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Topics - Agrul

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On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it had sold its remaining shares of Ally Financial, the former financing subsidiary of General Motors, for $1.3 billion, effectively ending the auto and bank bailouts it began under President George W. Bush in 2008.

The government also announced that the Troubled Asset Relief Program for banks and the Detroit bailouts yielded $15.35 billion in profit. The investment in what is now called Ally Financial yielded $2.4 billion in profit alone.

Through those programs and related efforts, $426.35 billion in government money was injected into the financial and auto sectors during the turbulence of the financial crisis. Interest payments and stock sales since then have brought in $441.7 billion. The auto rescue itself, however, has not turned a profit, losing $9.5 billion mostly related to General Motors paying back just $39 billion of the $49.5 billion it received.

The government still has less than $1 billion invested in 35 small community banks. It no longer owns any part of the automotive industry.

The bailouts had other impacts besides bringing returns to government coffers. While the auto bailout may not have brought in a profit, a report from the end of last year found that it saved about 2.6 million jobs in 2009 and 1.5 million jobs in 2010. By doing so, it also boosted personal income by more than $284 billion in those years.

Critiques of the bailouts came from both the right and left, and on the right they helped spark the Tea Party movement. Others charged that the government did more to help the financial companies that brought about the crash in the first place than it did struggling homeowners caught up in the foreclosure crisis. The programs aimed at helping underwater borrowers stay in their homes that were included in the bailouts have generally paid out just fractions of what they were given and failed to reach as many homeowners as they said they would. Meanwhile, the National Mortgage Settlement with banks over abusive foreclosure tactics has failed to bring meaningful relief to borrowers or stop those practices.

General Discussion / Obama says he still intends to close Gitmo
« on: December 22, 2014, 01:13:30 PM »
On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed within a year.

But it remains open nearly six years later, largely because of a difficulties figuring out what to do with the detainees who remain there.

On CNN’s State of the Union Dec. 21, 2014, host Candy Crowley asked Obama if the detention facility will be closed by the end of 2015.

"I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it," Obama said. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there."

We wondered: Are American taxpayers spending millions of dollars per year for every detainee held in Cuba?

In 2002, the United States established a detention camp on the 45-acre naval base on Cuba’s south east coast to hold suspects in the war on terror. More than 750 people have been detained in total over the past 13 years. About 2,100 people work there. So how much does it cost?

For fiscal year 2014, the total cost of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is an estimated $443 million, according to a Department of Defense report drafted for the Senate Armed Services Committee. This includes money spent on maintenance, personnel, contracted work, military commissions and Department of Defense-funded studies.

Spread out among 132 people currently detained, that’s about $3.6 million per detainee.

In 2013, with a similar-size budget but more detainees, the cost worked out to about $2.7 million per detainee.

For comparison, inmates at high-security federal prisons cost about $34,000 per year on average, as of 2012.

Part of the reason holding detainees at Guantanamo is so much more expensive than other prisons might be transportation costs, said Madeline Morris, a law professor and director of Duke University’s Guantanamo Defense Clinic. Most people, food and supplies have to be brought in by air, which is an enormous cost.

The number of detainees is going down, but the facility may face extra costs in the future. In August 2014, the New York Times reported that an estimated $200 million in maintenance will be necessary in coming years to keep the detention facility functioning. The infrastructure was originally built to be temporary.

One aspect of Guantanamo that doesn’t cost very much is the land. In 1903, then-President Theodore Roosevelt secured the area from Cuba for $2,000 a year, paid in gold -- worth about $4,085 today. The American government continues to pay the rent each year, but the Cuban government reportedly refuses to cash the checks.

Our ruling

Obama said, "We’re spending millions for each individual" detained at Guantanamo.

The Pentagon has reported that Guantanamo’s cost comes down to about $3 million per detainee per year -- about 100 times the average annual cost of a federal prisoner. We rate Obama’s claim True.

Spamalot / Spamalot Secret Santa: Steam Info / Addresses
« on: December 21, 2014, 09:06:41 PM »
Just sent out the PMs for secret santa to all the people who signed up.

Post your steam info here if you want to get yo' shit.

Also, if you want to share your physical address you can PM it to me and I can pass it on to your spamalot santa pal (unless someone has a better way of doing this).

Also bunch've Steam addresses here:,48457.0.html

The so-called “streetlight effect” has often fettered scientists who study complex hereditary diseases. The term refers to an old joke about a drunk searching for his lost keys under a streetlight. A cop asks, "Are you sure this is where you lost them?" The drunk says, "No, I lost them in the park, but the light is better here."

For researchers who study the genetic roots of human diseases, most of the light has shone down on the 2 percent of the human genome that includes protein-coding DNA sequences. “That’s fine. Lots of diseases are caused by mutations there, but those mutations are low-hanging fruit,” says University of Toronto (U.T.) professor Brendan Frey who studies genetic networks. “They’re easy to find because the mutation actually changes one amino acid to another one, and that very much changes the protein.”

The trouble is, many disease-related mutations also happen in noncoding regions of the genome—the parts that do not directly make proteins but that still regulate how genes behave. Scientists have long been aware of how valuable it would be to analyze the other 98 percent but there has not been a practical way to do it.

Now Frey has developed a “deep-learning” machine algorithm that effectively shines a light on the entire genome. A paper appearing December 18 in Science describes how this algorithm can identify patterns of mutation across coding and noncoding DNA alike. The algorithm can also predict how likely each variant is to contribute to a given disease. “Our method works very differently from existing methods,” says Frey, the study’s lead author. “GWAS-, QTL- and ENCODE-type approaches can't figure out causal relationships. They can only correlate. Our system can predict whether or not a mutation will cause a change in RNA splicing that could lead to a disease phenotype.”

RNA splicing is one of the major steps in turning genetic blueprints into living organisms. Splicing determines which bits of DNA code get included in the messenger-RNA strings that build proteins. Different configurations yield different proteins. Misregulated splicing contributes to an estimated 15 to 60 percent of human genetic diseases.

Frey, a computer engineer who has a cross appointment in the university’s Department of Medical Research, trained his algorithm using millions of data points: DNA sequences, genetic variations and RNA splicing patterns. The algorithm was then able to extrapolate how likely it was that any of tens of thousands of mutations could cause a splicing error associated with a particular disease.

The research team tested the method on spinal muscular atrophy as well as nonpolyposis colorectal cancer. Frey says the team’s “most ambitious case” was its study of autism spectrum disorder; about 100 genes are known to be associated with it. In fact, many researchers think it is likely that autism comprises many disorders, each resulting from unique mutations but all resulting in common symptoms.

Working with U.T. autism researcher Stephen Scherer, Frey compared mutations in autism patients’ genomes with those of controls. Nothing unusual popped up. But when Frey and Scherer tested the genomes against the mutations flagged by Frey’s algorithm, they “saw patterns emerge.” According to Frey, “Kids with autism are more likely to have these ‘high-scoring’ mutations that change the meaning of the genome, and that are thought to be involved with brain functions and developmental functions.”

Not only did the algorithm’s analysis jibe with existing knowledge about autism genetics, it also identified 17 new disease-causing gene candidates. With each of the three diseases addressed in the study, the algorithm both made predictions that were consistent with existing data and also pointed toward additional regions of the genome where researchers might search next.

The combination of whole-genome analysis and predictive models for RNA splicing makes Frey’s method a major contribution to the field, according to Stephan Sanders, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. “I’m looking forward to using this tool in larger data sets and really getting sense of how important splicing is,” he says. Sanders, who researches the genetic causes of diseases, notes Frey’s approach complements, rather than replaces, other methods of genetic analysis. “I think any genomist [sic] would agree that noncoding [areas of the genome] are hugely important. This method is a really novel way of getting at that,” he says.

Although other experts, along with the study’s authors, caution that it is a long journey from this type of research to new treatments, they also agree that Frey’s method reveals an important path toward that goal. “Whole-genome sequencing is absolutely essential,” says Robert Ring, chief science officer at Autism Speaks and the former head of Pfizer’s autism unit. “But making sense of it is really where the rubber hits the road. These guys are bringing machine learning to whole-genome data and developing new ways of finding where genetic changes might be clinically significant. This is where the likelihood of new treatments and diagnoses are.”

General Discussion / Changing Our DNA through Mind Control?
« on: December 17, 2014, 07:19:32 PM »
“I think, therefore I am” is perhaps the most familiar one-liner in western philosophy. Even if the stoners, philosophers and quantum mechanically-inclined skeptics who believe we’re living an illusion are right, few existential quips hit with such profound, approachable simplicity.  The only catch is that in Descartes’ opinion, “we” – our thoughts, our personalities, our “minds” – are mostly divorced from our bodies.

The polymathic Frenchman and other dualist philosophers proposed that while the mind exerts control over our physical interaction with the world, there is a clear delineation between body and mind; that our material forms are simply temporary housing for our immaterial souls. But centuries of science argue against a corporeal crash pad. The body and mind appear inextricably linked. And findings from a new study published in Cancer by a Canadian group suggest that our mental state has measurable physical influence on us – more specifically on our DNA.

Lead investigator Dr. Linda E. Carlson and her colleagues found that in breast cancer patients, support group involvement and mindfulness meditation – an adapted form of Buddhist meditation in which practitioners focus on present thoughts and actions in a non-judgmental way, ignoring past grudges and future concerns -- are associated with preserved telomere length. Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration -- biology professors often liken them to the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres aren't known to cause a specific disease per se, but they do whither with age and are shorter in people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high stress levels. We want our telomeres intact.

In Carlson’s study distressed breast cancer survivors were divided into three groups. The first group was randomly assigned to an 8-week cancer recovery program consisting of mindfulness meditation and yoga; the second to 12-weeks of group therapy in which they shared difficult emotions and fostered social support; and the third was a control group, receiving just a 6-hour stress management course. A total of 88 women completed the study and had their blood analyzed for telomere length before and after the interventions. Telomeres were maintained in both treatment groups but shortened in controls.

Previous work hinted at this association. A study led by diet and lifestyle guru Dr. Dean Ornish from 2008 reported that the combination of a vegan diet, stress management, aerobic exercise and participation in a support group for 3 months resulted in increased telomerase activity in men with prostate cancer, telomerase being the enzyme that maintains telomeres by adding DNA to the ends of our chromosomes. More recent work looking at meditation reported similar findings. And though small and un-randomized, a 2013 follow up study by Ornish, again looking at prostate cancer patients, found that lifestyle interventions are associated with longer telomeres.

The biologic benefits of meditation in particular extend well beyond telomere preservation. Earlier work by Carlson found that in cancer patients, mindfulness is associated with healthier levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a decrease in compounds that promote inflammation. Moreover, as she points out, “generally healthy people in a work-based mindfulness stress reduction program have been shown to produce higher antibody titers to the flu vaccine than controls, and there has been promising work looking at the effects of mindfulness in HIV and diabetes.” Past findings also show that high stress increases the risk of viral infections – including the common cold – as well as depression and cardiovascular disease.

The therapeutic potential of the mind-body intersect is well-known. Biofeedback – in which sensor-clad patients learn awareness of and control over various physiologic functions – has been around for decades and is used to treat pain, headache, high blood pressure and sleep problems, among numerous other conditions. And of course there’s the placebo effect, the complicated yet very real psychobiological benefit achieved from a patient’s expectations of a treatment rather than the treatment itself.

Though optimistic that meditative and social approaches are mental means toward better physical, and not just psychologic well-being, Carlson rightly hedges. “The meaning of the maintenance of telomere length in this study is unknown. However, I think that processing difficult emotions is important for both emotional and physical health, and this can be done both through group support with emotional expression, and through mindfulness meditation practice,” she says.

Carlson wonders if mentally-rooted telomeric changes are long-lasting, if the same patterns would hold true in other cancers and conditions, and what the effects of mental intervention would be if offered at the time of diagnosis and treatment – all questions she hopes to pursue.

According to a report published by Harvard Medical School in 2011, 6.3 million Americans were using mind-body therapies at the advice of conventional doctors – a surprisingly high number that has surely since grown. Still, prescription meditation – especially in the interest of physical health -- is far from the norm in Western medicine. And it remains unclear whether or not preserved telomeres actually prolong survival in cancer patients; or in anyone for that matter. But stress reduction in the interest of chromosomal preservation, and other possible health benefits, seems like a pursuit even a 17th Century dualist philosopher could get behind.

(—Topological quantum computing (TQC) is a newer type of quantum computing that uses "braids" of particle tracks, rather than actual particles such as ions and electrons, as the qubits to implement computations. Using braids has one important advantage: it makes TQCs practically immune to the small perturbations in the environment that cause decoherence in particle-based qubits and often lead to high error rates.

Ever since TQC was first proposed in 1997, experimentally realizing the appropriate braids has been extremely difficult. For one thing, the braids are formed not by the trajectories of ordinary particles, but by the trajectories of exotic quasiparticles (particle-like excitations) called anyons. Also, movements of the anyons must be non-Abelian, a property similar to the commutative property in which changing the order of their movements must not change their final tracks. In most proposals of TQC so far, the non-Abelian statistics of the anyons has not been powerful enough, even in theory, for universal TQC.

Now in a new study published in Physical Review Letters, physicists Abolhassan Vaezi at Cornell University and Maissam Barkeshli at Microsoft's research lab Station Q have theoretically shown that anyons tunneling in a double-layer system can transition to an exotic non-Abelian state that contains "Fibonacci" anyons that are powerful enough for universal TQC.

"Our work suggests that some existing experimental setups are rich enough to yield a phase capable of performing 'universal' TQC, i.e., all of the required logical gates for the performance of a quantum computer can be made through the braiding of anyons only," Vaezi told "Since braiding is a topological operation and does not perturb the low-energy physics, the resulting quantum computer is fault-tolerant."

The physicists' work builds on previous research that has shown that anyons can arise due to the fractional quantum Hall effect. To realize this effect, a 2-D electron gas is sandwiched between two flat semiconductor plates. When cooled to temperatures near absolute zero and exposed to strong magnetic fields, excitations form in the 2-D electron gas and give rise to anyons. So far, only Abelian anyons have been detected in fractional quantum Hall systems, but studies suggest that non-Abelian anyons might also be realized.

In the new study, the scientists considered a double-layer fractional quantum Hall system in which anyons can tunnel between the two layers. When modeling this system on a torus, the scientists showed that sufficiently large tunneling drives the evolution of six ground states that correspond to six topologically distinct types of quasiparticles, one of which is the Fibonacci anyon.

Vaezi explains that the Fibonacci anyon is related to the famous Fibonacci sequence (where a number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers) as well as the golden ratio, 1.617… (which is approximately the ratio of any number in the Fibonacci sequence to the previous number). These mathematical patterns arise in the Fibonacci anyon because of its quantum properties, particularly those related to the so-called fusion rules that govern particle spins.

"The Fibonacci anyon is a non-Abelian anyon whose quantum dimension is the golden ratio (1.617...), and is the simplest anyon capable of performing universal quantum computation," Vaezi explained. "Using the fusion rule of Fibonacci anyons, it can be shown that the degeneracy of the ground state in the presence of n well-separated Fibonacci anyons on a sphere is the nth number in the Fibonacci sequence."

So what makes the Fibonacci anyon so attractive for TQC? The answer lies in its braiding statistics, or the way that these quasiparticles move around each other, creating braids and knots of tracks. Three or four Fibonacci anyons may correspond to a single qubit, and their braiding statistics corresponds to single-qubit gates. Building multiple-qubit gates requires braiding multiple qubits, often in intricate ways.

Here the physicists explain that another way to view this process is by looking at quasiparticles as domain walls that separate different ground state patterns of electrons. Different quasiparticles have different electric charges, so they separate different electron patterns. From this perspective, the Fibonacci anyon is appealing due to the particular ground state patterns it separates.

The physicists show that their finding that interlayer tunneling can result in Fibonacci anyons is well-supported by a variety of distinct methods. Further, the researchers raise the possibility that these Fibonacci anyons may have already been realized in past experiments on double-layer quantum Hall systems, although these experiments were not specifically looking for them. This is one area that they hope to investigate in the future.

"To test our prediction, we are numerically studying bilayer quantum Hall states with a number of interlayer interactions and searching for non-Abelian phases and, in particular, Fibonacci anyons in the case of the 2/3 state," Vaezi said. "We are also working on various experimental aspects of our proposal and potential signatures of the Fibonacci anyons."

General Discussion / The Very Real Danger of GMO
« on: December 14, 2014, 02:45:18 AM »
Chinese researchers have found small pieces of rice ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice. The Nanjing University-based team showed that this genetic material will bind to receptors in human liver cells and influence the uptake of cholesterol from the blood.

The type of RNA in question is called microRNA (abbreviated to miRNA) due to its small size. MiRNAs have been studied extensively since their discovery ten years ago, and have been implicated as players in several human diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. They usually function by turning down or shutting down certain genes. The Chinese research provides the first in vivo example of ingested plant miRNA surviving digestion and influencing human cell function in this way.

Should the research survive scientific scrutiny -- a serious hurdle -- it could prove a game changer in many fields. It would mean that we're eating not just vitamins, protein, and fuel, but gene regulators as well.

That knowledge could deepen our understanding of many fields, including cross-species communication, co-evolution, and predator-prey relationships. It could illuminate new mechanisms for some metabolic disorders and perhaps explain how some herbal and modern medicines function.

This study had nothing to do with genetically modified (GM) food, but it could have implications on that front. The work shows a pathway by which new food products, such as GM foods, could influence human health in previously unanticipated ways.

Monsanto's website states, "There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans." This viewpoint, while good for business, is built on an understanding of genetics circa 1960. It follows what's called the "Central Dogma" of genetics, which postulates a one-way chain of command between DNA and the cells DNA governs.

The Central Dogma resembles the process of ordering a pizza. The DNA codes for the kind of pizza it wants, and orders it. The RNA is the order slip, which communicates the specifics of that pizza to the cook. The finished and delivered pizza is analogous to the protein that DNA codes for.

We've known for decades that the Central Dogma, though basically correct, is overly simplistic. For example: MiRNAs that don't code for anything, pizza or otherwise, travel within cells silencing genes that are being expressed. So while one piece of DNA is ordering a pizza, it could also be bombarding the pizzeria with RNA signals that can cancel the delivery of other pizzas ordered by other bits of DNA.

Researchers have been using this phenomena to their advantage in the form of small, engineered RNA strands that are virtually identical to miRNA. In a technique called RNA interference, or RNA knockdown, these small bits of RNA are used to turn off, or "knock down," certain genes.

RNA knockdown was first used commercially in 1994 to create the Flavor Savr, a tomato with increased shelf life. In 2007, several research teams began reporting success at engineering plant RNA to kill insect predators, by knocking down certain genes. As reported in MIT's Technology Review on November 5, 2007, researchers in China used RNA knockdown to make:

...cotton plants that silence a gene that allows cotton bollworms to process the toxin gossypol, which occurs naturally in cotton. Bollworms that eat the genetically engineered cotton can't make their toxin-processing proteins, and they die.

Researchers at Monsanto and Devgen, a Belgian company, made corn plants that silence a gene essential for energy production in corn rootworms; ingestion wipes out the worms within 12 days.
Humans and insects have a lot in common, genetically. If miRNA can in fact survive the gut then it's entirely possible that miRNA intended to influence insect gene regulation could also affect humans.

Monsanto's claim that human toxicology tests are unwarranted is based on the doctrine of "substantial equivalence." According to substantial equivalence, comparisons between GM and non-GM crops need only investigate the end products of DNA expression. New DNA is not considered a threat in any other way.

"So long as the introduced protein is determined to be safe, food from GM crops determined to be substantially equivalent is not expected to pose any health risks," reads Monsanto's website.

In other words, as long as the final product -- the pizza, as it were -- is non-toxic, the introduced DNA isn't any different and doesn't pose a problem. For what it's worth, if that principle were applied to intellectual property law, many of Monsanto's patents would probably be null and void.

Chen-Yu Zhang, the lead researcher on the Chinese RNA study, has made no comment regarding the implications of his work for the debate over the safety of GM food. Nonetheless, these discoveries help give shape to concerns about substantial equivalence that have been raised for years from within the scientific community.

In 1999, a group of scientists wrote a letter titled "Beyond Substantial Equivalence" to the prestigious journal Nature. In the letter, Erik Millstone et. al. called substantial equivalence "a pseudo-scientific concept" that is "inherently anti-scientific because it was created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests."

To these charges, Monsanto responded: "The concept of substantial equivalence was elaborated by international scientific and regulatory experts convened by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1991, well before any biotechnology products were ready for market."

This response is less a rebuttal than a testimonial to Monsanto's prowess at handling regulatory affairs. Of course the term was established before any products were ready for the market. Doing so was a prerequisite to the global commercialization of GM crops. It created a legal framework for selling GM foods anywhere in the world that substantial equivalence was accepted. By the time substantial equivalence was adopted, Monsanto had already developed numerous GM crops and was actively grooming them for market.

The OECD's 34 member nations could be described as largely rich, white, developed, and sympathetic to big business. The group's current mission is to spread economic development to the rest of the world. And while the mission has yet to be accomplished, OECD has helped Monsanto spread substantial equivalence globally.

Many GM fans will point out that if we do toxicity tests on GM foods, we should also have to do toxicity testing on every other kind of food in the world.

But we've already done the testing on the existing plants. We tested them the hard way, by eating strange things and dying, or almost dying, over thousands of years. That's how we've figured out which plants are poisonous. And over the course of each of our lifetimes we've learned which foods we're allergic to.

All of the non-GM breeds and hybrid species that we eat have been shaped by the genetic variability offered by parents whose genes were similar enough that they could mate, graft, or test tube baby their way to an offspring that resembled them.

A tomato with fish genes? Not so much. That, to me, is a new plant and it should be tested. We shouldn't have to figure out if it's poisonous or allergenic the old fashioned way, especially in light of how new-fangled the science is.

It's time to re-write the rules to acknowledge how much more complicated genetic systems are than the legal regulations -- and the corporations that have written them -- give credit.

Monsanto isn't doing itself any PR favors by claiming "no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans." Admittedly, such testing can be difficult to construct -- who really wants to volunteer to eat a bunch of GM corn just to see what happens? At the same time, if companies like Monsanto want to use processes like RNA interference to make plants that can kill insects via genetic pathways that might resemble our own, some kind of testing has to happen.

A good place to start would be the testing of introduced DNA for other effects -- miRNA-mediated or otherwise -- beyond the specific proteins they code for. But the status quo, according to Monsanto's website, is:

There is no need to test the safety of DNA introduced into GM crops. DNA (and resulting RNA) is present in almost all foods. DNA is non-toxic and the presence of DNA, in and of itself, presents no hazard.
Given what we know, that stance is arrogant. Time will tell if it's reckless.

There are computational methods of investigating whether unintended RNAs are likely to be knocking down any human genes. But thanks to this position, the best we can do is hope they're using them. Given it's opposition to the labeling of GM foods as well, it seems clear that Monsanto wants you to close your eyes, open your mouth, and swallow.

It's time for Monsanto to acknowledge that there's more to DNA than the proteins it codes for -- even if it's for no other reason than the fact that RNA alone is a lot more complicated that Watson and Crick could ever have imagined.

This week as all eyes were on budget deal wrangling, with little attention and fanfare, Congress actually got something done to reform the police. It passed a bill that could result in complete, national data on police shootings and other deaths in law enforcement custody.

Right now, we have nothing close to that. Police departments are not required to report information about police to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Some do, others don’t, others submit it some years and not others or submit potentially incomplete numbers, making it near-impossible to know how many people police kill every year. Based on the figures that are reported to the federal government, ProPublica recently concluded that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.

Under the bill awaiting Obama’s signature, states receiving federal funds would be required to report every quarter on deaths in law enforcement custody. This includes not those who are killed by police during a stop, arrest, or other interaction. It also includes those who die in jail or prison. And it requires details about these shootings including gender, race, as well as at least some circumstances surrounding the death.

The bill is a reauthorization of legislation that expired in 2006. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) has been trying to revive it since then without success. Scott told the Washington Post the first time the bill passed in 2000, it took years before data started to come in, because of “the way government works,” and then the bill expired. But if states don’t report information, the federal government could use its power to withhold funds to force compliance. It passed the House last year, but finally moved through the Senate this week on the momentum of post-Ferguson outrage.

The bill also “[r]equires the Attorney General to study such information and report on means by which it can be used to reduce the number of such deaths.”

A new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that long-term endurance training in a stable way alters the epigenetic pattern in the human skeletal muscle. The research team behind the study, which is being published in the journal Epigenetics, also found strong links between these altered epigenetic patterns and the activity in genes controlling improved metabolism and inflammation. The results may have future implications for prevention and treatment of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

"It is well-established that being inactive is perilous, and that regular physical activity improves health, quality of life and life expectancy", says Professor Carl Johan Sundberg, Principal Investigator at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. "However, exactly how the positive effects of training are induced in the body has been unclear. This study indicates that epigenetics is an important part in skeletal muscle adaptation to endurance training."

Epigenetics can simply be described as temporary biochemical changes in the genome, caused by various forms of environmental impact. One type of epigenetic change is methylation, where a methyl group is added to or removed from a base in the DNA molecule without affecting the original DNA sequence. If genes are considered the hardware of cells, then epigenetics can be seen as their software.

The current study included 23 young and healthy men and women who performed supervised one-legged cycling, where the untrained leg served as a control. The volunteers participated in 45 minutes training sessions four times per week during a three month period. Performance was measured in both legs before and after training. In the skeletal muscle biopsies, markers for skeletal muscle metabolism, methylation status of 480 000 sites in the genome, and activity of over 20 000 genes were measured.

Results show that there were strong associations between epigenetic methylation and the change in activity of 4000 genes in total. Genes associated to genomic regions in which methylation levels increased, were involved in skeletal muscle adaptation and carbohydrate metabolism, while a decreasing degree of methylation occurred in regions associated to inflammation.

An interesting and potentially very important novel finding was that a majority of the epigenetic changes occurred in regulatory regions of our genome, so called enhancers. These sequences in our DNA are often situated far away from the actual genes they regulate, in comparison to so called promoter regions, which traditionally have been considered to control most of the gene activity.

 "We found that endurance training in a coordinated fashion affects thousands of DNA methylation sites and genes associated to improvement in muscle function and health", says Carl Johan Sundberg. "This could be of great importance for the understanding and treatment of many common diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but also for how to maintain a good muscle function throughout life. Interestingly, we also saw that there were epigenetic differences between male and female skeletal muscle, which may be of importance to develop gender specific therapies in the future."

General Discussion / Obama does 'The Word' on Colbert
« on: December 10, 2014, 01:17:08 AM »
Don't watch any of Comedy Central, but this has been making thecomedic semi-news rounds, and it's actually reasonably entertaining; I think Obama pulls it off:

General Discussion / Rolling Stone backpedals on UVA Rape Story
« on: December 05, 2014, 05:25:49 PM »
To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie's account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn't confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

General Discussion / Quest for Quantum Computers Heats Up
« on: December 05, 2014, 03:26:43 AM »
Together, improvements in qubit error rates and the ability of codes to cope with errors have radically changed the outlook of the field, says Morton. “What makes it an exciting time is that we can now focus on scaling up,” he says.

At the QuTech Center, Hanson agrees. “There are no fundamental roadblocks left,” he says. He is now advertising for 5 electrical engineer professorships, and looking for 40 technicians and researchers, so that he can scale up from laboratory experiments to practical technology. Their main tasks will be to figure out how to fabricate large-scale qubit arrays, how to control the quantum computation and read out the results and how to connect up the quantum circuitry to classical electronics that reside on the same chip.

General Discussion / Eric Garner Video
« on: December 03, 2014, 08:37:06 PM »

Nothin' on this yet, eh?

A funding crisis has forced the World Food Program to suspend assistance to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, the U.N. agency announced Monday, warning that “many families will go hungry” without the aid.

The program, which provides electronic vouchers for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to buy food at local stores, faces a $64 million shortfall, the agency said, attributing the problem to “unfulfilled” donor commitments.

“The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families,” Ertharin Cousin, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.

She called for an immediate resumption of funding and warned that the food-aid suspension will “endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighboring host countries.”

She did not specify which countries had not fulfilled pledges.

A Kurdish refugee boy walks past rows of shelters at a refu­gee camp in the border town of Suruc, Turkey, on Nov. 24. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)
The announcement comes amid heightened concern about the safety of the refugees in harsh conditions. The deaths of two Syrian infants last month in Lebanon were blamed on frigid weather. The flow of an estimated 3.3 million Syrians from the conflict in their country has badly strained neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.

More than 1 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon, overwhelming the nation of 4.4 million people. Citing the economic burden and security concerns, Lebanon has dramatically reduced the number of Syrians allowed entry.

Wael Abou Faour, Lebanon’s health minister, criticized the international community’s inability to meet its commitments to the World Food Program, which has spent about $800 million on assistance for Syrians since 2011.

“This demonstrates once again the failure of the international community to help Syrian refugees and the country of Lebanon, which has hosted so many refugees,” he said by telephone.

For Syrians such as Mouhanad Mouree, there was shock that he, his wife and their six children may no longer receive their World Food Program vouchers. They fled their home town of Homs seven months ago for Tripoli, a city in northern Lebanon, where they live in a garage for $200 a month. Mouree is especially concerned about his 2-year-old son.

“I can hardly afford diapers and milk for my youngest son, and we freeze in the cold weather because we cannot afford heating with electricity,” he said by telephone. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.

Don't believe everything you read.

While there are several excellent open-access journals out there — ones that aim to bring scientific papers to the public quickly, and without charging subscription fees — some of them are scams. And for $150, one of them will seemingly publish any paper that gets sent in. Even if that paper is actually just the same profanity-laden sentence repeated over and over again. Plus one flow chart and a clever graph.

The manuscript was created in 2005 as a joke, and the creators would send it as a reply whenever they got spammed with press releases or conference invites. That's how it made its way to the e-mail inboxes of the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. But for once, the submitting author was horrified to see his research get accepted.

Traditionally, a scientific paper is examined by unrelated experts in the field — a process called peer review — to make sure it isn't total bunk. Only after completing this process is it presented to the greater public with the journal's stamp of approval. But while this joke paper supposedly went through peer review (and was given a rating of "excellent," no less), that claim seems a little suspect.

The researcher who submitted the paper wasn't expecting to reveal this journal's issues, but other scientists have purposefully sent in bad work to do just that. From

"Last April, for instance, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen named Tom Spears wrote an entirely incoherent paper on soils, cancer treatment, and Mars, and submitted it to 18 online, for-profit journals. Eight of them quickly accepted it, asking for $1,000 to $5,000 in exchange for publication."

With government budgets for space exploration under strain, a UK consortium has embarked on a project to raise money for a robotic Moon mission by offering the public the chance to stash their memories and even a hair sample on the Moon.

The aim of Lunar Mission One is to put a lander on the Moon's south pole within the next decade. The robotic probe would to drill 20–100 meters into the surface, seeking insights about the origins of the Earth and the Moon, and paving the way for establishing a lunar base.

To fund the $1-billion enterprise, parent company Lunar Missions plans to turn the borehole into a time capsule and personal repository for paying customers. Its backers started soliciting contributions on November 19, and had collected almost £90,000 (about $140,000) within the first 12 hours from its launch.

Skeptics doubt that there is enough interest to raise that much cash. But David Iron, who founded Lunar Missions and works on financing space projects at the consulting firm CGI, believes there is no harm in finding out. The consortium plans to raise an initial $1 million on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter by December 17, to see there is enough interest to push ahead with the plans, he says. A second major fundraising push would go ahead in 2019, he says. “If the first phase fails, it implies there isn’t the interest. There isn’t really a plan B,” he says.

While NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have shelved lunar exploration plans in the past three years, Russia, China and Japan have planned lander missions to the Moon — and China successfully put its first rover there, called Chang’e 3, at the end of 2013. Iron hopes that crowdsourcing will open a new vein of financing for space exploration. Everywhere except in China, “the 'boldly go' stuff is feeling the squeeze”, says Iron.

Lunar Mission One has gathered support from a range of UK partners, including RAL Space, part of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, based near Oxford; University College London; and the Open University in Milton Keynes. The high-profile announcement also comes with the endorsement of dozens of UK scientists — including TV celebrity Brian Cox of the University of Manchester — and of two former UK science ministers, Ian Taylor and David Willetts. Iron says that he hopes to involve international partners later.

“This looks like something real, if they can raise the money,” says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He contrasts the clout of science expertise in the line-up, which includes Ian Crawford, planetary scientist at Birkbeck University of London and the ESA Rosetta mission's Monica Grady, with most of the teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, whose aims are "light on the science side" and are working to a less realistic timetable of putting a lander on the Moon by the end of 2015 (see Moon shots stuck on Earth).

Other Kickstarter projects have raised more than $1 million. The record stands at $13.3 million, pledged to a company making multi-gadgeted cooling boxes. The pledges, made online, are collected only if a project reaches its target. For Lunar Mission One, $1 million would allow the founders to establish management and legal arrangements and begin procurement. A detailed design would begin in 2017, and the main fundraising and sales drive would launch in 2019.

Sceptics doubt the shift from $1 million to $1 billion will be easy. "I know that this mission is only asking for a few hundred thousand [pounds], but just like many other crowd funded missions I see no realistic plan to actually raise enough to launch," says Chris Lintott, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford.

“Market research tells us we can get the billion,” says Iron. That is if, as the company's market research predicts, 1% of the people who can afford to invest — themselves a small fraction of the global population — each put in a few hundred dollars. If their predictions are correct, the drive would raise around $3 billion, which would cover the creation of a non-profit trust to fund future space missions, including one to bring a lunar sample back to Earth, he adds.

Donors gain membership to the ‘Lunar Missions Club’, become part of an online community and are invited to events. Those who donate at least £3,000 ($4,700) will have their name inscribed on the lunar landing module. The main product will be a ‘digital memory box’ that will go into the lunar borehole. Donors can record family trees or photographs in the box, and they may even be able to archive a strand of their hair, says Iron. The time capsule would also include a record of human history and a database of living species, developed with help from the public.

Adrian Sargeant, director of the center for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, UK, says that crowdfunding is such a recent phenomenon that solid evidence about when it works and when it fails has yet to emerge. “Whether they succeed or not will depend on the extent to which they capture the public’s imagination, he says.

This high $1 billion target will be achievable only if the project manages to find and tap a fairly niche global community, says Elizabeth Ngonzi, a digital-engagement expert at the New York University Heyman Center for Fundraising and Philanthropy. “The types of people who would support this are not obvious to find,” she says.

The mission appeals to lunar scientists. The Moon's south pole is thought to contain ice in its permanently shaded craters. Drilling in this little-explored region — and gaining access to pristine ancient rock — builds on ideas that the research community has proposed in the past, says Bernard Foing, a lunar scientist at ESA in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, who is not involved with the project. The technical challenge of drilling to such depths is high, he says. But the results could give insight into the impact history of the Moon and reveal organic molecules that could have been deposited by asteroids. “There is a strong science case,” adds Foing. Because of its potential water reserves, the south pole is also where space-faring nations are most likely to establish a base in the coming century, says Iron.

No governments or space agencies are involved in the project at present, but Iron says that will probably change if the venture takes off. Although Lunar Mission One would use private contractors, the project will need to act under a government authority to avoid the legal complications that could come with a private venture drilling on the Moon, he adds.

(go through link for video)

General Discussion / PE Teacher drags Student into Pool; Charged
« on: November 22, 2014, 09:25:51 PM »
A disturbing 90-second video caught by a student shows one of their peers being forcefully dragged into a swimming pool by Denny Peterson, a P.E teacher of 10 years.

Numerous times during the incident, the girl can be heard screaming that her bikini top was coming off, but Peterson replies by saying “that’s alright” as he continues to pull her.

According to the student’s family’s lawyer, Gilbert Somera, they are considering filing a lawsuit.

“Regardless of her participation, it should disgust you how this man put his hands on a 14-year-old girl. She said multiple times, ‘my top is falling down.’”

”No means no and stop means stop. This isn’t a situation where she’s attacking a teacher and he’s defending himself. When a woman or a 14-year-old girl says no, it means no.”

The teenage girl recently got her hair done, which is why she didn’t want to ruin it by getting in the water. Despite her reason, in no way should the situation have escalated to such an extreme level for the teacher to become physical.

According to KXTV-TV, the school district made a final statement that they “acted appropriately,” but they were unwilling to elaborate further.

Video behind the link.

General Discussion / Neuronal "Superhub" Might Generate Consciousness
« on: November 22, 2014, 07:58:07 PM »
Point to any one organ in the body, and doctors can tell you something about what it does and what happens if that organ is injured by accident or disease or is removed by surgery—whether it be the pituitary gland, the kidney or the inner ear. Yet like the blank spots on maps of Central Africa from the mid-19th century, there are structures whose functions remain unknown despite whole-brain imaging, electroencephalographic recordings that monitor the brain's cacophony of electrical signals and other advanced tools of the 21st century.

Consider the claustrum. It is a thin, irregular sheet of cells, tucked below the neocortex, the gray matter that allows us to see, hear, reason, think and remember. It is surrounded on all sides by white matter—the tracts, or wire bundles, that interconnect cortical regions with one another and with other brain regions. The claustra—for there are two of them, one on the left side of the brain and one on the right—lie below the general region of the insular cortex, underneath the temples, just above the ears. They assume a long, thin wisp of a shape that is easily overlooked when inspecting the topography of a brain image.

Advanced brain-imaging techniques that look at the white matter fibers coursing to and from the claustrum reveal that it is a neural Grand Central Station. Almost every region of the cortex sends fibers to the claustrum. These connections are reciprocated by other fibers that extend back from the claustrum to the originating cortical region. Neuroanatomical studies in mice and rats reveal a unique asymmetry—each claustrum receives input from both cortical hemispheres but only projects back to the overlying cortex on the same side. Whether or not this is true in people is not known. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have said.

Unlike most other parts of the brain, there are no reliable case studies of patients with selective destruction of one or both claustra from stroke, viral infection or other calamity. Lesioning the structure in laboratory animals is challenging given its thin and elongated nature. For the same reason, brain imaging has not been very useful: the smallest spatial features distinguishable through positron-emission tomography or functional MRI, two of the most widely used imaging techniques, are two to three millimeters across, bigger than the claustrum's width. And because it is embedded within white matter and sandwiched between two very active neuronal tissues—below the neocortex and above the putamen, part of a larger region, the basal ganglia, lodged deep within the brain—it is problematic to unambiguously pinpoint changes in blood flow to the claustrum and not to these nearby, large structures.

Enter the Dragon
In biology, a reliable guide to understanding function is to study structure. Francis Crick and James Watson proved this idea spectacularly in 1953. They inferred the key function of DNA, the molecule of heredity—that is to say, storing and copying genetic information— from its double-helical chemical structure. Half a century later Crick, by then biology's most respected sage, tried his hand at the same game, linking a structure—the claustrum—to a function—the emergence of integrated, conscious experience.

Whereas scholars of consciousness disagree about many aspects of this most mysterious phenomenon, virtually all agree that one of the defining properties of any subjective experience is that it is unified. No experience can be reduced to independent components. Every experience is irreducible. When I look at my wife's face, I do not see two eyes in a black-and-white picture with a disembodied layer of blue superimposed on top. No, I perceive her blue eyes as one integral and seamless whole. Nor do I experience my Bernese mountain dog doing funny things with her snout while a loud noise fills the room; no, I hear her bark. The experience of seeing the word “honeymoon” is not reducible to the experience of seeing “honey” on the left and “moon” on the right.

We know that different groups of neurons become active in response to such commonly encountered features as colors and motion, faces and dogs, words, sounds, and so on. These cells are dispersed among the 16 billion neurons making up the cerebral cortex. Together the active and inactive cells give rise to a conscious experience. Furthermore, we know from introspection that what we are conscious of is in constant flux.

Distracted by the sight of a passing motorboat on the lake outside my house, I am about to turn back to writing my article when I suddenly recall that I promised to pick up dog food, and then my attention shifts without warning to Richard Wagner's “Liebestod” playing on the radio. Each of these sights, sounds, memories or thoughts requires that the underlying electrical and chemical activity of a privileged set of neurons is rapidly bound to give rise to an integrated conscious experience that lasts but a fleeting moment until the next neuronal assembly comes into being and a new experience supersedes the old one.

Looking at the far-flung two-way connections between the claustrum and the cortex, Crick and I—for at that time in 2004, I was working closely with him and had been for 16 years—hypothesized that this superhub of neuronal activity could be pivotal for consciousness. Because every region of cortex projected to its associated claustral target area, and this neural communications hub reciprocated the connection, the claustrum could serve as an integrator for crisscrossing electrical signals, provided that all of this information could be freely admixed within the structure. We endlessly discussed various neuroanatomical and biophysical means for the claustrum to achieve this integration and wrote a manuscript.

Francis knew that he only had a limited amount of time left; he had end-stage colon cancer. He called me on the way to the hospital, calmly telling me not to worry about the manuscript following our last brainstorming session because he was going to make corrections to it (which he did, dictating them to his secretary from the clinic). Two days later, on his deathbed, Francis hallucinated a debate with me about the role of the claustrum's connection to consciousness, a scientist to the very end. The paper was published a year later in the world's oldest scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Enter the Electrodes
In the intervening years, a handful of studies further delineated the molecular neuroanatomy of the claustrum in rodents and a crude map of its connections in people. One investigation focused on the role of the claustrum in integrating visual and auditory stimuli. Using microelectrodes that recorded the electrical activity in awake monkeys, the investigators confirmed that part of the claustrum tended to respond more to visual stimuli, whereas one of its nearby regions was sensitive to tones. But no individual neurons responded to both visual and auditory events, arguing against a multisensory role for the claustrum, thereby leaving it bereft of any obvious function.

This seeming impasse may have changed with a single dramatic case report. A 54-year-old woman who had uncontrollable epileptic seizures had electrodes implanted deep within her brain to help pinpoint the exact origin of her seizures. During this procedure, electrodes can triangulate the focal area where the seizure originates so that it can be surgically removed. They can also inject electric current to help map the brain, identifying areas responsible for important functions such as speech or movement and thus sparing them during the surgery.

Led by Mohamad Z. Koubeissi, an associate professor in the department of neurology at George Washington University, the clinical team made a remarkable observation: electrically stimulating a single site with a fairly large current abruptly impaired consciousness in 10 out of 10 trials—the patient stared blankly ahead, became unresponsive to commands and stopped reading. As soon as the stimulation stopped, consciousness returned, without the patient recalling any events during the period when she was out. Note that she did not become unconscious in the usual sense, because she could still continue to carry out simple behaviors for a few seconds if these were initiated before the stimulation started—behaviors such as making repetitive tongue or hand movements or repeating a word. Koubeissi was careful to monitor electrical activity throughout her brain to confirm that episodes of loss of consciousness did not accompany a seizure.

Two aspects of this patient's case had never been seen before. First, no abrupt and specific cessation and resumption of consciousness have previously been reported, despite decades of electrically stimulating the forebrain of awake patients in the operating room. Depending on the location of the stimulating electrode, patients usually do not feel anything in particular. Less frequently, a patient may report flashes of light, smells or some difficult-to-verbalize body feelings, or perhaps even a specific memory from long ago that the electric current evokes. Or the patient will twitch a finger or a muscle. But this case was different. Here consciousness as a whole appeared to be turned off and then on again. Second, it happened only at a single place, in the white matter close to the claustrum and the cortex. Because electrical stimulation of the nearby insula is not known to elicit a loss of consciousness, the researchers implicated the claustrum.

It is difficult to be confident of the actual causal mechanisms—the stimulation may have triggered electrical discharges from neurons' wirelike extensions to exert effects at another site. Unfortunately, this tantalizing case report cannot easily be followed up with more experiments, because the patient's electrodes were subsequently removed.

We do not have the luxury of waiting for an analogous finding, perhaps as long as a century hence, so it is important to devise experiments to confirm the existence and properties of any claustrum on/off switch. The most promising idea would take advantage of proteins specifically expressed in cells in the claustrum but not in other brain structures. Knowledge of these cells' molecular zip code can then be exploited by tools of molecular biology to quickly and transiently turn the electrical activity of neurons in the claustrum off and on with beams of colored light and to observe the effects on the behavior of lab mice.

If the claustrum truly plays a critical role in generating conscious experiences, we will find out and take another small step toward the ultimate goal of identifying the footprints of consciousness in highly excitable matter. Per claustra ad astra!

It may be the timeliest -- and most troubling -- idea in climate science.

Back in 2012, two researchers with a particular interest in the Arctic, Rutgers' Jennifer Francis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Stephen Vavrus, published a paper called "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes." In it, they suggested that the fact that the Arctic is warming so rapidly is leading to an unexpected but profound effect on the weather where the vast majority of us live -- a change that, if their theory is correct, may have something to do with the extreme winter weather the U.S. has seen lately.

In their paper, Francis and Vavrus suggested that a rapidly warming Arctic should interfere with the jet stream, the river of air high above us that flows eastward around the northern hemisphere and brings with it our weather. Sometimes, the jet stream flows relatively directly from west to east; but other times, it takes long, wavy loops, as in the image above. And according to Francis and Vavrus, Arctic warming should make the jet stream more wavy and loopy on average – some have called it “drunk” -- with dramatic weather consequences.

Here's the atmospheric physics behind the idea: Warm air expands, and naturally there is much more warm air at the equator than at the poles. Thus, the atmosphere is thicker at the equator, and the jet stream's motion is driven by the decline in atmospheric thickness as one moves in a poleward direction -- in effect, its atmospheric river flows "downhill," in Francis’s words. However, if the Arctic is warming faster than the mid-latitudes, then the difference in thickness as you move in a poleward direction should decrease. And this should slow the jet stream, leading to more loops and turns -- and consequently, weather of all types getting stuck in place for longer. There's a nice video explanation of this by Francis here:

Rutgers University's Jennifer Francis, who published a paper linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes, explained her theory that may have something to do with extreme winter, like what we’ve seen this week. (StormCenter Communications)
According to Francis, the extreme U.S. winter of last year and now, the extremes at the beginning of this season, fit her theory. "This winter looks a whole lot like last winter, it’s a very amplified jet stream pattern," she says. "We know that when we get these patterns, it tends to be very persistent. And it is definitely the type of pattern that we expect to see more often as the Artic continues to warm so fast."

To be sure, Francis acknowledges that our recent bout of extreme cold was kickstarted most directly by Typhoon Nuri, which swerved up into the mid-latitudes and exploded into an atmospheric bomb over the Bering Sea. "That had the downstream effect of basically taking the jet stream and giving it a whip, whipping a wave into it," says Francis. But she also suspects that the jet stream is more susceptible to these kinds of dramatic influences because it is weaker now. In general, her theory does not say global warming caused any particular weather event, only that it is shifting the overall pattern of jet stream behavior, making certain kinds of persistent weather extremes more likely to occur.

Francis isn't the only one to suggest this. The widely read weather blogger Jeff Masters mused yesterday on whether the extreme snowfall in western New York this week might be due to "jet stream weirdness." "We've seen an unusual number of extreme jet stream patterns like this in the past fifteen years, which happens to coincide with the period of time we've been observing record loss of summertime Arctic sea ice and record retreat of springtime snow cover in the Arctic," noted Masters -- although he refrained from fully embracing the theory, noting that it still has its detractors. Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow also just discussed the evidence behind Francis's idea, which he calls "controversial."

Francis argues, however, that the evidence in her favor is mounting -- she cites no fewer than five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) scientific papers published in the last year or so that she considers supportive, and hints that more are coming. "We’ve got 5 papers that all look at that particular mechanism in different ways -- different analysis, different data sets, observation and models -- and they all come to the same conclusion and they all identify this mechanism independently," she says.

You can't call Francis's idea fully established. You can't say there's a "scientific consensus" on it. And you can't say that the august U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change embraces it. Not yet. But it's certainly a very serious idea and one of the most discussed theories in climate science. Call it a contender. And if it's right, well...then we all know, already, what global warming feels like.

ipping from a plastic cup, Jackie grimaced, then discreetly spilled her spiked punch onto the sludgy fraternity-house floor. The University of Virginia freshman wasn't a drinker, but she didn't want to seem like a goody-goody at her very first frat party – and she especially wanted to impress her date, the handsome Phi Kappa Psi brother who'd brought her here. Jackie was sober but giddy with discovery as she looked around the room crammed with rowdy strangers guzzling beer and dancing to loud music. She smiled at her date, whom we'll call Drew, a good-looking junior – or in UVA parlance, a third-year – and he smiled enticingly back.

Related sexual assault  protest
The Campus Rape Epidemic
"Want to go upstairs, where it's quieter?" Drew shouted into her ear, and Jackie's heart quickened. She took his hand as he threaded them out of the crowded room and up a staircase.

Four weeks into UVA's 2012 school year, 18-year-old Jackie was crushing it at college. A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she'd initially been intimidated by UVA's aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings, hurrying to classes, clubs, sports, internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work and parties; Jackie's orientation leader had warned her that UVA students' schedules were so packed that "no one has time to date – people just hook up." But despite her reservations, Jackie had flung herself into campus life, attending events, joining clubs, making friends and, now, being asked on an actual date. She and Drew had met while working lifeguard shifts together at the university pool, and Jackie had been floored by Drew's invitation to dinner, followed by a "date function" at his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. The "upper tier" frat had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving "Phi Psi" the undisputed best real estate along UVA's fraternity row known as Rugby Road.

Rape on Campus
Phi Kappa Psi House
Jackie had taken three hours getting ready, straightening her long, dark, wavy hair. She'd congratulated herself on her choice of a tasteful red dress with a high neckline. Now, climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew, Jackie felt excited. Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room – and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.

"Shut up," she heard a man's voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn't some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they'd return to the party.

"Grab its motherfucking leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men's heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him: He attended her tiny anthropology discussion group. He looked like he was going to cry or puke as he told the crowd he couldn't get it up. "Pussy!" the other men jeered. "What, she's not hot enough for you?" Then they egged him on: "Don't you want to be a brother?" "We all had to do it, so you do, too." Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. Jackie stared at the young man, silently begging him not to go through with it. And as he shoved the bottle into her, Jackie fell into a stupor, mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor.

When Jackie came to, she was alone. It was after 3 a.m. She painfully rose from the floor and ran shoeless from the room. She emerged to discover the Phi Psi party still surreally under way, but if anyone noticed the barefoot, disheveled girl hurrying down a side staircase, face beaten, dress spattered with blood, they said nothing. Disoriented, Jackie burst out a side door, realized she was lost, and dialed a friend, screaming, "Something bad happened. I need you to come and find me!" Minutes later, her three best friends on campus – two boys and a girl (whose names are changed) – arrived to find Jackie on a nearby street corner, shaking. "What did they do to you? What did they make you do?" Jackie recalls her friend Randall demanding. Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie's date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. "We have to get her to the hospital," Randall said.

Their other two friends, however, weren't convinced. "Is that such a good idea?" she recalls Cindy asking. "Her reputation will be shot for the next four years." Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie's rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: "She's gonna be the girl who cried 'rape,' and we'll never be allowed into any frat party again."

Two years later, Jackie, now a third-year, is worried about what might happen to her once this article comes out. Greek life is huge at UVA, with nearly one-third of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority, so Jackie fears the backlash could be big – a "shitshow" predicted by her now-former friend Randall, who, citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed. But her concerns go beyond taking on her alleged assailants and their fraternity. Lots of people have discouraged her from sharing her story, Jackie tells me with a pained look, including the trusted UVA dean to whom Jackie reported her gang-rape allegations more than a year ago. On this deeply loyal campus, even some of Jackie's closest friends see her going public as tantamount to betrayal.

Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth's Hazing Abuses
"One of my roommates said, 'Do you want to be responsible for something that's gonna paint UVA in a bad light?' " says Jackie, poking at a vegan burger at a restaurant on the Corner, UVA's popular retail strip. "But I said, 'UVA has flown under the radar for so long, someone has to say something about it, or else it's gonna be this system that keeps perpetuating!' " Jackie frowns. "My friend just said, 'You have to remember where your loyalty lies.'"

From reading headlines today, one might think colleges have suddenly become hotbeds of protest by celebrated anti-rape activists. But like most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no "sex-positive" clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch. The pinnacle of its polite activism is its annual Take Back the Night vigil, which on this campus of 21,000 students attracts an audience of less than 500 souls. But the dearth of attention isn't because rape doesn't happen in Charlottesville. It's because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university's culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it "UVrApe."

"University of Virginia thinks they're above the law," says UVA grad and victims-rights advocate Liz Seccuro. "They go to such lengths to protect themselves. There's a national conversation about sexual assault, but nothing at UVA is changing."

Liz Seccuro with her husband, Mike in front of the Charlottesville District Court in Charlottesville, Va., Thursday, March 15th, 2007. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)
S. Daniel Carter, who as former director of public policy for the advocacy group Clery Center for Security on Campus is a national expert on college safety, points out that UVA's sexual assault problems are not much worse than other schools; if anything, he says, the depressing reality is that UVA's situation is likely the norm. Decades of awareness programming haven't budged the prevalence of campus rape: One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, though only about 12 percent report it to police. Spurred by a wave of activism, the Obama administration has stepped up pressure on colleges, announcing Title IX investigations of 86 schools suspected of denying students their equal right to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints; if found in violation, each school runs the risk of financial penalties, including the nuclear option (which has never been deployed) of having its federal funding revoked.

The University of Virginia is one of the 86 schools now under federal investigation, but it has more reason to worry than most of its peers. Because, unlike most schools under scrutiny, where complaints are at issue, UVA is one of only 12 schools under a sweeping investigation known as "compliance review": a proactive probe launched by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights itself, triggered by concerns about deep-rooted issues. "They are targeted efforts to go after very serious concerns," says Office of Civil Rights assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon. "We don't open compliance reviews unless we have something that we think merits it."

UVA says it has been complying fully with the investigation. But Carter notes that UVA and other elite schools tend not to respond well to criticism and sanctify tradition above all else. "That's common to more prestigious institutions," Carter says.

Prestige is at the core of UVA's identity. Although a public school, its grounds of red-brick, white-columned buildings designed by founder Thomas Jefferson radiate old-money privilege, footnoted by the graffiti of UVA's many secret societies, whose insignias are neatly painted everywhere. At $10,000 a year, in-state tuition is a quarter the cost of the Ivies, but UVA tends to attract affluent students, and through aggressive fundraising boasts an endowment of $5 billion, on par with Cornell. "Wealthy parents are the norm," says former UVA dean John Foubert. On top of all that, UVA enjoys a reputation as one of the best schools in the country, not to mention a campus so brimming with fun that in 2012 – the year of Jackie's rape – Playboy crowned it the nation's number-one party school. Students hold themselves up to that standard: studious by day, wild by night. "The most impressive person at UVA is the person who gets straight A's and goes to all the parties," explains fourth-year student Brian Head. Partying traditions fuse the decorum of the Southern aristocracy with binge drinking: At Cavalier football tailgates, the dress code is "girls in pearls, guys in ties" while students guzzle handles of vodka. Not for nothing is a UVA student nicknamed a Wahoo, as undergrads like to explain; though derived from a long-ago yell from Cavalier fans, a wahoo is also a fish that can drink twice its own body weight.

Rape on Campus
University of Virginia campus (Photo: Lance King/Getty)
Wahoos are enthralled to be at UVA and can't wait to tell you the reasons why, beginning, surprisingly, with Thomas Jefferson, whose lore is so powerfully woven into everyday UVA life that you practically expect to glimpse the man still walking the grounds in his waistcoat and pantaloons. Nearly every student I interviewed found a way to mention "TJ," speaking with zeal about their founding father's vision for an "academical village" in the idyllic setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They burble about UVA's honor code, a solemn pledge not to lie, cheat or steal; students are expected to snitch on violators, who are expelled. UVA's emphasis on honor is so pronounced that since 1998, 183 people have been expelled for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams. And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.

"Think about it," says Susan Russell, whose UVA daughter's sexual-assault report helped trigger a previous federal investigation. "In what world do you get kicked out for cheating, but if you rape someone, you can stay?"

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA, argues that in matters of sexual violence, Ivy League and Division I schools' fixation with prestige is their downfall. "These schools love to pretend they protect the children as if they were their own, but that's not true: They're interested in money," Murphy says. "In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he's held accountable." Indeed, UVA is the same campus where the volatile relationship of lacrosse star George Huguely V and his girlfriend Yeardley Love was seen as unremarkable – his jealous rages, fanned by over-the-top drinking – until the 2010 day he kicked open her door and beat her to death.

UVA president Teresa Sullivan denies the administration sweeps sexual assault under the rug. "If we're trying to hide the issue, we're not doing a very good job of it," she says, noting that this past February UVA hosted the first-ever sexual-assault summit for college administrators. It's true that recently, while under close government scrutiny, the school has made some encouraging changes, including designating most UVA authority figures as mandatory reporters of sexual assault and teaming up with student activists to create a bystander-intervention campaign. Students praise UVA's deans as caring folks who answer late-night calls from victims and even make emergency-room visits.

Rape on Campus
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan (Photo: AP)
And yet the UVA public-relations team seemed unenthused about this article, canceling my interview with the head of UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board, and forbidding other administrators from cooperating; even students seemed infected by their anxiety about how members of the administration might appear. And when President Sullivan was at last made available for an interview, her most frequently invoked answer to my specific questions about sexual-assault handling at UVA – while two other UVA staffers sat in on the recorded call – was "I don't know."

All you girls from Mary Washington
and RMWC, never let a Cavalier an inch above your knee.
He'll take you to his fraternity house and fill you full of beer.
And soon you'll be the mother  of a bastard Cavalier!
"Rugby Road"

Two weeks after Jackie's rape, she ran into Drew during her lifeguard shift at the UVA pool. "Hey, Jackie," Drew said, startling her. "Are you ignoring me?" She'd switched her shift in the hopes of never seeing him again. Since the Phi Kappa Psi party, she'd barely left her dorm room, fearful of glimpsing one of her attackers. Jackie stared at Drew, unable to speak. "I wanted to thank you for the other night," Drew said. "I had a great time."

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Jackie left her shift early, saying she wasn't feeling well. Then she walked back to her dorm and crawled under the covers. She didn't go to classes for the rest of the week, and soon quit her lifeguarding job – the first time she could remember quitting anything. She would never again return to the Anthropology course she shared with one of her assailants. She was constantly on the edge of panic, plagued by flashbacks – and disgusted by her own naiveté. She obsessed over what easy prey she'd been, as the attention-starved freshman who for weeks drank up Drew's flirtations. "I still grapple with 'Did I do something that could have been construed as that's what I wanted?' " she says.

Before Jackie left for college, her parents – a Vietnam vet and retired military contractor, and a stay-at-home mom – had lectured her about avoiding the perils of the social scene, stressing the importance of her studies, since Jackie hoped to get into medical school. Jackie had a strained relationship with her father, in whose eyes she'd never felt good enough, and always responded by exceeding expectations – honor roll, swim team, first-chair violin – becoming the role model for her two younger brothers. Jackie had been looking forward to college as an escape – a place to, even, defy her parents' wishes and go to a frat party. "And I guess they were right," she says bitterly.

She was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. "You're still upset about that?" Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn't see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. "Why didn't you have fun with it?" Cindy asked. "A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?" One of Jackie's friends told her, unconcerned, "Andy said you had a bad experience at a frat, and you've been a baby ever since."

That reaction of dismissal, downgrading and doubt is a common theme UVA rape survivors hear, including from women. "Some of my hallmates were skeptical," recalls recent grad Emily Renda, who says that weeks into her first year she was raped after a party. "They were silent and avoided me afterwards. It made me doubt myself." Other students encounter more overt hostility, as when a first-year student confided her assault to a friend. "She said she thought I was just looking for attention," says the undergrad. Shrugging off a rape or pointing fingers at the victim can be a self-protective maneuver for women, a form of wishful thinking to reassure themselves they could never be so vulnerable to violence. For men, skepticism is a form of self-protection too. For much of their lives, they've looked forward to the hedonistic fun of college, bearing every expectation of booze and no-strings sex. A rape heralds the uncomfortable idea that all that harmless mayhem may not be so harmless after all. Easier, then, to assume the girl is lying, even though studies indicate that false rape reports account for, at most, eight percent of reports.

Emily Renda (Photo: Courtesy of Emily Renda)
And so at UVA, where social status is paramount, outing oneself as a rape victim can be a form of social suicide. "I don't know many people who are engrossed in the party scene and have spoken out about their sexual assaults," says third-year student Sara Surface. After all, no one climbs the social ladder only to cast themselves back down. Emily Renda, for one, quickly figured out that few classmates were sympathetic to her plight, and instead channeled her despair into hard partying. "My drinking didn't stand out," says Renda, who often ended her nights passed out on a bathroom floor. "It does make you wonder how many others are doing what I did: drinking to self-medicate."

By the middle of her first semester, Jackie's alarm would ring and ring in her dorm room until one of her five suitemates would pad down the hall to turn it off. Jackie would barely stir in her bed. "That was when we realized she was even there," remembers suitemate Rachel Soltis. "At the beginning of the year, she seemed like a normal, happy girl, always with friends. Then her door was closed all the time. We just figured she was out." Long since abandoned by her original crew, Jackie had slept through half a semester's worth of classes and had bought a length of rope with which to hang herself. Instead, as the semester crawled to an end, she called her mother. "Come and get me," Jackie told her, crying. "I need your help."

The first weeks of freshman year are when students are most vulnerable to sexual assault. Spend a Friday night in mid-September walking along Rugby Road at UVA, and you can begin to see why. Hundreds of women in crop tops and men in khaki shorts stagger between handsome fraternity houses, against a call-and-response soundtrack of "Whoo!" and breaking glass. "Do you know where Delta Sig is?" a girl slurs, sloshed. Behind her, one of her dozen or so friends stumbles into the street, sending a beer bottle shattering. ("Whoo!" calls a far-away voice.)

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"These are all first-years," narrates one of my small group of upperclasswomen guides. We walk the curving length of tree-lined Rugby Road as they explain the scene. The women rattle off which one is known as the "roofie frat," where supposedly four girls have been drugged and raped, and at which house a friend had a recent "bad experience," the Wahoo euphemism for sexual assault. Studies have shown that fraternity men are three times as likely to commit rape, and a spate of recent high-profile cases illustrates the dangers that can lurk at frat parties, like a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee frat accused of using color-coded hand stamps as a signal to roofie their guests, and this fall's suspension of Brown University's chapter of Phi Kappa Psi – of all fraternities – after a partygoer tested positive for the date-rape drug GHB. Presumably, the UVA freshmen wobbling around us are oblivious to any specific hazards along Rugby Road; having just arrived on campus, they can hardly tell one fraternity from another. As we pass another frat house, one of my guides offers, "I know a girl who got assaulted there."

Rape on Campus
Phi Kappa Psi House
"I do too!" says her friend in mock-excitement. "That makes two! Yay!"

Frats are often the sole option for an underage drinker looking to party, since bars are off-limits, sororities are dry and first-year students don't get many invites to apartment soirees. Instead, the kids crowd the walkways of the big, anonymous frat houses, vying for entry. "Hot girls who are drunk always get in – it's a good idea to act drunker than you really are," says third-year Alexandria Pinkleton, expertly clad in the UVA-after-dark uniform of a midriff-baring sleeveless top and shorts. "Also? You have to seem very innocent and vulnerable. That's why they love first-year girls."

Once successfully inside the frat house, women play the role of grateful guests in unfamiliar territory where men control the variables. In dark, loud basements, girls accept drinks, are pulled onto dance floors to be ground and groped and, later, often having lost sight of their friends, led into bathrooms or up the stairs for privacy. Most of that hooking up is consensual. But against that backdrop, as psychologist David Lisak discovered, lurk undetected predators. Lisak's 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak's study had ever been reported. Lisak's findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

In his study, Lisak's subjects described the ways in which they used the camouflage of college as fruitful rape-hunting grounds. They told Lisak they target freshmen for being the most naïve and the least-experienced drinkers. One offender described how his party-hearty friends would help incapacitate his victims: "We always had some kind of punch. . . . We'd make it with a real sweet juice. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn't know what hit them." Presumably, the friends mixing the drinks did so without realizing the offender's plot, just as when they probably high-fived him the next morning, they didn't realize the behavior they'd just endorsed. That's because the serial rapist's behavior can look ordinary at college. "They're not acting in a vacuum," observes Lisak of predators. "They're echoing that message and that culture that's around them: the objectification and degradation of women."

One need only glance around at some recent college hijinks to see spectacular examples of the way the abasement of women has broken through to no-holds-barred misogyny: a Dartmouth student's how-to-rape guide posted online this past January; Yale pledges chanting "No means yes! Yes means anal!" And despite its air of mannered civility, UVA has been in on the naughty fun for at least 70 years with its jolly fight song "Rugby Road," which celebrates the sexual triumphs of UVA fraternity men, named for the very same street where my guides and I are now enveloped in a thickening crowd of wasted first-years. Through the decades, the song has expanded to 35 verses, with the more recent, student-penned stanzas shedding the song's winking tone in favor of something more jarringly explicit:

A hundred Delta Gammas, a thousand AZDs
Ten thousand Pi Phi bitches who get down on their knees
But the ones that we hold true, the ones that we hold dear
Are the ones who stay up late at night, and take it in the rear.

In 2010, "Rugby Road" was banned from football games – despite a petition calling it "an integral part" of UVA culture. But Wahoos fearing the loss of tradition can take heart that "Rugby Road" verses are still performed on campus by UVA's oldest a cappella group, the Virginia Gentlemen.

At the end of her freshman year, Jackie found herself in the Peabody Hall office of Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board. This was a big step for Jackie. She still hadn't even managed to tell her own mother exactly what had happened at Phi Kappa Psi. Upon returning to school for her second semester, Jackie had tried to put on a brave face and simply move forward, but instead continued falling apart. Though a psychiatrist had put Jackie on Wellbutrin, she had remained depressed, couldn't concentrate, and spent the semester so frightened and withdrawn that her academic dean finally called her in to discuss why she'd failed three classes. In his office, with her mother beside her, she'd burst into tears, and her mother explained she'd had a "bad experience" at a party. He'd blanched and given Jackie the e-mail for Dean Eramo.

If Dean Eramo was surprised at Jackie's story of gang rape, it didn't show. A short woman with curly dark hair and a no-nonsense demeanor, Eramo surely has among the most difficult jobs at UVA. As the intake person on behalf of the university for all sexual-assault complaints since 2006, it's her job to deal with a parade of sobbing students trekking in and out of her office. (UVA declined to make Eramo available for comment.) A UVA alum herself, Eramo is beloved by survivors, who consider her a friend and confidante – even though, as only a few students are aware, her office isn't a confidential space at all. Each time a new complaint comes through Eramo's office, it activates a review by UVA's Title IX officer, is included in UVA's tally of federally mandated Clery Act crime statistics, and Eramo may, at her discretion, reveal details of her conversation with the student to other administrators. (Jackie was mortified to learn later that Eramo had shared her identity with another UVA administrator.) After all, a dean's foremost priority is the overall safety of the campus.

When Jackie finished talking, Eramo comforted her, then calmly laid out her options. If Jackie wished, she could file a criminal complaint with police. Or, if Jackie preferred to keep the matter within the university, she had two choices. She could file a complaint with the school's Sexual Misconduct Board, to be decided in a "formal resolution" with a jury of students and faculty, and a dean as judge. Or Jackie could choose an "informal resolution," in which Jackie could simply face her attackers in Eramo's presence and tell them how she felt; Eramo could then issue a directive to the men, such as suggesting counseling. Eramo presented each option to Jackie neutrally, giving each equal weight. She assured Jackie there was no pressure – whatever happened next was entirely her choice.

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. "If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don't want to be part of, frankly, we'd be concerned that we would get fewer reports," says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

"This is an alarming trend that I'm seeing on campuses," says Laura Dunn of the advocacy group SurvJustice. "Schools are assigning people to victims who are pretending, or even thinking, they're on the victim's side, when they're actually discouraging and silencing them. Advocates who survivors love are part of the system that is failing to address sexual violence."

Rape on Campus
Phi Kappa Psi House (Photo: Illustration by John Ritter)
Absent much guidance, Jackie would eventually wonder how other student victims handled her situation. But when she clicked around on UVA's website, she found no answers. All she found were the UVA police's crime logs, which the university makes available online, but are mostly a list of bike theft, vandalism and public-drunkenness complaints. That's because only a fraction of UVA students who report sex crimes turn to campus police. The rest go to Dean Eramo's office, to Charlottesville police or the county sheriff's office. Yet when RS asked UVA for its statistics, the press office repeatedly referred us to the UVA police crime logs. UVA parent Susan Russell believes that misdirection is deliberate. "When a parent goes to the campus crime log, and they don't see sexual assault, they think the school is safe," Russell says, adding that her daughter's 2004 sexual assault once appeared in the log mislabeled "Suspicious Circumstances."

Eventually, UVA furnished Rolling Stone with some of its most recent tally: In the last academic year, 38 students went to Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in "complaints"; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearings. UVA wasn't willing to disclose their outcomes, citing privacy. Like most colleges, sexual-assault proceedings at UVA unfold in total secrecy. Asked why UVA doesn't publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with "best practices" and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie got a different explanation when she'd eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, "Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school."

For now, however, Jackie left her first meeting with Eramo feeling better for having unburdened herself, and with the dean's assurance that nothing would be done without her say-so. Eramo e-mailed a follow-up note thanking Jackie for sharing, saying, "I could tell that was very difficult for you," and restating that while she respected Jackie's wish not to file a report, she'd be happy to assist "if you decide that you would like to hold these men accountable." In the meantime, having presumably judged there to be no threat to public safety, the UVA administration took no action to warn the campus that an allegation of gang rape had been made against an active fraternity.

All the first-year women are morally uptight.
They'll never do a single thing unless they know it's right.
But then they come to Rugby Road and soon they've seen the light.
And you never know how many men they'll bring home every night.
"Rugby Road"

You can trace UVA's cycle of sexual violence and institutional indifference back at least 30 years – and incredibly, the trail leads back to Phi Psi. In October 1984, Liz Seccuro was a 17-year-old virgin when she went to a party at the frat and was handed a mixed drink. "They called it the house special," she remembers. Things became spotty after Seccuro had a few sips. But etched in pain was a clear memory of a stranger raping her on a bed. She woke up wrapped in a bloody sheet; by rifling through the boy's mail before fleeing, she discovered his name was Will Beebe. Incredibly, 21 years later, Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter, saying he wanted to make amends as part of his 12-step program. Seccuro took the correspondence to Charlottesville police. And in the midst of the 2006 prosecution that followed, where Beebe would eventually plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery, investigators made a startling discovery: That while at Phi Psi that night, Seccuro had been assaulted not by one man, but by three. "I had been gang-raped," says Seccuro, who detailed her ordeal in a 2011 memoir.

Rape on Campus
William N. Beebe out of the Charlottesville, Va. Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Tuesday, Jan. 17th, 2006. (Photo: Brady Wolfe/Daily Progress/AP)
That it took two decades for Seccuro to achieve some justice is even more disgraceful, since she reported her rape to the UVA administration after leaving the Phi Psi house on that 1984 morning. "I went to the dean covered in scabs and with broken ribs," she remembers. "And he said, 'Do you think it was just regrettable sex?' " Seccuro wanted to call police, but she was incorrectly told Charlottesville police lacked jurisdiction over fraternity houses.

If Seccuro's story of administrative cover-up and apathy sounds outrageous, it's actually in keeping with the stories told by other UVA survivors. After one alumna was abducted from a dark, wooded section of campus and raped in 1993, she says she asked a UVA administrator for better lighting. "They told me it would ruin Jefferson's vision of what the university was supposed to look like," the alum says. "As if Thomas Jefferson even knew about electric lights!" In 2002 and 2004, two female students, including Susan Russell's daughter, were unhappy with their sexual-misconduct hearings, which each felt didn't hold their alleged perpetrators accountable – and each was admonished by UVA administrators to never speak publicly about the proceedings or else they could face expulsion for violating the honor code. For issuing that directive, in 2008 UVA was found in violation of the Clery Act.

"UVA is more egregious than most," says John Foubert, a UVA dean from 1998 to 2002, and founder of the national male sex-assault peer education group One in Four. "I've worked for five or six colleges, and the stuff I saw happen during my time there definitely stands out." For example, Foubert recalls, in one rare case in which the university applied a harsh penalty, an undergrad was suspended after stalking five students. Heated discussion ensued over whether the boy should be allowed back after his suspension. Though the counseling center wanted him to stay gone, Foubert says, the then-dean of students argued in favor of his return, saying, "We can pick our lawsuit from a potential sixth victim, or from him, for denying him access to an education."

The few stories leaking out of UVA's present-day justice system aren't much better. One student, whose Title IX complaint against UVA is currently under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights, said that in December 2011, another student raped her while she was blackout drunk, possibly drugged. As she wrote in a student publication, evidence emerged that the man had previously been accused of drugging others, but the information was rejected as "prejudicial." The Sexual Misconduct Board told the young woman it found her "compelling and believable," but found the man not guilty. "I had never felt so betrayed and let down in my life," wrote the woman. "They said that they believed me. They said that UVA was my home and that it loved me. Yet, how could they believe me and let him go completely unpunished?"

Rolling Stone has discovered that this past spring a UVA first-year student, whom we'll call Stacy, filed a report stating that while vomiting up too much whiskey into a male friend's toilet one night, he groped her, plunged his hands down her sweatpants and then, after carrying her semi-conscious to his bed, digitally penetrated her. When the Charlottesville DA's office declined to file charges, she says, Stacy asked for a hearing with the Sexual Misconduct Board, and was surprised when UVA authority figures tried to talk her out of it. "My counselors, members of the Dean of Students office, everyone said the trial process would be way too hard on me," says Stacy. "They were like, 'You need to focus on your healing.' " Stacy insisted upon moving forward anyway, even when the wealthy family of the accused kicked up a fuss. "They threatened to sue deans individually, they threatened to sue me," she recalls. But Stacy remained stalwart, because she had additional motivation: She'd been shaken to discover two other women with stories of assault by the same man. "One was days after mine, at a rush function at his frat house," says Stacy. "So I was like, 'I have to do something before someone else is hurt.' " Her determination redoubled after the Dean of Students office informed her that multiple assaults by a student would be grounds for his expulsion – a mantra that Eramo repeated at a Take Back the Night event in April.

Bearing her deans' words in mind, at her nine-hour formal hearing in June, Stacy took pains to present not only her own case, but also the other two allegations, submitting witness statements that were allowed in as "pattern evidence." The board pronounced the man guilty for sexual misconduct against Stacy, making him only the 14th guilty person in UVA's history. Stacy was relieved at the verdict. "I was like, 'He's gone!' 'Cause he's a multiple assailant, I'd been told so many times that that was grounds for expulsion!" So she was stunned when she learned his actual penalty: a one-year suspension. (Citing privacy laws, UVA would not comment on this or any case.)

Turns out, when UVA personnel speak of expulsion for "multiple assaults," they mean multiple complaints that are filed with the Sexual Misconduct Board, and then adjudicated guilty. Under that more precise definition, the two other cases introduced in Stacy's case didn't count toward his penalty. Stacy feels offended by the outcome and misled by the deans. "After two rapes and an assault, to let him back on grounds is an insult to the honor system that UVA brags about," she says. "UVA doesn't want to expel. They were too afraid of getting negative publicity or the pants sued
off them."

She's a helluva twat from Agnes Scott, she'll fuck for 50 cents.
She'll lay her ass upon the grass, her panties on the fence.
You supply the liquor, and she'll supply the lay.
And if you can't get it up, you sunuva bitch, you're not from UVA.
"Rugby Road"

When did it happen to you?" Emily Renda asked Jackie as they sat for coffee at the outdoor Downtown Mall in the fall of 2013.

"September 28th," Jackie whispered.

"October 7th, 2010," Emily responded, not breaking her gaze, and Jackie knew she'd found a friend. As Jackie had begun her second year at UVA, she'd continued struggling. Dean Eramo had connected her with Emily, a fourth-year who'd become active in One Less, a student-run sexual-assault education organization that doubles as a support group. Sitting with Emily, Jackie poured out her story, wiping her eyes with napkins as she confided to Emily that she felt like a broken person. "You're not broken," Emily told her. "They're the ones who are fucked up, and what happened to you wasn't your fault." Jackie was flooded with gratitude, desperate to hear those words at last – and from someone who knew. Emily invited her to a meeting of One Less, thus introducing her to UVA's true secret society.

Campus Rape
Photo: Illustration by John Ritter: Photo of Nicole Eramo in Illustration by Jenna Truong/Cavalier Daily
In its weekly meetings, the 45-member group would discuss how to foster dialogue on campus. Afterward they'd splinter off and share stories of sexual assault, each tale different and yet very much the same. Many took place on tipsy nights with men who refused to stop; some were of sex while blackout drunk; rarer stories involved violence, though none so extreme as Jackie's. But no matter the circumstances, their peers' reactions were largely the same: Assaults were brushed off, with attackers defended ("He'd never do anything like that"), the victim questioned ("Are you sure?"). After feeling isolated for more than a year, Jackie was astonished at how much she and this sisterhood had in common, including the fact that a surprising number hadn't pursued any form of complaint. Although many had contacted Dean Eramo, whom they laud as their best advocate and den mother – Jackie repeatedly calls her "an asset to the community" – few ever filed reports with UVA or with police. Instead, basking in the safety of one another's company, the members of One Less applauded the brave few who chose to take action, but mostly affirmed each other's choices not to report, in an echo of their university's approach. So profound was the students' faith in its administration that although they were appalled by Jackie's story, no one voiced questions about UVA's strategy of doing nothing to warn the campus of gang-rape allegations against a fraternity that still held parties and was rushing a new pledge class.

Some of these women are disturbed by the contradiction. "It's easy to cover up a rape at a university if no one is reporting," admits Jackie's friend Alex Pinkleton. And privately, some of Jackie's confidantes were outraged. "The university ignores the problem to make itself look better," says recent grad Rachel Soltis, Jackie's former roommate. "They should have done something in Jackie's case. Me and several other people know exactly who did this to her. But they want to protect even the people who are doing these horrible things."

But no such doubts shadowed the meetings of One Less, which was fine by Jackie. One Less held seminars for student groups on bystander intervention and how to be supportive of survivors. Jackie dove into her new roles as peer adviser and Take Back the Night committee member and began to discover just how wide her secret UVA survivor network was – because the more she shared her story, the more girls sought her out, waylaying her after presentations or after classes, even calling in the middle of the night with a crisis. Jackie has been approached by so many survivors that she wonders whether the one-in-five statistic may not apply in Charlottesville. "I feel like it's one in three at UVA," she says.

But payback for being so public on a campus accustomed to silence was swift. This past spring, in separate incidents, both Emily Renda and Jackie were harassed outside bars on the Corner by men who recognized them from presentations and called them "cunt" and "feminazi bitch." One flung a bottle at Jackie that broke on the side of her face, leaving a blood-red bruise around her eye.

She e-mailed Eramo so they could discuss the attack – and discuss another matter, too, which was troubling Jackie a great deal. Through her ever expanding network, Jackie had come across something deeply disturbing: two other young women who, she says, confided that they, too, had recently been Phi Kappa Psi gang-rape victims.

A bruise still mottling her face, Jackie sat in Eramo's office in May 2014 and told her about the two others. One, she says, is a 2013 graduate, who'd told Jackie that she'd been gang-raped as a freshman at the Phi Psi house. The other was a first-year whose worried friends had called Jackie after the girl had come home wearing no pants. Jackie said the girl told her she'd been assaulted by four men in a Phi Psi bathroom while a fifth watched. (Neither woman was willing to talk to RS.)

As Jackie wrapped up her story, she was disappointed by Eramo's nonreaction. She'd expected shock, disgust, horror. For months, Jackie had been assuaging her despair by throwing herself into peer education, but there was no denying her helplessness when she thought about Phi Psi, or about her own alleged assailants still walking the grounds. She'd recently been aghast to bump into Drew, who greeted her with friendly nonchalance. "For a whole year, I thought about how he had ruined my life, and how he is the worst human being ever," Jackie says. "And then I saw him and I couldn't say anything."

"You look different," Drew told Jackie while she stared back at him in fear, and he was right: Since arriving at UVA, Jackie had gained 25 pounds from antidepressants and lack of exercise. That interaction would render her too depressed to leave her room for days. Of all her assailants, Drew was the one she wanted to see held accountable – but with Drew about to graduate, he was going to get away with it. Because, as she miserably reminded Eramo in her office, she didn't feel ready to file a complaint. Eramo, as always, understood.

Given the swirl of gang-rape allegations Eramo had now heard against one of UVA's oldest and most powerful fraternities – founded in 1853, its distinguished chapter members have included President Woodrow Wilson – the school may have wondered about its responsibilities to the rest of the campus. Experts apprised of the situation by RS agreed that despite the absence of an official report, Jackie's passing along two other allegations should compel the school to take action out of regard for campus safety. "The fact that they already had that first victim, they should have been taking action," says SurvJustice's Laura Dunn. "That school could really be sued."

If the UVA administration was roiled by such concerns, however, it wasn't apparent this past September, as it hosted a trustees meeting. Two full hours had been set aside to discuss campus sexual assault, an amount of time that, as many around the conference table pointed out, underscored the depth of UVA's commitment. Those two hours, however, were devoted entirely to upbeat explanations of UVA's new prevention and response strategies, and to self-congratulations to UVA for being a "model" among schools in this arena. Only once did the room darken with concern, when a trustee in UVA colors – blue sport coat, orange bow tie – interrupted to ask, "Are we under any federal investigation with regard to sexual assault?"

Dean of students Allen Groves, in a blue suit and orange necktie of his own, swooped in with a smooth answer. He affirmed that while like many of its peers UVA was under investigation, it was merely a "standard compliance review." He mentioned that a student's complaint from the 2010-11 academic year had been folded into that "routine compliance review." Having downplayed the significance of a Title IX compliance review – which is neither routine nor standard – he then elaborated upon the lengths to which UVA has cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights' investigation, his tone and manner so reassuring that the room relaxed.

Told of the meeting, Office of Civil Rights' Catherine Lhamon calls Groves' mischaracterization "deliberate and irresponsible." "Nothing annoys me more than a school not taking seriously their review from the federal government about their civil rights obligations," she says.

Within days of the board meeting, having learned of Rolling Stone's probe into Jackie's story, UVA at last placed Phi Kappa Psi under investigation. Or rather, as President Sullivan carefully answered my question about allegations of gang rape at Phi Psi, "We do have a fraternity under investigation." Phi Kappa Psi national executive director Shawn Collinsworth says that UVA indeed notified him of sexual assault allegations; he immediately dispatched a representative to meet with the chapter. UVA chapter president Stephen Scipione recalls being only told of a vague, anonymous "fourth-hand" allegation of a sexual assault during a party. "We were not told that it was rape, but rather that something of a sexual nature took place," he wrote to RS in an e-mail. Either way, Collinsworth says, given the paucity of information, "we have no evidence to substantiate the alleged assaults."

"Under investigation," President Sullivan insists when I ask her to elaborate on how the university is handling the case. "I don't know how else to spell that out for you." But Jackie may have gotten a glimpse into the extent of the investigation when, in the days following my visit to campus, she was called into Eramo's office, bringing along her friend Alex for moral support. According to both women, Eramo revealed that she'd learned "through the grapevine" that "all the boys involved have graduated." Both girls were mystified. Not only had Jackie just seen one of the boys riding his bike on grounds but, as Alex pointed out, "Doesn't that mean they're admitting something happened?" No warning has yet been issued to the campus.

With a pocketknife and pepper spray tucked into her handbag, and a rape whistle hanging from her key chain, Jackie is prepared for a Friday night at UVA. In a restaurant on the Corner, Jackie sips water through a straw as the first of the night's "Whoo!"s reverberate from the sidewalk outside. "It makes me really depressed, almost," says Jackie with a sad chuckle. "There's always gonna be another Friday night, and another fraternity party, and another girl."

Across the table, Alex sighs. "I know," she says. Bartenders and bouncers all along the Corner are wearing T-shirts advertising the new "Hoos Got Your Back" bystander-intervention campaign, which all seems very hopeful. But this week, the third week of September, has been a difficult one. Charlottesville police received their first sexual-assault report of the academic year; Jackie and Alex were also each approached by someone seeking help about an assault. And as this weekend progresses, things will get far worse at UVA: Two more sexual assaults will be reported to police, and, in every parent's worst fears come true, an 18-year-old student on her way to a party will vanish; her body will be discovered five weeks later.

Suspect Jesse Matthew Jr., a 32-year-old UVA hospital worker, will be charged with Hannah Graham's "abduction with intent to defile," and a chilling portrait will emerge of an alleged predator who got his start, a decade ago, as a campus rapist. Back in 2002, and again in 2003, Matthew was accused of sexual assault at two different Virginia colleges where he was enrolled, but was never prosecuted. In 2005, according to the new police indictment, Matthew sexually assaulted a 26-year-old and tried to kill her. DNA has also reportedly linked Matthew to the 2009 death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared after a Metallica concert in Charlottesville. The grisly dossier of which Matthew has been accused underscores the premise that campus rape should be seen not through the schema of a dubious party foul, but as a violent crime – and that victims should be encouraged to come forward as an act of civic good that could potentially spare future victims.

Jackie is hoping she will get there someday. She badly wants to muster the courage to file criminal charges or even a civil case. But she's paralyzed. "It's like I'm in my own personal prison," she says. "I'm so terrified this is going to be the rest of my life." She still cries a lot, and she has been more frightened than usual to be alone or to walk in the dark. When Jackie talks about her assault, she fixates on the moment before Drew picked her up for their date: "I remember looking at the mirror and putting on mascara and being like, 'I feel really pretty,' " Jackie recalls. "I didn't know it would be the last time I wouldn't see an empty shell of a person."

Jackie tells me of a recurring nightmare she's been having, in which she's watching herself climb those Phi Kappa Psi stairs. She frantically calls to herself to stop, but knows it's too late: That in real life, she's already gone up those stairs and into that terrible room, and things will never be the same. It bothers Jackie to know that Drew and the rest get to walk away as if nothing happened, but that she still walks toward that room every night – and blames herself for it during the day.

"Everything bad in my life now is built around that one bad decision that I made," she says. "All because I went to that stupid party."

If you want to understand how little urgency there is among the American public about climate change, consider this:

A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute asked people about the severity of recent natural disasters. About six in 10 (62 percent) said climate change is at least partly to blame.  About half -- 49 percent -- cited the biblical end times (as in, the apocalypse) for the recent natural disasters. That latter number is up five points from 2011.

(People were allowed to volunteer more than one cause.)

Michelle Boorstein has the big run-down of all the numbers from the survey, and we would urge folks to check out her story. The end-times view is held by especially large numbers of white evangelical Christians (77 percent) and black Protestants (74 percent).

The fact that half of Americans cite the end times as a cause of recent severe weather events suggests a kind of fatalism that would certainly lead to less urgency when it comes to issues like climate change. Even many of those who believe in climate change -- and about one-quarter of Americans don't, per the survey -- seem to think natural disasters are part of something that is preordained.

In addition, 39 percent of Americans say God would not allow humans to destroy the Earth (53 percent disagree). So, apparently, most of those who believe we're in the end times also believe God would intervene. Basically at least four in 10 Americans see little reason for a human response -- or, at least, doubt things will wind up being catastrophic.

It should be no surprise, then, that of all the issues tested by PRRI's poll, climate change is viewed as the least important. Just 5 percent rate it as the No. 1 issue, behind things like immigration, education and the wealth gap.

Since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson this summer, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been running a provocative series on the lingering barriers blacks face in America. The title of the series: "When Whites Just Don't Get It."

Each column has data on the wealth gap between blacks and whites, the disparate rates at which black boys are expelled and black men imprisoned, the historic discrimination that helped drive widely diverging rates of black and white homeownership today.

And each column has been met with, well, deep resistance to the very idea that modern racial inequality is about anything more than differences between people willing to work hard and those who won't. To Kristof's credit, he keeps coming back with more data, more counter-arguments.

 Nicholas Kristof (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post))
Nicholas Kristof (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post))
He's taken on a particularly unpopular task: trying to convince whites who've often inherited opportunity that America has just as systematically passed on disadvantage to blacks.

"One element of white privilege today," Kristof wrote this weekend, "is obliviousness to privilege, including a blithe disregard of the way past subjugation shapes present disadvantage."

Curious how that uncomfortable idea has gone over, I spoke with Kristof this week about the series, which was a reaction to a column suggesting that even well-meaning people may experience some unconscious racism.

"I was struck by the reaction to that: How many whites were very indignant at the idea that there is a problem even with unconscious racism in America in 2014," Kristof says in our conversation. "The tone of the responses really struck me. That led to the first one, 'when whites just don’t get it.' And the response to each one led to the next."

Below is a slightly condensed transcript.

EB: Part of what people don’t seem to get is not just their own unconscious bias, but chapters of history. They’re unaware, for example, of the history of federal policy explicitly discriminating against blacks in mortgage lending, and what that has to do with wealth today.

NK: People think they know about black history if they know about Martin Luther King. There is a celebratory tone to the way whites understand African-America history, which is of amazing, breathtaking progress. That is truly real, that is to be celebrated. But I think whites tend to be less aware of the degree to which past discrimination shapes present inequity, and also the degree to which in some spheres, African-Americans — and probably, especially young black men — face continuing bias in law enforcement and the justice system and employment and many other areas.

Among all the e-mails and tweets and Facebook comments you’ve been getting, do you have any sense that you’re changing minds, at least among some people?

I wish I could say that yes, it’s having an effect. I honestly don’t know. In general, I think that we in journalism tend to change people’s minds quite rarely on issues that they have thought of. We tend to have an impact most as shapers of the agenda. But where there’s an issue already on the agenda, like race, I think it’s pretty unusual that we manage to change people’s minds. The people who respond to the series, I would say they don’t show much sign of having changed their minds, whichever side they may be on. But it’s also true that those people may be more passionate, more informed, and perhaps less likely to have their views changed.

My hope is that I’m reaching people, especially young people who don’t know a lot about these issues, and haven’t particularly thought about them. Perhaps to some degree, I can at the margin affect their view a little bit.

How often do you hear the response that “we have a black president, so how can there be a problem”?

That has been a fairly common theme. That goes into the triumphalist narrative of black history that I often hear from whites. There’s obviously something to that, it’s an incredible milestone. But it can’t be used to obscure the fact that there’s still enormous inequity facing so many other people.

Do you ever feel like that one fact that people can point to — "the president is black!" — makes it harder to have this larger conversation about racial inequality?

I’ve wondered about that, whether that actually becomes an impediment to having a serious conversation about racial inequity. I do think humans have an incredible ability to self-select facts that will fit their narrative. Even if that had not happened, then people would say "well, the reason we haven’t had many black officials is just that too many blacks don’t show personal responsibility, and that’s the source of the problem." I’m just not sure it would really be that different if we didn’t have a black president. But certainly one hears that all the time, as "this is the end of the argument. There’s no point in looking backward now. A black guy who really tries will be treated so fairly by white people in American today that he’ll be elected president."

You just touched on one of the themes you raise repeatedly in these columns — personal responsibility. You write about the idea that it’s a lot easier for many people to say "blacks should take more personal responsibility" than to say "whites have some responsibility here, too."

That surprised me a little bit just how much of the critical reaction that I got was based on the "personal responsibility" narrative. That was overwhelmingly the most common perspective that I got.

—that people who don’t succeed in life don’t succeed for lack of their own responsibility?

Exactly. That just comes up over and over and over. And it’s something that resonates with me a little bit because I grew up in rural Oregon, in a blue-collar area that has been very hard hit by meth, by family breakdown, by unemployment. And a lot of my friends and classmates have been struggling with all these issues. There is a real issue of personal responsibility and self-destructive behaviors — this is real. But it also arises from a context of hopelessness, a context in which people feel that there’s no escape, and then they self-medicate. And then that hopelessness becomes self-fulfilling. And that’s true of whites, and that’s true of blacks.

You've cited a lot of data in these columns that seems pretty powerful and hard to argue with.

People were very taken aback by the figure in particular that the wealth gap between whites and blacks today in America is greater than the black-white wealth gap was in Apartheid South Africa. That was a factoid that clearly shocked a lot of people. But then the lesson that a lot of people drew from it was "well, boy, that just underscores how irresponsible so many African-Americans are," which is precisely the opposite of the point I was trying to make. I think people were shocked by some of the data that I cited, but I don’t know that they were persuaded by it.

You use this phrase, which I’m sure a lot of people have reacted to, that whites have a “capacity for delusion” when it comes to thinking about their own role in racial inequality.

I wonder whether that was impolitic of me, whether it just made people defensive. As a journalist, I see delusion all over, in all kinds of categories of people. So I’m kind of used to the idea that all kinds of people are deluded about themselves and about others. There are white delusions, and black delusions and Asian delusions, and wealthy-people delusions, and poor-people delusions. I probably didn’t intend to pack as much umph into the phrase as it was received with.

But I think that there’s no doubt that successful people have this narrative that "I succeeded because I worked hard, studied hard, obeyed the law, and that just shows that anybody in this country can succeed if they will just behave themselves." I think about my friends growing up, who were in many cases, just as smart and hard-working as anybody else, but didn’t have a family that pushed them. So if they made the decision to drop out of school, that was a decisions that really haunted them. I think it’s really hard for people who were born on third base, and whose friends were born on third base, and who assume kind of a third-base context, it’s really hard to understand the enormous obstacles that face those who in early life encountered a much less rosy environment. It’s so easy to hit a home run from third base and say "boy, this is pretty easy, why can’t everyone else do this?"

Has writing about all of this made you think about advantages that you inherited, or ways that you were helped in your own life?

Absolutely. One of the things that we talk about in our new book ‘A Path Appears’ — that I had really been unaware of until we were going through the research — is just how much early childhood matters. Your mom not drinking or taking drugs during pregnancy. And in West Virginia, 20 percent of kids are born with drugs in their system. That’s just a totally different world. So I think that we tend to have the wrong metrics of poverty, and we tend to measure poverty in terms of income per person, or in terms of wealth per person. I truly think the better metrics of poverty would be how often a child is read to, how often a child is hugged, the kind of support a child is getting in the first five years or so of life.

I wonder if liberals like myself overuse the word "inequality" because that tends to connote inequality of outcomes, which conservatives are much less worried about. And we should use the word "inequality" less and the word "opportunity" more.

Do you think our ability to come up with policy solutions to racial inequality is dependent on convincing more people of these ideas that you say whites often don’t get?

I think there are two kinds of arguments one can make for the policy solutions that matter. One are these kinds of equity or social-justice arguments.

We should do this because it’s the right thing to do.

Exactly. "It’s fair, it’s right." For those arguments to succeed, one really does have to persuade people that these are real issues, and that it’s not just about responsibility. But there’s another kind of argument that I think one can make for the same kinds of policy solutions, which is that it saves money. It gets you bang for your buck.

It’s more cost-effective to invest in early childhood than to pay for welfare once that kid grows up.

Right. James Heckman argues that to get the same increment of reduced crime, we can spend money on more policemen, or you can spend one-fifth the amount of money on early education for at-risk kids. Oklahoma, which has been a pioneer in some of these early interventions, has done so in part because it saves money. It’s a sensible thing.

I go back and forth in the arguments that I use, and I do think that it helps that we’re getting better data and better research. While liberals have always made some of these arguments, frankly, often the research wasn’t robust. Now, more and more it’s coming from randomized control trials, long-term follow-ups, really pretty solid evidence that it’s hard to argue about.

One of the great improvements in social justice in the last few years has been chipping away at mass incarceration, and the reason that mass incarceration is on the decline is not to do with social justice at all. It’s because it’s expensive. So, I’ll use any argument that I think may help advance the cause.

General Discussion / Alexander Grothendieck down
« on: November 20, 2014, 10:51:24 PM »
Alexander Grothendieck, whose gift for deep abstraction excavated new ground in the field known as algebraic geometry and supplied a theoretical foundation for the solving of some of the most vexing conundrums of modern mathematics, died on Thursday in Ariège, in the French Pyrenees. He was 86.

A vexing character himself, Mr. Grothendieck (pronounced GROAT-en-deek) turned away from mathematics at the height of his powers in the early 1970s and had lived in seclusion since the early 1990s. His death was widely reported in France, where the newspaper Le Monde described him as “the greatest mathematician of the 20th century.” In a statement on Friday, President François Hollande praised him as “one of our greatest mathematicians” and “an out-of-the-ordinary personality in the philosophy of life.”

Algebraic geometry is a field of pure mathematics that studies the relationships between equations and geometric spaces. Mr. Grothendieck was able to answer concrete questions about these relationships by finding universal mathematical principles that could shed unexpected light on them. Applications of his work are evident in fields as diverse as genetics, cryptography and robotics.

“He had an extremely powerful, almost otherworldly ability of abstraction that allowed him to see problems in a highly general context, and he used this ability with exquisite precision,” Allyn Jackson wrote in a 2004 biographical essay about Mr. Grothendieck for Notices of the AMS, a journal of the American Mathematical Society. “Indeed, the trend toward increased generality and abstraction, which can be seen across the whole field since the middle of the 20th century, is due in no small part to Grothendieck’s influence.”

His background and early life were tangled and harrowing. His father, whose name is usually reported as Alexander Schapiro, was a Jewish anarchist who fought against the Russian czarist government. He was captured by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and eventually escaped to Western Europe. Along the way he lost an arm.

Schapiro made a living as a street photographer and met Johanna Grothendieck, known as Hanka, an aspiring writer who was married to a man named Alf Raddatz, in Berlin, in the mid-1920s. By then Schapiro had changed his name to Alexander Tanaroff, according to Mr. Grothendieck’s biographer, Winfried Scharlau. Introducing himself to Raddatz, Tanaroff said, “I will steal your wife,” and proceeded to do so.

Alexander Grothendieck, who for an unknown reason was named Raddatz at birth (not Schapiro, Tanaroff or Grothendieck), was born in Berlin on March 28, 1928.

Young Alexander’s parents left Germany as the Nazis took power — they participated in the Spanish Civil War — leaving him in the care of foster parents in Hamburg, where he first went to school. In 1939, he reunited with his mother and father in France, but his father was arrested, sent to an internment camp at Le Vernet and eventually moved to Auschwitz, where he died in 1942.

With his mother, Alexander lived in Le Chambon, where he finished primary school, and after the war attended college in Montpellier and later in Nancy, beginning his mathematical education in earnest. By the late 1940s he had entered the society of elite European mathematicians.

During the 1950s he taught in São Paulo, Brazil, and at the University of Kansas and lectured at Harvard. In 1958 he joined the faculty of the fledgling Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES), which became a leading institute for the support of advanced research in mathematics and physics. (It is now in Bures-sur-Yvette, south of Paris.)

In 1966, Mr. Grothendieck was given the Fields Medal, an international award considered among the highest in mathematics.

He is widely credited for advances that made possible long-sought proofs for befuddling problems, including Fermat’s Last Theorem, the 17th-century conjecture by the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat that no three positive integers — a, b and c — exist that will satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2. The first successful proof was published by an Englishman, Andrew Wiles, in the 1990s.

Mr. Grothendieck’s work was also a steppingstone to solutions of other enigmas famous among mathematicians, but far more arcane. He was instrumental in proving an especially thorny set of hypotheses known as the Weil conjectures. But characteristically he did not attack the problem directly. Instead, he built a superstructure of theory around the problem. The solution then emerged easily and naturally, in a way that made mathematicians see how the conjectures had to be true.

He avoided clever tricks that proved the theorem but did not develop insight. He likened his approach to softening a walnut in water so that, as he wrote, it can be peeled open “like a perfectly ripened avocado.”

“If there is one thing in mathematics that fascinates me more than anything else (and doubtless always has), it is neither ‘number’ nor ‘size,’ but always form,” he wrote in a long memoir in the 1980s, “Reapings and Sowings.” “And among the thousand-and-one faces whereby form chooses to reveal itself to us, the one that fascinates me more than any other and continues to fascinate me, is the structure hidden in mathematical things.”

Mr. Grothendieck had long held pacifist views, and by the late 1960s he had also become consumed by environmentalism. In 1966, he refused to travel to Moscow to receive the Fields Medal as a protest against the imprisonment of Soviet writers. He traveled to Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam War and lectured in Paris about the trip. He resigned from IHES, at least in part because some of its funding came from the French Defense Ministry, though he was also feuding with the institute’s founder. And he helped found an organization, Survivre, that promoted environmental activism and opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He studied Buddhism and mysticism.

Over the next two decades, though he taught mathematics for a time at the University of Montpellier, he gradually withdrew from society and, according to his biographer, began devoting himself obsessively to writing what he called his “meditations.”

Mr. Grothendieck was married at least once, to Mireille Dufour. They had three children. He had two other sons with other women. Information about his survivors was not available.

Correction: November 17, 2014
An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly in one instance to the influence of Mr. Grothendieck’s work. While it was a steppingstone to solving several arcane problems well known in mathematics, it was not a steppingstone to proof of the Poincaré conjecture. The obituary also described imprecisely Mr. Grothendieck’s contribution to proving a set of hypotheses posed by André Weil. Mr. Grothendieck proved two of the four hypotheses and developed a new proof of a third; his former student Pierre Deligne proved the fourth. Mr. Grothendieck and Mr. Deligne were not “working together.”

strange genius with a strange family

General Discussion / obama / china climate change deal
« on: November 13, 2014, 04:56:56 AM »
No threads on this yet?

Kind've a detail-light article from the NYT. If anyone has one with more detail on the deal itself, that'd be cool.

Tech Heads / Good Multi-GPU Mobos?
« on: November 05, 2014, 10:41:34 PM »
Anyone have any suggestions for a solid, reasonably priced mobo that can support 2-4 GPUs at once? Think I'm gonna build a new desktop in the next month or two and stuffing as many AMD GPUs into it as I can is a priority for work.

Doing a little bit of research on the issue now, but there's a lot've information to absorb out there. From what I gather so far, I'm best off going AMD for software reasons, and it'd be ideal for me to pick up a mobo with as many PCIe x16 slots as possible to maximize bandwidth per GPU.

Figure I'll be spending no more than $1k on the whole rig initially, although buying the multiple video cards may shunt me above that figure eventually.

Americans might think they know how bad inequality is, but it turns out they actually have no idea.

A new study conducted at Harvard Business School found that Americans believe CEOs make roughly 30 times what the average worker makes in the U.S., when in actuality they are making more than 350 times the average worker. "Americans drastically underestimated the gap in actual incomes between CEOs and unskilled workers," the study says.

But that underestimation isn't merely drastic—it is also unmatched in the world. The gap between Americans' perception and reality is the most among any of the 16 countries for which the researchers measured both the perceived and actual pay inequality.

Part of that stems from Americans’ comparatively modest estimation. The citizens of four countries—South Korea, Australia, Chile, and Taiwan—estimate a higher pay gap between CEOs and low level workers. In South Korea, the perception is that CEOs make 42 times more than the average worker; in Australia, it’s just over 41; in Taiwan, it’s roughly 34; and in Chile, it’s about 33.

But the reason Americans are so bad at guessing how much CEOs make may also be tied to the fact that American CEOs are significantly better paid than those from just about anywhere else

The average Fortune 500 CEO in the United States makes more than $12 million per year, which is nearly five million dollars more than the amount for top CEOs in Switzerland, where the second highest paid CEOs live, more than twice that for those in Germany, where the third highest paid CEOs live, and more than twenty one times that for those in Poland.

While a handful of countries might perceive larger pay gaps than the United States, none of the ones surveyed have an actual pay gap anywhere nearly as large. In Switzerland, the country with the second largest CEO-to-worker pay gap, chief executives make 148 times the average worker; in Germany, the country with the third largest gap, CEOs make 147 times the average worker; and in Spain, the country with the fourth largest gap, the ratio is 127 to one.

Look no further than a few of America's largest corporations for evidence of the country's exceptionally large pay gap. An analysis from last year estimated that it takes the typical worker at both McDonald's and Starbucks more than six months to earn what each company's CEO makes in a single hour.

What Americans share with the rest of the world is a collective disdain for pay inequality. People of all ages, education levels, and income brackets, the study found, believe that low-skilled workers are getting paid too little and high-skilled workers are getting paid too much. "The consensus that income gaps between skilled and unskilled workers should be smaller holds in all subgroups of respondents regardless of their age, education, socioeconomic status, political affiliation and opinions on inequality and pay," the study says.

One can only imagine what that disappointment would look like if everyone had a better sense of how great the pay gap actually is.

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