28 April 2019

Divertimento #163


A gif-fest again.  These are all new finds this month

"How I put on my prosthetic leg" (informed discussion in the comment thread)

Working with clay

Throwing an axe

Mechanized flytrap

Zangbeto is a Gambian religious dance

Remote-controlled flying fish

Cop tries to plant drugs, then realizes dashcam is running

Hair styling (tips in the comment thread)

How tiny beads are threaded (explained in comments)

Throwing a fishing net

Log barge unloads its cargo

How barbed wire is deployed 

Rolled ice cream

A dad trick.   "Pay attention, and you can have whatever's under the cup..."


Nature and Science

Six-pack rings made with barley and wheat instead of plastic

Hiking in Iceland

Tree canopy (also illustrates contact inhibition of growth, I think)

Visual demonstration that the external angles of a polygon total 360 degrees 

A reminder that a triangle can have three right angles

Blue-footed booby 


Dogs

Therapy dog learns about tennis balls

Dog paddling

Dog on a skateboard

Dog joins owner in chair

Border collie saves a puppy

Puppy allowed on a bed for the first time


Animals

Cats re-enact a famous movie scene

What a cat does all day

Cat in the laundry room

Young elephants vying for alpha male status

Precision flying

Pangolins

Peaceful green pond 

Farmer spares Southern Lapwing's nest (and note the claws on her wings)


Sports and athleticism

Unbelievable jump (slo-mo)

I don't know what to call this

Precision walking competition

3 professional soccer players vs. 100 children

Tinikling dance 

Stick-handling skills

The importance of aerodynamics in bicycling


Impressive or clever

Great costume

Alien abduction costume

Backing out of a parking space

Awesome trick with beer

How to dice an onion

Here's a job I wouldn't want to have

Bath mat changes color when wet

Haircut

Paper toy

World's longest sea cable car ride (details)


Fails

Girl tries to cut her hair into bangs

Do-it-yourself lip enhancement

Child accidentally beheads her cake

How not to crack a walnut

Child learns about onions

Can patients be transported by horse?  No.


Cheerful

Accidental kiss

Happy, happy cows

Classic Looney-Toons cartoon

A dog gets adopted

Dad skills

"Down you go" (licks paw)

Block-stacking (this may be a repeat, but if so, it's worth repeating...)


Embedded photos show the insides of golf balls, credit James Freedman, via MyModernMet. More photos here.

27 April 2019

Victorian mourning ring


Incorporating the glass eye of the dearly departed...

Via The Soul is Bone.

Robocall blockers


The Washington Post Consumer Tech column has an article about apps for blocking robocalls.
By several estimates, Americans got more than 5.2 billion automated calls in March...

I discovered no service could flag more than two-thirds of the calls on my list, in part because so many robocalls spoof their identities. Those are the calls that look conspicuously similar to your number, or that copy the caller ID of some poor soul who gets lots of angry return calls...

It comes down to how much effort you want to put into battling robocalls and how much personal information you’re willing to share to make it happen. Just adding numbers to your phone’s individual block list won’t get you very far, but there are a few simple steps from which everyone can benefit... 
Discussion and recommendations at the link.  I have been delighted with the efficacy of Nomorobo our our landline, but I haven't yet decided what to do re the cellphone.  I'd be glad to hear suggestions.

Image credit.

Scariest photo I've seen all year


That white cloud on the ground is anhydrous ammonia flowing across an Illinois suburban neighborhood after an early morning accident involving a tractor transporting a tank to a farm field.

I used to give lectures on the hazards of toxic gases, and while the war gases like phosgene and mustard gas are fascinating, the more relevant risk for civilians is exposure to ammonia and chlorine.  Anhydrous ammonia accidents usually occur in rural locations while using equipment like this:


The gas is also potentially flammable, which is why hazmat officials advised residents near the spill to turn off heating equipment while sheltering in place.

Top photo via and some discussion here.  Lower image cropped for size from the original.

McDonald's menu in 1973


Not that long ago.  Some relevant discussion here.

There are people like this


Speeding, no license, no insurance, soft drinks in the child safety seat.  I'll defer comment except to note that this was posted in the iamtotalpieceofshit subreddit.

24 April 2019

Copper scorpion


Found in an Arizona mine; photographed at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.  Photo cropped for size from the original.

Unsettling financial news from Canada

As reported by BNNBloomberg:
The number of Canadians who are $200 or less away from financial insolvency every month has climbed to 48 per cent, up from 46 per cent in the previous quarter, in a sign of deteriorating financial stability for many people in the country, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos for insolvency firm MNP Ltd. and released Monday, also found that 35 per cent of Canadians say an interest rate increase would move them towards bankruptcy, while 54 per cent said they worry about their ability to repay debts...

Ipsos, which conducts the quarterly poll for MNP, surveyed 2,070 Canadians online from March 13-24. 
Ipsos is a global market research and a consulting firm headquartered in Paris, but I note the survey was conducted for an insolvency firm.  The sampling of 2000 Canadians online raises questions as to how those participants were selected (or self-selected).

The sentiment is similar to a report last year indicating that 40% of Americans can't come up with $400 for an emergency.  That survey was conducted by the Federal Reserve Board.

Addendum:
Found the Ipsos report.  The brief methodology paragraph indicates that interviews were done as well as the oline questionnaire:
For this survey, a sample of 1,582 Canadians from Ipsos' online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ - 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

Rami Malek and Freddy Mercury - side by side



Rami Malek is said to have viewed Queen's Live Aid show 1,500 times while he was preparing to re-enact the performance.

In stitches


I've always been fascinated by caterpillars spinning and manipulating their  silk.   A variety of species stitch leaves together; this one apparently made use of a pre-existing fold in a  piece of lawn-chair fabric.  Via.

See:  The American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)

Secularism in Europe

The burning of Notre Dame prompted a Washington Post columnist to present recent data on church attendance in Europe:
At Notre Dame’s much younger sister church in Bordeaux (construction began in 1684), Easter Mass was well attended. But in his homily the priest noted that the church now has only two Sunday masses; he could remember when there were seven. And for the first time in 15 years, there was not one new priest ordained in the diocese. Bordeaux, he said, was lucky; some French dioceses have not seen any ordinations in 20 years.

France was once one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. Today, while 64 percent of French people still identify as Christian, only 5 percent attend church regularly and just 1 in 10 pray daily. The younger generation is even less attached to the faith of their fathers. According to a study by the Benedict XVI Center for Religion and Society, only 26 percent of French young adults consider themselves Christians, and 65 percent say they never pray. The same sad story is playing out across the rest of Europe. The study found only three countries — Poland, Portugal and Ireland — where more than 1 in 10 young people said they attend a religious service weekly.

The situation in the United States is somewhat better: 39 percent of Catholics and 58 percent of evangelicals attend church services once a week, and even more say they go a few times a month. But the numbers are in decline among the young as well. Only 11 percent of younger millennials are weekly churchgoers, while 16 percent more go either once or twice a month, or a few times a year. The secular tsunami that has swept Europe is making its way across the Atlantic.

22 April 2019

Imagine how deep the water is at this dock


Filmed in Alaska.  Worth clicking the fullscreen icon at lower right.

Yoda bookend


via

A temple older than Stonehenge - way, WAY older - updated




When people think of the history of "civilization," the earliest identifiable distinct culture is that of Sumer, founded around 6000 B.C. The Egyptian pyramids, the Olmecs of the New World, the first dynasties of China all came later - millennia later. The bluestones weren't erected at Stonehenge until about 3000 B.C.

The November 2008 issue of Smithsonian has a fascinating report about excavations on the Turkish/Syrian border of a temple complex that dates to 9000 B.C., which would place it as about contemporary with the earliest rubble at Jericho. Gobekli Tepe has extensive construction and architecture, including circles of carved standing stones, created by people who apparently still lived as hunter-gatherers.

It's hard to conceive of the antiquity of this site just reading the "B.C." numbers. Think of it this way:
"There's more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets [etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today."
For those interested in such things, this is mind-boggling.

More info at the links. Image credit to Archaeology.org

Addendum: another article on this site here, with pix and speculation relating it to the legend of the Garden of Eden.

Reposted from 2009 because of this new report from the BBC:
Researchers compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe. The Neolithic inhabitants were descended from populations originating in Anatolia (modern Turkey) that moved to Iberia before heading north. They reached Britain in about 4,000BC.

Details have been published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths. Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition.

Chemotherapy nails


Via the MildlyInteresting subreddit, where others share their experiences.

The underground city of Derinkuyu, Turkey




In 1963, an inhabitant of Derinkuyu (in the region of Cappadocia, central Anatolia, Turkey), knocking down a wall of his house cave, discovered amazed that behind it was a mysterious room that he had never seen, and this led him room to another and another and another to it ... By chance he had discovered the underground city of Derinkuyu, whose first level could be excavated by the Hittites around 1400 BC

Archaeologists began to explore this fascinating underground city abandoned. It managed to forty meters deep, but is believed to have a fund of up to 85 meters. At present 20 levels have been discovered underground. Only eight can be visited at the highest levels; others are partially blocked or restricted to archaeologists and anthropologists who study Derinkuyu.

The city was used as a refuge for thousands of people living in the basement for protection from the frequent invasions suffered Cappadocia, at various times of their occupation, and by the early Christians.

The city benefited from the existence of an underground river, water wells and had a wonderful ventilation system (52 wells have been discovered vents) that amazes engineers today.
Text credit and photos here (original sources have undergone linkrot).  Wiki here. Reddit here.

Reposted from 2008 to add this newer and vastly improved image - 


 - which enlarges with a click.  Via.

Found in the white of an egg


Apparently these are incidental calcium concretions.  Relevant discussion at Backyard Chickens, via.

The "Jeopardy" buzzer


Pictured above is a practice one created by now-legendary James Holzhauer, whose current record-breaking performance is attributed in part to his buzzer skills.
On Wednesday, James—in keeping with Jeopardy! house style, let’s assume we’re on a first-name basis—set a new record for one-day Jeopardy! winnings with a total of $131,127, surpassing a record that he set scarcely a week ago when he obliterated the previous high of $77,000 set by Roger Craig in 2010 with a total of $110,914. Since his streak began on April 4, James has amassed $697,787; he now has the first, second, third, and fourth spots on the one-day record list (after winning $89,158 and $106,181 in two other games), and is in second place in all-time regular-season Jeopardy! earnings behind Ken Jennings, who reached $2,520,700 over a still-unrivaled 74 games in 2004. James, 34, is winning more, faster, than any contestant ever has...

“If you put random people up there on Jeopardy!, the most important thing would be who knows the answers,” says Jennings. “But with players that good, buzzer timing really becomes what tends to separate the winner from the non-winners.”..
Buzzer tips in the longread at The Ringer.

20 April 2019

Control your children


Cropped for size from the original here.

This is called a "campfire" cupcake


Via

The stark division of the United States Congress


Most Americans bemoan the confrontational politics of this country's two-party system.  It was not always this dramatic.  The image above summarizes data presented in a two-minute gif that I can't embed, but which is viewable here.  I'll embed three screencaps:





The dots represent individual Democratic and Republican congressmen; the lines between them show how often each pair votes the same way.

There is a reasonably informed discussion at the gif site.  I heard an excellent podcast on this subject, from either This American Life or Radiolab.  They traced the acceleration of the us-vs-them mentality to Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America and the rise of Rush Limbaugh on radio.  Cable television has played an obvious role.

Things were not always wonderful in the old days, however, when Senators and congressmen passed bad legislation and collaborated to strike deals that ignored the wills of their constituents.  There is no easy answer.

Non-scientific dentistry

Excerpts from an interesting longread at The Atlantic:
The uneasy relationship between dentist and patient is further complicated by an unfortunate reality: Common dental procedures are not always as safe, effective, or durable as we are meant to believe. As a profession, dentistry has not yet applied the same level of self-scrutiny as medicine, or embraced as sweeping an emphasis on scientific evidence...

Consider the maxim that everyone should visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings. We hear it so often, and from such a young age, that we’ve internalized it as truth. But this supposed commandment of oral health has no scientific grounding. Scholars have traced its origins to a few potential sources, including a toothpaste advertisement from the 1930s and an illustrated pamphlet from 1849 that follows the travails of a man with a severe toothache. Today, an increasing number of dentists acknowledge that adults with good oral hygiene need to see a dentist only once every 12 to 16 months...

Throughout history, many physicians have lamented the segregation of dentistry and medicine. Acting as though oral health is somehow divorced from one’s overall well-being is absurd; the two are inextricably linked...

Most major medical associations around the world have long endorsed evidence-based medicine. The idea is to shift focus away from intuition, anecdote, and received wisdom, and toward the conclusions of rigorous clinical research. Although the phrase evidence-based medicine was coined in 1991, the concept began taking shape in the 1960s, if not earlier (some scholars trace its origins all the way back to the 17th century). In contrast, the dental community did not begin having similar conversations until the mid-1990s. There are dozens of journals and organizations devoted to evidence-based medicine, but only a handful devoted to evidence-based dentistry.

In the past decade, a small cohort of dentists has worked diligently to promote evidence-based dentistry, hosting workshops, publishing clinical-practice guidelines based on systematic reviews of research, and creating websites that curate useful resources. But its adoption “has been a relatively slow process,”..

Among other problems, dentistry’s struggle to embrace scientific inquiry has left dentists with considerable latitude to advise unnecessary procedures—whether intentionally or not. The standard euphemism for this proclivity is overtreatment. Favored procedures, many of which are elaborate and steeply priced, include root canals, the application of crowns and veneers, teeth whitening and filing, deep cleaning, gum grafts, fillings for “microcavities”—incipient lesions that do not require immediate treatment—and superfluous restorations and replacements, such as swapping old metal fillings for modern resin ones. Whereas medicine has made progress in reckoning with at least some of its own tendencies toward excessive and misguided treatment, dentistry is lagging behind...

In parallel with the rising cost of dental school, the amount of tooth decay in many countries’ populations has declined dramatically over the past four decades, mostly thanks to the introduction of mass-produced fluoridated toothpaste in the 1950s and ’60s. In the 1980s, with fewer genuine problems to treat, some practitioners turned to the newly flourishing industry of cosmetic dentistry, promoting elective procedures such as bleaching, teeth filing and straightening, gum lifts, and veneers. It’s easy to see how dentists, hoping to buoy their income, would be tempted to recommend frequent exams and proactive treatments—a small filling here, a new crown there—even when waiting and watching would be better. It’s equally easy to imagine how that behavior might escalate.

18 April 2019

Fossilized dinosaur nest

"A Chinese dinosaur scientist has expressed his disappointment and concern at the sale of a rare fossilized dinosaur nest for US$420,000 at an auction in Los Angeles.

The unusually well-preserved 65 million-year-old dinosaur nest containing fossilized eggs was sold by auction house Bonhams & Butterfields on Monday.

Before the auction, Xing Lida, a dinosaur expert with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, appealed to Bonhams not to auction the fossil, which he believes to have been smuggled out of China...

The nest contains 22 unhatched eggs arranged in a circular pattern around the edge. Embryonic remains were uncovered in 19 eggs and one egg was removed for study. Some eggs were so well-preserved that the embryo curled inside was still visible...

The theft and smuggling of fossils out of the country is a serious problem in China. Smugglers have often broken fossils to make them easier to conceal and carry."

The various upsides of running for president

Excerpts from an article in The Guardian:
The fact is, not all of the people running for president are actually running for president.
There is almost always at least a few candidates in these kinds of fields that are either there to push an issue agenda, or these are candidates who are interested in building their name recognition, building their stature and status within the party,” said John Sides, professor of political science at George Washington University and editor-in-chief of The Monkey Cage politics analysis site...

But the potential upside, even for candidates who do not win, can be large. For some candidates, there’s money in it. Ask Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor whose failed 2008 run netted him a Fox TV show, tripled his speaking fees and made his books bestsellers. The former House speaker Newt Gingrich ran what looked like a for-profit campaign in 2012, using campaign events to sell books.

Other candidates run to advance a signature issue or agenda. Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman, caught fire in 2008 with demands for small government and non-intervention overseas. Ralph Nader’s anti-corporate message sparked similar grassroots enthusiasm in 2000, and in 2016 Bernie Sanders went from being a protest candidate to swiping 23 primary contests from Hillary Clinton and emerging as a major force in national politics...

For others, the promise might be a greater profile, or a shot at a cabinet slot, or even a place on the party’s general-election ticket. The Reagan-Bush (1980), Kerry-Edwards (2004) and Obama-Biden (2008) tickets all sprang from primary rivalries. Herman Cain, the former restaurant executive who blazed across the sky as a Republican candidate in 2012, was mooted recently for a spot on the Federal Reserve board...

While running for president without running for president might seem to fall short of certain ideals about the call to service and the dignity of the office, Sides said it was “perfectly rational” for some candidates to jump in the race without necessarily intending to win.

Population density in Europe


Via the Europe subreddit.

A zoomable map of world population density.

Why you had to calculate your own taxes

Excerpts from an article in Vox:
Congress is set to make it illegal for the IRS to create free tax preparation software, software that could save millions of Americans from wasting their money on TurboTax, H&R Block, and other tax preparers currently profiting from the IRS’s failure to help taxpayers.

ProPublica’s Justin Elliott reported that the Taxpayer First Act, sponsored in the House by Democratic Rep. John Lewis (GA) and Republican Mike Kelly (PA), and in the Senate by Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), would prohibit the IRS from creating an online tax preparation system that would compete with TurboTax and H&R Block...

The IRS could prepare taxes automatically for the vast majority of Americans for whom it has all the required information. The bill, Elliott reports, would bar the IRS from the much more moderate step of creating software that competes with TurboTax...

It is a huge scandal that Congress has not yet instructed the IRS to automatically prepare taxes for the vast majority of Americans. The IRS has all the information required to do that for all but a few taxpayers, and the main reason it hasn’t to date is lobbying by companies like TurboTax and H&R Block...

In a way, creating a free online tax preparation program, as this bill would ban the IRS from doing, is the absolute least the federal government should be doing for you. There is little preventing the IRS from preparing tax returns on its own for most Americans...

If I’m not itemizing deductions (like 70 percent of taxpayers), the IRS has all the information it needs to calculate my taxes, send me a filled-out return, and let me either send it in or do my taxes by hand if I prefer.

This isn’t a purely hypothetical proposal. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Chile, and Spain already offer “pre-populated returns” to their citizens. The United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan have exact enough tax withholding procedures that most people don’t have to file income tax returns at all, whether pre-populated or not. California has a voluntary return-free filing program called ReadyReturn for its income taxes...

So why hasn’t return-free filing happened yet? Well, as the current fight in Congress suggests, the short answer is lobbying, and in particular lobbying by companies like Intuit...

About those airplane crashes



Some cogent discussion at Reddit.

The tyranny of p-values

An article in Science News this week will be of interest to anyone with experience in scientific research.
In science, the success of an experiment is often determined by a measure called “statistical significance.” A result is considered to be “significant” if the difference observed in the experiment between groups (of people, plants, animals and so on) would be very unlikely if no difference actually exists. The common cutoff for “very unlikely” is that you’d see a difference as big or bigger only 5 percent of the time if it wasn’t really there — a cutoff that might seem, at first blush, very strict...
More than 800 statisticians and scientists are calling for an end to judging studies by statistical significance in a March 20 comment published in Nature. An accompanying March 20 special issue of the American Statistician makes the manifesto crystal clear in its introduction: “‘statistically significant’ — don’t say it and don’t use it.”

There is good reason to want to scrap statistical significance. But with so much research now built around the concept, it’s unclear how — or with what other measures — the scientific community could replace it. The American Statistician offers a full 43 articles exploring what scientific life might look like without this measure in the mix.

More at the link, and the subject matter is important.

In an earlier phase of my life I spent uncounted hours in an empty lab after all the staff had gone home, crunching numbers with an HP calculator, and sometimes coming up with p values that didn't meet the 0.05 cutoff that would determine acceptance for publication - knowing that the results were "true" and "important" but wouldn't be accepted.  Then looking at the notebooks and seeing some outliers, resisting the urge to ignore (lose) a data point or two, then having to decide whether the dataset could be analysed with a Mann Whitney U nonparametric analysis instead.   And the counterpoint was serving as reviewer for several journals, reading manuscripts and thinking "yes I see the p-value, but the study is still bullshit" (but having to write something more circumspect in the review).  I totally agree with this guy:

This isn’t the first call for an end to statistical significance, and it probably won’t be the last. “This is not easy,” says Nicole Lazar, a statistician at the University of Georgia in Athens and a guest editor of the American Statistician special issue. “If it were easy, we’d be there already.

15 April 2019

The "first Brexit"

From the years 286 to 296, a crew of Roman dissidents reigned over a Britain severed from the rest of the Roman Empire. The revolt was instigated by Carausius, but he didn’t see it through to the end: His own finance minister, Allectus, offed Carausius in 293, and took over until the independent outpost fell three years later.

Little is known about Allectus, but traces of his brief reign can still turn up in the most unexpected of places. Just last month, in a field in the southeastern English county of Kent, an amateur metal detectorist stumbled upon a gold coin bearing the ancient emperor’s face. (The opposite side depicts two figures kneeling to the god Apollo.) He found it near an ancient Roman road, after 45 minutes of a search that turned up only “bits of old tractors and shotgun cartridges,” according to the anonymous detectorist... Certifiably ancient, the newly discovered Aureus—or gold Roman coin—will... sell for between £70,000 and £100,000...

Nearly two intervening millennia notwithstanding, the coin is a timely find. Last month, Moorhead gave a lecture at the British Museum “on Carausius, Allectus and the first Brexit,” so-called for the emperors’ efforts to disentangle Britain from greater Rome.
More at Atlas Obscura.

13 April 2019

The "superbloom" is producing a butterfly bloom


The extraordinary "superbloom" of wildflowers in California this spring is triggering an explosive growth in the local population of Painted Lady butterflies.
By the millions, the butterflies are fluttering through Southern California, feasting on a proliferation of herbaceous plants like cheeseweed and hollyhock.

It’s part of their normal movement north from the dry deserts of Mexico to the lush Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest. But the population is outsized this year, the latest colorful natural phenomenon produced by winter’s abundant rainfall and a cooler February that has kept the plants from drying out...

Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist at UC Riverside’s Entomology Research Museum, said he and his colleagues spent their lunch break today counting butterflies. 

“We were seeing at least 100 of them a minute,” he says. “That’s just looking out one window. We’re talking about a population in the millions, easily no question.”  In the deserts outside of Southern California, Yanega says there are caterpillars “everywhere.”..
Their flight north is typically made up of multiple generations, with a butterfly going a certain distance, then laying eggs. Its brood will hatch and continue north. That’s similar to the famed migration of monarch butterflies, which are commonly mistaken for painted ladies.

Brown says the movement of painted ladies isn’t as dramatic, but it is far more ubiquitous—painted ladies are found around the globe. “The migration is not only happening here in North America. It happens between Africa and Europe as well,” he says. “It really is a worldwide phenomenon.”..

These painted ladies are native—and that’s something to celebrate, says Yanega.

Photoessay of the life cycle at Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

Top photo from Wikipedia; the other two from my files.

Corporate lobbyists write the laws for your state

Each year, state lawmakers across the U.S. introduce thousands of bills dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks.

Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called “model” bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them.

USA TODAY and the Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law. 

Model bills passed into law have made it harder for injured consumers to sue corporations. They’ve called for taxes on sugar-laden drinks. They’ve limited access to abortion and restricted the rights of protesters.

In all, these copycat bills amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy...

This work proves what many people have suspected, which is just how much of the democratic process has been outsourced to special interests,” said Lisa Graves, co-director of Documented, which probes corporate manipulation of public policy. “It is both astonishing and disappointing to see how widespread … it is. Good lord, it’s an amazing thing to see.”..

“It’s not inherently bad, one way or the other,” said Siler, who now works for a political action committee. “It depends on the idea and the people pushing it. Definitely people use model legislation to push bad ideas around.”

Allison Anderman, managing attorney at the pro-gun-control Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said model bills are simply how the system works now...

USA TODAY found more than 4,000 bills benefiting industry were introduced nationwide during the eight years it reviewed. More than 80 of those bills limit the public’s ability to sue corporations, including limiting class-action lawsuits, a plaintiff’s ability to offer expert testimony, and cap punitive damages for corporate wrongdoing.

“No citizens are saying, ‘Hey, can you make it harder to sue if … low-paid (nursing home) orderlies happened to kill or injure my parents,’ ” Graves said. “That’s not a thing citizens are clamoring for. But you know who is? The nursing home industry, and big business in general.”

“This is how all laws are written,” she said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a law where a legislator sits in a chamber until a light bulb goes off with a new policy.”
Much more information at The Center for Public Integrity, via Boing Boing.

Introducing LeBron James and his "I Promise" school - updated


Most Americans don't need an introduction to LeBron James, but I suspect many readers of this blog do not follow sports carefully, and I know that in the past month there have been readers here from over a hundred countries*, so a few words of explanation are in order.

LeBron James is arguably the best basketball player ever to play the sport.  He went directly to the pros from high school without playing in college.  Those interested can browse his biography for the sports statistics - I want to focus on some other aspects of his life.

His exceptional athletic skills have not surprisingly resulted in huge salaries and lucrative endorsement contracts (he was signed by Nike - when he left high school - for $90 million).  In 2016 he was the third-highest earning athlete in the world (after Ronaldo and Messi).

That fame and fortune is not blogworthy, in my view; there are lots of extremely wealthy professional athletes.  I'm writing this post because of what he has done with some of that money.  NBC Nightly News featured the story this week:


For those speed-reading the post and without time for a minute-long video, here are the key points about the school as described in Time:
The most unique feature of the school may be the most ordinary: it’s a traditional public school. Celebrities often back charter schools... Or they open unorthodox private schools... James made a point of giving Akron a new public school. “It’s not a charter school, it’s not a private school, it’s a real-life school in my hometown.”

That said, the school is far from traditional. Its lengthy school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with an extended school year that runs from July through May. During a seven-week summer session, the school will provide STEM-based camps. Students will spend time each day on social-emotional learning, and participate in a “supportive circle” after lunch aimed at helping them refocus on work, Cleveland.com reports.

Nutrition is also central to the school’s mission. Every day students will receive free breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. They will have access to a fitness trainer. James says that, as a kid, he used his bicycle to explore different neighborhoods of Akron — so he gave one to every incoming student...

Since the school considers education to be not just for the pupil but for the whole family, it will offer GED classes and job placement assistance for parents and guardians...

The school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance...  The school is launching with third- and fourth-graders, but plans to add grades each year until it houses first through eighth grade in 2022.

Students get one other notable benefit: If they successfully complete the school program and graduate from high school, James will cover their full tuition at the local public college, University of Akron.
This is a comprehensive approach to education that is way different from the typical charitable gift 
that just funds a building with someone's name on it.  James grew up in poverty in Akron, born to a 16-year-old mother and an absent father.  He understands that a modern school building and curriculum will not lead to success unless the students also have adequate nutrition and an improved home environment.  Also note the rigorous schedule: the school day is eight hours long and the academic year is 10 months long.  And note they chose students not based on prior success, but on prior failure - those trailing their peers in performance.

The next point to make.  LeBron James is the man to whom Laura Ingraham famously said "Shut up and dribble," when he had the effrontery to criticize Trump in an ESPN video.


The above is a screencap; the 2-minute commentary is embedded at this NPR site.  She gives viewers a "dumb jock" alert before showing a clip of James "talking politics again," which she describes as "barely intelligible not to mention ungrammatical."  "Unfortunately a lot of kids and some adults take these ignorant comments seriously.... This is what happens when you leave high school early to join the NBA... Lebron and Kevin, you're great players, but nobody voted for you; millions elected Trump to be their coach.  So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, 'shut up and dribble.'"

James responded to her: "We will definitely not shut up and dribble. ... I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel like they don't have a way out...

That was background.  Here's what came next...

Two days ago, after LeBron's school was publicized, Donald Trump mocked LeBron's intelligence and education:


(The "Mike" he is referring to is basketball player Michael Jordan).  Trump was responding to a public statement by LeBron James that Trump is "dividing America":
“We’re in a position right now in America where this whole race thing is taking over. One, because I believe our president is trying to divide us. He’s dividing us, and what I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sport to kind of divide us. That’s something that I can’t relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends. I was like this is all because of sports. And sports has never been something that divided people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.”

Blogger's note:  I've spent a couple hours today researching and composing this post, so this will be all my blogging for a day or two.  I would prefer that any comments about this post focus on LeBron James and/or on public education etc.  I plan to delete any comments about Trump/Ingraham etc because at the moment I just don't have time to wade through a shitstorm of political bickering.  I'm due to write another q3monthly "Trump clump" in another couple weeks; save those comments for then.

Addendum:  A tip of the hat to reader Bulletholes for locating an article from Cleveland that provides some details regarding the expenditures by LeBron James vs. those of the school district in developing and maintaining this school and its curriculum.

*click map in right sidebar and scroll down

Top photo via Sports Illustrated.

Reposted from 2018 to add excerpts from a April 2019 update from the New York Times:
The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

Unlike other schools connected to celebrities, I Promise is not a charter school run by a private operator but a public school operated by the district. Its population is 60 percent black, 15 percent English-language learners and 29 percent special education students. Three-quarters of its families meet the low-income threshold to receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The school’s $2 million budget is funded by the district, roughly the same amount per pupil that it spends in other schools. But Mr. James’s foundation has provided about $600,000 in financial support for additional teaching staff to help reduce class sizes, and an additional hour of after-school programming and tutors. 

The school is unusual in the resources and attention it devotes to parents, which educators consider a key to its success. Mr. James’s foundation covers the cost of all expenses in the school’s family resource center, which provides parents with G.E.D. preparation, work advice, health and legal services, and even a quarterly barbershop...

A food pantry inside the school. At any time, parents can grab a shopping bin and take what they need. CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

The students’ scores reflect their performance on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, a nationally recognized test administered by NWEA, an evaluation association. In reading, where both classes had scored in the lowest, or first, percentile, third graders moved to the ninth percentile, and fourth graders to the 16th. In math, third graders jumped from the lowest percentile to the 18th, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th...

The students have a long way to go to even join the middle of the pack. And time will tell whether the gains are sustainable and how they stack up against rigorous state standardized tests at the end of the year.

11 April 2019

Human brain (left). Dolphin brain (right).


Note the impressive folding of the gyri and sulci that increase the surface gray matter, and look at that awesome cerebellum.
As some of you have pointed out, "the two halves aren't connected." In reality, they are connected, but the corpus callosum is very thin. Dolphins do that thing called unihemispheric slow‐wave sleep, and are able to remain vigilant even with only one hemisphere awake. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans during this type of sleep show that there's also lateralization in cerebellar activity. However, the fact that dolphins can remain vigilant even with one hemisphere asleep implies that there is no extreme lateralization of function that would cause severe impairment.

One of the theorized reasons why "the cerebellum is massive" is because dolphins rely so heavily on auditory input. In both humans and dolphins, the cerebellum coordinates voluntary movements such as posture, balance, coordination, and speech, but in dolphins the sensorimotor information is much more heavily influenced by auditory input. In directing echolocation trains and responding to this information, the dolphin must adjust its body quickly and precisely according to echolocation signals, and the corresponding lobules are much larger in dolphins than in humans.

Worldwide slaughter of pangolins - updated


From a report at The Guardian:
The true scale of the slaughter of pangolins in Africa has been revealed by new research showing that millions of the scaly mammals are being hunted and killed.

Pangolins were already known to be the world’s most trafficked wild mammal, with at least a million being traded in the last decade to supply the demand for its meat and scales in Asian markets. Populations of Asian pangolins have been decimated, leaving the creatures highly endangered and sharply shifting the focus of exploitation to Africa’s four species...

A total ban on the international trade in any pangolin species was passed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species in September. But Ingram said the enforcement of both international and national laws had to be increased to prevent African pangolins following their Asian cousins on the path to extinction.

The demand in Asia for pangolin meat and scales as delicacies and supposed medicinal uses is a major factor in cross-border trade but a significant proportion of African pangolins are eaten locally. Ingram said that measures are also needed to develop alternative livelihoods for African hunters of pangolin...
More from Wikipedia:
The pangolin trade is centuries old. An early known example is in 1820, when Francis Rawdon, 1st Marquis of Hastinges and East India Company Governor General in Bengal, presented King George III with a coat and helmet made with the scales of Manis crassicaudata [low-res photo at the link]. The gifts are now stored in the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

The pangolins are boiled to remove the scales, which are then dried and roasted, then sold based on claims that they can stimulate lactation, help to drain pus, and relieve skin diseases or palsy. As of 2015, pangolin scales were covered under some health insurance plans in Vietnam.

The scales can cost more than $3,000/kg on the black market.
GIF of a pandolin.

Reposted from 2017 to show this image of a shipping container with the remains of 36,000 poached critically-endangered pangolins:

They sailed into a Singapore inspection port by shipping container, the vessel marked “frozen beef” and bound for Vietnam. Inside, customs officials found the sacks, packed and piled from floor to ceiling. They overflowed with the product of a wildlife smuggling operation so vast, yet so niche, it had conservationists worried about the extinction of an animal that most people haven’t even heard of yet...

Restaurants buy pangolin meat, which is considered a delicacy, an off-menu item that a well-heeled customer might order when trying to impress. Those seeking the new cure-all buy the scales, which are used in traditional medicine to treat everything from rheumatism to cancer, even though there is no known science that supports their remedial properties. And the fashion industry has shown interest in the skin, its diamond pattern making for an attractive leather design. It’s scale-to-tail consumption.
More information at the Washington Post (whence the embedded photo, credit Getty Images, cropped for size)

"The Girl in the Cafe"



I couldn't find an official trailer for this 2005 made-for-television BBC drama, so I've embedded someone's screencap of the opening couple minutes of the film.  Bill Nighy is at the top of his game portraying a painfully shy civil servant who has a chance encounter with Kelly Macdonald's character.  Although the storyline centers on world poverty and global aid, the power of the film comes from the sensitive portrayal of the relationship between these two actors.
"The film was noted at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards, where it received seven nominations and won Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special for [screenwriter] Curtis, and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Macdonald."
Available on Netflix; I found the DVD in our local library.   I can recommend it unreservedly.

Ultranationalism on the rise in Ukraine


Photo essay in The Guardian.

New Zealand bans assault and military-style weapons

Excerpts from an article in New Zealand's Stuff:
The banning of a range of rifles will become law less than a month after the massacre that prompted the swift change.

In parliament on Wednesday night MPs of all political persuasions overwhelmingly voted in favour of The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and parts) Amendment Bill after its crucial third reading.

The law, which needs Royal Assent, will become law by the end of the week. It will mean there will be a ban on all semi-automatic and military-style weapons, such as those used during the Christchurch terrorist attack that killed 50 and injured dozens...
"There are good people in all of our communities who will find themselves in possession of banned firearms, parts and magazines.

"This is because we are changing the law, not because these people have done anything wrong."..
She told the House the weapons used in the Christchurch terror attack were designed to kill. When she visited the hospital, not one victim had just one gunshot wound, she said.

"I struggle to recall any single gunshot wounds. In every case they spoke of multiple injuries, multiple debilitating injuries that deemed it impossible for them to recover in days, let alone weeks. They will carry disabilities for a lifetime and that's before you consider the psychological impact. We are here for them."

"I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large scale death, could be obtained legally in this country."

She also acknowledged the buyback scheme for compensation, which would be worked up over the next few weeks.

"We will operate fairly."

10 April 2019

Commonly called the "Picasso bug"

Sphaerocoris annulus, common names Picasso Bug or Zulu Hud Bug, is a species of shield-backed bugs belonging to the family Scutelleridae. The basic color is green, with eleven ring-shaped spots on the elytra. The colors and the design of these bugs represent a warning to predators.
Image via

"Ranked choice voting" lucidly explained



Radiolab produces superb podcasts.  "Tweak the Vote" is a detailed but reasonably concise study of ranked choice voting.

The first part of the podcast discusses a recent survey in which many - especially younger - Americans indicated that it is not of major importance to them to live in a democracy, and many of them would prefer a "strong leader who does not have to bother with Congress or elections (!).

The conversation then segues to a consideration of ranked choice voting as a more appealing (and more representative) voting system.

This system has been partially implemented in Minnesota and Maine.  What surprised me is the degree to which implementation of this system instantly cuts down on the viciousness of negative campaigning (because candidates want to be second- or third-choices for their non-base.)

The transcript is here, but it's difficult to speed-read.

Addendum:
Found this cartoon today explaining voting in Australia -



Some discussion at the via.
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