Show Posts

This section allows you to view all posts made by this member. Note that you can only see posts made in areas you currently have access to.


Topics - Agrul

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 11 ... 20
151
Click link for video. TL;DR summary is kind of obvious.

Imaginations everywhere have been stoked since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company plans to start offering 30-minute deliveries via drone-like "octocopters."

What's not fascinating about a near future in which fleets of whirring sky robots can drop our every impulse buy on our doorstep faster than we can get Chinese delivered? (You know, aside from accidental strayings into restricted air space or the rise of the machines.)

But when Bezos took to "60 Minutes" on Sunday to introduce the world to Amazon Prime Air, his idea prompted more questions than it provided answers.

So how close are we, really, to door-to-door drones becoming a reality? And how would they work?

We reached out to Amazon, where official details are still scarce, and chatted with drone expert Missy Cummings, an associate professor at MIT and one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots. Here's some of what we've been able to piece together on a project that Amazon says is, at the very least, a couple of years away from takeoff.

Could drones really be delivering packages by 2015?

That's what Bezos said is the best possible scenario. But Cummings, a longtime advocate for the commercial use of drones, thinks that's optimistic.

The Federal Aviation Administration needs to sign off on Amazon's flight plans, and Cummings says the agency hasn't been quick to move on the domestic use of drones.

"I think they (Amazon) are stepping out in a typically naive way, (but) maybe they have some secret insight to the FAA that I don't have," she said.

Cummings predicts the company will get approval to start Prime Air in other countries before the United States, but she says that having a retail and technology giant like Amazon pushing for it could speed things up for everyone.

"I don't want anybody to think this is right around the corner," Bezos warned during the "60 Minutes" interview.

How will I know if I'm eligible for a drone visit?

Bezos said the octocopters will have a 10-mile radius. So, it's likely that folks in big cities near Amazon distribution sites would be a lot more likely to qualify than those in more remote areas.

He says they'll initially carry items up to five pounds, which is roughly 86% of all deliveries Amazon makes.

The best Twitter jokes about Amazon's drones

But for even that 10-mile range to work, Amazon better be onto something about battery life that the rest of us don't know. Cummings said drones the size of the octocopters have a battery life of about 30 minutes, and the weight of their cargo could make that even shorter.

What will keep people from shooting them down?

OK, it's perhaps a little off-topic. But every single conversation we've had about the Amazon drones has, at some point, ended up focused on the innate human desire to knock stuff out of the sky, preferably with a loud bang.


Cummings joked about producing a reality show in which marksmen from different states compete to see how many octocopter targets they can bag. At least, we're pretty sure it was a joke.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Amazon doesn't directly address its drones becoming high-tech clay pigeons in a statement about safety.

"The FAA is actively working on rules and an approach for unmanned aerial vehicles that will prioritize public safety. Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards," the statement reads.

But Cummings says it's a real issue.

"It's not just people who hate drones," she said. "It's people who want those packages."

She speculated the drones will need to fly at an altitude of at least 300 feet for as long as possible to avoid attracting pot shots from target shooters or thieves. She also envisions safe "drop spots," at least at first, instead of delivery to any address within range.

"There are lots of details that need to be worked out, but nothing that is technologically overwhelming," she said.

Will the drones work when the weather is bad?

Amazon's official statement doesn't address this obvious question. But Cummings says that to make the drones reliable in most weather conditions, Amazon would need to improve on currently available technology.

"They can fly in some precipitation, but certainly not heavy precipitation," she said. "Sleet or snow ... would obscure some of the sensors. It's hard to make it a really solid business if the weather holds you back. They're going to have to work on that."

What could come next?

Amazon isn't the only company at least toying with the idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial purposes. Domino's posted video of the "DomiCopter" delivering two pizzas in the United Kingdom earlier this year. In June, the Burrito Bomber, the creation of a couple of engineers from Yelp, demoed its ability to fly that tasty treat to your doorstep as well.

And in Australia, Zookal, a textbook company, is already using drones for deliveries.
Cummings hopes that's all just the beginning. Using drones for beneficial civic or commercial purposes, instead of military actions, is a growing trend.

"Medical supplies, wildlife monitoring, cargo, firefighting -- it's a pretty long list of things that drones can do," she said. "It's reinvigorating a dying aerospace industry."

http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/02/tech/innovation/amazon-drones-questions/

152
Trading, and to some extent investing, is all about knowing when markets are moving with the wisdom of the crowds and when they're moving with the madness of the crowds. In recent years, there has seemed to be much more madness than wisdom (a statement which can probably be generalized beyond the financial markets themselves, come to think of it). Where do we stand now?

I think a recent letter by John Hussman of Hussman Strategic Advisors, entitled "An Open Letter to the FOMC: Recognizing the Valuation Bubble In Equities," is worth reading. Hussman is far from the only person, nor even the most influential investor, questioning the valuation of equities at the moment.
Our own valuation models have had the projected 10-year compounded real return of equities below 3% for several years, and below 2% since late April. For a time, that may have been sustainable because of the overall low level of real rates, but since the summertime rates selloff the expected equity premium has been below 1.5% per annum, compounded - and is now below 1% (see chart, source Enduring Investments).

Hussman shows a number of other ways of looking at the data, all of which suggest that equity prices are unsustainable in the long run. But what really caught my eye was the section "Textbook speculative features," where he cites none other than Didier Sornette. Sornette wrote a terrific book called Why Stock Markets Crash: Critical Events in Complex Financial Systems, in which he argues that markets at increased risk of failure demonstrate certain regular characteristics. There is now a considerable literature on non-linear dynamics in complex systems, including Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen by Mark Buchanan and Paul Ormerod's Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics. But Sornette's book is one of the better balances between accessibility to the non-mathematician and utility to the financial practitioner. But Hussman is the first investor I've seen to publicly apply Sornette's method to imply a point of singularity to markets in real time. While the time of "breakage" of the markets cannot be assessed with any more, and probably less, confidence than one can predict a precise time that a certain material will break under load - and Hussman, it should be noted, "emphatically" does not lay out an explicit time path for prices - his assessment puts Sornette dates between mid-December and January.

Hussman, like me, is clearly of the belief that we are well beyond the wisdom of crowds, into the madness thereof.

One might reasonably ask "what could cause such a crash to happen?" My pat response is that I don't know what will trigger such a crash, but the cause would be the extremely high valuations. The trigger and the cause are separate discussions. I can imagine a number of possibilities, including something as innocuous as a bad "catch-up" CPI print or two that produces a resurgence of taper talk or an ill-considered remark from Janet Yellen. But speculating on a specific trigger event is madness in itself. Again, the cause is valuations that imply poor equity returns over the long term; of the many paths that lead to poor long-term returns, some include really bad short-term returns and then moderate or even good returns thereafter.

I find this thought process of Hussman's interesting because it seems consonant with another notion: that the effectiveness of QE might be approaching zero asymptotically as well. That is, if each increment of QE is producing smaller and smaller improvements in the variables of interest (depending who you are, that might mean equity prices, long-term interest rates, bank lending, unemployment, etc), then at some point the ability of QE to sustain highly speculative valuations goes away and we're left with the coyote-running-over-the-cliff scenario. Some Fed officials have been expressing opinions about the declining efficacy of QE, and Janet Yellen comes to office on February 2nd. I suspect the market is likely to test her very early.

None of this means that stocks cannot go straight up from here for much longer. There's absolutely nothing to keep stock prices from doubling or tripling from here, except the rationality of investors. And as Mackay said, "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." Guessing at the date on which the crowd will toggle back from "madness" to "wisdom" is inherently difficult. What is interesting about the Sornette work, via Hussman, is that it circles a high-risk period on the calendar.

For two days in a row now, I've discussed other people's views. On Wednesday or Thursday, I'll share my own thoughts - about the possible effects of Obamacare on measured medical care inflation.

http://seekingalpha.com/article/1875181-madness-or-wisdom

Another article on the same topic:

Quote
Is it possible to detect a financial bubble and predict when it will burst? Dr. Didier Sornette, a former physicist who is the director of the Financial Crisis Observatory in Switzerland, developed a statistical model designed to do just that. Sornette and his colleague Anders Johansen determined in 2004 that in two thirds of the cases where financial assets suffered extremely large drawdowns, market prices followed a "super-exponential" behavior prior to their occurances. According to mutual fund manager and former finance professor Dr. John Hussman, the Sornette model is now predicting a stock market crash as early as next year.


http://www.benzinga.com/markets/options/13/11/4068809/is-a-market-bubble-set-to-pop-early-next-year

TL;DR: I've posted about Didier Sornette's work here before; he's developed a particular, non-linear/stochastic dynamical model of markets that makes use of common features of macronomic theory (eg rational expectations) but that predicts that bubbles have meaningful leading indicators and can be forecasted ahead of time. He made the news a year or two? ago for making some high-profile predictions about bubbles in particular markets and sealing them away ahead of time on arXiv somewhere. Recently an equities trader has apparently tried to use Sornette's models, amongst other things, to argue that there's a bubble in equities. I like to keep up w/ Sornette and other complex systems economics work so fuck you now it's on TZT.

153
MSNBC host Martin Bashir has resigned from the network following controversial comments about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), Mediate reported Wednesday:

"After making an on-air apology, I asked for permission to take some additional time out around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Upon further reflection, and after meeting with the President of MSNBC, I have tendered my resignation. It is my sincere hope that all of my colleagues, at this special network, will be allowed to focus on the issues that matter without the distraction of myself or my ill-judged comments.

I deeply regret what was said, will endeavor to work hard at making constructive contributions in the future and will always have a deep appreciation for our viewers – who are the smartest, most compassionate and discerning of all television audiences. I would also wish to express deepest gratitude to my immediate colleagues, and our contributors, all of whom have given so much of themselves to our broadcast.’"

During a segment discussing Palin's comparison of the national debt to slavery last month, Bashir suggested the governor be subjected to certain disciplinary tactics used by a slave owner.


"In 1756, he records that a slave named Darby 'catched eating kanes had him well flogged and pickled, then made Hector, another slave, s-h-i-t in his mouth,'" Bashir said. "When Mrs. Palin invokes slavery, she doesn’t just prove her rank ignorance. She confirms if anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, she would be the outstanding candidate."

Bashir's outing follows the cancellation of fellow host Alec Baldwin's show "Up Late" after the actor received criticism for using a gay slur.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/martin-bashir-resigns-from-msnbc-following-palin-comment

154
General Disconation / Could aggregate fiscal decisions ever be delegated?
« on: December 04, 2013, 02:53:53 AM »
The political battle over delegating decisions over monetary policy to central banks has been fought and won. There may be serious concerns about accountability in some countries, and mandates in others, but there seems to be a political consensus in most places that delegation in this respect is a good thing. (I know some readers disagree with this consensus, but this post is a question about what could happen, rather than what ought to happen.)

There is no major country which delegates decisions over aggregate fiscal policy. I stress aggregate here: I’m not suggesting decisions about particular tax rates or types of spending could be delegated. Instead an independent fiscal institution could set a target level for the budget deficit, and leave it up to the government how that target was achieved. Furthermore the choice between meeting the deficit target using tax changes or spending changes would remain with politicians, so key questions about the size of the state would stay under democratic control.

I’m reminded of this question not by the impending UK autumn statement, but because I have just received my copy of a new collection of essays edited by George Kopits. Its title is “Restoring Public Debt Sustainability: The Role of Independent Fiscal Institutions”. The story behind the book is interesting in itself. Its basis is a conference in Budapest organised by the former Hungarian Fiscal Council. Although a few fiscal councils [1] existed a decade ago, in the last ten years many more have been established, and that included one in Hungary that George chaired. All such councils are advisory - none can tell governments what to do. The meeting in Budapest was I believe the first international gathering of these councils, as well as a few academics that had a particular interest in these institutions. (It is what led me to create this website.)

The conference was a prelude to both success and failure. The failure was that soon after the conference the Hungarian Fiscal Council was effectively abolished by a new government. For that government this act was a good indication of things to come, as others have documented. The brief story of Hungary’s Fiscal Council is told in one of the chapters of this book. However, the success is that, with George’s help, the OECD took on the task of holding regular gatherings of fiscal councils, and it has issued a statement of principles which are an appendix to the book’s introduction.

A few of the essays in the book touch on the question I posed at the beginning of this post, including my own, which compares the delegation of monetary and fiscal policy. In a sense the demise of Hungary’s fiscal council explains why most of the discussion at the conference was happy to see such councils as advisory only. Giving governments advice they may well not want to hear is difficult and dangerous enough, and so fiscal councils need to be well established (and therefore less vulnerable) before we can think of going any further. One step at a time.

Yet once these councils have been established, it becomes easier to imagine the possibility that delegation could go beyond advice to actual control. Take the UK case for example. The government sets its fiscal mandate (cyclically adjusted current balance in 5 years time), just as it does the inflation target. The OBR then tells the government what it needs to do to meet that mandate. So, having set the mandate, the amount of aggregate discretion left to the government in each budget is limited. It would seem quite a small step to let the OBR decide how quickly the mandate should be achieved. Another small step would be for the government and OBR to negotiate over the mandate itself (just as the central bank and government negotiate over the inflation target in New Zealand).

Small steps, but much too large in political terms right now, as I once discovered when giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee. (See the second footnote to this post.) Yet in ten or so year’s time, when more of these councils are well established, I can see things might be quite different for two reasons. First, when the recession is finally over there will be a clear consensus that a slow (and state contingent) reduction in net debt levels is required, yet some governments may start to waver from this task for short term political gain. Second, it will have become even clearer that governments, by undertaking austerity at just the wrong time, inflicted substantial damage on their economies, and that maybe everyone would be better off if they were not given that opportunity again.


[1] I use the term fiscal council to cover much the same set that George calls Independent Fiscal Institutions. His term is probably more accurate, but I still prefer fiscal council!

http://mainlymacro.blogspot.com/2013/12/could-aggregate-fiscal-decisions-ever.html?showComment=1386101078161

155
Spamalot / Yo AD [ANIME]
« on: December 01, 2013, 12:22:00 AM »
Have you kept up with Kill La Kill?

I have. Still enjoying it but not nearly as impressed as I was with Gurrenn.

I do think it has the potential to match Gurrenn, though with a totally different kind of emotion; it can do the same sort of furious, ambitious, unhinged drive, but it can't make that the entire point.

But, yeah -- I think there is something there. I just don't think they've found it yet. The technical quality behind the episodes is clear, but they seem to dick around as often as not doing nothing at all, with uninteresting side stories, without developing the world and without giving us any kind of gripping drive to their vision. It needs them to give a shit about it more carefully -- not more deeply, but more carefully -- than they seem to right now.

edit: Will say that Shingeki was unquestionably the blow-out & best anime of the season. Nothing else came close. There were a few others essentially comparable to KlK, but Shingeki was fuck-out dominant.

edit2: I really wish they would cut it the fuck out with the cutesy perv jokes. If you want to make hentai, just fucking make hentai. It is not improving your non-pornographic show.

156
Agrulian Archives / dat HMWK + AUTO-DIDACTY THRAED
« on: November 29, 2013, 01:03:56 AM »
prescript:  thread must be hidden from the potentially idle threat of synth-nazism. i shall store this copy here

idle threat went active. code maroon, code maroon. this is now the only thread.

A mathematician wrote on the inside cover of one of the books I own but can't locate right now something to the effect of: "Math is something you do, not something you know. If you do not do the math, you will at best achieve a second-rate understanding." That's the point of this thread: To improve understanding by doing math.

Also covered will be anything and everything that seems interesting and lends itself in its established form to study via the analysis of formal models and abstractions, i.e. physics, logic, theoretical computer science, econ, finance, PChem, OChem, basic chem, game theory, etc etc etc etc etc. Anyone is welcome to join or not; this is my self-study structure for myself, but it's open to commentary/participation ofc.

157
General Disconation / The Different Sizes of Infinity
« on: November 27, 2013, 02:10:40 AM »
Infinity is a powerful concept. Philosophers, artists, theologians, scientists, and people from all walks of life have struggled with ideas of the infinite and the eternal throughout history.

Infinity is also an extremely important concept in mathematics. Infinity shows up almost immediately in dealing with infinitely large sets — collections of numbers that go on forever, like the natural, or counting numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on.

Infinite sets are not all created equal, however. There are actually many different sizes or levels of infinity; some infinite sets are vastly larger than other infinite sets.

The theory of infinite sets was developed in the late nineteenth century by the brilliant mathematician Georg Cantor. Many of Cantor's ideas and theorems sit at the foundation of modern mathematics. One of Cantor's coolest innovations was a way to compare the sizes of infinite sets, and to use this idea to show that there are many infinities.

To see how Cantor's theory works, we start out by saying that two sets are the same size if we can make a one to one correspondence, or pairing up, of the elements of the two sets. We can start small — the sets {a, b, c} and {1, 2, 3} are the same size, since I can pair up their elements:



This is a little overcomplicated for comparing two small finite sets like these — it is obvious that they both have three elements, and so are the same size. However, when we are looking at infinite sets, we cannot just look at the sets and count up the numbers of elements, since the sets go on forever. So, this more formal definition will be very helpful.

Countably Infinite Sets
Our baseline level of infinity will come from our most basic infinite set: the previously mentioned natural numbers. A set that is the same size as the natural numbers — that can be put into a one to one correspondence with the natural numbers — is called a countably infinite set.

A surprising number of infinite sets are actually countable. At first glance, the set of integers, made up of the natural numbers, their negative number counterparts, and zero, looks like it should be bigger than the naturals. After all, for each of our natural numbers, like 2 or 10, we just added a negative number, -2 or -10. But the integers are countable — we can find a way to assign exactly one integer to each natural number by bouncing back and forth between positive and negative numbers:



If we continue the pattern suggested above, we end up assigning exactly one integer to each natural number, with each integer assigned to a natural number, giving us the kind of one to one pairing that means the two sets are the same size.

This is a little freaky, since the natural numbers are a subset of the integers — each natural number is also an integer. But even though the natural numbers are fully contained in the integers, the two sets actually do have the same size.

The rational numbers are those numbers that can be written as a fraction, or ratio, of two integers: 1/2, -5/4, 3 (which can be written as 3/1), and the like. This is another infinite set that looks like it should be bigger than the natural numbers — between any two natural numbers, we have infinitely many fractions.

But as with the integers, we can still make a one to one pairing, assigning exactly one natural number to each rational number. Start by making a grid of the rationals: each row has a particular natural number in the bottom part of the fraction — the denominators of the first row are all 1's, and the 2nd row all 2's. Each column has a particular number in the top part of the fraction — the numerators of the first column are all 1's, and the second column all 2's. This grid covers all of the positive rational numbers, since any ratio of two positive integers will show up somewhere in the grid:



We get our correspondence between the rationals and the naturals by moving in a zig-zag pattern through the grid and counting. Fractions like 2/2 and 4/6 that are just alternate representations of numbers we have already seen (2/2 is the same as 1/1, and 4/6 is the same as 2/3) are skipped over:



So, the first rational number is 1/1, the second is 2/1, the third is 1/2, the fourth is 1/3, we skip 2/2 since this just reduces to 1/1, the fifth is 3/1, and so on.

Continuing like this, every rational number will be assigned a unique natural number, showing that, like the integers, the rationals are also a countably infinite set.

Even though we have added all these fractions and negative numbers to our original basic natural number set, we are still at our first, baseline, level of infinity.

Uncountably Infinite Sets
Now we consider the real numbers. The real numbers are the collection of numbers that can be written out with some kind of decimal expansion. The real numbers include the rational numbers — any fraction of two integers can be divided out and turned into a decimal. 1/2 = 0.5 and 1/3 = 0.3333..., with the latter continuing on with 3's forever. The real numbers also include irrational numbers, or decimals that go on forever without settling into a repeated pattern or ending. π is irrational — its decimal expansion starts out with the familiar 3.14159... but keeps going on forever, its digits veering around wildly.

We were able to come up with clever correspondences with the natural numbers for the integers and the rationals, showing that they are all countably infinite and the same size. Given that, we might think that we can do something similar with the real numbers.

This is, however, impossible. The real numbers are an uncountably infinite set — there actually are far more real numbers than there are natural numbers, and there is no way to line up the reals and the naturals so that we are assigning exactly one real number to each natural number.

To see this, we use an extremely powerful technique in mathematics: proof by contradiction. We will start out by hypothesizing that the opposite of our claim is true — that the real numbers are countably infinite, and so there is a way to line up all the reals with the naturals in a one to one correspondence. We will see that it doesn't matter exactly what this correspondence looks like, so let's say that the first few pairs in the correspondence are the following:



Our big assumption here is that each and every real number appears somewhere on this list. We are now going to show that this is in fact wrong by making a new number that does not show up in the list.

For each natural number n, we look at the corresponding real number on the list, and take the digit n places to the right of the real number's decimal point. So, take the first digit of the first number, the second digit of the second number, the third digit of the third number, and so on:



From our first real number we get a 5, our second number a 3, and our third number a 1. We make a new number by taking each of these digits, and adding 1 to them (flipping around to a 0 if my original digit is 9), giving us the number 0.64207..., continuing on for all the other numbers on our list.

This new "diagonal" number is definitely a real number — it has a decimal expansion. But it is different from all the numbers on the list: its first digit is different from the first digit of our first number, its second digit is different from the second digit of our second number, and so on.

We have made a new real number that does not show up on our list. This contradicts our main assumption that every real number appears somewhere in the correspondence.

So...
We mentioned before that the details of the correspondence did not matter. This is because, no matter what alignment we try between the real numbers and the natural numbers, we can do the same diagonal trick above, making a number that does not show up in the correspondence.

This shows that the reals are not countably infinite. No matter what we try, there is no way to make a one to one pairing up of the natural numbers and the real numbers. These two sets are not the same size. This leads to the profound and somewhat uncomfortable realization that there must be multiple levels of infinity — the natural numbers and the real numbers are both infinite sets, but the reals form a set that is vastly larger than the naturals — they represent some "higher level" of infinity.

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-different-sizes-of-infinity-2013-11

158
General Disconation / One Momma's Battle against Revenge Porn
« on: November 25, 2013, 11:58:09 PM »
I felt like Will Smith in "Enemy of the State."

I was being hunted, harassed and stalked by criminals with technological expertise. I had been thrust into an unexpected war. I felt exposed, vulnerable and alone on the front line. I had awoken a hideous network of villains and saboteurs, who were in pursuit of me, hoping to ruin my life. I had received creepy emails, backlash on Twitter and three death threats. My computer had been bombarded with viruses, and a technician had advised me to buy all new equipment because the malware was tough to remove.

“Also, be leery of unusual cars or vans in the neighborhood,” the tech added. 

“Why?” I asked. 

“If someone wants to break into your computer network, he will need to be close to your house. That is, unless he has advanced skills. Then, he could gain access from anywhere.” 

I hurried home from the hardware store with my all-important purchase: heavy-duty padlocks. I knew I had to secure the gates at my residence, so that an intruder or a team of intruders could not access my backyard and possibly my home.

I pulled into my driveway and scanned the street, glad that the suspicious white car with the young, male driver was no longer present. It had been there on the previous evening, according to my daughter, Kayla. She’d seen it when she returned from work, and she had monitored it for several hours until it disappeared. She did not report the incident to me until the next day.

“Mom, why was there a guy in a white car, watching our house last night?”

Because she had no knowledge of the “be leery of unusual cars or vans” warning by the computer technician, I could not accuse her of paranoia.

I affixed padlocks to the gates, and the phone rang. It was like a gun. It had become a powerful way to threaten and to terrorize me. It was one of my enemy’s weapons. I reluctantly picked up the receiver.

“We know where you live,” a muffled male voice spoke. “Your life will be ruined.” He hung up.

A caller that morning had told me I would be raped, tortured and killed. I glanced out the front window. The night had once looked innocent and peaceful, but suddenly it seemed ominous and dangerous. Then I logged onto my computer to see whether the Twitter backlash against me had ceased. It had not. But there was an odd message on my feed, which read, “Please follow me. I need to direct message you.”

I did as I was instructed, and the interaction resulted in a bizarre phone call. Just as "Enemy of the State" protagonist Will Smith got aid from Gene Hackman -- an off-the-grid, former government agent -- I was being offered assistance.

“Don’t worry. We’re going to protect you. We’re computer experts,” were the first words uttered by a man nicknamed “Jack,” who claimed to be an operative with the underground group, Anonymous.

I knew little about the famous, decentralized network of activists and hacktivists, who are sometimes called “freedom fighters” or digital Robin Hoods, so I conducted Google searches during our half-hour phone conversation.

“Jack” instructed me on how to protect my computer network and explained in detail how he and a buddy planned to electronically go after the man who had been threatening me and who had been urging his devotees to follow suit. He then uttered the name of the person who has become the most well-known online face of revenge porn: a man named Hunter Moore.

“We know Hunter and his followers have been attacking you on Twitter. We will go after him and we won’t stop until he stops victimizing people,” he said. (xoJane reached out to Moore to comment for this story, but received no response.)

I felt better after the call, but wondered if it had been a practical joke. Was this really the notorious group Anonymous or was I being duped? Did I have an ally or would the stalking and emotional harassment escalate into physical violence against my family? I would learn the truth within 24 hours.

How It All Began

image
Celebrating after California’s anti-revenge porn law passed. I testified in favor of the bill in Sacramento.
Many months earlier, I was drawn into the nasty world of revenge porn. Revenge porn (RP) is the online distribution of nude and topless photos without consent in an effort to humiliate and hurt their targets, mostly females. A picture is uploaded to a revenge porn website by an angry ex-boyfriend or a malicious hacker usually with identifying information about a woman, such as her full name, city, workplace, social media page, boss’ email address and parent’s phone number. Followers of the RP websites then may harass the victim, often forwarding the embarrassing photo to her family members, friends and business contacts. This can lead to a loss of economic and employment opportunities, and it can strain or end a woman’s personal relationships. At least two women have killed themselves over revenge porn, and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative studies show that 47 percent of victims contemplate suicide.

In October 2011, my 24-year-old daughter Kayla was alone in her bedroom, emulating poses from fashion magazines. She snapped over 100 cute and sexy pictures in the mirror with her cell phone. One shot revealed her left breast. She never intended to show the pictures to anyone, but wanted to save them on her hard drive. She forwarded the entire lot from her cell phone to her email and then to her computer. Three months later on January 1, 2012, her email was hacked; and nine days after that, the photo revealing her left breast appeared on the notorious revenge porn website, Is Anyone Up? Kayla was an actress, but she was working part-time as a waitress when she got the distressing phone call.

“Kayla, I have to talk to you right now,” Kayla’s friend, Katie, was panic-stricken. “I’m at work in the middle of my shift. I can’t talk,” Kayla said

“This is really important,” Katie replied. “You are…” Katie began hesitantly, knowing the news would devastate Kayla. “You are topless on a website. It is called isanyoneup.com.”

Kayla was in disbelief. How was this possible? She had never given a revealing photo to anyone. She was confused; it had to be a mistake.

Kayla hung up and searched the website on her iPhone. She found the upsetting photo, along with her personally identifying information. She erupted in tears. She felt helpless, exposed, violated and vulnerable. Who had seen the picture? The site bragged of 300,000 daily visitors. Would it be saved on strangers’ hard drives? Would it spread to other sites? Kayla was frantic.

During a break, Kayla phoned and uttered the four words that every mother dreads, “Something horrible happened, Mom.”

I’d never heard about revenge porn prior to the call, but for many months after, I would hear about little else. I cancelled appointments, put work on hold and ignored routine tasks because a naked image rarely comes off the Internet unless someone becomes obsessed with its removal. RP website operators are consumed with what they do; therefore, anyone who hopes to prevail against them must be equally consumed.

I emailed the site owner, Hunter Moore, and asked him to take down the photo in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He refused.


I was not surprised. By this time, I’d perused Moore’s online TV and newspaper interviews. He called himself a "professional life ruiner" and described his website as “pure evil.” He threw legal letters in the trash, addressed his followers as “my children,” taking a page from the Charles Manson handbook; and regularly taunted victims, encouraging them to commit suicide. People claimed to be afraid of him. He had no fear of lawsuits; he knew a victim would be unlikely to sue because a civil suit would cost $60,000 (according to attorney Marc Randazza), and forever link a woman’s name with the image she hoped to hide.

Moore maintained that his victims were sluts, asked to be abused and deserved to lose their jobs, embarrass their families and find themselves forever ruined. Below photos on the site, his followers posted crude and mysogynistic remarks. Victims were taunted as “fat cows,” “creatures with nasty teeth,” “ugly whores,” “white trash sluts” and “whales.” One commenter said, “Jesus, someone call Greenpeace and get her back in the water.” The website was not about pornography; it was about ridiculing and hurting others.

News of Kayla’s topless image circulated. Her job was in jeopardy, and Kayla also feared that her conservative boyfriend would learn about the snapshot and terminate their relationship. When Kayla searched Is Anyone Up?, she made an amazing discovery: her friend Susan was also featured on the site.

“Susan never showed her photo to anyone, except her husband,” Kayla informed me. “And she was hacked, too.”

These words became the trigger for “Operation No Moore,” my investigation of Is Anyone Up? and its site owner. I had been a private eye in the late 1980’s.

Operation No Moore

Up until this point, the media had portrayed revenge porn as a platform for angry exes to take revenge on former lovers; but now I knew some sites had hacked photos. After all, I only knew about two victims, and both had been hacked by what I soon learned was the same guy. He went by the fake name, “Gary Jones.”

I turned my home office into what looked like a CIA command post while Kayla, feeling depressed and defenseless, locked herself in her bedroom. My husband Charles, an attorney, was angry about how revenge porn had disrupted our household.

“The photo will just go away if you ignore it,” he said, unaware that images tend to proliferate in cyberspace rather than disappear.

“That’s not how the Internet works,” I replied. “It would be really nice to have a lawyer’s assistance.”

“I don’t want to be involved,” he marched out of the room.

Revenge porn was a pack of wolves. It was tearing our family apart. Kayla was withdrawn. Charles was agitated, and I was obsessed. I contacted Hunter Moore’s publicist, his attorney, his hosting company, his Internet Service Provider in France, some of his advertisers and his mother’s former workplace at the city of Davis, where associates pressed for details about Mrs. Moore’s son and his venomous website. I also registered Kayla’s photo with the U.S. Copyright office and spoke to nine attorneys about copyright law, right to privacy and options for legal recourse. The consensus was that revenge porn was largely untested in the civil courts, while criminal laws were nonexistent, except in the state of New Jersey. Within days, I became an expert on revenge porn; and it was not long before lawyers were telephoning me for guidance.

Contacting Law Enforcement

Kayla and I went to the Los Angeles Police Department, where we hoped to find sympathy and an “eager to help” attitude. We found neither. A female detective from the cyber-crimes division was more interested in condescending stares and judgmental remarks than taking a report.

“Why would you take a picture like this if you didn’t want it on the Internet?” the detective blasted Kayla.


When the detective went to fetch forms, I whispered to Kayla, “I’ll call the FBI when we get home.”

The operator at the FBI call center was not condescending or discourteous, but he also did not want to help. He said, “Just file a report online.”

I knew this was code for “We are too busy with other cases and won’t do a darned thing.”

“I see,” I replied sarcastically. “You help Scarlett Johansson when she gets hacked, but you won’t help the average person.” (The actress’ nude picture had appeared online).

The man sighed as if he didn’t have the energy to fight me. “Just a moment. I will transfer you to a detective.”

The FBI told me that three agents would be coming to our house later in the month.

“I think they are just trying to pacify you,” Charles said. “They probably won’t take the case.”

However, Charles changed his mind after my investigation file expanded from one inch to four inches and then to eight inches. The contents included personal data about Moore and his associates, printouts from his website, copies of relevant articles and reams of information on other involuntary porn stars who were featured on his site. In other words, Kayla and Susan were no longer the only hacked victims. I’d found others, and I knew it would be difficult for law enforcement to ignore folks from all over the country, who had been violated by the same pair: Moore and “Gary Jones.”

A Victim Named Jill

Jill was a kindergarten teacher in Kansas. I knew she was going to be posted. Moore had mentioned it on his Twitter feed -- which I had been monitoring -- and he asked his followers if they thought she’d get fired. They had responded with the typical landslide of loutish and smutty comments.

An hour later, her photos were visible to the world along with identifying information, including the name of the school where she taught. This was the cue for followers of Is Anyone Up? to bombard the principal and school board with Jill’s naked shots and crude remarks, such as “Fire that slut” and “You have a whore teaching your children."

“Is Jill there?” I said to the school receptionist. “She’s in class right now.”

“I’d like to leave a message. This is urgent. Please tell her to call me when she gets time.”

While I was leaving my message, the principal had marched into Jill’s classroom and interrupted her lesson.

“Please gather your things and go home,” he said while five-year-old students watched in wonder.

Bewildered, Jill accumulated her belongings, and as she was leaving the building, the receptionist handed her my message. She called me from the parking lot; and that is when I revealed the agonizing news.

Jill became hysterical, repeating, “Oh, my God. No. Oh, my God. No.”

I was teary-eyed myself. I could feel each victim’s pain, and I could imagine being in their situation. Anyone could be in their situation. It was not their fault. Making calls was depressing, and I felt like a suicide hotline. Yet, in a weird sense, it was satisfying in that I felt I was helping others. Plus, I had experience with the issue, and I could offer advice.

I gave Jill instructions on how to send take-down notices to Google and other search engines in order to de-index her name from the pictures. I told her to beef up her online presence, joining respectable websites so the disturbing pictures wouldn’t appear on the first page. I told her to register the photos with the copyright office, and I told her about the FBI investigation.

“Plus, if I get my daughter’s picture off the Internet, I will tell you what I did.”

A Victim Named Tory

Tory lived in Atlanta, and her computer had been compromised by “Gary Jones.” A medical image of her bloody and bandaged breasts appeared on Is Anyone Up? next to her name, workplace and a link to her Facebook page. Her nipples were fully visible.

“The photo is from my doctor’s office,” Tory weeped into the phone. “I’d just had surgery. How could someone do this to me?”

A Victim Named Tina

Tina from northern California was also a victim. She and a female friend had been documenting weight loss through photos. Some of the shots were topless. “Gary Jones” had gotten into Tina’s email, nabbed the sexiest pictures, and sent them to Moore, who posted them.

“I was horrified,” she told me on the phone. “I was at the drugstore and a total stranger came up to me and said ‘I’ve seen you naked.’”

Tina had been stalked online, and she was seeing a psychologist because she no longer felt safe in the world.

A Victim Named Cathy

Forty-year-old Cathy was divorced, and she feared losing custody of her two children. She had taken extreme measures to dodge the graphic photos depicted beside her name, city and social media links. Cathy had quit her job, changed her phone number, moved to a new town and gone back to using her maiden name. She was freaked out when I located her because she thought she’d erased all traces of her existence.

“I don’t understand how you found me,” she bawled into the phone. “If my ex-husband sees the photos, he will petition to take my kids away. I’m gonna lose my kids. What am I going to do? I can’t lose my children.”

Cathy had not been hacked; her photos had been morphed. In other words, she had never taken a nude shot. Someone had photoshopped her head with an unknown nude body in highly acrobatic and embarrassing poses. It made Cathy look like a veteran porn star.

“I’ve emailed Hunter Moore 20 times. He knows it isn’t me, but he won’t take the pictures down,” she wailed. “Please help me.”

The Results of My Informal Survey

Within a week, I had spoken with dozens of victims from around the country, and my findings were astonishing. A full 40 percent had been hacked only days before their photos were loaded onto Is Anyone Up? In most cases, the scam began through Facebook and ended when “Gary Jones” gained access to the victim’s email account. Another 12 percent of my sample group claimed their names and faces were morphed or posted next to nude bodies that were not theirs; and 36 percent believed they were revenge porn victims in the traditional “angry ex-boyfriend sense” (although some of these folks were on good terms with their exes and thought the exes might have been hacked). Lastly, 12 percent of my sample group were “self-submits.”  The "self-submits,” of course, are not victims at all; they are individuals who willingly sent their images to Moore. In the end, it was disturbing to realize that over half of the folks from my informal study were either criminally hacked or posted next to body parts that were not theirs.

A Victim Named Mandy

Mandy was a special victim. If I was Sherlock Holmes, she was my Watson. She originated from Iran, had been hacked by “Gary Jones” and was as feisty as a tornado. Under her topless photo, there were posts, such as “I hope she gets stoned to death.” Although Mandy was Catholic, rather than Muslim, she had highly religious relatives, who would ostracize her permanently for this sort of transgression.

At one point, while I was on the phone with Mandy, Charles decided to help us, saying, "Hunter Moore will regret the day he messed with Kayla Laws.”

Mandy had never been a private eye, but she knew how to finagle information, find clues, look outside of the box and compile information for “Operation No Moore.” Although she was afraid of “the most hated man on the Internet,” a name the media had bestowed upon Moore, she worked tirelessly behind the scenes, helping me compile evidence for the FBI.
image

An Alliance with Facebook

“He’s back on Facebook,” Mandy revealed. “We need to wait until he gets a few thousand friends, then pow. Kick him off.”

I was in daily contact with a number of victims from Is Anyone Up? Although they felt helpless, frightened and exploited, they shared a minor joy, a feeling of power that could be exerted at will. We could kick Hunter Moore off Facebook anytime, any moment, regardless of how much effort he expended to compile “friends.” This is because I had created an alliance with the executives at the popular social networking service, something that seemed quite remarkable in itself.

I had initially contacted Facebook to request that they fund a civil suit on behalf of victims. They had banned Moore from their site and sent him a legal letter because he had violated their terms of service by linking victims’ photos with Facebook pages. Moore responded to their letter with a copy of his penis. He had also put a bounty on their lead attorney; in other words, he wanted nude photos of this man. Facebook executives mulled over my “civil lawsuit idea,” but ultimately decided against it, thinking it would lead to a slippery slope in which everyone would ask them to finance lawsuits.

The victims and I repeatedly kicked Moore off of Facebook. He would sneak on, create a new page and tirelessly build a huge network of friends and followers. We would wait patiently. Then, I would make the all-important phone call and poof, his page would disappear. The victims would phone me, elated. Also, one person from our group knew the CEO of PayPal and got Moore banned from the e-commerce site, hindering his ability to collect donations.

Operation No Moore Nonsense

It had been eight days since Kayla’s topless photo first appeared online, although it felt like eons. Moore had been inundated with appeals to remove it: from me, Kayla, his advertisers, his publicist, his attorney, his website technician and his hosting company, among others.

Hunter ignored the requests, so I jacked up the intensity and moved on to “Operation No Moore Nonsense,” which required Charles’ assistance because we had to be ready, willing and able to sue. I contacted Jeffrey Lyon, the president of Black Lotus communications -- Moore’s Los Angeles-based internet security company -- and asked for his help


“I need to talk to my tech guys,” Jeffrey told me on the phone. “We might be able to block Kayla’s page. Although it would technically still be there, no one could see it."

“That would be great,” I replied. Hours later, the tech folks at Black Lotus had succeeded. However, shortly thereafter, Moore circumvented Jeffrey’s efforts and maliciously created a new page for Kayla. Her topless photo was visible again, and we were back to square one.

“Maybe we should try blocking the photo instead of the page,” Jeffrey said when I contacted him to report Moore’s handiwork. “I will talk to my tech guys and see if it can be done. Give me a couple of days.”

I thanked him and turned my efforts toward Moore’s Los Angeles attorney, Reza Sina, who I had spoken with twice. He’d expressed sympathy for the victims, yet claimed to have no control over his client. My intuition told me that Reza had more control than he acknowledged. I also felt he did not take me seriously, so I figured it was time for Charles to have a stern chat with him, lawyer to lawyer.

“We have talked to the FBI,” Charles revealed to Reza on the phone. “They will be coming to our house. Plus, I am walking into court and filing papers in 30 minutes if that photo is not down. Period.”

Twenty minutes later, Kayla was removed from Is Anyone Up? And a few days after that, Jeffrey and his tech folks were able to block photos of other victims from our group, although it was unclear whether Moore could bypass the cyber-barrier.


The FBI

Three young FBI agents from the Los Angeles Internet Crime division appeared at our door. They were professional and supportive. Unlike the LAPD detective, they never pointed an accusatory finger at Kayla or other victims. I handed them a copy of “Operation No Moore.” They were astonished by the extent of my research.

"It’s almost 10 inches,” I said. “I have phone numbers for hacked victims all over the country.”

Charles quipped, “You should hire Charlotte. Working for the FBI is her calling.”

The agents agreed to take the case and spent several hours at our house, examining computers, copying files and questioning Kayla about the hacking. I told them that I had disclosed the cumbersome and detailed story to a reporter named Camille Dodero with The Village Voice because it was important to clear up misinformation. The media had been inaccurately reporting that photos on revenge porn websites stemmed from disgruntled exes. There had been no mention of hacking or photoshopping.

“Also, Hunter Moore lies about living in San Francisco,” I told the FBI. “I’d like to put his home address on the Internet so victims will know how to serve him legal papers.”

“I can’t tell you what to do,” the lead agent said. “But we would rather you not put his address out there yet, and we’d prefer The Village Voice not publish anything at this time because we don’t want Moore alerted to the investigation.

“Unfortunately, he probably knows about it,” I said. “We told his attorney and the president of his security company. I’d be surprised if they didn’t relay the information.”

I asked Camille to stall The Village Voice story, and then I phoned the Los Angeles Police Department detective to let her know that she could close her file.

The FBI agents stopped by our house for two more visits; the final one included a “victims meeting,” designed to discuss the possibility of a civil lawsuit and to give the agents an opportunity to interview multiple victims in one location.

Shortly thereafter, Moore took down Is Anyone Up?, selling the domain.

The FBI Raid, Threats and Anonymous

The FBI raided Moore’s home -- or more accurately, his parent’s home near Sacramento -- breaking down the front door and confiscating Moore’s computer, cell phone and other electronic equipment; and Camille felt compelled to move forward with The Village Voice article. Before going to press, she telephoned Moore for a statement. He went ballistic, cursing and making threats.

“Honestly, I will be fucking furious, and I will burn down fucking The Village Voice headquarters if you fucking write anything saying I have an FBI investigation,” he said.

He asked who had supplied her with the FBI information, but she refused to say.

He added, “I will literally fucking buy a first-class plane ticket right now, eat an amazing meal, buy a gun in New York, and fucking kill whoever said that.”

Moore soon learned it was me.

Fear entered my life. I received verbal attacks on Twitter, computer viruses and death threats. Moore publicly announced that he would relaunch Is Anyone Up? with all of the original photos, plus the site would be more insidious than before because it would include the addresses of victims along with driving directions on how to get to their homes.

This prompted me to make Moore’s home address public on Twitter, which resulted in even greater backlash, the creepy guy in the white car and the odd phone call from Anonymous.

It was two hours after the Anonymous call, and I was still wondering if the whole thing had been a practical joke. Kayla was studying near the front window, and that is when she saw it for the second time.

“Mom, that white car is outside again,” she yelled.

“What?” I was in disbelief. I was tired of having my family victimized. I was more furious than afraid and fully prepared for a mother-to-stalker showdown. I marched out of the front door, unsure whether I was stepping into danger.

Kayla tagged behind, yelling, “Mom? What are you going to do?”

There was a blonde, curly-haired, 20 to 30 year old kid in the white car. He was fiddling with something in his lap.

I stood in the street and yelled, “May I help you?”

He looked up at me and flew into panic mode. He quickly started his car and screeched away, almost barreling into my neighbor’s stucco wall. I got five digits of his seven digit license plate.

On the following day, I learned the truth about “Jack.” He was real. He was my Gene Hackman. Anonymous launched a massive technological assault on Moore, crashing his servers and publicizing much of his personal information online, including his social security number.

Moore retreated, becoming oddly quiet. He stopped speaking with the press, probably on orders from his lawyer because the FBI investigation was pending. The case is still open today.

Although Is Anyone Up? was down, I knew there were other disturbing sites and other desperate victims. I began pushing for legislation to protect victims, meeting with politicians on the state and federal level. I testified in Sacramento in favor of SB 255, an anti-revenge porn bill in California; it passed. I am hopeful that a federal law will be introduced soon.

2012 was a bizarre and difficult year. Sometimes I look back and wonder what would have happened if Moore had removed Kayla’s photo when first asked. Would his site be up today? Would Gary Jones still be hacking into emails? Would there be a pending FBI investigation? Would politicians have taken up the issue, and would there be a law in California with the possibility of federal legislation? But most of all I wonder if Charles was right.

Does Hunter Moore regret the day he messed with Kayla Laws?

http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/charlotte-laws-hunter-moore-erin-brockovich-revenge-porn

159
Quote
It was 1963, and 16-year-old Bruce McAllister was sick of symbol-hunting in English class. Rather than quarrel with his teacher, he went straight to the source: McAllister mailed a crude, four-question survey to 150 novelists, asking if they intentionally planted symbolism in their work. Seventy-five authors responded. Here’s what 12 of them had to say. (Copies of the survey responses can be found at the Paris Review.)

McAllister's Letter
“My definition of symbolism as used in this questionnaire is represented by this example: In The Scarlet Letter there are four major characters. Some say that Hawthorne meant those four to be Nature, Religion, Science or other similar symbols in disguise. They apply the actions of the four in the story to what is presently happening or will happen to Nature, Religion, Science, etc.”

Ayn Rand: “This is not a ‘definition,’ it is not true—and therefore, your questions do not make sense.”

MacKinlay Kantor: “Nonsense, young man, write your own research paper. Don’t expect others to do the work for you.”

Question 1
“Do you consciously, intentionally plan and place symbolism in your writing?... If yes, please state your method for doing so. Do you feel you sub-consciously place symbolism in your writing?”

Jack Kerouac: "No."

Isaac Asimov: “Consciously? Heavens, no! Unconsciously? How can one avoid it?”

Joseph Heller: “Yes, I do intentionally rely on symbolism in my writing, but not to the extent that many people have stated…No, I do not subconsciously place symbolism in my writing, although there are inevitably many occasions when events acquire a meaning additional to the one originally intended.”

Ray Bradbury: “No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."

John Updike: “Yes—I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don’t seem to understand.”

Norman Mailer: “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”

Ralph Ellison: “Symbolism arises out of action…Once a writer is conscious of the implicit symbolism which arises in the course of a narrative, he may take advantage of them and manipulate them consciously as a further resource of his art. Symbols which are imposed upon fiction from the outside tend to leave the reader dissatisfied by making him aware that something extraneous is added.”

Saul Bellow: “A ‘symbol’ grows in its own way, out of the facts.”

Richard Hughes: “[Consciously?] No. [Subconsciously?] Probably yes. After all, to a lesser extent, the same is true of our daily conversation—in fact, of everything we think and say and do.”

Question 2
“Do readers ever infer that there is symbolism in your writing where you had not intended it to be? If so, what is your feeling about this type of inference? (Humorous? annoying? etc.?)”

Ralph Ellison: “Yes, readers often infer that there is symbolism in my work, which I do not intend. My reaction is sometimes annoyance. It is sometimes humorous. It is sometimes even pleasant, indicating that the reader’s mind has collaborated in a creative way with what I have written.”

Saul Bellow: “They most certainly do. Symbol-hunting is absurd.”

Joseph Heller: “This happens often, and in every case there is good reason for the inference; in many cases, I have been able to learn something about my own book, for readers have seen much in the book that is there, although I was not aware of it being there.”

John Updike: “Once in a while—usually they do not (see the) symbols that are there.”

Jack Kerouac: “Both, depending how busy I am.”

Questions 3
“Do you feel that the great writers of classics consciously, intentionally planned and placed symbols in their writing? ... Do you feel that they placed it there sub-consciously?”

John Updike:


[“Some of them did (Joyce, Dante) more than others (Homer) but it is impossible to think of any significant work of narrative art without a symbolic dimension of some sort.”]

Ray Bradbury: “This is a question you must research yourself.”

Joseph Heller: “The more sophisticated the writer, I would guess, the smaller the use of symbols in the strictest sense and the greater the attempt to achieve the effects of symbolism in more subtle ways. “

Ralph Ellison: “Man is a symbol-making and –using animal. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. The great writers all used symbols as a means of controlling the form of their fiction. Some place it there subconsciously, discovered it and then developed it. Others started out consciously aware and in some instances shaped the fiction to the symbols.”

Jack Kerouac: “Come off of it—there are all kinds of ‘classics’—Sterne used no symbolism, Joyce did.”

Question 4
"Do you have anything to remark concerning the subject under study, or anything you believe to be pertinent to such a study?"

Richard Hughes:


[“Have you considered the extent to which subconscious symbol-making is part of the process of reading, quite distinct from its part in writing?”]

Jack Kerouac: “Symbolism is alright in ‘fiction’ but I tell true life stories simply about what happened to people I knew.”

John Updike: “It would be better for you to do your own thinking on this sort of thing.”

Iris Murdoch: “There is much more symbolism in ordinary life than some critics seem to realize.”

Ray Bradbury: “Not much to say except to warn you not to get too serious about all this, if you want to become a writer of fiction in the future. If you intend to become a critic, that is a Whale of another color…Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels…Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.”

Click through to read it, don't want to redo all the formatting. TL;DR : back in the 60s a high school student fed up w/ symbol-chasing games in lit class wrote a survey and sent it to a bunch of famous authors, asking whether they intentionally or unintentionally used symbolism. If the article's not total bunk, it's quite interesting.

160
General Disconation / Obamacare's Union Favor: Lovin' on Big labor
« on: November 19, 2013, 02:25:56 PM »
The Affordable Care Act's greatest hits keep coming, and one that hasn't received enough attention is a looming favor for President Obama's friends in Big Labor. Millions of Americans are losing their plans and paying more for health care, and doctors are being forced out of insurance networks, but a lucky few may soon get relief.

Earlier this month the Administration suggested that it may grant a waiver for some insurance plans from a tax that is supposed to capitalize a reinsurance fund for ObamaCare. The $25 billion cost of the fund, which is designed to pay out to the insurers on the exchanges if their costs are higher than expected, is socialized over every U.S. citizen with a private health plan. For 2014, the fee per head is $63.

The unions hate this reinsurance transfer because it takes from their members in the form of higher premiums and gives to people on the exchanges. But then most consumers are hurt in the same way, and the unions have little ground for complaint given that ObamaCare would not have passed in 2010 without the fervent support of the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and the rest.

The unions ought to consider this tax a civic obligation in solidarity with the (uninsured) working folk they claim to support. Instead, they've spent most of the last year demanding that the White House give them subsidies and carve-outs unavailable to anyone else.

But don't expect ObamaCare favors unless you helped to re-elect the President. In an aside in a Federal Register document filed this month, the Administration previewed its forthcoming regulation: "We also intend to propose in future rulemaking to exempt certain self-insured, self-administered plans from the requirement to make reinsurance contributions for the 2015 and 2016 benefit years."

Allow us to translate. "Self-insured" means that a business pays for the medical expenses of its workers directly and hires an insurer as a third-party administrator to process claims, manage care and the like. Most unions as well as big corporations use this arrangement.

But the kicker here is "self-administered." That term refers to self-insured plans that don't contract with the Aetnas and Blue Shields of the world and instead act as their own in-house benefits manager.

Almost no business in the real world still follows this old-fashioned practice as both medicine and medical billing have become more complex. The major exception is a certain type of collectively bargained insurance trust known as Taft-Hartley plans. Such insurance covers about 20 million union members, and four out of five Taft-Hartley trusts are self-administered.

There's no conceivable rationale—other than politics—for releasing union-only plans from a tax that is defined as universal in the Affordable Care Act statute. Like so many other ObamaCare waivers, this labor dispensation will probably turn out to be illegal.

And by the way, this favor harms all other taxpayers. The IRS assesses the reinsurance tax in annual tranches; it must collect $12 billion in 2014, $8 billion in 2015 and $5 billion 2016. So the smaller pool of ordinary people without a union card will pay a larger individual share of the same overall amount.

Count all of this as one more illustration of the way that ObamaCare has put politicians in control of health care. Some people get taxed but others don't, some people get subsidies but others don't, and some have to pay more so Mr. Obama can deliver favors to his political constituents.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303309504579182061106839366

161
General Disconation / Engineering, Comp Sci STEM laggards w/ the Ladies
« on: November 17, 2013, 02:53:35 PM »
A few weeks ago, I wrote about ways to get more women interested in computer science. One of the points that came up frequently in my reporting is that some other STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have actually been quite successful attracting more women. A report this week from the National Science Foundation lays out these trends nicely:



As you can see, a majority of bachelor’s degrees in some STEM fields — psychology, biosciences, social sciences — were actually given to women in recent years. And women’s participation in these fields has also risen, on net, since 1991, even if there has been some erosion in biosciences in recent years. Women receive less than half of physical sciences degrees, but they earn a much higher share than they did two decades ago.

Now take a look at the trends in computer science and engineering. Engineering is slightly more female-heavy than it was in 1991, but not much: 15.5 percent then versus 18.4 percent in 2010, the most recent year in the report. Computer science actually is more male-dominated today than it was two decades ago: Women received 29.6 percent of computer science B.A.’s in 1991, compared with 18.2 percent in 2010.

From a wage-gap perspective, it’s too bad that women have increased their share of degrees in the select fields that they have, as they are leaving money on the table. Of the STEM fields, computer science and engineering have the highest median earnings for recent college graduates without advanced degrees, according to a report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The ways that majors are categorized in the Georgetown report don’t exactly line up with the groupings in the National Science Foundation report, but there are some relevant comparisons:



For computer science, the median earnings for recent grads with no more than a B.A. is about $50,000, and for engineers it’s about $54,000. For the other majors, median earnings for recent grads without tertiary degrees ranges from $30,000 for biology to $41,000 for math. Earnings go up with experience and with the completion of advanced degrees in all categories, but psychology — a field where three-quarters of bachelor’s degrees now go to women — still has much lower median earnings than its STEM counterparts.

Here, by the way, are the trends for STEM degrees going to members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities (blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans):



For whatever reason, there have been greater gains by underrepresented minorities in computer science and engineering than there have been for women, although in both cases blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans still receive a small share of total bachelor’s degrees awarded.

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/women-gain-in-some-stem-fields-but-not-computer-science/

162
In his first State of the Union Address in 1790, George Washington told Congress, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.” He went on to call science “essential” to our nation. Two hundred and twenty years later, in his first inaugural address, Barack Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place.”

The president’s insinuation plays into the common perception in the media, electorate, and research community that Republicans are “anti-science.” I encountered that sentiment routinely in nearly a decade working for Republicans on Capitol Hill, and it has become more commonplace in the broader political discussion. Frequent offenders include Slate's Phil Plait, Mother Jones' Chris Mooney, HBO's Bill Maher, a host of contributors at The Huffington Post, and MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

I'm the first to admit that there are elected Republicans with a terrible understanding of science—Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, an M.D. who claims evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell” is one rather obvious example—and many more with substantial room for improvement. But Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse. (As a politically centrist atheist, this claim is not meant to be self-serving.)

Republicans, and members of the traditionally Republican coalition like conservatives and the religious, are criticized for rejecting two main areas of science: evolution and global warming. But even those critiques are overblown. Believing in God is not the same as rejecting science, contrary to an all-too-frequent caricature propagated by the secular community. Members of all faiths have contributed to our collective scientific understanding, and Christians from Gregor Mendel to Francis Collins have been intellectual leaders in their fields. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, wrote a New York Times bestseller reconciling his faith with his understanding of evolution and genetics.

Numerically speaking, according to Gallup, only a marginally higher percentage of Republicans reject evolution completely than do Democrats. Yes, an embarrassing half of Republicans believe the earth is only 10,000 years old—but so do more than a third of Democrats. And a slightly higher percentage of Democrats believe God was the guiding factor in evolution than Republicans.

On global warming, conservative policy positions often seem to be conflated or confused with rejection of the consensus that the planet has been warming due to human carbon emissions. The climate trend over the last several hundred years is not one anybody credible disputes—despite the impression you might get from GOP presidential primary debates. Of the many Republican members of Congress I know personally, the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming (though, embarrassingly, some still do). Even Senator Jim Inhofe, perhaps the green community’s greatest antagonist in Congress, explicitly endorses environmental regulation.

The catch: Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship. It's not inherently anti-scientific to oppose cap and trade or carbon taxes. What most Republicans object to are policies that unilaterally make it more expensive in the United States to produce energy, grow food, and transport people and goods but are unlikely to make much long-term difference in the world’s climate, given that other major world economies emit more carbon than the United States or have much faster growth rates of carbon emissions (China, India, Russia, and Brazil all come to mind).

The more important question on climate change is not “how do we eliminate carbon immediately?” but “how best do we secure a cleaner environment and more prosperous world for future generations?”

It is on this subject that many on the political left deeply hold some serious anti-scientific beliefs. Set aside the fact that twice as many Democrats as Republicans believe in astrology, a pseudoscientific medieval farce. Left-wing ideologues also frequently espouse an irrational fear of nuclear power, genetic modification, and industrial and agricultural chemistry—even though all of these scientific breakthroughs have enriched lives, lengthened lifespans, and produced substantial economic growth over the last century.

Examining greenhouse-gas emissions in exact terms, three of our biggest sources of emissions are electricity generation, transportation, and agriculture. With widespread adoption of nuclear technology, we could conceivably cut out more than 70 percent of our total emissions by eliminating the pollution from burning petroleum for transportation and coal for electricity generation (Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter explains this in his slightly technical but readable Beyond Smoke and Mirrors).

One result of caricaturing the GOP as the “bad guys” is that the Obama and the Democrats get a free pass on bad decisions that undermine long-term basic research.

Nuclear power is the only energy source that can actually meet base-load power requirements for a cost competitive KW/h price with almost zero carbon emissions. One of the largest hurdles to nuclear energy is storage of byproduct waste, something Obama dealt a huge blow when he halted the development of Yucca Mountain for what the Government Accountability Office called strictly political reasons. Republicans in Congress have repeatedly supported moving forward with Yucca Mountain.

As for agricultural emissions, the purpose of GMOs is to use less area, less energy, less pesticide, and less maintenance than conventional crops. They also mean we can grow food in new areas around the globe. With the tools to feed the world with viable crops closer to the poles, we can preserve the more biodiverse regions close to the equatorial zones.

Stewart Brand, the 1960s environmental activist, has bemoaned opposition to genetically modified organisms as “irrational, anti-scientific, and very harmful.” The anti-GMO movement, largely a product of the political left, has reached levels of delusion, paranoia and anti-intellectualism worthy of Michele Bachmann and young-earth creationists.

Matters are more nuanced—or just plain favorable to Republicans—when it comes to the business of actually governing. Comparing the two parties' proposed funding levels for the major scientific research agencies doesn't lend itself well to narratives about who's “pro” or “anti” science. For every cheap shot a Republican member of Congress like Senator Tom Coburn has taken at National Science Foundation grants (see the unfairly maligned robo-squirrel), there are areas where Obama has undercut American leadership in basic science by favoring loan guarantees and industrial subsidies to the alternative-energy industry at the expense of science elsewhere.

We've seen this in his proposed cuts to high-energy physics, nuclear physics, planetary science, and other areas of research. Even in the much-maligned “Tea Party-dominated” House of Representatives, the GOP budget proposals provided more funding for the NSF than those of the Senate Democrats for the current 2013 fiscal year.

My point is not to help Republicans shed the “anti-science” label and simply apply it to the Democrats. It's more important that we collectively recognize that reason and critical thought, the joy and excitement of discovery, the connection between research and economic growth, and the beauty and awe of science are accessible to people of all religious and political stripes—just as people of all stripes are capable of rejecting them.

That's critically important for two reasons. First, one result of caricaturing Republicans as the “bad guys” on science is that the science-advocacy community gives Obama and the Democratic Party a free pass on bad decisions that undermine long-term basic research.

Take the NASA portfolio, for example, where the president unceremoniously cancelled the Constellation plan over the objections of both parties and both chambers of Congress. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, hardly partisan bomb throwers, highlighted this in testimony before the House Science Committee on multiple occasions, pleading, “now is the time to overrule this Administration's pledge to mediocrity.”

Over at the Department of Energy, the president's FY13 budget request made basic research the second-lowest priority of all the department's science spending. The Office of Science, which focuses on long-term basic research, saw a meager 2.4 percent increase, while technology development and deployment—both very much not basic research—received nearly 30 percent proposed single-year increases.

In 2011, Obama denied a request to extend the operating life of the Tevatron—the nation’s most powerful particle accelerator and preeminent tool for high-energy physicists—a field of research that eventually led to revolutionary advances like MRI machines. The administration said there wasn't enough money to go around. Yet at the sametime, billions of stimulus dollars were being lost on failed investments in the alternative-energy sector. Just the failed loans to Solyndra and Abound Solar would have kept the Tevatron operating for a decade. Nonetheless, Obama has avoided mainstream criticism by hiding behind the commonly held dogma that it's Republicans who are “anti-science.”

This point briefly snuck into the 2012 presidential debates. During the foreign-policy debate, Obama offered a false choice between himself as the pro-science candidate and Mitt Romney as the anti-science candidate, claiming his opponent wouldn't invest in basic research. Romney replied, correctly, that a loan guarantee to a corporation “isn't basic research. I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks is great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not.”

My own experience on Capitol Hill suggests that when anyone mentions GOP advocacy for science spending, the reply is that Republicans are hypocrites about government spending—that they only support science when it’s pork for their own district. But leaders can be consistent as advocates for basic scientific research but also deficit hawks. Federal science funding as a fraction of GDP has declined nearly 60 percent from 1967 to 2007. The growth in entitlements and mandatory spending, wasteful discretionary programs, and the unnecessary invasion of Iraq have been the leading contributors to deficit spending.

There is a second, larger reason why it's important to keep science bipartisan—and why cheap shots about Republicans and science are dangerous. The politics of the immediate will always trump the politics of the long term. So actions like the sequester, which left entitlements untouched but caused furloughs at NASA and the Office of Science, stalled research at the National Institutes of Health, and reduced grants from the NSF and other federally supported research agencies—will happen again and again absent tax and spending reform. If the sequester taught us anything, it's that science will always lose to Social Security, Medicare, and defense when budgets are being cut.

Science's political constituency is too small and the coalition supporting it is not powerful enough to protect research budgets against other priorities. Supporters of federal science funding, a group of which I am a card-carrying member, can ill afford to lose Republican support for science. But if it is perceived as a partisan litmus test, it will not continue to exist in its current state as the government's other financial obligations continue to grow. This may be stupid or petty and perhaps it ought not to matter whether or not it's perceived as a partisan issue, but I've been on the Hill and this is how politics works.

If we do not expand the pro-science coalition, instead of shrinking it, it will be the death knell for American leadership in science. Every American will be worse off as a result. Science funding will not just shrink as a percentage—it will shrink in absolute terms, as it did under the sequester.

So if you count yourself a supporter of NASA, a supporter of the National Science Foundation, a supporter of the NIH, or a supporter of the Department of Energy's science facilities and particle accelerators, don’t be goaded into a false dichotomy between those who support science and who oppose it. As Thomas Huxley said, “Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/11/the-republican-party-isnt-really-the-anti-science-party/281219/

163
Spamalot / my facebook pal's retelling of the gov't shutdown debacle
« on: October 03, 2013, 11:27:23 PM »
Quote
The sun glides silently down over the still waters of the Potomac, and a dense, acrid fog roils unusually in from the East. In their marbled chambers built upon a fetid carcass of a swamp, Those Who Survived begin with renewed fervor their summoning. Where the #romneydeathrally failed, the #shutdownsupplication would succeed. John Boehner stands from his Speaker's Throne, a single tear falling down his apricot chin. It is time.

Quote
At Yellowstone National Park, a chill breeze whips through the air, and the wild animals scatter in no particular direction. Old Faithful has been seen shooting bile and mucus into the air at wildly irregular intervals, and the mud pits are boiling with a rapid fervor. Currently, only one park ranger has been found, and they continue to chant in monotone. "It would be unwise to remain." #shutdownsupplication

Quote
At the Lincoln Memorial, the columns begin to sag and droop, revealing a pink, tender flesh underneath. Veins pumping an acidic, black fluid envelop the Washington Monument, while a crowd of wild, frenzied tourists gathers around the base, their fanny packs and disposable cameras witness to the incredible carnage to be. The Vietnam Memorial unleashes a hollow, rattling moan for two minutes. The sun has left Washington. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
The major cable news network anchors have been speaking in not only unknown tongues for the last thirty minutes, but also the same low, guttural voice, prompting a flood of calls to the FCC. Anderson Cooper's speech is muddled with the blood that pours out of his mouth. Bill O'Reilly is peeling off his scalp, layer by layer. No one can stand watching Nancy Grace's body slowly devolve as she retains her awareness that the voice emanating from her rapidly-deforming body is not her own. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
The Lincoln Memorial has begun to form boils and sphincters under its cracked-marble facade, and the faint sound of digestion can be heard. The Yellowstone Ranger is screaming, rhythmically, "IT WOULD BE UNWISE TO REMAIN." The Grand Canyon is filling with a sickly-sweet smelling pink slime that burns all it touches. John Boehner, clad in his alabaster trappings, turns and touches the brittle cheek of his manservant Eric Cantor, as they both turn silently towards the Sacrificial Chambers. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Bill O'Reilly has begun vomiting strange bones onto his desk, but the voice continues speaking unabated. Every citizen of the state of Oklahoma develops gushing, painful nosebleeds, and intense stomach cramping. From a warm bath atop his mountain retreat, Mitt Romney watches with an intense, burning sadness as he opens the veins in his arms. This glory was to be his. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
The children of Chillicothe, Ohio, ask their mothers why there is no sky anymore. The children of Chillicothe, Ohio, do not have eyes. Their mothers no longer have ears. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
One man in Yellowstone leaves nothing a viscera-covered smoldering skeleton at the base of Ol' Faithful. The Washington Monument throbs and pulses with a foul energy, and the crowd beneath has turned to vicious mob, with few remaining standing under the Phallus of the New God. On the left side of the Lincoln Memorial, one of the sphincters oozes out a concoction of blood, mucus, and a stark naked Ted Cruz. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
It has been raining sheep entrails and frog skulls inside the White House for hours, and yet the President remained firm in his stance. This time, he would not try and stop the Great Summoning. Those frog skulls hurt, though, and he knows all too well that umbrellas can't help. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
The children have returned, inside of their mothers, in Chillicothe, Ohio. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
In Great Britain, Big Ben tolls 13 times and shuts down, while Notre Dame's great bourdon bell, Emmanuel, breaks free of its restraints and crashes to the ground floor. Angela Merkel wakes up in the middle of the night, suddenly bald, but with a new third eye. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Winds swirl around New York as an intense storm rages, and unnatural lights sweep through the area. Many report seeing an impossible shape rise out of the harbor. Fewer still saw Joe Lhota riding it. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Ted Cruz, still dripping with afterbirth, arrives in the Sacrificial Chamber, and is immediately given another alabaster robe. The Speaker bristles, and his manservant grits his teeth into bits. It will have to do. #shutdowsupplication

Quote
Conflicting reports of people's passports and social security cards bursting into green and blue flames are coming in, but one fact remains the same: DO NOT TOUCH THE FLAMES. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
A blanket of flesh-eating locusts has settled on Seattle, Washington. Idaho's long-dormant volcanoes have erupted vigorously, covering much of the area in burning hot ash. The Mississippi River has turned yet again to pitch. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Suddenly and without warning, the ground in the Superdome opens up into a cavernous pit, swallowing everyone involved with Monday Night Football. Roger Godell smirks, thinking to himself how he never really liked the Saints anyways. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
The country roads are pockmarked with smoking craters and abandoned cars. In Richmond, Virginia, strange cultists have taken up in the Federal Courthouse, wearing skulls of farm animals fresh from their source. Chillicothe, Ohio no longer appears on maps. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Facebook's Messenger app begins to lose the familiar "green dots" and "cell phones" next to usernames, replacing them instead with unspeakable letters and nauseating symbols. In Alaska, the Northern Lights have shifted into colors unknown to the human mind, and refuse to yield to the coming of daylight. The twisted visage and tortured existence of Bill O'Reilly ceased to be days ago, but that has not halted the speaking. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
I have received word that the streets of Washington D.C. have quickly been covered in odious mounds of rotted garbage topped with vicious murders of crows. The citizenry are attempting to make a hardscrabble life out of it, with what little resources they have remaining, but most were so coddled by the city they loved that to look upon them is to know true despair. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Children tell each other in hushed voices and whispers about the times they had regular meals, and when direwolves didn't roam the streets in ravenous, emaciated packs. Some recall fondly the old snow, so cold and perfect that you could catch it on your tongue. They are too young, too naive to comprehend the tragic irony of using their abandoned school buildings as cover in the new, caustic flurries. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Due to the Great Summoning, there was no government to write techno-military spy takeover thrillers about. Tom Clancy didn't see a reason for pressing on anymore. Without the venerable United States Government, who would neo-nazi arms dealers with a large stake in the Arabian opiate trade strike at now? His final note to the world, a 4 page long technical description of a pistol he had recently held, was dappled with teardrops. He had thought the familiar weight would bring him comfort, would stir within him the same feelings of joy, of near-arousal, of almost bodily nirvana.

Tom Clancy had felt nothing. A deep, cold nothing. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
Street lamps flicker, and sidewalks buckle and curl as if impressed upon by a massive, unseen force. The direwolves have surrounded a family that foolishly assumed they could escape in their car, on these "roads." Good. It will be easier to move at night now. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
As if surrounded by a force field, The Speaker and his alabaster cloak remain unstained by the continuing ethereal rain of innards inside the Situation Room. After the President makes his case, the only thing to be heard were the soft, fleshy slaps for a full four minutes. Finally, The Speaker stood, turned his back, and responded. "No deal, Mister President. You will know despair. You will know sorrow. We have only just begun." #shutdownsupplication

Quote
All along the I-95 corridor in Virginia and Maryland, the sorrowful wails of The Furloughed can be heard. Washington's monstrous and confusing highway, the Beltway, has become a nightmarish carousel of endlessly circling cars, their passengers fearful, gaunt, and trapped. The Potomac Swamp-City lays claim to another structure as the Internal Revenue Service building sinks into the soft, rotten peat bog. #shutdownsupplication

Quote
There are reports of a group of veterans storming a national monument yesterday, but many of them failed to mention the cloaked Representative with them, his teeth flashing a smile as sharp as the sacrificial dagger he carried. #shutdownsupplication



(the image is not his, but was posted in an FB status as part of the series)

Quote
Tonight on CNN's Crossfire, Van Jones accidentally trips over a loose thread hanging from the billowing jowls of Newt Gingrich, tangling himself up and exposing not the former House Speaker but instead a grotesque flesh-suit filled with hundreds of snakes and eels. Somewhere in the fetid Swamp-City Washington, a portly, silver-haired man runs his stubby fingers on an ivory cloak of another time.

The figure, bathed in shadows, puts on the mantle. #shutdownsupplication

164
General Disconation / in minneapolis tmrw 'til tuesday
« on: October 03, 2013, 11:00:51 PM »
does anyone-thing live here

165
General Disconation / Math > history, redux
« on: September 24, 2013, 11:55:46 AM »
TLDR : math dudes model social evolution of cultural traits conducive to maintenance of large-scale society in Eurasia-Africa primarily as a function of selection by warfare, using agent-based computational model. Their results fit the actual historical record reasonably well, R-square = 0.65 or something.

The question of how human societies evolve from small groups to the huge, anonymous and complex societies of today has been answered mathematically, accurately matching the historical record on the emergence of complex states in the ancient world.

Intense warfare is the evolutionary driver of large complex societies, according to new research from a trans-disciplinary team at the University of Connecticut, the University of Exeter in England, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). The study appears this week as an open-access article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study's cultural evolutionary model predicts where and when the largest-scale complex societies arose in human history.

Simulated within a realistic landscape of the Afro-Eurasian landmass during 1,500 BCE to 1,500 CE, the mathematical model was tested against the historical record. During the time period, horse-related military innovations, such as chariots and cavalry, dominated warfare within Afro-Eurasia. Geography also mattered, as nomads living in the Eurasian Steppe influenced nearby agrarian societies, thereby spreading intense forms of offensive warfare out from the steppe belt.
The study focuses on the interaction of ecology and geography as well as the spread of military innovations and predicts that selection for ultra-social institutions that allow for cooperation in huge groups of genetically unrelated individuals and large-scale complex states, is greater where warfare is more intense.
While existing theories on why there is so much variation in the ability of different human populations to construct viable states are usually formulated verbally, by contrast, the authors' work leads to sharply defined quantitative predictions, which can be tested empirically.
The model-predicted spread of large-scale societies was very similar to the observed one; the model was able to explain two-thirds of the variation in determining the rise of large-scale societies.
"What's so exciting about this area of research is that instead of just telling stories or describing what occurred, we can now explain general historical patterns with quantitative accuracy. Explaining historical events helps us better understand the present, and ultimately may help us predict the future," said the study's co-author Sergey Gavrilets, NIMBioS director for scientific activities.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923155538.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fcomputers_math%2Fmathematical_modeling+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Computers+%26+Math+News+--+Mathematical+Modeling%29

actual article link freely available from PNAS:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1308825110

166
After almost 9 years in space that included an unprecedented July 4th impact and subsequent flyby of a comet, an additional comet flyby, and the return of approximately 500,000 images of celestial objects, NASA's Deep Impact mission has ended.

The project team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has reluctantly pronounced the mission at an end after being unable to communicate with the spacecraft for over a month. The last communication with the probe was Aug. 8. Deep Impact was history's most traveled comet research mission, going about 4.7 billion miles (7.58 billion kilometers).

"Deep Impact has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we had planned," said Mike A'Hearn, the Deep Impact principal investigator at the University of Maryland in College Park. "It has revolutionized our understanding of comets and their activity."

Deep Impact successfully completed its original bold mission of six months in 2005 to investigate both the surface and interior composition of a comet, and a subsequent extended mission of another comet flyby and observations of planets around other stars that lasted from July 2007 to December 2010. Since then, the spacecraft has been continually used as a space-borne planetary observatory to capture images and other scientific data on several targets of opportunity with its telescopes and instrumentation.

Launched in January 2005, the spacecraft first traveled about 268 million miles (431 million kilometers) to the vicinity of comet Tempel 1. On July 3, 2005, the spacecraft deployed an impactor into the path of comet to essentially be run over by its nucleus on July 4. This caused material from below the comet's surface to be blasted out into space where it could be examined by the telescopes and instrumentation of the flyby spacecraft. Sixteen days after that comet encounter, the Deep Impact team placed the spacecraft on a trajectory to fly back past Earth in late December 2007 to put it on course to encounter another comet, Hartley 2 in November 2010.

"Six months after launch, this spacecraft had already completed its planned mission to study comet Tempel 1," said Tim Larson, project manager of Deep Impact at JPL. "But the science team kept finding interesting things to do, and through the ingenuity of our mission team and navigators and support of NASA's Discovery Program, this spacecraft kept it up for more than eight years, producing amazing results all along the way."
The spacecraft's extended mission culminated in the successful flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, 2010. Along the way, it also observed six different stars to confirm the motion of planets orbiting them, and took images and data of Earth, the moon and Mars. These data helped to confirm the existence of water on the moon, and attempted to confirm the methane signature in the atmosphere of Mars. One sequence of images is a breathtaking view of the moon transiting across the face of Earth.

In January 2012, Deep Impact performed imaging and accessed the composition of distant comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd). It took images of comet ISON this year and collected early images of ISON in June.
After losing contact with the spacecraft last month, mission controllers spent several weeks trying to uplink commands to reactivate its onboard systems. Although the exact cause of the loss is not known, analysis has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging that could have led to loss of control for Deep Impact's orientation. That would then affect the positioning of its radio antennas, making communication difficult, as well as its solar arrays, which would in turn prevent the spacecraft from getting power and allow cold temperatures to ruin onboard equipment, essentially freezing its battery and propulsion systems.

"Despite this unexpected final curtain call, Deep Impact already achieved much more than ever was envisioned," said Lindley Johnson, the Discovery Program Executive at NASA Headquarters, and the Program Executive for the mission since a year before it launched. "Deep Impact has completely overturned what we thought we knew about comets and also provided a treasure trove of additional planetary science that will be the source data of research for years to come."

The mission is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. JPL manages the Deep Impact mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130920144217.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fspace_time%2Fastronomy+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Space+%26+Time+News+--+Astronomy%29

167
Spamalot / is it weird that i don't want sex for joy?
« on: September 18, 2013, 12:09:35 AM »
or is this common?

i mean having a loving partner who cares for me and w/ whom i share some bilateral empathy will obv always improve life, and sex, and thereby life

but i also don't care that much, honestly. by which i mean, if i am healthy, i am super happy anyway. do you dudes really give a fuck who you're fucking that much?

168
General Disconation / Mushroom Kingdom Fusion
« on: September 17, 2013, 12:52:57 AM »
Mushroom Kingdom Fusion Trailer

169
General Disconation / Don't date a girl who reads — Charles Warnke
« on: September 16, 2013, 02:03:34 PM »
Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly.

Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.
Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.

Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.

Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.

Do those things, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.

Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.
Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.

Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.

170
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who sits on the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, told Southern California Public Radio in an interview on Syria that he once arm-wrestled Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Rohrabacher, who was elected in 1989 and previously served as a senior speech writer to Ronald Reagan, said he met a "a group of young political leaders" visiting from Russia and invited them to a football game in a friendly gesture. Three Russian officials accepted the invitation including Putin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, whom Rohrabacher says he didn't know at the time.

"We went out and we played touch football and Scooter Libby was one of the players and a bunch of my right-wing friends were there," Rohrabacher said. "We all ended up going to the Irish Times pub afterwards. And we were having a little bit too much to drink I guess. But anyway we started arguing about who won the Cold War, etc, and so we decided to settle it like men do when they've had too much to drink in the pub."

"So we got down to these arm-wrestling matches and I ended up being paired off with Putin!" he continued. "And he's a little guy but boy I tell ya -- he put me down in a millisecond. He is tough! He just - muscles were just unbelievable."


"You know he's a tough guy and he's supposed to be a tough guy, that's what the Russian people want," he added. "But that's not reason we shouldn't try to work with him."

Listen to the full interview with KPCC here.

http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/gop-rep-arm-wrestled-putin-he-put-me

171
This year is on track to be the worst for measles in more than a decade, according to new numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And people who refuse to vaccinate their children are behind the increasing number of outbreaks, health officials say.

There were 159 cases of measles in the United States from January 1 through August 24, according to the CDC. If that trend continues, there will be more cases in 2013 than in any year since 1996, when some 500 cases were reported. The number would also surpass that of 2011, when there were 222 cases.


Measles cases in the United States numbered in the hundreds of thousands before the advent of vaccination, and dropped dramatically throughout the 1960s. The disease was thought to have been eradicated in 2000, but the numbers have recently crept back up, largely because of visitors from countries where measles is common and because of vaccine objectors within the United States. Nearly two-thirds of the reported cases happened in three outbreaks in communities where many people don't vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. But it can be prevented by the MMR vaccine. The CDC recommends that kids get two doses -- the first at 12 months of age and the second dose before entering school.

"This is very bad. This is horrible," said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was on a telephone briefing with the CDC Thursday morning. "The complications of measles are not to be toyed with, and they're not altogether rare."

According to the CDC, one to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best of care. Even if complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis aren't deadly, they can make children very sick; in 2011, nearly 40% of children under the age of 5 who got measles had to be treated in the hospital.

Measles usually starts with a fever, which can get very high, followed by a cough, runny nose and red eyes. Soon a rash of tiny, red spots will start at the head and spread to the rest of the body. The rash can last a week and coughing can last for up to 10 days.

Creech said he's concerned younger physicians might not be quick to recognize the signs of measles, since there have been only pockets of the disease since 2000.

"Many young pediatricians might not know what measles looks like," he said.

Among those who have been stricken with measles this year, 92% were not vaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. The largest outbreak was in New York, where 58 people contracted measles in a community where many refuse to be vaccinated for religious reasons.

Those who choose not to vaccinate put other people's babies at risk, since babies cannot be vaccinated until their first birthday, and are therefore vulnerable to the disease.
"I hope that those who are vaccine hesitant or vaccine avoidant realize there are consequences to their actions," Creech said. "None of us lives in isolation."


http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/12/health/worst-measles-year/index.html?sr=fb091213measles7p

172
Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy, Syria expert, made quite an impression on Senator John McCain. During Senate hearings, the former Presidential candidate quoted at length from her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed painting a rosy picture of a mostly secular, pro-Western anti-Assad insurgency.

“John, do you agree with Dr. O’Bagy’s assessment of the opposition?,” the Senator asked the Secretary of State John Kerry. “I agree with most of that,” he replied.

Except Dr. O’Bagy wasn’t actually a doctor. Her PhD was fabricated, a lie she told her employers at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an influential neoconservative-aligned think tank, to get hired. Ironically, it ended up being the lie that got her fired Wednesday. This postmodern reenactment of the Icarus myth also provides a bizarrely informative window into the way that Washington’s foreign policy sausage gets made.

O’Bagy got her start last year, when she interned for ISW’s Iraq portfolio while completing a Master’s in Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Kimberly Kagan, the President of ISW, was so impressed that she hired O’Bagy to start even before the young analyst finished her degree. “Her insights and her [Arabic] linguistic skills were tremendous,” Kagan said.

But O’Bagy had already begun to misrepresent her credentials. Kagan told me that she “knew [O'Bagy] was a student at Georgetown in a combined masters/PhD program,” and that new hire was writing a dissertation on “female militancy in Islamic extremist organizations.” Several media outlets have repeated this account as fact in their write-ups of O’Bagy’s firing, all maintaining that she is still in the process of completing a Georgetown doctorate.

This is almost certainly false. Either O’Bagy was at one point enrolled a PhD program and dropped out, or she has been lying the entire time. Some evidence points to the latter.

To begin with, O’Bagy was enrolled in the Arab Studies Master’s program, which only partners with three departments for joint doctorate programs: Government, History, and Arabic Language, Literature, and Linguistics. Given her purported topic, she would have partnered with Government — according to one Georgetown PhD student who met O’Bagy, she had claimed a distinguished member of the Government Department as her adviser.

She is not listed as a PhD student on the Government department’s website. She does not exist in the university directory. A search of the entire Georgetown website turns up only one hit, a congratulations notice for her Master’s graduation.

There is “no evidence that she is associated with our department in any way; she’s not among our students as far as we can tell,” Daniel Nexon, a Government Professor who served as the Director of Admissions and Fellowships for all but one of the years she could have applied. The professor who was supposedly advising O’Bagy’s dissertation has never heard of her.

When I asked Kagan about the evidence of O’Bagy’s initial, ongoing deception, she demurred. “That I actually need to refer you to Georgetown for.”

After ISW hired her in the late summer of 2012, O’Bagy quickly went about using her top-notch Arabic skills to feel out the situation on the ground in Syria. She made a number of contacts among the anti-Assad insurgents, a feat relatively few DC analysts had accomplished.

Though we know those trips took place, it’s not quite clear who funded them. It certainly wasn’t ISW: when I asked Kagan how O’Bagy made all her Syrian friends, she sounded stumped. “That’s a really good question. I’m afraid I can’t really tell you that,” the ISW President said, acknowledging that O’Bagy’s expertise wasn’t gathered through ISW projects or ISW-funded trips. “She kept me informed about [her opposition contacts] and apprised me that they existed.”

However O’Bagy acquired her contacts, the work they helped her produce was influential and widely respected. Over the course of roughly a year, she went from a graduate student and intern to a pundit making regular appearances on Fox News and being published in Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and well, The Wall Street Journal. She was promoted to Senior Analyst and then to Syria Team Lead at ISW, and had become known as a go-to expert on the Syrian rebels among foreign policy experts.

But the closer Icarus flew to the sun, the faster the wax on her feathers began to melt. The first hard record of her claiming a doctorate came in April 2013, when she told a friend, Jonathan Rue, that she was “soon to be Dr. O’Bagy.” According to Kagan, she began widely claiming the Dr. title in May, right around when she graduated from her Master’s program.

That’s also when she took on as second position as the Political Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a pro-Syrian rebel lobbying group that identified her as “Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy.” It’s in that capacity when she and Senator McCain likely first came into direct or indirect contact, as SETF assisted in planning the Senator’s secret trip to Syria.

The implicit tension between O’Bagy’s prominent public role and her fake credentials became unbearable after McCain and Kerry touted her work in the closely watched hearings on Congressional authorization for war in Syria. But weirdly, the first questions raised about O’Bagy weren’t because of anything she did wrong personally. The Journal op-ed cited by Kerry and McCain did not identify O’Bagy’s role at SETF, relevant information for readers of a piece that paints a picture of the Syrian opposition as relatively moderate.

The Journal’s mistake (which it later corrected) led to more intense scrutiny of O’Bagy’s past. The Daily Caller, which first broke the Journal’s omission on September 5th, did a follow-up on September 9th in which O’Bagy claimed to have written her dissertation.

More importantly, September 9th was also the day that a discussion broke out amongst a group of scholars about O’Bagy’s purported Georgetown credentials. Records obtained by ThinkProgress show a conversation, which included members of the Georgetown faculty, in which a number of academics expressed deep skepticism about O’Bagy’s Ph.D. Near the end of the conversation, one participant mentioned that “ISW was contacted” with the group’s concerns.

Just days before, on September 4th, ISW’s website had described her as “Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy.” I confirmed with Kagan that O’Bagy had not updated the bio herself, indicating that ISW support staff had been notified of the purported change in O’Bagy’s status. By late on the 9th, the Dr. reference had been deleted, and O’Bagy had been dismissed — a move that was announced on the morning of the 10th.

Kagan credits O’Bagy with finally turning herself in. “I think the most important thing that I need to tell you is that Elizabeth told me [on the 9th] that she had not successfully defended her dissertation.” It’s not clear what finally prompted her to do that. I asked Kagan to forward a request for comment to O’Bagy but, as of yet, have heard nothing. I probably won’t: O’Bagy told Buzzfeed that she is “no longer legally allowed to discuss my employment with [ISW] or affiliate it any way.” So there’s a decent chance we’ll never know the whole story.

Regardless, O’Bagy’s rise and fall is yet more evidence that the talented people who populate America’s media and policy apparatus never seem to quite fully internalize: never, ever lie about something someone else can prove you wrong about. You’re going to get caught.

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/09/11/2601151/exclusive-mccain-kerry-cited-syria-analyst-false-credentials/

173
General Disconation / Florida School Board Member Sucks at Math
« on: September 10, 2013, 12:49:34 PM »
A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.

By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn’t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don’t seem to be playing much of a role in the current “reform” brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he’d taken.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.


“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here’s the clincher in what he wrote:

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

“I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

There you have it. A concise summary of what’s wrong with present corporately driven education change: Decisions are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

All that without so much as a pilot program to see if their simplistic, worn-out ideas work, and without a single procedure in place that imposes on them what they demand of teachers: accountability.

But maybe there’s hope. As I write, a New York Times story by Michael Winerip makes my day. The stupidity of the current test-based thrust of reform has triggered the first revolt of school principals.

Winerip writes: “As of last night, 658 principals around the state (New York) had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.”

One of those school principals, Winerip says, is Bernard Kaplan. Kaplan runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, but is required to attend 10 training sessions.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Carol Burris, named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, has to attend those 10 training sessions.

Katie Zahedi, another principal, said the session she attended was “two days of total nonsense. I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations.”

A fourth principal, Mario Fernandez, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking. They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

My school board member-friend concluded his email with this: “I can’t escape the conclusion that those of us who are expected to follow through on decisions that have been made for us are doing something ethically questionable.”

He’s wrong. What they’re being made to do isn’t ethically questionable. It’s ethically unacceptable. Ethically reprehensible. Ethically indefensible.

How many of the approximately 100,000 school principals in the U.S. would join the revolt if their ethical principles trumped their fears of retribution? Why haven’t they been asked?

QUIZ: How would you do on this same test taken by a school board member? Find out: Reading Quiz | Math Quiz. Questions come from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th grade. Or try your hand at questions from the National Assessment of Education Progress for fourth and eigth graders.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/when-an-adult-took-standardized-tests-forced-on-kids/2011/12/05/gIQApTDuUO_blog.html

174
General Disconation / Meanwhile, in Ireland: sycophantic fawning (video)
« on: September 09, 2013, 06:22:02 PM »
Obama called "war criminal" & "hypocrite of the century" in Irish Parliament

175
General Disconation / Robocop Remake
« on: September 06, 2013, 12:45:29 PM »
RoboCop 2014 - TRAILER 1

176
General Disconation / 'Half' of Extreme Weather Impacted by Climate Change
« on: September 06, 2013, 12:38:16 PM »
2012 was a rough year around the globe, and not for any of the Planet X/Mayan calendar doomsday reasons people feared. Instead, it was a year of extreme weather: drought and heat waves in the United States; record rainfall in the United Kingdom; unusually heavy rains in Kenya, Somalia, Japan, and Australia; drought in Spain; floods in China. And of course there was Superstorm Sandy.

One of the first questions asked in the wake of such an extreme weather event is: “Is this due to climate change?” In recent years, a brand of research called “climate attribution science” has sprouted from this question, examining the impact of extreme events to determine how much—often in fractional terms—is related to human-induced climate change, and how much to natural variability (whether in climate patterns such as the El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation, sea-surface temperatures, changes in incoming solar radiation, or a host of other possible factors).

In a report published online today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (PDF), scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tackled this question head-on. The report—the second such annual report—analyzes the findings from about 20 scientific studies of a dozen or so extreme weather events that occurred around the world last year, seeking to parse the relative influence of anthropogenic climate change. The overall message of the report: It varies.

“About half of the events … reveal compelling evidence that human-caused change was a [contributing] factor,” said NOAA National Climatic Data Center Director Thomas Karl today at a press conference accompanying the release of the report. In addition, noted climate scientist Peter Stott of the U.K. Met Office, these studies show that in many cases, human influence on climate has increased the risks associated with extreme events.

Below, some highlights from the report:

December 2011: Two days of extreme rainfall deluge New Zealand’s Southern Island, producing landslides in what scientists call a 1-in-500-year-event. Conclusion: Total moisture available for this extreme event was 1% to 5% higher as a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

September 2012: Arctic sea ice reaches a record new low of 3.4 million square kilometers. A study examined three different factors: warmer-than-usual surface atmosphere conditions (related to global warming); sea-ice thinning prior to the melting season (also related to global warming); and an August storm that passed over the Arctic, stirring up the ocean, fracturing the sea ice and sending it southward to warmer climes. Conclusion: Global warming was primarily responsible, due equally to the thinning sea ice and warm atmospheric conditions.

Summer 2012: Heavy rainfall in eastern Australia. Conclusion: A La Niña episode—long associated with wetter-than-normal conditions in Australia—in 2012 likely accounts for most, but not all, of the heavy rainfall. Sea-surface temperatures north of Australia—driven by global warming—could also play a role, increasing the chances of above-average rainfall by as much as 5% in the future.

Superstorm Sandy: Although not among the most powerful windstorms to hit the U.S. East Coast, the storm’s real impact came from the massive storm surge and inundation: It broke 16 historical records for storm-tide levels along the coast. Conclusion: The storm coincided with peak high tide in New York Harbor—but future sea-level rise will exacerbate this inundation, making a Sandy-level event more likely in the future, even if the storm itself is less severe. 

http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2013/09/half-extreme-weather-impacted-climate-change

177
Spamalot / The Secret of the Fox... Ancient Mystery...
« on: September 05, 2013, 10:17:01 PM »
Ylvis - The Fox [Official music video HD]

178
General Disconation / Is a slim physique contagious?
« on: September 05, 2013, 07:20:37 PM »
What makes some people slender and others full-figured? Besides diet and genetics, the community of microbes that lives inside us may be partially responsible. New research on twins suggests that lean people harbor bacteria that their obese counterparts don't have. And, given the chance, those bacteria may be able to prevent weight gain. But don’t dig your skinny jeans out of the closet just yet. So far, the work has been done only in mice. What's more, the bacterial takeover requires a healthy, high-fiber diet to work, illustrating the complex relationship between diet, microbes, metabolism, and health.

Our intestines are home to at least 400 species of bacteria, and evidence is building that the balance of microbes in our internal ecosystem has far-reaching effects on health, including brain function and risk of cancer. A study last year showed that transferring gut bacteria between humans reduced insulin resistance, which is linked to obesity.

To explore how microbes differ between obese and lean people, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis took gut bacteria from four pairs of identical and fraternal twins; one sibling in each pair was lean and the other obese. Then they transplanted these microbes into mice that had no intestinal microbes of their own. The mice who got microbes from the lean twins stayed lean, the researchers report today in Science. Those that got microbes from the obese twins increased their body fat by 10% on average, even though they were eating the same amount of food.

What would happen if these two sets of microbes got mixed up in the gut, the researchers wondered. Led by microbiologist Jeffrey Gordon and graduate student Vanessa Ridaura, the team took advantage of one of the rodents' least endearing habits: They eat each other's poop. After letting this happen, the researchers discovered that microbes from the lean twins seemed to be particularly good at taking hold in the gut ecosystems of the mice that started with obesity-associated microbes. And after those bacteria moved in, the mice didn't gain weight. The most invasive species of microbes from the thin animals were in the Bacteroidetes group, which has previously been associated with leanness in mice and humans. The obese mice seemed to have unoccupied niches that the Bacteroidetes could easily move into.

To figure out what the gut bacteria might be doing, the researchers looked for bacterial genes that were active in the two kinds of mice. The heavier mice had higher levels of proteins involved in detoxification and stress responses; the lean mice expressed more genes involved in breaking down dietary fiber.

Diet, it turns out, was key to the impressive properties of the microbes from the lean twins. All the mice in the first round of experiments had been eating chow that was high in fiber and low in fat. The researchers then prepared a mouse-pellet form of an unhealthy human diet, high in fat and low in fiber, and housed svelte and heavy mice together again. They found that, with this diet, the microbes associated with leanness didn't colonize the cagemates’ intestines.

This work was rigorously done and fits in well with earlier findings, including the idea that Bacteroides may protect against weight gain, says Alan Walker, a gut microbiologist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the study. What's new here, he says, is that the researchers began addressing the question of how that protection might work: which species are responsible, what genes they use, and what diet they require.

"This study is an important step toward ultimately answering these questions," says microbiologist Peter Turnbaugh of Harvard University. A valuable result of this work, they both agree, is that it sets up a way to test the effects of microbial therapies on human gut bacteria (even though the bugs are living in a mouse). The authors suggest that a logical next step is to use the animals to measure the effects of particular foods or ingredients on gut ecosystems.

The mouse experiments also provide a way to test fecal transplants, which can cure a potentially fatal intestinal infection in humans and show potential for treating other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. There's a danger inherent in this approach: Transferring human feces into a patient's colon runs the risk of transmitting pathogens as well. Walker and the authors note that a well-tested "next-generation probiotic" consisting of known beneficial microbes delivered as a pill or other therapy could take the place of fresh feces, and this mouse system provides a way to identify the most effective bacteria, the diseases those bacteria can treat, and whether a particular diet is necessary.

"There's a major way to go before you can translate these results to humans," Walker cautions. A weight-loss probiotic isn't a simple next step, as the researchers found when they isolated 39 of the beneficial Bacteroidetes species. The mixture was unable to cause the same effects as mouse poop, possibly because the Bacteroidetes aren't acting alone and more of the microbial players need to be identified.

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2013/09/slim-physique-contagious

179
General Disconation / Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
« on: September 02, 2013, 01:28:21 PM »
Poverty consumes so much mental energy that people struggling to make ends meet often have little brainpower left for anything else, leaving them more susceptible to bad decisions that can perpetuate their situation, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

“Past research has often blamed [poverty] on the personal failings of the poor. They don’t work hard enough; they’re not focused enough,” said University of British Columbia professor Jiaying Zhao, who co-authored the study as a Princeton University graduate student. “What we’re arguing is it’s not about the individual. It’s about the situation.”

As part of the study, researchers conducted experiments on two groups of subjects: low- and middle-income shoppers in a mall in New Jersey, and sugar cane farmers in rural India.

In the mall experiment, shoppers underwent a battery of tests to measure IQ and impulse control. However, half the participants were first given a “teaser” question — what they would do if their car had broken down and needed $1,500 worth of repairs — designed to put a pressing financial concerns at the forefront of their thoughts.

In India, researchers tested the cognitive capacity and decision-making of farmers before the sugar cane harvest, when they were most strapped for money, and afterwards, when they had fewer financial woes.

The results showed that people wrestling with the mental strain of poverty suffered a drop of as much as 13 points in their IQ — roughly the same found in people subjected to a night with no sleep.

“Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter,” said Harvard economist Sandhil Mullainathan, another of the study’s authors. “Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

Mullainathan said previous research often has assumed that poor people are poor because they are somehow less capable than others, whether inherently or because of past trauma or other environmental factors in their lives. But, he said, what the latest study suggests is that the strain of poverty can tax the cognitive abilities of anyone experiencing it — and that those abilities return when the burden of poverty disappears.

“While the poor may be experiencing a scarcity of money, at some level what they may really be experiencing is a scarcity of bandwidth, of cognitive capacity,” he said. “It’s the situation that’s creating the stress.”

Zhao and Mullainathan said that their findings, if accurate, could have profound implications for public policy.

For starters, policymakers “should beware of imposing cognitive taxes on the poor just as they avoid monetary taxes on the poor,” the paper states. Filling out long forms, deciphering complicated rules or undergoing lengthy interviews can consume scarce cognitive resources.

“You are captured by these monetary issues — how to pay rent, how to pay bills,” Zhao said. “As a result, you’re less attentive to other problems. You neglect other things in life that deserve your attention.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/poverty-strains-cognitive-abilities-opening-door-for-bad-decision-making-new-study-finds/2013/08/29/89990288-102b-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html



Quote
The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.


http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976

180
General Disconation / Dark Matter punk'd by MOND
« on: August 29, 2013, 09:58:16 AM »
A modified law of gravity correctly predicted, in advance of the observations, the velocity dispersion -- the average speed of stars within a galaxy relative to each other -- in 10 dwarf satellite galaxies of the Milky Way's giant neighbor Andromeda.

The relatively large velocity dispersions observed in these types of dwarf galaxies is usually attributed to dark matter. Yet predictions made using the alternative hypothesis Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) succeeded in anticipating the observations.

Stacy McGaugh, professor of astronomy at Case Western Reserve, and Mordehai Milgrom, the father of MOND and professor of physics at Weizmann Institute in Israel, report their findings, which have been accepted for publication by the Astrophysical Journal.

The researchers tested MOND on quasi-spherical, very low-surface brightness galaxies that are satellites of Andromeda. In the cosmic scale, they are among the smallest galaxies, containing only a few hundred thousand stars. But with conventional gravity, they are inferred to contain huge amounts of dark matter.

"Most scientists are more comfortable with the dark matter interpretation," McGaugh said. "But we need to understand why MOND succeeds with these predictions. We don't even know how to make this prediction with dark matter."

While this study is very specific, it's part of a broader effort to understand how the universe, the Milky Way and Earth formed and what it's all made of. This informs human understanding of our place in the universe, McGaugh said. Such issues have been of such importance that they've changed religion and philosophy over the centuries, sometimes sending people to be burnt at the stake.

"At stake now is whether the universe is predominantly made of an invisible substance that persistently eludes detection in the laboratory, or whether we are obliged to modify one of our most fundamental theories, the law of gravity," McGaugh continued.

The MOND hypothesis says that Newton's force law must be tweaked at low acceleration -- 11 orders of magnitude lower than what we feel on the surface of Earth. Acceleration above that threshold is linearly proportional to the force of gravity -- as Newton's law says -- but below the threshold, no. At these tiny accelerations, the modified force law resolves the mass discrepancy.

The paper's calculations using MOND also reveal subtle differences in the gravity fields of dwarfs near and far from the host galaxy Andromeda. The gravity fields of dwarfs far from the host appear to be dominated by stars within the dwarf, while the gravity fields of dwarfs close to the host appear to be dominated by the host. No such distinction is expected with dark matter.

"The influence of the host galaxy may provide a test to distinguish between dark matter and MOND," McGaugh says. "Dark matter provides a cocoon for the dwarfs, protecting the stars from tidal influence by the host galaxy. With MOND, the influence of the host is more pronounced."

In a comparison of the predictions calculated using MOND with observations of pairs of similar dwarfs, "the data appears to show MOND's prediction for the influence of the host, but it's fairly subtle," McGaugh said. MOND's predictions of the velocity dispersion were less subtle. These predictions were "really bang on," McGaugh said.

The finding bolsters the case McGaugh and Milgrom made for MOND's effectiveness in predicting properties in dwarf galaxies in a paper published earlier this year. In that paper, they successfully predicted the velocity dispersion in 17 of the galaxies.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130828103446.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fspace_time%2Fastronomy+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Space+%26+Time+News+--+Astronomy%29

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 11 ... 20