The end-times are upon us (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Ian Welsh writes on Naked Capitalism with 21 dismal and compelling "basics" about the economy and the so-called "recovery."
7) Europe, ex. Germany, is in recession.
8 ) the developed world is in depression, it never left depression. During depressions there are recoveries (such as they are) and recessions, but the overall economy is in depression.
9) China’s economy is slowing down. Since China is the main engine of the world economy, followed by the US, this is really bad. If it goes into an actual recession, bend over and kiss your butt goodbye.
10) Austerity is a means by which the rich can buy up assets which are not normally on the market for cheap.
11) the wealth of the rich and major corporations has recovered and in many countries exceeded its prior highs. They are doing fine. Austerity is not hurting them. They control your politicians. The depression will not end until it is in their interest for it to do so, or their wealth and power is broken.
12) The US play is as follows: frack. Frack some more. Frack even more. They are trying the Reagan play, temporize while new supplies of hydrocarbons come on line. Their bet is that they’ll get another boom out of that. If they’re right, it’ll be a lousy boom. If they’re wrong (and the Saudis think they are, and the Saudis have been eating their lunch since 2001) then you won’t even get that. Either way, though, they’ll devastate the environment, by which I mean the water you drink and grow crops with.
13) For people earning less than about 80K, the economy never really recovered. Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/09/some-basics-on-the-economy.html#0PPQV6PGXuqWiWc9.99
Dangerously Irrelevant's "26 Internet safety talking points" is just about the best essay I've read on creating a sane, evidence-led, pro-education, anti-fear Internet safety policy for a school. Given that schools are third in line to receive oppressive technology mandates (behind autocratic nations and prisons, ahead of corporate enterprise users and the general public), this is desperately needed.
B. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
C. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.
D. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
E. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
It starts at A and goes all the way down to Z. Every one of 'em's a gem.
Core77's hipstomp looks at the arcane world of survivalist bag reviewers. These brave souls (who both fear the end of the world and prepare for it) are experts at cramming a metric asston of stuff into webbed ripstop nylon enclosures, and represent a kind of connoisseur Ur-audience for anything meant to hold a lot of things. Some of these individuals are quite skilled at solving the literal knapsack problem, coming up with unexpected and ingenious configurations of odd-shaped gear that minimize wasted space. The video above shows one such gent, reviewing the Maxpedition FR-1 pouch:
Here's why: They are completely obsessed with both gear and the idea of self-sufficiency. They prize durability and functionality in a product because their fervency makes them believe their lives will depend on it. They build backups and redundancy into their carry systems to compensate for product failure or unforeseen problems.
More importantly, unlike a soldier who is assigned a standardized piece of kit, survivalists scour the product landscape for the best, and can freely hack the gear to suit their needs. Soldiers must rely on the design talents harnessed at Natick (click here for our entry on a recent first-aid kit re-design), but the survivalist and his or her discretionary income have companies actively courting them.
One such company is "hard use gear" manufacturer Maxpedition, whom we last looked in on in 2010. Through customer feedback, they realized that their FR-1 pouch, which they had designed as a medical kit, was being subverted by users into a "survival pouch." The company must consider it a godsend of free advertising, because here you have survivalists making their own videos to explain to other survivalists what they like about the bag and how they pack it.
The latest installment of Tim Harford's BBC/Open University podcast (RSS) More of Less has a fantastic and chilling look at the world of high-frequency automated stock trading, where warring algorithms execute millions of trades in an eyeblink. The story's jumping-off point is Knight Capital, whose faulty algorithm hemorrhaged $10,000,000 per minute, ultimately costing the company nearly half a billion dollars. But from there, Harford and co do a great series of examples trying to convey the sheer velocity of these markets. I've been following this stuff reasonably closely and had an abstract sense of it all, but this brought it home for me so firmly that it raised goosebumps.
Last week Knight Capital lost a lot of money very quickly. It was the latest chapter in the story of something called ‘high frequency trading’. Investors have always valued being the first with the news. But high frequency trading is different: algorithms execute automatic trades, conducted by computers, at astonishing speeds. We ask: is the rapid growth of high frequency trading progress, or – as some think – a threat to the stability of the entire financial system?
Randall "XKCD" Munroe's "What If?" site continues to shine -- and possibly even to outshine his most excellent webcomic. This week, Randall (whose background is in robotics), looks at what would happen in a robot uprising. He's rather sanguine about this, given the general uselessness of robots in the field.
Those robots lucky enough to have limbs that can operate a doorknob, or to have the door left open for them, would have to contend with deceptively tricky rubber thresholds before they could get into the hallway...
Hours later, most of them would be found in nearby bathrooms, trying desperately to exterminate what they have identified as a human overlord but is actually a paper towel dispenser...
Battlebots, on the face of it, seem like they’d be among the most dangerous robo-soldiers. But it’s hard to feel threatened by something that you can evade by sitting on the kitchen counter and destroy by letting the sink overflow.
Cops in USA to drive around in pornoscannerwagons, covertly irradiating people and looking through their cars and clothes
American cops are set to join the US military in deploying American Science & Engineering's Z Backscatter Vans, or mobile backscatter radiation x-rays. These are what TSA officials call "the amazing radioactive genital viewer," now seen in airports around America, ionizing the private parts of children, the elderly, and you (yes you).
These pornoscannerwagons will look like regular anonymous vans, and will cruise America's streets, indiscriminately peering through the cars (and clothes) of anyone in range of its mighty isotope-cannon. But don't worry, it's not a violation of privacy. As AS&E's vice president of marketing Joe Reiss sez, "From a privacy standpoint, I’m hard-pressed to see what the concern or objection could be."
You know, I never looked at that way. I guess that's why I'm not the VP of marketing and he's getting the big bucks.
It would also seem to make the vans mobile versions of the same scanning technique that’s riled privacy advocates as it’s been deployed in airports around the country. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is currently suing the DHS to stop airport deployments of the backscatter scanners, which can reveal detailed images of human bodies. (Just how much detail became clear last May, when TSA employee Rolando Negrin was charged with assaulting a coworker who made jokes about the size of Negrin’s genitalia after Negrin received a full-body scan.)
“It’s no surprise that governments and vendors are very enthusiastic about [the vans],” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. “But from a privacy perspective, it’s one of the most intrusive technologies conceivable.”
Also: "the vans do have the capability of storing images."
Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG has been exploring the bizarre world of Swiss self-destructing infrastructure, documented in La Place de la Concorde Suisse, John McPhee's "rich, journalistic study of the Swiss Army's role in Swiss society." It turns out that the Swiss Army specifies that bridges, hillsides, and tunnels need to be designed so that they can be remotely destroyed in the event of societal collapse, pan-European war, or invasion. Meanwhile, underground parking garages (and some tunnels) are designed to be sealed off as airtight nuclear bunkers.
To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two. Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage...
There are also hollow mountains! Booby-trapped cliff-faces!
Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them. There are weapons and soldiers under barns. There are cannons inside pretty houses. Where Swiss highways happen to run on narrow ground between the edges of lakes and to the bottoms of cliffs, man-made rockslides are ready to slide...
The impending self-demolition of the country is "routinely practiced," McPhee writes. "Often, in such assignments, the civilian engineer who created the bridge will, in his capacity as a military officer, be given the task of planning its destruction."
Artist Carrin Welch's first foray into sculpture is a marvellous set of "Four Rocking Horses of the Apocalypse," made from wood. They're nearly finished, and eminently ridable.
My interpretation of these horsemen from Revelations in the Bible is very loose, it's an artistic idea based mostly on how I want them to look, and less on the many academic and theological interpretations. I want them to appear ominous and imposing, but the catch is that they are giant toys. They are meant to be fantastic and absurd, but also beautiful and magical. You cannot ride one of the mammoths without feeling a little joy. With this world feeling so unstable, and all the theories of its end, the rocking horses bring light to a dark time.
All four horses are expected to be completed by end of May 2012, when they will travel to Burning Flipside for their collective debut. After that I will be collaborating with fellow artists to produce some fun, fantasy images of the rocking horses, and seeking opportunities to show them and let people interact with them.
Welch completed the horses during a period of unemployment, thanks to funding provided by her fans on Kickstarter.
Residents of a gated community in east London got Ministry of Defence leaflets through their doors advising them that their roofs might be commandeered for surface-to-air missiles during the London Olympics this summer. The MoD assured them that the missiles on their roof "will only be authorised for active use following specific orders from the highest levels of government in response to a confirmed and extreme security threat". Gosh, the Olympics sure are wonderful.
Journalist Brian Whelan, a resident at the flats, said: "They are going to have a test run next week, putting high velocity missiles on the roof just above our apartment and on the back of it they're stationing police and military in the tower of the building for two months.
"It's a private, gated community... We have an MoD leaflet saying the building is the only suitable place in the area.
"It says there will be 10 officers plus police present 24/7. I'm not sure if they are going to live in the building."
I'm just waiting for some of our local gang-kids to swipe a few of these.
Here's the brochure (PDF).
Charlie Stross points out that a wily terrorist who buzzes east London with an RC airplane and triggers a launch would succeed in tricking the MoD into showering a crowded residential area with blazing supersonic shrapnel. For bonus points, aim the RC plane to get the missile to shower the white-hot shrapnel over a crowded train station.
US government orders UK carriers to extend no-fly list Brits travelling to non-US destinations, even on flights that don't pass through US airspace
The Independent's Simon Calder reports that the US Department of Homeland Security has ordered air carriers to hand over the personal information of British people travelling to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, even for flights that don't fly over US airspace. What's more, they demand the right to order passengers to be yanked from flights right up to boarding time, without explanation. Essentially, they're extraterritorializing the No-Fly list, a list of thousands and thousands of people who are deemed -- for secret reasons -- to be so dangerous that they're not allowed to fly, but not so dangerous that they can be arrested.
Given that this is April 1, I'm slightly suspicious, as this is so blatantly evil that it's hard to believe that UK carriers would capitulate to it. On the other hand, everyone capitulates to the undemocratic absurdities of the American security-industrial apparatus.
Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent: "The concern by the US for its own security is entirely understandable, but it seems to me it's a whole different issue that American wishes should determine the rights and choices of people travelling between two countries neither of which is the US."
...Any passenger who refuses to comply will be denied boarding. Those who do supply details may find their trip could be abruptly cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it will "take boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate ... If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list." In other words, travellers cannot find out whether they will be accepted on board until they reach the airport...
The US will have full details of all British visitors to Cuba, including business travellers, which could potentially be used to identify people suspected of breaking America's draconian sanctions against the Castro regime.
Neil Taylor, a tour operator who pioneered tourism to Cuba, said: "Imagine if the Chinese were to ask for such data on all passengers to Taiwan, and similarly if the Saudis were to ask about flights to Israel – would the US government understand?
"One also has to wonder how an American traveller in Europe would react if he were denied boarding on a flight from London to Rome because the German government had not received sufficient data from him."
(Image: Malleus Maleficarum (title page) by Heinrich Kramer, Wikimedia Commons)
Why would you buy a Candwich-brand sandwich in a can? Helpfully, the site lists three value propositions: "Healthy fast food," "Great for vending," and, of course, "."
With an extended shelf-life, Candwich™ is ideal for emergency food storage needs in the event of a natural disaster. Candwich™ tastes great, and because of the special Army formulated recipe, the bread stays as soft and sweet after one-year in storage as it did the day it was made (If you can ever keep them around that long)!
It comes in 24-packs, too.
Candwich - The Go Anywhere Sandwich (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Ball's Pyramid looks like a place where nothing could survive. The remnants of a long-dead volcano, it sits alone in the South Pacific ... a narrow, rocky half-moon some 1800 feet high.
But Ball's Pyramid isn't devoid of life ...
for years this place had a secret. At 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.
What they found is horribly awesome and awesomely horrible and you need to read the whole story, written by NPR's Robert Krulwich.
Via Elizabeth Preston. If you want a hint, she described this as, "a really beautiful story about some really disgusting giant insects."
Via Elizabeth Preston. If you want a hint, she described this as, "a really beautiful story about some really disgusting giant insects."
On the always-excellent How to Be a Retronaut site, a great collection of 1960s fallout shelter ads, a perfect capsule of upbeat, cheerful fear-selling.
In The Guardian, Chris McGreal looks at the horrific state of policing in Texas schools. The age of criminal responsibility in Texas is 10, and many schools have uniformed police officers on site who ticket small children for throwing paper airplanes or flipping the teacher off. The tickets carry steep fines, and if you graduate with unpaid fines, you go to prison.
Among the more extreme cases documented by Appleseed is of a teacher who had a pupil arrested after the child responded to a question as to where a word could be found in a text by saying: "In your culo (arse)", making the other children laugh. Another pupil was arrested for throwing paper aeroplanes.
Students are also regularly fined for "disorderly behaviour", which includes playground scraps not serious enough to warrant an assault charge or for swearing or an offensive gesture. One teenage student was arrested and sent to court in Houston after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other after they broke up. Nearly one third of tickets involve drugs or alcohol. Although a relatively high number of tickets – up to 20% in some school districts – involve charges over the use of weapons, mostly the weapons used were fists.
The very young are not spared. According to Appleseed, Texas records show more than 1,000 tickets were issued to primary schoolchildren over the past six years (although these have no legal force at that age). Appleseed said that "several districts ticketed a six-year-old at least once in the last five years".
A UK project called Ekinoid aims to produce free/open plans for spherical houses that perch on poles seven feet off the ground. The goal is a house that can be built in a week.
Ekinoid homes will be designed to be as easy as is pratically possible to fabricate (ideally using no expert knowledge or skills), house a family of three/four, and will take under one week to build. Ideally, the main structure should last over 100 years (and then be recycled). Build each town using unskilled labour.
All parts of an Ekinoid home will be designed to suit the local climate and terrain, and will be delivered on-site for fabrication. We think one crane (possibly two) and a team of approximately four people (one skilled, three unskilled) would be adequate for the one-week construction of each house; and after, these newly-skilled people (the new owners) might then help to build more Ekinoid homes, and train new owners. This training would, in principle, work exponentially and would therefore service the whole new community in a very short time.
All the land under the houses would remain useful and accessible.
Ogodogodogod, I can't even bring myself to embed this at full-size. Kickstopper where are you when we need you?
(Thanks, Fipilele. I guess.)
This summer, Naegleria fowleri is the new great white shark. A freshwater-dwelling amoeba that can invade the human nervous system and, on rare occasions, kill, N. fowleri (or, as they are more commonly known, "brain-eating amoebas") have apparently succeeded in making everybody a little more afraid to get in the water.
But is the fear justified?
Most of you can probably guess that the answer is, "No." But why, specifically? Julia Diebol at the Risk Science Blog does a nice job of clearly laying out why these amoeba are so attention-grabbing, and why they shouldn't keep you up at night.
Shorter version: Just being in amoeba-infested waters doesn't mean you'll get one up your nose. Or, at least, it doesn't mean that you'll die. The amoebas have only killed 129 Americans since 1937. That's more than I'd previously thought, but not remotely enough to justify a panic. Especially given that the risk of infection doesn't seem to be increasing.
Granted, there's a lot we don't know about N. fowleri. Key question: Why can hundreds of people swim safely in lake water that leads to amoeba infestation and death for one person? Nobody knows yet what factors make some people susceptible and others, apparently, not. But we do know this: On your list of things to worry about, brain-eating amoebas should be near the bottom.
Matt Taibbi: Senior SEC investigators order routine destruction of records, promote "self policing," take jobs with the companies they "investigate"
The circular nature of the case illustrates the revolving-door dynamic that has become pervasive at the SEC. A recent study by the Project on Government Oversight found that over the past five years, former SEC personnel filed 789 notices disclosing their intent to represent outside companies before the agency – sometimes within days of their having left the SEC. More than half of the disclosures came from the agency's enforcement division, who went to bat for the financial industry four times more often than ex-staffers from other wings of the SEC.Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes? (via Tim O'Reilly)
Even a cursory glance at a list of the agency's most recent enforcement directors makes it clear that the SEC's top policemen almost always wind up jumping straight to jobs representing the banks they were supposed to regulate. Lynch, who represented Deutsche in the Flynn case, served as the agency's enforcement chief from 1985 to 1989, before moving to the firm of Davis Polk, which boasts many top Wall Street clients. He was succeeded by William McLucas, who left the SEC in 1998 to work for WilmerHale, a Wall Street defense firm so notorious for snatching up top agency veterans that it is sometimes referred to as "SEC West." McLucas was followed by Dick Walker, who defected to Deutsche in 2001, and he was in turn followed by Stephen Cutler, who now serves as general counsel for JP Morgan Chase. Next came Linda Chatman Thomsen, who stepped down to join Davis Polk, only to be succeeded in 2009 by Khuzami, Walker's former protégé at Deutsche Bank.
This merry-go-round of current and former enforcement directors has repeatedly led to accusations of improprieties. In 2008, in a case cited by the SEC inspector general, Thomsen went out of her way to pass along valuable information to Cutler, the former enforcement director who had gone to work for JP Morgan. According to the inspector general, Thomsen signaled Cutler that the SEC was unlikely to take action that would hamper JP Morgan's move to buy up Bear Stearns. In another case, the inspector general found, an assistant director of enforcement was instrumental in slowing down an investigation into the $7 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly run by Texas con artist R. Allen Stanford – and then left the SEC to work for Stanford, despite explicitly being denied permission to do so by the agency's ethics office. "Every lawyer in Texas and beyond is going to get rich on this case, OK?" the official later explained. "I hated being on the sidelines."
...[E]ven if SEC officials manage to dodge criminal charges, it won't change what happened: The nation's top financial police destroyed more than a decade's worth of intelligence they had gathered on some of Wall Street's most egregious offenders. "The SEC not keeping the MUIs – you can see why this would be bad," says Markopolos, the fraud examiner famous for breaking the Madoff case. "The reason you would want to keep them is to build a pattern. That way, if you get five MUIs over a period of 20 years on something similar involving the same company, you should be able to connect five dots and say, 'You know, I've had five MUIs – they're probably doing something. Let's go tear the place apart.'" Destroy the MUIs, and Wall Street banks can commit the exact same crime over and over, without anyone ever knowing."
Tasmanian Devils, the real-life marsupial inspiration behind the cartoon beastie, were already an endangered species when nature added insult to injury. In 1996, researchers first formally described Devil Facial Tumor Disease, a cancer that would later turn out to be contagious, passed from devil to devil by biting, mating, and sharing food.
While you're probably familiar with the idea that viruses can cause cancer, that's not what's going on here. Instead, the cancer cells themselves are contagious. It's a rare phenomenon, but not (terrifyingly enough) completely unique. At Nature blogs, Anne-Marie Hodge writes about other cases of contagious cancers in mammals.
One prime example is canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT), a histiocytic tumor that is passed between dogs through sex as well as sniffing and licking of the genitals. At one point it was thought that a sexually transmitted virus, similar to HPV, caused this disease. It turns out, however, that it is the CTVT cells themselves that are infectious, not a virus that activates them. The cancerous cells themselves, which are essentially clonal, are what is passed from animal to animal.
For example, when an infected Dog A has genital contact with Dog B, what is transmitted is not some agent (such as a virus) that triggers Dog B's cells to start dividing and creating tumors. Instead it is the cancer cells themselves, which are genetically different from both Dog A and Dog B, which continue to clone themselves on their new victim. Thus it seems animal that receives CTVT from its mate is not so much infected as colonized, and that is why CTVT is sometimes referred to as a "parasitic cancer." The tumors most often appear on the external genitalia, but may also affect the nose and mouth.
There are few interesting aspects of CTVT cells. While normal dog and wolf cells contain 78 chromosomes, the tumor cells have fewer, usually between 57-64, and even those chromosomes bear some distinct morphological differences from those found in healthy dog tissue. The disease also infects coyotes (which also have 78 chromosomes) and red foxes (with only 34 chromosomes).
Via Bora Zivkovic
It’s August of 2011, do you know when your Apocalypse is?
There are 1000s of people who think that something important—if not the end or the world, then something—will happen on December 21, 2012.Read the rest
“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” — From a translation of an inscription on an Assyrian clay tablet, circa 2800 B.C.E. I'm just sayin'. (Via Bart King.)
Right, that's my weekend sorted -- I'll be down at my local police station, reading the works of Kropotkin aloud for the constables.
(More seriously: Seriously? These are the terrorism experts who are making official evaluations of risk and official plans to mitigate it? Seriously?)
Minnesota is currently in the midst of (another) heat wave, with heat indexes pushing above 100 for several days in a row. This is, to say the least, not normal for us. On MPR this afternoon, meteorologist Paul Huttner said this is actually the worst heat wave Minnesota has experienced since people started keeping records*. Or, to quote my friend Jim, "I finally understand what that Nelly song was all about."
Wondering what's going to happen in the Midwest over the next couple of days? The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has put together an animation showing how the current heat wave spread, and where it's going next. Turns out, we can all blame Texas for this.**
*I have now installed my window unit air conditioners. You win, weather. I give up.
**That's a joke.