Miscellanea December 2015

  • A Two-Miles-per-Hour World: “The following series of maps depicts the speed at which news traveled to Venice, fron 1500 to 1765. The isochronic lines represent one week, and give a broad indication of the time required for letters to reach their destination.”
  • Me, Myself and Mx.
  • The Myth of the Ever-More-Fragile College Student: “Over the last two weeks, the news has been dominated by coverage of two very different instances of campus turmoil at Yale and the University of Missouri. In both cases, students are protesting over what they see as administrations that turn a blind eye to the problems faced by marginalized students on their campuses. …For many observers, these incidents only proved what they already knew: College students are getting increasingly fragile and prone to meltdowns. Too emotional and skewed in their thinking, they latch on to petty issues and scream and cry until they get their way. …The true story of college students and mental health has to do with a hollowing out of the United States’ mental-health services, with overtaxed counseling centers, with a fundamental shift in the role that colleges serve, with changes in the composition of the nation’s student body.”
  • How a handful of anti-Muslim crusaders hijacked segments of the GOP
  • Trump breaks the rules of political lying: “1. Lies about policy are fine; lies about trivial, personal, or easily verifiable claims are not. …2. Lies are fine as long as an “other side” is provided. …3. Nine lies are fine as long as the 10th is retracted. …[Trump] recognizes that capitulating to the mainstream media is far worse for any conservative than clinging to a lie. …They have no power over him at all, and now everyone knows it.”
  • An Incomplete Catalog of Donald Trump’s Never-Ending Fabrications
  • Cargo cult linguistics: “The transmission of influence [from linguistics to French literary theory] seems to have been something like this: the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was influenced by the linguist Roman Jakobson during WW II in New York, and after the war, Levi-Strauss in turn brought some of the ideas and terminology of semiotics and structuralism back to Paris. This contributed to the intellectual compost in which thinkers like Barthes, Foucault and Derrida germinated. …I think it’s fair to call this “cargo cult linguistics”. Just as some post-war islanders in the South Pacific engaged in ritual imitations of the airstrip activities of foreign armies, in the belief these actions would bring them cargo, so some post-war philosophers in Paris engaged in ritual imitations of the analytic practices of linguists, in the belief that these actions would bring them insight. The islanders carved wooden radio sets and sat mumbling in imitation control towers; the philosophers invented semiotic terminology and sat disputing in Parisian cafes.” That sound you hear is the dropping of the mic.
  • Labov’s Test: “…how could one prove … that a given statement is hopelessly unclear, and hence bullshit? One proposed test is to add a “not” to the statement and see if that makes any difference to its plausibility. If it doesn’t, that statement is bullshit.”
  • Can the MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad?: “[Editor’s note: The original title for this piece was “If journalists reviewed Macs like iPads”.]”
  • Everything you need to know about Labour’s rolling crisis: “What is going on? I see it as evidence of two deep cleavages in British and Western politics. The first is the gulf between instrumental and expressive politics. The former involves winning elections in order to wield power and change things. The latter involves seeking fulfilment and personal satisfaction by interacting with symbols, attending events, declaring positions—in short, signalling things about oneself. With the decline of mass classes and monolithic ideologies it has become increasingly hard to combine the two sorts of politics.” This is the divide between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, and part of the reason Bernie Sanders’ campaign irks me so. Sanders supporters are complacent about Democratic control of the presidency (when Republicans dominate nearly every branch of government) and significantly underweight how much GOP control would make them unhappy. It’s also why so many Kentucky voters who got health care access with the Medicaid expansion voted for Matt Bevin (who promised to eliminate it) because they identified with his Christian values.
  • Turns out, utilitarians are not psychopaths
  • The Marshall Islands Are Disappearing
  • We May Have Just Found W.E.B. Du Bois’ Earliest Science Fiction Story
  • On Gotham, Gordon’s a Villain, Bruce Wayne Is Jesus, and Everything Else Is Also Insane: Gotham is a fun show, and I’ve never understood the fan hate for this interesting take on the GCPD. But it’s true, that episode was bananas. And the punchline was Lucius Fox asking “You don’t have a plan? Really? What about a backup plan? No?”
  • Challenging the Oligarchy: Paul Krugman’s review of Robert Rech’s Saving Capitalism
  • San Bernardino shooting: what we know
  • Yes, Mass Shootings Are Occurring More Often: “Their analysis of the data shows that from 1982 to 2011, mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Since late 2011, they found, mass shootings have occurred at triple that rate—every 64 days on average.”
  • General MIDI Level 1 Sound Set
  • abc plain text music notation
  • Why Wild Turkeys Hate the Wild
  • G.O.P. Candidates Viewing Economy’s Past Through Gold-Colored Glasses
  • Apple’s Swift Programming Language Is Now Open Source
  • Swing-O-Matic: What Would It Take To Turn Blue States Red?
  • Security Manual Reveals the OPSEC Advice ISIS Gives Recruits
  • It’s a Trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill: “Abstract: In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations (“Death Stars”) in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout.” A universe that fails to see technological progress for 25 millenia is probably actually a dystopia.
  • ‘Not a Math Person’: How to Remove Obstacles to Learning Math
  • The Anti-Utopian Instinct and the Conservative Revolt: This is the only explanation for the enduring appeal in the GOP campaign of well-known blowhard Donald Trump. “Besides gaining much of their electoral support with vapid rhetoric, [Donald Trump and Ben Carson] are both winners in realms more meritocratic than politics––unlike, say, Jeb Bush––and share at least one substantive quality: Both seem like world-weary pragmatists averse to utopianism, at least in comparison to their rivals. …And an anti-utopian impulse is a not-unreasonable reaction to a bipartisan establishment that gave the United States a series of failed wars of choice, a financial bubble, a Wall Street class that leeches off assets better than it allocates them, a college bubble, and federal costs that have far exceeded revenues for decades. America’s fed-up populists are very light on coherent solutions, in part because common sense unmoored from empiricism can lead one astray. But they’re not wrong that there’s a problem, and some of it is utopian thinking in the ruling class that runs through significant parts of the conservative and progressive movements.”
  • Volvo took a real dump truck, hooked it up to a remote control, handed it to a 4-year-old girl, and she proceeds to DEMOLISH a closed course with it.
  • bggtools.com: What is your collection worth?
  • Fishers of the Yakama Nation
  • Unfollow: How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs.

  • The Brightest Spot on Ceres: “Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt with a diameter of about 950 kilometers. Exploring Ceres from orbit since March, the Dawn spacecraft’s camera has revealed about 130 or so mysterious bright spots, mostly associated with impact craters scattered around the small world’s otherwise dark surface. The brightest one is near the center of the 90 kilometer wide Occator Crater, seen in this dramatic false color view combining near-infrared and visible light image data. A study now finds the bright spot’s reflected light properties are probably most consistent with a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. Of course, magnesium sulfate is also known to Earth dwellers as epsom salt. Haze reported inside Occator also suggests the salty material could be left over as a mix of salt and water-ice sublimates on the surface. Since impacts would have exposed the material, Ceres’ numerous and widely scattered bright spots may indicate the presence of a subsurface shell of ice-salt mix”
  • Wild animals endure illness, injury, and starvation. We should help.: This is the natural outcome when you start anthropomorphizing animals, and over-liberally bringing animals into the sphere of human ethics. There is nothing unethical about predator-prey relationships, for these are outside human ethics. Shrews paralyze their victims with venom because they have evolved this predation strategy, and intervening in the food web (such as by feeding the wolves and then giving the deer contraceptives) will disrupt it in unpredictable and destructive ways. In short, this is stupid.
  • What’s the secret of good writing?: “Boice, I learned, was a US psychologist who’d cracked the secret of how to write painlessly and productively. Years ago, he’d recorded this wisdom in a book, now out of print, …How Writers Journey To Comfort And Fluency. …The kernel of Boice’s advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, isn’t merely old. It’s the oldest in the world: write, every weekday, in brief scheduled sessions, as short as 10 minutes at first, then getting longer. …Boice’s book—from its title to his step-by-step advice, which you’re meant to implement gradually, over months—is itself an exercise in cultivating patience. It’s slow going because slow is the only way forward. This gets clearer when it comes to one of Boice’s favourite tips: when your daily writing time is up, stop dead, even if you’ve got momentum and could write more.”
  • Why 18th century books looked like smartphone screens: Substantial octavos were similar in size to a small tablet, and substantial books at this size would have a wordcount similar to a long magazine article.

  • 2015: The Year in Volcanic Activity
  • So You Want to Become An Astronaut?: You need a BA in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, and either a PhD. or 3 years of professional responsibility.
  • In Photos: Prehistoric Temple Uncovered in Ukraine: “A temple dating back about 6,000 years has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine. Inside the temple, archaeologists found humanlike figurines, sacrificed animal remains and potter fragments. Here’s a look at the prehistoric finding.” A Trypillian culture site.
  • Humans Caused a Major Shift in Earth’s Ecosystems 6,000 Years Ago
  • A Vaccine for Depression?: Ketamine’s remarkable effect bolsters a new theory of mental illness.: “Depression is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 30 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. But despite half a century of research, ubiquitous advertising, and blockbuster sales, antidepressant drugs just don’t work very well. They treat depression as if it were caused by a chemical imbalance: Pump in more of one key ingredient, or sop up another, and you will have fixed the problem. But the correspondence between these chemicals (like serotonin) and depression is relatively weak. An emerging competitive theory, inspired in part by ketamine’s effectiveness, has it that psychiatric disease is less about chemical imbalance than structural changes in the brain—and that a main cause of these changes is psychological stress.”
  • This Is How Ken Burns Would Document Star Wars
  • Swift available for Beaglebone/RasPi
  • Everything We Know About Star Wars’ Post-Return of the Jedi Future: Basically all is told in some 20-odd Force Awakens book prequels: the novels Star Wars: Aftermath and Lost Stars, four Journey to Star Wars YA novels (Smuggler’s Run (Han Solo), Weapon of a Jedi (Luke Skywalker), Moving Target (Leia Organa), Before the Awakening (Finn, Rey, Po)), and Marvel’s Shattered Empire books.
  • My top 5 ‘new’ Python modules of 2015
  • Hierarchy is Detrimental for Human Cooperation: Studies of animal behavior consistently demonstrate that the social environment impacts cooperation, yet the effect of social dynamics has been largely excluded from studies of human cooperation. Here, we introduce a novel approach inspired by nonhuman primate research to address how social hierarchies impact human cooperation. Participants competed to earn hierarchy positions and then could cooperate with another individual in the hierarchy by investing in a common effort. Cooperation was achieved if the combined investments exceeded a threshold, and the higher ranked individual distributed the spoils unless control was contested by the partner. Compared to a condition lacking hierarchy, cooperation declined in the presence of a hierarchy due to a decrease in investment by lower ranked individuals. Furthermore, hierarchy was detrimental to cooperation regardless of whether it was earned or arbitrary. These findings mirror results from nonhuman primates and demonstrate that hierarchies are detrimental to cooperation. However, these results deviate from nonhuman primate findings by demonstrating that human behavior is responsive to changing hierarchical structures and suggests partnership dynamics that may improve cooperation. This work introduces a controlled way to investigate the social influences on human behavior, and demonstrates the evolutionary continuity of human behavior with other primate species.
  • When the KKK Was a Pyramid Scheme: ‘“Rather than a terrorist organization,” they wrote, “the 1920s Klan is best described as a social organization with a wildly successful multi-level marketing structure.” According to Fryer and Levitt, in its heyday, the KKK was a giant, perverse pyramid scheme. Instead of perpetrating a racist agenda, the KKK’s leaders exploited pre-existing, popular racism to make money.’ Though there’s no need to equivocate about the KKK: the hate group was terroristic.
  • The makers of Rudolph also created some of the most off the wall Christmas specials eve: Did not know they adapted the L. Frank Baum story. That is amazing.
  • Kylo Ren’s Fake Twitter Account Is The Best
  • What China’s Yutu Rover Learned on the Moon
  • 12 Machines That Show Modern Farming Isn’t the Bucolic Life You Imagine
  • Fifteen years ago the CIA tried to predict the world in 2015. Here’s what they got wrong: It’s surprisingly good.
  • ISIS, Syria, and democracy: what the Arab world really thinks
  • “If they don’t like someone, they just behead him”: why ISIS fighters quit: ‘What I don’t like [is] if someone did something wrong [then] they tried to waterboard him,” a defector who calls himself Abu Shujaa said. “What I don’t like is that if they don’t like someone they just behead him. Or if a woman is not wearing hijab they bring someone to flog her, or if someone doesn’t believe they cut his ear.”‘
  • The coat hanger abortion is back, and that’s scary for all women: ‘A Tennessee woman was charged with attempted first-degree murder last week for allegedly trying to use a coat hanger to end her pregnancy. …”I never thought I would hear of a coat hanger abortion in my medical life,” writes OB-GYN Jen Gunter. …Tennessee has a “fetal homicide” law. It basically defines an embryo or fetus as a person in order to beef up penalties for crimes against a pregnant woman. But a pregnant woman can’t be prosecuted under these laws for actions against her own fetus, because abortion is legal. …But pro-choice advocates warn that when laws like Tennessee’s define a fetus as a person, prosecutors can and will use the law against pregnant women. This can even happen if the law has an explicit exception for pregnant women. That’s already happened to many women in Texas who have taken drugs while pregnant…’
  • To stop gentrification from hurting the poor, neighborhoods need to change faster: “In tight housing markets,” they write, “the poor do worse when the rich get richer,” whereas in slack markets, “some evidence suggests that increases in others’ income, holding own income constant, may be beneficial.”‘

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