Dissent Of The Day

Apr 18 2014 @ 2:00pm

A reader writes:

Your criticism of Jo Becker is hopelessly histrionic. I watched election returns at my then-boyfriend’s apartment in West Hollywood on November 4, 2008. I still recall the bewildering disorientation associated with feeling such enormous pride that our country had elected our first black president – while, at the same time, feeling such hopeless despair that my state didn’t care about making me a second-class citizen by approving Prop 8.

It was clear to me on that night that something in the marriage equality movement needed to change. The “No on Prop 8″ advertisements that I had been watching and writing a series of small checks to fund were offensive in their banality. Rather than frame the issue in the manner that a majority have subsequently come to understand it – as a matter of fundamental human dignity, love, family, and fairness – the “No on 8″ campaign relied on soundbites from Dianne Feinstein, overly defensive rebuttals of ads claiming that Proposition 8 would lead to the kids being converted to homosexuality, and a steadfast resistance to showing gay couples who were actually affected by the issue. The folks who Jo Becker write about are the folks who saw what a hopeless loser the No on Prop 8 was – and how laughably awful other similar campaigns opposing gay-marriage bans were.

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The Putin Way Of War, Ctd

Apr 18 2014 @ 1:39pm

Vice captures a Ukrainian police station being overrun:


Mark Thompson explores the Russian military tradition of maskirovka in more depth:

Maskirovka (which is rooted in the English word, mask) is designed to sow confusion and frustration among opponents by denying them basic information.

The anonymous troops in eastern Ukraine say only that they’re “Cossacks,” but Ukrainian and Western officials believe many of them are led by Russian special forces. Yet the murkiness of their origin and sponsors inflates their menace, and makes it more difficult to figure out how to deal with them. Snipping puppet strings between Ukraine and Moscow may be easier than controlling indigenous separatists operating independently. A combination of both complicates matters still further.

Patrick Tucker reports that Ukrainians are taking the matter of separating real protesters from Russian infiltrators into their own hands:

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The Math On The Midterms

Apr 18 2014 @ 1:18pm

Sides calculates that the GOP’s House majority could grow significantly larger:

 [B]ased on the current model and current conditions, there is a real chance that the 2014 election could give the GOP as many or more seats as it had after the wave election of 2010.  There is less of a chance, though still a chance, that the GOP could command a majority as large as its post-WWII high-water mark.  But, as of now, 2014 appears unlikely to give the GOP the unprecedented majorities it had after 1928 (or after 1920 for that matter, when it controlled 302 seats).

Sean Trende, meanwhile, wonders about the Democrats picking up Senate seats:

Don’t get me wrong: For Democrats to gain seats this cycle would be the equivalent of drawing a straight flush. With that said, straight flushes do occur, so it’s worth examining how it might occur here.

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Joe Coscarelli introduces the above video:

With NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia still technically temporary, he’s doing his best to fit in. [Yesterday], that included a special appearance — or bizarre PR stunt — during a televised Q&A with Vladimir Putin, in which Snowden served up a chance for Putin to tell the world that Russia doesn’t spy on its citizens like the big bad U.S. does. “I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s policy of mass surveillance,” said Snowden. “So I’d like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze the communication of millions?”

Putin, it’s safe to say, was not caught off guard by the line of inquiry.

For Allahpundit, this proves that Snowden is a tool of the Kremlin:

Only two possibilities here. One: There’s an FSB agent out of frame with a gun pointed at Snowden’s head, just to make sure that he reads the cue card as written. In that case, decide for yourself how likely it is that Snowden’s refused to share any U.S. state secrets with Russian intel. Two: He’s doing this cheerfully, either at Putin’s request as a condition of his asylum or at his own request, to exploit a Putin press conference as a way to further needle the NSA.

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Another Goldwater Moment?

Apr 18 2014 @ 12:37pm

Douthat declares that “the most striking thing about the public polling on the 2016 Republican nomination isn’t just the absence of a clear frontrunner: It’s the absence of a clear pair or trio or even a quartet of frontrunners.” He wonders if we are deviating from “the path that every post-1970s Republican primary campaign has ultimately taken, in which a candidate who seems reasonably electable, performs well with “moderate conservative” primary voters … and wins the blessing of the party’s donor class successfully fends off a more right-wing challenger”:

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8 Million Sign Ups

Apr 18 2014 @ 12:20pm

German Lopez charts the latest enrollment figures:


Cohn looks at the demographics:

As for the age mix, you may have heard that about 40 percent of the population eligible for coverage in the marketplaces is between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s true and, obviously, 28 percent is a lot less than 40 percent. The worry has always been that older and sicker people would sign up in unusually high numbers, forcing insurers to raise their prices next year and beyond.

But insurance companies didn’t expect young people to sign up in proportion to their numbers in the population. They knew participation would be a bit lower and they set premiums accordingly. Only company officials know exactly what they were projecting—that’s proprietary information—but one good metric is the signup rate in Massachusetts, in 2007, when that state had open enrollment for its version of the same reforms. According to information provided by Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and reform architect, 28.3 percent of Massachusetts enrollees were ages 19 to 34, a comparable age group.

Suderman puts those numbers is a less favorable light:

The administration’s goal, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, was for 39 percent of the final tally to be between the ages of 18 and 34. The “worst-case scenario,” according to a Kaiser Foundation analysis cited by the administration was if only 25 percent of the final tally was in that age cohort. As it turns out, we do have information about sign-ups in that age group, and the demographic mix is much closer to the worst-case scenario than it is to the administration’s target.

David Nather lets a little more air out of the big enrollment number:

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Talks in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the US, and the EU produced an agreement last night:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the terms of the deal during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. All parties agreed that all sides refrain from violence. All illegal groups must be disarmed. All illegally seized buildings in eastern Ukraine must be returned to their legitimate owners. All illegally occupied streets and squares must be vacated.

The deal also calls for amnesty to all protesters who have left their public places and surrendered their weapons, providing they are not accused of crimes. “None of us leave here with a sense that the job is done because these words are on the paper,” Kerry said. “If we’re not able to see immediate progress, we’ll have no other choice than impose further costs on Russia.”

Brij Khindaria analyzes the deal:

Kerry obtained a Russian commitment to a quick de-escalation in coming days without quite knowing how to prevent new outbursts or to sustain the peace. Lavrov got a foot in the door of a constitutional revision that might turn Ukraine into a federation in which Kiev, the capital, does not have administrative control over the east and south. If things go Lavrov’s way, Putin will have got Crimea plus loyal autonomous Russian-speaking cohorts in Ukraine without having to occupy new territory.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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. …

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