March 30, 2016

“If It Fits, I sits”


This Day In History: March 30, 1905

On March 30, 1905, an unassuming and dapper Englishman named Albert Pierrepoint was born who would one day own a pub in Lancashire called “Help the Poor Struggler.” He would also have another job that was a bit more unusual – Great Britain’s Chief executioner.

His atypical trade was a family affair. The Pierrepoints occupy a unique place in the British justice system, as Albert’s father and uncle also served as public executioners. He was unaware of the nature of their business as a child, but when he discovered the truth in his teens, a desire to follow in their footsteps began to grow within him. …

How Marco Rubio’s Delegates Could Cost Trump the Republican Nomination

Many Republicans in the District of Columbia have been waiting for a Marco Rubio presidential bid for years. The young, charming son of immigrants sparked presidential speculation from almost the moment he first landed in the nation’s capital. When he announced his candidacy, dozens of the city’s registered Republicans (an already tiny community) lined up to become delegates for him.

But now that he’s gone, Rubio’s delegates in DC and across the nation have to figure out what to do with their potentially game-changing votes at the Republican National Convention in July.

As each week goes by, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has picked up more delegates, but with two opponents still in the race, it’s becoming increasingly likely that he will not reach the threshold necessary to earn the nomination out-right, forcing a contested convention. If that happens in July, Rubio’s 171 delegates could play a key role in either handing Trump the nomination or taking it away. …

Marco Rubio’s secret (money) legacy

The senator’s allies found a way for donors to spend millions to support his presidential campaign while remaining anonymous — forever.

Marco Rubio’s campaign is dead. His secret-money legacy lives on.

Nobody knows who funded the nonprofit group that spent more than $10 million on TV ads boosting Rubio, and untold more on mailers and research. And, unless those donors out themselves, nobody ever will.

No presidential candidate fighting for their party’s nomination has ever benefited from as much undisclosed cash, and watchdogs worry the pro-Rubio group’s unchecked activity serves as a dangerous precedent that will soon become common practice. …

10 Controversial American Executions

One of the arguments used in support of the death penalty is that capital punishment serves justice. When a person kills another person, they should receive the same treatment. It is an eye for an eye. This is an easy concept to understand, especially when it comes to people who are clearly evil, like serial killers and child murderers.

But crimes—even murder—and the people who commit them aren’t always black and white. Usually, they exist in shades of gray. So in the 10 cases presented in this list, we’re asking one simple question: Was justice served?

10. John Ferguson

John Ferguson’s mental health problems were first recorded in 1965 while he was in prison. He reported having visual hallucinations, and by 1971, he was diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. It was recommended that he be committed to a state hospital. By 1975, two doctors labeled him dangerous, even homicidal, and declared that he shouldn’t be released from the hospital. But for some reason, he was set free.

On July 27, 1977, Ferguson disguised himself as a utility man and tricked his way into a home in Carol City, Florida. Once inside, he took a woman hostage and allowed two accomplices into the house. When seven men arrived at the door, the trio of home invaders took them hostage as well. After robbing the place, the woman and all seven men were shot in the back of the head with a shotgun. Only the woman and one man survived. At the time, it was the worst mass murder in the history of Miami-Dade. …

An Ethicist Reads The Art of the Deal

Donald Trump succumbs to the age-old temptation to see capitalism not as an economic system but a morality play.

Published in 1987, The Art of the Deal is a fairly recent addition to a long line of books by business titans that double as memoir and modus operandi. From Ben Franklin’s Autobiography to John D. Rockefeller’s Random Reminiscences to Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut, these books aim, by battle scar and bromide, effrontery and object lesson, to present “the very definition of the American success story.”

That, at least, is how the dust jacket of the The Art of the Deal recommends its author, Donald Trump. Trump was just 41 when the book was published, but he had already enjoyed a decade as a real-estate wunderkind whose big mouth and brash deal-making saw his reputation waver between Elon Musk and Martin Shkreli. Trump was still a few years from fully embracing the anti-hero persona that has commandeered this election cycle—in a 1985 profile for 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace incredulously notes that he presents himself as full of “Boy Scout principles”—but the young tycoon had already suffered enough unpleasant encounters with the Fourth Estate that one imagines he was eager to take his case directly to the public. …

Judicial Watch, pursuing the Clintons like Inspector Javert for two decades, scores again

If you, like at least a quarter of the American electorate, were not born or were still in footies or watching “Barney” when the first Hillary Clinton “scandal” made the cover of Time magazine in 1994 for “clouding her image,” fret not. A conservative watchdog group called “Judicial Watch,” which was on the case then, is still on it now and is more than happy to fill you in.

Its band of expert Freedom of Information Act lawyers — and make no mistake, they are good — continue to plumb the depths of what was called in the mid-’90s the “Whitewater controversy,” the “Whitewater scandal” or the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

In fact, just this week, Judicial Watch announced it was “asking a federal court to order the National Archives and Records Administration to release draft criminal indictments of Hillary Clinton” stemming from that probe. While others were tried and convicted after an independent counsel probe, Clinton was not charged with breaking any laws. …

10 Legends Of Ancient Megaliths And Stones From The British Isles

The standing stones and portal tombs of Britain and Ireland are among some of the most enigmatic reminders of the fact that people walked the isles thousands of years ago. They were astronomical calendars, burial places, and sites of long forgotten ancient rituals. More recently, they’ve given birth to myths and legends that attempt to explain just how they came to be—and what happens to those who disrespect them.

10. Nine Stane Rig ~ Scotland

The Nine Stane Rig (aka the Nine Stanes Stone Circle or the Ninestane Rig) is nestled among trees in the borderlands between Scotland and England. The prehistoric stones are thought to have been erected as a calendar for local farmers, telling them when to plant their crops by measuring the movement of the Moon against the circle. Later, it became a cairn, and that’s where the creepy part comes in.

The circle is only a few miles away from the now-abandoned Hermitage Castle. According to local legend, the castle was once home to William de Soulis (or de Soules), the second inhabitant of the castle. The 13th-century lord was popularly known as “Bad Lord Soulis” and occasionally as “Terrible William.” With those nicknames, it’s no surprise that the stories told about him include his penchant for practicing black magic. It was a pastime that necessitated the torture and murder of local children, whom he kidnapped and killed in the dungeons of the castle. …

Revealed: how Associated Press cooperated with the Nazis

German historian shows how news agency retained access in 1930s by promising not to undermine strength of Hitler regime

SS pamphlet ‘The Sub-Human’, using photographs by Associated Press.

The Associated Press news agency entered a formal cooperation with the Hitler regime in the 1930s, supplying American newspapers with material directly produced and selected by the Nazi propaganda ministry, archive material unearthed by a German historian has revealed.

When the Nazi party seized power in Germany in 1933, one of its first objectives was to bring into line not just the national press, but international media too. The Guardian was banned within a year, and by 1935 even bigger British-American agencies such as Keystone and Wide World Photos were forced to close their bureaus after coming under attack for employing Jewish journalists.

Associated Press, which has described itself as the “marine corps of journalism” (“always the first in and the last out”) was the only western news agency able to stay open in Hitler’s Germany, continuing to operate until the US entered the war in 1941. It thus found itself in the presumably profitable situation of being the prime channel for news reports and pictures out of the totalitarian state. …

US States Form Coalition to Combat Climate Change, Fraud

Top law enforcement officials from states around the nation have banded together to protect progress on climate change by taking on the fossil fuel industry.

Joining Democratic attorneys general from 15 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands, former Vice President Al Gore praised a “first-of-its-kind” joint effort to reduce carbon emissions, hold polluters accountable for fraudulent claims, and defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” against legal challenges.

“We cannot continue to allow the fossil fuel industry or any industry to treat our atmosphere like an open sewer or mislead the public about the impact they have on the health of our people and the health of our planet,” Gore said.

The participating states are looking at working together on key initiatives related to climate change, including investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled the public on the impact of climate change. …


In 1991 two men by the name of Doug Bower and Dave Chorley rocked the worlds of ufologists and paranormal experts alike when they claimed to be the driving force behind the crop circle phenomenon of the late 1970s and beyond using little more than a plank of wood and a length of rope. This was a claim self-professed experts on the phenomenon dismissed as ludicrous, until the two men showed everyone how they did it.

Flanked by members of the press from across the world, in a small field in Warminster, the two men proceeded to methodically push over wheat using wood planks. A few hours later, they stood in the middle of a crop circle so perfect actual aliens armed with a Spirograph would have struggled to make one that looked any better. The men then explained to the waiting cameras that they’d been making crop circles this way for well over a decade, starting in 1976, shortly before similar looking crop circles suddenly started cropping up in other areas of the world. …

The 10-Second Tax Return

Letting the government do its citizens’ taxes is cheap, efficient, and accurate. Naturally, the United States won’t do it.

Each tax season, tens of millions of American households have a decision to make.

A) They can collectively spend hundreds of millions of hours preparing tax information that the federal government already has.

B) They can pay other people billions of dollars to do it for them.

But let’s add a choice C: They go for a walk. Or, they have a nice dinner. Basically, they do whatever they want with those millions of hours and billions of dollars. Because their taxes are done for them, for free. They receive a document from the government with all of the relevant information already filled out, and they check a box to say, “okay!”

In the United States, the third choice sounds like a fantasy. But the excruciating pain of tax season is just another example of negative American exceptionalism. In fact, about one-half of American taxpayers earn all their income from one employer’s wages (which the IRS can see) and interest from one bank (which the IRS can find out without much effort). The IRS could easily send tens of millions of individuals their nearly completed taxes by mail—or even, by text. …

Could DeepMind try to conquer poker next?

Main programmer on AlphaGo published a paper on teaching a computer to play the casino favourite

What next for Google’s DeepMind, now that the company has mastered the ancient board game of Go, beating the Korean champion Lee Se-Dol 4–1 this month?

A paper from two UCL researchers suggests one future project: playing poker. And unlike Go, victory in that field could probably fund itself – at least until humans stopped playing against the robot.

The paper’s authors are Johannes Heinrich, a research student at UCL, and David Silver, a UCL lecturer who is working at DeepMind. Silver, who was AlphaGo’s main programmer, has been called the “unsung hero at Google DeepMind”, although this paper relates to his work at UCL. …

Janitors Of The Highway: 5 Lessons Of A Roadkill Scraper

If you spend much time behind the wheel, chances are you’ve inadvertently helped your share of unsuspecting critters shuffle off this mortal coil. What you may not realize is that while you frantically call up your insurance provider to see if you’re covered for “antler in engine block,” someone has in turn called up the Winston Wolf of feral stiffs to clean up the mess you made.

We reached out to one of these fixers of the American road, highway technician Brandon Massey. He let us in on some grisly daily realities of a job you probably have tried very hard not to think about. You’re welcome!

5. Animals Can Explode

A dead animal on the roadway isn’t exactly treated as an emergency, as you probably have guessed after driving past the same flattened woodchuck several days in a row. So right away the job of collecting roadkill is quite a bit more disgusting than it needs to be, since dead creatures don’t exactly age like wine. “They may be half-eaten by coyotes or mostly decomposed,” Brandon says. But if you do that job for a while, you find yourself praying for a hyena’s leftovers once you come across a body that is, shall we say, a little too intact.

“Every now and then we come across a [corpse] who looks like the Fat Albert of the deer world,” Brandon continues.”The deer gets struck in such a way that it closes off exits in its body, causing the building up of gas with nowhere to go, which blows the corpse up like a horrible furry balloon. A couple of times we were lucky to find them just as they were beginning to bloat. Usually a body bloats slightly anyway, but if you crush the small intestine, it’s not coming out easily. Over time, it will gradually deflate — unless it’s punctured.”

Which means at least one kid with a stick has gotten a “Turnpike Surprise” right in the face.

Google just made its $149 professional photo editing software free

What was once a $500 package of pro photo editing software is now completely free. The high-end Nik Collection of photo editing tools, which was priced down to $149 after being acquired by Google in 2012, is now available for download by everyone.

“As we continue to focus our long-term investments in building incredible photo editing tools for mobile, including Google Photos and Snapseed, we’ve decided to make the Nik Collection desktop suite available for free,” Google announced on Mar. 24. Those who have already paid for the software in 2016 will get their money back. …

The 8-Bit Game That Makes Statistics Addictive

Please make it stop.

Before I started playing Guess the Correlation, I didn’t expect to spend an hour of my Easter weekend obsessing over an 8-bit video game, much less one based on something that many scientists do every day. I also didn’t expect to be hypnotized by graph after graph of black dots, trying to accurately gauge the patterns they concealed, in exchange for points and a place on a leaderboard. And I definitely didn’t expect to have fun doing it.

Guess the Correlation is the brainchild of Omar Wagih, a graduate student at the European Bioinformatics Institute, and nefarious devourer of the thing I once called “my free time.” On paper, it sounds incredibly boring. In practice, it is inexplicably addictive. Try it. …

10 Classic Films Accused Of Blasphemy

Some argue that one of the duties of art is to challenge the existing power structures—secular, religious, and everything in between. Of course, those power structures will push back when they can. Throughout the 20th century, religious organizations have exerted influence on officialdom and public opinion to restrict the distribution of films that they just didn’t like.

10. The Life Of Brian

Monty Python’s story of Brian, a hapless citizen of Roman Judea who is mistakenly identified as the Messiah, caused a massive firestorm upon its release in the UK. Michael Palin and John Cleese even had to debate the film on BBC Two with Malcolm Muggeridge, a Catholic journalist, and Mervyn Stockwood, Anglican Bishop of Southwark.

After watching the debate again, Cleese commented that he “was astonished . . . at how stupid [the two members of the church] were and how boring the debate became. I think the sad thing was that there was absolutely no attempt at a proper discussion—no attempt to find any common ground.”

The US religious community didn’t like the film, either. It was lambasted by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York as “a crime against religion which holds the person of Christ up to comic ridicule.” …

The Weird and Wonderful Things Reflected in Mirrors on Craigslist

People sell everything on Craigslist. Name it, and there’s probably at least one listed for sale right now. But Eric Oglander is especially interested in the mirrors you find on Craigslist. Well, not the mirrors, but the sometimes beautiful and occasionally bizarre things reflected in them.

You notice these kinds of things when you spend a “ridiculous amount of time” on Craigslist. The Brooklyn artist has been browsing the site since 2005, keeping an eye on bicycles and other items he can sell for a profit on eBay. Spend enough hours on Craigslist and you’ll see strange things, like the woman whose listing for a bedroom set included a photo of the bed with five cats on it. …

Unlocked iPhone Worthless After F.B.I. Spills Glass of Water on It

Moments after successfully unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone, the F.B.I. rendered the phone permanently useless by spilling a glass of water on it, an F.B.I. spokesman confirmed on Tuesday.

Calling the accident “one of the biggest embarrassments in F.B.I. history,” bureau spokesman Harland Dorrinson told reporters, “There’s no way to express how bad we feel about what happened to that phone.”

Walking reporters through the mishap, Dorrinson said that shortly after the iPhone was unlocked, “There were a lot of high-fives, which led to the unfortunate spilling of the water.” …


Byron H. asks: When exactly does a speed limit come into effect? Is it when you see the sign or the instant you cross it? If it’s an increase in speed can you legally accelerate up to the speed so your speed matches the sign right when you get to it, or do you have to wait?

On paper, speed limits sound like a pretty simple idea- legislators and experts agree upon a given speed at which it’s deemed safe to travel through an area and then let the public know by clearly signposting it. But a question we’ve received numerous times over the years is when exactly does a speed limit legally come into effect? Here now is the answer.

Any signposted speed limit comes into effect at the exact point the sign resides. In other words, if you’re driving at 30 MPH through a 30 MPH zone and you’re about to enter a zone that allows you to drive at 50MPH, it is technically illegal to begin accelerating beyond 30 MPH until you’ve reached the sign indicating the higher speed limit. …

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