February 25, 2016

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others


This Day In History: February 25, 1601

On February 25, 1601, the last great favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, the 2nd Earl of Essex Robert Devereux, was beheaded at the Tower of London on Tower Green for high treason. His inevitable trip to the block had been brewing for quite some time.

Queen Elizabeth first met the tall, handsome and charming Devereux in 1584 through his step-father, her life-long companion Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Essex was 21. The Queen was 53. (Essex was also the great-grandson of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne and Elizabeth’s aunt.)

After Dudley’s death in 1588, the dashing rogue amused the aging Queen by playing cards and dancing with her. Some thought he was over-familiar with her Majesty, and was especially disliked by a faction at court led by Lord Burghley. They were just waiting for Essex to screw up. He gave them plenty to work with. …

The Ceiling Buster

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz claim that, as the field narrows, a more traditional candidate will emerge to overcome the Trump phenomenon. They’re wrong.

Last Sunday, Marco Rubio voiced the conventional wisdom that guides much horse-race commentary about the GOP campaign: “Part of the dynamic up to this point,” Rubio declared, “is Donald [Trump] has been, you know, in the mid 30s to low 30s, high 20s, in most polls, and then you have 70 percent of the Republican electorate that says, ‘We’re not voting for him.’ But they’re divided up among five or seven people. So as that five or seven people continues to narrow down, I think it’s going make the race clearer and clearer.” Ted Cruz has said much the same thing: “Donald Trump … has a passionate, committed base of supporters, but he’s got a ceiling—between 60 and 70 percent of Republican primary voters.”

Unfortunately for both Rubio and Cruz, they’re wrong. The idea that most Republican voters reject Trump, and what he stands for, may be comforting to GOP elites. But it’s just not true.

Start with Rubio and Cruz’s contention that 60 or 70 percent of Republican primary voters won’t back Trump. Once upon at time, that was correct. …

Obama Looking For Justice Who Will ‘Interpret’ The Law, Not ‘Make’ It

The legal world has a new blogger: former constitutional law professor and current President Barack Obama.

The president took to SCOTUSblog, the leading online chronicle of the Supreme Court, on Wednesday to offer some “spoiler-free insights” into what he is seeking in a justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

Aside from “mastery of the law,” Obama said he wants to choose a nominee who understands “a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law.” But in cases where the law’s unclear, the president wrote, he will look for “the kind of life experience learned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.” …

Brian Sandoval for supreme court seat is ‘downright absurd’, liberal activists say

Obama vetting Nevada governor for nomination could be strategy to break GOP blockade but may prompt resistance from Senate Democrats, experts say

Liberal activists have condemned reports that Barack Obama is considering a Republican politician to fill the contentious vacancy on the supreme court, saying such a move would be “downright absurd”.

Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada and a former district court judge, is being vetted by the White House as a potential nominee to succeed the late Antonin Scalia, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Naming Sandoval could be seen as a canny manoeuvre to call the bluff of Republicans who have vowed to neither confirm nor even hold hearings for Obama’s nominee, contending that the decision should rest with the next president. …

10 Exoplanets Your Descendants Could Colonize

Scientists use several factors to determine whether an exoplanet (a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun) is considered to be habitable. The main factor is a comparison of the exoplanet’s semimajor axis (the average distance from the exoplanet to its star) to its star’s habitable zone.

The habitable zone is that area around a star in which a planet similar to Earth could have liquid water on its surface. Without that ability, it is impossible for a planet to host life as we know it.

Scientists look at other factors, too. For example, the composition of the exoplanet should be rocky rather than gaseous. Also, its radius and mass should be 0.5–1.5 times and 0.1–5.0 times that of Earth, respectively.

The exoplanets on this list were selected from the catalog of potentially habitable exoplanets maintained by the University of Puerto Rico’s Planetary Habitability Laboratory.

10. Tau Ceti E

Tau Ceti is a star that is located roughly 12 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cetus. Still, the star is close enough to be visible to the naked eye. Tau Ceti has a magnesium-to-silicon ratio of 1.78, making its ratio approximately 70 percent greater than that of our Sun.

Tau Ceti e is a planetary candidate in this star system, meaning that it has not yet been confirmed as a planet. Discovered in 2012, it has a year that is equivalent to 168.1 Earth days.

Tau Ceti e orbits close to the inner edge of the habitable zone, so it’s possible that the planetary surface contains liquid water. The mean global surface temperature of the planet is estimated to be near 70 degrees Celsius (158 °F). For comparison, Earth’s mean global temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius (58 °F). …

Google Makes The Case For A Hands-Off Approach To Self-Driving Cars

Last year, Ford asked people if they could imagine themselves buying or riding in a self-driving vehicle.

Out of the eight countries surveyed, India and China had the highest positive answers at 84 percent and 78 percent, respectively, compared to the U.S. and U.K. at 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, the study found.

“We do have a theory about what explains the disparity between these markets, and I think it gets down to the joy of driving,” says Sheryl Connelly, who tracks global trends for Ford. “And China and India you have some of the most egregious congestion. You have high road fatality, you have immature infrastructure and also I think there’s not the established emotional attachment many Westerners have with their vehicles.” …

Scientists finally track down the source of mysterious radio bursts

Astronomers have been perplexed by Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) for over a decade, but now at least part of the mystery has been solved. In a study published Wednesday in Nature, researchers report for the first time the actual source of one of these strange bursts – or the location of the source, anyway.

First, a little bit about FRBs: They’re bright radio flashes of the flash-in-the-pan variety, lasting just a few milliseconds and never repeating. Scientists believe they must occur thousands of times a day, but until this most recent study, only 16 had ever been detected. They seem randomly distributed throughout the sky, and no one is sure what causes them.

Now, thanks to the new study, we at least know where one of them came from. …

10 Unsolved Spring Break Murders And Disappearances

Every March and April, dozens of cities across the southern portion of North America are inundated with college students. Excited to take a break from studying, they fill their days with beaches, bikinis, and booze. Tragically, some of these young people also fall victim to murders and mysterious disappearances.

10. Sarah Ann Ottens

In 1973, the University of Iowa dorm where Sarah Ann Ottens lived was almost empty because most students had departed for the spring break holiday. Sarah had stayed on campus to make a little extra money as a waitress. She intended to go home to visit her family in Illinois later in the week. Until then, she had the key to a friend’s dorm room and would sometimes stay there instead of her own room.

Just before midnight on March 13, the 20-year-old nursing student was found suffocated and beaten in her friend’s room. She had evidently been washed because there was blood in the sink. The students assigned to the dorm room had left for the holiday. Sarah’s body was discovered by the only other student staying on the floor that week. …

Justice Scalia spent his last hours with members of this secretive society of elite hunters

High-ranking members of the elite hunting society, St. Hubertus, were staying at Cibolo Creek Ranch at the same time as Justice Scalia in the days leading up to his death. Here’s what you need to know about the group.

When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died 11 days ago at a West Texas ranch, he was among high-ranking members of an exclusive fraternity for hunters called the International Order of St. Hubertus, an Austrian society that dates back to the 1600s.

After Scalia’s death Feb. 13, the names of the 35 other guests at the remote resort, along with details about Scalia’s connection to the hunters, have remained largely unknown. A review of public records shows that some of the men who were with Scalia at the ranch are connected through the International Order of St. Hubertus, whose members gathered at least once before at the same ranch for a celebratory weekend.

Members of the worldwide, male-only society wear dark-green robes emblazoned with a large cross and the motto “Deum Diligite Animalia Diligentes,” which means “Honoring God by honoring His creatures,” according to the group’s website. Some hold titles, such as Grand Master, Prior and Knight Grand Officer. The Order’s name is in honor of Hubert, the patron saint of hunters and fishermen. …

No One Wants to Sit Next to Ted Cruz

Bane of his family’s existence Ted Cruz isn’t very popular among his colleagues, either—this much we knew. Ted, however, still seems to be struggling with the concept. Because while attending Antonin Scalia’s funeral this past weekend, he kept insisting on sitting next to other humans. And absolutely no one wanted to sit next to Ted.

This sort of rejection almost surely brought flashbacks to moments like this…


David asks: When did the tradition of rolling out a red carpet for celebrities start?

Throughout history, red carpets have led luminaries to momentous events, both good and bad.

Aeschylus (525 BC – 455 BC), the “father of tragedy,” wrote various plays where his heroes fell from grace due to a combination of unwinnable circumstances, arrogance and/or simply stepping on the gods’ toes.

A few years before his death, Aeschylus wrote Agamemnon, in which, after a ten-plus year absence from his kingdom of Mycenae, King Agamemnon returned home to his wife, Clytemnestra, triumphant from the Trojan War and dragging along his new concubine, Cassandra.

Clytemnestra was happy to see Agamemnon, but only because now she could seek her vengeance – not only for his new lady friend, but more particularly for his role in the death of their daughter, Iphigenia, a decade previous. …

WATCH: Daily Show Uncovers Harlem Hate Pastor’s Plan to Save His Church From ‘Sodomites’

The show’s correspondent also sat down with the ‘sodomites’ who plan to buy Harlem’s ATLAH World Missionary Church from the bankrupt pastor.

In the wake of news that a Harlem church notorious for its hateful marquee and rabidly antigay pastor might soon close its doors due to foreclosure, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah Tuesday sent correspondent Jessica Williams to sit down with Rev. James David Manning of ATLAH World Missionary Church.

Before launching into the latest interview, Williams recounted The Daily Show‘s previous interactions with the right-wing pastor, including a 2009 conversation where Manning claimed President Obama was “the next Hitler” and last year’s discussion in which Manning claimed that Starbucks flavors its lattes with semen. Manning’s repeated insistence about that allegation, which Williams says has stuck with her ever since, earned Manning the infamous nickname on this and other pro-LGBT outlets as the “Sodomite Semen” pastor.

This week, Williams once again sat down with Manning to uncover what kind of trouble the church was in this time. As The Advocate has reported, ATLAH World Missionary Church is currently in foreclosure and slated to be auctioned off. As it just so happens, New York City’s flagship drop-in center for homeless LGBT youth, the Ali Forney Center, has raised enough money to buy the church from the city, and plans to convert the space into an LGBT center and housing for homeless youth in Harlem. In the segment, Williams sits down with Ali Forney Center executive director Carl Siciliano to get the scoop on the big gay agenda; and her face when she learns the plan is priceless. …

The Power Struggle Over Transgender Students

Who should have the ultimate say over school policies pertaining to trans youth?

Last year, states across the country considered 17 bills that would’ve regulated transgender people’s use of sex-segregated spaces such as bathrooms. None of them passed. But the reality is looking a lot different this year: Twenty-nine such bills, many of them school-specific, are making their way through state legislatures so far, according to an analysis by the Human Rights Campaign. And they include one out of South Dakota that is very close to becoming law.

That bill, which was passed just last week by the state’s Senate and as of Wednesday was awaiting approval by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, would prohibit transgender students in public schools from using bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t match with their biological sex; if requested, schools would have to provide “reasonable” accommodations for transgender students, such as single-occupancy or unisex restrooms. The legislation is important because it would set a precedent—South Dakota would be the first state to enact such a law—and because many of the bills under consideration elsewhere are, not coincidentally, almost identical. It also shows how prickly things get when the federal government and local jurisdictions vie for control over what happens at the nation’s public schools. …

5 Ways The Oscars Are A Behind-The-Scenes Nightmare

For the second year in a row, the Academy Awards are being called out for being as stark white and monstrously aged as the shimmering salt flats of Bolivia. And, while that failure comes as a surprise to exactly zero people, you might be delighted to learn that it’s not nearly the only behind-the-scenes problem persistently haunting the Oscars like a mediocre ghost.

As we’ve noted in the past, it turns out that lavishly gathering beautiful rich folk to huck golden humanoids at each other is a surprisingly slapshit process. For example …

#5. Writing The Ceremony’s “Script” Is A Goddamn Nightmare

Some of you have probably never thought of the Oscars as having writers; Billy Crystal or whichever vaguely humorous celebrity is hosting just goes up there and acts like his own vaguely humorous self, right? Nope, there’s a whole team of writers who start working on the script months in advance. Unfortunately for them, writing for the Oscars is like making a choose-your-own-adventure where the reader keeps mindlessly ripping pages out like a drunk toddler. Since anything can happen, the ceremony script is less like a linear story and more like a hundred-page list of contingencies and jokes — 98 percent of which will never see the light of day, depending on who wins which award. This is all according to Bruce Vilanch, head writer for the Oscars and enchanted Muppet you might recognize from reruns of Hollywood Squares.

After every single joke, picture this guy going, “Waka! Waka!” backstage.

One idea to best the surveillance state: radical transparency

f you live your entire life in public, as the author has for 14 years, then you protect yourself from unwanted government scrutiny

I’m convinced that government surveillance will not go away regardless of how much we may object to it – we’re too far in to get out. The court order to make Apple unlock a shooter’s iPhone is just the tip of the iceberg; myriad technologies collect the data of our daily lives, and avoiding this would be not only inconvenient but also out of sync with the times we live in.

Algorithms are only getting smarter, and online movements easier to track. So it’s time for a paradigm shift: going forward, the best way to restore privacy will be to give it up and instead embrace total transparency. We must stop thinking of surveillance (derived from the French verb surveiller, “to watch over”) as something that can only be used against us and instead embrace it as a tool for sousveillance (watching from below) – that is, watching the watchers.

As recently as the early aughts, it might have been possible to avoid surveillance cameras, but that’s no longer the case. Amazon knows what we want to buy before we know it ourselves. Target knows pregnant teenagers better than their parents do. As difficult as it may be to accept, we need to adapt to this new reality and figure out how to live within it. …

Snowden lawyer: Bill of Rights was meant to make government’s job “more difficult”

Ars Q&A: We sit down with Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ben Wizner, a top attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, is probably best known for being one of the lawyers representing Ed Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

On Tuesday, he told Ars that representing the world’s most famous whistleblower has consumed a substantial portion of his professional life over the last 2.5 years. But he framed his passion for civil liberties and fighting surveillance as part of a larger struggle that continues to play out as to the proper balance between not only surveillance and privacy but also between surveillance and democracy itself.

Wizner was in this college town outside Sacramento to speak at the University of California, Davis law school as part of an ongoing public lecture series on surveillance. (Full disclosure: yours truly spoke as part of the same series last year.) In a 30-minute talk followed by questions from an audience primarily made up of law students, Wizner outlined a history of surveillance in America, going back to the 1971 Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI and extending through to the Snowden-era NSA. …

10 Bizarre World War II Weapons That Were Actually Built

Weapons operate on a simple principle: They’re primarily designed to kill or disable people. How they do that is usually rather straightforward but sometimes borders on insane or ludicrous. Here are 10 weapons from World War II that you won’t believe were actually built.

10. Tauchpanzer

Created by the Nazis for use in Operation Sea Lion, the planned (but never executed) invasion of the UK, the Tauchpanzer, literally meaning “diving tank,” was designed to be dropped off the coast, travel underwater on the sea floor, and clank ashore, ready to provide fire support for soldiers landing on the beaches of Britain. The Tauchpanzers were Panzer III tanks modified to be totally waterproof, featuring one-way exhaust valves, inflatable seals for the turret rings, and a hose attached to a flotation device to get air for the engine.

Even with all of those modifications, the Tauchpanzer could spend no more than 20 minutes submerged and could only travel at a depth of up to 15 meters (50 ft), being limited by the length of its air hose. The design proved a success, however, and more than 150 of the tanks were built. After Operation Sea Lion was canceled, the Tauchpanzers were distributed among more conventional Panzer divisions. They were actually used for their intended role once, to cross the Bug River during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, but were then used as normal tanks afterward. …

The Place Where the Poor Once Thrived

San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, used to be the best place in the country for kids to experience a Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches life. Is it still?

This is the land of opportunity. If that weren’t already implied by the landscape—rolling green hills, palm trees, sun-kissed flowers—then it’s evident in the many of stories of people who grew up poor in these sleepy neighborhoods and rose to enormous success.

People like Tri Tran, who fled Vietnam on a boat in 1986, showed up in San Jose with nothing, made it to MIT, and then founded the food-delivery start-up Munchery, which is valued at $300 million.

“I think that in this land, if you are really determined and focused, you can go pretty far,” he told me.

Indeed, data suggest that this is one of the best places to grow up poor in America. A child born in the early 1980s into a low-income family in San Jose had a 12.9 percent chance of becoming a high earner as an adult, according to a landmark study released in 2014 by the economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues from Harvard and Berkeley. That number—12.9 percent—may not seem remarkable, but it was: Kids in San Jose whose families fell in the bottom quintile of income nationally had the best shot in the country at reaching the top quintile. …

How The Nissan Leaf Can Be Hacked Via Web Browser From Anywhere In The World

What if a car could be controlled from a computer halfway around the world? Computer security researcher and hacker Troy Hunt has managed to do just that, via a web browser and an Internet connection, with an unmodified Nissan Leaf in another country. While so far the control was limited to the HVAC system, it’s a revealing demonstration of what’s possible.

Hunt writes that his experiment started when an attendee at a developer security conference where Hunt was presenting realized that his car, a Nissan Leaf, could be accessed via the internet using Nissan’s phone app. Using the same methods as the app itself, any other Nissan Leaf could be controlled as well, from pretty much anywhere. …

Dodos: Trusting Maybe, But Not Stupid

New scans of an old specimen indicate that the extinct birds were probably at least as clever as pigeons.

Our culture has come to equate this species’ name with stupidity. But dodos, the large, big-beaked and flightless birds from the Indian Ocean’s Mauritius Island don’t deserve it. Yes, it’s true that the birds who hadn’t seen humans before showed no fear of the sailors who landed on their previously uninhabited island starting in the late 1500s. And it’s true that by 1662, the poor birds had been hounded into extinction by hungry people and introduced animals. But new, just-released research helps right a wronged reputation.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, which led the study, dodos were probably “actually fairly smart.” The paper, led by scientists from AMNH and published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Tuesday, reveals that relative to body size the dodo “was on par with its closest living relatives: pigeons—birds whose ability to be trained implies a moderate level of intelligence.” …


Today I found out why the Moon looks bigger on the horizon than when it is higher in the sky.

This is a question that has been debated for several thousand years. One popular myth, dating all the way back to Aristotle in the 4th century BC and which still endures somewhat today, is that it is simply a case of magnification caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. While a “magnification” effect is taking place, it actually is going the other way and is more of a compression. Atmospheric refraction causes the Moon to appear very slightly smaller in the vertical axis when it is near the horizon vs. when it is high in the sky. This refraction, combined with the fact that the Moon is about 4000 miles further away when it is on the horizon, causes it to appear 1.5% smaller if you were to measure very precisely its apparent size on the horizon vs. higher in the sky.

So if it’s not magnification from the Earth’s atmosphere, what is going on here? …

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