Saturday, February 28, 2015

Euro, Europa

Whose Euro is it, anyway?
At the euro’s launch in 2002, the world witnessed the unprecedented formation of a new currency without a state. But while the introduction of the euro centralized monetary policy, it left most fiscal policy in the hands of national governments. The rapid acceptance of the euro as a viable currency and the deeper financial integration of the Eurozone that followed were greeted as stepping-stones toward greater prosperity across the European Union. Observers viewed Europe’s emerging large current account deficits, particularly those of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain (PIIGS) as a validation of the gains associated with capital flowing from the center of the EU to its periphery, and a strong counter to the arguments about the limited benefits of importing foreign savings as a means of financing domestic growth.

The honeymoon period for the euro ended in 2010, however, as the unfolding crisis revealed the dangers inherent in the monetary union. Germany’s persistent current account surplus was putting intolerable pressure on the Eurozone periphery and creating a standoff between EU creditor and debtor countries. Germany’s economic and political decisions were creating instability within the EU, much in the same way German military power once did.

This should hardly have been a surprise. Germany is the largest country in the EU by population, GDP, creditor capacity, and among net contributors to the EU budget (16 billion euros). In addition, while 60 percent of German exports go to the Eurozone, Germany’s international economic reach outstrips all other EU member states: 27 percent of all EU exports come from Germany, several times the amount of France, Italy, the United Kingdom (UK), the Netherlands, and Spain. Today Berlin accounts for about 25 percent of China’s total trade with Europe and is the most influential European player in China. A decade after its launch, the euro remains a currency without a state, but dominated by Germany.

This reality has become the subject of a lively debate across the EU and within Germany itself.
Europe wanted its own currency. They forgot that somebody has to back it...

Windy City Junk

As goes Detroit:
Chicago's finances are already sagging under an unfunded pension liability Moody's has pegged at $32 billion and that is equal to eight times the city's operating revenue. The city has a $300 million structural deficit in its $3.53 billion operating budget and is required by an Illinois law to boost the 2016 contribution to its police and fire pension funds by $550 million.
Cost-saving reforms for the city's other two pension funds, which face insolvency in a matter of years, are being challenged in court by labor unions and retirees.
State funding due Chicago would drop by $210 million between July 1 and the end of 2016 under a plan proposed by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.
Given all the financial pressures, both Moody's and Standard & Poor's, which affirmed the city's A-plus rating, warned on Friday that Chicago's credit ratings have room to sink.
Like the Titanic...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Blind Agency's Bluff

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

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

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

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

The Stalin Method

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

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

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

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

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

Degree Of Uncertainty

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

Wrong Answer

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

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

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

The Magic Dress

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

Lost And Found

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

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

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

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

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

Holder Goes Home

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

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

You Are, And Always Have Been, Our Friend

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

That's No Moon

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

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

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

Walker At CPAC

Scott Walker at CPAC:

No Authorization? No Problem

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

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

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

Ted Cruz At CPAC

Ted Cruz takes the stage at CPAC:

Deadbeat Moms

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

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

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

The Price Of The Angry Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

Executive Expansion

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

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

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

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

District Of Cannabis

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

Laser Mobile

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

With A Little Help From Her Friends

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

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

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

Quiet Time

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

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

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

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

The Line Forms To The Left

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

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

The Anti-Sharpton

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

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

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

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

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

Sweeping The Web

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Owing Obamacare

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

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

In His Own Rant

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

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

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

Gruber Gone

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

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

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

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

Don't Play The Game

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

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

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

The Head

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

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

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

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

It Tastes Like...

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

No Laughing Matter

I'm sure the Ukrainians find her hilarious:

We Can't Disagree

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

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

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

Final Cut

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Emotional Science

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

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

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

Life On Ice

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

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

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

The Game Theory Of Life

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

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

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

Life Without Brian

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

Blogging In The Years: 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO Wants What?

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

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

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

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

Dumpster Living

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

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

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

War Correspondence

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

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

Save The Animals

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Where Were You When The Web Ended?

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

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

The Ancient Heart

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

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

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

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

Court TV

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

The Invisible Bank

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

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

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

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

Snowed Under

No more snow, please:

Not A Fan

The voice of the next generation?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Other Awards

It's the alternative to the Oscars:

The Unreal World

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

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

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

The Eternal Mind Of Homer

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

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

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

Blogging In The Years: 1980

America proves that it can still be a winner:

Food, Glorious Food

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

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

Piercing The Veil

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

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

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

And Your Books For Free

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

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

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

Blogging In The Years: 1965

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

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


Watch out for those rocks:

Common Green Ground

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

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

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

National Sin Tax

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

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

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

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

Looking For Utopia In The Wrong Places

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

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

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

Sharing The Love

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

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

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

First Amendment On The Job

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Kim Cut

Mini Me tries to get a makeover:
Kim Jong Un’s latest hack job created another international incident.

North Korea watchers combing through the supreme leader’s appearance at a politburo meeting Wednesday were struck by Kim’s new look.

Kim was photographed with shrunken eyebrows the size of emoticons and cartoonishly high hair.

“Kim Jong Un unveils sculpted eyebrow work and defined hair at Politburo meeting today,” NK’s Frank Feinstein tweeted.

Adding to the accentuated features, the supreme leader’s face appears pudgier than a year ago when a report claimed that North Korean men were told to change their hairstyle to match Kim’s.
Every man in North Korea will want one-whether they want to or not...

Field Of Hippie Dreams

It was paradise never found:
Evans couldn’t wait to create his retrograde society, where waif-like girls ‘with long, tawny dreadlocks’ would be doling out ‘bowls of bean stew from a steaming cauldron’. He sold his house, gave up his academic career and moved to a field near Inverness. He looked at an adjacent waterfall and thought it could ‘generate electricity’. He gazed at an acre of scrubland and believed he could ‘keep a few pigs and chickens’. He spotted a deer and, though he had no butchery or tanning training, imagined turning its hide into shoes and gloves.

Fair play to Evans: by the time he came to write this book he realised he was delusional. Though he had no difficulty recruiting like-minded eccentrics to join him in his ‘experimental community’ (a former Royal Marine who had ambitions to be a cobbler; a computer-programmer ‘passionate about vegetables’; a teacher who’d once met an Inuit; a graffiti artist from Belfast; a Cambridge student keen on the recorder), Evans admits that his utopia was doomed to failure. It attracted only idealists and disaffected romantics when what was needed were people with practical skills, like plumbers, carpenters and engineers. Soon the militant vegetarians were squabbling with the meat-eaters, and the small group began to disintegrate. One member even started to invent his own religion, building a shrine with ‘carefully arranged’ bits of driftwood and old coins.
In other words, it became...a post-apocalyptic society ahead of its time...

Back To The Cave

Caveman wins:
A North Carolina blogger who writes about nutrition said Friday he feels vindicated in his long-running free speech fight with a state agency over his online posts.

Steve Cooksey sued the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition three years ago after it tried to censor his blog. The agency said it had received a complaint that he provided “nutrition care services” without a license.

But the board this month adopted new guidelines allowing people to give ordinary diet advice without a government license. In return, Cooksey dropped his First Amendment rights lawsuit.

Cooksey said that means his blog will again advocate eating the low-carbohydrate, meat-and-vegetables diet that he says helped save his life.

“I’m happy and excited. This case has helped raise awareness of nutritional guidelines and the battles we have with government intervention,” he said.
Sometimes it takes a caveman...

Unhealthy In Havana

No, Cuba isn't a medical paradise:
According to a study conducted by the group International SOS ranking every nation on Earth for the risks associated with seeking health care inside their borders, Cuba was among the many “high risk” (colored orange) nations for visitors who happen to fall ill while traveling abroad.

In fact, travelers are more likely to receive proper medical care in nations like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Colombia than they are to get sound care in Cuba.

“Many Cubans complain that top-level government and Communist Party officials have access to VIP health treatment, while ordinary people must queue from dawn for a routine test, with no guarantee that the allotted numbers will not run out before it is their turn,” Lucia Newman, a former Cuban resident, wrote for Al Jazeera in 2012. “The system is free, but it is neither fast nor efficient for two important reasons. One is obviously the lack of financial resources, and the other – which is related to the first – is the “export” of doctors, nurses and dentists in exchange for hard currency.”

“Over the years, I have heard many complain about the deteriorating quality of the services offered. One of the problems is that no small number of Cuban doctors have left the country looking for better opportunities abroad,” she added. “They are considered deserters.”

But who could blame them, considering that Cuban doctors are paid by the state an average of between $30 and $50 per month for their services.
In a "free" health care system, you get the lack of care you deserve...

Chain Mail Gang

Dear Debbie: Your hypocrisy is showing:
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office offered to change her position on medical marijuana if a major Florida donor recanted his withering criticism of her, according to emails obtained by POLITICO.

The proposal to Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan was straightforward: retract critical statements he made to a reporter in return for Wasserman Schultz publicly backing his cannabis initiative that she had trashed just months earlier. Morgan declined the offer with a sharp email reply sent to a go-between, who described the congresswoman as being in a “tizzy.”

“Almost 58 percent of Florida voters supported medical marijuana and I’d be surprised if that many support her,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance.

“That should be a lesson for Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” he said. “Florida voters like this policy more than her. And we’ll make sure people know her position.”
Better than she does, apparently...

A Taxing Situation

Sure, you can trust Obamacare with your taxes:
About 800,000 people received tax forms with incorrect information about their Obamacare coverage, officials from the Health and Human Services Department said Friday.

The errors occurred on a new form that helps Obamacare enrollees figure out whether they qualify for a subsidy that would pay all or part of their premiums, and how big that subsidy should be. Information used to calculate those subsidies was wrong on about 20 percent of tax forms, HHS officials said. The errors would cause some taxpayers to claim too large a subsidy and others to claim less than they’re actually eligible for.

Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency is already notifying taxpayers of the mistake and will be sending out revised forms. The “vast majority” of Obamacare enrollees haven’t filed their taxes yet, and can simply use the new, corrected information when they do, Slavitt said. But, of the 800,000 people who received inaccurate forms, about 50,000 have already filed their taxes, Slavitt said.
The continuing debut of Obamacare is going about as expected...

Green Hugger

He apparently doesn't hug only trees:
Dr Pachauri, the chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – which plans to broker a global treaty to tackle global warming in December – vigorously denies all allegations. It is understood that the researcher works at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) think-tank in New Delhi, where Dr Pachauri is director-general.

The respected academic said he had been a victim of hacking, claiming his email, mobile phone and WhatsApp messages have been hacked and that cyber criminals have used his computer without authorisation to commit criminal activities.
“Your questions have no connection with the truth,” Dr Pachauri told India’s Economic Times newspaper when approached with details of the allegations.
A climate hugger denier?

Dead Tree Leaves

I think this might be an omen:
The peepal tree was awash in leaves when Obama planted it at the New Delhi memorial to Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi. By Thursday, though, it was just a single lonely stem.
Its lack of leaves has been giving Indian officials sleepless nights, with the media here blasting them for allowing the tree to die less than a month after the presidential visit.
But the reality: Peepal trees often lose their leaves this time of year.
“It’s a seasonal phenomenon,” B.C Katiyar, a top regional government horticulturist, said Thursday, after he and other officials visited the tree and pronounced it in good health. “It will send out shoots within the next 10 days.”
This is not an ex-tree?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Idiots On Board

Seriously, what?
The carriage, mixed with Parisian commuters and English football fans making their way to the game, is packed. But there is enough standing space for one more person, as is evident when the man steps inside before being pushed away the first time.

The fans — some of whom chanted "Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea" — then sing "we're racist, we're racist, and that's the way we like it."

At about that time, several Paris transport officials walk past the group, but do not intervene, and the black woman leaves the adjacent carriage.

The identities of the men in the video, including the victim, have not yet been established, prosecutor's office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre told The Associated Press. The maximum penalty possible according to the French criminal code is three years in prison and a 45,000 euro ($51,000) fine.
Stupidity and excessive alcoholic consumption crosses all nationalities...

Operation Clean Sweep

It's the Broomstick Brigade:
On Tuesday, German broadcaster ARD revealed that German soldiers tried to hide the lack of arms by replacing heavy machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise last year. After painting the wooden sticks black, the German soldiers swiftly attached them to the top of armored vehicles, according to a confidential army report which was leaked to ARD.

A defense ministry spokesperson said the use of broomsticks was not a common practice, and that the decision of the involved soldiers was "hard to comprehend." According to the ministry, the armored vehicles were furthermore not supposed to be armed. It remains unclear how many broomsticks were substituted for machine guns.
Ready, aim...sweep?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One Man, One Letter

Best Wheel win ever?

No Sledding For You

You can't sled here, this is the White House:
Implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks, the ban on sledding on the Capitol grounds ended what had for decades been a local pastime. On Tuesday, a half-dozen Capitol Police offers shooed away would-be sledders trying to take advantage of Washington’s snow day.

Jessica Zippin, a professional dog-walker who lives on Capitol Hill, was one of a few dozen would-be sledders warned by police not to slide the slopes on the southwest front of the Capitol.

“They felt bad about it so they encouraged people to try to reach their member of Congress,” said Ms. Zippin, who instead tossed snowballs with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. “Because a member of Congress can issue a waiver and then you’re free to sled,” she said she was told by the police.
I'd like to help you, ma'am, but your kid's too young to vote...

No Scandals Near Us

And you can take that to the bank:

No Care Three Times

A woman loses her health coverage due to Obamacare not once, but three times:
The insurer, one of 23 Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, or co-ops, started with the backing of the federal government and received $145 million in loans from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But, CoOportunity’s expenses and medical claims would far exceed its revenue for 2014.

“Merry Christmas to me,” Weldin, a dental hygienist turned Pampered Chef director, said in an interview with The Daily Signal of when she read the article.

A month later, Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart announced his intent to liquidate CoOportunity Health and encouraged those who were covered by the nonprofit to seek insurance elsewhere.

For Weldin, 58, the insurer’s liquidation marked the third time she would lose her health insurance under Obamacare, the third time she would head to to shop for coverage, and the third time she would have to purchase a brand new plan.

“I’ve been pulled into the middle of all this through no fault of my own,” she said, “and there’s nothing fair about it. It is what it is, and you move forward.”
If you can...

Old Friends Abroad

Gifting to the Clintons:
The Clinton Foundation reportedly is seeing an increase in contributions from foreign governments after ending a self-imposed ban on such donations, raising new ethical questions as Hillary Clinton prepares for a possible 2016 presidential campaign.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited the foundation's online database, recent donors to the foundation include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, Germany, and a Canadian government agency promoting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The foundation instituted a foreign gifts ban in 2009 after Hilllary Clinton was named Secretary of State by President Barack Obama. The Journal reports that the ban was not a total one, and some donations were permitted after receiving the approval of State Department ethics officials. Hillary Clinton re-joined the foundation after leaving the State Department in 2013 and has fronted a $250 million endowment campaign.

Ethics experts have told the Journal that the Foundation should re-impose its ban while Hillary Clinton considers a possible White House bid.

"Now that she is gearing up to run for president, the same potential exists for foreign governments to curry favor with her as a potential president of the United States," said Kirk Hanson, director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California.
They're just friends of the family...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Tao Of Joe

Hey, Joe, where you gonna creep out next?
As Carter began speaking in the Roosevelt Room, Biden beckoned Stephanie Carter from across the room, then put both hands on her shoulders as her husband thanked Biden for presiding over the ceremony. Biden's hands lingered for roughly 20 seconds until he leaned in and whispered in her ear.

What, pray tell, was the vice president confiding in Carter's wife? It's anybody's guess, but within seconds Carter reached back and put his own hand on his wife's shoulder as he thanked his "perfect wife Stephanie" for her support along his professional path.

Both incidents sparked prompt and voluminous reactions on social media, as viewers who caught the events on TV or heard about them later pondered: Just what was Biden thinking?

No stranger to improvisation, Biden over decades has built a brand on his tendency to speak his mind, endearing him to those who crave authenticity from political leaders. Biden's supporters brush off his more jarring moments as "just Biden being Biden."
Or just being plain weird...

Sun King

Well, all righty then:

Shakedown Breakdown

A would-be Chevron scammer settles:
Chevron Corporation has reached a settlement agreement with James Russell DeLeon, the principal funder of the fraudulent lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. Chevron brought claims against DeLeon in Gibraltar, where DeLeon maintains a residence, for his role in funding and advancing the fraudulent lawsuit. In the settlement, DeLeon has resolved those claims by withdrawing financial support from the Ecuador litigation and assigning his interests in the litigation to Chevron. Chevron, in turn, has agreed to release all claims against DeLeon. In filings with the Gibraltar court, DeLeon previously disclosed having invested approximately $23 million in the case in exchange for an approximate 7 percent stake in the $9.5 billion Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron. DeLeon’s funding entity, Torvia Limited, and his associate, Julian Jarvis, are also parties to the settlement.

“We are pleased that yet another long-time supporter has ended his association with this scheme,” said R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel. “Chevron will continue to hold accountable those who associate themselves with this fraudulent litigation.”
Extortion only works if you can get away with it...

The Plumes Of Mars

Martian emissions?
On two separate occasions in March and April 2012, amateur astronomers reported definite plume-like features developing on the planet.
The plumes were seen rising to altitudes of over 250 km above the same region of Mars on both occasions. By comparison, similar features seen in the past have not exceeded 100 km.
"At about 250 km, the division between the atmosphere and outer space is very thin, so the reported plumes are extremely unexpected," says Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain, lead author of the paper reporting the results in the journal Nature.
The features developed in less than 10 hours, covering an area of up to 1000 x 500 km, and remained visible for around 10 days, changing their structure from day to day.
None of the spacecraft orbiting Mars saw the features because of their viewing geometries and illumination conditions at the time.
Even Mars can have too much chili once in a while...

Amnesty On Hold

No amnesty, for now:
The White House said it will appeal Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision, but it’s unclear whether the case could reach the circuit court in New Orleans or even the Supreme Court before Wednesday, which is when the Homeland Security Department had planned to begin accepting the first applications under the new amnesty.

“The DHS was not given any ‘discretion by law’ to give 4.3 million removable aliens what the DHS itself labels as ‘legal presence,’ ” Judge Hanen wrote in issuing an injunction. “In fact, the law mandates that these illegally-present individuals be removed. The DHS has adopted a new rule that substantially changes both the status and employability of millions. These changes go beyond mere enforcement or even non-enforcement of this nation’s immigration scheme.”
The reaction of our Constitutional Scholar-in-Chief should be telling...

To Filibuster Or Not To Filibuster

Do we really need to get rid of it?
Simply put, if destroying what is left of the Senate’s tradition of the filibuster would save the country from terrible crises and hardship, almost every senator of both parties would vote to abolish it.

Indeed, all but one of the currently serving Senate Democrats who also served in 2013 voted with their leader to break the filibuster rule by simple majority, thus creating “the Reid Rule” that the rules of the Senate can be modified by a simple majority of the senators present. (West Virginia’s Joe Manchin voted against breaking the filibuster then, along with Carl Levin and Mark Pryor — the former retired, the latter was defeated in November.)

It was the Republicans who first threatened to use the “nuclear option” in the summer of 2005, an action avoided by the compromise cobbled together by the “Gang of 14.” Had the GOP not fallen for the Democrats’ promise of comity, the “Reid Rule” would have been born as the “Frist Rule,” named instead for the majority leader of the Senate in ’05, Bill Frist.

But Frist didn’t pull the trigger and fracture the filibuster. Reid did. Thus Reid will live on in infamy, at least in the eyes of Senate traditionalists.

The filibuster is not part of the Constitution, however, and all that ever preserved it was a bipartisan sense of the necessity of maintaining a tradition that honored the role of the minority in a long-enduring Republic. Now with the president embarked on an unconstitutional abdication of his oath to faithfully execute the laws, along with his adventures with Cuba and Iran that have many in his own party alarmed, the question is squarely presented: Does the near term of the Republic’s future outweigh the long term interests of the Senate?
It does seem to only be unpopular when your side can't use it...

Dog Brains

Well, anyone who's ever owned one can attest to this:
The results indicate that, not only do the dogs seem to realize something is wrong, but that they also appear to be attempting to alert their companions, many of whom did not seem surprised by their dog’s concern.
“At home, he’s really observant,” dog owner April Ruiz said. “He’s always paying attention.”
A third test includes the dog and companion relaxing in a room, when a researcher appears and introduces a new object. The goal of this test is to see whether or not a dog will become interested in the same item as humans.
The results suggest that most were.
“The most surprising thing so far is how many of our intuitions about dogs are right,” Yale junior Rebecca Spaulding said. “That dogs have feelings and dogs want to communicate with us.”
They're trying to warn us about the cats...

More IRS For The Money

What could go wrong?
The huge requested increase in the IRS workforce was just one of multiple hikes in the tax agency's spending being sought by Obama. The request includes an 18.43 percent increase for the IRS investigations budget, 9.96 percent for exams and collections and a 13 percent boost in IRS regulatory spending.

Other spending increases sought by the agency for 2016 include 49.87 percent for information services, 30.75 percent for business systems modernization, 30.36 percent for operations support, 17.38 percent for infrastructure and 11.39 percent for shared services and support.

Most of the new hires requested by the IRS would focus on the agency’s effort to crack down on tax delinquency and fraud or ways to improve internal operations, according to President Obama's budget proposal for the federal tax agency for 2016.
But would there be new money for hard drives?

Job Creation For Terrorists

We can't simply give them jobs and hope they'll go away, says...Chris Matthews:

Dueling Pistols

A teacher is arrested for...carrying an antique pistol:
Upon discovering a flintlock pistol in the glove compartment, VanGilder said that another deputy wanted to let him go since he knew the firearm was an antique. The Sheriff disagreed. VanGilder was arrested the following morning, and faces up to ten years in prison; three and a half to five years of that sentence must be served before parole can be considered.

To make things more absurd, the prosecutor in the case told VanGilder’s lawyer­–Evan Nappen–who’s in the video; that ballistics test will be run on the firearm.

This case will impact Gordon’s pension as a New Jersey educator, his ability to vote, and his reputation. He will be a convicted felon if the State of New Jersey is successful in their crusade against him.
Welcome to New Jersey, hand over your antiques, please...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Shadows Of The Fourth Dimension

What would 4-D objects look like in our universe?
Segerman uses extradimensional geometry and a 3-D printer to show how objects that exist in four spatial dimensions would look if they were to dip down into our three-dimensional universe. It's an artistic spin-off of "Flatland," the classic parable about extra dimensions.

In Edwin Abbott's book, the two-dimensional denizens of Flatland are flummoxed when a sphere comes to visit: Its 2-D projection looks just like a circle of changing size as it moves through Flatland's permeable plane. Similarly, a 4-D object would look like a morphing 3-D shape as it moved through our realm.
You can only see what you are able to see...

Attack Of The Drones

The drones are coming:
The new FAA regulations and the White House directive will provide the basic rules to govern the conditions under which drones can be flown in United States, and by whom. Commercial operators will not have to obtain a regular FAA pilot’s license or demonstrate their flying skills. They will simply need to pass a written “proficiency test,” register the drone with the FAA, and pay about $200 in fees.

The proposed FAA regulations are subject to a period of public review and comment for at least 120 days after the FAA publishes the proposed rules in the United States Federal Register. Full approval is not expected to least until early 2017. Once finalized, the FAA estimates that more than 7,000 business permits will be issued over 3 years.

The FAA’s rulles will restrict the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles to daylight hours initially, and require drones to remain within eyesight of the operator or observers posted on the ground. The maximum speed would be limited to 100 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 500 feet.
What could go wrong?

The Forgotten Ones

Remember the Reagan voters?
They’re the voters who didn’t come out for John McCain in 2008, and mostly not for Mitt Romney in 2012: They’re middle- and working-class — mostly men and mostly white, though some minority voters and women will respond to the same appeal. When these voters have come out for the GOP, it’s seen congressional landslides like 1994, 2010 and ’14 — but no national Republican since Ronald Reagan has fully drawn them in. . . . Why could Reagan talk to these voters? He’d talked with them. He spent 1954 to ’62 as a spokesman for General Electric — hosting ‘GE Theater’ on TV, but also giving speeches at GE plants. And eating that day in the cafeteria, talking to the workers. Actually, listening to them — getting an earful on how they saw their work, the country, the world. That experience informed Reagan’s entire political future — how he spoke, what he said, his occasional breaks with GOP orthodoxy. No candidate today has time left for such deep exposure — but any of them can get a start. And the smart ones will learn to signal that they’re on these voters’ side.
Even if you can't make the time, at least act as if you could...

I Was A Spy For The FBI

The German ISIS rapper's wife was a spy:
Cuspert may have been ripe for the tried-and-true espionage technique. According to Bild, he was a womanizer in Germany, where he fathered three children with three women, including one who he dumped before embarking on his terrorist career. Cuspert arrived in Syria in 2013 from a so-called German jihadi colony in Egypt. It was not clear when he "married" the spy, but Bild reported that she informed her U.S. handler via secret methods on regular basis about Islamic State activities. It was unclear how she transmitted the information to her handler.

The timing of the “honey trap” revelations coincided with last week's designation by the U.S. of Cuspert as a “global terrorist.”

"Denis Cuspert stands in the focus of security circles because of his essential role for Islamic State,” a German law enforcement official told “He is propagandist of IS."
Tools deserve to get used...

Grace Note

RIP Lesley Gore:
Brooklyn-born and New Jersey-raised, Gore was discovered by Quincy Jones as a teenager and signed to Mercury Records. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English/American literature.

Gore's other hits include "She's A Fool," "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," "That's the Way Boys Are" and "Maybe I Know." She co-wrote with her brother, Michael, the Academy Award-nominated "Out Here On My Own" from the film "Fame."

She also played Catwoman's sidekick in the cult TV comedy "Batman."
Here's a performance from that episode:

And one of her signature hits from a few years earlier:

Walker, Campus Ranger

Why Scott Walker's lack of a degree is more significant today:
Over the past few years in America, a college degree has become something valued more as a class signifier than as a source of useful knowledge. When Democratic spokesman Howard Dean (who himself was born into wealth) suggested that Walker's lack of a degree made him unsuitable for the White House, what he really meant was that Walker is "not our kind, dear" — lacking the credential that many elite Americans today regard as essential to respectable status.

Of course, some of our greatest presidents, from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Harry S. Truman, never graduated from college. But the college degree as class-signifier is, as I note in my book, The New School, a rather recent phenomenon. As late as the 1970s, it was perfectly respectable for middle-class, and even upper-middle-class, people to lack a college degree. And, of course, most non-elite Americans still do: 68% of Americans, like Scott Walker, lack a college diploma. But where 50 years or 100 years ago they might not have cared, many now feel inferior to those who possess a degree.
If Scott Walker were elected, he still wouldn't be "their kind." But that might actually be a good thing for him, and America.

Baby's Got Her Genes On

the women who carry the infidelity gene:
Variants of combinations of the AVPR1A gene have been found to be associated with promiscuity and ruthlessness in animals, the Sunday Times reported.

Each person carries two AVPR1A genes - one inherited from each parent - so there are a number of potential combinations.

But these variations only appear to affect females rather than males.

Dr Brendan Zietsch, a professor of psychology at the university, worked with a team of geneticists and neuroscientists to examine the DNA and lifestyles of more than 7,000 people.

They found that of the 6.4 per cent of women who had been unfaithful, a large amount of them had a specific variant of the 'infidelity gene.'

'Overall, these findings confirm genetic underpinnings of extrapair mating in humans,' the scientists said in a research paper.
So what's the excuse for the ones that don't have it?

Penalties, Anyone?

Democrats discover Obamacare penalties:
Three senior House members told The Associated Press that they plan to strongly urge the administration to grant a special sign-up opportunity for uninsured taxpayers who will be facing fines under the law for the first time this year.
The three are Michigan's Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, and Lloyd Doggett of Texas. All worked to help steer Obama's law through rancorous congressional debates from 2009-2010.
The lawmakers say they are concerned that many of their constituents will find out about the penalties after it's already too late for them to sign up for coverage, since open enrollment ended Sunday.
That means they could wind up uninsured for another year, only to owe substantially higher fines in 2016. The fines are collected through the income tax system.
This year is the first time ordinary Americans will experience the complicated interactions between the health care law and taxes. Based on congressional analysis, tax preparation giant H&R Block says roughly 4 million uninsured people will pay penalties.
Funny how that worked out...

Unfair Play

Some politicians are more equal than others: In the case of Clinton’s email probe, Comey relates numerous issues with Lynch’s actions that ...