Links 3/5/15

Links for you. Science:

First detailed microscopy evidence of bacteria at the lower size limit of life
What’s Been Cooking for Ion At AGBT15
Mandatory Ebola Quarantines Were Counterproductive, Not To Mention Immoral
Why racism is not backed by science
When Whole Genome Sequencing Doesn’t Give Us the Whole Genome

Other:

Shoveling a Path Out of Prison: If states want to dig themselves out from the difficulties of mass incarceration, they can begin by creating employment programs for newly released inmates.
Jim Crow and school vouchers
People Don’t Believe That These Teenagers Are Twins (genes segregate in weird ways sometimes; what is really striking isn’t the difference in skin color but in facial structure)
Rahm Emanuel’s moment of reckoning: How he ended up in a fight for his political life
Standard Responses to Online Stupidity
Why Do Poor Women Have More Abortions?
The fringe economic theory that might get traction in the 2016 campaign (I don’t know why this is a ‘fringe’ theory, but still good)
Where has all the money gone? The decline in faculty salaries at American colleges and universities over the past 40 years
“Dozens of threats to execute grade-school kids”: Madness of a 9/11 truther. How a father with a Twitter account stopped a homegrown terrorist in his tracks
Schools face new challenges as poverty grows in inner suburbs
All Snowflakes Look the Same: After I moved to Wisconsin to pursue an education, other people’s racial perceptions began to pursue me.
Hillary Email ‘Scandal’? Not So Fast
The Semi-Retirement Myth: Don’t buy the tales of meaningful work into your 70s. Your retirement is inevitable—and bleaker than the last generation’s.
Are the tribal really all 100% impervious to evidence, logic, science?
Turning Conflict Into Trust Improves Schools And Student Learning
Ex-US Senator Calls Out Missouri GOP Leader During Funeral: ‘Words Can Kill’ (note that only one party uses anti-Semitic whisper campaigns)
D.C. Voucher Program at Center of Fiscal Fight (Again)

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Something You Probably Didn’t Know About Scott Walker

This man is considered presidential material:

Walker idolizes Reagan. Every year, on their wedding anniversary, Walker and his wife celebrate Reagan’s birthday by serving (according to Walker’s memoirs) “macaroni and cheese casserole, and red, white, and blue Jelly Belly jelly beans.”

I could see doing this on Reagan’s birthday, even though that would still be pretty weird. But on your own wedding anniversary?

Bizarre.

Posted in Conservatives | 3 Comments

The Slow Squeezing of the Security State: The Library of Congress Edition

A few years ago, I had occasion to visit the Harvard Medical School Library–the building with all of the cool stuff. Getting in wasn’t a problem, but leaving involved a lot of security–they didn’t want a lot of people wandering off with some of the aforementioned cool stuff. We both joked that this was the first time in a long while that we had been treated as potential thieves, as opposed to potential terrorists.

Let us pine for the halcyon days of yore.

Which brings us to this depressing story about the increased security at the Library of Congress. That our internal security apparatus has turned the Library of Congress–the People’s Library in every sense of the word–into a nearly impenetrable fortress would be bad enough, but you might be able to guess what one of the outcomes of this hypervigilance is (boldface mine):

The Library of Congress is America’s national library. It also may be the only library in the United States where getting into one of its Capitol Hill buildings is a lot like trying to board an airplane. Security has shifted so much to anti-terrorism that it’s no longer doing its intended job, to protect the library collection from theft….

According to a report from 1998, entering the Library then was “no different than most other security stations on Capitol Hill: Hand the guard your bag and walk through the metal detectors.” That process typically took seconds.

Leaving the library, however, was an ordeal. It used to involve a Library of Congress Police officer removing everything from briefcases and backpacks and thumbing through books and papers to ensure that nothing was leaving that shouldn’t.

Now, to enter, visitors have to remove electronics and other items, then go through an x-ray conveyor. To leave, officers peek into partially opened bags and do not typically bother to inspect books or folders. The process to enter takes a long time, but exiting usually takes less than ten seconds

Library security was tight long before terrorism reconfigured federal architecture, but it was tight in different ways. Now, with such a strong spotlight on keeping terrorism out, security seems to be letting its original mission slip.

This is what happens when we let the professional security paranoiacs run things. It’s their job (and an opportunity to expand future contracts) to treat every target, no matter how absurd, as something to be defended from a suicide bombing or all-out military assault. Tragically, we’ve never really discussed or agreed to this new normal, it’s just slowly enveloped us.

Though an upside is that I know where to get some really cool books…

Posted in Civil Liberties, Libraries | Leave a comment

Links 3/4/15

Links for you. Science:

New Mexico museum scuttles Darwin events after creationists demand ‘intelligent design’ coverage (is it me, or do engineers seem disproportionately involved in this kind of stupidity?)
Scientists reveal the real reason you have eyelashes
A Clownish Way to Make Outdoor Cats Less Deadly
In 2013, measles killed more kids than car accidents or AIDS
No one could see the color blue until modern times (interesting, but the idea that blue is a rare color in nature is bizarre)

Other:

Ending the Creditor’s Paradise (excellent)
Waiting for a Super Man: Who will be the next superintendent of the Boston Public Schools (and who really gets to decide???)–very good analysis
White Nationalists, Sarah Palin, and the Slow Death of the Right-Wing Fringe
Americans are making a big mistake about health care
“Stranger Danger” to children vastly overstated: Oft-cited stats about child abduction puts kidnappers behind every bush. But the numbers are old and frequently mangled, distorting our understanding of genuine risks to children.
Nice try Republicans, but marriage isn’t the solution to poverty
A City Braces for Its Ballpark to Go the Way of Its Mills: Through Years of Change, Pawtucket, R.I., Always Had McCoy Stadium
QOTD[ecades]: John Kerry
Relatively cheap free publicity (Note to The Economist: your class bias is showing!)
Smothered by a Boom in Banking
What you think about millennials is wrong
The Broader Net Neutrality Narrative
All-American terrorists
After Boris Nemtsov’s Assassination, ‘There Are No Longer Any Limits’

Posted in Lotsa Links | 4 Comments

The Soon Scandal Is Very Spiro Agnew

And for those of you who don’t know who Spiro Agnew was, this is what I’m referring to. Recently, I asked this about the scandal enveloping climate change denier Dr. Willie Soon and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophyics:

what the hell was the Smithsonian thinking? Again, this isn’t very much money per year–tarnishing your reputation for this little money just isn’t worth it. I wonder if his denialist ties helped him in that the Smithsonian was afraid to let him go as it would be seen by the right as politically motivated. At best, the Smithsonian got greedy–and in a Spiro Agnew sort of way. At worst, this is a real failure of scientific oversight.

It really was chump change (boldface mine):

The records showed that Mr. Soon and the Smithsonian had received money from groups that included the energy conglomerate Southern Company, the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and Donors Trust, a fund for anonymous contributions identified by a 2013 Drexel University study as the largest single provider of money to political efforts to fight climate-change policy.

Mr. Alcock confirmed through a spokeswoman that the donors disclosed by Greenpeace had provided Mr. Soon and the Smithsonian with a total of $1.2-million over a period of 10 years. He also confirmed that, under standard observatory procedures, less than half of that amount was passed through to Mr. Soon as salary. Most was kept by the Smithsonian to cover facility operating costs.

Most Smithsonian researchers receive their compensation through such “soft money” payments rather than a salary from the institution, Mr. Kress said. But unlike Mr. Soon, most of those at the observatory draw funding heavily from government sources, such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation, which in turn rely on peer-reviewed award processes.

In a typical year, the Smithsonian observatory receives about $95-million in grant support, said Mr. Alcock’s spokeswoman, Christine Pulliam. “Only a small fraction of 1 percent of that figure comes from corporate sources,” she said.

So, over a decade, Soon brought in $1.2 million, which is about one-tenth of a percent of HSCA’s total funding. And the Smithsonian risked its reputation over that. Insane.

Posted in Bidness, Funding, Global Warming, Museums etc. | 1 Comment

The Need to Characterize ‘Near’ Missing Diversity: A Comment on the Subway Microbiome Paper

I’m a few weeks late to the subway microbiome paper which, in internet time is decades, but I’ve noticed two things are missing in the commentary. Before I get to those issues, one of the advantages of being behind the curve is that I can outsource the whole bubonic plague issue to Nick Loman:

However, I think we can fairly confidently conclude that your study provides no compelling evidence of Y. pestis [bubonic plague] being on the subway. The missing part of this discussion is that we already have lots of understanding about the population genomics of Y. pestis and B. anthracis [anthrax] to guide us in interpreting these data. The most important thing to know is that these species are genetically extremely monomorphic, so matches at ~90% nucleotide identity simply cannot be from the same species.

I’ll just add that when I looked at the reads that were supposed to be plague (listed in the post), they looked like ordinary phage proteins and, as Loman notes, weren’t Y. pestis genes. In fact, as Christopher Mason, one of the authors on the paper notes, these sequences are perfectly identical matches to Enterobacter hormaechei, a somewhat distant relative of both the gut commensal, E. coli, and Y. pestis. I find this really interesting, since we don’t know much about E. hormaechei, and what little we do know is based on isolates from sick people, which might not be (probably isn’t) its ‘native habitat’, any more than most E. coli should be thought of as pathogens. So here’s this bacterium, which in the grand scheme of things, is similar to other bacteria we’ve studied, but whose ecology is a complete mystery. It’s great that everyone is focusing on Things We Have Never Seen Before, but there’s still far too much work to be done on things we’ve named, are clinically important, and which we still know very little about.

So that’s the first missing point. Here’s the second:

STAY AWAY FROM 168TH STREET! That no one has mentioned this incredibly important result is clear evidence of a deep, nefarious conspiracy….

Posted in E. coli, Ecology, Microbiome | 3 Comments

Links 3/3/15

Links for you. Science:

Libraries of Life
Lab In Berkeley Accidentally Discovers Solution To Fix Color Blindness
A New Name, and Wider Recognition, for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
New Species appropriately nicknamed ‘Sparklemuffin’ and ‘Skeletorus’
10X Reveals Its Facets

Other:

Are ‘Learning Styles’ a Symptom of Education’s Ills?
Netanyahu’s Latest Falsehood: The US Didn’t Support the Establishment of Israel
A new age for an old town
How Scott Walker Built a Career Sending Wisconsin Inmates to Private Prisons
Where Journalism Goes to Die: Glenn Greenwald, Pierre Omidyar, Adnan Syed and my battles with First Look Media.
But for the video…
Angry Andy’s Failing Schools & the Finger of Blame (New York shortchanges schools, then blames them for failure. WHEEE!!!!)
Meet Pierre Omidyar! A handy primer for new First Look hires
A Partial Accounting of the Damage Netanyahu Is Doing to Israel (when you’ve lost Jeffrey Goldberg….)
The Closed Minds Problem
Pakistani Officials Issue Arrest Warrants Over Refusals of Polio Vaccine
Let’s Bust Some Myths About Fluency
Airline passengers are paying the price so that investors can profit
5 Boston schools recommended for closing
State declines to back new independent charter schools

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment