The Discovery Of Earth’s Cousin

Apr 18 2014 @ 11:39am


Alex Knapp summarizes the news:

NASA has announced that its Kepler telescope has uncovered a new solar system about 500 light years away, currently dubbed Kepler 186. Circling that star are five planets, and the outermost planet, Kepler-186f, is about the size of Earth and within the star’s habitable zone. “The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” NASA’s Paul Hertz said in a statement. The star Kepler 186 is a “red dwarf” star, about half the size and mass of our own Sun. It’s about 500 light years away from Earth, near the constellation Cygnus in the night sky. The planet itself orbits its sun once every 130 days.

Adrienne LaFrance provides more details:

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Cell Phones On The Cellblock

Apr 18 2014 @ 11:23am

Jonathan Franklin explores how members of the Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC), Brazil’s most powerful prison gang, use mobile phones to conduct business and cause chaos on the outside:

Whether its members are looking up the home address of their least favorite guard, organizing a riot, or even buying gold bullion with stolen credit card numbers, the PCC has shown that prisoners with bandwidth pose a host of challenges.

The PCC is hardly alone in its exploitation of in-prison cell phone usage to organize crimes, but few prison gangs in the world can match its combination of access to phones, brute violence, and organizational discipline. And as the PCC has shown repeatedly, wired prisoners change the entire concept of incarceration. Instead of being isolated and punished, the inmate with access to a cell can organize murders, threaten witnesses, plan crimes, and browse online porn to figure out which escort to order up for the next intimate visit.

Last year, Brazilian authorities confiscated an estimated 35,000 phones from prisoners, yet Brazilian organized crime leaders continued to have widespread ability to make calls, receive calls, organize conference calls, and even hold virtual trials where gang leaders from different prisons are patched in to a central line to debate the fate of gang members accused of betraying the group’s ironclad rules.

Chart Of The Day

Apr 18 2014 @ 11:03am

Matthew Klein’s interactive visualization on the ways we die is worth a few minutes of your time. One frame that sticks out:

AIDS Victims

Time To Regulate E-Cigs?

Apr 18 2014 @ 10:35am

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Dick Durbin has issued a report showing that, in the absence of regulations like those imposed on tobacco products, e-cigarettes are being openly marketed to young people:

The Gateway to Addiction report written by the lawmakers’ staff after surveying e-cig makers finds e-cigarette companies are using marketing tactics that appeal to young people, such as handing out samples at events like music festivals, social-media promotion and offering kid-friendly flavors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1.78 million children and teens tried e-cigarettes in 2012. … According to the report, six of the surveyed e-cigarette companies support some regulation.

The report is the opening volley in a campaign to regulate vaping. Jason Koebler expects Congress to act soon:

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Why We Yawn

Apr 18 2014 @ 10:04am


Konnikova relays the research:

Boredom, hunger, fatigue: these are all states in which we may find our attention drifting and our focus becoming more and more difficult to maintain. A yawn, then, may serve as a signal for our bodies to perk up, a way of making sure we stay alert. When the psychologist Ronald Baenninger, a professor emeritus at Temple University, tested this theory in a series of laboratory studies coupled with naturalistic observation (he had subjects wear wristbands that monitored physiology and yawning frequency for two weeks straight), he found that yawning is more frequent when stimulation is lacking. In fact, a yawn is usually followed by increased movement and physiological activity, which suggests that some sort of “waking up” has taken place.

“You yawn when you’re obviously not bored,” [Robert Provine, neuroscientist and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond] points out.

Read On

Over The Hill At 24

Apr 18 2014 @ 9:35am

It may be the age at which our cognitive performance peaks:

That’s the conclusion of new study in PLoS One published last week by psychology researcher Joseph Thompson and his colleagues at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. The team tracked and measured the performance of 3,305 subjects (between the ages of 16 and 44) who played the nerdy “real-time strategy” computer game StarCraft 2. “Using a piecewise regression analysis, we find that age-related slowing of within-game, self-initiated response times begins at 24 years of age,” the authors write. In other words, older players took longer to respond to new visual playing conditions before taking action. And, according to the study, it was “a significant performance deficit,” which likely has consequences even outside abstruse digital space wars.

The paper does not focus on biological causes, but the authors speculate that the shift might have to do with changing brain “ratios of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) to choline (Cho)” that coincide with the early twenties.

Christopher Ingraham explains why measuring brain power with a computer game isn’t as silly as it sounds:

The game provides an excellent real-world laboratory for testing cognitive ability under pressure.

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Retail Jobs

Derek Thompson spotlights the stagnation of retail jobs:

According to data obtained by The Atlantic from EMSI, the retail industry gained about 49,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013, which means it grew by exactly 0.32 percent. Which means it didn’t grow. But the major action is at the bookends of this graph below, which shows employment growth in the largest retail subcategories. Department stores, like JCPenney, lost more than 200,000 jobs this century. But supercenters like Walmart, which operates in more than 3,200 domestic locations, added half a million (often lower-paying) jobs.

Relatedly, Edward McClelland reflects on the decline of Sears:

Sears is dying as a result of two not unrelated phenomena: the shrinking of the middle class and the atomization of American culture.

Read On

Flashy Infidelity

Apr 18 2014 @ 8:33am

Brendon Hong covers China’s “concubine culture”:

That high-powered professional men have illicit affairs is not an uncommon occurrence anywhere in the world. However, whereas an affair might be a secret elsewhere, Chinese men support multiple women, in part, to flaunt openly their wealth and social status. In January 2013, the Crisis Management Center at Renmin University in Beijing published a study stating that 95 percent of corrupt Chinese officials arrested in 2012 had extramarital affairs. In a country where only 80 baby girls are born for every 100 baby boys, young available women are perceived as a rare commodity, and hence are hoarded by the affluent.

Map Of The Day

Apr 18 2014 @ 8:06am

Zero Population

Nik Freeman maps America’s empty space:

As of the 2010 census, the United States consists of 11,078,300 Census Blocks. Of them, 4,871,270 blocks totaling 4.61 million square kilometers were reported to have no population living inside them. Despite having a population of more than 310 million people, 47 percent of the USA remains unoccupied. Green shading indicates unoccupied Census Blocks. A single inhabitant is enough to omit a block from shading.

Canada is more dramatic.

Bloody Brilliant

Apr 18 2014 @ 7:29am

A team of researchers that has been growing red blood cells from pluripotent stem cells has received a grant to trial the cultured cells in humans. Victoria Turk has the details:

The first three volunteers will receive some of the lab-cultured red blood cells before the end of 2016, and the goal is to eventually go mainstream. Think full-scale “blood factories,” according to the Telegraph. I spoke to Jo Mountford, one of the scientists working on producing the cells at the University of Glasgow who also works with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. She explained that their aim had been to create red blood cells that were “the closest thing possible to a red cell you would take from a donor,” but made in a dish rather than taken from someone’s arm.

Liat Clark looks at the potential advantages of manufactured blood cells:

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 17 2014 @ 9:30pm

I figured I’d post the above video to dispel some of the misconceptions about the pill that can prevent you from getting infected with HIV. Some readers wanted expert medical advice rather than my links to studies – and the video should help. You’ll note that the volunteers in the study do not come across as reckless “whores”, as some have so depressingly called them. They are rather sane, smart, responsible gay men trying to minimize their risks of infection. If you’d not think twice about getting vaccines if you were taking a trip to the tropics, why would you think twice about taking a pill that can protect you if you are in a demographic at high risk of HIV infection?

And after the ugliness of a few trying to claim exclusive credit for a movement they only joined in the last few years, it’s great to read this wonderful story:

The lawyer who defended California’s ban on gay marriage in front of the Supreme Court is now helping his daughter plan her wedding to another woman.

If you want to know why marriage equality is on a roll, it’s not because of one credit-grabbing Chad Griffin’s unique genius, but because so many human beings from all walks of life opened their hearts and minds to their fellow citizens, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, over the last two and a half decades, and saw the morality of affirming the love of one person for another. That’s what began this revolution and what will, I hope, one day end it.

The most trafficked post of the day – and week - is my initial takedown of Jo Becker’s travesty of a book. Read all of our related coverage here, including Becker’s dissembling response to the widespread criticism today. Meanwhile, the view from my Obamacare sparked the first wave of your stories. Feel free to leave any unfiltered comments at our Facebook page or @sullydish.

Some reader updates you might have missed: supplemental info for “The View From Your Obamacare” and a classic YouTube that one reader calls “perhaps my favorite Dish video of all time.” I watched it again today, and yeah it’s hilarious.

It was a great day for subscriptions: 37 more Dishheads signed up. You can join them here.

And see you in the morning.

Resegregation In The South

Apr 17 2014 @ 8:40pm

Nikole Hannah-Jones reports on it:

[Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s] school resegregation—among the most extensive in the country—is a story of city financial interests, secret meetings, and angry public votes. It is a story shaped by racial politics and a consuming fear of white flight. It was facilitated, to some extent, by the city’s black elites. And it was blessed by a U.S. Department of Justice no longer committed to fighting for the civil-rights aims it had once championed.

Certainly what happened in Tuscaloosa was no accident. Nor was it isolated. Schools in the South, once the most segregated in the country, had by the 1970s become the most integrated, typically as a result of federal court orders. But since 2000, judges have released hundreds of school districts, from Mississippi to Virginia, from court-enforced integration, and many of these districts have followed the same path as Tuscaloosa’s—back toward segregation. Black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. Nationally, the achievement gap between black and white students, which greatly narrowed during the era in which schools grew more integrated, widened as they became less so.

Pollution Is For Poor People

Apr 17 2014 @ 8:10pm

Emily Badger flags a new study adding to the large body of evidence that environmental problems disproportionately affect poor and minority communities:

[R]esearchers at the University of Minnesota, writing in the journal PLOS ONE, have created a sweeping picture of unequal exposure to one key pollutant — nitrogen dioxide, produced by cars, construction equipment and industrial sources — that’s been linked to higher risks of asthma and heart attack. They’ve found, all over the country, in even the most rural states and the cleanest cities, that minorities are exposed to more of the pollution than whites. …

Read On

Seeing Blue

Apr 17 2014 @ 7:43pm

Rosie Blau (as our German readers chuckle) looks at how light affects our health:

In the morning, high concentrations of blue occur naturally; by dusk we are left mostly with green and bluered. The blue light has the greatest impact on our circadian system, telling the brain that it’s morning and time to be alert, and setting our clock for the day. That is important because we sleep soundly, and our brain and body function better, when the internal signals of the body clock are in sync with external cues of day and night.

The problem is that artificial light does not replicate the colours of the natural world. Much electric light has high intensities of blue, so it deceives our brains into thinking that it’s daytime even when it isn’t. Just ten minutes of regular electric light can make some changes to our internal clock. “We evolved to be blue-sensitive, we need it,” says [professor Satchin] Panda. But many of us get an awful lot of it, particularly in the evening: when we get home we spotlight the kitchen so we can make the dinner, and then plug into our laptops, tablets or smartphones, which beam blue light into our eyes at close range. So we … lessen the contrast between light and dark that our circadian system relies on to work well. All of which makes us more prone to insomnia or disturbed sleep in some way.

But artificial light isn’t all bad:

Read On

The War Over The Core, Ctd

Apr 17 2014 @ 7:25pm

With Indiana recently becoming the first state to repeal the Common Core State Standards - and opposition to the standards rising in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and several other states - Jay Greene worries that Core supporters “made some of the same political mistakes that opponents of gay marriage did”:

They figured if they could get the US Department of Education, DC-based organizations, and state school chiefs on board, they would have a direct and definitive victory. And at first blush it looked like they had achieved it, with about 45 states committing to adopt the new set of standards and federally-sponsored standardized tests aligned to those standards. Like opponents of gay marriage, the Common Core victory seemed so overwhelming that they hardly felt the need to engage in debates to defend it. But in the rush to a clear and total victory, supporters of Common Core failed to consider how the more than 10,000 school districts, more than 3 million teachers, and the parents of almost 50 million students would react. For standards to actually change practice, you need a lot of these folks on board.

And he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon:

Read On

Hathos Alert

Apr 17 2014 @ 7:01pm

It’s an independent Tea Party commercial designed to oust Thad Cochran from the Senate. Brace yourself, Thad.

Update from a reader:

Well, it says something that Abraham Lincoln is being used an appeal to conservative Mississipians. You wouldn’t have seen that very long ago.

John Roberts And White Supremacy

Apr 17 2014 @ 6:40pm

A potent read from Tom Levenson, in the wake of Ta-Nehisi’s powerful writing on the subject. Money quote:

Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color.

This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.

Making good on one of his campaign promises, Mayor de Blasio has shuttered an infamous police unit:

Referred to as the “Demographics Unit,” the unit, advised by an official from the Central Intelligence Agency, had engaged in broad surveillance of Muslim communities, such as neighborhoods, mosques, businesses in New York and New Jersey, without specific evidence of criminal behavior. Testifying under oath, an NYPD official admitted that the program had not lead to a single terrorism investigation. Nevertheless, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had defended the unit’s operations, saying, “We have to keep this country safe.” The unit was first revealed as part of a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation by the Associated Press.

As a candidate, de Blasio had said that “we need to do a full review of all surveillance efforts, and anything that is not based on specific leads should not continue.” Yet the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Muslim civil rights group Muslim Advocates said they were uncertain whether the end of the Demographics Unit means the end of what they called “the practice of suspicionless surveillance of Muslim communities.”

Cue Pamela Geller, with the headline “De Blasio Surrenders New York To The Jihad.” But Rachel Gillum, the principal investigator of the Muslim American National Opinion Survey, explains how closing the unit might actually help anti-terrorism efforts:

Read On

Politico’s Dylan Byers managed to get an email from Jo Becker on her book. Here’s what she sent back (and it’s the same response she gave to HuffPo):

Many people have contributed to the success the movement has experienced. I have the upmost [sic] respect for all the people who contributed to that success. My book was not meant to be a beginning-to-end-history of the movement. It’s about a particular group of people at an extraordinary moment in time, and I hope that people will be moved by their stories.

My italics. It’s interesting that rather than defend her insane core thesis, she just lies about it. She claims that her book never pretends to be a beginning-to-end history of the marriage equality movement. And yet the book starts thus:

This is how a revolution begins … It begins with a handsome bespectacled thirty-five year old political consultant named Chad Griffin … on election night 2008.

Does she think we cannot read? The title of the book is “Forcing The Spring.” Not plucking the fruits of autumn. And if you think I’m just grabbing a few sentences, here’s how Becker introduces Evan Wolfson, the architect of the entire movement, just pages after she begins her cringe-inducing hagiography of Griffin. She frames him as an old, out-of-touch obstructionist who just never got it, unlike Hollywood’s Dustin Lance Black (!):

Hours earlier, Black had been confronted in the hotel’s courtyard by Evan Wolfson, the fifty-two-year-old founder of a group called Freedom to Marry and the primary author of the cautious state-by-state strategy that the gay rights movement had been pursuing. Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willful but ignorant child his on-going twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality nationwide. Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped.

Get the picture? Black had to shove the cautious, delaying, hide-bound oldie, Wolfson, out of the way for the “revolution” to “begin”.  And look at the contempt in the notion that he had spent a quarter century building support and winning equality in several states by 2008. The movement before then – which had achieved extraordinary results against enormous odds – was marked, Becker has a colleague of Griffin say, by “political ineptitude and dysfunction. It was filled with impassioned activists, but what it needed, she believed, was skilled political operators like Chad.” If that’s respecting those who contributed to the success of the movement, what would be disrespect? And if she truly respects those who contributed to the movement’s success, why did she not call us and ask for our perspectives? Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto – critical figures in this struggle – got one brief call each. I got none.

And as the book continues, this framework of dissing the people who did the real work only deepens:

Wolfson was quietly seething. The idea that this newcomer thought his strategy timid and incremental infuriated him … “Chad was saying ‘Oh my God, we are going to be loathed and hated.” … If Griffin and Black proceeded, they would do so in the face of the full-throated opposition of the gay rights community. It was not the best of outcomes, but neither was it a real deterrent. They did not need the gay establishment. They had already put in place an organization with the wherewithal to go it alone.

If you don’t recall the “full-throated opposition of the gay rights community” to the Perry case, you aren’t alone. I don’t either.

Read On

A French Stereotype That’s True

Apr 17 2014 @ 5:14pm

Catherine Rampell charts a finding from Pew’s report on morality around the globe:

France Affairs

Dylan Matthews captions:

Basically everyone thinks it’s not cool to cheat on your wife. The only country surveyed where a majority did say cheating is acceptable was France; there, about 47 percent disapproved, 12 percent approved, and 40 percent said it’s not a moral issue at all.

The Economist highlights the same report:

Americans are far more likely to disapprove of adultery than people in other rich nations, especially the French. They have grown more likely to frown at cheaters over the years—in contrast to their attitudes to gay sex, which have softened enormously. The data on international attitudes come from an interactive report released this week by the Pew Research Centre. It looks at how 40 countries judge the morality of controversial issues from abortion and premarital sex to contraception and divorce.