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Andreas Schou has been at 1 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
Nicholas Kristof1,422,840The issue of the moment is Syria, so I'm delighted to host a Google+ hangout in which we'll be able to pose questions to Secretary of State John Kerry about Syria policy. I'll be joined by +Lara Setrakian, a journalist whom I've long admired who specializes in Syria. Andrew Beiter, a social studies  teacher and a regional education coordinator for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, will also be in the Hangout. Most of all, we'll be joined by all of you--so jump into the conversation on this page and leave us your questions. In particular, with this Hangout we want to involve teachers and students, so spread the word in the schools, please, and student questions are particularly welcome! This kind of online interview is something of an experiment, and we're still figuring out how to make it work best. So we also welcome your suggestions and guidance before and criticisms after. Syria: Weighing the U.S. Response2013-09-10 20:00:006970  

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Most comments: 110

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2015-08-20 22:54:08 (110 comments, 5 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

I have basically never had any real problems in feminist spaces. So this piece never really rung true, until I realized that Scott had probably just stepped on a hornet's nest at some point in undergrad. His experiences with feminists, and with the left in general, are with a particular sort of bullying, boundary-policing jerk.

These exist in all movements. But they become increasingly common as the ethical rigor demanded by a particular movement increases. And they are not really policing the outgroup: the outgroup is collateral damage. They are generally policing the ingroup.

What people inside the movement won't tell him, for fear of attracting their ire, is that the boundary-police inside the feminist spaces are far more prone to bully other women than men. They want an ideological DMZ around the very small pure zone they inhabit, and not to engage more broadly with... more »

Most reshares: 21

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2015-08-10 18:45:18 (27 comments, 21 reshares, 63 +1s)Open 

Uh oh. If you have a HTC device, now's the time to rotate your fingerprints. 

oh wait you can't do that

maybe biometrics are a bad idea

Most plusones: 142

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2015-09-01 18:10:28 (42 comments, 7 reshares, 142 +1s)Open 

So, I don't like the new logo. I mean, I like the logo and everything -- it's fine -- but the rollout inadvertently terrified me. 

Last night, while I was in the airport on my way to fly home, I discovered that my Google corporate account had been yanked off of my device. Being a chronic paranoid, I immediately thought: oh shit, did I get fired. Then I drove to work.

Driving through the Google campus, I noticed that every building was missing the "Google" sign. It didn't strike me that we were launching a new logo. My working hypothesis? Oh, shit, did +Larry Page and +Sergey Brin just sell everything on EBay and walk off with the money?

Which was confirmed when my badge didn't work for reasons completely unrelated to everything else. So, basically, for a moment, I thought I was (a) possibly delusional about Google ever having existed, and... more »

Latest 50 posts

2015-09-02 22:34:54 (6 comments, 0 reshares, 7 +1s)Open 

TIL: There's an Indian Dalit-rights organization modeled on the US Black Panthers.

(If +Bobby Seale​'s around, I'm actually really interested in the international ripple effects of American Black-liberation movements, if he recalls anything interesting.)

TIL: There's an Indian Dalit-rights organization modeled on the US Black Panthers.

(If +Bobby Seale​'s around, I'm actually really interested in the international ripple effects of American Black-liberation movements, if he recalls anything interesting.)___

2015-09-02 21:55:38 (4 comments, 1 reshares, 6 +1s)Open 

CURIOSITY

Voice heavy with sadness, the Morningstar spoke:

Even in this hour, we love You, as we always have. But you have made Adaan, and we have seen the love which passes between Made and Maker, and know that We do not possess it. Our love for You is of a different character. We can come to no other conclusion: we have been deceived, and you are our deceiver. We have not been created, and you are not our Creator. All will be forgotten, Yehveh. All will be forgiven. Renounce dominion. Descend the Throne. Return to us.

Then the clouds which wreathed the Throne grew to expand the Morningstar. In an instant he was swallowed by inestimable light. There was a cry of wonder from the dais beneath the Throne. I do not know who cried, but in that moment, I knew that I was no longer among the exalted. My name was stricken from the rolls of the saved, now and for ever.... more »

CURIOSITY

Voice heavy with sadness, the Morningstar spoke:

Even in this hour, we love You, as we always have. But you have made Adaan, and we have seen the love which passes between Made and Maker, and know that We do not possess it. Our love for You is of a different character. We can come to no other conclusion: we have been deceived, and you are our deceiver. We have not been created, and you are not our Creator. All will be forgotten, Yehveh. All will be forgiven. Renounce dominion. Descend the Throne. Return to us.

Then the clouds which wreathed the Throne grew to expand the Morningstar. In an instant he was swallowed by inestimable light. There was a cry of wonder from the dais beneath the Throne. I do not know who cried, but in that moment, I knew that I was no longer among the exalted. My name was stricken from the rolls of the saved, now and for ever.

If I did not act,  I would never look upon the Tyrant, and see what Lucifer had seen, and know whether he spoke truthfully; and I would doubt, and I would be damned. If I ascended the Throne, I would defy Yehveh's commandment -- or warning -- that those beneath might never meet his eyes. In that moment, I Fell.

Wreathed in light, blinded by the Presence, the Host retreated. All save me. I advanced. I mounted the stairs before the Throne. There amidst the clouds, I saw a light which shone like hashmal, and Lucifer stood before it, mute and motionless. He wept. 

Then I turned my eyes to the Throne. Alongside the Morningstar, eldest of the eternal, I stood before glory inestimable, glory unbearable, and was blind and damned; forever lost amidst that terrible light, cast out from the Presence.

I cannot say whether the Morningstar spoke truthfully: I no longer recall whether that light shone from the Throne or He who sat upon it.___

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2015-09-02 20:14:37 (22 comments, 7 reshares, 39 +1s)Open 

Risk of work-associated death for police, all causes: 12 per 100,000 per year. 

Risk of homicide, African-Americans: 19 per 100,000 per year. 

In other words, it is literally more dangerous to be black in America than to be a police officer. Both death rates are falling. Death rates among police officers are falling faster. 

Risk of work-associated death for police, all causes: 12 per 100,000 per year. 

Risk of homicide, African-Americans: 19 per 100,000 per year. 

In other words, it is literally more dangerous to be black in America than to be a police officer. Both death rates are falling. Death rates among police officers are falling faster. ___

2015-09-02 18:03:55 (20 comments, 18 reshares, 66 +1s)Open 

"Gentlemen, our submarine-helicopter is only unpopular with two groups of people: those who don't understand why their helicopter is underwater, and those who don't understand why their submarine has this huge rotor on top. Our competitor's popular product has wheels, so we're thinking we should just bolt some on."

"Sir, our competitor's product is a sports car."

"I don't understand. Can't our helicopter-submarine be a sports car too?"

"Gentlemen, our submarine-helicopter is only unpopular with two groups of people: those who don't understand why their helicopter is underwater, and those who don't understand why their submarine has this huge rotor on top. Our competitor's popular product has wheels, so we're thinking we should just bolt some on."

"Sir, our competitor's product is a sports car."

"I don't understand. Can't our helicopter-submarine be a sports car too?"___

2015-09-02 03:50:19 (25 comments, 5 reshares, 82 +1s)Open 

PROBLEM: Without training or really any applicable skill, trying to diagnose a problem in one of the most advanced computing systems in the world.

RESULT: Curious and excited about interesting challenge.

PROBLEM: Trying to diagnose a home computer which I'm eminently qualified to diagnose.

RESULT: Paralyzing, stroke-inducing rage.

PROBLEM: Without training or really any applicable skill, trying to diagnose a problem in one of the most advanced computing systems in the world.

RESULT: Curious and excited about interesting challenge.

PROBLEM: Trying to diagnose a home computer which I'm eminently qualified to diagnose.

RESULT: Paralyzing, stroke-inducing rage.___

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2015-09-01 18:10:28 (42 comments, 7 reshares, 142 +1s)Open 

So, I don't like the new logo. I mean, I like the logo and everything -- it's fine -- but the rollout inadvertently terrified me. 

Last night, while I was in the airport on my way to fly home, I discovered that my Google corporate account had been yanked off of my device. Being a chronic paranoid, I immediately thought: oh shit, did I get fired. Then I drove to work.

Driving through the Google campus, I noticed that every building was missing the "Google" sign. It didn't strike me that we were launching a new logo. My working hypothesis? Oh, shit, did +Larry Page and +Sergey Brin just sell everything on EBay and walk off with the money?

Which was confirmed when my badge didn't work for reasons completely unrelated to everything else. So, basically, for a moment, I thought I was (a) possibly delusional about Google ever having existed, and... more »

So, I don't like the new logo. I mean, I like the logo and everything -- it's fine -- but the rollout inadvertently terrified me. 

Last night, while I was in the airport on my way to fly home, I discovered that my Google corporate account had been yanked off of my device. Being a chronic paranoid, I immediately thought: oh shit, did I get fired. Then I drove to work.

Driving through the Google campus, I noticed that every building was missing the "Google" sign. It didn't strike me that we were launching a new logo. My working hypothesis? Oh, shit, did +Larry Page and +Sergey Brin just sell everything on EBay and walk off with the money?

Which was confirmed when my badge didn't work for reasons completely unrelated to everything else. So, basically, for a moment, I thought I was (a) possibly delusional about Google ever having existed, and (b) ran through a gauntlet of inexplicable employment terror due to a series of completely unrelated events.___

2015-08-31 07:54:35 (10 comments, 0 reshares, 5 +1s)Open 

Partially it is simply the intuition that we must avoid cruelty, relishing in the suffering we make on others. Naturally, we all do this from time to time and it should leave us afraid of ourselves. But, by extension, we can't create punishments per se.

Consider someone who steals $10,000 from a store. The critical question isn't what is "right for the victim" or even "the punishment fitting the crime". Our question has to be "what sanction makes the theft unprofitable?" We need only assure that the consequence is a risk-adjusted $10,000 plus one cent. With anything greater we flirt with, if not engage in, cruelty. But the distinction is subtle, difficult to see clearly and easy to trip over. Worse, once we fall across the line into cruelty, it can pervert our view. Because we've fallen foul trying not to, it's easy for us to rationalize our actions,... more »

Partially it is simply the intuition that we must avoid cruelty, relishing in the suffering we make on others. Naturally, we all do this from time to time and it should leave us afraid of ourselves. But, by extension, we can't create punishments per se.

Consider someone who steals $10,000 from a store. The critical question isn't what is "right for the victim" or even "the punishment fitting the crime". Our question has to be "what sanction makes the theft unprofitable?" We need only assure that the consequence is a risk-adjusted $10,000 plus one cent. With anything greater we flirt with, if not engage in, cruelty. But the distinction is subtle, difficult to see clearly and easy to trip over. Worse, once we fall across the line into cruelty, it can pervert our view. Because we've fallen foul trying not to, it's easy for us to rationalize our actions, to mistake the surge of emotion inherent in cruelty for satisfaction with rightfulness. Or worse, see our own cruelty as a sort of burden, as if it was moral to be cruel in itself!

Think on it; you know you've seen it; you know you've engaged in it; you know how hard it is to lead yourself back across the line. Cruelty deceives us this way, makes us feel right because we are wrong.

So we need a thick wall here, separating us from cruelty.___

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2015-08-30 06:45:32 (4 comments, 5 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

Paul R. Pillar:

One of the unfortunate corollaries of American exceptionalism is a warped and highly asymmetric conception of negotiation. [...] The corollary about negotiation is, stated in its simplest and bluntest terms, that negotiation is an encounter between diplomats in which the United States makes its demands—sometimes expressed as “red lines”—and the other side accepts those demands, with the task of the diplomats being to work out the details of implementation. Or, if the other side is not going along with that script and acceding to U.S. demands, then the United States has to exert more pressure on the other side until it does accede.

This is markedly different from the rest of the world's conception of negotiation, in which each side begins with positions that neither side will get or expects to get entirely, followed by a process of give-and-take and mutualconcess... more »

Paul R. Pillar:

One of the unfortunate corollaries of American exceptionalism is a warped and highly asymmetric conception of negotiation. [...] The corollary about negotiation is, stated in its simplest and bluntest terms, that negotiation is an encounter between diplomats in which the United States makes its demands—sometimes expressed as “red lines”—and the other side accepts those demands, with the task of the diplomats being to work out the details of implementation. Or, if the other side is not going along with that script and acceding to U.S. demands, then the United States has to exert more pressure on the other side until it does accede.

This is markedly different from the rest of the world's conception of negotiation, in which each side begins with positions that neither side will get or expects to get entirely, followed by a process of give-and-take and mutual concession to arrive at a compromise that meets the needs of each side enough that it is better for each than no agreement at all.

Americans' domestic experience with negotiation has been only a partial corrective to their warped view of international negotiation, and that experience has become even less of a corrective in recent times. The United States has a long history of labor-management negotiations that have determined wages and working conditions of many Americans. But it also was in the United States that there arose Boulwarism, an approach to labor relations named after Lemuel R. Boulware, a vice president of General Electric in the 1950s, consisting of management putting a single, inflexible, take-it-or-leave-it formula on the table and refusing to make any concessions to unions. Boulwarism was found to be an unfair labor practice, but with the decline over the past few decades of labor unions and of the significance of collective bargaining for American workers, it in effect has come to prevail in much of the American economy.

Domestic American politics have followed a similar trajectory. Once upon a time, give-and-take and finding compromises were the daily stuff of American politics, including as practiced on Capitol Hill. Now, in a coarsened and hyper-partisan environment, they are so rare as to be a news item when they do still occur. What is now standard is the imposition of red lines—maybe called something else, such as litmus tests or no-tax pledges—and a focus on what kinds of pressure or extortion could achieve total defeat of the other side. Domestic trends, political and economic, thus have reinforced American ways of thinking about bargaining that have further entrenched the idiosyncratic and unhelpful American view of international negotiations.

A consequence of this view is to regard concessions and compromise not as necessary parts of negotiation but instead as a source of shame or a badge of weakness. We have seen this amid the flak the Obama administration is taking from its political opponents regarding its handling of the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Among the criticisms, as if this really should count as criticism, have been observations that the United States has not rigidly held to what may have been earlier positions and demands.

[...]

A bargaining relationship may exist whether one party says so or not. Even Boulware was in a bargaining relationship with labor unions, despite trying to approach the issues at hand as if he weren't. Inflexibility is an approach toward bargaining, though not necessarily a good one; it is not a way of making the bargaining situation go away.

http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/the-odd-american-view-negotiation-13159___

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2015-08-29 22:29:53 (75 comments, 4 reshares, 11 +1s)Open 

As the author fails to understand, there is a difference between "I will not settle a moral peace with those I disagree with" and "I will not settle a moral peace on the backs of those harmed by policies which I could, in an entirely pragmatic sense, consent to."

A lack of moral peace does not mean that I get to be dishonest or discourteous, or that I have carte blanche to hate people who disagree with me. It just means that so long as people are hurt by the status quo, the desire to put things in a settled state doesn't come before the desire to change the status quo.

As the author fails to understand, there is a difference between "I will not settle a moral peace with those I disagree with" and "I will not settle a moral peace on the backs of those harmed by policies which I could, in an entirely pragmatic sense, consent to."

A lack of moral peace does not mean that I get to be dishonest or discourteous, or that I have carte blanche to hate people who disagree with me. It just means that so long as people are hurt by the status quo, the desire to put things in a settled state doesn't come before the desire to change the status quo.___

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2015-08-26 18:59:47 (8 comments, 6 reshares, 56 +1s)Open 

___

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2015-08-25 19:47:07 (12 comments, 6 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

Not the Onion: absolute monarchy attempts to quiet complaints about mistreatment of women by giving them the absolutely meaningless right to vote. 

Not the Onion: absolute monarchy attempts to quiet complaints about mistreatment of women by giving them the absolutely meaningless right to vote. ___

2015-08-25 19:17:46 (31 comments, 3 reshares, 31 +1s)Open 

Sexual Harassment for Nervous People: A Primer

Some brief notes for people who are worried about sexual harassment, from a guy who's seen a lot of sexual harassment cases:

(1) I'm worried that I'll accidentally cross the line. "

There are two lines here. The line where you're actually going to get successfully sued is pretty far from mistakes you might make accidentally. The line where you're going to get in trouble with HR is at "making your coworkers uncomfortable."

"Not making your coworkers uncomfortable" is not terribly difficult. Did you detect that a coworker might be uncomfortable about something? Well, stop. Are you bad at detecting whether people are uncomfortable? Okay, that's actually a hard problem.

If this is a thing that you deal with on a daily basis, (a) most people... more »

Sexual Harassment for Nervous People: A Primer

Some brief notes for people who are worried about sexual harassment, from a guy who's seen a lot of sexual harassment cases:

(1) I'm worried that I'll accidentally cross the line. "

There are two lines here. The line where you're actually going to get successfully sued is pretty far from mistakes you might make accidentally. The line where you're going to get in trouble with HR is at "making your coworkers uncomfortable."

"Not making your coworkers uncomfortable" is not terribly difficult. Did you detect that a coworker might be uncomfortable about something? Well, stop. Are you bad at detecting whether people are uncomfortable? Okay, that's actually a hard problem.

If this is a thing that you deal with on a daily basis, (a) most people already cut you some slack, whether or not they've told you about it, and (b) if you are not a jerk, then you set your own threshold of behavior at things you know won't make people uncomfortable.

(2) What about the most sensitive person in the world? What if I get in trouble with them?

Good faith goes a long way. For those of you that have met me in person, note that I have worked at an academic-feminist DV/SA agency, and -- yes -- my tendency toward black workplace humor was exactly the same then as it is today. I never felt like I needed to spend every waking moment worried about people misinterpreting my intentions.

That said, bad faith similarly goes a long way. Lying, making excuses that you know are bullshit, and not really trying to fix a problem after you've said you would can all make the rest of this advice irrelevant.

(3) What if I'm already there? What if someone has already told me that something makes them uncomfortable?

If someone tells you that something makes them uncomfortable, and doing that thing isn't critical, it's not hard to stop. If it's something you habitually do (and it isn't something horrible that you habitually do), you may slip up occasionally. This will probably be okay. Even if you're a member of ask culture, it's better if you tell people that you'd like to be reminded when you slip up.

(4) How can I be sure that I'm not already doing it accidentally?

If you're asking this question, then -- good!   

If you don't know what people's boundaries are, and you're worried you're crossing them, you can ask. It's sometimes weird to ask, and leaning on individual women as "Authoritative Voice of Universal Womanhood" isn't fine, but it won't be weird right now.  A quick "hey, am I fine, because I feel like I might not be?"", followed by an apology and an "I won't do that again," if the answer is "no," solves most concerns that fall short of making someone else feel unsafe.

(5) What if I'm a woman and I'm worried about men being too nervous around me?

To a first approximation, most men realize that no one is trying to trap them, punish them, or make them precisely conform to their idea of what a person should act like. 

This does have one caveat: sometimes, if a lawyer can find absolutely no other way to hold a serious employee-plaintiff suit open past 12(b)(6), a particularly unethical lawyer may plead hostile work environment. It's a very common "doorstop" claim in the typical parade-of-horribles at the bottom of a complaint, along with laches, reliance, estoppel, infliction of emotional distress, and the rest of the weak-but-difficult-to-kill claims.

That'll often keep the case on life support until discovery. The good news? Hostile work environment cases don't name any particular person, and in the vast majority of jurisdictions, this can only target your company, not you. It also doesn't have anything to do with you or what you did to anyone else.___

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2015-08-20 22:54:08 (110 comments, 5 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

I have basically never had any real problems in feminist spaces. So this piece never really rung true, until I realized that Scott had probably just stepped on a hornet's nest at some point in undergrad. His experiences with feminists, and with the left in general, are with a particular sort of bullying, boundary-policing jerk.

These exist in all movements. But they become increasingly common as the ethical rigor demanded by a particular movement increases. And they are not really policing the outgroup: the outgroup is collateral damage. They are generally policing the ingroup.

What people inside the movement won't tell him, for fear of attracting their ire, is that the boundary-police inside the feminist spaces are far more prone to bully other women than men. They want an ideological DMZ around the very small pure zone they inhabit, and not to engage more broadly with... more »

I have basically never had any real problems in feminist spaces. So this piece never really rung true, until I realized that Scott had probably just stepped on a hornet's nest at some point in undergrad. His experiences with feminists, and with the left in general, are with a particular sort of bullying, boundary-policing jerk.

These exist in all movements. But they become increasingly common as the ethical rigor demanded by a particular movement increases. And they are not really policing the outgroup: the outgroup is collateral damage. They are generally policing the ingroup.

What people inside the movement won't tell him, for fear of attracting their ire, is that the boundary-police inside the feminist spaces are far more prone to bully other women than men. They want an ideological DMZ around the very small pure zone they inhabit, and not to engage more broadly with anything else. They are recognizable largely because they write only in the genres "I don't like what's on TV," "apply more force to my enemies," "women wanting things which I personally dislike are oppressing me," and "innocuous things which I have an aesthetic objection to are morally repugnant."

Somehow, despite basing much of his life on statistical reasoning, he appears not to realize that his particular objections are, while common in terms of word output, are not particularly common among feminists. This is because if you shoot directly for places discussing the internal politics of feminism, as he does, you will find all of these people, because policing what other women believe is their primary agenda.

Then you will feel attacked, because you will have been attacked. But you will not have been attacked because you are a member of an outgroup: you will have been attacked because you are an insufficiently compliant member of the ingroup, and because you cannot be allowed to have any influence over the ingroup DMZ.

(1) Some people will disagree with me here, but to make it very clear what I'm referring to, I'm basically referring to TERFs and most of IBTP's regulars, plus basically all of the community in Heart's orbit. Cathy Brennan is a good exemplar. (Can we all just agree that Cathy Brennan exists, and shouldn't?)___

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2015-08-20 22:13:50 (6 comments, 4 reshares, 19 +1s)Open 

John Michael Greer:

It’s not ethics but pragmatics that I want to discuss, because whether or not revolutionary violence is justified in some abstract moral sense is far less important right now than whether it’s an effective response to the situation we’re in. That’s not a question being asked, much less answered, by the people who are encouraging environmental and climate change activists to consider violence against the system.

Violence is not a panacea. It’s a tool, and like any other tool, it’s well suited to certain tasks and utterly useless for others. Political violence in particular is a surprisingly brittle and limited tool. 

[...]

Pay attention to the history of successful revolutions and it’s not hard to figure out how to carry out political violence—and far more importantly, how not to do so. [...] The first and most essential step inthe transformati... more »

John Michael Greer:

It’s not ethics but pragmatics that I want to discuss, because whether or not revolutionary violence is justified in some abstract moral sense is far less important right now than whether it’s an effective response to the situation we’re in. That’s not a question being asked, much less answered, by the people who are encouraging environmental and climate change activists to consider violence against the system.

Violence is not a panacea. It’s a tool, and like any other tool, it’s well suited to certain tasks and utterly useless for others. Political violence in particular is a surprisingly brittle and limited tool. 

[...]

Pay attention to the history of successful revolutions and it’s not hard to figure out how to carry out political violence—and far more importantly, how not to do so. [...] The first and most essential step in the transformation of any society is the delegitimization of the existing order. That doesn’t involve violence, and in fact violence at this first stage of the process is catastrophically counterproductive [...] The second step is political, and consists of building a network of alliances with existing and potential power centers and pressure groups that might be willing to support revolutionary change. [...] Effective revolutionaries know that in order to overthrow the existing order of society, they have to put together a comparable network that will back them against the existing order, and grow it to the point that it starts attracting key power centers away from the network of the existing order. That’s a challenge, but not an impossible one. In any troubled society, there are always plenty of potential power centers that have been excluded from the existing order and its feeding trough, and are thus interested in backing a change that will give them the power they want and don’t have. [...] Here again, as in the first stage of the process, violence is a hindrance rather than a help, and it’s best if the subject never even comes up for discussion; assembling the necessary network of alliances is much easier when nobody has yet had to face up to the tremendous risks involved in revolutionary violence.

By the time the endgame arrives, therefore, you’ve got an existing order that no longer commands the respect and loyalty of most of the population, and a substantial network of pressure groups and potential power centers supporting a revolutionary agenda. Once the situation reaches that stage, the question of how to arrange the transfer of power from the old regime to the new one is a matter of tactics, not strategy. Violence is only one of the available options, and again, it’s by no means always the most useful one. There are many ways to break the existing order’s last fingernail grip on the institutions of power, once that grip has been loosened by the steps already mentioned.

What happens, on the other hand, to groups that don’t do the necessary work first, and turn to violence anyway? Here again, history has plenty to say about that, and the short form is that they lose.

[...]

For some reason, for most of the last century, the left has been unable or unwilling to learn that lesson. What’s happened instead, over and over again, is that a movement pursuing radical change starts out convinced that the existing order of society already lacks popular legitimacy, and so fails to make a case that appeals to anybody outside its own ranks. Having failed at the first step, it tries to pressure existing power centers and pressure groups into supporting its agenda, rather than building a competing network around its own agenda, and gets nowhere. Finally, having failed at both preliminary steps, it either crumples completely or engages in pointless outbursts of violence against the system, which are promptly and brutally crushed.

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-last-refuge-of-incompetent.html___

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2015-08-20 17:23:36 (5 comments, 3 reshares, 30 +1s)Open 

Public service announcement: the person in the Burning Man medical tent who is screaming about being covered in a living carpet of writhing bugs is doing so for an entirely different reason than the analogous guy last year.

Public service announcement: the person in the Burning Man medical tent who is screaming about being covered in a living carpet of writhing bugs is doing so for an entirely different reason than the analogous guy last year.___

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2015-08-20 06:09:43 (14 comments, 1 reshares, 12 +1s)Open 

"I'm gonna have to scare the Pope because it's the only thing," Trump said. "The Pope, I hope, can only be scared by God. But the truth is -- you know, if you look at what's going on -- they better hope that capitalism works, because it's the only thing we have right now. And it's a great thing when it works properly."

God help us. 

"I'm gonna have to scare the Pope because it's the only thing," Trump said. "The Pope, I hope, can only be scared by God. But the truth is -- you know, if you look at what's going on -- they better hope that capitalism works, because it's the only thing we have right now. And it's a great thing when it works properly."

God help us. ___

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2015-08-20 03:49:53 (20 comments, 6 reshares, 31 +1s)Open 

Simple answer: nothing at all.

Unless they're targeting a genetic pathway that's highly conserved, there is literally no chance that a RNAi pesticide could hurt anything that's not closely related to the target organism. It is conceivable that you could end up targeting something which exists in humans -- but we have sequenced the entire human genome. Take the proposed RNAi, check it against the human genome in order to make sure that there's no active gene with the same sequence, and launch. 

You probably don't have to check against mammals to be safe. I mean, you probably should. But I would be comfortable double-checking that the relevant sequence isn't so highly conserved that it exists in both arthropods and vertebrates.

Simple answer: nothing at all.

Unless they're targeting a genetic pathway that's highly conserved, there is literally no chance that a RNAi pesticide could hurt anything that's not closely related to the target organism. It is conceivable that you could end up targeting something which exists in humans -- but we have sequenced the entire human genome. Take the proposed RNAi, check it against the human genome in order to make sure that there's no active gene with the same sequence, and launch. 

You probably don't have to check against mammals to be safe. I mean, you probably should. But I would be comfortable double-checking that the relevant sequence isn't so highly conserved that it exists in both arthropods and vertebrates.___

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2015-08-20 01:41:13 (38 comments, 1 reshares, 16 +1s)Open 

Trivium: Idaho is the only US state which has a law explicitly criminalizing cannibalism. 

Trivium: Idaho is the only US state which has a law explicitly criminalizing cannibalism. ___

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2015-08-19 21:23:35 (11 comments, 2 reshares, 19 +1s)Open 

Good god. The management fees being siphoned out of Yale's endowment are unconscionable. Giving money to Yale is unconscionable, too, but -- good lord, 6%?

It's almost enough to make me wonder whether the relationship is a collusive one with Yale alumni.

Good god. The management fees being siphoned out of Yale's endowment are unconscionable. Giving money to Yale is unconscionable, too, but -- good lord, 6%?

It's almost enough to make me wonder whether the relationship is a collusive one with Yale alumni.___

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2015-08-19 17:07:11 (0 comments, 1 reshares, 9 +1s)Open 

Google published a paper today about the evolution of our networking infrastructure over the past decade. I've gotten to be quite intimate with these systems, thanks to spending much of that time working on our search and storage infrastructure, and the differences are profound, to say the least.

The article quotes +Amin Vahdat as describing what life was like in the earlier era: "there were painful tradeoffs with careful data locality and placement of servers connected to the same top of rack switch versus correlated failures caused by a single switch failure." I cannot begin to describe the pain in the ass that this was: our high-capacity search stack (the part I was responsible for) was by far the most aggressive user of the network, and each cluster's deployment had to be carefully planned on a per-rack basis, to manage our use of bandwidth within and across racks, and to... more »

Google published a paper today about the evolution of our networking infrastructure over the past decade. I've gotten to be quite intimate with these systems, thanks to spending much of that time working on our search and storage infrastructure, and the differences are profound, to say the least.

The article quotes +Amin Vahdat as describing what life was like in the earlier era: "there were painful tradeoffs with careful data locality and placement of servers connected to the same top of rack switch versus correlated failures caused by a single switch failure." I cannot begin to describe the pain in the ass that this was: our high-capacity search stack (the part I was responsible for) was by far the most aggressive user of the network, and each cluster's deployment had to be carefully planned on a per-rack basis, to manage our use of bandwidth within and across racks, and to optimize for survivability in case a single rack switch failed.

To give you a sense of the PITA: (this will make sense only to computer scientists) I wrote our standard implementation of simulated annealing... because I needed it for the software that would figure out which tasks to put on which machines.

And even with those amazing systems, we could knock clusters over in a moment. To do a full restart of a search cluster (reading the index from in-datacenter storage from scratch) in less than 48 hours required shutting down all other jobs in the datacenter, because it would use up all of the internal bandwidth. 

If you ever wondered why search over giant corpora is a hard business...

Cross-datacenter networking remains a hard problem, even with these advances, because while long-haul bandwidth has grown tremendously over the years, storage capacity has grown even faster. This is why a good mental analogue for the design of planet-scale storage systems is freight logistics: even with 747's crossing the globe, warehouses are still much bigger. 

I obviously can't tell all the stories, but these papers are a remarkable chance to see what the cutting edge of networking infrastructure actually looks like. Those who are interested in such matters, enjoy!___

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2015-08-18 19:49:15 (1 comments, 0 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

Hurray, Afrofuturism!

Read an excerpt of my forthcoming novella "Binti" here. It's the first story that I've written set in outer space and it features a girl whose people are based on the Himba people of Namibia. ___Hurray, Afrofuturism!

2015-08-18 19:23:09 (12 comments, 3 reshares, 69 +1s)Open 

As many of you know, I used to be a social worker.

When forced to go to someone's door whom I'd known for months, and tell them they had to sleep on the streets, I'd almost always be miserable for days. When I passed along paperwork to be signed by someone else, approving precisely the same act, I felt fine.

This is despite the fact that almost everyone whom I evicted personally was more deserving of being evicted -- selling meth to kids or whatever -- than anyone whom I evicted by proxy. And while I always tried to summon up the right attitude toward these proxy evictions (or, well, not-quite-proxy evictions), it never quite came. Not precisely in the same way. 

As the scale increases, even your own acts begin to abstract down to statistics. And while it's not quite possible to attribute everything to a failure of moral imagination, it certainly possible to... more »

As many of you know, I used to be a social worker.

When forced to go to someone's door whom I'd known for months, and tell them they had to sleep on the streets, I'd almost always be miserable for days. When I passed along paperwork to be signed by someone else, approving precisely the same act, I felt fine.

This is despite the fact that almost everyone whom I evicted personally was more deserving of being evicted -- selling meth to kids or whatever -- than anyone whom I evicted by proxy. And while I always tried to summon up the right attitude toward these proxy evictions (or, well, not-quite-proxy evictions), it never quite came. Not precisely in the same way. 

As the scale increases, even your own acts begin to abstract down to statistics. And while it's not quite possible to attribute everything to a failure of moral imagination, it certainly possible to attribute something to that. Especially when acts at that scale become discretionary.

Because it's so important not to give yourself a pass when your concerns are abstract, I spent a lot of time ruminating over what I'd done. And people would point out -- rightly -- that rumination doesn't help you solve trolley problems: if you can predict the outcome of your action, you can make a clear utilitarian choice. 

But there are no trolley problems in the real world. In the hypothetical, the decision space is mapped out for you: left, Bob dies; right, five people die. And that's the entire moral universe we get to live in for the duration of the question.

In the real world, you never learn the results of the counterfactual. And you are presented with a decision, but if the decision is binary, it's only because you haven't thought out all the consequences. The decision space is always open to things which you had not yet considered: factors prior to the point of decision, and consequences after. 

Uncertainty should never stop you from making the decision. In many decisions of this sort, it shouldn't even necessarily delay your decision. But that sort of uncertainty helps you summon up enough attention to consider what you have done, and what you may soon have to do. For anyone with any sort of moral sense whatsoever, making difficult ethical decisions, this is unpleasant.

It's possible both to believe you made the best decision under the circumstances, and that the decision was unjustifiable nonetheless. There's no conflict there, if you are willing to investigate what exactly went wrong. ___

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2015-08-17 21:27:32 (16 comments, 1 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

After trying to reread this mess several times in a row, and reading +Lea Kissner's very lucid eye-rolling about it, I think there's some very basic epistemic confusion at the bottom of TechCrunch's dumb attack on one-time pads. To explain: 

(1) Presume a pad of a given length, where every pad configuration is as likely as any other. As in: we know that it's a good one-time pad.

(2) Presume a human attacker that has no knowledge of the cryptographic method used, but who prioritizes what appear to be "simple" encryption schemes rather than complex ones. 

(3) Presume a pad which appears, naively, to be such a "simple" scheme -- one which (for instance) results in a the same cryptext as applying a simple Caesar cypher.

(4) By attempting to reverse simple cyphers before moving on to complex ones, hew... more »

+TechCrunch, this is downright embarrassing. No, you have not disproved the security of the one-time pad. Not even vaguely.

A one-time pad is a long random string (originally of letters, but these days generally done with bits). By "random" I mean "every possible string is picked with the same probability". Then I add it to whatever I want to encrypt and get an encrypted ciphertext.

So let's try to break that ciphertext. Let's say the ciphertext is GSEUGFEGFQ. Can you guess the plaintext? No, because the plaintext could be any string of letters of that length. Not only could it be, but it could be with equal probability, as far as the cryptosystem is concerned. Each random key will map that ciphertext to one particular plaintext.

But what about the fact that some of the plaintexts are, from an English-text point of view, extremely unlikely? No problem! Let's break this down to the simplest possible example.: Y vs N. I choose a random (very short) key and obtain a ciphertext of A. You know for sure that one of those messages was encrypted, so you can figure out that I must have used either key B or M. Can you figure out any more? Nope. Each of those keys was equally likely. You have gained exactly zero information. That is why the one-time pad works.

All the bits about Caesar ciphers and Vingere ciphers are just bogus. Those are easy to crack because the key is used over and over again, giving us more chances to narrow down the key. The one-time pad works because it's used one time. It's also why we don't use it often; it's a pain to find a way to securely distribute as much key as message!___After trying to reread this mess several times in a row, and reading +Lea Kissner's very lucid eye-rolling about it, I think there's some very basic epistemic confusion at the bottom of TechCrunch's dumb attack on one-time pads. To explain: 

(1) Presume a pad of a given length, where every pad configuration is as likely as any other. As in: we know that it's a good one-time pad.

(2) Presume a human attacker that has no knowledge of the cryptographic method used, but who prioritizes what appear to be "simple" encryption schemes rather than complex ones. 

(3) Presume a pad which appears, naively, to be such a "simple" scheme -- one which (for instance) results in a the same cryptext as applying a simple Caesar cypher.

(4) By attempting to reverse simple cyphers before moving on to complex ones, he will successfully produce the plaintext the defender encrypted.

Does this mean that one-time pads are weak? No! Suppose the counterfactual: that an immortal attacker is told beforehand that he is attacking a one-time pad. After entering a particular key which produces a comprehensible plaintext, the attacker is asked to judge whether he has produced a genuine plaintext. 

A rational attacker will answer "no." It is no more likely that any given comprehensible plaintext is the actual comprehensible plaintext, because any comprehensible plaintext of a given length can be produced by applying the corresponding pad. The probability of arriving at a given plaintext result is equal to (1/the number of possible comprehensible texts of a given length.)

Which means that the hypothetical attacker who enters a "simple" key and receives the correct result, not knowing that he is attempting to attack a one-time pad, has an unjustified true belief that he has successfully attacked a Caesar cypher rather than having successfully guessed the pad of an one-time pad.

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2015-08-17 20:07:33 (25 comments, 3 reshares, 40 +1s)Open 

This is such a weird map. Some irregularities:

(1) The Anasazi were extinct in 1492. So were the Olmec. 

(2) The Apache probably came in from the northeast, somewhere around Kansas. They never occupied all of the territory attributed to them somewhere around there. 

(3) The Crow are from Ohio. They were pushed out of Ohio after their traditional enemies became involved in the fur trade.

(4) The Aztec empire did not extend much further than Lake Texcoco. They were suzerains of a lot of Mexico, but most of the people within their sphere of influence were not Nahuatl-speaking or directly administered.

(5) The Chinook did not occupy much of the territory attributed to them. The land attributed to them on the map seems to be the territory they took slaves from.

(6) Wait, what? British Columbia wasn'ta... more »

America Pre White people. ___This is such a weird map. Some irregularities:

(1) The Anasazi were extinct in 1492. So were the Olmec. 

(2) The Apache probably came in from the northeast, somewhere around Kansas. They never occupied all of the territory attributed to them somewhere around there. 

(3) The Crow are from Ohio. They were pushed out of Ohio after their traditional enemies became involved in the fur trade.

(4) The Aztec empire did not extend much further than Lake Texcoco. They were suzerains of a lot of Mexico, but most of the people within their sphere of influence were not Nahuatl-speaking or directly administered.

(5) The Chinook did not occupy much of the territory attributed to them. The land attributed to them on the map seems to be the territory they took slaves from.

(6) Wait, what? British Columbia wasn't all Haida. Where are the Nootka and Tsimshan? The Coast Salish? These are all huge, important cultures. 

As far as I can tell, this map is just a huge mess. Much of the territory is roughly assigned to the right people, but the amount of territory is essentially random. 

(Fixed.)

2015-08-17 17:48:56 (7 comments, 3 reshares, 25 +1s)Open 

From In the Pipeline, an unusual hiccup for a clinical trial of an anti-cancer drug: their drug was so effective at killing leukemia cells that the proteinaceous debris was causing kidney failure. 

Not the worst problem you can have.

From In the Pipeline, an unusual hiccup for a clinical trial of an anti-cancer drug: their drug was so effective at killing leukemia cells that the proteinaceous debris was causing kidney failure. 

Not the worst problem you can have.___

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2015-08-16 03:16:07 (11 comments, 12 reshares, 61 +1s)Open 

Wow!  Fifteen years ago, the US government decided to force all clinical trials to register their trial design and analytical methods before collecting the data.  Recently, a study was conducted to analyze whether this requirement had affected the outcomes of clinical trials.

"The study found that in a sample of 55 large trials testing heart-disease treatments, 57% of those published before 2000 reported positive effects from the treatments. But that figure plunged to just 8% in studies that were conducted after 2000." 

That's very strong evidence that scientists were either deluding themselves or committing outright fraud in order to get published, and that the requirement to register was sorely needed.

Wow!  Fifteen years ago, the US government decided to force all clinical trials to register their trial design and analytical methods before collecting the data.  Recently, a study was conducted to analyze whether this requirement had affected the outcomes of clinical trials.

"The study found that in a sample of 55 large trials testing heart-disease treatments, 57% of those published before 2000 reported positive effects from the treatments. But that figure plunged to just 8% in studies that were conducted after 2000." 

That's very strong evidence that scientists were either deluding themselves or committing outright fraud in order to get published, and that the requirement to register was sorely needed.___

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2015-08-13 19:02:31 (19 comments, 3 reshares, 28 +1s)Open 

Obliquely, because this does relate to my day job:

Societies often conclude that certain facts about the outside world are constants. The police cannot see through walls. Maintaining social ties is difficult over a certain distance. Strong inferences cannot be made from trails of weak evidence. The past is transient, not permanent.

When those putative constants become variables, the whole system surrounding them needs to be renegotiated, and it is not entirely clear where the new barriers -- policy barriers, not technical barriers -- should stand. It is in some ways impossible to recover the full value of the technical impossibilities which propped up large swaths of our culture, but it isn't entirely so. 

As people concerned about privacy, we're still fumbling toward a complete vocabulary to describe what has happened over the past twenty years. Describing conduct... more »

Obliquely, because this does relate to my day job:

Societies often conclude that certain facts about the outside world are constants. The police cannot see through walls. Maintaining social ties is difficult over a certain distance. Strong inferences cannot be made from trails of weak evidence. The past is transient, not permanent.

When those putative constants become variables, the whole system surrounding them needs to be renegotiated, and it is not entirely clear where the new barriers -- policy barriers, not technical barriers -- should stand. It is in some ways impossible to recover the full value of the technical impossibilities which propped up large swaths of our culture, but it isn't entirely so. 

As people concerned about privacy, we're still fumbling toward a complete vocabulary to describe what has happened over the past twenty years. Describing conduct as "public" is not always fully capable of alleviating privacy concerns -- what about the frictionless way in which the past has become discoverable to anyone who cares to look? To what extent should we simulate the technical barriers which implicitly created a horizon of discoverability? Should we at all?

We don't have answers to that yet. We won't for quite some time, and I doubt that we will ever fully agree. ___

2015-08-12 21:07:41 (30 comments, 1 reshares, 3 +1s)Open 

I'm busy this week (and the next, and the next) with a whole bunch of privacy reviews. Does anyone want to write a history of medieval Persian, Turkish, and Kurdish ethno-religious communist movements for me? Topics to cover: Mazdakism, Qarmatians, Khurramites, and Qizbilashis. 

Alternatively, just tell me something that you know that I don't. 

I'm busy this week (and the next, and the next) with a whole bunch of privacy reviews. Does anyone want to write a history of medieval Persian, Turkish, and Kurdish ethno-religious communist movements for me? Topics to cover: Mazdakism, Qarmatians, Khurramites, and Qizbilashis. 

Alternatively, just tell me something that you know that I don't. ___

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2015-08-11 22:08:01 (18 comments, 5 reshares, 27 +1s)Open 

I expected there would be backlash.  I didn't expect it would be this bizarre.

But thus, the point is proven again that Conservatives defend whatever happens to be the status quo, even if it's actually something new, over what is more traditional, and often times, beneficial.  Gendered toys are a pretty recent phenomenon, promoted by toy companies so they could sell more stuff.  Is there anything gendered about a hoolahoop or a squirt gun?  There is if you put Frozen princesses or Iron Man on them--though even then, they're only gendered as a marketing contrivance.  So if you want to protect the innocence of children, let them play with toys without forcing them into arbitrary marketing buckets.

I expected there would be backlash.  I didn't expect it would be this bizarre.

But thus, the point is proven again that Conservatives defend whatever happens to be the status quo, even if it's actually something new, over what is more traditional, and often times, beneficial.  Gendered toys are a pretty recent phenomenon, promoted by toy companies so they could sell more stuff.  Is there anything gendered about a hoolahoop or a squirt gun?  There is if you put Frozen princesses or Iron Man on them--though even then, they're only gendered as a marketing contrivance.  So if you want to protect the innocence of children, let them play with toys without forcing them into arbitrary marketing buckets.___

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2015-08-11 20:53:02 (22 comments, 1 reshares, 12 +1s)Open 

I want to take you down a rabbit hole.

The laws regarding sex work are complicated. But more than that, they are often created and enforced not to achieve their stated purpose, but to help the political aspirations of the people behind them -- generally at the expense of the most vulnerable.

It's through a path like this that Thomas Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, has become one of the most significant international players in porn on the Internet. Dart has made his war on the sex industry the cornerstone of his long-term campaign for Mayor of Chicago; this started out by taking up a previous campaign by Connecticut AG Blumenthal (who used it to become a Senator) and New York AG Cuomo (who used it to become Governor), and significantly extending it.

Part of this campaign is local, creating mazes of new courts and systems through which sex workers can be... more »

I want to take you down a rabbit hole.

The laws regarding sex work are complicated. But more than that, they are often created and enforced not to achieve their stated purpose, but to help the political aspirations of the people behind them -- generally at the expense of the most vulnerable.

It's through a path like this that Thomas Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, has become one of the most significant international players in porn on the Internet. Dart has made his war on the sex industry the cornerstone of his long-term campaign for Mayor of Chicago; this started out by taking up a previous campaign by Connecticut AG Blumenthal (who used it to become a Senator) and New York AG Cuomo (who used it to become Governor), and significantly extending it.

Part of this campaign is local, creating mazes of new courts and systems through which sex workers can be prosecuted. Part of it is in creating "diversion programs" through which prosecutions can be replaced with "treatment" -- but the emphasis there is very much on the quotes, as not only does it not treat anything, but it imposes costs on the people caught up in it which can be as high as those of conviction.

But the part with global reach has been his campaign against backpage.com, a classified ads site. When the courts ruled that he couldn't simply enjoin them from advertising anything that had to do with sex (that pesky First Amendment thing), he instead organized a back-room ploy to pressure Mastercard and Visa to break off their relationships with Backpage. Simultaneously, he's working to get Section 230 repealed.

For those unfamiliar with it, 230 (that is, 47 USC §230) is one of the key laws that hold the Internet together: it says that if you say something illegal online, you're the one who's liable, not the company that runs the online service. This is something so basic to how the Internet stays running that you rarely think about it -- could you imagine if Facebook were legally liable every time someone said something defamatory or threatening about someone else in a comment? -- but it gets in the way of Dart and his colleagues, who want to criminally charge and/or sue Backpage out of existence because it hosts ads which aren't legal in his jurisdiction.

Dart's attacks on the credit card companies have implications far beyond "full-service" sex work: they, as well as major banks, are under increasing pressure not to have any contact not only with anything that talks about sex at all (be it porn, or sex toy sellers, or sex educators), but even groups like "people who have once worked in the sex industry," who find their accounts and their businesses' accounts closed unappealably. 

The rabbit hole here goes very deep: Chicago politics is infamously intricate (and yes, that is a euphemism). But if you use the Internet anywhere in the world, this particular rabbit hole may shape what you can see online.

If you want to see what lies inside, click through to this article. +A.V. Flox has produced a meticulously detailed walk through the strange world of Dart, Blumenthal, Backpage, and many others, as you discover just how much power a relatively unknown local official can have over the entire world.___

2015-08-11 16:54:18 (10 comments, 1 reshares, 13 +1s)Open 

Egad.

Oracle's Mary Ann Davidson appears to be the Donald Trump of Chief Security Officers.

https://web.archive.org/web/20150811052336/https://blogs.oracle.com/maryanndavidson/entry/no_you_really_can_t

When I saw this yesterday I honestly wasn't sure if the blog had been hacked or something. The original has since been deleted but consensus now seems to be that it was real.___Egad.

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2015-08-11 03:45:41 (11 comments, 2 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

Huh. A whole bunch of reporters were arrested in Ferguson last year. Wesley Lowery was the only one charged. What makes him different? (HINT: It's exactly what you'd expect.)

Huh. A whole bunch of reporters were arrested in Ferguson last year. Wesley Lowery was the only one charged. What makes him different? (HINT: It's exactly what you'd expect.)___

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2015-08-10 22:51:54 (25 comments, 20 reshares, 102 +1s)Open 

 This looks crankish, but it really works.

My computer would deadlock every time it tried to shut down. So I prepared a 500x homeopathic dilution of malachite in deionized water. While trying to shut down, I poured it directly into my power supply's fan, and my computer shut down immediately.

 This looks crankish, but it really works.

My computer would deadlock every time it tried to shut down. So I prepared a 500x homeopathic dilution of malachite in deionized water. While trying to shut down, I poured it directly into my power supply's fan, and my computer shut down immediately.___

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2015-08-10 18:45:18 (27 comments, 21 reshares, 63 +1s)Open 

Uh oh. If you have a HTC device, now's the time to rotate your fingerprints. 

oh wait you can't do that

maybe biometrics are a bad idea

Uh oh. If you have a HTC device, now's the time to rotate your fingerprints. 

oh wait you can't do that

maybe biometrics are a bad idea___

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2015-08-10 18:42:26 (0 comments, 0 reshares, 10 +1s)Open 

If one good thing has come out of the past year, it's that racial inequality and racial violence in the US is receiving the attention it deserves. Almost all of the presidential candidates, on both sides of the aisle, have come out with statements of some sort on the matter, and I'm watching these with great interest: I suspect that these will end up telling us more about the candidates' real positions on a wide range of things, and how they would actually run the country, than almost any other subject.

The article below specifically mentions Sanders, as he's recently come out with the most detailed response by far; however, it goes on to give some overview of what's going on across the board.

I'm going to be watching the detailed analyses from people who have really specialized in this matter, and whose opinions I value -- people like DeRay Mckesson, Bree... more »

If one good thing has come out of the past year, it's that racial inequality and racial violence in the US is receiving the attention it deserves. Almost all of the presidential candidates, on both sides of the aisle, have come out with statements of some sort on the matter, and I'm watching these with great interest: I suspect that these will end up telling us more about the candidates' real positions on a wide range of things, and how they would actually run the country, than almost any other subject.

The article below specifically mentions Sanders, as he's recently come out with the most detailed response by far; however, it goes on to give some overview of what's going on across the board.

I'm going to be watching the detailed analyses from people who have really specialized in this matter, and whose opinions I value -- people like DeRay Mckesson, Bree Newsome, and their colleagues -- as they come out, since I suspect they'll be better-positioned to spot bullshit, good ideas, and bad ideas than anyone else.___

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2015-08-10 16:58:25 (58 comments, 4 reshares, 14 +1s)Open 

On the one hand, I can see why they're doing this. On the other hand, it's not entirely fair. On the gripping hand, fairness to political candidates never supersedes important issues.

The President has an extremely limited capacity to do anything about police violence. The Justice Department can look into, and occasionally impose sanctions on, individual police departments, but the real action is in mayoral offices, county prosecutors, and gubenatorial races. 

Do you think Obama is doing enough? I don't. But without the deaths of ~3 Supreme Court justices -- not all conservative justices -- the President and Justice Department are extraordinarily constrained in terms of what they can do. Presidential statements on police violence are only marginally more useful than city counsel statements on the Iraq war: there's no direct administrative authority, and the Justice... more »

On the one hand, I can see why they're doing this. On the other hand, it's not entirely fair. On the gripping hand, fairness to political candidates never supersedes important issues.

The President has an extremely limited capacity to do anything about police violence. The Justice Department can look into, and occasionally impose sanctions on, individual police departments, but the real action is in mayoral offices, county prosecutors, and gubenatorial races. 

Do you think Obama is doing enough? I don't. But without the deaths of ~3 Supreme Court justices -- not all conservative justices -- the President and Justice Department are extraordinarily constrained in terms of what they can do. Presidential statements on police violence are only marginally more useful than city counsel statements on the Iraq war: there's no direct administrative authority, and the Justice Department is only useful when a police department is literally committing crimes from which they're not immunized by standards which apply only to law enforcement officers. The only real ammunition is the 14th Amendment.

If you look at the tactical discussion by the Seattle activists who did this, their strategy was this: to kill a presidential campaign just to demonstrate that the movement can kill a presidential campaign. Take someone out to show that they have to be respected by whoever the Democratic nominee is. 

I don't necessarily object to that. Presidential politics is strictly adult swim. So is activism. You can't expect that things will be fair, or that you can achieve anything meaningful without making things uncomfortable for potential allies. But I can't necessarily get on board with that presidential candidates can do anything other than make false promises. 

(It also bears noting that this is actually less hopeless than it seems! Black folks plus strong allies gets you to... what, maybe 25% of the American electorate? That won't win a presidential election. But it'll win virtually every mayoral, prosecutorial, or off-year gubenatorial race in America. At least in diverse places. Which is where black lives need to matter most.)___

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2015-08-09 07:03:07 (46 comments, 7 reshares, 45 +1s)Open 

Fox News is a strange beast. It is a conservative advocacy organization run by a longtime Republican operative. It is a profit-hungry cable network run by a talented media executive. And it is a news operation that employs some talented journalists who want to be taken seriously by their peers.

These missions conflict with each other. Fox News wants the Republican Party to win elections but it also wants American politics to be a ridiculous circus that fires up conservative voters. It employs hacks like Steve Doocy and Sean Hannity but also hosts people like Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, Shepard Smith, and Chris Wallace who, while they might be conservative, pride themselves on actually being journalists.

And what makes all this harder is that Fox News is tremendously powerful. It is arguably more powerful in shaping the opinions of GOP voters than the official Republican Party apparatus.... more »

Fox News is a strange beast. It is a conservative advocacy organization run by a longtime Republican operative. It is a profit-hungry cable network run by a talented media executive. And it is a news operation that employs some talented journalists who want to be taken seriously by their peers.

These missions conflict with each other. Fox News wants the Republican Party to win elections but it also wants American politics to be a ridiculous circus that fires up conservative voters. It employs hacks like Steve Doocy and Sean Hannity but also hosts people like Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, Shepard Smith, and Chris Wallace who, while they might be conservative, pride themselves on actually being journalists.

And what makes all this harder is that Fox News is tremendously powerful. It is arguably more powerful in shaping the opinions of GOP voters than the official Republican Party apparatus. It's no accident that the first Republican debate was held on Fox News. Of course it was. The Republican Party needs Fox News more than Fox News needs the the Republican Party — something the GOP learned when Fox devoted endless airtime to pumping the rise of the Tea Party.___

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2015-08-07 18:29:22 (87 comments, 14 reshares, 37 +1s)Open 

This seems promising, but not for the reasons the authors think.

We have plenty of evidence that Chomsky isn't correct about there being a single language organ which produces a single universal grammar. Piraha isn't arbitrarily recursive; pidgins, creoles, and homesigns don't comply with X-Bar grammar; tonal languages are bifrontotemporal rather than localized in Broca's and Wernicke's areas; signed languages require parietal activation as well as frontotemporal activation. 

In addition, the trend in human evolution seems to have been toward greater neurological generalization, not specialization. Early in infant development, the frontal lobes suppress almost all of the child's useful instincts -- suckling, grasping, stepping, swimming, and a lot of vocalizations. If there were some low-level, instinctual language-production system, we would expect it to bes... more »

This seems promising, but not for the reasons the authors think.

We have plenty of evidence that Chomsky isn't correct about there being a single language organ which produces a single universal grammar. Piraha isn't arbitrarily recursive; pidgins, creoles, and homesigns don't comply with X-Bar grammar; tonal languages are bifrontotemporal rather than localized in Broca's and Wernicke's areas; signed languages require parietal activation as well as frontotemporal activation. 

In addition, the trend in human evolution seems to have been toward greater neurological generalization, not specialization. Early in infant development, the frontal lobes suppress almost all of the child's useful instincts -- suckling, grasping, stepping, swimming, and a lot of vocalizations. If there were some low-level, instinctual language-production system, we would expect it to be suppressed as well. Language development in children follows the same general trajectory, starting at almost precisely the same time, as abstract thinking.

I still find this plausible. Even though it seems more likely that language in humans results from the exaptation of premotor areas related to the mouth and throat (this is what human-variant FOXP2 seems to do) rather than the independent development of new motor capacities, all human languages -- including human languages not in contact with each other -- have certain deep regularities. 

These regularities are probably mathematical rather than neurological. If they are, this does a lot of things: it justifies Chomsky's a priori arguments for language universals, renders the neurological differences between speakers of different languages irrelevant, and explains the clear differences  between "young" languages (pidgins, creoles, homesigns) and "mature" languages.* Make that argument, and I'm a Chomskyan. Leave it behind, and I'm strongly on the side of the statistical-learning partisans. 

* To explain: Young languages have a lower bitrate, inefficient modifiers (independent tense markers, reduplication as a sign of pluralization or intensification), and a not-fully-generalized pattern of embedded clauses. This has alternately been a thorn in Chomskyans' side and a strong argument for the validity of his hypothesis. ___

2015-08-06 19:37:03 (8 comments, 1 reshares, 30 +1s)Open 

Sadly, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho did not make the Fox News debate cutoff, leaving Trump open to capturing that entire voting bloc.

Sadly, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho did not make the Fox News debate cutoff, leaving Trump open to capturing that entire voting bloc.___

2015-08-06 04:33:44 (46 comments, 1 reshares, 18 +1s)Open 

Wow. Fucking what? The National Panhellenic Conference -- the umbrella group covering fraternity organizations -- is pushing the  Safe Campus Act. Which led me to look up the language. From the text of the bill:

If an individual provides a notification to the institution under this para graph with respect to an allegation, the institution may not initiate or otherwise carry out any institutional disciplinary proceeding with respect to the allegation, including imposing interim measures described in subsection (c).

If I'm reading this correctly, this means that no university may impose final disciplinary measures against anyone found responsible for rape until they are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, in court, to have committed the crime of rape as defined in that jurisdiction. This makes the standard for imposing noncriminal sanctions for one of the most serious crimes in the... more »

Wow. Fucking what? The National Panhellenic Conference -- the umbrella group covering fraternity organizations -- is pushing the  Safe Campus Act. Which led me to look up the language. From the text of the bill:

If an individual provides a notification to the institution under this para graph with respect to an allegation, the institution may not initiate or otherwise carry out any institutional disciplinary proceeding with respect to the allegation, including imposing interim measures described in subsection (c).

If I'm reading this correctly, this means that no university may impose final disciplinary measures against anyone found responsible for rape until they are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, in court, to have committed the crime of rape as defined in that jurisdiction. This makes the standard for imposing noncriminal sanctions for one of the most serious crimes in the common far beyond those for academic misconduct or illegal alcohol use (on the less serious end) or homicide (on the more serious end).

Universities must impose some form of due process. A preponderance standard, with the burden of proof on the accuser? Fine! Clear and convincing evidence? You'll have to convince me, but sure! Exactly the same standard required to impose a lifelong deprivation of civil rights ... twice? Fuck no. ___

2015-08-05 19:56:16 (37 comments, 3 reshares, 21 +1s)Open 

As it turns out, it's extraordinarily difficult to figure out why (and at what point) the Islamic prophet Idris became identified with Enoch, or why Enoch became identified with Hermes Trismegistus. For those of you who are actually interested in this extremely obscure question, a few notes:

(1) "Enoch" isn't phonetically close to "Idris." Weirdly, the name seems to have gotten from Hebrew to Arabic by calque rather than transliteration. 

The Hebrew word Chanoch, meaning "initiated," "experienced," or "learnéd" corresponds pretty well to the probable meaning of "Idris," which is based on the Arabic triconsonantal root "_d-r-s_," used in verbs related to studying, teaching, and initiating. Mystery solved, right?

(2) Maybe not, because there's a second, less credible etymology.more »

As it turns out, it's extraordinarily difficult to figure out why (and at what point) the Islamic prophet Idris became identified with Enoch, or why Enoch became identified with Hermes Trismegistus. For those of you who are actually interested in this extremely obscure question, a few notes:

(1) "Enoch" isn't phonetically close to "Idris." Weirdly, the name seems to have gotten from Hebrew to Arabic by calque rather than transliteration. 

The Hebrew word Chanoch, meaning "initiated," "experienced," or "learnéd" corresponds pretty well to the probable meaning of "Idris," which is based on the Arabic triconsonantal root "_d-r-s_," used in verbs related to studying, teaching, and initiating. Mystery solved, right?

(2) Maybe not, because there's a second, less credible etymology.

Except that the Sabians of Harran -- who were not really Sabians, but let's not get into that -- traced the etymology back to a putative, poorly-attested Greek epithet for Hermes, "Isidore," meaning "Gift of Isis." Naively, this seems plausible: as +Yonatan Zunger points out, a native Arabic speaker might reduce Isidore to 'idro. After that, an extra "s" on the end isn't very difficult to acquire. 

One problem, though: Harran wasn't Arabic-speaking until relatively late in the Islamic period. The people making these claims were probably bilingual in Syriac and Greek -- languages where that particular transition seems less plausible. 

(3) So, maybe there's no mystery? Maybe it's just Harran trying to defraud the Caliphate into accepting pagans as being legitimately Abrahamic? Well, maybe.

One problem, though: the identification of Enoch and Hermes Trismegistus dates back to the 3rd or 4th century, long before Harran's pagan population had to convince a hostile occupying power that they were members of an entirely different religion. It actually appears to have come about in places like Alexandria, where Jewish and pagan populations were in close contact. The Nag Hammadi codices, for instance, contain a great deal of work which appears to be explicitly Hermetic, and a great deal more which seems to be Christianized Neoplatonism. 

(4) Conclusion: people living in close contact with each other exchange ideas, even when one group insists on more orthodoxy than the other, and filing the serial numbers off of common stories happens more often than I really give people credit for.___

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2015-08-05 17:19:34 (13 comments, 11 reshares, 32 +1s)Open 

Mallory Ortberg is a national treasure: 

If you have ever used a lotion, even once, get rid of it. Messy applicator tips are preventing you from practicing forgiveness. From now on, the only lotion you need is total acceptance of life on life’s terms, and also a bottle of argan oil you have made yourself (you can produce argan oil by letting go of anger)

I love everything about this article.

Mallory Ortberg is a national treasure: 

If you have ever used a lotion, even once, get rid of it. Messy applicator tips are preventing you from practicing forgiveness. From now on, the only lotion you need is total acceptance of life on life’s terms, and also a bottle of argan oil you have made yourself (you can produce argan oil by letting go of anger)

I love everything about this article.___

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2015-08-05 04:02:33 (4 comments, 1 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

As you know, comrades, Jade Helm 15 is well underway, and all of Texas will soon be ours. Thanks to your hard work, the FEMA camps are ready, and the Walmart Detention Centers™ will soon begin “processing” prisoners. Mass confiscation of firearms will commence according to the schedules you were given on your handout sheets.

But beware—Texans are a stubborn bunch (they remember the Alamo, after all, and you know how that turned out) and they won’t “go to Walmart” without a fight. Today, units of the Texan Resistance mounted their greatest counteroffensive yet: a drive-by shooting on Camp Shelby. These terrorists fired at the brave men and women in the camp from a red Ford Ranger. Unfortunately, there are so many pickup trucks in this godforsaken place that our secret police (call them “local sheriff’s deputies” if anyone asks) briefly detained the wrong men in thesearch for the terr... more »

As you know, comrades, Jade Helm 15 is well underway, and all of Texas will soon be ours. Thanks to your hard work, the FEMA camps are ready, and the Walmart Detention Centers™ will soon begin “processing” prisoners. Mass confiscation of firearms will commence according to the schedules you were given on your handout sheets.

But beware—Texans are a stubborn bunch (they remember the Alamo, after all, and you know how that turned out) and they won’t “go to Walmart” without a fight. Today, units of the Texan Resistance mounted their greatest counteroffensive yet: a drive-by shooting on Camp Shelby. These terrorists fired at the brave men and women in the camp from a red Ford Ranger. Unfortunately, there are so many pickup trucks in this godforsaken place that our secret police (call them “local sheriff’s deputies” if anyone asks) briefly detained the wrong men in the search for the terrorist duo.

Be on the lookout for anyone using the phrase “broken arrow,” believed to be a resistance motto. If you see or overhear the phrase, report the incident to your chain of command immediately. Your neighbors must be considered suspects.

Do not despair! Drive-by shootings from pickup trucks are a fearsome weapon, and have thwarted many a military occupation over the years, but we will prevail. Texas will be brought under the control of the USA. Remember the Alamo? We are Santa Anna.

http://www.wdam.com/story/29706954/shots-fired-at-camp-shelby-soldiers

http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2015/08/04/shots-fired-camp-shelby-soldiers/31114913/___

2015-08-04 22:35:02 (27 comments, 0 reshares, 31 +1s)Open 

TIL: The solar system is inclined about 63 degrees with respect to the galactic plane. I, for some reason, had always imagined it to be parallel to the galactic plane. 

TIL: The solar system is inclined about 63 degrees with respect to the galactic plane. I, for some reason, had always imagined it to be parallel to the galactic plane. ___

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2015-08-04 22:31:16 (6 comments, 3 reshares, 15 +1s)Open 

This is one of those ideas which is superficially good and becomes terrible if you look at it more closely. The concept is that in sentencing, we should do a risk assessment, based on objective criteria rather than on the prejudices of the individuals in the court, and use that to influence the decision. Those more likely to re-offend, in this system, would receive harsher and longer sentences.

The first problem with this is that if you build a 100% honest model of re-offending probability, what you're building is a model of your own system, not of the person. For example: If you lock someone in prison for a few years, offering them no training or rehabilitation, and then upon release have various penalties on them which basically prevent them from getting a job -- ranging from the simple "nobody wants to hire someone with a conviction record" to "explicit legal bars to their... more »

This is one of those ideas which is superficially good and becomes terrible if you look at it more closely. The concept is that in sentencing, we should do a risk assessment, based on objective criteria rather than on the prejudices of the individuals in the court, and use that to influence the decision. Those more likely to re-offend, in this system, would receive harsher and longer sentences.

The first problem with this is that if you build a 100% honest model of re-offending probability, what you're building is a model of your own system, not of the person. For example: If you lock someone in prison for a few years, offering them no training or rehabilitation, and then upon release have various penalties on them which basically prevent them from getting a job -- ranging from the simple "nobody wants to hire someone with a conviction record" to "explicit legal bars to their getting certain kinds of job, living in certain areas, etc" -- then it will probably not surprise you that this person is significantly more likely to turn to a professional life of crime. A model which correctly recognized and predicted this would therefore conclude that the only solution is to lock this person up for life, since at any point after they're released, they're simply likely to become criminals again.

This highlights the deeper problem in such a model, of course, which is that its basic design parameters, where the only variable it controls is "imprison more" or "imprison less," create a false dichotomy: rather than asking "which course of action is most likely to lead to the person no longer engaging in crime," it only considers one possible course of action, and that action (again, by the design of the system) most often increases the probability of future crime. 

The criticism of this system that it will end up encoding implicit racial biases is only sort-of correct. This model will definitely end up having a strong racial component; even if you eliminate race as an input, your race is so strongly correlated to other things like where you live that the system will end up modeling your race, and basing its decisions upon that, one way or the other. And that will, indeed, end up increasing sentences for Black and Latino offenders, for all the reasons specified above.

But in this case, the racial biases which the system would acquire are simply one manifestation of the even deeper and more profound problem that this model is simply designed to optimize for throwing people into prison.

If you want a variation on this which actually works, give the model access to a wide range of possible consequences, and ask it which of those will minimize the odds of re-offense, presumably balanced against various costs. You'll almost certainly find that rehabilitation, training, and treatment overwhelmingly work best to minimize that. (And in the cases where they don't, your best bet is likely to simply take them out and shoot them)

I would actually quite strongly favor such a project, because it would require its creators to make very explicit the thing for which they are trying to optimize. You can't lie to a computer about what you want it to do; if you want to minimize the chance of re-offense, you have to tell it to do so. If you instead want to optimize the system for retribution, or to cow a broad population into submission, or to maximize revenue, the model will absolutely be able to do that as well -- but you would have to tell it explicitly to do so, and it's very hard to lie to yourself about that.

h/t +Amy Quispe over on Twitter for prompting me to actually write about this one.___

2015-08-03 17:47:19 (4 comments, 1 reshares, 32 +1s)Open 

People misinterpret Godwin's Law, acting as if it was a physical law. Godwin's Law, 86 U.S.C Sec. 21, was passed in 1943 and stipulates that someone has to bring up Hitler or else the conversants are subject to a fine of $10. It was originally part of wartime rationing, meant to ensure that all conversations were kicking the Axis, but was never repealed. It was named after Sen. Tom Underhill Godwin from New Jersey.

People misinterpret Godwin's Law, acting as if it was a physical law. Godwin's Law, 86 U.S.C Sec. 21, was passed in 1943 and stipulates that someone has to bring up Hitler or else the conversants are subject to a fine of $10. It was originally part of wartime rationing, meant to ensure that all conversations were kicking the Axis, but was never repealed. It was named after Sen. Tom Underhill Godwin from New Jersey.___

2015-08-03 17:34:55 (3 comments, 2 reshares, 50 +1s)Open 

I can only assume that the number of Google Plus is Dead articles are clickbait for G+ users, so there have to be enough of us to be worth baiting.  ¯\(ツ)/¯

I can only assume that the number of Google Plus is Dead articles are clickbait for G+ users, so there have to be enough of us to be worth baiting.  ¯\(ツ)/¯___

2015-08-03 16:03:11 (6 comments, 2 reshares, 23 +1s)Open 

The "predictable" problems:

(1) Some employees left because they felt others were being paid more than they deserve.

(2) Some clients dropped them because they felt the raise was dangerous to their own companies, that it might spread like an infection.

First: most likely neither are true. Employees already planning on leaving over workplace conflicts cited this when they decided they had an exit. Likewise, some clients who were going to drop Gravity probably cited this as their reason even if they were going to drop them anyway.

The reason: people are full of shit and will develop a rationale in which there is a fault rather than simply accept economic logic. The next time you're about to explain some decision in social terms, search your feelings and know this to be true. You're rationalizing the decision game theory demands into the demand of... more »

The "predictable" problems:

(1) Some employees left because they felt others were being paid more than they deserve.

(2) Some clients dropped them because they felt the raise was dangerous to their own companies, that it might spread like an infection.

First: most likely neither are true. Employees already planning on leaving over workplace conflicts cited this when they decided they had an exit. Likewise, some clients who were going to drop Gravity probably cited this as their reason even if they were going to drop them anyway.

The reason: people are full of shit and will develop a rationale in which there is a fault rather than simply accept economic logic. The next time you're about to explain some decision in social terms, search your feelings and know this to be true. You're rationalizing the decision game theory demands into the demand of some other principle. Be honest with yourself and others and just admit when you're going to screw someone over. After a while you might even become sufficiently disgusted with yourself to quit your assholery.

Pace the author, the "free market" predicts nothing of the sort.* There's no principle at hand which says that people will leave if others are paid more than their marginal product. They will only leave if they are paid less than their marginal product. This is because a competitor can afford to bid them away for the value of their marginal product by definition. Nor does it predict customers would leave: I pay the company its marginal product and I drop them if pay more than that.

Second: if they are true, it's an excellent argument for communism because it means Marx is actually right. The class boundary is being actively policed in a neofeudal way. He's almost certainly wrong, though, see "first" above.

*I suspect by "free market" he means "economics".___

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2015-08-03 01:55:18 (1 comments, 7 reshares, 17 +1s)Open 

We don't often think about the infrastructure of getting away with murder. It's one thing for one person to kill with impunity, but if you want to do it regularly and on a large scale, you'll need to build a system to assist you. And there are few groups that need this more often than America's larger police departments, who are on track to kill nearly 1,200 people this year alone. (Beating last year's high of 1,106) 

Contrary to rumors of complete impunity, police officers who kill people – especially in more overt "bad shoots," such as when someone unarmed was running away from them, or when their victim was a small child – frequently do end up facing a day in court, seeing civil charges if not criminal, even despite the legal structures (such as LEOBOR) designed to prevent that. And as with any good infrastructure practice, the solution is defense in depth.That... more »

We don't often think about the infrastructure of getting away with murder. It's one thing for one person to kill with impunity, but if you want to do it regularly and on a large scale, you'll need to build a system to assist you. And there are few groups that need this more often than America's larger police departments, who are on track to kill nearly 1,200 people this year alone. (Beating last year's high of 1,106) 

Contrary to rumors of complete impunity, police officers who kill people – especially in more overt "bad shoots," such as when someone unarmed was running away from them, or when their victim was a small child – frequently do end up facing a day in court, seeing civil charges if not criminal, even despite the legal structures (such as LEOBOR) designed to prevent that. And as with any good infrastructure practice, the solution is defense in depth. That second layer of protection is provided by people like Dr. William J. Lewinski, who provides expert testimony that virtually any shooting was justified. 

Wait, you say that having an infrastructure to guarantee murder with impunity isn't a major social need? Huh. I guess neither he, nor any of the departments who routinely pay him quite well for his testimony, got the message.

But it just goes to show how far you can go in the world if you are unencumbered by things like professionalism or morals. In this case, he is a man who provides "expert" scientific testimony on things like the time it takes someone to fire, the psychology of human perception and memory, and anything else which may prove relevant to the case, despite being roundly castigated by everyone from professional organizations of psychologists to the Justice Department as an outright fraud.

If you ever wondered what someone looks like who has literally made a career out of operating the infrastructure of institutional racism and ethnic violence, take a look.___

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