February 18, 2016

“This is my spot.”


This Day In History: February 18, 1885

Sequels aren’t inherently bad-remember that Huckleberry Finn was a sequel to Tom Sawyer. But Twain understood what modern storytellers seem to have forgotten-a compelling sequel offers consumers a new perspective on the characters, rather than just more of the same.” -Henry Jenkins

On February 18, 1885, Mark Twain’s celebrated yet controversial book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published and soon became known as one of the “great American novels.” In Ernest Hemingway’s opinion, it was fount of “all modern American literature.” He also went on to say, “there was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

Twain had begun working on the novel in 1875, and wrote it, as he said, in “fits and starts,” not sure of the direction to take, sometimes considering dropping the project for good. He described the novel to his family as “a book which I have been fooling over for 7 years.” …

Bernie Sanders’s Path To The Nomination

Here are the states he needs to win.

How much trouble will Hillary Clinton be in if she loses in Nevada, where Democrats will caucus on Saturday? How close does Bernie Sanders need to come in South Carolina, which votes a week later? And which states are really “must-wins” for Sanders in March, April and beyond?

We can try to answer all of those questions with the help of the gigantic chart you’ll see below. On the left-hand side of the chart, you’ll find a projection for how each state might go if recent national polls are right, with Clinton ahead of Sanders by about 12 percentage points nationally. The right-hand side is more crucial: It shows how the states might line up if the vote were split 50-50 nationally. Since the Democrats’ delegate allocation is highly proportional to the vote in each state, that means Sanders will be on track to win the nomination if he consistently beats these 50-50 benchmarks. Conversely, Clinton will very probably win the nomination if Sanders fails to do so, especially since superdelegates would likely tip a nearly tied race toward Clinton. …

Jeb Bush’s gun tweet is a portrait of the American nightmare

By posting an image of his gun, the Republican candidate is hoping to appeal to the irrationality that has enabled Trump’s rise. In fact, it reveals he is giving up.

When a man hoping to be president of the United States can sum up his own country with a photograph of a monogrammed gun and the single-word caption “America”, it may be time for the rest of the world to worry.

Instead they are laughing. Since the Republican nomination hopeful (although not very hopeful) Jeb Bush tweeted a picture of his handgun he has been mocked around the world with images that comically replace that violent symbol with the gentler images that sum up less trigger-happy places – a cup of tea for the UK, a bike for the Netherlands, a curry for Bradford.

The joke’s a bit thin, because what is currently happening in US politics is only funny if you are an alien watching from a spaceship and the fate of the entire planet is just one big laugh to you. For what is Bush trying to achieve with this picture? He’s trying to appeal to the rage and irrationality that have made Donald Trump’s bombastical assault on the White House look increasingly plausible while Bush languishes, a conventional politician swamped by unconventional times. …

10 Amazing Facts About The New Ninth Planet

In early January, the news that an immense ninth planet likely exists beyond Pluto set the scientific community ablaze. We still have a lot to learn about this potential new solar sibling, but we do know that it’s huge—at least 10 times as massive as the Earth. The astronomers who discovered it even nicknamed it “Fatty.” And the fact that such a huge body has gone undetected just goes to show how little we truly know about our own solar system and how much science has left to teach us.

10. It Was Discovered By The Guy Who Killed Pluto

Even if you haven’t heard of Mike Brown, you are indirectly familiar with his work. Back in 2005, he discovered a Kuiper Belt object dubbed Eris, which briefly seemed a candidate for planet status. The discovery touched off a debate over the definition of a planet that ended with Pluto and Eris being bumped down to the status of dwarf planet. This earned Brown a measure of notoriety—he even wrote a book entitled How I Killed Pluto (And Why It Had It Coming).

But in a curious twist of fate, the man who robbed the solar system of a planet could now be giving it a new one. Working with his fellow astronomer Konstantin Batygin, Brown announced in the Astronomical Journal that the unusual orbital behavior of 13 trans-Neptunian objects (i.e. objects outside the orbit of Neptune) was strong evidence for the existence of a massive, distant planet: “We realized that the only way we could get the [trans-Neptunian objects] to all swing in one direction is if there is a massive planet keeping them in place.” …

The Republicans’ Scalia Hysteria

The Supreme Court justice’s departure doesn’t mark the conclusion of a generational shift. It is just the opening act.

A half-century ago, the brilliant British comedy troupe Beyond the Fringe produced “The End of the World,” a skit in which a group of cultists gather atop a mountain to greet the Apocalypse, prophesied for that very day. “Now is the end!” they chant. “Perish the world!”

An embarrassed silence follows.

“Well,” says the prophet. “It’s not quite the conflagration I’d been banking on … Never mind, lads, same time tomorrow.”

The sketch comes to mind as the nation’s capital decompensates over the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia’s body will lie in repose at the Court on Friday; but he had not even been removed from the remote ranch where he died before some Republican politicians proclaimed the End of the World. “I don’t think the American people want a Court that will strip our religious liberties,” said GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz. “I don’t think the American people want a Court that will mandate unlimited abortion-on-demand, partial-birth abortion with taxpayer funding, and no parental notification. And I don’t think the American people want a Court that will write the Second Amendment out of the Constitution.” Mitch McConnell, restrained only by contrast, said: “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”—thereby proclaiming the next nine months a prolonged referendum on the Court. …

Republicans started a judicial vacancy crisis long before Scalia’s passing

In the US lower courts, there are an unprecedented number of vacancies that are the result of ideological differences and political point-scoring

The Republican obstructionism over Obama nominating a replacement for supreme court justice Antonin Scalia should be no surprise. It follows logically from their treatment of judicial appointments throughout the Obama administration, which has led to an unprecedented judicial vacancy crisis.

Once the Republicans recaptured a Senate majority in 2014, the party’s leadership allowed the fewest lower court appointments in one year since Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, all the while incessantly trumpeting how the party had returned the Senate to “regular order”. Earlier in Obama’s tenure, their obstruction caused 90 vacancies to remain unfilled for a whopping half decade.

This obstructionism seems motivated by ideology and a concern that the president will fill the bench with ‘liberal activists’ – even though the vast majority of Obama appointees have been well qualified, mainstream judges. …

10 Weapons That Backfired In Terrible Ways

Throughout the history of weapons design, there have been some weapons that were excellent and many that were just okay. But the worst weapons were more of a danger to the people using them than to the enemy.

10. The Panzer 68

Built in Switzerland in the 1960s, the Panzer 68 was a domestic Swiss tank designed to give Switzerland a modern tank that could stand up to the latest Soviet armored vehicles. Nearly 400 of the tanks were delivered. They were used until 2003.

In theory, the Panzer 68 was a formidable design with a new computerized fire control system that allowed accurate gunfire and good maneuverability. In practice, however, there were some hilarious problems.

In 1979, a well-regarded Swiss magazine published an expose which revealed that the tank had over 50 flaws. Some of these issues were mundane. For example, the NBC protection system didn’t work properly. But other problems were more serious. For example, the tank couldn’t be shifted into reverse unless it stopped moving forward first. …

Inside the FBI’s encryption battle with Apple

For months, the FBI searched for a compelling case that would force Apple to weaken iPhone security – and then the San Bernardino shooting happened

Two weeks ago, the FBI called Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, with a jarring message: the agency wanted Apple to help them hack an iPhone. Apple refused.

The request stepped up a level on 16 February when a federal magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock a single iPhone – the phone belonging to one of the killers in the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Apple again refused.

But this carefully planned legal battle has been months in the making, US officials and tech executives told the Guardian, as the government and Apple try to settle whether national security can dictate how Silicon Valley writes computer code.

Both sides expect the ensuing legal battle to have far-reaching implications that will touch on encryption, law enforcement, digital privacy and a 225-year-old law from America’s post-colonial days. …

War May Not Have Led To Easter Island’s Ancient Collapse

What caused the collapse of Easter Island, widely believed to be the world’s most isolated inhabited place, hundreds of years ago? The question is a matter of hot debate.

Conventional wisdom holds that environmental destruction and internecine warfare led to societal and economic collapse on this tiny island located some 2,150 miles off the coast of Chile. For years, the island’s demise has been presented as a cautionary tale for our own violent and environmentally destructive times.

But in the past decade or so, the common understanding of Easter Island’s collapse has been challenged by archaeologists whose fieldwork and research on the island, also known as Rapa Nui, point to a different story — in which disease and slavery, introduced by Europeans, are more to blame than ecocide and self-destruction. …


Today in History: February 18, 1478

The antics of the feuding Plantagenet family wrangling for the English crown during the War of the Roses set the standard for all dysfunctional families to follow. Family loyalty meant very little to this bunch when it came to winning the throne of England.

George Plantagenet, born in 1449 to the Duke of York and Cecily Neville, was no exception. He was the younger brother of King Edward IV, and the elder brother of Richard III (who allegedly had his two young nephews murdered because they were higher in the royal succession than he, but that’s a whole other heartwarming Plantagenet family story.)

When his father and second-oldest brother were slain at 1460 at Wakefield, the oldest son and heir Edward became King Edward VI. George moved up a rung to next-in-line to the throne, and was created Duke of Clarence. …

The Pope of the Poor in Ciudad Juarez

Pope Francis visited Ciudad Juarez Wednesday, where his words focused on the plight of migrants.

A day before Pope Francis arrived in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, a man who’d traveled from the south of the country said he saw the image of a crucified Christ in the clouds. “That kind of manifestation is rare these days,” he told El Diario, a Mexican newspaper, “even more so with the coming of the pope.” It was an auspicious sign for the faithful in a city that just five years ago was known for its gang killings and as the most murderous city in the world.

For three weeks, workers cleaned and painted streets in Juarez, and to ensure the city was on its best behavior, on Wednesday the local government suspended the sale of alcohol. The pope had originally wanted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border on his visit, an act he said would “be a beautiful gesture of brotherhood and support.” That turned out to be logistically impossible. Instead, Pope Francis dedicated much of his thoughts in Juarez to the plight of immigrants in a world increasingly shedding its borders for all but people. …

The Last Time a U.S. President Visited Cuba

Calvin Coolidge attended the Pan American Conference in Havana in January 1928.

President Obama announced on Twitter that he will visit Cuba next month “to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.” The visit would cap the historic announcement by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014 that the two Cold War-era rivals would take steps to normalize relations.

Obama would be the first sitting U.S. president—Jimmy Carter visited in 2011—to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge attended the Pan American Conference in Havana in January 1928.

It was a time when the U.S. controlled Cuban politics and the Cuban economy, according to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

U.S. policy toward Cuba during that period was governed by the Platt Amendment, which, in exchange for an end to the U.S. military occupation of the island, imposed a set of conditions on the Cuban government. These gave the U.S. the right to intervene unilaterally in Cuban affairs and included a clause that eventually led to the perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay, which is home to a U.S. naval base and a detention facility for suspected terrorists. …

I Am Siri’s Voice: 4 Bizarre Realities

There are over 700 million iPhones in the world, and since 2011 they’ve all come with Siri, a virtual personal assistant who can help you do everything from check weather forecasts to drunk-dial your ex (hey, she’s here to help, not judge). In America, Siri’s voice was provided by Susan Bennett, in a role that catapulted her from successful but obscure voice actor to slightly more successful and slightly less obscure voice actor. (That’s about as much as voice actors can strive for.) Susan told us all about the weird lessons she’s learned from having her voice come out of everyone’s pocket.

#4. Apple Didn’t Hire Her, And No One Told Her She Was Going To Be The Voice Of Siri

Apple puts more thought into their product packaging than some companies put into their products, so we assumed the auditions for Siri would be a rigorous and highly competitive process. But while we’re sure Apple put a lot of careful thought into Siri’s code, Susan had no idea they even used her voice until early adopters started asking her which Carl’s Jr. was least likely to give them food poisoning:

“I didn’t know it was the Siri gig; I didn’t realize anyone was auditioning me for it. I found out I was Siri when Siri launched. A fellow voice actor emailed me and said, ‘We’re playing around with this new iPhone; isn’t this you?’ And I was just like, ‘What?'”

She’s the only person who can argue with herself in public without everyone backing away in fear.

Testosterone Gel Gives Some Men Back Their Pep, Study Finds

Testosterone gel can help some men get back a little of their loving feelings, and helps them feel better in general, according to a new study published Wednesday.

The effects are modest, and men didn’t objectively get any more vitality, although they felt like they did, the government-funded study found.

It’s the first study in years to show any benefit for testosterone therapy. The Food and Drug Administration has previously warned against over-promotion and overuse of testosterone replacement products, saying they can raise the risk of heart disease.

“This was the first time that a trial demonstrated that testosterone treatment of men over 65 who have low testosterone would benefit them in any way,” said Dr. Peter Snyder of the University of Pennsylvania, who helped lead the study team. …

Fiat 124 Spider: which bits aren’t Mazda’s?

Is Fiat’s new roadster just Mazda’s copied homework? TG investigates

The Fiat 124 Spider we’ve just driven owes its entire existence to the Mazda MX-5. But is the Fiat just a Japanese imposter in a designer suit? Here’s your definitive guide to what’s Fiat, and what isn’t, according to the men behind the new Spider. …

10 Positive Things The Soviet Union Did

The Soviet Union was one of the most repressive and deadly regimes in history, and many outright atrocities were committed against the Soviet people through the years. But even the worst governments may do something right. For the Soviet Union, most of these things were a huge contradiction to other Soviet policies.

10. Active Women In Politics

The Soviet Union was ahead of the West in women’s rights. Although many of their rights were given out of necessity, Soviet women had more opportunity in employment and politics than Western women for most of the 20th century.

By law, women in the Soviet Union had the same employment opportunities as men and tended to work in jobs that Western women couldn’t. However, that was a double-edged sword because Soviet culture also demanded that women take care of housekeeping after their day jobs. As a result, women spent more time working than men.

Soviet women were also better represented in politics than Western women, especially in the early 20th century. In the 1920s, 600 Soviet women were chairmen (similar to mayors) of their towns and villages and almost 6.5 million were politically active. …

The big question about driverless cars no one seems able to answer

Wow. A lot of you guys had some very passionate responses to last week’s news that the federal government had recognized Google’s software, not the human passenger, as the “driver” in its self-driving cars. There was one, big theme running through many of your comments. See if you can identify it:

So does the software have to get a driver’s license and insurance? –ikeaboy

So if I get drunk, get into my Googlemobile and crash into someone the software is going to jail? Seems awkward to put flash memory in with the other prisoners. –InAVanByTheRiver

Who is charged if there is a fatal accident and there is an occupant in the driverless car? What happens if there is a lawsuit? Who pays the fine or serves time if the driverless car is found guilty? –scoon42

All of these questions target the issue of liability, which is about to get very interesting. As computerized, self-driving cars come closer to fruition, car accidents are likely to become vastly more complex. What will happen when you get into a crash, and who will be to blame? …

Worried about amoral robots? Try reading them stories.

Georgia Tech researchers say that teaching artificial intelligence to understand human stories can instill human values and ethics in robots.

Why don’t we trust robots? After decades, engineers and scientists have tinkered and programmed humanoid robots to be eerily like us. But emotions and ethics remain just beyond their reach, the basis of our fears that, when push comes to shove, artificial intelligence won’t have our best interests at heart.

But storybooks might fix that, a Georgia Institute of Technology team says.

“There is no user manual for being human,” Dr. Mark O. Riedl and Dr. Brent Harrison, computer scientists at Georgia Tech, emphasize in their latest paper. Growing up, no one gives humans a comprehensive list of ‘dos’ and ‘do-nots’ to learn right from wrong; gradually, through examples and experience, most of people absorb their culture’s general values, and then try to apply them to new situations. …


Back in 1968, one of the fathers of modern sociology and National Medal of Science award winner Robert K. Merton explored the phenomenon of what he called the “Matthew Effect” while writing a paper discussing how seniority or perceived prestige seemed to be the deciding factor in who would be given credit for a scientific discovery or breakthrough, regardless of the actual work put in by those involved.

Merton was inspired to research this idea while writing a paper about the history and possible explanations for the common “simultaneous discovery” phenomenon (two or more scientists making an identical breakthrough or discovery at roughly the same time independently of one another) in 1963. He noted that in almost every case he found, the more famous scientist inevitably ended up being credited with the discovery, regardless of who was really first and the actual magnitude of the contribution they made compared to the other individual. …

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