July 12, 2016 in 4,004 words

“Are we there yet?”


For four hot, humid July days, 56 delegates of the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia with one purpose – to ratify the Declaration of Independence. The document, originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson with the help of Ben Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, ad Robert Livingston, declared that the thirteen American colonies were now independent and free of the tyranny of the British Empire. On July 4th, with the final wording in place, it was ready for the whole world to read; though, it would be about another month before congress would actually sign it, contrary to popular belief.

With independence now declared and the British Empire booted as the governing body of the colonies, there was an immediate need for a document that established an American government. While most people think that the Constitution was the first such document, this is false. The Constitution would not be ratified and established until 1788. America’s first attempt at a government was based on a document called “The Articles of Confederation.” …

When Exactly Was America Great?

Nostalgia has been a central theme of the 2016 elections with politicians frequently citing the need to “restore” America to its more stable, prosperous past. But when exactly were the country’s glory days? We interviewed Americans from Texas, Maryland, California, Florida, and other states to find out.

‘I’d rather attend the public hanging of a good friend’: GOP insiders unload on Trump convention

The Republican National Convention is set to kick off next week, and it has all the makings of a tremendous disaster.

Even if a large portion of convention delegates weren’t planning a coup against the presumptive nominee, the convention would still be a disaster because it would end with the nomination of Donald Trump as president.

Because of this, many Republican politicians and operatives are avoiding the convention like the plague. In interviews with Politico, many operatives describe their fear and loathing of next week’s convention in hilariously blunt terms.

“I would rather attend the public hanging of a good friend,” GOP digital strategist Will Ritter tells the publication. …

10 Ways Donald Trump Has Changed Politics Forever

Way, way back in July 2015, we predicted that Donald Trump could become the official Republican nominee. Time has proven us so right that even we’re shocked at our precognitive skills. And now we’re here with another prediction: Even if he loses the presidency, Donald Trump will become known as the man who changed politics. Forever.

We don’t say this lightly. US politics (and most of the Western world) has adhered to a fairly narrow consensus for the last 40 years. At the start of the nominee race in 2015, everyone thought that consensus would stick for another decade or two at least. Then along came Trump, and everything changed. By riding a wave of popular discontent like a pro-surfer, The Donald brought popular discontent crashing onto the shore of mainstream politics. While we’d never claim to endorse him or anything he stands for, there’s no doubt that he’s changed our electoral landscape beyond all recognition. Here’s how.

10. Fracturing The Right

America’s two-party system has long meant both the Dems and the GOP are less unified forces and more uneasy alliances between several interest groups, each pushing their own agenda. For a long time, the GOP was especially good at keeping its rival factions in check. No longer. Thanks to Trump, the consensus on the American right is shattering.

It helps if you imagine the GOP as three distinct parties. You have the religious, socially conservative party that loves Jesus and hates abortion. The free-market, pro-business party loves low taxes and hates big government. And the neo-con wing loves hawkish military interventionism and hates Middle Eastern dictators. For decades, they’ve been rubbing along against a common enemy. Now Trump has thrown a bomb underneath the bus and exploded those alliances.

By drawing voters from both the socially conservative and anti–big government groups, Trump has effectively divided the GOP. The damage is likely irreparable. For the first time, the base is seeing their nationalist agenda put first, at the expense of free market economics. This has strongly alienated its party’s pro-business wing, which also happens to have all the money. In a sign of how truly the GOP is split, many neo-cons are happier with the prospect of a Hillary presidency than a Trump one. …

Canada is hailed for its tolerance but is it ready to confront its racism

Critics say common narrative obscures realities of how race relations really play out in country as a fledgling conversation is finally under way

They sat calmly on the hot pavement; their black and gold outfits a jarring contrast to the sea of rainbow flags and banners surrounding them. Minutes earlier the parade – the crown jewel of Toronto’s month-long Pride celebrations – had been in full swing, its floats heaving through the city’s main arteries alongside thousands of revellers.

Now it had come to a standstill. “We refuse to move,” said a member of Black Lives Matter Toronto, her voice crackling as it came through the megaphone. “We are calling you out.”

The group had joined the parade as an honoured guest. Now it was staging a sit-in as a dozen or so protesters argued that Pride in the city had become the antithesis of the principles of inclusion – a space for white, gay males.

Black Lives Matter Toronto brandished a list of demands, ranging from increased funding and support for black and South Asian groups at Pride to the removal of police floats and booths from future events.

The sit-in dragged on for nearly 30 minutes before Pride organisers stepped forward to sign the list of demands and the parade moved on. …

LISTEN: On Guns, Dallas Police Chief Tells Legislators: ‘Do Your Job’

Dallas Police Chief David Brown held a wide-ranging press conference on Monday, where he touched on race, the investigation and the issue of guns.

In a dramatic moment, he urged legislators to do their jobs and propose new laws to combat gun violence.

“We’re doing ours. We’re putting our lives on the line,” Brown said. “The other aspects of government need to step up and help us.”

With that, here are five pieces of audio from that press conference you should listen to:

1. Brown addressed the issue of gun control head-on:

2. He also touched on the problem he sees with open-carry laws, which he said were increasingly challenging for law enforcement. “We don’t know who the good guy is versus who the bad guy is if everybody starts shooting,” he said.

There’s more aural goodness at the link.

10 Common Misconceptions About Prehistory

Without written records to give us an idea of what life before written history was like, we are left to decipher the clues left behind and put the pieces together for ourselves. Imagining a world before the written word is a little mind-blowing, and as we learn more and more about life thousands of years ago, we’re also finding that a number of popularly held beliefs about the prehistoric world are absolutely false.

10. Food Was Dull And Bland

Historians at the University of York recently analyzed several pottery shards found along the Baltic Sea. The pottery, which was in use about 6,000 years ago, contained traces of lipid deposits, which came from fish, shellfish, and deer, and after comparing other trace residues to more than 120 different types of plants, they found that the prehistoric chefs were using garlic mustard to flavor the dishes.

Garlic mustard seeds are tiny and have a hot flavor similar to a peppery wasabi. What they don’t have is any real nutritional value, leading the researchers to conclude that the only reason they were included in cook pots was to add some spice. …

Firms Are Buying, Sharing Your Online Info. What Can You Do About It?

There are some big companies out there that you’ve probably never heard of, that know more about you than you can imagine.

They’re called data brokers, and they collect all sorts of information — names, addresses, income, where you go on the Internet and who you connect with online. That information is then sold to other companies. There are few regulations governing these brokers.

Data brokers have been around for a long time, collecting information about your magazine and newspaper subscriptions. They know whether you prefer dogs or cats. From public records they can tell if you drive a Ford or a Subaru or if you’ve declared bankruptcy.

But the Internet upped the ante considerably. Think of all that personal data you share on Facebook, or your online shopping. According to Julie Brill, who recently stepped down as a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, these companies share just about everything. …

Foreign Hackers Target Thousands of Gmail Users Every Month

Google revealed that it sends 4,000 warnings monthly about state-sponsored cyberattacks.

For four years, Google has been notifying Gmail customers when they come under attack from hackers who may be working for foreign governments. The company has long remained vague about the the way it detects and identifies these hackers—“we can’t reveal the tip-off,” the company tells users—and about the number of notifications it routinely sends. Until now.

When these warnings were introduced, they appeared as thin red bars tacked to the top of users’ inboxes. But just a few months ago, Google redesigned the notifications to be considerably more in-your-face: Now, they take up the entire screen, announcing themselves with an angry red flag. “Government-backed hackers may be trying to steal your password,” the alert reads, advising users to enable two-factor authentication.

The new alert says that fewer than one in a thousand Gmail users are targeted by foreign hackers—but for a product with more than a billion active users, that could still be a really big number. (0.1 percent of 1 billion is 1 million.) …


Harry K. asks: Why are raindrops always so small. Would it be possible to have a single raindrop that contains gallons of water?

At only about half as wide in diameter as a U.S. penny, the largest raindrops ever recorded, between 8.8 mm and 1 cm, were observed by scientists in the clouds above Brazil (1995) and the Marshall Islands (1999). It is unknown, however, if these bad boys ever reached the ground at that size. So why can’t raindrops grow to arbitrarily large sizes?

To begin with, let’s talk a little about how raindrops actually form. Raindrops are more than just water; the vapor in a cloud has to have something to condense around, without which there would be no rain. Called condensation nuclei, little particles in the air, from dust, smoke or even salt, sit at the center of the tiny droplets that begin to form in a cloud. …

Omni-shambles! Card-stealing malware checks into US hotel chain

At this point, it might be safer to just sleep in your car

Yet another US hotel chain has admitted malware infected its computer systems and stole guests’ bank card information.

Omni Hotels said today [PDF] an attacker managed to infiltrate its IT network and inject a software nasty into its payment terminals that siphoned off copies of people’s credit and debit cards.

The malware was present on Omni sales kit between December 23, 2015 and June 14 of this year. Information lifted from credit and debit cards included cardholder name, card number, expiration date, and security code.

The hotel did not say which of its 52 North America locations were infected with the card-stealing malware. …

Trump, Bill Maher and Miss Pennsylvania: The ‘I’ll sue you’ effect

GOP candidate rarely follows through, but threats can be chilling

Say something bad about Donald Trump and he will frequently threaten to go to court. “I’ll sue you” was a Trump mantra long before “Build a wall.” But an analysis of about 4,000 lawsuits filed by and against Trump and his companies shows that he rarely follows through with lawsuits over people’s words. He has won only one such case, and the ultimate disposition of that is in dispute.

The Republican presidential candidate has threatened political ad-makers, a rapper, documentary filmmakers, a Palm Beach civic club’s newsletter and the Better Business Bureau for lowering its rating of Trump University. He’s vowed to sue multiple news organizations including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and USA TODAY. He didn’t follow through with any of those, though he did sue comedian Bill Maher, an author over a single line in a 276-page book, and Miss Pennsylvania.

A USA TODAY Network analysis of the lawsuits involving Trump and his companies includes only six in which the Trump team has formally claimed someone libeled, slandered or defamed him, and a few other court cases where he used other legal avenues to fight what someone said about him. At least one Trump target filed a counter-claim for harassment and won. …

5 Mistakes You Will Make When You Try To Eat Healthy

Since “staying alive and healthy for longer” is the reason we decided to invent society in the first place, you’d think we wouldn’t have all these roadblocks between us and healthy eating. If the world made sense, you’d walk into the grocery store and everything would be arranged on a gradient scale from “healthy boredom” to “delicious suicide,” and you could make an informed decision like a goddamn adult. That way, people who have a family health history with more obnoxious tumors than a room full of Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonators could say, “I’ll just hang out over here in the boring but healthy aisle, because I’d like to live to see the release of Star Wars Episode XXIII: We Cloned Alec Guinness.”

Instead, we live in our stupid world, where trying to put nutrients in our body without also poisoning ourselves is literally a lifelong struggle that we are all but guaranteed to fail at. There are a million nefarious factors that are keeping us from achieving nutritional nirvana, but a million is too many entries for an article. So here are five.

#5. You Planned too Far Ahead

I love plastic bowls of microwavable mac and cheese. They’re my favorite thing that is literally killing me. And the best part about it is that I can forget that I have it for weeks on end. Then, on some magical day when I’m either drunk or very drunk and rooting around my cabinet for snacks, I’ll find it, and it’ll feel like Christmas. Since I don’t remember buying it, it’s exactly the same as getting a present from God.

It doesn’t even matter that plastic bowls of mac and cheese taste like stale pasta smothered in salt goo (because they are stale pasta smothered in salt goo). Something you receive as a gift tastes better. It is untainted by the stink of effort or sacrifice. You know how when you buy five bagels and get a sixth for free, that free bagel is always the most delicious one? It’s the same basic principle.

Bagels, by the way, will also kill you.

But that’s not how healthy food works. Celery turns into flaccid, inedible mud-sticks faster than Donald Trump can turn a normal conversation into one about how racist he is. Kale transmogrifies into a brackish pudding of the damned before you can remember why the fuck you bought kale. In a mere week, fish will grow a colony of moldy residue that will either worship you as a god or try to usurp us as the planet’s dominant intelligence. Anyone who decides to “start eating healthy” and “cook their own meals” will, inside a week, be battling a swarm of swampy fungus goblins that burst hungrily from their fridge at 4 a.m., crying havoc in the voice of conquering. Yes, when you try to shift your diet in a healthy direction, you run the risk of getting flayed by an army of tiny, pain-worshiping monsters. It’s pretty fucked. …

Winged Terror From Above

A wedge-tailed eagle tried to carry off a young boy at the Alice Springs Desert Park in Australia, but the boy is okay.

The wedge-tail eagle, the largest bird of prey in Australia, has a wingspan of nine feet and can lift animals that weigh around 10 pounds, which would, seemingly, rule out young boys. But try telling that to the boy who last week visited the Alice Springs Desert Park in Australia with his mother.

The park issued a statement Monday in which it said that a bird “made contact with an audience member.”

Here’s a picture of that “contact”:

The day I got naked for Spencer Tunick

As we stripped off in the small hours of Saturday morning, a sea of 3,200 naked strangers in Hull, one question struck me: what if I’m dyed Avatar blue forever?

Sea of Hull by Spencer Tunick – in pictures

Standing naked in the centre of Hull in the small hours of the morning is not something I ever expected to be doing. But that’s where I found myself on Saturday, wearing nothing but my own skin, painted blue, alongside 3,200 other like-minded people, shivering slightly in the dawn breeze.

As soon as I heard about Spencer Tunick’s vision for his latest artwork, Sea of Hull, back in March, I registered to take part. I’m not even from Hull – I’m a recent graduate living in the countryside outside York – but I couldn’t pass up the experience of posing naked for a world famous photographer.

For the uninitiated, Tunick creates “living art” all over the world by directing crowds of naked people through urban and natural environments – then photographing them. Ahead of its year as UK city of culture, Tunick wanted to use the curves and flowing nature of the human form to imitate a flooding of Hull’s city streets. The resulting photos will go on show at Ferens Art Gallery in 2017. …

10 Barbaric Medical Procedures Still Practiced Today

When you think of modern medicine, what do you picture out in your head? Pristine doctors in white coats speaking to you calmly, administering safe medicines in the comforts of a nice modern office? That’s not entirely wrong, as advances in the field have led to a majority of diseases treatable in this manner. However, medicine still has its darker side.

We’re not saying people are secretly chlorinating your water source or recycling dead bodies, but several medical procedures we seem unable to get past are largely crude and horrifyingly barbaric by today’s standards. If it works, stick with it, right?

10. Scraping The Womb

The fields of obstetrics and gynecology are probably among the bloodiest in medicine. Most women, due to problems with their uterus, have to undergo at some point in their lives what is known as “curettage,” or the scraping of the womb. This procedure involves the introduction of a sharp “curette” that scrapes the inner lining of the uterus. These tissues are then sent for analysis to make sure that nothing is wrong with them—namely, that there isn’t an early cancer growing particularly in the presence of problems with menstruation.

Other times, it may be done after a miscarriage to ensure that no remnants of the deceased baby are left. Although effective, it is nonetheless cringe-worthy and makes us wonder why nothing less invasive has been invented up to this day. …

The Six Main Arcs in Storytelling, as Identified by an A.I.

A machine mapped the most frequently used emotional trajectories in fiction, and compared them with the ones readers like best.

“Fairy Tale Castle,” by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1909)

My prettiest contribution to my culture,” the writer Kurt Vonnegut mused in his 1981 autobiography Palm Sunday, “was a master’s thesis in anthropology which was rejected by the University of Chicago a long time ago.”

By then, he said, the thesis had long since vanished. (“It was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun,” Vonnegut explained.) But he continued to carry the idea with him for many years after that, and spoke publicly about it more than once. It was, essentially, this: “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers. They are beautiful shapes.”

That explanation comes from a lecture he gave, and which you can still watch on YouTube, that involves Vonnegut mapping the narrative arc of popular storylines along a simple graph. The X-axis represents the chronology of the story, from beginning to end, while the Y-axis represents the experience of the protagonist, on a spectrum of ill fortune to good fortune. “This is an exercise in relativity, really,” Vonnegut explains. “The shape of the curve is what matters.” …

This Tiny Robot Lets You Play God With Huge AI

We were all quite pumped a few weeks ago when Anki announced its plan to move beyond smartphone controlled cars into emotionally intelligent robots. At the time of the announcement Anki indicated that it would release an SDK with the inclusion of Cozmo, but until now details on what that SDK would be were sparse. Now we know, and the SDK is so jam-packed with goodies it could turn Cozmo into the Commodore 64 of robotics—a device that changes how people interact with abstruse technology.

The Commodore 64 changed the way we thought about computers. Before that ugly box got plugged into TVs across the United States computers were still for the very rich, the very smart, and the ladies programming the IBM beasts that took up entire floors of buildings. The Commodore 64 gave the average consumer the chance to compute and the slew of easy to understand programming languages, including BASIC and Logo, allowed anyone with an idea and a little time, to become a software developer.

We would not have experienced the computer revolution of the 80s if there had been no Commodore 64, and in 20 years a similar grand statement could be made for the Anki Cozmo. Anki wants to put one in the hands of every budding roboticist and give them access to tools that would otherwise require an entire university of people working full time to develop. “We want to take robotics out of the lab,” Anki co-founder and president Hanns Tappeiner said. …


The Filet-O-Fish is one of the more curious items on the McDonald’s menu in that it receives virtually no advertising whatsoever, yet still continues to be sold by the chain despite the fact that it seems like nobody ever orders one and it’s been a problem item for years for the company due to difficulty in finding a sustainable, tasty source of fish meat at the volume the behemoth needs, as well as the fact that it requires a separate fryer to cook in than their other items. As it turns out, they keep it around because the Filet-O-Fish is actually intended to be eaten by a very specific kind of customer- people who abstain from eating non-seafood meat for religious reasons.

According to McDonald’s executives, approximately 23% of the Filet-O-Fish sandwiches sold by the chain each year are sold during Lent. While the exact rules vary somewhat from region to region, in general, Catholics traditionally abstain from eating most meats on Fridays and Saturdays during this period. In some regions, the requirement is even that members of the Church avoid non-seafood meat on every single Friday of the year. …

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