April 5, 2016

Dinner Time


On April 4, 1968, Jane Elliot, a third grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa, turned on her television set to learn more about Martin Luther King’s assassination and was appalled at what she heard from a white reporter. With microphone pointed toward a black leader, the white reporter asked, “When our leader (John F. Kennedy) was killed several years ago, his widow held us together. Who’s going to control your people?”

According to Jane Elliot herself, in an interview for a Frontline documentary called “A Class Divided“, her lesson plan for April 5, 1968 changed the night of April 4, 1968 after she heard that reporter talking. She stated,

On the day after Martin Luther King was killed, I–one of my students came into the room and said, ‘They shot a king last night, Mrs. Elliott, why’d they shoot that king?’ I knew the night before that it was time to deal with this in a concrete way, not just talking about it, because we had talked about racism since the first day of school. But the shooting of Martin Luther King, who had been one of our heroes of the month in February, could not just be talked about and explained away. There was no way to explain this to little third graders in Riceville, Iowa.

What If Mexico Really Does Pay for Trump’s Wall?

The Republican front-runner has released new details on his plan. Here’s an attempt to take it, and his foreign policy, seriously.

Maybe it’s because Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border has more than doubled in height over the course of his presidential campaign, theoretically soaring past the Berlin Wall and Great Wall of China. Maybe it’s because Mexico’s former president said he wouldn’t pay for “that fucking wall.” Maybe it’s because the idea has been reduced to a call-and-response mantra at rallies. Whatever the explanation, Trump’s critics tend to dismiss his pledge to make Mexico “pay for the wall” as a cheap, chauvinist applause line at best and a dangerous deception at worst—an attempt to foist an impossible dream on an impossible benefactor.

“The most beautiful tall wall, better than the Great Wall of China, that will run the whole border, that he would somehow magically get the Mexican government to pay for,” Hillary Clinton mused in March. “You know, it is just fantasy.”

Is it? …

Even if Trump loses in Wisconsin, Republicans have little to celebrate

The billionaire candidate has succeeded in destroying the Republican party. What will emerge from the ashes?

The #NeverTrump forces are hoping for a Trump loss in Wisconsin. They want a chain of events that would deny him the delegates he needs to secure the nomination. If he doesn’t clinch it on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer, that would allow Cruz – or some other Republican – to possibly overtake Trump on subsequent ballots. No matter what happens in Wisconsin, though, Trump has already succeeding in destroying the Republican party.

The modern Republican party is built on the proverbial “three-legged stool” of conservatism. Since Barry Goldwater, the Republican coalition has been made up of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and defense hawks. In just a few short months, Trump has in effect obliterated that coalition.

What the Tea Party arguably started with its revolt against the conservative establishment, Donald Trump’s improbable campaign will finish: the end of the Republican party as we know it today. …

10 Creepy Mysteries Involving Abandoned Vehicles

Whenever a person mysteriously disappears without explanation, the situation can be particularly baffling when they’re last seen driving a vehicle. In many cases, said vehicle is eventually found abandoned somewhere, but the person is nowhere in sight. In missing persons cases, abandoned vehicles often provide intriguing clues and open up a lot of possible scenarios. Was the victim abducted from their vehicle while it was stopped? Did someone else steal the vehicle and leave it somewhere? Or did the victim abandon the vehicle and disappear voluntarily? In the following mysteries, the real truth is still unknown.

10. The Disappearance Of Kristi Krebs

On the evening of August 9, 1993, 22-year-old Kristi Krebs worked her shift at a pizza place in Fort Bragg, California. Kristi was supposed to drive home to her family’s residence but never arrived. The following day, her abandoned car was discovered stuck in some mud in a remote redwood forest area. Kristi’s folded-up work clothes were inside the vehicle, but the radio was missing. There were also traces of blood, along with some torn-up identification papers and photographs at the scene. A search of the area turned up no trace of Kristi, but this was not the first time she had found herself in a situation like this. …

Terrifyingly Convenient

A.I. assistants can give you the news, order you a pizza, and tell you a joke. All you have to do is trust them—completely.

It was a weeknight, after dinner, and the baby was in bed. My wife and I were alone—we thought—discussing the sorts of things you might discuss with your spouse and no one else. (Specifically, we were critiquing a friend’s taste in romantic partners.) I was midsentence when, without warning, another woman’s voice piped in from the next room. We froze.

“I HELD THE DOOR OPEN FOR A CLOWN THE OTHER DAY,” the woman said in a loud, slow monotone. It took us a moment to realize that her voice was emanating from the black speaker on the kitchen table. We stared slack-jawed as she—it—continued: “I THOUGHT IT WAS A NICE JESTER.”

“What. The hell. Was that,” I said after a moment of stunned silence. Alexa, the voice assistant whose digital spirit animates the Amazon Echo, did not reply. She—it—responds only when called by name. Or so we had believed. …

Why is AI female? How our ideas about sex and service influence the personalities we give machines

Consider the artificially intelligent voices you hear on a regular basis. Are any of them men? Whether it’s Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, or virtually any GPS system, chances are the computerized personalities in your life are women.

This gender imbalance is pervasive in fiction as well as reality. Films like “Her” and “Ex Machina” reflect our anxieties about what intelligent machines mean for humanity. But AI, in and of itself, is genderless and sexless. Why, then, are the majority of the personalities we construct for these machines female? …

10 Weird Beings From Slavic Mythology And Folklore

Greek and Roman mythologies are so common in Western culture that most people have never heard of the polytheistic pantheon of other cultures. One of the least well-known is the Slavic pantheon of gods, spirits, and heroes that persisted before and after Christian missionaries converted the region.

Slavic mythology has two key differences from the well-known Greek and Roman mythologies. First, many of the spirits are still part of common images and folktales among Slavic people. Secondly, the old Slavic pantheon of gods is not well documented, so scholars have attempted to recreate the information based on secondary documents. Still, the pantheon is fascinating and worth knowing.

10. Baba Yaga

Among mythologies, Baba Yaga is unique to the Slavic people. Many other Slavic gods and creatures have equivalents in Roman or Greek mythology, but Baba Yaga does not.

At first glance, Baba Yaga seems like various witches in European folklore. She appears as an old woman and has an extremely long nose and spindly legs. When travelers meet her, she gives them a blessing or a curse depending on her mood.

But Baba Yaga also has a variety of features that are uncommon. She lives in a hut with chicken legs on the bottom that allow it to move around. When Baba Yaga is outside her hut, she travels in a mortar with a pestle. …

Trump Apocalypse Watch: Is Paul Ryan a White Knight or a Horseman?

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

My fellow watchmen, I fear, have been asleep at their posts. It’s not the end of days that are upon us but the end of Trump, they have whispered in soothing tones as they slowly turn down the alarm from a reasonable two horseman to a measly fraction of a horseman. I will sit quietly no more! (Or, at least, not until the original watchman, Ben Mathis-Lilley, logs on in the morning and expels me from the tower upon seeing what I’ve done.)

I shared my epistemological dread about the coming Trump Apocalypse even before we started counting horsemen, but today’s news cycle gave me a whole new reason to stock my bunker with an eternity’s supply of canned food and bottled water. …

Just In: Koch Brothers Launch Secret Plot To Steal GOP Nomination For Paul Ryan

It would appear that the oligarchs that manipulate the puppet strings of the Republican Party are quite displeased with the commanding lead that abrasive rabblerouser Donald Trump has seized in the GOP’s primary. A new report surfaced today that alleged that free-market extremist Charles Koch is “quite confident” that the party establishment will be able to thwart the will of conservative voters and hand the nomination to their chosen champion, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Republican strategist Alex Castellanos explained how this would happen: “[I]f Mr. Trump is one hundred or more votes away from the nomination, it is unlikely he can find the delegates to get the ball in the end zone on the first ballot. He will turn the ball over on downs though nearly at the goal line. (OK, no more sports metaphors.) On the second ballot, he drops 200 or 300 votes or more and starts bleeding. Ultimately, he bleeds to death on the convention floor — which you think would be good news for the candidate in second place, Senator Ted Cruz, unless, of course, you’ve met Senator Ted Cruz. If GOP delegates start looking for an alternative to both Trump and Senator Cruz, why settle for Miss Ohio when you could marry Miss America? Why not wipe the slate clean and go for what delegates really want, the Republican Speaker? …

How Donald Trump Will Sell Out His Base in a General Election

The Republican frontrunner touts the independence of self-funding his campaign, but hopes to tap the GOP establishment’s donor class en route to the White House.

Many Donald Trump supporters believe that their candidate is less likely to sell them out if elected because he won’t be beholden to the Republican Party’s donor class. “I’m self-funding my own campaign,” he has repeatedly told voters. “It’s my money.”

During the GOP primaries, there’s been a lot of truth to that claim: “Trump’s campaign brought in about $19.4 million by the end of 2015. Trump contributed nearly $13 million of that himself,” Politifact reports. “Most of the remainder comes from individual contributions, which federal law caps at $2,700 per candidate.”

But there’s something that his backers should know.

Despite all the talk of financial independence, Trump doesn’t plan to fund his own campaign if he makes it to the general election. And his campaign is already behaving like it intends to tap the same big-money donors who bankroll the GOP establishment. …


Jimmy K. asks: Why is there a plastic bag attached to airline oxygen masks if they don’t inflate?

Because the economics of having large oxygen tanks aboard airliners simply doesn’t work out (not to mention that the air quality inside the plane would rapidly become unpleasant if fresh air wasn’t constantly supplied, regardless of the oxygen levels), commercial airplanes have a very clever system installed to solve the problem of ultra-low pressure atmosphere at cruising altitudes.

In most modern airliners (the Boeing 787 Dreamliner not withstanding), outside air is “bled off” from the compressor stage of the turbine engines and eventually piped into the passenger areas. However, a bit of processing is needed first as the compressed air is extremely hot (on the order of nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 degrees Celsius) at this stage. Thus, before it enters the passenger compartment, it is first allowed to expand and is run through a heat exchanger and air cycle system to cool it off sufficiently. This system also can work as a heater, with some of the hot air mixed in with the cooled air to regulate cabin temperature. …

Kill it, spin it – Putin will do anything to stifle the Panama Papers story

The revelations about Vladimir Putin come at a time when Russian and western relations are ice-cold. He will not allow a blow to be struck
The $2bn offshore trail that leads to Vladimir Putin
Explained: what are the Panama Papers?

The Panama Papers are a wake-up call for anyone who may have doubted how deeply cronyism and corruption are rooted into Russia’s leadership. But for those who have followed the inner workings of Putin’s presidency for the past 16 years or so, they are as much confirmation as revelation.

What will be truly fascinating is watching how this new mass of information is dealt with by the Putin regime over time, and how this might affect an already tense relationship between the Kremlin and the west.

The first time a large amount of information was leaked about Russia’s power system was in 2010, when a trove of US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks described a “virtual mafia state” and a system in which the Russian president allegedly used proxies to hide “illicit wealth”. These documents were damaging enough, detailing a kleptocratic authoritarian system where Russian officials, oligarchs and organised crime came together to amass large fortunes. At the time, the Kremlin dismissed this as “nothing interesting or worthy of comment”. …

A Key Similarity Between Snowden Leak and Panama Papers: Scandal Is What’s Been Legalized

From the start of the reporting based on Edward Snowden’s leaked document archive, government defenders insisted that no illegal behavior was revealed. That was always false: Multiple courts have now found the domestic metadata spying program in violation of the Constitution and relevant statutes and have issued similar rulings for other mass surveillance programs; numerous articles on NSA and GCHQ documented the targeting of people and groups for blatantly political or legally impermissible purposes; and the leak revealed that President Obama’s top national security official (still), James Clapper, blatantly lied when testifying before Congress about the NSA’s activities — a felony.

But illegality was never the crux of the scandal triggered by those NSA revelations. Instead, what was most shocking was what had been legalized: the secret construction of the largest system of suspicionless spying in human history. What was scandalous was not that most of this spying was against the law, but rather that the law — at least as applied and interpreted by the Justice Department and secret, one-sided FISA “courts” — now permitted the U.S. government and its partners to engage in mass surveillance of entire populations, including their own. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer put it after the Washington Post’s publication of documents showing NSA analysts engaged in illegal spying: “The ‘non-compliance’ angle is important, but don’t get carried away. The deeper scandal is what’s legal, not what’s not.” …

Panama Papers: The Country Where It’s Not News

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman refused to comment on the “groundless accusations” contained in the documents.

The Panama Papers are making headlines from Reykjavik to Sydney, but one place where there’s been conspicuous silence over the leak is China.

Documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that specializes in creating shell companies, reveal offshore companies linked to Deng Jiagui, who is married to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s older sister, as well as Li Xiaolin, the daughter of Li Peng, the former premier. Details of the documents—though not the papers themselves—were published Sunday in Süddeutsche Zeitung, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and others news outlets worldwide. It’s worth emphasizing here that though the allegations in the Panama Papers are shocking, some of the actions described are perfectly legal. Still, that’s not stopping officials around the world from addressing the issue of perception. One way to do that is ordering a media blackout: At least one Chinese provincial office has issued a censorship directive to editors on the story. …

6 Awful Ways Life Changes When You Never Go Through Puberty

Hitting puberty is a lot like jury duty: It happens to everybody sooner or later, nobody really wants to go through with it, and bad things happen if you try to ignore it. Ah — actually, only two of those things are true. If you really hated your adolescence, you might be interested to learn that there’s a developmental disorder that prevents people from going through puberty at all. It’s called Kallmann Syndrome, and it’s no walk in the park. We spoke to Don Wyland, who has dealt with Kallmann Syndrome for years, and he told us …

#6. Your Puberty Literally Stops

In my early teens, I began to notice that I was the only guy around whose voice hadn’t dropped yet. I was also shorter and skinnier than all the other boys. My dad told me he had been a late bloomer, so I just patiently waited it out. And let me tell you, the line at the DMV has nothing on waiting for your first pubes. As I turned 18 and prepared to head off to that mystical land of alcohol and STDs (college), my parents finally took me to a specialist to find out if something was medically wrong. Within about 20 minutes, the doctor arrived at Kallmann Syndrome. That family history of “late bloomers” is actually a red flag the size of Texas.

Apparently, “late” really isn’t the right word anymore when you get a diploma before armpit hair.

Mexico tortures migrants – and citizens – in effort to slow Central American surge

A growing number of indigenous Mexicans are being detained by agents looking for Central American migrants, amid a crackdown driven partly by aid from US

Amy and Esther Juárez were edgy with excitement as they boarded the bus full of seasonal workers heading for a farm at the other end of Mexico from their home in the poverty-stricken southern state of Chiapas.

Although their brother Alberto,18, had made the same journey the previous year, it was the first time Amy, 24, and Esther, 15, had left the tiny indigenous community where they had grown up.

But about half-way there, immigration agents boarded the bus, and after checking all the passengers’ papers, ordered the three siblings to get off.

The officials accused them of carrying false documents and lying about their nationality. Then they told the youngsters that they would be deported to Guatemala, a country none would have been able to place on a map.

The baffled youngsters – who speak the Mayan language Tzeltal but very little Spanish – were transferred to an immigration holding centre in Queretero city.

Alberto, 18, was taken into a separate room by four agents who told him that unless he signed documents admitting he was Guatemalan, would die there. …

Just Turned 40? An Architect Says It’s Time To Design For Aging

When Architect Matthias Hollwich was approaching 40, he wondered what the next 40 years of his life might look like. He looked into the architecture that serves older adults, places like retirement communities and assisted living facilities, and didn’t like what he saw. But what if we changed our habits earlier in life so we could stay in the communities we already live in?

“Retirement communities sounded great when they were created, but now when you retire, you may live there for 30 or even 40 years,” he says. “You play golf and bingo; [you’re] not really part of the general society.”

Hollwich, a visiting professor at University of Pennsylvania, discussed the idea with students and faculty. They created a conference on aging to talk about how adults could continue to engage with society as they got older. Maybe a nursing home could turn into a healthiness hub, or an informal volunteering app could provide support to older people

Even though Hollwich began by thinking about architecture, he realized that people need to create a social structure that supports them, too. …

10 UFO Sightings That Predate The 1900s

here’s no doubt that the modern UFO phenomenon took hold of society following the Roswell incident of 1947. History, however, is riddled with strange incidents that, had they occurred today, would be described as UFO sightings. Here are 10 of them, all of which were witnessed before the 20th century.

10. The Hatton Garden Sighting ~ London, 1809

In 1809, English astronomer John Staveley submitted an account of something strange that he’d witnessed in the night sky above Hatton Garden to The Journal of Natural History And Philosophy And Chemistry.

Staveley stated that he saw what looked to be a black cloud that had meteors moving around it as well as lightning flashing through it. At first, he thought he was witnessing a strange meteor shower, until one suddenly “increased size till It became the brilliance and magnitude of Venus.” He then realized that it was something rather more extraordinary. The object became stationary and dimmed before vanishing. …

Why Won’t The Simpsons Let Smithers Say, “I’m Gay”?

Smithers and Julio get a … fishing license.

How do you come out when everyone already knows you’re gay? It seemed The Simpsons was about to tackle that deep-gay question when executive producer Al Jean revealed, last September, that Waylon Smithers would come out in the show’s 27th season. Now that the episode in question has aired, it seems the pre-show publicity was more than a tad overblown. Smithers didn’t get to tell the world he’s gay but at least he was able to make Montgomery Burns, the love of his life, understand how much he cares.

In the first act of “The Burns Cage” (a pun, needless to say, on gay movie The Birdcage), a near-death experience helped Smithers realize that Mr. Burns would never let him confess his love, much less reciprocate it, which allowed him to finally snap out of his crush. That’s the best thing Smithers has done for his mental health since he first appeared on the show in January 1990, but it left him so mad at the world that he forced Homer, Lenny, and Carl to do some actual work at the nuclear plant. To get Smithers off their backs, the guys decided to find him a boyfriend, so they used a phone app to attract a gay crowd to the Simpsons’ house. Sure enough, Smithers was soon vacationing in Havana with bartender Julio—a character who has appeared in at least two previous gay-themed episodes. Sadly for the cute couple, Julio soon realized that Smithers was still devoted to his former boss. Mr. Burns, meanwhile, was so unhappy with his substitute sycophant that he acknowledged Smithers’ affection, and the men embraced. …

What Can Our Craziest Dreams Teach Us?

“During sleep the mind can be a remarkable engine of problem solving and emotional processing.”

“Queen Katherine’s Dream”

Most dreams are boring, and immediately forgotten. For every monstrous nightmare that wakes you up in a cold sweat, or fantastical dream of flying, there are fistfuls of dreams where you’re probably just at work or something.

Kelly Bulkeley thinks all those boring dreams serve a purpose, but he’s particularly interested in the kind of dreams people tend to remember—what he calls “big dreams,” the intense, extraordinarily vivid dreams that only come around once in a while. In his book Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion, he looks at both research and evolutionary theory to ponder a famously intractable question: Why do we dream?

I spoke with Bulkeley, a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union, and director of the Sleep and Dream Database, about the adaptive psychological functions of dreaming, how culture shapes people’s dreams, and how to rigorously study something as ephemeral as dreaming. …


Kerry asks: What did people use for birth control before modern methods like the pill and condoms?

Pregnancy prevention around the world has a lengthy history that includes many effective yet sometimes lethal methods of early contraception. Early contraceptive options offered an array of colorful, creative (and in some cases, incredibly smelly) choices that included innovative options in barrier devices, spermicides, and oral contraceptives.

Beyond these devices and substances, one of the oldest known methods still in use today was coitus interruptus (a.k.a. “Pull and Pray” or “Withdrawal”), with the earliest documented use of this being found in the Bible in a story estimated to have been written about 2500 years ago. This is the tale of Onan, who was supposed to be getting his brother’s widow, Tamar, pregnant to provide an heir for his deceased sibling. Instead, he simply had sex with her and withdrew “spill[ing] his seed on the ground” to make sure she wouldn’t get pregnant. …

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