checking account?

Here's how: I took current liquor pricing data from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which sets prices for booze (excluding beer and wine) sold in the state's liquor stores. Their data file handily includes price, volume, and proof. I set a standard "shot equivalent" volume of alcohol, equal to the amount of pure alcohol in a 1.5-ounce shot of 40-proof liquor (roughly 17 ml).

For NPR's Carl Kassell, retirement will wait wait no longer - chicagotribune.com

For NPR's Carl Kassell, retirement will wait wait no longer - chicagotribune.com: We knew Carl Kasell's last taping of "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me" was going to be a big deal, which is so not Carl. After 16 years as official judge and scorekeeper of the NPR quiz show, and 60 years in radio, he wanted his last show to be just like any other.

As if. Sprinkled throughout the hour were tributes from Stephen Colbert, Tom Hanks, Katie Couric and President Barack Obama, which caused the 80-year-old veteran newsman and the 1,800 people packed into the Warner Theatre on Thursday to get all verklempt. (You can hear the broadcast this weekend on public radio; check your local station for times and re-broadcasts.)

22 May, 2014

Soldiers, selfies and a coup: Thailand's tourism industry suffers - CNN.com

Soldiers, selfies and a coup: Thailand's tourism industry suffers - CNN.com:

In most capital cities, waking up to images of armed soldiers,
military vehicles and blockades on the streets -- as the army gears up
for what it would later declare a coup -- might be cause for alarm.

But Bangkok isn't your average city.
Since 1932 -- the year
Thailand became a constitutional monarchy -- there have been at least 18
actual or attempted military takeovers.
Since November 2013,
widespread protests and the threat of violence have been a constant
presence in Bangkok, as two divided sides passionately battle over the
country's future leadership.
As a result, very little surprises residents in this city.

The Case for Reparations - The Atlantic

The Case for Reparations - The Atlantic: Terrorism carried the day. Federal troops withdrew from the South in 1877. The dream of Reconstruction died. For the next century, political violence was visited upon blacks wantonly, with special treatment meted out toward black people of ambition. Black schools and churches were burned to the ground. Black voters and the political candidates who attempted to rally them were intimidated, and some were murdered. At the end of World War I, black veterans returning to their homes were assaulted for daring to wear the American uniform. The demobilization of soldiers after the war, which put white and black veterans into competition for scarce jobs, produced the Red Summer of 1919: a succession of racist pogroms against dozens of cities ranging from Longview, Texas, to Chicago to Washington, D.C. Organized white violence against blacks continued into the 1920s—in 1921 a white mob leveled Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street,” and in 1923 another one razed the black town of Rosewood, Florida—and virtually no one was punished.

Young Iranians Arrested for Being Too 'Happy in Tehran' - NYTimes.com

Young Iranians Arrested for Being Too 'Happy in Tehran' - NYTimes.com: Just days after Iran’s president denounced Internet censorship as “cowardly,” six young Iranians were arrested and forced to repent on state television Tuesday for the grievous offense of proclaiming themselves to be “Happy in Tehran,” in a homemade music video they posted on YouTube last month.
An image of the "Happy in Tehran" dancers posted on Instagram.An image of the “Happy in Tehran” dancers posted on Instagram.

By uploading their video, recorded on an iPhone and promoted on Facebook and Instagram, the group was taking part in a global online phenomenon, which has resulted, so far, in hundreds of cover versions of the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” recorded in more than 140 countries.

“Happy in Tehran” was viewed more than 165,000 times on YouTube before it attracted the attention of the police and was made private.

20 May, 2014

A useful reddit comment

0x10000 comments on A fifty pence coin I got as change explains the offside rule:

  • When you point your flashlight at the wall and turn it on, it seems
    the light ray reaches the wall instantaneously, and so "speed of light for everyone watching" = c = ∞. Or equivalently c⁻¹ = 1/c = 1/∞ = 0.
But careful observation of Nature shows us that in fact: c⁻¹ ≠ 0, c⁻¹ = 1 (or something else if you prefer another unit system, but never 0). Speed of light is finite and the same for everyone watching. Surprising, yes, but it works for really fast things and that's proven. No biggie.

  • When you cut a stick in half, then cut the half in half, then get a
    knife, cut the rest into something even smaller, sharpen the knife, and
    so on, it feels like you can do this for ever, and with infinite time
    "it makes sense to have something infinitely small to almost size zero" and we note this idea ħ = 0.
But careful observation of Nature shows us that in fact: ħ ≠ 0, ħ = 1 (or something else if you prefer another unit system, but never 0). It doesn't make sense
to have laws governing something infinitely small. Surprising, yes, but
it works for really small things and that's proven. No biggie.

  • When a needle falls to the ground, it is pulled down by the gravity
    from entire Earth (and that's really really big). But you can pick it up
    with a tiny magnet. So gravity seems so ridiculously small compared to
    other forces that in this perspective, we are almost tempted to ignore
    it as if it didn't exist: G = 0.
But observation of Nature shows us that it obviously does exist: G ≠ 0, G = 1 (or something else if you prefer another unit system, but never 0).This is not so surprising since you see an apple fall. No biggie.

So we thought that c⁻¹ = 0, ħ = 0 and G = 0, but we now know that c⁻¹ = 1, ħ = 1 and G = 1 and we want one consistent theory starting from there.

The theory behind c⁻¹ = 1, ħ = 0 and G = 0 is called Special Relativity.

The theory behind c⁻¹ = 0, ħ = 1 and G = 0 is called Quantum Mechanics.

The theory behind c⁻¹ = 0, ħ = 0 and G = 1 is called Newton's law of universal gravitation.

The theory behind c⁻¹ = 1, ħ = 0 and G = 1 is called General Relativity.

Other combinations have different theory names, but the one you asked for was:

The theory behind c⁻¹ = 1, ħ = 1 and G = 0 is called Relativistic Quantum Mechanics.

We have no consistent theory for c⁻¹ = 1, ħ = 1 and G = 1, even
though we know it is true. This problem is called "quantization of
gravity". A candidate theory is Loop Quantum Gravity. Another, more famous one is String Theory.

19 May, 2014

The EU Doesn't Like Its Google Search Results - Bloomberg View

The EU Doesn't Like Its Google Search Results - Bloomberg View: And the EU will move ahead -- messily, spasmodically and perhaps insensibly -- with its grand experiment in protecting privacy.

There's no shortage of legitimate worries about this approach. It threatens free speech. Airbrushing history, even with the best of intentions, is almost always a very bad idea. It will place an arbitrary and costly imposition on search-engine companies. And such a sweeping new right is sure to have unintended consequences -- for starters, by potentially depriving the public of useful information.

Moreover, the administrative complexities -- where exactly does the ruling apply? To whom? How will disputes be arbitrated? -- are deeply confounding. The costs to companies and governments of making such a policy work are incalculable. The consequences of censoring search results could quickly become perverse. And so on.

How do you beat Boko Haram with an army that's almost as evil? - Sarah Margon - POLITICO Magazine

How do you beat Boko Haram with an army that's almost as evil? - Sarah Margon - POLITICO Magazine: In 2009, Nigerian police forces fighting Boko Haram in the northern city of Maiduguri lost about 30 officers in a violent firefight. The next day, they executed many of the men they had rounded up and detained as suspected Boko Haram fighters. The retaliatory killings often happened right outside police headquarters in full view of the public. Bodies piled up outside the building while the executions continued.

 The incident illustrates the quandary the United States and international community face in helping the Nigerian government rescue the nearly 300 girls Boko Haram, an unquestionably brutal armed group, kidnapped last week: The tactics of the government security forces are barely more palatable than those of the militants themselves. Nigerian security forces are known for raiding local communities, executing men in front of their families, arbitrarily arresting and beating people, burning residential property and stealing money while searching homes. Nigerian authorities also routinely hold suspects incommunicado without charge or trial in secret detention facilities and abuse and torture them. Unsurprisingly, due process rights for detainees are often absent.

18 May, 2014

How Top Politicians Rebrand Themselves | Vanity Fair

How Top Politicians Rebrand Themselves | Vanity Fair: “Branding” as a general term for the way you present yourself to the world has become a popular usage. It implies that, if people see you for what you really are, that’s a failure on your part. Success is when people see you as what you wish you were. Or as what you need to be, or seem to be, or need to seem to be, to suit the exigencies of the moment.

The concept of “branding” accurately captures the artificiality and self-consciousness of the process.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is such a thing as a genuine conversion. Saint Paul (no relation to the Republican senator from Kentucky) wasn’t rebranding himself on the road to Damascus. From a branding point of view, sincerity of this sort may not be a good thing. A politician who actually changes his mind is unreliable. What if he changes it again?

Long Ago, a Pilot Landed on an Uptown Street. That's Where the Bar Was. - NYTimes.com

Long Ago, a Pilot Landed on an Uptown Street. That's Where the Bar Was. - NYTimes.com: But the remarkable drunken landings of Tommy Fitz have all but slipped into oblivion. The pilot, Thomas Fitzpatrick, turned a barroom bet into a feat of aeronautic wonder by stealing a plane from a New Jersey airport and landing it on St. Nicholas Avenue in northern Manhattan, in front of the bar where he had been drinking.

As if that were not stupefying enough, the man did nearly the exact same thing two years later. Both landings were pulled off in incredibly narrow landing areas, in the dark – and after a night of drinking in Washington Heights taverns and with a well-lubricated pilot at the controls. Both times ended with Mr. Fitzpatrick charged with wrongdoing.

17 May, 2014

Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to FISA Amendments Act; EFF's Lawsuit Over NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Remains | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to FISA Amendments Act; EFF's Lawsuit Over NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Remains | Electronic Frontier Foundation: Yesterday, the Supreme Court sadly dismissed the ACLU’s case, Clapper v. Amnesty International, which challenged the FISA Amendments Act (FAA)—the unconstitutional law that allows the government to wiretap Americans communcating with people overseas. Under the FAA, the government can conduct this surveillance without naming individuals and without a traditional probable cause warrant, as the Fourth Amendment requires.

The court didn’t address the constitutionality of the FAA itself, but instead ruled that the plaintiffs—a group of lawyers, journalists, and human rights advocates who regularly communicate with likely "targets" of FAA wiretapping—couldn’t prove the surveillance was "certainly impending," so therefore didn’t have the "standing" necessary to sue. In other words, since the Americans did not have definitive proof that they were being surveilled under the FAA—a fact the government nearly always keeps secret—they cannot challenge the constitutionality of the statute.

15 May, 2014

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.: Most big transportation projects -- bridge repairs, new highways, intercity rail -- are paid for with a stack of local, state, and federal funds. The federal contribution ranges between 35 percent and 95 percent of a state's total transportation budget, and is mostly supplied by the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is mostly supplied by the federal gas tax, which is a robust stream of money that can't be used for anything other than transportation.

The problem for funding is that Americans are actually using less gas than they used to -- both because they aren't driving as much, and cars are getting more efficient. Meanwhile, Congress hasn't raised the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994, which is now far behind what it was then when you take inflation into account. Consequently, revenues have started to sputter in recent years:

Yes, the Filibuster Is Still a Huge Problem - Norm Ornstein - The Atlantic

Yes, the Filibuster Is Still a Huge Problem - Norm Ornstein - The Atlantic: In 2007, with a new Democratic majority in Congress for the final two years of the Bush presidency, it was Republican filibusters that stymied Democrats trying to send legislation to Bush that he would be forced to veto. And with Barack Obama's presidency, Republican filibusters or threats of filibuster escalated in ways the Senate had never seen before. The rule had not changed, but the norms were blown up. Filibusters were used not simply to block legislation or occasional nominations, but routinely, even on matters and nominations that were entirely uncontroversial and ultimately passed unanimously or near-unanimously. The idea of a filibuster as the expression of a minority that felt so intensely that it would pull out all the stops to try to block something pushed by the majority went by the boards. This was a pure tactic of obstruction, trying to use up as much of the Senate's most precious commodity—time—as possible to screw up the majority's agenda.

14 May, 2014

You can do anything with a law degree? No, no you cannot.

You can do anything with a law degree? No, no you cannot.: I don’t want to suggest that law school is a bad idea for everyone—many of the attorneys I spoke with for this article love their careers. At the same time, almost all of them put a tremendous amount of thought into choosing the legal profession, and none of them went to law school because “you can do anything with a law degree.” Those of us who did enroll for that reason have a more mixed track record.

Questlove on When Black Loses Its Cool -- Vulture

Questlove on When Black Loses Its Cool -- Vulture: The majority of any population listens to rules. Most people do what society tells them to, to a predictable degree. Those people don’t need to be monitored, because they aren’t any threat at all. There’s a second, smaller group that shows itself over time to be ungovernable. Most of those people are warehoused, locked away in prisons or otherwise contained. Neither of those two groups needs to be seen — not really, not in the sense of being significantly visible to the culture at large. But what about those rare people who remain ungovernable and free? What about the people who draw society’s surveilling gaze and gaze back levelly? Those people are cool. Pick your icon: Hendrix or Ali or Pryor. Think about how they handled being handled. And in black America, traditionally, the rest of us need those people. They produce a wide and welcome positive halo effect. They teach by example that a certain edginess and individuality can persist without being stamped out.

Six Questions for Tara McKelvey on Torture | The American Conservative

Six Questions for Tara McKelvey on Torture | The American Conservative: 6) One doesn’t exactly get the sense that the United States has fully grappled with its own panicked overreach in the aftermath of 9/11. (This moment from a recent Sarah Palin speech comes to mind, as does the almost perfunctory display of torture in popular television shows like “Scandal.”) Is it possible that the next president could “reinstate” torture?

Of course. When I give talks about interrogations and torture, people always ask me why I have a problem with it. I understand–I was all for torture right after 9/11. I would have tortured the hijackers myself if they were still alive, and if I had been able to find them. I wasn’t thinking very rationally. Then I started learning about terrorism and I met the people who had been tortured, and I realized how wrong I was–and na�ve. Believing in torture means you aren’t looking at the facts on the ground–you are just believing in some kind of fantasy about how to fix the world.

12 May, 2014

Boz Tchividjian is on a mission: Billy Graham’s grandson wants to root out sexual abuse in the Evangelical Church.

Boz Tchividjian is on a mission: Billy Graham’s grandson wants to root out sexual abuse in the Evangelical Church.: All institutions have a tendency to deflect complaints from sexual abuse victims rather than run the risk of the public finding out that not all is perfect within their walls, but Tchividjian tends to believe that religious institutions are even worse breeding grounds for sexual abuse than most. Christians are "easy to fool" for sexual predators, in his estimation, because of their eagerness to recruit new people and their endless need for free labor from volunteers. "When something does surface, all too often the church leadership quiets it down," he tells Joyce. "Because they’re concerned about reputation: 'This could harm the name of Jesus, so let’s just take care of it internally.' "

11 May, 2014

Beyond Honeybees: Now Wild Bees and Butterflies May Be in Trouble | Science | WIRED

Beyond Honeybees: Now Wild Bees and Butterflies May Be in Trouble | Science | WIRED: By now you probably know about the plight of America’s honeybees: the collapsed colonies and dying hives, threatening pollination services to crops and the future of a much-beloved insect.

But it’s not just honeybees that are in trouble. Many wild pollinators—thousands of species of bees and butterflies and moths—are also threatened. Their decline would affect not only our food supply, but our landscapes, too. Most honeybees live in commercially managed agricultural colonies; wild pollinators are caretakers of our everyday surroundings.

“Almost 90 percent of the world’s flowering species require insects or other animals for pollination,” said ecologist Laura Burkle of Montana State University. “That’s a lot of plants that need these adorable creatures for reproduction. And if we don’t have those plants, we have a pretty impoverished world.”

How NFL teams ignore basic economics and draft players irrationally - Vox

How NFL teams ignore basic economics and draft players irrationally - Vox:

The problem, though, is that there are no guaranteed superstars — and Thaler and Massey have found that, given a long enough timeframe, no teams are any better at accurately evaluating prospects than others. Sure, a GM might hit a hot streak over the course of a few drafts, but long-term, they estimate that 95 to 100 percent of the difference in teams' odds of striking gold with any one pick is driven by chance.

So the key isn't drafting better — it's just drafting more.

Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up

Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up: According to a senior former U.S. intelligence operative, a Secret Service agent who was enjoying a moment of solitude in Gore’s bathroom before the Veep arrived heard a metallic scraping sound. “The Secret Service had secured [Gore’s] room in advance and they all left except for one agent, who decided to take a long, slow time on the pot,” the operative recalled for Newsweek. “So the room was all quiet, he was just meditating on his toes, and he hears a noise in the vent. And he sees the vent clips being moved from the inside. And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room.”

Did the agent scramble for his gun? No, the former operative said with a chuckle. “He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents.”

Is the Fall of Homs a turning point in Regime's Quest to Recapture Syria? | Informed Comment

Is the Fall of Homs a turning point in Regime's Quest to Recapture Syria? | Informed Comment: The Governor of Homs Province, Talal al-Barazi said Wednesday that 80 percent of the rebel fighters in that city have now been evacuated. It is expected that the rest will leave on Thursday.

Around a thousand fighters had been holed up in the old city of Homs and have now left, with 300 or so persons staying behind.

The regime’s retaking of Homs is not just an ordinary to and fro in a brutal, grinding civil war. It is a hands-down strategic victory for the ruling Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad. Homs is an industrial city of some 700,000 inhabitants, the third largest in Syria (a country of 22 million). It has a Sunni majority but a very large Christian community (at one point, at least, they were 1/3 of the inhabitants), along with minorities like Alawis. But neither size nor make-up explain its importance. Geography does.

Why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a philistine - The Week

Why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a philistine - The Week: If what you crave is answers, the study of philosophy in this sense can be hugely frustrating and unsatisfying. But if you want to understand yourself as well as the world around you — including why you're so impatient for answers, and progress, in the first place — then there's nothing more thrilling and gratifying than training in philosophy and engaging with its tumultuous, indeterminate history.

Not that many young people today recognize its value. There are always an abundance of reasons to resist raising the peskiest, most difficult questions of oneself and the world. To that list, our time has added several more: technological distractions, economic imperatives, cultural prejudices, ideological commitments.

‘Smart’ Firearm Draws Wrath of the Gun Lobby - NYTimes.com

‘Smart’ Firearm Draws Wrath of the Gun Lobby - NYTimes.com: But once Oak Tree’s owner, James Mitchell, went public in The Washington Post saying the iP1 “could revolutionize the gun industry,” Second Amendment activists went into overdrive, flooding social media with threats to boycott the club. They took to Calguns.net, a forum for gun owners, and called for vigilante-style investigations of Ms. Padilla and Armatix. They seized on her appearance before a United Nations panel to testify on gun safety and her purported association with a group once led by a prot�g�of George Soros.

“I have no qualms with the idea of personally and professionally leveling the life of someone who has attempted to profit from disarming me and my fellow Americans,” one commenter wrote.

09 May, 2014

IOC chiefs 'make secret plea' to use London 2012 venues as Rio 2016 Olympic Games fall behind schedule - Telegraph

IOC chiefs 'make secret plea' to use London 2012 venues as Rio 2016 Olympic Games fall behind schedule - Telegraph: A source told the Standard: "At a comparable planning stage in 2004 Athens had done 40 per cent of preparations on infrastructure, stadiums and so on. London had done 60 per cent. Brazil has done 10 per cent - and they have just two years left. So the IOC is thinking, 'What's our plan B?'

"Obviously, the answer would be to come back to London. It's very unlikely but it would be the logical thing to do."

London has hosted the Olympics in an emergency before. In 1908 the event was due to be held in Italy, but Mount Vesuvius erupting forced a move.

07 May, 2014

The Bitter Truth about the Settlements

The Bitter Truth about the Settlements: It’s not just people in Israel who shouldn’t ignore this bitter truth; it’s people in America, and particularly in Washington, where there’s an entire industry dedicated to casting the Palestinians as eternal rejectionists and downplaying the impact of the settlements and occupation that sustain them. Basically, these officials are telling us more explicitly what both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama have told us more diplomatically: Netanyahu’s unwillingness and/or inability to reign in the settlements poisoned the negotiations, and is killing any chance of a final, two-state agreement.

To be clear, the settlements are not the only obstacle to a final agreement. And the Palestinians undoubtedly made some questionable choices during these negotiations, too. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blindsided both the Americans and the Israelis with a reconciliation agreement with Hamas two weeks ago, surprise being the enemy of trust in these kinds of negotiations. But the U.S. officials listed a number of important concessions made by Abbas, none of which were matched by Netanyahu. And the reconciliation with Hamas came after it became clear to Abbas that Netanyahu was not interested in negotiating in good faith.

Why Asian Americans Excel at Academics - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Why Asian Americans Excel at Academics - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society: The researchers find that “differences in immigration status” are the biggest factor, followed by “differences in cultural orientation.”

“Regardless of ethnicity,” they write, “immigrants are self-selected in terms of their motivation to succeed and their optimism for future success.”

“Given their marginal position as relative newcomers to the U.S. with few political and social resources, Asian Americans may see educational credentials as not only having symbolic value in terms of conferring social prestige, but as having great instrumental value as the surest way to attain upward mobility,” the researchers add.

Iran Nuclear Deal: Uphill on the Homestretch? � LobeLog.com

Iran Nuclear Deal: Uphill on the Homestretch? � LobeLog.com: Depending on the pace of sanctions relief, Iran also seems ready to return to a kind of de facto implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which would provide enhanced monitoring over all of Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran should be ready to initiate the Protocol’s ratification process as soon as the United Nations Security Council shows itself ready to remove the Iranian nuclear file from its agenda, thus erasing the burning humiliation of 2006, when it passed its first resolution on the subject.

To date, five sticking points remain on the table.

06 May, 2014

A map of where climate change will make nights uncomfortably hot — Per Square Mile

A map of where climate change will make nights uncomfortably hot — Per Square Mile: Plants are uniquely sensitive to nighttime low temperatures. If they’re too high, plant respiration rates tend to increase. (Yes, plants respire just like us. Unlike us, they’re able to grow without eating because, during a typical day, the rate of photosynthesis greatly outpaces the rate of respiration, meaning they’re making more food than they are consuming.) When respiration rates rise in plants, they consume more of the carbohydrates they made through photosynthesis during the day. With less energy available, they might grow more slowly or put less energy into producing seeds. It happens that many staple crops, like rice and corn, are seeds, so warm nights are one way climate change could slash crop harvests.

Not only will more people be going to bed sweating, they’ll be doing so on empty stomachs.

05 May, 2014

David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger? | Transcript | TED.com

David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger? | Transcript | TED.com: And then consider that Usain Bolt started by propelling himself out of blocks down a specially fabricated carpet designed to allow him to travel as fast as humanly possible. Jesse Owens, on the other hand, ran on cinders, the ash from burnt wood, and that soft surface stole far more energy from his legs as he ran. Rather than blocks, Jesse Owens had a gardening trowel that he had to use to dig holes in the cinders to start from. Biomechanical analysis of the speed of Owens' joints shows that had been running on the same surface as Bolt, he wouldn't have been 14 feet behind, he would have been within one stride. Rather than the last beep, Owens would have been the second beep. Listen to it again. (Beeps) That's the difference track surface technology has made, and it's done it throughout the running world.

Thoroughbreds Are Running as Fast as They Can | FiveThirtyEight

Thoroughbreds Are Running as Fast as They Can | FiveThirtyEight: The data reflected remarkable achievements by the fastest horses, dogs and people. Denny fit the data with a statistical model, and then used extreme value theory (since the data was about the best in each sport) to calculate a maximum speed limit.1 Some race times, like the Kentucky Derby’s, have plateaued, while others are still improving, like the men’s 100-meter race. This approach suggests that the fastest time possible for a human in a 100-meter race is 9.48 seconds. Usain Bolt’s world-record time is only 0.10 seconds from the limit.2

Denny says his approach tells us “that speed has its limits, but not what accounts for those limits.” There are, however, a few possible explanations for why thoroughbreds may have already hit those limits but humans, for the most part, have not yet plateaued.

Why Germans Love Russia - NYTimes.com

Why Germans Love Russia - NYTimes.com: Some of this pro-Moscow sentiment is the work of Russia-sponsored propaganda: A recent investigative report by the newspaper Welt am Sonntag revealed how a shady network of Russia supporters has shaped public discourse in Germany. Even dialogue forums with Russia, co-sponsored by the German government, are full of friends of Mr. Putin, even on the German side.

But there is also a disturbing undercurrent among ordinary Germans that harks back to old and unfortunate German traditions. We have come to think of Germany as a Western European country, but that is largely a product of Cold War alliances. Before then it occupied a precarious middle between east and west.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, German society may well be drifting away from the West again. In a poll last month by Infratest/dimap, 49 percent of Germans said they wanted their country to take a middle position between the West and Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and only 45 percent wanted to be firmly in the Western camp.

Where Democracy And American Zionism Butt Heads | TIME.com

Where Democracy And American Zionism Butt Heads | TIME.com: By a vote of 22 to 17, the American Jewish community’s largest umbrella group has decided that these views, which are widely debated in Israel, should not be allowed as a part of mainstream American Jewish identity. In short, the American Jewish community is still not ready to embrace the messiness of a real Democratic debate. To disagree over the best policies for Israel is, for a slight majority of American Jewish institutions, still an act of opposition to the nation itself.

04 May, 2014

Book Club: Why Does Jesus Need To Be Divine? � The Dish

Book Club: Why Does Jesus Need To Be Divine? � The Dish:

hatchescross.jpgLet’s imagine that Jesus
was not the Son of God, but merely a charismatic and radical teacher of
a new form of love and compassion who so inspired his followers that
they were willing to die for him. Let’s assume that the scriptures were
not divinely inspired writings, but merely the product of the greatest
authors over a millennium of human history.  Let’s say that all of the
awe inspiring cathedrals, the soulful hymns and music, two thousand
years of Christian paintings and sculpture, let’s say all of that was
the product solely of the human heart and mind.  No help from the
outside.  And finally, let’s imagine that all human acts of amazing
sacrifice, generosity, bravery and compassion (even if the person was
inspired by religious belief) were entirely and exclusively humans acts.

Where would this leave Christianity?  Would it be any
less?  Would its teachings be false?  Would the strength and inspiration
it provides be any less real?  Somewhat to my surprise, when I engage
in this thought experiment, I find it uplifting.

What Christians get wrong about hell - The Week

What Christians get wrong about hell - The Week: Doing the morally right thing must be good, intrinsically, for the moral person himself. (Otherwise, in what sense would it be good?) But that means that the opposite must be true as well: The person who fails to do the morally right thing suffers intrinsically by virtue of missing out on the good that comes from doing the right thing.

The implications of this position for how we think of punishment are quite radical. It implies, first, that people undergo punishment for their moral transgressions all on their own, without any additional infliction of suffering. The immoral person foolishly thinks she will benefit from her immoral deed. But she is mistaken and suffers from having cut herself off from the good.

As for those immoral people who don't sense any suffering or loss from having committed an immoral, sinful act, their proper punishment should be education in the error of their ways. They must be made to see their mistake. Once they do, they will begin to experience the pain that follows from the realization that they have denied themselves what is truly good.

William Faulkner - Banquet Speech

William Faulkner - Banquet Speech: I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

03 May, 2014

Triage, not retreat | peacefare.net

Triage, not retreat | peacefare.net: The only part of the panel presentations I would happily agree with is the well-established reluctance of the American public to be overly engaged abroad. It was notable that the panel offered not one example of something they thought Obama should do now to respond to the crises in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Egypt or lots of other places. They were full of examples of what he should have done in the past, and absolutely certain he would not do the right things in the future, including decisive military action against the Iranian nuclear program.

Time and energy don’t allow me to respond to all of the points above. Let me comment on three countries I know well: Iraq, Ukraine and Syria.

The notion that it was President Obama who decided to withdraw troops from Iraq is simply wrong.

01 May, 2014

Harder for Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs - NYTimes.com

Harder for Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs - NYTimes.com: Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican candidate for president, warned this fall that movement “up into the middle income is actually greater, the mobility in Europe, than it is in America.” National Review, a conservative thought leader, wrote that “most Western European and English-speaking nations have higher rates of mobility.” Even Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who argues that overall mobility remains high, recently wrote that “mobility from the very bottom up” is “where the United States lags behind.”

Liberal commentators have long emphasized class, but the attention on the right is largely new.

“It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.”

See the Curve Bend | New Republic

See the Curve Bend | New Republic:

Reform lowers the rate of growth of health
spending for a few years, primarily with Medicare savings. Then the rate
of growth jumps up above baseline as the uninsured are brought into the
system (the effect is really a one time increase in spending, but it
shows up as big rates of growth for a few years as the uninsured are
covered and use more services). Then things settle down back to the
point where the rate of growth is below baseline, reflecting the effect
of Medicare savings and the tax on high cost insurance plans.

You could make a legitimate argument that the curve should bend down
more, something the president and Congress could do by pushing hard on
some of the cost-cutting measures that have been watered down through
the legislative process. But you can't make a legitimate argument that
the Actuary projections--which, remember, are based on pretty
conservative assumptions about the potential of specific reforms to save
money--prove the curve bends up. If anything, the projections show the
curve bending down.

High school graduation rate could hit 90 percent - Stephanie Simon - POLITICO.com

High school graduation rate could hit 90 percent - Stephanie Simon - POLITICO.com: The high school graduation rate has topped 80 percent for the first time in U.S. history — and if states can keep up their rapid pace of improvement, the rate could hit 90 percent by 2020, according to federal data released Monday.

The improvement has been driven by steep gains among African-American and Hispanic students and by progress in shutting down hundreds of troubled urban schools dubbed “dropout factories.” And it’s not confined to one region of the country. Rural states such as Iowa, Vermont and Nebraska are among the best at keeping kids in school until graduation — but other top performers include Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, all of which serve large numbers of low-income students in densely populated cities.