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Yonatan Zunger

Yonatan Zunger Verified in Google 

Head of Infrastructure for the Google Assistant

Occupation: Engineer (Google)

Location: Mountain View, CA

Followers: 136,448

Following: 2,427

Views: 116,805,481

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Most comments: 209

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2016-07-06 04:52:34 (209 comments; 83 reshares; 295 +1s; )Open 

Warning: The video below shows a man being executed. The post below contains graphic details and discussion.

Early this morning, Baton Rouge police arrested a local man named Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, for selling CD's outside a local food mart. In the video, you can watch two officers throw him to the ground and pin him with their bodies; then one of them draws his weapon, places it inches from his head, and fires twice. After the camera turns, you can hear three more shots fired.

According to the coroner's initial report, Sterling was killed by "multiple shots to the chest and back." (See: http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/32371223/coroner-man-shot-by-brpd-multiple-times-to-chest-back-2-officers-placed-on-leave)


I'm deleting the rest of what I wrote here – a quite lengthy, second-by-second analysis of the video – becausetryin... more »

Most reshares: 105

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2016-07-07 17:02:12 (79 comments; 105 reshares; 525 +1s; )Open 

Hidden inside the network protocol that powers the Internet is a system designed to fight a nuclear war, even if Washington were destroyed by a surprise Soviet attack. Today, it mostly powers cat videos.

This is the system of "precedence," the mechanism that lets the network know that some traffic is more urgent than others. While this may seem like a straightforward idea, the levels of the precedence system -- before the "great renaming" which gave them anodyne names like "AF4/1" -- have a very interesting history indeed.

The first four levels came from US Army standards developed during the Korean War: "routine," "priority," "immediate," and "flash." (With flash priority being for messages that had to be sent in real time -- like "messages recalling or diverting friendly aircraft about to bomb targets... more »

Most plusones: 617

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2016-06-27 06:43:20 (87 comments; 53 reshares; 617 +1s; )Open 

In more amusing news today, here's what a transparent potato gun looks like at 20,000 frames per second. The full video is quite fun, and he does a bunch of demos as he shows how ignition at the base works better than ignition in the middle.

Of course, he doesn't continue with the obvious improvements: changing the chamber geometry to allow more thorough burning, and calculating the right stoichiometry so that fuel and oxygen are balanced. Not to mention rifling the barrel.

(Before you think this exceeds the range of "potato gun," consider that the first man-made object to exceed Earth's escape velocity may well have been a manhole cover accidentally fired straight upwards during the "nuclear potato cannon" incident during Operation Plumbbob, a 1957 American underground test. Forensics suggest that the X-rays from the explosion instantaneously vaporized... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-07-29 19:15:19 (27 comments; 43 reshares; 193 +1s; )Open 

For decades, desalination was seen as a pipe dream: so costly in terms of energy that it could never be useful. Reverse-osmosis was hailed as a possible change, but the problem of "biofouling" -- basically, bacterial growth in the filters requiring constant chemical cleaning -- made it impractical. But a few years ago, this problem started to get cracked, and now Israel is doing something previously unthinkable: running a net surplus of water.

To give you some context for this: In 1948, Israel was more than half parched, nearly-uninhabitable desert. The steady northward spread of the desert had been greatly accelerated by Ottoman deforestation, and the whole ecosystem verged on collapse. David Ben Gurion, the first president, made it his crusade to make the country green: "There will be bears in the Negev (desert)!," he would famously say. This meant everything from aggressive... more »

For decades, desalination was seen as a pipe dream: so costly in terms of energy that it could never be useful. Reverse-osmosis was hailed as a possible change, but the problem of "biofouling" -- basically, bacterial growth in the filters requiring constant chemical cleaning -- made it impractical. But a few years ago, this problem started to get cracked, and now Israel is doing something previously unthinkable: running a net surplus of water.

To give you some context for this: In 1948, Israel was more than half parched, nearly-uninhabitable desert. The steady northward spread of the desert had been greatly accelerated by Ottoman deforestation, and the whole ecosystem verged on collapse. David Ben Gurion, the first president, made it his crusade to make the country green: "There will be bears in the Negev (desert)!," he would famously say. This meant everything from aggressive water conservation across the country, to research in water technologies, to a steady program of reclaiming the desert, with schoolchildren routinely going out in large groups to plant trees.

Today, I can barely recognize the country of my childhood; as you go south of Jerusalem, miles and miles which I remember as barren deserts are now lush forests and farms.

But this was almost lost in the past decade, as powerful droughts -- the same droughts which triggered the Arab Spring -- have ravaged the Middle East. The Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) saw its water level drop terrifyingly, year after year, close to the threshold where osmotic pressure would fill it with salt and destroy it as a freshwater lake. The Dead Sea was shrinking into a giant mud puddle, and we talked about it meeting the same fate as the Aral Sea, now just a memory.

The rise of modern desalination has changed this calculus completely. Because it doesn't rely on boiling or similar processes, it's energy-cheap. It's maintainable, and while it requires capital outlays in the way that building any large plant does, it doesn't require astronomical or unusual ones. This makes it a technology ready for use across the world.

There is one further potential benefit to this: Peace. Water is a crucial resource in the Middle East (and elsewhere!), far more scarce than oil. It's needed not just for humans, but most of all for crop irrigation, as droughts destroying farmland have been one of the biggest problems facing the region. The potential for desalination to change this creates a tremendous opportunity for cooperation -- and there are nascent signs that this is, indeed, happening.

At an even higher level, relieving the political pressures created by lack of water, and thus lack of working farms, could have far more profound effects on the region as a whole. Even before the recent droughts, things like the steady desertification of Egypt's once-lush Nile Valley (a long-term consequence of the Aswan Dam and the stopping of the regular flooding of the Nile) were pushing people by the million into overcrowded cities unable to support them. Having farming work again doesn't just mean food, it also means work, and it means a systematic reduction in desperation.

Desalination looks to be one of the most important technologies of the 21st century: it's hard to overstate how much it could reshape our world.

Via +paul beard ___

2016-07-29 04:52:10 (29 comments; 20 reshares; 148 +1s; )Open 

Watching the conventions over the past two weeks has made me very thoughtful. The contrast I was seeing between the two visions for the country was extremely sharp – and the unexpected unity that I saw in the past few days, between groups that you don't normally expect to see next to each other, made me think even more.

There is a meaningful way for people as different as Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden to work together. And there's a very compelling vision in that.

More on my thoughts below the link.

Watching the conventions over the past two weeks has made me very thoughtful. The contrast I was seeing between the two visions for the country was extremely sharp – and the unexpected unity that I saw in the past few days, between groups that you don't normally expect to see next to each other, made me think even more.

There is a meaningful way for people as different as Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden to work together. And there's a very compelling vision in that.

More on my thoughts below the link.___

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2016-07-29 00:31:16 (52 comments; 26 reshares; 164 +1s; )Open 

This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known.

Part of good nuclear preparedness for a country is thinking about how to tell the public that the world has come to an end. The BBC spent some time preparing for this in the early 1970's, and wrote out a full script -- to be read on-air by Peter Donaldson -- in case the worst should happen. If Nixon's speech prepared in case Apollo 11 failed is known as the "best speech never given," you might consider this to be the "speech we are happiest was never given."

I don't really know what to tell you about this, except that it's hard to tell reality from +Scarfolk Council some days. If you go over to @NuclearAnthro on Twitter, he'ss... more »

This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known.

Part of good nuclear preparedness for a country is thinking about how to tell the public that the world has come to an end. The BBC spent some time preparing for this in the early 1970's, and wrote out a full script -- to be read on-air by Peter Donaldson -- in case the worst should happen. If Nixon's speech prepared in case Apollo 11 failed is known as the "best speech never given," you might consider this to be the "speech we are happiest was never given."

I don't really know what to tell you about this, except that it's hard to tell reality from +Scarfolk Council some days. If you go over to @NuclearAnthro on Twitter, he's sharing all sorts of other stuff of that sort, and you'll really get a sense of how insane the world can get.

If this is all too depressing, you can read Nixon's planned speech here instead. It's sad, but very beautiful. (With one slight correction: IIRC, the burial service to have followed this was almost like the one for burial at sea, but it would "commend their bodies to the utmost deep")

http://www.space.com/26604-apollo-11-failure-nixon-speech.html___

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2016-07-28 05:11:17 (29 comments; 44 reshares; 219 +1s; )Open 

A rather thoughtful analysis of something that's been happening in the US lately. The speeches at the DNC have been on themes of family values, patriotism, and American exceptionalism – traditionally Republican themes, but now (with that party's candidate having rejected all of these fairly soundly) up for grabs. The result is something rather interesting, and could have deep effects on politics down the line. This may be a key moment in the realignment of American political parties.

Worth the read, and a ponder.

A rather thoughtful analysis of something that's been happening in the US lately. The speeches at the DNC have been on themes of family values, patriotism, and American exceptionalism – traditionally Republican themes, but now (with that party's candidate having rejected all of these fairly soundly) up for grabs. The result is something rather interesting, and could have deep effects on politics down the line. This may be a key moment in the realignment of American political parties.

Worth the read, and a ponder.___

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2016-07-28 04:53:30 (15 comments; 14 reshares; 159 +1s; )Open 

A fascinating new study on trolling behavior. I'm going to have to read it in depth and think about it. In the meantime, I think +Eli Fennell's comments summarize it pretty well.

Think Trolls Act Better Using Their 'Real Name'? Think Again.

There is a theory of internet trolls that goes as follows: they behave worse because they don't have to use their real names. Force them to do that, and they'll behave better.

Google+ tried the theory, but eventually gave up. Facebook still promotes the theory, much to the chagrin of many people booted for having unusual names that someone thought didn't sound 'real'.

Are they right? A team of researchers from the University of Zurich's Institute of Sociology decided to find out.

They gave participants in their research a simple choice: use your real name, or use a pseudonym. From this data they were able to analyze over 500K comments.

So, were the Real Name users better behaved? In a word: no. In two words: dream on.

Users who chose to use their Real Names were more likely to engage in online 'mass attacks' than pseudonymous users, helping put to bed the idea that Real Name Policies can 'fix' trolling.

Interestingly, and relevantly, Google+'s +Yonatan Zunger​, in explaining their decision to drop the policy, noted that they had similarly failed to find evidence of the policy's effectiveness, noting that if anything such policies tend to exacerbate preexisting power dynamics, as those most vulnerable and marginalized are least able to express themselves freely, while those most privileged are able to behave as they choose.

Trolling is a serious problem on the internet, threatening the power of social networks and other online communities and forums to bring groups and individuals together harmoniously and productively. It is therefore tempting to try to find a simple solution to this complex problem.

If there is one, Real Name Policies aren't it.

#SocialMedia #Trolls___A fascinating new study on trolling behavior. I'm going to have to read it in depth and think about it. In the meantime, I think +Eli Fennell's comments summarize it pretty well.

2016-07-28 03:15:38 (81 comments; 12 reshares; 184 +1s; )Open 

Observation while listening to the President's speech at the Democratic Convention: the message tonight was resolutely optimistic. He talked about all the things that the US has overcome, how we got through wars and recessions and so on. Contrasting this with Trump's speech last week, you can really see what's happening in this election. Clinton is running as the candidate of people whose lives and stability have generally recovered since the crash; Trump is running as the candidate of people whose lives haven't.

What surprised me most about tonight's speech in this regard was how little awareness it seemed to show that this division was real. 

Observation while listening to the President's speech at the Democratic Convention: the message tonight was resolutely optimistic. He talked about all the things that the US has overcome, how we got through wars and recessions and so on. Contrasting this with Trump's speech last week, you can really see what's happening in this election. Clinton is running as the candidate of people whose lives and stability have generally recovered since the crash; Trump is running as the candidate of people whose lives haven't.

What surprised me most about tonight's speech in this regard was how little awareness it seemed to show that this division was real. ___

2016-07-26 21:21:22 (23 comments; 4 reshares; 82 +1s; )Open 

Some interesting thoughts from +Steven Flaeck​ on election fraud.

We know a lot about election fraud thanks to history, defectors, and observation.

Here's the thing about election fraud: it's either obvious or ineffective. "Obvious" is a weasel term, I guess, so let me give an example of obvious.

The US occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and ran a tinpot military dictatorship there. It didn't prop one up, it ran one. The Navy wrote their constitution and the Marines ran the government. No, I mean literally, not that stupid left-wing metaphors-are-real way. As an explicit policy of the US, its military commanders were also the filling the civilian roles in Haitian government.

There were, however, elections for a variety of not really in charge institutions. Here's how those worked. To vote, you'd pick up a slip of paper with the name of the candidate you wanted and put it in the ballot box. Those slips were passed out by the Marines and there was only one candidate to vote for. If that sounds like how Duvalier did his elections, congrats, you're drawing connections. It's also how Hussein did his. And so on. One candidate, ballots passed out by the military.

When I say "election fraud is either obvious or ineffective" I mean "election fraud is either Marines passing out ballots with only one name on it or ineffective". That's the sense of "obvious" I use.[1]

The other effective methods for election fraud are all like that. Changing the tally is pretty obvious because it requires an architecture of secrecy. That's why people's wariness at electronic voting makes a lot of sense to me, it can potentially provide that architecture of secrecy. Large scale ballot-stuffing requires lots and lots of ballots and teams upon teams or, again, an architecture of secrecy that lets you dump the fakes in at a single bottleneck you control, like a counting room. You know all that stuff about people standing around to observe the counting? That's why they're there, preventing that architecture of secrecy needed to let the counters make the results, if you know what I mean. But accomplishing that requires sudden black-box choke points where, mysteriously, accountability entirely disappears and observation is completely forbidden.

Less[2] tweedy methods like having people vote multiple times require large organizations acting in public. These are obvious and everyone knows they're happening; they require the buy-in of other organizations, like police. They advertise for fraudsters. Seriously: it's a job you get hired for, explicitly, or a bounty is paid.[3] If you lived in a place where it happens, you'd know who was involved because they'd tell you. Usually they'd tell you right before basically kidnapping you to use a multi-voter, changing you clothes constantly and carting you from polling place to polling place.[4] They succeed because no individual vote is obviously fraudulent even if the operation as a whole is.

I'm being a bit disingenuous here. The "ineffective" methods are mostly the same ones, mechanically, just done on a smaller scale. Some intimidation at a few places. A couple miscounts, here and there. A few hundred or thousand duplicate votes. These are less obvious because they aren't large and they're not Marines passing out ballots. But that means their effect size is naturally smaller. And, in smaller elections, there's less space to hide them. The proportion of fraud matters both to effectiveness and secrecy. A higher proportion of fraud is more effective and more obvious. A lower proportion, less effective but also less obvious. So anything not obvious[5] is only effective if an election is really close. The election needs to be decided by a few thousand votes, at most, with millions cast.

If fraud is obvious or ineffective, why bother? First: people aren't always that bright, never attribute to Machiavellian genius what can best be explained by Machiavellian incompetence.[6]

Second, though, elections serve a lot of important purposes. One is that they have an reifiable legitimacy: the winner of an election has the support of most people and, ipso facto, most of the manpower which could be used to take the position by force. Before we think anything else about democracy, think about how winning an election is a really good sign that you could, gauntlets down and roses picked, most plausibly win the game of Bigger Army Diplomacy. The more people accept the idea that elections determine political outcomes, the more likely that the winner could assemble a bigger army; many of the loser's supporters will accept the loss and the winner's supporters will be incensed. When I said "if Trump isn't the nominee, there will be riots and there should be", I meant it and now you know what I meant.[7]

They also fulfill a perfectly reasonable idea of "public will".[8] Take a tally of all the opinions, and the most commonly held is the "aggregate" opinion. This has flaws, but it also makes intuitive sense. In fact, it makes so much intuitive sense that many ideas which people propose to improve elections take this idea of public will as their starting point. They just see how different ways of measuring can have different results. Many though just rely on our improved understanding of statistics to create systems which can be accurately described as "measure twice, cut once". This idea is so reasonable that proposals offered by way of disagreement are, in many ways, mostly about improving accuracy.[9]

They also have a weirder role. They're obvious. The outcome of an election, fraudulent or legit, is obvious. There's a winner. People tend to know if they'd care who it was. This has excellent implications for succession if you think about the number of wars fought over uncertain lines of succession in monarchies. I can bring it up and you know about it. That's actually huge. I spent two paragraphs making the meaning of "obvious" obvious. Being obvious is a big deal.

So is winning the argument. Winning the argument with friends, family, coworkers, and others, society wide, every day. That's the bedrock of politics, in the end, even in authoritarian states. How you win arguments isn't obvious. In fact, "winning the argument" needs scare quotes to properly contain it. I'm "winning the argument" about policing right now. I'm not talking to many people about policing. A combination of cellphone video, stagnant policy landscape, and a large head of pressure built by people like Radley Balko have pushed a lot of the abuses I've harped on for years into the public's attention. Opinions are changing. I'm "winning the argument" without even arguing myself. A lot of that winning is happening in the more classic way of debaitng with people; I'm just not doing the debating myself. Those classic cases are winning their particular argument, but "winning the argument", as a concept, is something all these factors do together.

When you come up against someone who supports an authoritarian regime, they can give you the result of the obviously rigged election and be a little bit disingenuous. "There were Marines passing out ballots!" "As is their patriotic duty, comrade." And on and on. This won't be an argument over facts. The facts are obvious. Your interlocutor knows them, is possibly proud of them. If facts enter, it will be forcing you to recount them and explain how election fraud works. I've written a whole article about that at this point. You're probably going to give up well in advance.

You know what just happened? The regime is winning the argument even though they really shouldn't because the fraud is obvious.[10]

What frustrates me about charges of election fraud in the United States is this issue here. When people argue that election fraud is occuring, they don't use "obvious" the right way. There aren't Marines passing out ballots. They personally never looekd into a part-time job disguising carting novelists from polling-place to polling-place. They're not referring to how all the ballots were collected into a shadowy warehouse guarded by a street gange and owned by mayor. If there's fraud involved, it's the ineffective kind. The sort which works only when the election is decided by a few thousand votes, at most, with millions cast. And that's just not the kind of election they're talking about! Most recently, it's about elections decided by millions of votes with millions cast. Just before this most recent outburst of fraud accusations, it was conservatives insisting that "fake voters" were swinging elections. Likewise, it seem unlikely that such an operation wouldn't be obvious in that Marines passing out ballots way.[11] That's just not how election fraud works.

And I mean that: it doesn't work that way. People do try it but it doesn't work. You can't swing big elections by tweaking the margins a little.

The problem, fundamentally, isn't known to me. I've got suspicions, sure. The big one is how passionate people slip into epistemic closure and the way epistemic closure lets metaphorical language become literal.[12] But knock it off. I'm tired of seeing this proposed by the loser every time. This year, it's Sanders supporters. In 2012, it was Republicans. It was Republicans in 2008, too. In 2000 Marines were passing out ballots. I mean, the Supreme Court decided the election in an actual court case.[13]

Loose talk about election fraud is very damaging. While those who make the accusation see the damage it does to their opponent, they usually don't see the wider consequences. Take a different topic. Americans grossly misperceive the amount of crime and whether crime is increasing.[14] Anxiety about safety distorts perception.[15] Likewise, building up anxieties about election fraud can distort people's perception of it. They see it everywhere and it feels obvious even though they can't point to any Marines. That's very bad. People start becoming suspicious of elections themselves; not just particular elections, the whole democratic framework becomes suspect. As Hannah Arendt points out, the bedrock of authoritarianism is the collapse of political trust into a kind of conspiratorial cynicism. That's really super bad. That's how you get Marines passing out ballots.

I don't consider this an idealistic case. Remember my merits of elections above: Bigger Army Diplomacy, obviousness, winnding the argument, public will. Only one would qualify as "idealistic". The rest are wholly cynical and very literally Machiavellian.[16] They're very good reasons to protect the mechanism from fraud. They're also very good reasons to protect its legitimacy from loose accusations. The system itself isn't perfect, there are lots of problems in it, from low voter engagement to long lines, to the inability to reduce long lines if turnout is unexpectedly high. But these things aren't fraud. Election fraud is either obvious[5] or ineffective. It's not the former this year.



[1] Don't use it any other way. Had all of you made a commitment to "obvious" being obvious, I'd never have had to write two paragraphs about Haitian history and American assholery to explain what "obvious" means. Or don't. Maybe you want two paragraphs. Jerk.

[2] Read: more.

[3] It's an interesting thing, if you look it up.

[4] This is, in fact, how Edgar Allen Poe died.

[5] Remember: obvious means "Marines passing out ballots", that's our paradigmatic case.

[6] We had this phrase, "Dunning-Krueger Machiavellians", to describe people who think they're carrying out a secret and insanely clever plot which is, in fact, transparently obvious[5] and dumb.

[7] Side concerns about voter engagement and so on should be thought about carefully before raised; start with whether disengaged voters even have a candidate to fight for. I'm not saying you're wrong, just don't try my patience with cute bullshit.

[8] Reasonable, not right. There're lots of arguments about what the public will is or how you might measure it. I'll bet that the idea "what the majority says" is on the list from every brainstorming session on the topic, though. And I'll also bet that it's pretty rare for it to just get struck down immediatel along with the idea that maybe the public will is sandwiches. It's a brainstorming session, we just write down everything, even if it's a sly attempt to suggest we break for lunch

[9] Or "fidelity", really. Like converting between waves and digital signals. How do you make a stairstep pattern a wave? A wave a stairstep? How close is "close enough" or, considering our main topic, what methods really are "good enough for government work"?

[10] Remember: obvious means Marines passing out ballots, that's our paradigmatic case and very likely the immediate one as well.

[11] More precisely, in that "I and everyone I know have worked as a 'fake voter' before, or at least applied" way.

[12] Seriously, I've noticed ths a lot. Metaphors are used as linguistic shorthand. Someone "flies like an eagle" so I don't need to write a whole passage about strength and beauty. It's like an acronym: "Bob is an E.A.G.L.E.". But there's a tendency for feedback loops to forget that the metaphor is shorthand, to go from "Bob is an E.A.G.L.E." to "Bob is an EAGLE" to "watch out, I hear that Bob soars through the air and attacks people with his talons, according to Trusted News Source, he's attacked several people this year, bearing them aloft to his grim perch where they shall soon join the macabre assemblage of bones below".

[13] Not that it mattered, if the Constitution were followed, the House would have voted because neither Bush nor Gore would have a majority of Electors. The Republicans controlled the House, so there's no prize for guessing how it would go. The court case itself and the decision can be (metaphorically) litigated until the end of time, but the easiest answer was that Florida's election was too close and, so, neither infinite recounts nor arbitrarily stoppig them really yielded the correct result. What makes that answer easy is Republican control of the House: both stopping the recounts and declaring the Florida balloting null had the same result in practice, it's just that the latter has more constitutional legitimacy and less "the counters decide the election".

[14] Notice how the graphs align, too. That seems like a 9/11 effect. The perception of crime seems to be related to anxiety about safety, not crime. Septemeber 11 wasn't about street crime, but it did a lot of damage to people's sense of safety. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/17/despite-lower-crime-rates-support-for-gun-rights-increases/ft_15-04-01_guns_crimerate/

[15] Anyone who remembers an anxiety attack can testify to this. It has an immediacy there which can be easy to miss in daily life.

[16] Though famous for The Prince, Machiavelli was most interested in republicanism with that kind of idealistic pragmatism which characterized the Renaissance. He would not have seen these as "cynical". We've lost the sense of "natural" he would have used to explain this. I sometimes talk about "post-cynicism", this is what I'm talking about.



[coda] The 2000 election demonstrated a major failing of the Electoral College: it increases the probability that an election will be decided by a few thousand votes out of millions cast. The election in Florida hinged on a very few votes. Because Florida represents so many Electoral College points, those few votes really did determine the election. That's an excellent reason to rid ourselves of the Electoral College system.___Some interesting thoughts from +Steven Flaeck​ on election fraud.

2016-07-26 19:30:33 (75 comments; 27 reshares; 170 +1s; )Open 

Ferrett has a nice way of saying things rather bluntly. Yeah, I'm pretty much with him on all of this.

___Ferrett has a nice way of saying things rather bluntly. Yeah, I'm pretty much with him on all of this.

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2016-07-26 04:38:00 (17 comments; 66 reshares; 298 +1s; )Open 

And here's something just pleasing: +Chris Hadfield talking about various bits of daily life in space, from sleeping and going to the bathroom to the games one plays. There are still wonderful things in this world. (And out of it)

Via +Paul Hosking.

And here's something just pleasing: +Chris Hadfield talking about various bits of daily life in space, from sleeping and going to the bathroom to the games one plays. There are still wonderful things in this world. (And out of it)

Via +Paul Hosking.___

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2016-07-26 00:23:16 (14 comments; 12 reshares; 95 +1s; )Open 

Something random and pleasing for your Monday evening.

Oh wow... when you slow down Dolly Parton (45rpm to 33rpm) you get some ethereal hip Quentin Tarantino style sweetness... dont just beleive me though (or not beleive me, either way) click it and see for yourself!___Something random and pleasing for your Monday evening.

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2016-07-25 18:03:41 (73 comments; 28 reshares; 295 +1s; )Open 

Invasive species have been a tremendous problem around the world. When a species arrives in a brand-new ecosystem and thrives, most often there isn't a network of other species already in place to integrate with it: so the species might simply choke off competitors who haven't evolved to deal with it (e.g. kudzu), eat all the food and cause other species to starve (e.g. rabbits), or dump so many nutrients into the river that they cause massive algae blooms, while being a perpetual risk for killing people (e.g. hippos).

If your first response to that was "wait, invasive hippos?" then you're probably not alone. Apparently, Pablo Escobar had quite a number on his estate, and when he was gunned down in 1993, nobody really knew what to do about them. So they're still there, and doing what hippopotami do -- namely, make more hippopotami. And produce copious quantities of... more »

Invasive species have been a tremendous problem around the world. When a species arrives in a brand-new ecosystem and thrives, most often there isn't a network of other species already in place to integrate with it: so the species might simply choke off competitors who haven't evolved to deal with it (e.g. kudzu), eat all the food and cause other species to starve (e.g. rabbits), or dump so many nutrients into the river that they cause massive algae blooms, while being a perpetual risk for killing people (e.g. hippos).

If your first response to that was "wait, invasive hippos?" then you're probably not alone. Apparently, Pablo Escobar had quite a number on his estate, and when he was gunned down in 1993, nobody really knew what to do about them. So they're still there, and doing what hippopotami do -- namely, make more hippopotami. And produce copious quantities of feces.

Unlike most invasive species, this problem is still contained enough that it could be stopped if people decided to. (The recommended way to stop invasive hippopotami is with high-caliber ranged weapons, in case you're wondering.) However, it isn't clear that people do; the locals apparently file them under "charismatic megafauna" and kind of like having them around.

That said, this opinion is likely to change as they increase in number; hippos are generally considered to be the deadliest animals in Africa, killing nearly 3,000 people a year. While they're vegetarian, they're very large, and extremely ornery. They frequently charge and attack boats, destroy crops, and are well-known for something technically known as "projectile pooping."

In the scope of the problems facing the world right now, a few dozen hippos are probably not the biggest thing we need to be concerned about. But it's nice to think about some kind of potential apocalypse that doesn't involve public officials, for a change.

Via +rone.___

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2016-07-21 18:26:41 (52 comments; 30 reshares; 190 +1s; )Open 

In the department of news which should shock absolutely nobody, the Turkish parliament (controlled by Erdogan's "Justice and Development" party) has declared a three-month state of emergency, during which the President can detain people arbitrarily, issue decrees with the force of law, and do various similar things. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has promised to use this to "cleanse the state" and "eliminate those who are trying to harm the country."

At current count, over 10,000 people have been arrested following the coup, and nearly 60,000 have been removed permanently from their jobs, especially teachers, judges, and police officers. For contrast, roughly 750 people are believed to have actually taken part in the coup attempt.

(Bonus tip for those new to this subject: "temporary" states of emergency aren't. There's always somere... more »

In the department of news which should shock absolutely nobody, the Turkish parliament (controlled by Erdogan's "Justice and Development" party) has declared a three-month state of emergency, during which the President can detain people arbitrarily, issue decrees with the force of law, and do various similar things. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has promised to use this to "cleanse the state" and "eliminate those who are trying to harm the country."

At current count, over 10,000 people have been arrested following the coup, and nearly 60,000 have been removed permanently from their jobs, especially teachers, judges, and police officers. For contrast, roughly 750 people are believed to have actually taken part in the coup attempt.

(Bonus tip for those new to this subject: "temporary" states of emergency aren't. There's always some reason to extend them. Egypt had one continuously from 1981 until the government was overthrown in 2011, for example.)

via +Lauren Weinstein___

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2016-07-21 15:49:02 (190 comments; 39 reshares; 323 +1s; )Open 

“Aus Cleveland, mit deutschem Gruß” [1]

This image is actually an excellent illustration of the two varieties of the "German Greeting." As Wikipedia notes, [2] "Hitler gave the salute in two ways. When reviewing his troops or crowds, he generally used the traditional stiff armed salute. When greeting individuals, he used a modified version of the salute, bending his right arm while holding an open hand towards those greeted at shoulder height." I doubt he ever managed quite this smooth a transition between the two, though.

(For those who are about to argue that it was really a wave taken out of context... yes. That's absolutely possible. And an excuse like that would be perfectly reasonable the first time, or even the second time. But six months into a campaign where "did they really mean that Nazi reference?" comes up every week at themost... more »

“Aus Cleveland, mit deutschem Gruß” [1]

This image is actually an excellent illustration of the two varieties of the "German Greeting." As Wikipedia notes, [2] "Hitler gave the salute in two ways. When reviewing his troops or crowds, he generally used the traditional stiff armed salute. When greeting individuals, he used a modified version of the salute, bending his right arm while holding an open hand towards those greeted at shoulder height." I doubt he ever managed quite this smooth a transition between the two, though.

(For those who are about to argue that it was really a wave taken out of context... yes. That's absolutely possible. And an excuse like that would be perfectly reasonable the first time, or even the second time. But six months into a campaign where "did they really mean that Nazi reference?" comes up every week at the most, where speeches talk about nothing but the importance of the leader's unfettered Will and how this strengthens the nation against the other races which are slowly corrupting and destroying it, any benefit of the doubt is long lost.

In fact, it's actively inappropriate; when something has become clear and you still try to excuse it with a "benefit of the doubt," you're not being polite, you're abetting it.)

[1] "From Cleveland, with German Greetings." See: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/laura-ingraham-called-appearing-nazi-salute-article-1.2719389
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_salute___

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2016-07-20 09:35:54 (90 comments; 33 reshares; 253 +1s; )Open 

I was rather concerned when people started to come out against the Turkish coup on the grounds that it was anti-democratic. Not because I'm convinced the coup would have been a great idea, but because there were two distinct groups objecting to the coup: one on the basis of democracy, and one on the basis of supporting Erdogan's autocracy. And it was very clear which of these groups would be holding the reins if the coup failed.

Since then, Erdogan has removed 2,700 judges and all 15,000 university deans in the country, as part of a broader set of roughly 45,000 people who have been fired, suspended, or detained. (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-coup-latest-news-erdogan-istanbul-judges-removed-from-duty-failed-government-overthrow-a7140661.html) It's quite clear that most of these people had nothing to do with the coup, which was an entirely military affair,... more »

I was rather concerned when people started to come out against the Turkish coup on the grounds that it was anti-democratic. Not because I'm convinced the coup would have been a great idea, but because there were two distinct groups objecting to the coup: one on the basis of democracy, and one on the basis of supporting Erdogan's autocracy. And it was very clear which of these groups would be holding the reins if the coup failed.

Since then, Erdogan has removed 2,700 judges and all 15,000 university deans in the country, as part of a broader set of roughly 45,000 people who have been fired, suspended, or detained. (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-coup-latest-news-erdogan-istanbul-judges-removed-from-duty-failed-government-overthrow-a7140661.html) It's quite clear that most of these people had nothing to do with the coup, which was an entirely military affair, but that the lists of known enemies were well-prepared in advance. Today, a blanket travel ban preventing all academics from leaving the country was added.

Erdogan has further announced that an "important decision" will be coming later today, which is widely anticipated to be part of an absolute crackdown on any opposition to his rule. (This is, one should remember, a country where journalists are routinely sent to prison for insulting the President)

The fact is that Erdogan has been steadily and forcefully moving towards absolute rule for years, eliminating anyone he sees as either opposed to him or (in the case of his popular former PM Ahmet Davutoğlu) simply too popular in their own right.

There may be reasons to oppose the failed coup, but protecting democratic institutions is not one of them; it is highly unlikely that any such institutions will be left by the end of this year.___

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2016-07-20 07:33:50 (78 comments; 99 reshares; 318 +1s; )Open 

Something interesting that we can finally talk about: the AIs are controlling their own datacenters, and it knocks about 15% off our power usage overhead. More specifically, we designed a deep learning system to control things like cooling fans, windows, and other things related to power and cooling, with the objective of minimizing power needs. It turned out that this sort of system reliably outperformed manual control by a lot - enough that we've gradually transitioned datacenters to fully automatic operation.

This is one of those examples of how machine learning can be really useful; at any given instant, its decisions may be roughly as good as a human's would be, but it can make those decisions every few milliseconds and continually adjust things in a way a person couldn't. I expect to see technologies like these greatly increasing the efficiency of all sorts of infrastructure,... more »

Something interesting that we can finally talk about: the AIs are controlling their own datacenters, and it knocks about 15% off our power usage overhead. More specifically, we designed a deep learning system to control things like cooling fans, windows, and other things related to power and cooling, with the objective of minimizing power needs. It turned out that this sort of system reliably outperformed manual control by a lot - enough that we've gradually transitioned datacenters to fully automatic operation.

This is one of those examples of how machine learning can be really useful; at any given instant, its decisions may be roughly as good as a human's would be, but it can make those decisions every few milliseconds and continually adjust things in a way a person couldn't. I expect to see technologies like these greatly increasing the efficiency of all sorts of infrastructure, from power to transport, over the next few years - with corresponding savings in both money and resource usage.

Edited: The reduction was 15% in the overhead, not 15% in total usage. Overhead is the power needed to keep things working beyond the power that the computers themselves actually use. A 15% reduction in total usage would require violating multiple laws of physics, as that's more than the overhead. ___

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2016-07-19 08:54:21 (58 comments; 13 reshares; 234 +1s; )Open 

All right, but apart from agriculture, written language, cities, ceramics, the wheel, philosophy, religion, modern music, and physically building the infrastructure of Western Civilization... what have the non-white people ever done for us?

All right, but apart from agriculture, written language, cities, ceramics, the wheel, philosophy, religion, modern music, and physically building the infrastructure of Western Civilization... what have the non-white people ever done for us?___

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2016-07-19 08:03:07 (49 comments; 42 reshares; 314 +1s; )Open 

When intelligence agents tell you they're "just looking at the metadata" of your conversations – who you called and when, but not what you said – they're engaging in a rather spectacular bit of bullshit. "We know you spoke with an HIV testing service, and then your doctor, and then your insurance company. But we don't know what you discussed."

There's an entire technique in intelligence based on this, called traffic analysis. It was born during World War II, when Gordon Welchman realized he could use a combination of times, triangulated locations, durations, and the (necessarily unencrypted) call signs of senders and receivers to build an amazingly comprehensive map of Nazi troop movements. The same traffic analysis technique made it possible to guess that certain messages were routine and would have known words like "weather report" in them– whi... more »

When intelligence agents tell you they're "just looking at the metadata" of your conversations – who you called and when, but not what you said – they're engaging in a rather spectacular bit of bullshit. "We know you spoke with an HIV testing service, and then your doctor, and then your insurance company. But we don't know what you discussed."

There's an entire technique in intelligence based on this, called traffic analysis. It was born during World War II, when Gordon Welchman realized he could use a combination of times, triangulated locations, durations, and the (necessarily unencrypted) call signs of senders and receivers to build an amazingly comprehensive map of Nazi troop movements. The same traffic analysis technique made it possible to guess that certain messages were routine and would have known words like "weather report" in them – which became key to cracking Nazi codes.

And where did all this happen? At Bletchley Park, about an hour north of London, where Welchman designed the pipeline which handled intercepted communications. He and Alan Turing were essentially the fathers of modern signals intelligence. (GCHQ is directly descended from the Bletchley Park operation)

So I'm looking forward to May's further explanations of how the metadata isn't really that important. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the Home Office's response to the Freedom of Information request for her own metadata, and their explanations for why there's absolutely no reason to release such a thing – even though, by her own declaration, it's perfectly safe.___

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2016-07-19 07:41:46 (16 comments; 17 reshares; 176 +1s; )Open 

Something pleasing and soothing to watch: a video showing how tennis balls are made.

Fascinating and apparently toxic.___Something pleasing and soothing to watch: a video showing how tennis balls are made.

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2016-07-18 13:39:47 (67 comments; 14 reshares; 198 +1s; )Open 

A short bit about the two MIT physicists who were science advisors for the new Ghostbusters movie. They were the ones who decided Wiig's character should be a neutrino physicist – and that the villain should be a string theorist. Apparently there's something just plain sinister about it.

Bwahahahaha!

[Full disclosure: I have not yet seen the movie, and so have no idea of just how sinister the string theorist is. But given that the quantum gravity guy in Event Horizon turned out to be Satan, I'm going to guess that some pretty serious cackling is in order.]

[Full disclosure, part 2: I used to be, in fact, a string theorist.]

h/t +John Lamping.

A short bit about the two MIT physicists who were science advisors for the new Ghostbusters movie. They were the ones who decided Wiig's character should be a neutrino physicist – and that the villain should be a string theorist. Apparently there's something just plain sinister about it.

Bwahahahaha!

[Full disclosure: I have not yet seen the movie, and so have no idea of just how sinister the string theorist is. But given that the quantum gravity guy in Event Horizon turned out to be Satan, I'm going to guess that some pretty serious cackling is in order.]

[Full disclosure, part 2: I used to be, in fact, a string theorist.]

h/t +John Lamping.___

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2016-07-16 03:14:38 (47 comments; 17 reshares; 167 +1s; )Open 

For those who have been wondering about the recent study showing no difference in the rates at which black and white people are killed by police, here's a good analysis by the Washington Post about the most serious of its failings.

Essentially, this study is junk; its methodology means that what it showed is roughly that "Given that a police officer shoots you, they are equally likely to consider their own actions justifiable after the fact if you are black or white." Which isn't really something I would bother publishing.

If we were to compile statistics on, say, medical mistakes in an effort to make policies that would improve the state of medicine, we wouldn’t get all of our data from written statements by the accused doctors or hospitals. If we wanted to compile data on conflicts of interest in politics, we wouldn’t rely on politicians to self-report and adjudicate when their vote may have been influenced by a campaign donation. But this is essentially what we do with shootings by police officers.___For those who have been wondering about the recent study showing no difference in the rates at which black and white people are killed by police, here's a good analysis by the Washington Post about the most serious of its failings.

Essentially, this study is junk; its methodology means that what it showed is roughly that "Given that a police officer shoots you, they are equally likely to consider their own actions justifiable after the fact if you are black or white." Which isn't really something I would bother publishing.

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2016-07-15 21:12:52 (90 comments; 15 reshares; 168 +1s; )Open 

Military coup (attempt; success TBD) underway in Turkey. Details still scanty, and no time to write a detailed analysis right now. 

Military coup (attempt; success TBD) underway in Turkey. Details still scanty, and no time to write a detailed analysis right now. ___

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2016-07-15 19:59:30 (19 comments; 17 reshares; 117 +1s; )Open 

This is an interesting analysis of the real economic effects of AirBNB. Its point is that the distinction between short-term (hotel) and long-term (apartment) rentals has always been artificial, and that what this really does is erode that - with consequences for hotel and apartment owners, travelers and renters.

One point it doesn't get to, but should, is that the reason the supply of apartments is so inelastic - that it changes so slowly in response to demand - is generally not because of the long lead time and capital expense of building apartments (since existing buildings could often easily be converted to or from them), but zoning laws designed specifically to prevent them.

This has to do with another dynamic this article doesn't mention: the presence of high-density housing and of short-term residents tends to decrease neighboring property values, since sparse... more »

This is an interesting analysis of the real economic effects of AirBNB. Its point is that the distinction between short-term (hotel) and long-term (apartment) rentals has always been artificial, and that what this really does is erode that - with consequences for hotel and apartment owners, travelers and renters.

One point it doesn't get to, but should, is that the reason the supply of apartments is so inelastic - that it changes so slowly in response to demand - is generally not because of the long lead time and capital expense of building apartments (since existing buildings could often easily be converted to or from them), but zoning laws designed specifically to prevent them.

This has to do with another dynamic this article doesn't mention: the presence of high-density housing and of short-term residents tends to decrease neighboring property values, since sparse neighborhoods of long-term residents are generally seen as desirable - especially in the US, where the "suburban dream" has been a cultural touchstone for most of a century. (That in turn has a profound racial coding as well, since suburbs are not only economically segregated by design, but racially segregated by practice, starting with the redlining system)

When we talk about skyrocketing housing costs in places like San Francisco, we should remember that the drain on housing supply from its shift to other parts of the short-term market is a tiny effect compared to the near-impossibility of building any significant new housing for the past several decades. And this hasn't been the work of any one political side or another: it's generally been existing residents versus potential new residents, with the latter (by nature) unrepresented. ___

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2016-07-15 08:07:14 (14 comments; 27 reshares; 272 +1s; )Open 

A team of marine biologists at the University of New England captured a tiger shark to tag it – and found that it was 2/3 of the way through a pregnancy, with 20 healthy tiger shark pups on the way. The ultrasound is fascinating.

(The outlines of sharks on the animated image below are provided as guides to the eye; the video shows the raw ultrasound as well)

They have little rows of teeth!

Scientists Capture First-Ever Tiger Shark Sonogram
After landing at 12.5 foot, pregnant tiger shark, the team does an ultrasound to discover she's carrying 20 well-developed pups!

Watch the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MEYuPVtDKA

#biodiversity   #sharks   #marinecreatures   #sonogram   #science  ___A team of marine biologists at the University of New England captured a tiger shark to tag it – and found that it was 2/3 of the way through a pregnancy, with 20 healthy tiger shark pups on the way. The ultrasound is fascinating.

(The outlines of sharks on the animated image below are provided as guides to the eye; the video shows the raw ultrasound as well)

They have little rows of teeth!

2016-07-14 23:34:36 (45 comments; 6 reshares; 152 +1s; )Open 

Dear UK: I will be spending some time laughing at your rude muppet as a way of spending less time thinking about our hate-filled talking yam. Sorry.

PS: Are you sure it wouldn't have been wiser to just put Larry the cat in charge? He seems to have managed the rodent problem fairly well so far.

Twelve Better Foreign Ministers than Boris Johnson: A Comprehensive List

(1) David Cameron, Who Doesn't Actually Have a Job Right Now
(2) Any MP Except Boris Johnson
(3) A Wax Model of Boris Johnson
(4) Boris Johnson's Hair, Glued Onto a Rock Which Sort of Looks Like Him
(5) Microsoft's Tay
(6) A Markov Chain Trained on the Daily Mail's Comment Section
(7) Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley
(8) Oswald Mosley's Skeleton, Used As a Marionette
(9) Max Mosley, Now That That Nazi Orgy Thing Has Blown Over
(10) An Email Autoresponder Which Just Sends Poop Emojis
(11) An Email Autoresponder Which Just Notifies Foreign Leaders That Boris Johnson is Out of Office
(12) A Framed Photograph of a Middle Finger
___Dear UK: I will be spending some time laughing at your rude muppet as a way of spending less time thinking about our hate-filled talking yam. Sorry.

PS: Are you sure it wouldn't have been wiser to just put Larry the cat in charge? He seems to have managed the rodent problem fairly well so far.

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2016-07-13 06:57:32 (38 comments; 2 reshares; 104 +1s; )Open 

OK, I recognize that I have no earthly use for this, have nowhere to keep it, and that it would be patently absurd to buy it. Even if it does have less than 43,000 miles on it and have a winch, a snowplow, and a trailer. And is in good enough mechanical shape to use as a daily driver.

I am not at all tempted.

My next Volvo?___OK, I recognize that I have no earthly use for this, have nowhere to keep it, and that it would be patently absurd to buy it. Even if it does have less than 43,000 miles on it and have a winch, a snowplow, and a trailer. And is in good enough mechanical shape to use as a daily driver.

I am not at all tempted.

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2016-07-12 22:46:33 (121 comments; 33 reshares; 241 +1s; )Open 

This Prime Minister is no more; as of Wednesday afternoon, David Cameron will be formally resigning and moving out of 10 Downing Street. While we applaud the bravery of Theresa May in stepping into the mess Cameron and his friends left behind, and look forward to real answers to the question of "Just how can this situation get worse?," we can enjoy a musical delight which Cameron has left for us.

What is this? At the end of his resignation announcement yesterday, Cameron walked off, and with his mic still hot, hummed a little tune, ending it with "Right. Good." It was a very British sort of ending, and it was even better fodder for the Internet -- and its tribe of talented composers.

Would you like to hear Cameron's little ditty transformed into a waltz? A sad sort of serenade? Acid house? The Internet has all of these for you, and more: not least, Chris... more »

This Prime Minister is no more; as of Wednesday afternoon, David Cameron will be formally resigning and moving out of 10 Downing Street. While we applaud the bravery of Theresa May in stepping into the mess Cameron and his friends left behind, and look forward to real answers to the question of "Just how can this situation get worse?," we can enjoy a musical delight which Cameron has left for us.

What is this? At the end of his resignation announcement yesterday, Cameron walked off, and with his mic still hot, hummed a little tune, ending it with "Right. Good." It was a very British sort of ending, and it was even better fodder for the Internet -- and its tribe of talented composers.

Would you like to hear Cameron's little ditty transformed into a waltz? A sad sort of serenade? Acid house? The Internet has all of these for you, and more: not least, Chris Hollis' revelation that the tune is an awfully good intro for something that sounds like John Williams' Imperial March. While we did not get to see David Cameron actually breathing heavily through a mask, I still hold to the hope that tonight, in his last night of privacy at 10 Downing, he will be listening to this and pretending to swing a lightsaber around.

Via +Kimberly Chapman.___

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2016-07-10 21:20:19 (18 comments; 17 reshares; 252 +1s; )Open 

___

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2016-07-10 21:09:39 (52 comments; 27 reshares; 151 +1s; )Open 

The American and European press tends to portray Israeli politics in fairly simplistic, one-sided ways: it's either composed entirely of heroes or of villains. Reality, as you may guess, is quite a bit more complicated. The past few years have been more complicated still, as a right-wing coalition forged by Netanyahu has gradually shifted towards fascism, and he has worked steadily to weaken his most powerful and determined enemy: the military.

This is one of those ways in which Israeli politics are very different from other countries': the Israeli military is universally respected across society, and it has also systematically been one of the clearest voices for restraint, diplomacy, and peace. Netanyahu, on the other hand, forged a coalition out of the ultra-Orthodox, ultranationalists, settlers, and the clever manipulation of Russian immigrants – groups either new to the country orhi... more »

The American and European press tends to portray Israeli politics in fairly simplistic, one-sided ways: it's either composed entirely of heroes or of villains. Reality, as you may guess, is quite a bit more complicated. The past few years have been more complicated still, as a right-wing coalition forged by Netanyahu has gradually shifted towards fascism, and he has worked steadily to weaken his most powerful and determined enemy: the military.

This is one of those ways in which Israeli politics are very different from other countries': the Israeli military is universally respected across society, and it has also systematically been one of the clearest voices for restraint, diplomacy, and peace. Netanyahu, on the other hand, forged a coalition out of the ultra-Orthodox, ultranationalists, settlers, and the clever manipulation of Russian immigrants – groups either new to the country or historically at the sidelines of politics. (The largest ultra-Orthodox party, for example, spent years with their primary focus being on corruption. For it, not against it, in case that isn't clear)

Fascinatingly, he has done this despite being widely hated and mistrusted. Much of his power came not from his own personal success, but through a combination of luck and planning keeping everyone else in chaos.

This article goes through the history of the political manoeuvers which allowed Netanyahu to achieve this unprecedented level of power. It doesn't explain nearly everything; there are many dimensions beyond this, including the collapse of the left wing following the failed Camp David talks in 2000, the vacuum created by Ariel Sharon's unexpected stroke in 2006, or the long-term effects of the project to convert second-generation Russian immigrants to the far right. (First-generation immigrants were offered inexpensive housing in settlements; existing (ultranationalist) settlers got to define how things like education worked in those areas.)

Nor, alas, does it explain why Netanyahu is such an asshole. But this appears to be our fate: Some men are born assholes; some achieve assholery; yet we all seem to have assholes thrust upon us.

(Article via medium.com/@TheSunday)___

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2016-07-09 08:44:09 (23 comments; 20 reshares; 140 +1s; )Open 

ESPN's 2016 "Body Issue" is out, and with it, another exceptional collection of photography. As every year, they've photographed a variety of athletes from a variety of sports, male and female, as nudes; as every year, the images seem to show the range of forms the human body can take when it is pushed to extremes of grace and ability; and as every year, it is very much worth a look.

The primary link is at http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/body/espn-magazine-body-issue , with just photos at http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/16797886/image/1/bodies-want-2016-bodies-want-2016 . Pictured below is Vince Wilfork of the Houston Texans; appearances to the contrary, this is not a bronze cast by Rodin.

ESPN's 2016 "Body Issue" is out, and with it, another exceptional collection of photography. As every year, they've photographed a variety of athletes from a variety of sports, male and female, as nudes; as every year, the images seem to show the range of forms the human body can take when it is pushed to extremes of grace and ability; and as every year, it is very much worth a look.

The primary link is at http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/body/espn-magazine-body-issue , with just photos at http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/16797886/image/1/bodies-want-2016-bodies-want-2016 . Pictured below is Vince Wilfork of the Houston Texans; appearances to the contrary, this is not a bronze cast by Rodin.___

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2016-07-08 23:59:20 (45 comments; 35 reshares; 576 +1s; )Open 

Apparently, the milk most similar to human milk is zebra milk.

Different mammal species create a fairly wide range of milks, from the extremely dilute milk of black rhinos (0.2% fat) to the extremely concentrated milk of hooded seals (61% fat). Among other effects, this balances the need to transfer lots of nutrients to the child quickly with the mother's own nutritional needs. And generally, similar species have similar milk -- with a few exceptions like humans and zebras.

If you want to read the underlying scientific paper, which studied the chemical composition of 130 different species' milk, you can see it here, with all its data tables in the supplementary information: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.12095/full

Thanks to +Jason Goldman, from whom one learns the oddest things.

Apparently, the milk most similar to human milk is zebra milk.

Different mammal species create a fairly wide range of milks, from the extremely dilute milk of black rhinos (0.2% fat) to the extremely concentrated milk of hooded seals (61% fat). Among other effects, this balances the need to transfer lots of nutrients to the child quickly with the mother's own nutritional needs. And generally, similar species have similar milk -- with a few exceptions like humans and zebras.

If you want to read the underlying scientific paper, which studied the chemical composition of 130 different species' milk, you can see it here, with all its data tables in the supplementary information: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.12095/full

Thanks to +Jason Goldman, from whom one learns the oddest things.___

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2016-07-08 21:23:30 (86 comments; 12 reshares; 160 +1s; )Open 

This. Everything here.

My voice is the white voice you'd expect: concerned, sympathetic, liberal in the way that members of the majority have been taught to be. But I don't pay a price for speaking out. I never will; all I get are plaudits from mostly the white people standing next to me.

Voices from unexpected quarters, under the worst circumstances -- the people who will genuinely pay a price for what they're saying, and when they're saying it -- are more valuable than mine. Even if they come from people I don't like. Even if they come from people who, in other respects, believe in things that I think are monstrous. Even if the words are weaker than mine. Because I can't speak to the people that Paul Ryan speaks to. I can't convince anyone who isn't already half-convinced. I can't evoke doubt.

So it's the unexpected voices that I'm most glad about today: the police chief who vocally spoke out against police militarization on the day after his officers were murdered, the right-wing pundits saying no, this is a problem; we have to speak out; the pastor who organized the rally and resisted the lure of retaliatory violence at a time when it seems so compelling.

Not because they're good people, though some of them are. Because they're speaking to people whom I can't speak to. And it's only when those people are convinced that there will finally be an end to the violence.___This. Everything here.

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2016-07-07 17:02:12 (79 comments; 105 reshares; 525 +1s; )Open 

Hidden inside the network protocol that powers the Internet is a system designed to fight a nuclear war, even if Washington were destroyed by a surprise Soviet attack. Today, it mostly powers cat videos.

This is the system of "precedence," the mechanism that lets the network know that some traffic is more urgent than others. While this may seem like a straightforward idea, the levels of the precedence system -- before the "great renaming" which gave them anodyne names like "AF4/1" -- have a very interesting history indeed.

The first four levels came from US Army standards developed during the Korean War: "routine," "priority," "immediate," and "flash." (With flash priority being for messages that had to be sent in real time -- like "messages recalling or diverting friendly aircraft about to bomb targets... more »

Hidden inside the network protocol that powers the Internet is a system designed to fight a nuclear war, even if Washington were destroyed by a surprise Soviet attack. Today, it mostly powers cat videos.

This is the system of "precedence," the mechanism that lets the network know that some traffic is more urgent than others. While this may seem like a straightforward idea, the levels of the precedence system -- before the "great renaming" which gave them anodyne names like "AF4/1" -- have a very interesting history indeed.

The first four levels came from US Army standards developed during the Korean War: "routine," "priority," "immediate," and "flash." (With flash priority being for messages that had to be sent in real time -- like "messages recalling or diverting friendly aircraft about to bomb targets unexpectedly occupied by friendly forces," which I think you'll agree is something you want people to know about quickly so they'll STOP SHOOTING AT YOU)

The fifth level, "flash override," was developed in the late 1950's -- a special precedence level which only the President and Secretary of Defense (or their deputies, if they were killed) were allowed to use, intended to let them override all other traffic and give the orders to end the world.

On top of this is a sixth level, "CRITIC/ECP." This level was almost entirely forgotten: it was introduced between 1958 and 1963, and then promptly ignored by every generation of documentation afterwards. It remained not quite secret, but never really discussed; a drastic highest priority never used, until mathematical necessity forced its introduction into the Internet Protocol./

The story below is a dive into the rabbit-hole of Cold War planning: how the system designed in secret for the Air Force ultimately ended up powering realtime games and video chat.

The next time you’re streaming an old X-Files episode on Netflix that you’re actually using a mechanism designed to ensure that nuclear war could be reliably fought, even if it had to be done from a modified Boeing 707 after Washington was destroyed. The truth, in this case, is in there.


(Footnote for interested readers: This is, I believe, the first time the entire story, from the military side through to the network side, has been in one place. Many thanks to +Lauren Weinstein, among others, for helping me trace the various threads that led to this.)___

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2016-07-07 04:20:54 (76 comments; 10 reshares; 157 +1s; )Open 

I did Nazi that one coming.

1933-2016: The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

I did Nazi that one coming.

1933-2016: The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.___

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2016-07-06 21:44:48 (194 comments; 12 reshares; 203 +1s; )Open 

The original saying that the phrase "bad apple" comes from is "one bad apple spoils the bunch." Not "one bad apple ISN'T REPRESENTATIVE BECAUSE #NOTALLAPPLES ." 

It's more like "How much rat feces can I add to your milk before you no longer want to drink it?"

WARNING: The comment thread below can only be described as a dumpster fire. I recommend you ignore it completely.

OMG you guys, THIS

freed from private share___The original saying that the phrase "bad apple" comes from is "one bad apple spoils the bunch." Not "one bad apple ISN'T REPRESENTATIVE BECAUSE #NOTALLAPPLES ." 

It's more like "How much rat feces can I add to your milk before you no longer want to drink it?"

WARNING: The comment thread below can only be described as a dumpster fire. I recommend you ignore it completely.

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2016-07-06 04:52:34 (209 comments; 83 reshares; 295 +1s; )Open 

Warning: The video below shows a man being executed. The post below contains graphic details and discussion.

Early this morning, Baton Rouge police arrested a local man named Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, for selling CD's outside a local food mart. In the video, you can watch two officers throw him to the ground and pin him with their bodies; then one of them draws his weapon, places it inches from his head, and fires twice. After the camera turns, you can hear three more shots fired.

According to the coroner's initial report, Sterling was killed by "multiple shots to the chest and back." (See: http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/32371223/coroner-man-shot-by-brpd-multiple-times-to-chest-back-2-officers-placed-on-leave)


I'm deleting the rest of what I wrote here – a quite lengthy, second-by-second analysis of the video – becausetryin... more »

Warning: The video below shows a man being executed. The post below contains graphic details and discussion.

Early this morning, Baton Rouge police arrested a local man named Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, for selling CD's outside a local food mart. In the video, you can watch two officers throw him to the ground and pin him with their bodies; then one of them draws his weapon, places it inches from his head, and fires twice. After the camera turns, you can hear three more shots fired.

According to the coroner's initial report, Sterling was killed by "multiple shots to the chest and back." (See: http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/32371223/coroner-man-shot-by-brpd-multiple-times-to-chest-back-2-officers-placed-on-leave)


I'm deleting the rest of what I wrote here – a quite lengthy, second-by-second analysis of the video – because trying to do this highlighted a more important point for me.

I've been in lots of hand-to-hand fights. I've been in fights at this range involving lethal weapons, and I can imagine this fight from any of the three perspectives. I can tell that at 0:18 – when officer #1 has Sterling's legs pinned, officer #2 has his upper body pinned, and officer #1 yells that he has a gun – officer #2 has no way of knowing whether #1 means that Sterling has a gun on his person, or whether he's drawing and trying to fire. I can tell that drawing a gun, pointing it at someone's head, and threatening them is exactly what I would have done from 0:19 to 0:21. I can feel in an internal rhythm exactly how long those last three seconds would have lasted during a fight – the exact sort of pause that normally leads to a fight ending.

And I can also tell that what happened at 0:22 – firing twice, pausing five seconds, firing three times – is not something I would have done unless my intention were to kill. I can work out exactly three ways it could happen. One is if Sterling suddenly tried to escape; but the video shows nothing like that. The second is if I panicked in the heat of a first real fight. I could easily see someone untrained and inexperienced doing precisely that – and even continuing to shoot later, after they staggered back. That's the exact sort of reason why untrained and inexperienced people shouldn't walk around with guns. But nothing suggests these cops were like that.

The third, and the only one I can't work around, is if officer #2 – I can't imagine myself in this position anymore, but I've seen other people do it – was in an unstoppable escalation mode from the time he drew his gun. The sort of situation where you aren't really seeing anything around you, just responding to your own adrenaline and impulses. But if that's what happened, that explains the first two shots, not the last three. The last three were making sure he was dead.

But what I realized when writing the much more detailed analysis was how little of this matters. I was trying to write out a second-by-second analysis, deliberately taking the officers' position to see how it would look from there, and realizing that there would be some shred of doubt, absolutely.

And if I imagine prosecuting this case, I realize that it turns entirely on the characterization of the people.

If this had been a fight between three civilians, with two of them having – let's just assume – a very good reason to be tackling and immobilizing the third, then I would feel confident that I could get a conviction. The video clearly shows the shooting; they would have to prove self-defense, which would mean convincing a jury that Sterling was about to kill them. There's nothing on the video showing it; you would have to convince them that he was the sort of dedicated killer who, even pinned by two people and with a gun to his head, and even in the fog of a fight, could quietly and calmly draw and aim.

Being brutally realistic: race would matter to a jury in a case like that. If three white people had been in a fight like this, it would be all about establishing the character of the people, who was likely to be telling the truth. If three black people had been involved, the jury would have enough doubts in their hearts about the self-defense argument that they would convict, especially on lesser charges. If two black people had attacked a white person like this, the trial would last ten minutes. If two white people attacked a black person, it would be touch-and-go; anything bad in the victim's history would get the killers off.

The fact that it was police officers in this case simply makes things far more extreme. Even leaving aside the tremendous procedural obstacles to ever prosecuting a cop – they can't legally even be questioned in Louisiana until they have both a lawyer and a union rep, and are allowed thirty days to get that – or the even more tremendous political obstacles – that a prosecutor depends on the police, and vice-versa – any shred of doubt will weigh on their side, as otherwise you're trying to stop police from doing their jobs. Any indication that the victim was less than an angel will be more than enough. You'd be a fool to go to trial.

And more importantly, what I realized when trying to write out the detailed analysis was that I was trying to defend my conclusions, very carefully, from the inevitable response of people who could watch the same video and extract reasonable doubt from it.

The fact is this: if the players in this story were three different people, nobody would be trying to extract every even vaguely credible hypothesis to defend them. That's exactly the same issue as I mentioned for a jury, above; there will be enough people who watch this video, wanting to find that doubt, that even as I tried to simply write an analysis which didn't exonerate them I realized that I was reaching infinitely far for justifications, which I would never do in other circumstances.

That's the thing: "reasonable doubt" is a dangerous creature. The way I normally explain it is, if you can come up with a story for what happened that explains what you saw in court and doesn't make you immediately say "oh, bull shit," that's what a reasonable doubt is. It doesn't have to be the defense's story of what happened, although they may give you such a story. If you can tell a story that explains what you just saw where the defendant isn't guilty, that's reasonable doubt. And if you can't, if every attempt to explain the evidence otherwise makes you think someone is pulling your leg, that's when you can convict.

But real trials don't work that way, for two reasons. The first is that if the jury is predisposed to believe one side or the other, they will stretch their definition of bullshit one way or the other. (The second, less relevant here, is that all evidence indicates that juries don't actually understand "reasonable doubt;" they really vote on "do we think he's guilty?," which is a very different question. For more on that, see Kozinski's famous essay "Criminal Law 2.0:" http://georgetownlawjournal.org/files/2015/06/Kozinski_Preface.pdf)
And I was seeing the same thing, trying to explain what I saw in this video, which I knew any prosecutor would see trying to explain this to a jury. Enough people will want to believe that the officers did the right thing that you could never convict. And that has nothing to do with what's on camera here; it has everything to do with the stories people want to tell about the people.

The fact is, Alton Sterling was a black man. He very likely did not have a perfect angel's background; I don't know yet, but almost nobody actually does. The people who shot him were police officers. They most likely don't have a perfect angel's background either, but that won't matter; any argument I have to make here, and any argument a prosecutor would have to make in front of a jury, would be about their characters, whether you want to live in a world where a cop might execute a man in a fit of anger or whether you want to live in a world where he probably deserved it. And I know what kind of world most people want to live in.

This sort of thing is exactly why we say that black lives matter. Because if we were talking about a white man who had died, especially a nice, respectable one, maybe someone middle-class from a life like we imagine ourselves having or wanting, we would be looking at it intuitively from that victim's point of view, and looking for a reason why such a horrible thing would have happened to them – and blaming the cops. And if we are looking at a black man who has died, maybe someone who feels very different, even dangerous, then we look at it intuitively from the police officers' point of view, or from the point of view of someone who might have been scared of that man, and look for a reason why such a thing made sense.

It's when we start to make arguments like those to ourselves that we lose track of the fact that this was a fight where two people took on one person, pinned him to the ground, and shot him five times.

And no matter who it was, we should be frightened. Because if they can do this to them, one day they'll feel OK doing it to other people, too. There's no sense in which there's a danger only to black people, or Latino people, or to Jews, or to women; when there is a danger to the person standing next to you, there is a danger to you. You are never safe when your neighbor's house is on fire.

This is why – even if there were no other reason to, even if there were no morals or ethics in this world at all – I would say, Black Lives Matter. I would say, we cannot allow ourselves to look at this video and come up with justifications for why it was okay that we would not do if the person who was shot had looked exactly like us, or our spouses, or our children. That is the plain and simple thing which that sentence means: not that black lives matter more than others', but that they do not matter less, that we can never justify a black death in a way that we would not apply to our own.

And I know, with a stone in my heart, that this is not what many people are going to say. It will be hard to convince people that Alton Sterling's death was wrong – it will be hard to even have the conversation with people – because many people will jump, in their hearts, to explain why it was right. Because they will see themselves only in the police officers, not in Alton Sterling's eyes, and they will reach for justifications as though they were justifying themselves.

I do not ask you to see this only through Alton Sterling's eyes.

I ask you to see it through all three sets of eyes, to watch this video and understand how it happened from each perspective, and to use that to make your conclusions, to have your discussions. To know that you could have been any one of those people, not just one or another.

I see myself through two sets of eyes here, and they make me afraid.


Edited to add: A second video has been released by the store owner, showing the events from a different vantage point. In this video, it's far clearer that Sterling was not struggling, and that he did not draw a gun. (One of the officers did remove something from Sterling's pants pocket after he was shot which may have been a gun, but whatever it was, it was deep inside the pocket, not drawn or almost drawn) You can also see that officer #2 had pointed the gun at Sterling's chest, not his head, and the shots all struck him in the immediate vicinity of the heart. Watch this one with care: it's even worse than the first video.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/06/new-video-shows-alton-sterling-was-not-holding-a-gun-when-baton-rogue-police-killed-him.html___

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2016-07-04 23:40:37 (12 comments; 27 reshares; 239 +1s; )Open 

I am really sad to know that these jobs existed and I didn't find out about them until now. They were probably almost impossible to get – jobs like these would have been passed around through a fairly small group of people. But if I had a real chance at one, I would be seriously considering going off to get my union card and learning every building-maintenance–related trade in sight.

Many of NYC's libraries used to have live-in superintendents. It was especially fun for their children. The apartments weren't secret, and the article is about the families, not the apartments, but still a fun read and neat photos.

Except, ignore the first photo at the link. That's from the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Co. That's one of their famous "Tumbleweed Hotel" beds. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/shakespeare-and-company

ht +Lauren Weinstein ___I am really sad to know that these jobs existed and I didn't find out about them until now. They were probably almost impossible to get – jobs like these would have been passed around through a fairly small group of people. But if I had a real chance at one, I would be seriously considering going off to get my union card and learning every building-maintenance–related trade in sight.

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2016-07-04 22:17:55 (48 comments; 25 reshares; 298 +1s; )Open 

Disposable diapers are not as simple as they look: they're actually triumphs of modern materials science and engineering. In order to capture liquids and keep them away from a baby's bottom for hours at a stretch, they use a multi-layered system that combines layered capillaries, multidirectional dispersal, and superabsorbent polymers to form a one-way valve out of nothing but cloth.

One of the basic rules of good infrastructure is that it's invisible; the example I always give is that, if you've spent any time today thinking about your sewage system, you're probably not having a very good day. Diaper engineering takes this to its logical conclusion, being an incredibly sophisticated way of dealing with some of the shit that comes up in our daily lives.

As an added bonus, this video lets you hear Bill Hammack discuss, in his usual precise and dignified tones, the... more »

Disposable diapers are not as simple as they look: they're actually triumphs of modern materials science and engineering. In order to capture liquids and keep them away from a baby's bottom for hours at a stretch, they use a multi-layered system that combines layered capillaries, multidirectional dispersal, and superabsorbent polymers to form a one-way valve out of nothing but cloth.

One of the basic rules of good infrastructure is that it's invisible; the example I always give is that, if you've spent any time today thinking about your sewage system, you're probably not having a very good day. Diaper engineering takes this to its logical conclusion, being an incredibly sophisticated way of dealing with some of the shit that comes up in our daily lives.

As an added bonus, this video lets you hear Bill Hammack discuss, in his usual precise and dignified tones, the containment of "explosive liquefied bowel movements."

Engineering: It's not always pretty, but it can be awfully useful.___

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2016-07-03 02:48:41 (103 comments; 52 reshares; 272 +1s; )Open 

Rulings from a US District Court are rarely of national importance, because any rulings which are at all controversial are almost certain to be appealed – it's the rulings from the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court that tend to stand. But every so often, one comes by that is structured in a way that's particularly likely to withstand those appeals, and those rulings can have a long-lasting impact. Judge Walker's decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger was such a ruling, and its careful crafting had a tremendous impact on gay marriage cases ever after. Judge Reeves' injunction in the HB1523 case may have a similar effect on "religious liberty" laws around the country.

The context of this is that in the past few years, a large number of states have passed "religious freedom" bills which essentially grant people a right to discriminate because of a sincerelyhe... more »

Rulings from a US District Court are rarely of national importance, because any rulings which are at all controversial are almost certain to be appealed – it's the rulings from the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court that tend to stand. But every so often, one comes by that is structured in a way that's particularly likely to withstand those appeals, and those rulings can have a long-lasting impact. Judge Walker's decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger was such a ruling, and its careful crafting had a tremendous impact on gay marriage cases ever after. Judge Reeves' injunction in the HB1523 case may have a similar effect on "religious liberty" laws around the country.

The context of this is that in the past few years, a large number of states have passed "religious freedom" bills which essentially grant people a right to discriminate because of a sincerely held religious belief which they hold. Invariably, these bills tend to reference very particular forms of discrimination: in the past few years, against the LGBTQ community.

If you go a bit back in time, virtually identical laws were used to legalize racial discrimination as well. These laws largely fell apart after the Supreme Court's 1983 ruling in Bob Jones University v. US, where the court ruled that the IRS was allowed to revoke the university's tax-exempt status (derived from its religious affiliation) if it tried to use its religion as grounds for discrimination.

To understand the political importance of that, one has to go back a bit further, to Brown v. Board of Education, the case which overturned "separate but equal." This 1954 decision prompted tremendous opposition; Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd declared a policy of "massive resistance," which included closing a wide range of public schools outright rather than permit them to be integrated.

What happened over the next several decades was the rise of private schools across the South, especially religious schools. As private organizations, they were not subject to Brown v. Board and could continue to discriminate; they thus became "whites-only" schools, and systems of scholarships were set up to ensure that a wide range of white students would be able to attend them. As more of the white population (which really means the middle- to upper-class white population) attended them, funding to public schools was dramatically curtailed. This was repeated at every level from elementary to university.

The 1983 Bob Jones decision effectively banned formal discrimination policies at these schools. In response, the schools tended to eliminate their official racial policies – or at least, just enough to get the courts off their backs. (Bob Jones University, for example, didn't lift its ban on interracial dating until 2000, when George W. Bush's campaign visit there brought the policy back to national attention) Ever since, the "segregation academies" became nominally integrated – but in practice, as the article linked below details, various policies have maintained de facto segregation.

(Incidentally, this is also the context for understanding debates over "charter schools" and "school vouchers" in the eastern US. In the West, with its somewhat different history, these debates have a different meaning altogether, but this fact is often lost in discussion – something which makes politics very confusing at times)

"Religious liberty" bills made a sharp comeback after the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a "closely held" corporation could have religious views of its own which were subject to legal protection – and indeed, that such a protection might even overwhelm a compelling government interest, like providing health care to the public. This ruling was based on a federal law, the 2003 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which places strict limits on the federal government's power to block people's rights to freedom of religion. That law replaced a 1993 law of the same name which also applied to states, but which was struck down in 1997. (The modified law has been tested by the Supreme Court and passed muster)

However, the 1993 and 2003 federal laws came from a very different context; the motivating case of the 1993 case was Native American use of peyote in religious rituals, and public outcry when (under the laws of the time) two men were fired from their job and denied unemployment benefits for having participated in such. The law was passed nearly unanimously. The extension of this right to corporations, and its ability to overrule even a Bob Jones-style government interest, came as a surprise to many: nineteen members of Congress who supported the original law, and separately the US Solicitor General's office, both wrote briefs to the court in Hobby Lobby expressing surprise and alarm, and noting that this was by no means what they intended or anticipated.

In the wake of Hobby Lobby, and with the parallel increasing clarity that gay marriage was going to be allowed, a rush to pass state RFRA laws, and similar laws, happened across conservative states. Unlike the 1993 and 2003 laws, these laws were often far more explicit (either in their text, or in their Congressional discussions, or both) about precisely which freedoms they intended to protect: the freedom to discriminate.

Mississippi's HB1523 was one of the most overt about this, and this is the law that Judge Reeves struck down yesterday. His decision is important because it captures the precise constitutional defects of this law, the very things that you think should be defects: first, that HB1523 protects certain religious beliefs over others, and that people with contrary beliefs are unprotected – which means that it is a case of the government explicitly "putting its thumb on the scales" of religion, favoring one over another. Second, it does so by unduly burdening a particular group in society. This is specifically barred by the Establishment Clause (as determined by cases like Thornton v. Caldor): a law which advances religious beliefs at the expense of those who don't share them is specifically forbidden.

Third, it violates the guarantee of equal protection under law; specifically, under the 1996 Supreme Court decision in Romer v. Evans, you can't pass laws against people specifically because of their sexual orientation; specifically, such laws have no "rational relationship to legitimate state interests."

(Almost all laws reduce someone's rights, even if that "someone" is "murderers." If that loss of right is contested in court, there are different levels of justification that the government has to have for it, depending on the nature of the rights. The lowest bar, the one which applies by default, is "rational basis;" all the government has to show is that the law has some rational relationship to its normal interests. For laws which circumscribe rights on certain special bases like race, there is a much higher "strict scrutiny" bar, where the government has to not only show that the law achieves a "compelling government interest," but that it is the narrowest possible means of achieving that. Rational basis tests rarely fail; strict scrutiny tests rarely succeed. The federal RFRA required strict scrutiny, for example, for any law which impinges someone's ability to exercise their religion. While sexual orientation is not one of the special categories which automatically trigger strict scrutiny, the way that race is, Romer v. Evans found that such laws don't even pass rational basis. A major open question about the law in the next decade or so is whether sexual orientation will be moved on to the strict scrutiny (or more likely, the harder-to-explain "intermediate scrutiny") list.)

This ruling is almost the opposite of final, and yet it will have tremendous impact. First, it is only a preliminary injunction, meaning that the law is held in abeyance only until this case is actually resolved with a final verdict; however, such injunctions require (among other things) that the case have a "substantial likelihood of success," and from the text of the decision, it's pretty clear that the HB1523 proponents have no hope in Reeves' court.

Second, this ruling came from a district court, and will certainly be appealed. The fifth circuit is known as a fairly conservative circuit, but this case is sufficiently egregious that even the appeals court may rule against it. No matter what happens there, though, it is certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court by one side or the other. What happens next is likely to depend on the composition of the Court at that time – who fills the ninth seat, whether any other justices leave the bench before that, and so on. Since it's likely to take a few years until that happens, much of that is an open question, and will depend strongly on the outcome of the next Presidential and Congressional election.

But given the rather clear structuring of this ruling, and its firm grounding in a wide range of fairly recent Supreme Court rulings, this ruling is likely to be quite influential in those ultimate discussions. It would be hard for the Court to overrule this without overturning Bob Jones in the process, something most members of the Court would be loathe to do. On the other hand, a Scalia-era court might have done so: he almost certainly would have favored it, and would have likely pulled the entire conservative wing of the court along with him.

So we are left in an interesting situation: the final outcome of this case is likely to depend strongly on who is on the Supreme Court when it reaches them, and a ruling against HB1523 would have wide-ranging impact, not only invalidating similar laws across the country but placing meaningful effective boundaries on just what "religious freedom" is allowed to imply. Yesterday's district court ruling is likely to play a meaningful part in that question, and so we should all continue to watch this and see how it develops.

More reading material:

Judge Walker's decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, an excellent illustration of how a district judge can influence higher courts. NB that the jury, or the original trial judge in the case of a bench trial like this one, is the one who can speak to things like the credibility of witnesses; later appeals can be about issues of law, but not issues of fact. Walker did a splendid job of focusing his decision on the factual side, showing that the arguments made by lawyers and witnesses added up in a very specific way. That made this decision especially hard to contest later on. https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov/cand/09cv2292/files/09cv2292-ORDER.pdf

Judge Reeves' decision on HB1523: http://files.eqcf.org/cases/316-cv-00442-35/

More about Bob Jones v. US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Jones_University_v._United_States

More about the "segregation academies:" http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/in-southern-towns-segregation-academies-are-still-going-strong/266207/___

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2016-07-01 17:30:05 (57 comments; 28 reshares; 182 +1s; )Open 

The incessant debasement of our language with forms like singular "you" must be stopped!

(If you want to learn more about the distinction between singular/informal and plural/formal versions of "you" in European languages, you can start with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%E2%80%93V_distinction -- or with the comments on the OP, which are quite good)

Whoa, I thought "you" was originally formal singular. But this rant fascinates me!

Next time someone complains about singular "they" I'll point them to this 17th century rant against singular "you"

<https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Ellwood>
___The incessant debasement of our language with forms like singular "you" must be stopped!

(If you want to learn more about the distinction between singular/informal and plural/formal versions of "you" in European languages, you can start with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%E2%80%93V_distinction -- or with the comments on the OP, which are quite good)

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2016-06-28 04:41:23 (0 comments; 30 reshares; 232 +1s; )Open 

If you want to hear something powerful, eloquent, and true, spend five minutes watching Jesse Williams' speech. There's simply nothing I can add on to that.

If the (Flash) link here doesn't work for you, you can watch it here too: https://twitter.com/uchejombo/status/747324131285172224

(In fact, for the sake of my sanity, I'm not going to open comments on this one. You can reshare if you want to talk.)

This brotha just dropped the mic like Odin dropped Thor's hammer when he cast him out. Ain't no one picking this up after him! Damn son.

"The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander." -Jesse Williams

Agree with each and every word he said. Point blank, period!___If you want to hear something powerful, eloquent, and true, spend five minutes watching Jesse Williams' speech. There's simply nothing I can add on to that.

If the (Flash) link here doesn't work for you, you can watch it here too: https://twitter.com/uchejombo/status/747324131285172224

(In fact, for the sake of my sanity, I'm not going to open comments on this one. You can reshare if you want to talk.)

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2016-06-27 23:50:37 (62 comments; 31 reshares; 319 +1s; )Open 

There are several fascinating things in this article. First, electrocuting people really was seen as the greatest sort of practical joke in the 1920's, which should tell you something about the 1920's. Second, we're not talking about gentle shocks, here. We're talking about shocks which propel people across the room, because apparently the 1920's were casually murderous.

Third, this article quotes a letter from a 1923 issue of Practical Electrics, from someone who built a shocking-awing-and-maiming device for a customer. It ends with "When we gave him a bill he said it was a little more than expected, but he forced a smile over his face and managed to say, “It’s cheaper than monkey glands, whatever they may cost.”"

While the author of the article doesn't know what this means, you lucky readers can find out, because we've heard about thisbefor... more »

There are several fascinating things in this article. First, electrocuting people really was seen as the greatest sort of practical joke in the 1920's, which should tell you something about the 1920's. Second, we're not talking about gentle shocks, here. We're talking about shocks which propel people across the room, because apparently the 1920's were casually murderous.

Third, this article quotes a letter from a 1923 issue of Practical Electrics, from someone who built a shocking-awing-and-maiming device for a customer. It ends with "When we gave him a bill he said it was a little more than expected, but he forced a smile over his face and managed to say, “It’s cheaper than monkey glands, whatever they may cost.”"

While the author of the article doesn't know what this means, you lucky readers can find out, because we've heard about this before! This has to do with the 1920's obsession of shoving monkey testicles into people's bodies. Because the 1920's were apparently that sort of decade. You can read more about it here:

https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/DBa5P1TLRTG

Fourth, the 1920's fetish for electrocution was, if anything, saner than what people were doing before that. Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776-1810, and it's a miracle he lived that long) was probably the most extreme case of this, constructing an enormous voltaic pile in his home for the simple purpose of electrocuting his various body parts at every opportunity. He became largely a shut-in and recluse over time, spending all his time with his "wife" -- and yes, he had a proper wedding ceremony with his voltaic pile. Needless to say, his health deteriorated fairly rapidly, especially as he attained higher and higher voltages.

There is no web site I know of which will do justice to Ritter's story; if you want to know about this, I recommend Alex Boese's book Electrified Sheep, which is all about the history of mad science.

https://www.amazon.com/Electrified-Sheep-Glass-eating-Scientists-Experiments/dp/1250031702

h/t to +Jennifer Ouellette for the shocks.___

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2016-06-27 06:43:20 (87 comments; 53 reshares; 617 +1s; )Open 

In more amusing news today, here's what a transparent potato gun looks like at 20,000 frames per second. The full video is quite fun, and he does a bunch of demos as he shows how ignition at the base works better than ignition in the middle.

Of course, he doesn't continue with the obvious improvements: changing the chamber geometry to allow more thorough burning, and calculating the right stoichiometry so that fuel and oxygen are balanced. Not to mention rifling the barrel.

(Before you think this exceeds the range of "potato gun," consider that the first man-made object to exceed Earth's escape velocity may well have been a manhole cover accidentally fired straight upwards during the "nuclear potato cannon" incident during Operation Plumbbob, a 1957 American underground test. Forensics suggest that the X-rays from the explosion instantaneously vaporized... more »

In more amusing news today, here's what a transparent potato gun looks like at 20,000 frames per second. The full video is quite fun, and he does a bunch of demos as he shows how ignition at the base works better than ignition in the middle.

Of course, he doesn't continue with the obvious improvements: changing the chamber geometry to allow more thorough burning, and calculating the right stoichiometry so that fuel and oxygen are balanced. Not to mention rifling the barrel.

(Before you think this exceeds the range of "potato gun," consider that the first man-made object to exceed Earth's escape velocity may well have been a manhole cover accidentally fired straight upwards during the "nuclear potato cannon" incident during Operation Plumbbob, a 1957 American underground test. Forensics suggest that the X-rays from the explosion instantaneously vaporized the iron pipe lining the well through which test instrumentation came in; as a result, the four-foot-diameter manhole cover began to travel upwards at great speed. The camera was only running at 160fps, so we can only give a lower bound on its velocity – here one frame, gone the next – at 41 miles per second. While its aerodynamics make it highly unlikely that it made it through the atmosphere and into space, if it did, it would actually give the Americans accidental priority on a space launch, by a few months.)___

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2016-06-26 22:13:52 (163 comments; 29 reshares; 218 +1s; )Open 

+Jürgen Hubert makes a very important point here.

The Brexit campaign was not all about racism; in fact, one could have a very interesting discussion about the multiple independent campaigns that were going on, talking to different people about different things. Pensioners in Wales weren't voting for it for the same reason as workers in Liverpool. But it's impossible to deny that one of the very prominent threads in that campaign was violent racism – and that, after the vote, these voices are far more emboldened in British society.

And as Jürgen says, this phenomenon is by no means confined to the UK. We've seen it on the rise in America, across Europe, and across Asia. Nor has the phenomenon been confined to race: as economies worsen around the world, there are increasingly large groups who believe that we could make all our problems go away if we just took care ofthose... more »

These are snippets from the new, post- #Brexit United Kingdom. They are originally from a huge Facebook album, and I am resharing them here because some people can't access that album.

https://www.facebook.com/sarah.leblanc.718/media_set?set=a.10101369198638985&type=3

Now, some of you might think I am posting this to make an "anti-British statement. But really, I am not.

Instead, I want to make a statement how close xenophobia and racism are slumbering under the surface of society, and how easily they can emerge.

Because I suspect... no, I know damn well that the same could happen in my native Germany. There are already significant groups pandering to hate, racism, and intolerance. PEGIDA. The Alternative für Deutschland party. And if more mainstream politicians feel that they must pander to these, baser instincts - if they indicate that displaying xenophobia is something socially acceptable - then racist incidents will surge just as much in Germany as it is now happening in the United Kingdom.

This could be us.___+Jürgen Hubert makes a very important point here.

The Brexit campaign was not all about racism; in fact, one could have a very interesting discussion about the multiple independent campaigns that were going on, talking to different people about different things. Pensioners in Wales weren't voting for it for the same reason as workers in Liverpool. But it's impossible to deny that one of the very prominent threads in that campaign was violent racism – and that, after the vote, these voices are far more emboldened in British society.

And as Jürgen says, this phenomenon is by no means confined to the UK. We've seen it on the rise in America, across Europe, and across Asia. Nor has the phenomenon been confined to race: as economies worsen around the world, there are increasingly large groups who believe that we could make all our problems go away if we just took care of those people. Sometimes "those people" are immigrants, sometimes they come from particular races, sometimes they hold particular jobs, sometimes they have particular religions. I'm several of "those people" myself, and I'm painfully aware that no mob ever starts that isn't likely to turn against me (and my family) before it's done.

The images shared are just small snippets of what's been circulating around Britain in the past few days. But the worst thing about them is that they're hardly atypical compared to what routinely circulates about the US and Europe.

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2016-06-26 22:04:32 (10 comments; 3 reshares; 107 +1s; )Open 

There is really nothing I can add to this essay.

This: "I’m looking on Twitter and #LoveWins is trending for Pride. What exactly did we win? When Orlando happened people were telling me that love always beats out hate. When? Where? I want documentation of this. I want evidence. It’s a really empty and shallow platitude to encourage me to be a martyr and keep the faith under the level of prejudice this nation has against queer people."___There is really nothing I can add to this essay.

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2016-06-25 22:43:13 (82 comments; 61 reshares; 433 +1s; )Open 

This article buries its most interesting results deep at the bottom. It's about a series of new psychological studies about how people react to hearing about a crime: whether they're more likely to feel compassion for the victim or ask why the victim put themselves in that situation.

The top-line result is not entirely surprising, although it has many interesting nuances. People who feel "individualizing values" more strongly – values like promoting the care of others or preventing unfair behaviors – are more likely to feel compassion for the victim, while people who feel "binding values" more strongly – values like loyalty, obedience, and purity – are more likely to look at the victim's responsibility.

Everyone feels both sets of values, of course, but the balance between the two differs from person to person, and is a relatively stablething, ten... more »

This article buries its most interesting results deep at the bottom. It's about a series of new psychological studies about how people react to hearing about a crime: whether they're more likely to feel compassion for the victim or ask why the victim put themselves in that situation.

The top-line result is not entirely surprising, although it has many interesting nuances. People who feel "individualizing values" more strongly – values like promoting the care of others or preventing unfair behaviors – are more likely to feel compassion for the victim, while people who feel "binding values" more strongly – values like loyalty, obedience, and purity – are more likely to look at the victim's responsibility.

Everyone feels both sets of values, of course, but the balance between the two differs from person to person, and is a relatively stable thing, tending to change slowly over a person's life rather than from day to day. The main result of the study was that this axis predicted people's response to hearing about crimes in a way that things like political orientation, gender, and religion didn't.

An unexpected result comes from one of the later studies, which experimented by describing the same events with either the victim or the perpetrator as the subject of the sentence. ("Lisa was forced by Dan" versus "Dan forced Lisa") What they found was that phrasings which focused attention on the victim led to increased levels of victim blaming, while phrasings which focused on the perpetrator decreased them.

This surprised the researchers, who had initially expected that focusing attention on the victim would elicit more sympathy for them. But the real pattern seems to be different: "individualizers" are partitioning the problem in terms of who hurt whom, while "binders" are asking what would have avoided the problem in the first place. For individualizers, a focus on the victim simply highlights the things which were already their focus on attention, while binders will focus their critique on whichever one they are looking at.

As the authors point out, this suggests that the interests of justice (as opposed to those of repair) may be better served by focusing less on victims and more on perpetrators – that is, asking "'Why did he think he had license to rape?' rather than 'Imagine what she must be going through.'" That is, our common need to help the victims of crime and deal with the perpetrators of crime may be best served by phrasing – and discussing – the problem differently in those two contexts.___

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2016-06-25 00:34:36 (166 comments; 27 reshares; 268 +1s; )Open 

I don't think I could have summarized the Brexit vote more succinctly.

("My predecessor took our country to the edge of a precipice; but under my administration, we will take a great leap forward...")

Via +Andres Soolo.

https://twitter.com/PGourevitch/status/746451341199958016___I don't think I could have summarized the Brexit vote more succinctly.

("My predecessor took our country to the edge of a precipice; but under my administration, we will take a great leap forward...")

Via +Andres Soolo.

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2016-06-24 18:29:04 (72 comments; 34 reshares; 257 +1s; )Open 

The replies to Trump's "Brexit" tweet really illustrate the wonderful range of Scottish insults. I think I'll particularly remember phrases like "you weapons-grade plum," "you muppet," and "you toupéed fucktrumpet;" somehow, I anticipate that they'll be quite useful in politics for many years to come.

Some other good phrases I've found in the Twitter threads: you tit, you twat, you twonk, you uncooked pastry, you catastrophic man-child, you vulgar talking yam, you ludicrous tangerine ball-sack.

"Delete your golf course..." - Scots' NSFW tweets say exactly how they feel about Trump's silly self-promoting tweet praising Brexit___The replies to Trump's "Brexit" tweet really illustrate the wonderful range of Scottish insults. I think I'll particularly remember phrases like "you weapons-grade plum," "you muppet," and "you toupéed fucktrumpet;" somehow, I anticipate that they'll be quite useful in politics for many years to come.

Some other good phrases I've found in the Twitter threads: you tit, you twat, you twonk, you uncooked pastry, you catastrophic man-child, you vulgar talking yam, you ludicrous tangerine ball-sack.

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2016-06-24 16:28:53 (121 comments; 54 reshares; 394 +1s; )Open 

The second-most-popular query about the EU from the UK today is "What is the EU?"

That's the second-most-popular query they day after the UK voted to leave it. On a subject you would think people would have been a bit more interested in a few days earlier. I have a bad feeling that a lot of people were "voting their gut" so thoroughly that they didn't even stop to think "wait, what would a 'leave' vote actually mean?"

See also: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/06/24/the-british-are-frantically-googling-what-the-eu-is-hours-after-voting-to-leave-it/ ; h/t +Peter da Silva.

The second-most-popular query about the EU from the UK today is "What is the EU?"

That's the second-most-popular query they day after the UK voted to leave it. On a subject you would think people would have been a bit more interested in a few days earlier. I have a bad feeling that a lot of people were "voting their gut" so thoroughly that they didn't even stop to think "wait, what would a 'leave' vote actually mean?"

See also: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/06/24/the-british-are-frantically-googling-what-the-eu-is-hours-after-voting-to-leave-it/ ; h/t +Peter da Silva.___

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2016-06-24 05:29:15 (26 comments; 26 reshares; 196 +1s; )Open 

This is a great article, but the best part is the 23-minute video attached, with an Air Force colonel explaining the SAGE system and how it works, often in surprising detail. SAGE was never a particularly successful system, but it had a tremendous impact on computers; the technologies that were invented in the process shaped everything from the design of your desktop computer to the Internet itself. The round screen you're seeing, for example, is an early CRT monitor, and could be controlled with a light pen – in 1957.

They still have many bits of SAGE at the +Computer History Museum, and they look just as horrifyingly kitschy as you would imagine. But the reason they look so kitschy is because many of them ended up not in museums, but in movie studios, where they have been parts of film sets for decades. These really are the magic computers of your childhood, just not through theiror... more »

This article's statement -- that various individuals who worked on SAGE later worked on development of ARPANET -- is true. It's also a fact that of that set of persons I've known, the consensus was that SAGE really never worked as advertised. However, it dramatically expanded the state of the art in a vast number of ways, and later as surplus provided an array of familiar props for Irwin Allen television series and films.___This is a great article, but the best part is the 23-minute video attached, with an Air Force colonel explaining the SAGE system and how it works, often in surprising detail. SAGE was never a particularly successful system, but it had a tremendous impact on computers; the technologies that were invented in the process shaped everything from the design of your desktop computer to the Internet itself. The round screen you're seeing, for example, is an early CRT monitor, and could be controlled with a light pen – in 1957.

They still have many bits of SAGE at the +Computer History Museum, and they look just as horrifyingly kitschy as you would imagine. But the reason they look so kitschy is because many of them ended up not in museums, but in movie studios, where they have been parts of film sets for decades. These really are the magic computers of your childhood, just not through their original use.

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