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Topics - AgelessDrifter

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General Discussion / Vote's in, England's out
« on: June 24, 2016, 12:48:38 AM »
Or so it would seem. 93.5% reporting in, 52% for the Brexit.

JPY is the only currency gaining (Pound dropping like a brick). Fucking markets in Japan are frozen so the yen doesn't gain anymore while this thing smooths out (goddammit), but this is still great news for me--100JPY=0.992USD is the best exchange rate by far that we've had since I got here. brb bouta go empty my Japanese bank account.


One of the curious features of network science is that the same networks underlie entirely different phenomena. As a result, these phenomena have deep similarities that are far from obvious at first glance. Good examples include the spread of disease, the size of forest fires, and even the distribution of earthquake magnitude, which all follow a similar pattern. This is a direct result of their sharing the same network structure.

So it’s usually no surprise that the same “laws” emerge when physicists find the same networks underlying other phenomena. Exactly this has happened repeatedly in the social sciences. Network science now allows social scientists to model societies, to study the way ideas, gossip, fashions, and so on flow through society—and even to study how this influences opinion.

To do this they’ve used the tools developed to study other disciplines. That’s why the new field of computational social science has become so powerful so quickly.

But there’s another field of endeavor that also stands to benefit: the study of history. Throughout history, humans have formed networks that have played a profound role in the way events have unfolded. Historians have recently begun to reconstruct these networks using historical sources such as correspondence and contemporary records.

Today, Johannes Preiser-Kapeller at the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna explains how this approach is casting a new light on various historical events. Indeed, the work has uncovered previously unknown patterns in the way history unfolds. In the same way that patterns in nature reveal the laws of physics, these discoveries are revealing the first laws of history.

Preiser-Kapeller has focused on medieval conflicts and particularly those relating to the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century, which was concentrated around Constantinople, a link between European and Asian trade networks. This was a period of significant conflict because of changing political forces, the plague, and climate change caused by a small ice age during the Middle Ages.

Preiser-Kapeller has reconstructed the political networks that existed at the time using surviving correspondence and other historical records. In these networks, each influential individual is a node, and links are drawn between those who share significant relationships. To be registered on the network, these links have to be recorded in correspondence with phrases such as My noble aunt or My imperial cousin.  He also records how these change over time.

Using standard algorithms to study various measures of network structure, Preiser-Kapeller found clusters within the network, identified the most important actors in a network, and examined how individuals clustered around others who were similar in some way.

How these measures change over time turns out to have an important link to the major events that unfolded later. For example, Preiser-Kapeller  says, the fragmentation of the political network created the conditions for a civil war that permanently weakened the Byzantine Empire. It ultimately collapsed in 1453.

These changes also followed some interesting patterns. “The distribution of frequencies of the number of conflict ties activated in a year tends to follow a power law,” says Preiser-Kapeller. Exactly the same power-law patterns emerge when complexity scientists study the size distribution of wars, epidemics, and religions.

An interesting question is whether the same patterns turn up elsewhere in history. To find out, he compared the Byzantium network with those from five other periods of medieval conflict in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

And the results make for interesting reading. “On average across all five polities, a change of ruler in one year increased the probability for another change in the following year threefold,” says Preiser-Kapeller. So the closer you are to an upheaval, the more likely there is to be another one soon. Or in other words, upheavals tend to cluster together.

That’s a rule that should sound familiar to geophysicists. A similar phenomenon exists in earthquake records: the more recent a big earthquake, the greater the likelihood of another big one soon. This is known as Omori’s law—that earthquakes tend to cluster together.

It’s no surprise that similar effects arise in these systems, since they are both governed by the same network science. Historians would be well within their rights to adopt this and other patterns as “laws of history.”

These laws are ripe for further study. While the complexity that arises from network theory in many areas of science has been studied for decades, there has been almost no such research in the field of history. That suggests there is low-hanging fruit to be had by the first generation of computational historians, like Preiser-Kapeller. Expect to hear more about it the near future.

Obviously super dubious of this type of thing for myriad obvious reasons, but it could still be fun to play around with as a heuristic and see what kinds of apparent patterns pop out. Even if it can't ever provide actual laws, (which I believe is beyond question,) it could still be thought provoking at least.

Imagine a spamalot in which we are all mods
Across a number of professions, bosses have been vanishing. Last year, Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online shoe mega-retailer Zappos, announced that the company would implement Holacracy, a hierarchy-free office model with which Hsieh had become enamored after attending a conference talk by its creators. Under Holacracy—which bills itself as a system that “removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles”—Zappos employees would design their own job descriptions and work with colleagues in autonomous “circles” free from the hovering interference of “people managers.” (Former people managers were to find new roles in the company or accept buyouts.)

Hsieh hasn’t been the only boss to institute a bossless office in recent years. Somewhere between rigid corporate hierarchy and the approximately three hundred worker cooperatives that exist in the US today lies an expanding realm of manager-free workplaces. Most are white-collar and many, like Zappos, are the sorts of tech firms that have been famously predisposed to collaborative work arrangements, casual dress codes, beanbags, and other anti-corporate trappings since the beginning. But there are also industrial operations like Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processing plant, where over 2,000 employees annually sign “Colleague Letters of Understanding” that lay out each worker’s job description and output goals, in lieu of managers to oversee production. In a 2013 overview for New York Magazine on the rise of bossless workplaces, Matthew Schaer reported that even Morning Star’s internal conflicts were resolved without hierarchy: instead of management or HR handling clashes between employees, anywhere from one to ten of the feuding parties’ colleagues would be enlisted to mediate the spat.

Does the bossless office signal progress for workers? The majority of Americans still answer to supervisors, and there are scant few who haven’t grumbled—if not seethed—over incompetent, abusive, or overly controlling managers. A number of studies have unsurprisingly confirmed that bad bosses create undue amounts of stress for workers. Thus, it stands to reason that removing such meddlesome disciplinarians, as companies like Zappos and Morning Star have done, has the potential to improve worker morale vastly. “It’s a beautiful way of structuring a workplace,” Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen told Inc. magazine last year. “Management is not nearly as necessary as it thinks it is.”

Growing evidence suggests that the disappearance of management bureaucracy also makes offices more productive. In an interview with Current, Martha Little, a senior producer at Audible, praised the company’s collaborative work structure and explained that top-down management was quickly becoming an obsolete way of organizing workplaces. “In this very fast-paced, very tech-oriented media-delivery-service world, I don’t think the hierarchies can really keep up with the fast pace of change, flexibility and input of ideas that you need to compete,” she said. In the Wall Street Journal, Tim Clem, an employee at the tech outfit GitHub [ed. no relation], similarly noted of his company’s bossless setup, “It makes you want to do more.”

But if employees at bossless offices often report good spirits and high productivity, outside of true worker cooperatives there is a hard limit to the workplace democracy, and it usually takes the form of the company’s purse strings. As Schaer noted of Morning Star, “The company is privately held, and no employee, no matter how hard-performing, is entitled to a share of the profits.” And different pay grades exist at all of the aforementioned “flattened” companies, no matter whose or how many voices are “heard” at company meetings.

Not only does the bossless office camouflage longstanding monetary inequalities, it also outsources the tasks once assigned to managers to an increasing number of workers. Employees at bossless companies who have supposedly been liberated from their manager overlords are generally compelled to absorb the duties of the now-nonexistent management in addition to whatever roles they might otherwise perform. At the software company Menlo Innovations—which prides itself on its boss-free, non-hierarchical work environment—committees of employees must reach consensus on most HR matters including hiring, firing, and determining employees’ pay. The absence of management, in other words, tends merely to displace “traditional” boss responsibilities onto a new group of people rather than eliminate them entirely.

Media theorist Alexander Galloway has challenged the assumption that horizontal arrangements are inherently egalitarian. According to Galloway, over the last few decades, labor and culture alike have been increasingly organized as networks—evident in the rise of “flexible” workplaces and cultural phenomena like the rise of social media. While plenty of academics and activists alike continue to believe that the dissolution of official hierarchy (the boss, the state) is synonymous with the dissolution of power, Galloway argues that such processes may only reflect the changing nature of a post-Fordist world. He further cautions, “Centralized verticality is only one form of organization. The distributed network is simply a different form of organization, one with its own special brand of management and control.”


While Amazon’s punitive, highly-surveilled workplace indeed sounds nightmarish, it’s perhaps the new breed of bossless office that illuminates the dystopian endgame of work under neoliberalism.

The bossless, decentralized Zappos model has been proffered as a liberatory answer to the soul-crushing environments of places like Amazon. However, while Amazon’s punitive, highly-surveilled workplace indeed sounds nightmarish, it’s perhaps the new breed of bossless office that illuminates the dystopian endgame of work under neoliberalism. Imagine, in other words, a labor-extraction apparatus so well-oiled that bosses are obsolete because every worker is one; that is, willing to oversee and discipline both their own production and that of their peers in service of capital. If managers are, as economist Frédéric Lordon has described them, “strange employees, materially on the side of labor but symbolically on the side of capital,” we might also call them neoliberalism’s model worker.

Converting a population that has historically required coercion to participate in wage labor into model workers requires, above all, reconfiguring that population’s desires when it comes to work and management. In his 2014 book Willing Slaves of Capital, Lordon examines the ever-increasing alignment of employees’ desires with those of their employers, tracing the shift from workers’ gloomy toil under Fordist capitalism to the seemingly cheerful servitude of our current era. If work was once primarily a means to obtain the money necessary first for staying alive, and then, for accessing the pleasures of consumerism, these days, Lordon finds, “the desire to find employment should no longer be merely a mediated desire for the goods that wages circuitously permit buying, but an intrinsic desire for the activity for its own sake.”

We can see this in the explosion of what the critic Miya Tokumitsu has called “Do What You Love,” the pleasant-sounding but pernicious mantra that exhorts workers to seek employment that they find personally fulfilling above all other criteria (and in particular, “conventional” criteria like job security, higher pay, and employee benefits). This ideology, which muddies the division between work and leisure time and privileges certain forms of labor over others, functions as an important part of what Lordon terms “co-linearization,” or the process by which workers’ interests come to fully overlap with his or her employer’s. While creative and white-collar professions have demanded at least the appearance of employees’ co-linearization for some time (try admitting in a job interview that you’re pursuing the position for the money rather than a unique passion for the firm), this condition has expanded to even undesirable, low-wage jobs, including sandwich makers and telemarketers.

And alongside the requirement for workers to wear a happy face even in a time of stagnant real wages and soaring income inequality is the rise of new methods for enforcing this good behavior. The digital era has birthed low- or no-cost modes of monitoring workers’ activity, many of which rely on the general public to appraise a company’s employees. For instance, a report by Josh Dzieza in The Verge late last year found that ratings systems for apps such as Uber and Handy, which are meant to regulate the quality of the services provided, effectively transform customers into “unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error.”

Likewise, social media platforms and review websites such as Yelp have outsourced worker management to the public behind the veneer of improving customer service. We often hear about customer feedback mechanisms when they function in service of social justice, such as with dentist-cum-hunter Walter Palmer—whose office’s Yelp page swelled with angry comments after his unceremonious slaying of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe—or the Yelp reviews that tipped off the public to a Napa Valley wine tour that had ejected a group of black women from its train seemingly for the crime of laughing. But far more common are the clampdowns on quotidian infractions described by Joshua Sperber in his sobering New Labor Forum article on the rise of Yelp as a tool for labor discipline. Sperber notes of restaurant workers:

Yelp reviews are frequently read by restaurant owners and have been invoked to discipline, and even fire, restaurant employees who have been criticized on the site. In this way, Yelp contributors not only enrich Yelp but function as unpaid managers, or “secret shoppers,” for the restaurant industry.

These technologies not only allow actual managers to better surveil their employees, but also prime their users to assume managerial roles by encouraging them to identify and publicly discipline the behavior of workers they believe have underperformed, such as rude or slow-witted customer service reps.

The compulsion to act as a surrogate boss has also surfaced through an increasing number of more innocuous forms. One is the popular internet meme “You Had One Job,” a running catalogue of upside-down signs, ill-conceived shop displays, and other “fails” which unintentionally but inevitably implicate some worker somewhere for not having executed a task properly. While there are probably little to no repercussions aside from embarrassment for those who find their work displayed on “You Had One Job,” such practices nevertheless subtly encourage the public to scrutinize and evaluate the labor of others under the guise of a benign form of entertainment.

Modern career literature even encourages us to manage our managers. Especially within white-collar professions, work advice over the last few years has extolled the benefits of “managing up”—that is, placating moody, temperamental, or inept bosses in order to perform one’s own job better. While much of this advice is merely practical, it usually also advocates some variation of taking on the qualities absent in one’s manager. (In the event of a bumbling boss, Harvard Business Review recommends “filling the leadership void”; US News advises “thinking like a CEO.”) “Managing up” may bestow the illusion of increased power for underlings, but new reports have found that employees who feel trusted by their bosses—in other words, those who end up taking on those bosses’ burdens—suffer psychologically for it. It turns out that feeling like a boss, so to speak, isn’t entirely pleasant.

Though the blurring of the lines between worker, manager, employer, and employee may sometimes look like egalitarianism, under capitalism, it portends the further erosion of organized labor. If every union contract begins with a grievance against management, what of the shop where no managers exist, or where everyone is one? As more and more workers are primed—and in many cases forced—to become bosses-by-proxy both in and outside of their workplaces, it’s worth recalling the time-tested union-busting tactic of companies promoting employees to management in order to bar them from joining nascent unions. Our current moment of capitalism, in which the allure of horizontalism masks the slow conversion of all workers to bosses, amounts to this practice writ large.

According to Lordon, breaking the insidious co-linearization between employee and employer that defines this era will entail reconstituting our interests as workers to no longer desire work in and of itself. This, of course, is easier said than done, but a first step might include rethinking the idea that the disappearance of the traditional manager is necessarily a step forward. If it is infinitely more difficult for workers to assert our class interests when management is invisible or dispersed, let us keep our bosses. Or, more specifically, let us keep them in our sights.

Sort of parallels the recent concern over China's public karma system.

The article's not necessarily entirely convincing of the particular points it's trying to make, but I did think it was thought-provoking. In particular, it's interesting to see "follow your dreams/do what you love"esque preaching attacked from this particular perspective (that it's being co-opted to make people feel more willing [or more compelled] to do more work for less compensation). You often hear people attacking that philosophy from the other side--ie that following your dreams is impractical, improbable or selfish, or whatever, and that instilling that desire in our children has made us all *less* willing to do real work. But thinking about how long it took unpaid internships to become illegal (presumably because the bulk of the people willing to make noise over it were people who had gotten their unpaid dream internships but were well-resourced enough to be comfortable bashing them at the risk of losing them or burning the bridge they'd created by surviving it), it's not hard to see where this writer is coming from with that.

General Discussion / Barnes and Noble failing would ruin books
« on: June 21, 2016, 06:56:37 PM »

If Barnes & Noble goes out of business, it’ll be a disaster for book lovers.
June 20, 2016
Even by the standards of the ailing book publishing industry, the past year has been a bad one for Barnes & Noble. After the company spun off its profitable college textbook division, its stock plunged nearly 40 percent. Its long-term debt tripled, to $192 million, and its cash reserves dwindled. Leonard Riggio, who turned the company into a behemoth, has announced he will step down this summer after more than 40 years as chairman. At the rate it’s going, Barnes & Noble won’t be known as a bookseller at all—either because most of its floor space will be given over to games and gadgets, or, more ominously, because it won’t even exist.

There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.

If Barnes & Noble were to shut its doors, Amazon, independent bookstores, and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart would pick up some of the slack. But not all of it. Part of the reason is that book sales are driven by “showrooming,” the idea that most people don’t buy a book, either in print or electronically, unless they’ve seen it somewhere else—on a friend’s shelf, say, or in a bookstore. Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.

But the focus on sales masks the deeper degree to which the publishing industry relies on Barnes & Noble. The retailer provides much of the up-front cash publishers need to survive, in the form of initial orders. Most independent bookstores can’t afford to buy many books in advance; a single carton of 24 books would represent a large order. Amazon also buys few books in advance, preferring to let supplies run down so as to prompt online shoppers to “add to cart” because there are “only five left in stock.”

Barnes & Noble, by contrast, often takes very large initial orders. For books it believes will fly off the shelves, initials can reach the mid-five figures—hundreds of thousands of dollars that go to the publisher before a single book is even sold. That money, in turn, allows publishers to run ads in magazines and on Facebook, send authors on book tours, and pay for publicists. Without Barnes & Noble, it would become much harder for publishers to turn books into best-sellers.

Even if Barnes & Noble doesn’t close, publishers are already starting to suffer from the chain’s decline. “What can happen is that their number of stores can shrink, their store footprint can shrink, so that the number of titles on which they put meaningful advance orders can shrink,” says Mike Shatzkin, an industry veteran. “Publishers are going to have to adjust to a model where they print what they know will sell rather than what they hope will sell.”

Big-name authors, like Malcolm Gladwell or James Patterson, will probably be fine. So too will writers who specialize in romance, science fiction, manga, and commercial fiction—genres with devoted audiences, who have already gravitated to Amazon’s low prices. But Barnes & Noble is essential to publishers of literary fiction—the so-called “serious” works that get nominated for Pulitzers and National Book Awards. Without the initial orders Barnes & Noble places, and the visibility its shelves provide, breakout hits by relative unknowns—books like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven—will suffer.

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.

Not to mention it'll make Amazon a practical monopoly. It's interesting the the film industry and the book industry seem inevitably drawn to the same issue (the bold) for such different reasons, but much sadder in the case of books. With movies there's the simple solution of simply not pirating, but in this case there's not really anyone to blame.


Police can use illegally obtained evidence in court, SCOTUS rules, sabotaging 4th Amendment

A new SCOTUS ruling poses a threat to Americans’ constitutional rights, a Supreme Court justice warns.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police can use evidence they obtained illegally against a defendant in court.

One of the four liberal Supreme Court justices — Stephen Breyer, who was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994 — joined hands with the conservative justices in support of the ruling.

The justices voted five-to-three in favor of a lawbreaking police officer in Utah v. Strieff, a drug-related case involving a Utah man.

Police spied on a South Salt Lake City home after receiving an anonymous tip about drug activity. When Joseph Edward Strieff, the defendant in the case, walked out of the house, a police detective illegally stopped him, questioned him and checked his name in a police database.

The State of Utah conceded that this stop was illegal. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the police “officer did not suspect that Strieff had done anything wrong. Strieff just happened to be the first person to leave a house that the officer thought might contain ‘drug activity.'”

Yet the police officer saw that Strieff had a “small traffic warrant.” He therefore arrested Strieff and illegally searched him, finding methamphetamine in his pocket. Utah subsequently charged Strieff with illegal drug possession.

Strieff’s attorney argued that allowing police to use these illegally obtained drugs as evidence in court would effectively permit them to continue with such illegal searches in the future. The Utah Supreme Court unanimously agreed. But the Supreme Court ruled against it.

Sotomayor warned in a scathing dissent that the ruling jeopardizes Americans’ constitutional rights, and will disproportionately hurt people of color.

“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote.

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor said.

“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant,” she added.

“Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.”

Sotomayor’s dissent was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan also filed a dissent.

Clarence Thomas, the most right-wing Supreme Court justice, supported the ruling, arguing that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Clinton-appointed liberal justice Stephen Breyer joined Thomas and the other three conservatives on the court: John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito.

“When courts admit illegally obtained evidence as well, they reward ‘manifest neglect if not an open defiance of the prohibitions of the Constitution,'” Sotomayor said, citing a previous court ruling.

Justice Sotomayor noted that outstanding warrants for minor offenses “are surprisingly common,” and the ruling has thus “given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine” average Americans.

“When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner,” she added in her dissent. “We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.”

Sotomayor warned this ruling will disproportionate impact on Americans of color. “The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated” by police, she said. “But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.”

She cited “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness,” a book by legal scholar Michelle Alexander that exposes the structural racism in the U.S. justice system.

“For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them,” Sotomayor continued.

“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

“We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated.’ They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere,” Sotomayor concluded.

“They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

Jesus Christ this fucking country

General Discussion / Cool music site
« on: June 17, 2016, 09:38:03 PM »

Click on a country and a decade between 1900 and now and get songs from that country at that times. Dunno how wide the selection is since I've only been listening for a little bit, but it's a wiki so it could theoretically grow (although I sadly doubt it'll really take off)

General Discussion / New Zelda looks sick
« on: June 15, 2016, 12:11:31 AM »
New Zelda looks sick

General Discussion / Birds aren't stupid you're stupid
« on: June 14, 2016, 11:49:32 PM »
Thought this was interesting. tl;dr Bird brains are more densely packed with neurons than other animals' brains, which is why they're able to become so intelligent despite having such tiny brains.

They actually have a higher percentage of neurons in the cerebral cortex than primates.

Birds are capable of extraordinary behavioral feats, from solving complex puzzles to tool making. There may be good reason for that. A new study shows that, pound for pound, birds pack more neurons into their small brains than mammals, including primates.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this study is the first to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than a dozen bird species, from tiny zebra finches to the six-foot-tall emu. By doing so, neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel and her team at Vanderbilt University discovered that avian brains contain more neurons per square inch than mammalian brains.

This means that birds pack more brain power per pound than mammals, offering an explanation for their remarkable cognitive talents. What’s more, the study shows that evolution has found more than one way to build a complex brain.

Scientists have long wondered how birds—with their teeny-tiny brains—are capable of exhibiting many complex behaviors, some of which were thought to the be exclusive domain of larger primates. Birds can manufacture tools, cache food, plan for the future, pass the mirror test, use insight to solve problems, and understand cause-and-effect. They’ve also been observed to hide food in front of other birds, and then relocate that food when the other birds aren’t looking. This suggests that birds have a “theory of mind,” which means they’re capable of inferring what other birds are thinking. Very few animals can do that.

Prior to this, scientists just figured that avian brains were simply wired in a completely different way compared to primate brains. But this theory hasn’t been borne out empirically; studies have shown that avian brains are structured quite similarly to mammalian brains.

Now the tired old notion that birds are stupid is starting to fall by the wayside. “We found that birds, especially songbirds and parrots, have surprisingly large numbers of neurons in their pallium [or forebrain]: the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex, which supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns,” said Herculano-Houzel. “That explains why they exhibit levels of cognition at least as complex as primates.

The parrot, for example, has as many neurons in its walnut-sized brain as the macaque monkey, which has a larger brain about the size of a lemon. When the functional connectivity of avian brains are mapped, it looks similar to what’s found in mammals, such as mice, cats, monkeys, and even humans.

But by packing these neurons in such a dense fashion, birds have been endowed with higher cognitive power per pound than mammals.

“In designing brains, nature has two parameters it can play with: the size and number of neurons and the distribution of neurons across different brain centers,” said Herculano-Houzel, “and in birds we find that nature has used both of them.”

This means that evolution has found more than one way to build a powerful brain. Previously, neuroscientists thought that, as brains grew larger, neurons had to grow bigger as well in order to be able to connect over large distances. The new study shows that there are other ways to add neurons, namely by keeping them small and locally connected, while allowing a small percentage to grow large enough to make longer connections. This keeps the average size of neurons down, which allows for a smaller brain.

The researchers aren’t sure which of the two brain types evolved more recently. It’s possible that the super-compact avian brains came first, and that mammals evolved a “different” kind of brain. Or perhaps birds, who are descended from dinosaurs, evolved their highly efficient brains as a requisite for flight, since birds need to be light and agile.

More conceptually, a growing number of scientists, bioethicists, and legal scholars have been making the case that highly sapient and cognitively complex animals should be awarded personhood status, which would afford them special protections. So, in addition to all great apes (a group that includes humans), whales, dolphins, and elephants, we should also include certain birds, such as corvids and parrots.

General Discussion / 50 dead, 53 injured in Orlando shooting
« on: June 12, 2016, 07:34:00 PM »
Biggest shooting in US history  :undecided:

Tried C/P but the formatting was terrible.  Several sources saying he called emergency services and declared allegiance to IS, but his dad claims he just saw two gay dudes kissing on the street and was morally outraged by it. Target was a gay club.

ISIS takes credit but it's not clear whether that's just opportunism.

It has also emerged that the suspect legally purchased multiple guns in the past few days.



Reddit user FiletOfFish1066 just got fired from his programming job. The reason and circumstances will completely blow your mind, though. FiletOfFish1066 (FOF) worked at a well-known tech company in the Bay Area and for six full years did nothing except play League of Legends, browse Reddit, work out in a gym, and basically do whatever he felt like doing. Guess how much his company paid him to basically do nothing for a full six years? $95,000 per year on average.

How is this possible? He fully automated his own job during the first eight months of his employment.

When he first got his software testing quality assurance job, he spent eight months automating all of the programming tasks. With all of his tasks fully automated by a computer, he was able to literally sit back and do whatever he wanted. From Reddit, FOF describes in his own words what it was like to automate his own job:

“From around 6 years ago up until now, I have done nothing at work. I am not joking. For 40 hours each week I go to work, play League of Legends in my office, browse reddit, and do whatever I feel like. In the past 6 years I have maybe done 50 hours of real work. So basically nothing. And nobody really cared. The tests were all running successfully. I shit you not, I had no friends or anything at work either, so nobody ever talked to me except my boss and occasionally the devs for the software I was testing.” -Reddit via Payscale Career News
FOF is pretty despondent in tone after he posted about getting fired from his job. He’s upset because he has completely forgotten how to code, having relegated all that work to the computer, and now possesses no marketable skills. But, he also is not stressed financially, having saved up $200,000 during his 6-year long “career”.  He was able to save up that amount of money because he lived at home, ate whatever his mom cooked for dinner and usually had a cheap fish sandwich and a coke every day for lunch at his job. He admitted he’s currently addicted to the League of Legends game and beer. He also expressed a keen desire to overcome these addictions and get his life back together:

“Time to try and cut my League of Legends and beer addiction…..I’m going to try and practice running through Cracking the Coding Interview as well as a data structures and algorithms book. I’ll also be applying to some jobs. After thinking about it for a while I think once I study everything I forgot, my motivation will come back. I always liked software dev, I just was a lazy ass.” -Reddit FiletofFish1066 (ten minutes after researching and finding these quotes on Reddit, FiletofFish1066 seems to have deleted his account and entire story).

Man, what a waste--$95k a year to do literally nothing for six years, paying no living expenses, and he comes out the other side with only $200k in the bank in the most expensive part of the country, no career prospects, and has spent the whole time gaming and drinking in his mom's basement. If he'd've played this right he coulda been doing pretty much anything by the time he got fired, or at least have partied enough to make it worthwhile in the interim/not been living in his mom's basement as an adult for six years.

Spamalot / sleep paralysis
« on: June 05, 2016, 12:40:25 PM »
twice in the last week  :bick:

more like a half dozen times if you count several instances in the same night

Cannot fucking stand this shit. Tonight when I finally woke up I was sure it must be nearly dawn because I'd been waking and lapsing into sleep paralysis for the last six or seven hours, surely

Had slept less than two whole hours

in retrospect I'm not sure I was awake for a second the entire time

it genuinely amazes me how well my brain manages to visualize the room for this specific purpose. I couldn't possible close my eyes and picture it so accurately if I were awake

I'm not sure what I'm experiencing is actually even real sleep paralysis--I think I'm just having really vivid dreams *about* sleep paralysis, at least that's definitely what it was tonight

I was starting to think I'd at least gotten pretty good at breaking the paralysis, but now I just dream about breaking it--wiggling a pinky, rolling over or something--and then "blink" and realize I'm still in the exact same position and this is still a dream

I don't remember this ever happening when I was young, but it's become like an every-month-or-two problem at this point

I can't remember the last time I had a regular nightmare

not that I'd want to, but between the two, ya know

the sheer amount of stress hormone this must be dumping into my system cannot be good for my health  :bick:

Spamalot / Got proposed to
« on: May 23, 2016, 10:18:55 AM »
said no  :undecided:

She's Japanese so the subtlety required for the conversation that followed was not readily available to me

We were like three hours away from the part of the prefecture we live in, in a hotel in the middle of the night

There was crying

There was a whole other day of sightseeing planned ahead of time for the next day

We did not cancel

There was crying

Feels bad man

Feels real fucking bad

Spamalot / It amazes me, the consistency with which
« on: May 12, 2016, 04:05:41 PM »
upon meetimg a random expat and talking with him(this is invariable) for about an hour, I discover that he is either an antisemetic or antiblack. Usually also anti LGBT and concerned with communism overtaking the world


This could be pretty cool if it were done correctly. Homage to Catalonia is one of my favorite books. The Spanish Civil War was such a cluster fuck it's amazing (but not really that amazing if you're cynical) that it's not a more popular subject of media in general and that people in general know so little about it (in the States, at least)

General Discussion / Hey Utumno
« on: March 27, 2016, 08:58:15 AM »
fuck you  :angry:

General Discussion / is Yahoo news user-submitted or something?
« on: March 09, 2016, 09:07:43 PM »

I don't see it anywhere else and this can't be real to begin with, right?


Costs like $14 for the book, dunno if you can get it elsewhere or not.

It'd certainly be 100% useless but it seems like it could be pretty interesting to try out with a bunch of people

General Discussion / Has the Onion sold out?
« on: February 19, 2016, 06:51:43 PM »
idk but this guy thinks so

If it's just the one article then w/e I guess. It is a bummer to imagine such a well-regarded staple of astute societal commentary becoming the arm of some shitty political mavhine tho

May cp article when not on phone

General Discussion / Apple getting srs about FBI demand for iphone backdoor
« on: February 17, 2016, 11:22:02 PM »

February 16, 2016 A Message to Our Customers
The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

The Need for Encryption
Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

The San Bernardino Case
We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

The Threat to Data Security
Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

A Dangerous Precedent
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook

General Discussion / contacts
« on: February 16, 2016, 03:53:05 AM »
I finally pulled the trigger on contacts, but now that I'm wearing them (after an embarrassing amount of time spent poking myself fruitlessly in the eyes) I'm not sure my vision is actually better.

It's like a first-person flashback/dream sequence in a sitcom where there are points on the screen that are super focused but there's this blur that kinda haphazardly orbits the periphery whenever I move my eyes or blink. Sometimes there is no clear spot and I wonder if they fell out. Sometimes things're even blurrier than without contacts. It does seem to be settling down as the day goes on, at least.

I figure maybe they're getting stuck in places other than over my irises due to dryness or something so I got some eyedrops, but I really don't wanna be one of those people who's gotta put in eyedrops every ten minutes like a teenage Sublime fan.

because it wasn't already painful enough sending money home for student loans

The USD apparently dipped against almost every major currency /but/ Japan this week

Experts say it's a major breakthrough. All the compsci kids in my facebook newsfeed have been geeking out.

IN A MAJOR breakthrough for artificial intelligence, a computing system developed by Google researchers in Great Britain has beaten a top human player at the game of Go, the ancient Eastern contest of strategy and intuition that has bedeviled AI experts for decades.

Machines have topped the best humans at most games held up as measures of human intellect, including chess, Scrabble, Othello, even Jeopardy!. But with Go—a 2,500-year-old game that’s exponentially more complex than chess—human grandmasters have maintained an edge over even the most agile computing systems. Earlier this month, top AI experts outside of Google questioned whether a breakthrough could occur anytime soon, and as recently as last year, many believed another decade would pass before a machine could beat the top humans.

But Google has done just that. “It happened faster than I thought,” says Rémi Coulom, the French researcher behind what was previously the world’s top artificially intelligent Go player.

In theory, such training only produces a system that's as good as the best humans---not better. So researchers matched their AI system against itself.
Researchers at DeepMind—a self-professed “Apollo program for AI” that Google acquired in 2014—staged this machine-versus-man contest in October, at the company’s offices in London. The DeepMind system, dubbed AlphaGo, matched its artificial wits against Fan Hui, Europe’s reigning Go champion, and the AI system went undefeated in five games witnessed by an editor from the journal Nature and an arbiter representing the British Go Federation. “It was one of the most exciting moments in my career, both as a researcher and as an editor,” the Nature editor, Dr. Tanguy Chouard, said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

This morning, Nature published a paper describing DeepMind’s system, which makes clever use of, among other techniques, an increasingly important AI technology called deep learning. Using a vast collection of Go moves from expert players—about 30 million moves in total—DeepMind researchers trained their system to play Go on its own. But this was merely a first step. In theory, such training only produces a system as good as the best humans. To beat the best, the researchers then matched their system against itself. This allowed them to generate a new collection of moves they could then use to train a new AI player that could top a grandmaster.

“The most significant aspect of all this…is that AlphaGo isn’t just an expert system, built with handcrafted rules,” says Demis Hassabis, who oversees DeepMind. “Instead, it uses general machine-learning techniques how to win at Go.”

'Go is implicit. It's all pattern matching. But that's what deep learning does very well.'
The win is more than a novelty. Online services like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, already use deep learning to identify images, recognize spoken words, and understand natural language. DeepMind’s techniques, which combine deep learning with a technology called reinforcement learning and other methods, point the way to a future where real-world robots can learn to perform physical tasks and respond to their environment. “It’s a natural fit for robotics,” Hassabis says.

He also believes these methods can accelerate scientific research. He envisions scientists working alongside artificially intelligent systems that can home in on areas of research likely to be fruitful. “The system could process much larger volumes of data and surface the structural insight to the human expert in a way that is much more efficient—or maybe not possible for the human expert,” Hassabis explains. “The system could even suggest a way forward that might point the human expert to a breakthrough.”

But at the moment, Go remains his primary concern. After beating a grandmaster behind closed doors, Hassabis and his team aim to beat one of the world’s top players in a public forum. In mid-March, in South Korea, AlphaGo will challenge Lee Sedol, who holds more international titles than all but one player and has won the most over the past decade. Hassabis sees him as “the Roger Federer of the Go world.”

Judging by Appearances
In early 2014, Coulom’s Go-playing program, Crazystone, challenged grandmaster Norimoto Yoda at a tournament in Japan. And it won. But the win came with caveat: the machine had a four-move head start, a significant advantage. At the time, Coulom predicted that it would be another 10 years before machines beat the best players without a head start.

The challenge lies in the nature of the game. Even the most powerful supercomputers lack the processing power to analyze the results of every possible move in any reasonable amount of time. When Deep Blue topped world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997, it did so with what’s called brute force. In essence, IBM’s supercomputer analyzed the outcome of every possible move, looking further ahead than any human possibly could. That’s simply not possible with Go. In chess, at any given turn, there are an average 35 possible moves. With Go—in which two players compete with polished stones on 19-by-19 grid—there are 250. And each of those 250 has another 250, and so on. As Hassabis points out, there are more possible positions on a Go board than atoms in the universe.

Players will tell you to make moves based on the general appearance of the board, not by closely analyzing how each move will play out.
Using a technique called a Monte Carlo tree search, systems like Crazystone can look pretty far ahead. And in conjunction with other techniques, they can pare down the field of possibilities they must analyze. In the end, they can beat some talented players—but not the best. Among grandmasters, moves are rather intuitive. Players will tell you to make moves based on the general appearance of the board, not by closely analyzing how each move might play out. “Good positions look good,” says Hassabis, himself a Go player. “It seems to follow some kind of aesthetic. That’s why it has been such a fascinating game for thousands of years.”

But as 2014 gave way to 2015, several AI experts, including researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Facebook as well as the team at DeepMind, started applying deep learning to the Go problem. The idea was the technology could mimic the human intuition that Go requires. “Go is implicit. It’s all pattern matching,” says Hassabis. “But that’s what deep learning does very well.”

Deep learning relies on what are called neural networks—networks of hardware and software that approximate the web of neurons in the human brain. These networks don’t operate by brute force or handcrafted rules. They analyze large amounts of data in an effort to “learn” a particular task. Feed enough photos of a wombat into a neural net, and it can learn to identify a wombat. Feed it enough spoken words, and it can learn to recognize what you say. Feed it enough Go moves, and it can learn to play Go.

 Google and Facebook Race to Solve the Ancient Game of Go With AI
Google and Facebook Race to Solve the Ancient Game of Go With AI
 The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can't Win
The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win
 Google Just Open Sourced TensorFlow, Its Artificial Intelligence Engine
Google Just Open Sourced TensorFlow, Its Artificial Intelligence Engine
At DeepMind and Edinburgh and Facebook, researchers hoped neural networks could master Go by “looking” at board positions, much like a human plays. As Facebook showed in a recent research paper, the technique works quite well. By pairing deep learning and the Monte Carlo Tree method, Facebook beat some human players—though not Crazystone and other top creations.

But DeepMind pushes this idea much further. After training on 30 million human moves, a DeepMind neural net could predict the next human move about 57 percent of the time—an impressive number (the previous record was 44 percent). Then Hassabis and team matched this neural net against slightly different versions of itself through what’s called reinforcement learning. Essentially, as the neural nets play each other, the system tracks which move brings the most reward—the most territory on the board. Over time, it gets better and better at recognizing which moves will work and which won’t.

“AlphaGo learned to discover new strategies for itself, by playing millions of games between its neural networks, against themselves, and gradually improving,” says DeepMind researcher David Silver.

According to Silver, this allowed AlphaGo to top other Go-playing AI systems, including Crazystone. Then the researchers fed the results into a second neural network. Grabbing the moves suggested by the first, it uses many of the same techniques to look ahead to the result of each move. This is similar to what older systems like Deep Blue would do with chess, except that the system is learning as it goes along, as it analyzes more data—not exploring every possible outcome through brute force. In this way, AlphaGo learned to beat not only existing AI programs but a top human as well.

Dedicated Silicon
Like most state-of-the-art neural networks, DeepMind’s system runs atop machines equipped with graphics processing units, or GPUs. These chips were originally designed to render images for games and other graphics-intensive applications. But as it turns out, they’re also well suited to deep learning. Hassabis says DeepMind’s system works pretty well on a single computer equipped with a decent number of GPU chips, but for the match against Fan Hui, the researchers used a larger network of computers that spanned about 170 GPU cards and 1,200 standard processors, or CPUs. This larger computer network both trained the system and played the actual game, drawing on the results of the training.

When AlphaGo plays the world champion in South Korea, Hassabiss team will use the same setup, though they’re constantly working to improve it. That means they’ll need an Internet connection to play Lee Sedol. “We’re laying down our own fiber,” Hassabis says.


According to Coulom and others, topping the world champion will be more challenging than topping Fan Hui. But Coulom is betting on DeepMind. He has spent the past decade trying to build a system capable of beating the world’s best players, and now, he believes that system is here. “I’m busy buying some GPUs,” he says.

Go Forth
The importance of AlphaGo is enormous. The same techniques could be applied not only to robotics and scientific research, but so many other tasks, from Siri-like mobile digital assistants to financial investments. “You can apply it to any adversarial problem—anything that you can conceive of as a game, where strategy matters,” says Chris Nicholson, founder of the deep learning startup Skymind. “That includes war or business or [financial] trading.”

For some, that’s a worrying thing—especially when they consider that DeepMind’s system is, in more ways than one, teaching itself to play Go. The system isn’t just learning from data provided by humans. It’s learning by playing itself, by generating its own data. In recent months, Tesla founder Elon Musk and others have voiced concerns that such AI system eventually could exceed human intelligence and potentially break free from our control.

But DeepMind’s system is very much under the control of Hassabis and his researchers. And though they used it to crack a remarkably complex game, it is still just a game. Indeed, AlphaGo is a long way from real human intelligence—much less superintelligence. “This is a highly structured situation,” says Ryan Calo, an AI-focused law professor and the founder of the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington. “It’s not really human-level understanding.” But it points in the direction. If DeepMind’s AI can understand Go, then maybe it can understand a whole lot more. “What if the universe,” Calo says, “is just a giant game of Go?”


The Census Bureau has reported that 15% of Americans live in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much worse. Inequality is spreading like a shadowy disease through our country, infecting more and more households, and leaving a shrinking number of financially secure families to maintain the charade of prosperity.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009

Analysis of  Economic Policy Institute data shows that Mitt Romney’s famous  47 percent, the alleged ‘takers,’ have taken nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets in 2009.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later

Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An  OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year  decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced formerly secure middle-income positions.

3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty.

The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to  130% of the federal  poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.

Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own  figures under-represent the number of people in poverty. Its  Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50%, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold.

4. Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America.

A family in the top half, making $60,000 per year, will have their income reduced by a total tax bill of about $15,000 ($3,000 for  federal income tax and $12,000 for  payroll, state, and local taxes. The  Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau agree that food, housing, and transportation expenses will deduct another $30,000, and that total household expenditures will be about $50,000. That leaves nothing.

Nothing, that is, except debt. The median  debt level rose to $75,600 in 2009, while the median family  net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.

5. Putting it in Perspective

Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for  cuts, just  20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire  2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the  Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the  food, housing, and education budgets combined.

There are links to sources (2nd hand, though, mostly, from the look of it) in the article if you go to the link.


MEXICO CITY — The rapid spread of the Zika virus has prompted Latin American governments to urge women not to get pregnant for up to two years, an extraordinary precaution aimed at avoiding birth defects believed to be linked to the mosquito-borne illness.

What until recently was a seemingly routine public health problem for countries that are home to a certain type of mosquito has morphed into a potentially culture-shaping phenomenon in which the populations of several nations have been asked to delay procreation. The World Health Organization says at least 20 countries or territories in the region, including Barbados and Bolivia, Guadeloupe and Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Panama, have registered transmission of the virus.

[Here’s a quick explanation of Zika]

Although the Zika virus has been documented since the 1940s, it began its assault on Latin America in the past several months. The hardest-hit country has been Brazil, where more than 1 million people have contracted the virus. In the past four months, authorities have received reports of nearly 4,000 cases in which Zika may have caused microcephaly in newborns. The condition results in an abnormally small head and is associated with incomplete brain development. Colombia, which shares an Amazonian border with Brazil, reacted to its own Zika outbreak, numbering more than 13,000 cases, by urging women not to get pregnant in the next several months. Other countries, including Jamaica and Honduras, also have urged women to delay having babies.

After more than 5,000 suspected Zika cases were reported last year and in the first weeks of 2016, El Salvador on Thursday took the most extreme stance so far: Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza urged women to refrain from getting pregnant before 2018. The Central American nation saw its first suspected Zika cases in November and sent samples to the United States to be tested for the virus, Espinoza said in an interview.
What you need to know about the Zika virus
Play Video1:10
Authorities have confirmed a dozen cases of Zika virus in the United States. Here’s what you need to know. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

“The recommendation is that people plan their pregnancies, that they avoid if at all possible to have babies this year,” Espinoza said. “This is the first time that we have suffered an attack of Zika virus, and the first attack is always the worst.”

A campaign to delay pregnancy would seem to be an implicit endorsement of birth control. For a region that is majority Roman Catholic, this presents a potential conflict, as the church has long condemned contraception. The Rev. Hector Figueroa, a priest in charge of health issues in the San Salvador archdiocese, said that the pregnancy alert appeared in the Salvadoran news media Friday morning and that the archbishop had not had time to formulate an official response.

“Morality says that people shouldn’t have that control” over procreation, Figueroa said. “But the church also isn’t going to say something that runs contrary to life and health.”

“This is a very delicate issue,” he said.

As in other countries in the region, Salvadoran authorities have tried to slow the spread of Zika by launching fumigation programs in mosquito-breeding areas. Radio and television public-service campaigns have called on pregnant women to cover their skin to avoid bites.

Outside the National Maternity Hospital in San Salvador, Selina Velasquez Cortez, a 30-year-old employee of a sardine factory who has been trying to get pregnant for two years, said there is no way she will stop trying now.

“After so much time wanting to be a mother, I’m not going to give up now” because of the deputy health minister’s statement, she declared. “I think it’s absurd.”

Most people who have contracted the illness experience no symptoms. But Dinora Martinez, a 46-year-old secretary at a private health clinic in San Salvador, said she, her husband and their two adult sons had suffered when they contracted the virus in 2015.

“Pain, fever, aching joints. I couldn’t move my feet and thought I’d never be able to walk again,” she said. Her office has seen a rise in the number of Zika patients.

“The clinic has been full,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday added eight to a list of 14 countries and territories it has urged pregnant U.S. women to avoid because of the risk associated with Zika outbreaks. So far there is no vaccine for the virus.

Zika is spread by two types of Aedes mosquitoes, which carry a clutch of fever-causing pathogens as they buzz in search of fresh blood. Besides the Zika virus, the mosquitoes transmit dengue, chikungunya and yellow fevers. An adult who contracts Zika might find the experience relatively mild: a slight fever, a rash, and pain in the joints and behind the eyes.

But the real devastation apparently strikes the children born to women with the illness, who can have permanent physical and mental defects, according to research in Brazil linking a surge in the number of microcephaly cases to Zika. There is also growing concern that Zika virus could be linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can result in weeks of paralysis.

In the city of Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, a nurse in the maternity ward at the Clinica La Milagrosa said that the news about Zika and possible birth defects has scared many people. At least 500 of Colombia’s reported Zika cases involve pregnant women, according to the Health Ministry.

“There are women coming in really worried,” said the nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “With everything that’s on the news about malformations, mothers are scared.”

Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria has advised Colombians to delay pregnancy for the next six to eight months. So far, 106 babies have been born to Zika-infected mothers, and the infants are under observation to determine whether their development has been affected by the virus, the ministry said. Colombia expects as many as 700,000 infections in the general population.


General Discussion / The Walk
« on: January 23, 2016, 09:18:38 AM »
Went and saw it on a whim. Hadn't seen the ads, just knew it was JGL as the guy from Man on Wire.

Might be really cool in IMAX--I saw it in regular 3D and it definitely had me muttering "nope,nope,nope" with sweaty palms at a point or two.

Wouldn't bother in 2D or at home though--it's a pretty cut-n-dry Oscar season drama. JGL does a great job of course (I can't comment on his French accent, though; to me for whatever reason 100% of French accents sound fake, even when they're real. I have no idea why French, specifically, has this effect on me). Nothing else really stands out, though. Probably didn't help that I had to read Japanese subtitles  for the French parts (distracting because I'm not fluent, of course, but also Japanese subtitles always lose a shitload in translation) but all the English dialogue is pretty perfunctory so I doubt it made that big a difference.

Spamalot / Red
« on: January 17, 2016, 01:38:48 AM »
I didn't renew my contract so if you wanna visit Japan while I'm here you got till August bruh

also I lost that other cellphone snowboarding so I won't get messages at that number anymore, at least unless someone finds it on the slope still working (unlikely)

General Discussion / Alan Rickman down
« on: January 14, 2016, 08:18:33 AM »
also age 69, also of cancer

Spamalot / Man, what the fuck happened to Gallagher?
« on: January 09, 2016, 10:42:54 AM »
Like, I know it's been cool to hate on Gallagher forever, right up there next to Carrot Top, but I always thought he was funny, at least when I was a kid. At the very least he seemed like a sharp and generally upbeat hippy type

Then I listen to this

Dude sounds like a toddler--like I honestly wonder if he didn't sustain brain damage at some point listening to that

And then there's this interview some time later

Gallagher’s reputation as a watermelon- and cottage cheese-smashing comedian was forged in the ’80s on the strength of his cable specials and highly interactive performances. But the North Carolina-born performer is the first to admit that that was a long time ago: Although he’s stuck tenaciously to his guns and released three specials in the ’90s and two this decade (the most recent being 2005’s Tropic Of Gallagher), at 63, Gallagher says he’s now “bored” and “bitter” about the current landscape of comedy. While on tour, Gallagher talked to The A.V. Club about inventing the mosh pit, losing his insurance, and the rise of mediocrity forcing prop comedy into extinction.

The A.V. Club: You’re pretty outspoken about which comedians you support and which ones you don’t. In an interview a few years back, you said America craves the mediocre, not the heroic or the moral in their comedians. What makes you heroic or moral in a way the comedians you disapprove of aren’t?

Gallagher: Are you going back to that Oregon interview?

AVC: Yes.

G: The Internet’s wonderful, isn’t it? I’m talking to a guy in Oregon, right? And it gets posted to the world, and then it gets preserved, and then I have to remember it and support it the rest of my life. Well, you looked around at all the different things that I’ve said and decided that this would be the most controversial for The Onion?

AVC: I’m not trying to be controversial, just asking for an elaboration.

G: I can’t remember, but certainly I can discuss how I think America looks for the mediocre.

AVC: Sure.

G: Well, I don’t think Katie Couric should have been the anchorperson for the news. She was originally a kicky young woman that did the on-the-street interviews, and she was known for her cuteness, and that’s why she was hired. The lady on the desk with all the stature that doesn’t speak good, Barbara Walters, was more of the kind of person you would have as an anchorperson, but in America, they are afraid to take a chance on people who aren’t known. This is how Conan [O’Brien] ended up with The Tonight Show: Rather than take a chance on somebody, they decide to advance from within. We promote people until they reach a point at which they’re incompetent.

Jay Leno and Dave Letterman could not work any of the places that I work, under the circumstances that I end up working. People don’t know how to behave in public anymore. Parents are trying to be friends with their kids rather than draw the line and tell them what proper public behavior would be. If you can go out in public with your underwear showing and your pants below your butt; if girls can wear a top that shows their bra as part of the fashion; if kids are getting tattoos that cause you to react because of the size of the tattoo and the colors of the tattoo, extending their earlobes, you know, bone through their nose—all of these things work because they’re wrong. It’s the wrong thing to do, and they’re trying to get a reaction out of people, and the reason people react is because it’s wrong.

As soon as enough people have done the wrong thing—Lenny Bruce talked about this when he ruined “fuck.” A good, strong word, but everybody now uses “fuck,” so it’s not a big, strong word. “Ass” recently, within the last few years, [George W.] Bush used it in public, and so then it became okay to use on TV. So then “ass” has entered the lexicon of acceptable words, so then “ass” loses its power as a surprising word. Then of course President Clinton ruined oral sex. [It’s] now an acceptable activity for a virgin, and doesn’t qualify as sex. So somewhere in there is a loss of morality—a mediocrity. You know, I think when Clinton ruined the presidency, it certainly made my point of mediocrity. We never pick a president who is above, we pick somebody we identify with: the lowest level, the most common. We didn’t pick the best politician in the Bush family, which of course was the governor of Florida. We picked the beer-drinking good ol’ boy. Ask them to lead us in areas that maybe didn’t require a good ol’ boy. You know, this is what I notice. Of course, I’ve been excluded from a lot of show business in America. So I’ve got a point of view that I don’t mind expressing, because I’m really not ruining a career that’s not really happening.

AVC: Speaking of your career, there’s a lot of footage on YouTube of you interrupting your openers, telling them how they could perform better. Does this also stem from that rise of mediocrity?

G: Here’s what happened there: I never have an opening act. Words are actors in your show. When you say a word, you are introducing that word to the audience as if it were an actor entering the scene. So the first time that the actor comes out onstage is important. So many of these comedians use “fuck” and “shit” right off the bat, and then lose the power of that word for a punchline later on. They also don’t pay attention to what they’re wearing or how they’re standing. And so we don’t really have a high level of performance in America, or even a demand that people onstage have studied, or pay attention to the performing arts. You can actually take a drink now during your show! You know, George Burns performed smoking a cigar, and never needed a drink of water on a stool. But now this has become a tradition in America. They more or less have a stool ready for you and ask, “What water ya want?” To me, as a visual artist, everything that’s in the picture should have meaning—what does a stool and a bottle of water mean?

AVC: That the performer is thirsty?

G: I can’t get through the show without hydrating? How is that funny? It’s just more of the same mediocre, lackadaisical, lack of quality, acceptance of the average that goes on in America. First we allow people to wiggle balloons behind the foul shooter as if it’s okay to win because the audience distracted the visiting team. I thought it was an athletic competition! I didn’t know it was a psychological competition in which you could ring cowbells behind the coach so the coach couldn’t talk to his players. Or that you could put a big “brick” up in the air and psychologically attack the foul shooter, “Oh, don’t be a brick!” Now, what is the game here? Is it chess? Or is it some kind of psychological torture of the opposing team? We’ve lost the meaning of athletic competition.

So of course when [Lakers  player Ron] Artest lies on the timer’s table, the audience is confused as to whether you can throw a beer. Then Artest is confused as to whether if someone throws a beer at you, you can enter the stands and have fisticuffs. The only real leader in America was, I guess his name is David Stern? The head of the NBA? Who finally said, “No! There are standards of behavior.” And you know why he said it? It wasn’t because he was concerned about behavior—he was concerned about money. The NBA cannot ask a family man to bring his children to an NBA game where a fight might erupt.

But the whole thing, basketball, is way too close. The audience is too close to the players. Something’s going to happen. Some player is going to be seriously injured falling on a tripod or a large lens of a camera. These celebrities that are placed extra-close on folding chairs—the players have to run for a ball and then jump two or three rows of people—who said that was okay?

I’ve always had to deal with insurance problems. My insurance was actually canceled at one point because someone sued me saying that they had been hurt seriously by a candy bar in the balcony. Somehow a candy bar I hit with a tennis racket so the people on the balcony could have candy? Said that she was injured in her eye, and the insurance company decided not to fight her case and pay it off and canceled me! She was 130 feet away. You know, I’m more or less at fault here. I was the first one to allow a projectile to come off of the stage and into the audience. And I kind of take responsibility for the mosh pit. Major amusement parks now have splash rides—you don’t even have to be a participant in the ride to get splashed, you can be on a bridge. And of course there’s Blue Man Group, GWAR, Insane Clown Posse, all have a necessity of putting plastic on the chairs or people wearing plastic to the show. It becomes a blurring of the rules. And I’m, you know, somewhat at fault here. But at least it’s my job as an entertainer to do something different. It shouldn’t be the audience.

You see, we’ve even blurred—where’s the stage? Is the audience the entertainer? Can I yell out? Can I be funny if I’m in the audience? Can I interrupt the comedian? Can I disrespect the rest of the people in the audience? What do I give a fuck about their right to have a show, as long as I’m having fun? Spoiled brats. We have a country… you know, people can’t handle alcohol. There’s no clear line as to what you can and can’t do. Nobody wants to be responsible for their actions.

We just had a real confusing situation in football. One player kills somebody and somehow isn’t punished as much as a quarterback who kills a dog. Dogs are given to the pound, and the pound kills them. So if, I forget his name, if [Michael Vick] had worked for the pound, he wouldn’t have been put in jail. It’s very—

Comedians need meaning. We need to know what words mean, and our society now is intent on blurring the meaning of just about everything. And the legal system also! “What is an adult? What’s premeditation? What is a felony?” It’s very difficult. “What’s improper behavior?” I ask these cops. If the kids already have their pants mostly down and they’re facing a wall, how do you know they’re not about to pee on the wall? Because this is what you do with homeless guys. You would catch them with their pants half down and you would get them for indecent exposure and public urination. And the cop told me, you can’t arrest them until you see the “brown round.”

AVC: What? What’s that?

G: That’s your dick. I guess everybody has a brown dick.

AVC: To take things back a little bit to comedy—

G: I’m a little pissed. I know that I am an excellent live performer. I know that I have spent my life paying attention to my art form, developing my art form, worrying about my show and what it is I’m bringing to people, making sure that I give them a fine trade. They get a two-hour show, sometimes a three-hour show, for a decent price. And I’m rewarded with immature, drunken behavior. Why in the hell did I sit at home thinking up really intelligent, insightful comments on the passing American scene just to end up at a drunken brawl where the things I say have to be yelled over the yelling that’s already going on? But you know what? Madison is wonderful. They’re going to listen. Detroit is drunken idiots. It was no surprise to me. I performed with Kenny Rogers for one year as his opening act, and I got to visit every major American city and notice the audience, and Detroit was one of the worst. Comparing them to 100, I did 100 dates with him. It was no surprise to me that the riot at the basketball game occurred in Detroit. It would not have occurred in Minneapolis.

AVC: What percentage of your audience do you think are hardcore fans vs. people who are just curious and haven’t seen you before?

G: See, that’s the problem—casinos give away the tickets. I had a problem just a few nights ago at a casino where I walked off the stage because they weren’t respecting me, and the audience was composed of people who got the ticket for free because they were high rollers. They weren’t really my fans filled with love and admiration and thankfulness that told me how much I’d meant to them over the years. But if you want to go back to your question about that New York situation—once again really thanking the Internet for making me have to address everything I do.

AVC: What more would you like to add?

G: Well, they couldn’t wait to post the videotape. I didn’t ask for an opening act, and I was surprised to discover that they had decided to put three kids on before me. And I say kids because they weren’t schooled. You can watch them. Now, it’s hard enough to do a show at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. I hardly ever work in Manhattan, and it’s hard enough. That audience was there to see me, and those kids were ruining my audience. They were going to use all the words, they were going to introduce all the hot topics, so that by the time I got on as act No. 4, they were going to be overstimulated and bored and tired. And I didn’t want that. My audience was cooling off. They were not skilled comedians. So I jumped onstage so that the audience would see me, and that I could keep it going. I was actually using those comics as props. Too bad. That’s what I decided to do. I don’t have to be a nice guy if the situation and the people that hired me are not nice in one way or another to me. I pretended to be helping them to be better comedians because I felt that was some kind of a persona that I could take. And they did need my help, to tell you the truth. They don’t introduce their topics in a proper order. They don’t care how they stand, what they wear. I can tell you right now: There are at least five comedy specials on Comedy Central where the comedian wears a dark color and stands in front of a dark curtain. Now how fucking stupid is that? Now your hands and your face are floating in blackness. And then there’s an art director who’s given credit for the show and doesn’t know enough to say the figure should stand out against the background? Hello? It’s television!

I’m just bored to death and unimpressed with Hollywood and our country. I can prove it. I’m 63 years old, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I also know about the history of comedy before I was a comedian. I can see the whole panorama of this art form and America and the audience. I know that there used to be variety shows. There used to be places that people could learn the performing arts. You know, the No. 2 or No. 3 winner of Star Search doesn’t have a career. You have to have a hit and play a major hall to have a career in singing. There’s no place where everybody says, “Ooh, we’d love to hear the No. 3, and we’re ready to just sit and listen to you sing and appreciate your talent.” No, they’re not going to see them unless they’re hot. You know? ’Cause I work these smaller halls, and they don’t have anybody. They’re stuck in the air, they’re going out of business, they have to be supported by tax dollars because America really doesn’t appreciate the performing arts. There’s no vaudeville. Show business isn’t organized. There’s no way of becoming a beginner and moving into intermediate [and] then being a professional. You either have a hit and work the stadiums, or you’re a nobody and you’re over with.

AVC: Why has prop comedy been stagnating more and more?

G: I told you: an emphasis on the mediocre. You’re giving the audience what they want, but, that’s, I guess, a reflection on our society. It’s so thin, it’s a veneer, it’s not deep, it doesn’t have a moral direction. ’Cause we really don’t know, we don’t know.

AVC: What qualities should a good comedian have?

G: They need to be empathetic. They need to be a member of the audience. They need to think, “What is my audience thinking and doing while I’m performing?” That’s how you perform. What would you want your celebrity to do? What kind of a show would you want? You want somebody that just comes out there and doesn’t appear to be prepared and does what the hell they want to do? I don’t say the things onstage that I want to say; I say the things I think the audience wants to hear and would enjoy. You’re a servant of the audience.

I’ve got my own standards. I don’t say that I’m going to be like every other comic that’s blue, or gratuitous use of language. I do try to have my own standards: I don’t do everything the audience wants, and I do try to surprise them. But it’s still a service business, and I think the fact that I’m still in business 30 years later proves that this is the proper way to think about things.

He was a sad enough character when people just thought he was unfunny--ya kinda figure, hey fuck it, at least he's still having fun with it--but that he's also evidently a bitter racist piece of shit is just depressing and kinda baffling. Somewhere between I'm Still Stuck in the 60s and now he somehow wound up in some even earlier decade, apparently.

Spamalot / Aro
« on: January 08, 2016, 09:37:09 PM »
HBD from the future

fuck money get blunts smoke bitches

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