July 2013 Archives

The nonsense surrounding Anthony Weiner highlights the lengths that Democrats were willing to go in the 1990s to protect Bill Clinton from his own philandering. It was irrational at the time, and is even more absurd now that Weiner and his wife Huma are being abandoned. What's the difference between Hillary and Huma?

What accounts for the contrast between the disparagement of Huma and the reverence for Hillary? It won't do to say that Mrs. Clinton is more accomplished now than Mrs. Weiner, for Huma's now-critics treated Hillary no less kindly back then. No, the only possible explanation is the one the Washington Post's Erik Wemple puts forth:
The distinction may have more to do with political gifts than marital particulars. Despite his high media profile, Weiner is a former House member who was the the lead sponsor of only one bill that actually became law. Clinton was a successful two-term president of the United States, and he went on to be the head of a global philanthropic enterprise.

So Hillary is admired and Huma maligned because Hillary married better. Isn't feminism wonderful?

Detroit may be the first, but it certainly won't be the last city or state to shift employees or retiree health care costs onto Obamacare. Cities and states are drowning in debt, but they can't print money like the feds can... so guess who will get stuck with these unfunded promises?

Unfunded retiree health care costs loom larger than ever for localities across the country, and the health law's guarantee of federal subsidies to help people with modest incomes afford coverage has made the new insurance markets tantalizing for local governments. A study issued this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts found 61 of the nation's major cities wrestling with $126 billion in retiree health costs, all but 6 percent of that unfunded.

"The Affordable Care Act does change the possibilities here dramatically," said Neil Bomberg, a program director at the National League of Cities. "It offers a very high-quality, potentially very affordable way to get people into health care without the burden falling back onto the city and town."

But if large numbers of localities follow that course, it could amount to a significant cost shift to the federal government. Authors of the health care law expected at least some shifting of retirees into the new insurance exchanges, said Timothy S. Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who closely follows the law. "But if a lot of them do, especially big state and local programs," he said, "that's going to be a huge cost for the United States government, and it's mandatory spending."

Unlike many of our debts, promises of health care are hard to pay for with inflation. The cost of health services will rise along with inflation.

The ten most expensive photographs in the world. Most of them I don't "get" I suppose.

A better reason to be in the news... George Zimmerman rescues family from burning vehicle:

George Zimmerman, who has been in hiding since he was acquitted of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, emerged to help rescue a family who was trapped in an overturned vehicle, police said today.

Zimmerman was one of two men who came to the aid of a family of four -- two parents and two children -- trapped inside a blue Ford Explorer SUV that had rolled over after traveling off the highway in Sanford, Fla. at approximately 5:45 p.m. Thursday, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

The crash occurred at the intersection of I-4 and route Route 46, police said. The crash site is less than a mile from where Zimmerman shot Martin.

By the time police arrived, two people - including Zimmerman - had already helped the family get out of the overturned car, the sheriff's office said. No one was reported to be injured.

Zimmerman was not a witness to the crash and left after speaking with the deputy, police said.

If you're looking for a rewarding job that involves artistry, creativity, and manual labor then perhaps you should consider taking up stone carving.

"I really rarely find someone who carves stone," Oglesbay said. "A lot of people will putz around or use machinery, but people who carve it originally with hammers and chisels and use math and come up with the exact product are hard to find."

According to Walter Arnold, treasurer and past president of the national Stone Carvers Guild, there are between 50 and 90 stone carvers in the U.S.
"It comes down to subjective criteria on skill levels; if you limit to those good enough by 1913 standards to have held down a job in a good shop back then, the current numbers are significantly lower," Arnold wrote in an email. "If you use looser criteria and quality standards, it's easily at the top of that number range."

There aren't many, and they're in high demand for restoration work all around the world. Also, you get to sing awesome songs!

(HT: Althouse.)

I just received a notice in the mail from AT&T about two new advertising programs. Naturally the two new programs promise to "help [AT&T] and other businesses serve you better" by showing ads "more suited to my interests". The thing is, all I have with AT&T is a DSL account, so what ads is AT&T showing me anyway? Are they injecting ads into my data stream?

You can opt out of these two new programs, but check out the opt-out clause:


I have to opt out on each wireless device and every browser that I use? Screw you, AT&T! Why can't I opt out my entire account? What happens when I clear my cookies, do I have to opt out again?

I'm a paying customer, not a product for you to sell to advertisers! Argh.

Don't litter.

(HT: Althouse.)

I haven't written much about the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Relying only on media reports a few things seemed obvious to me from the beginning and the verdict pretty much vindicates all my prior beliefs.

1. There's no dispute that Zimmerman killed Martin, but nothing about the sequence of events lines up with the criteria for murder (or manslaughter). For one thing, a man intent on murder wouldn't have called the police right beforehand.

2. Zimmerman was foolish to get out of his car to pursue or observe someone he thought was dangerous. Martin didn't have criminal intentions, but if Zimmerman had been right then it probably would have been Zimmerman who was killed. Unless you believe that someone is in immediate danger it is foolish to endanger yourself.

3. Based on the injuries and witness reports it seems obvious that Martin initiated the physical confrontation. Zimmerman had injuries consistent with being beaten as he and other witnesses described; the only wound on Martin was the fatal gunshot.

4. Despite the foolishness of his pursuit, Zimmerman had as much of a right to be walking around the neighborhood as Martin did and did not provoke the assault.

5. Race was not really a factor in the event, but race has been injected into the situation by the media and others who benefit from sensationalizing tragedy.

6. "Not guilty" is the right verdict. Martin's death was tragic and avoidable, and both his actions and Zimmerman's contributed to it.

Finally, consider the very similar case of Roderick Scott, a black man with a handgun permit who killed Christopher Cervini, a white teenager, in self-defense in 2009.

Cervini's family members say justice wasn't served. They say Christopher was murdered in cold blood, that he'd never been in trouble and Scott acted as judge, jury and executioner.

"The message is that we can all go out and get guns and feel anybody that we feel is threatening us and lie about the fact," said Jim Cervini, Christopher's father. "My son never threatened anybody. He was a gentle child, his nature was gentle, he was a good person and he was never, ever arrested for anything, and has never been in trouble. He was 16 years and four months old, and he was slaughtered."

Scott says he acted in self defense when he confronted Cervini and two others saying they were stealing from neighbors cars. He told them he had a gun and ordered them to freeze and wait for police.

Scott says he shot Cervini twice when the victim charged toward him yelling he was going to get Scott.

"How can this happen to a beautiful, sweet child like that?" asked Cervini's aunt Carol Cervini. "All he wanted to do was go home. And then for them to say, he was saying, 'Please don't kill me. I'm just a kid,' and he just kept on shooting him."

The US Treasury has been holding the country right at the legal debt limit for the past 56 days using "extraordinary measures" and expects to be able to continue until Labor Day. Just remember: hitting the limit doesn't mean we'll default on our debts because debt repayment takes priority over other spending. If the extraordinary measures are exhausted and we hit the debt limit for real, we'll keep making payments on our debt but have to immediately cut spending in other areas. There is no way that America can default on its debt payments at this time, whether the debt limit is raised or not.

On May 18, the day after the debt began its long stay at $16,699,396,000,000.00, Treasury Secretary Lew sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. In the letter, Lew said the Treasury would begin implementing what he called "the standard set of extraordinary measures" that allows the Treasury to continue to borrow and spend money even after it has hit the legal debt limit.

How many days did Lew think he could keep the debt just under the debt limit while the Treasury continued to borrow money?

"The effective duration of the extraordinary measures is subject to considerable uncertainty due to a variety of factors, including the unpredictability of tax receipts, changes in expenditure flows under the sequester, and the normal challenges of forecasting the payments and receipts of the U.S. government months into the future."

Lew went on to say, however, that "it is now clear that the measures will not be exhausted until after Labor Day."

Promising research using killer T-cells to target cancer cells.

Immunocore has found a way of designing small protein molecules, which it calls ImmTACs, that effectively act as double-ended glue. At one end they stick to cancer cells, strongly and very specifically, leaving healthy cells untouched. At the other end they stick to T-cells.

The technology is based on the "T-cell receptor", the protein that sticks out of the surface of the T-cell and binds to its enemy target. Immunocore's ImmTACs are effectively independent T-cell receptors that are "bispecific", meaning they bind strongly to cancer cells at one end, and T-cells at the other - so introducing cancer cells to their nemesis.

"What we can do is to use that scaffold of the T-cell receptor to make something that is very good at recognising cancer even if it doesn't exist naturally," said Dr Jakobsen. "Although T-cells are not very keen at recognising cancer, we can force them to do so. The potential you have if you can engineer T-cell receptors is quite enormous. You can find any type of cell and any kind of target. This means the approach can in theory be used against any cancer, whether it is tumours of the prostate, breast, liver or the pancreas.

One complication is that every type of cancer cell needs to be analyzed and targeted, and each individual person's cancer can be unique. Cancers may vary enough person-to-person that it could be impossible to create a receptor that is broad enough to catch all the cancer cells but narrow enough to avoid the healthy cells. Only time will tell, but it's a very exciting possibility.

The key to the success of the technique is being able to distinguish between a cancer cell and a normal, healthy cell. Immunocore's drug does this by recognising small proteins or peptides that stick out from the surface membrane of cancer cells. All cells extrude peptides on their membranes and these peptides act like a shop window, telling scientists what is going on within the cell, and whether it is cancerous or not.

"All these little peptides tell you the story of the cell. The forest of them on the cell surface is a sort of display saying 'I am this kind of cell. This is my identity and this is everything going on inside me'," Dr Jakobsen explained.

Immunocore is building up a database of peptide targets on cancer cells in order to design T-cell receptors that can target them, leaving healthy cells alone and so minimising possible side effects - or that is the hope.

Venkat makes a good observation: just because a job is boring doesn't mean that a robot can do it better. We humans may be left with jobs that are hard to scale for robotics, but still boring. The archetypal task that fits this description is captcha interpretation: computers can't read the squiggly letters as well as humans, but would you want to do that 2,000 hours per year?

We make the mistake of thinking that just because computers do bounded-variety, repetitive information work very well, that they can do anything that seems repetitive (boring) to humans very well.

But when we're talking complex systems-level schlepping, like the refining of crude data from disparate information systems, there are rarely any elegant algorithms. Just dozens or hundreds of arbitrary details, small fixes, one-time operations, error corrections and so forth. Humans think of it as repetitive work, but it isn't. It is hundreds of similar, but not identical, special cases that are easy (if tedious) for humans to handle, but resist general attacks via elegant algorithms.

In fact I suspect the amount of messy and non-repetitive but critical detail determines the amount of human work a domain can sustain.

The human share of the work pie isn't the gap between machine creativity and human creativity. The real human share of the work pie is the gap between machine repeatability and human boredom.

And this is brutal for the self-described artisans:

Aspiring artisans seek sexy work at small-and-local scales. They reject mass celebrity and status in a global culture, but still crave local celebrity and status (they call it "being respected in the community"). They still look to engage in conspicuous production. They are as prone to deluding themselves that sexy is creative as wannabe actors.

How do they do this?

They do this by confusing economically essential variety (such as handling all the potential variety and ongoing evolution in an online payment system) with economically optional variety (such as uniqueness in hand-crafted coffee mugs). This is the artisan delusion.

If the uniqueness in the product mainly makes the producer feel more special and unique, without leading to profitable differentiation, it's the optional kind, like latte art.

The only food supplement I take is fish oil. I don't even take multivitamins. There have been a host of reports about the benefits of fish oil: reduces heart disease, improves brain power, etc. Great, right? Oh yeah, fish oil nearly doubles your risk for serious prostate cancer. (And there's zero evidence that it protects your heart or brain.)

Experts found that omega-3 fatty acids may raise the risk of the most lethal form of the disease by more than 70 per cent.

Researchers warned against omega-3 pills, and recommended eating just one or two meals of oily fish per week. ...

However, scientists found that those with the highest levels of omega-3 in their blood were 71 per cent more likely to develop fast-growing, hard-to-treat prostate tumours.

They were also more likely to contract the slower, less deadly form of the disease, with the overall prostate cancer risk raised by 43 per cent.

The team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle warned: 'There is really no evidence that taking dietary supplements is beneficial to health, and there is increasing evidence that taking high doses is harmful.'

Should you even be taking supplements? I won't be. All the evidence seems to show that at best they're a way to get very expensive urine, and at worst they are harmful.

The finding came amid a wider research project of more than 2,000 men, examining whether supplements of vitamin E and the mineral selenium can help prevent prostate cancer - the most common cancer in British men, killing more than 10,000. Selenium provided no benefit, and vitamin E increased the odds of contracting the disease.

Dr Kristal said: 'As we do more and more of these studies - and I have been involved in them most of my career - we find high doses of supplements have no effect or increase the risk of the disease you are trying to prevent.

'There is not really a single example of where taking a supplement lowers chronic disease risk.'

It seems like the whole supplement industry is a modern-day version of the witch-doctor. People feel good about doing something to improve their health and enjoy the appearance of control.

Christians are being kidnapped, tortured, and held for ransom on the Egyptian-controlled Sinai peninsula. Egypt is descending into chaos, and there may not be much we Americans can do right now other than pray.

This man is just one victim of this widespread modern-day slavery, kidnapping, and torture trade in the Sinai desert. There are many pictures and videos of this horrible practice on the Internet.

For this story, this Christian man from the African country of Eritrea is going by "Philip," but that's not his real name. CBN News covered his identity for his protection.

"In some cases, we were tortured simply because we were Christians," he told us, his chest trembling slightly as he spoke.

"Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago -- even a bit more -- it started also to be a place of human torture," Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, told CBN News.

Shorham has documented more than 1,300 cases of torture in the Sinai. Those survivors, like Philip, made it to Israel. But most of the cases of torture are not documented.

In 1995 the comedians Penn and Teller release Desert Bus, the worst video game of all time. Maybe there's a Flash version online?

desert bus screenshot.jpg

Driving from Tucson, Ariz., to Las Vegas takes about eight hours and is exactly as boring as you'd imagine -- a straight strip of highway through the flat, brown desert scrub, interrupted only by the occasional signpost or oddly shaped rock by the side of the road.

Desert Bus, an unreleased 1995 video game by entertainers Penn Jillette and Teller, celebrates that trip in all its horrid glory by re-enacting the 16-hour, round-trip journey. In real time, at 45 miles per hour. In a vehicle that doesn't steer straight, forcing constant vigilance.

One trip earns the driver a single point.

What's the point of this blog? It's a work-in-progress, intended to eventually be compiled into an autobiography and published to wide acclaim. Why would I want to do such a thing? Because my life is fascinating to modern and future readers, of course. Also because there's a movement afoot to restrict the First Amendment to "journalists".

Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. "Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech," he writes. So far so good. "But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive." ...
A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined "medium"--including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news website, television, radio or motion picture--for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.

Since I'm working on a nonfiction book, my autobiography, I'm sure to qualify for whatever special privileges are given to "journalists". All the rest of you losers had better watch what you say!

Despite dire warnings it doesn't appears that sequestration has hurt job growth, weak as it is.

Since the $80 billion cuts to defense and domestic programs took effect a little over four months ago, the economy has added an average of 183,000 jobs a month. That number is well below what would be expected after the recession officially ended in June of 2009, but it's slightly higher than the 181,000 average monthly job gains since the labor market began improving in October of 2010. Job growth has also been stronger during the four post-sequester months than it was over the previous 12 months, when it averaged 174,000 gains a month.

Though the federal government payroll is shrinking due to layoffs, attrition, and furloughs --bad for the affected workers but good for the country.

In one possible sign of sequestration's effects, the federal government is still shedding jobs. The New York Times pointed out that federal employment has dropped by 40,000 jobs over the past four months, including 5,000 in June, the most recent month for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has provided data.

Furthermore, Rampell notes, federal workers affected by sequestration are more likely to be furloughed than fired outright. The number of federal employees working part-time for economic reasons jumped to 148,000 in June, from 58,000 the year before, a likely affect of the sequester. Rampell also provided evidence that the industries most dependent on defense spending are lagging behind all others in term of job gains.

I suggest another "meat-cleaver" "across the board" cut next year! How about 5%?

Apparently spinal cord repair is advancing to the state that human head transpants may soon be possible. A description of the surgical process is engrossing. A head transplant wouldn't be purely for entertainment value, it could be a powerful treatment for numerous diseases:

  • Any non-brain cancer
  • Various forms of muscular degeneration
  • Traumatic non-head injuries
  • Organ failure

In the near future it will be simpler to transplant a head than to transplant a heart and lungs.

The holes on the top of Lego minifig heads aren't just to stick bricks on, they're also designed to help prevent children from choking.

Why is there a whole in the head of the mini-figs now?

We added this hole on the top of the head just in case any kids got one of the heads stuck on their throat. That way they would be able to keep breathing.


(HT: Gizmodo and Paul Hsieh.)

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