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The 19th Amendment: Negative Space

happy anniversary, I guess

Ohai, today was the anniversary of the 19th amendment.  You know, the one that gave women the right to vote as long as they vote for some guy?  Yeah, that one.  Well, I don’t know about you but I have been underwhelmed by my ability to fairly reflect my preferences for elected office in the past 30 years that I have been granted this privilege.  So, I think I might experiment with negative space in the voting area.

See, it seems to me that there are an awful lot (emphasis on awful) of politicians that have filled in their electoral success scenarios by anticipating the votes of women, to whom they make promises they don’t intend to keep.  Creatively, I think they’ve hit a rut.  I would like to challenge those guys (and it’s mostly guys) to repaint their electoral pictures without our votes. Consider it a thought experiment, a little intellectual masturbation.  Imagine an electoral landscape with massive voids where our votes might have been. After all, we given the right to vote but no one said we had to use it.  Or would we be using it if we just didn’t?

Oh, sure, the Democrats will say that if the Republicans win, it will just make it worse for ourselves.  But then I think about the old guy in Life of Brian who was about to get stoned for BLASPHEMY and think how much worse can it get if I say Jehovah one more time?  Jehovah!  Jehovah!  I mean, as long as I’m going to get pummeled anyway, might as well express myself.

Anyways, having the vote is great, in theory.  Too bad there’s no one I want to give it to right now.  And you all know that they won’t buy the cow if you give the milk away for free.

Sing it, sisters:

Wednesday News

Good Afternoon Conflucians!!!

Let’s scavenge the news and see what’s happening on this fine overcast rainy day (big improvement over 100+ temperatures).

The Pirate Party strikes a deal with Wikileaks to host them:

After releasing more than 90,000 government documents last month related to the war in Afghanistan, Wikileaks was labeled a serious threat by the U.S. Government. With more leaks coming up, Wikileaks can use all the support it can get, especially from political movements around the globe.

One of the political parties that has shown interest in helping Wikileaks is the Swedish Pirate Party. Two weeks ago they offered to host the whistleblower site, and during a visit to Sweden Wikileaks’ Julian Assange accepted this offer and signed a deal.

“I’m delighted that we’re able to help WikiLeaks,” Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge told TorrentFreak in a response to the news that was made public today.

For Wikileaks, support from the Swedish Pirate Party is a significant win. If the Party is voted into Parliament next month it could use Parliamentary immunity to run the site from inside the Swedish Government, making it impossible to take it offline through legal procedures.

“We welcome the help provided by the Pirate Party,” Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange said commenting on the agreement. “Our organisations share many values and I am looking forward to future ways we can help each other improve the world.”

As we discussed yesterday, Rod Blagojavich was found guilty of only one of the counts with the jury deadlocked on the others. Now we find out from the jury how close the vote was. In a few of the verdicts including the main one of selling the Senate seat, the jury was 11 to 1 for conviction:

A lone juror may have saved former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from a conviction on the most serious corruption charge of conspiring to trade or sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, according to a juror in the case.

Juror Erik Sarnello, 21, of Itasca, Ill., told “Good Morning America” that a female juror would not be swayed by the overwhelming majority and kept the jury deadlocked at 11-1 on three key counts related to the Senate seat — conspiracy to commit extortion, attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery.

“There were major, fundamental different ideas and views on what we were seeing in the evidence,” Sarnello said. “We would play a phone call and one side would say, that supports, right there, he’s guilty, and the other side would say, that means he’s not guilty.”

Sarnello said the holdout “wanted to see that clear cut evidence that we knew just wasn’t there for her.”

That certainly sounds like a good reason for a retrial if the prosecution thinks that was an anomaly and not likely to be repeated. The prosecution is pushing for a retrial, so this circus will likely continue.

The Pakistan flood disaster continues with a continued lack of basic supplies:

With disastrous flooding threatening to spread, the United Nations acknowledged Wednesday that the shortage of the most basic supplies — shelter, food and drinking water — presented the biggest challenge for aid workers in Pakistan.

The assessment came after reports of looting and protests over food on Tuesday, deepening the sense of desperation across Punjab Province, the country’s most populous region and its agricultural hub.

In the absence of help from outsiders or the government, flood survivors told stories of taking the search for aid upon themselves, swimming to dry areas to find food for people still marooned and waiting for rescue.

As many as 8.5 million people in Punjab have been affected, and property damage is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the province’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, told reporters. Punjab’s provincial cabinet met Tuesday and ordered development funds to be used for emergency aid.

Things are extremely bad, and the aid just isn’t coming as it should. Obviously if you can help, please do. Even a few pennies can made a difference.

And sadly with these sorts of disasters, desperation as well as just less authority and control is leading to violence:

Desperation erupted into violence Tuesday in flood-ravaged Pakistan, as survivors who have yet to receive aid scrambled to put food in their empty bellies.

People in Sindh province blocked a highway to protest the slowness of aid delivery and clashed with police, the United Nations said. In a hard-hit district of Punjab, hungry mobs unloaded two aid trucks headed to a warehouse. Local aid agencies reported other incidents of looting.

An aid agency worker said distributions were hampered because of the crowds stopping the convoys and because large numbers of people were living along the road.

About 20 million people have been affected by the relentless monsoon rains that began falling three weeks ago, leading to massive flooding from the mountainous regions in the north to the river plains of the south.

About one-fifth of Pakistan is submerged, and entire families waded through filthy water, pleading for help.

More than 1,400 people have died. Health officials fear a second wave of fatalities from waterborne diseases, including cholera, which is endemic in Pakistan and now threatening to become a major outbreak.

Up to 3.5 million children are at high risk of cholera and other deadly diseases such as typhoid and dysentery, said Maurizio Giuliano of the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs office. About 900,000 homes have been damaged, and the monsoon season is only about halfway over.

You may remember the school spying case a few months past. This was where a school installed spyware in small children’s laptops and spied on them in their homes, in their bedrooms, late at night. Who knows what they watched, what they recorded, what has been uploaded or sold to child porn sites. Maybe nothing. Maybe they magically knew when the children should have been on their laptops doing homework and only watched then. Who knows. But the Feds have decided not to pursue this case:

Federal prosecutors will not file charges against a school district or its employees over the use of software to remotely monitor students.

U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger says investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent by Lower Merion School District employees who activated tracking software that took thousands of webcam and screenshot images on school-provided laptops.

A student and his family sued the district in February, claiming officials invaded his privacy by activating the software. That case continues.

The district has acknowledged capturing 56,000 screen shots and webcam images so it could locate missing laptops.

In unrelated creepy news, Laura Schlessinger is calling it quits with her radio show:

A week after igniting controversy with racially charged comments on her nationally syndicated radio show, advice guru Laura Schlessinger went on “Larry King Live” Tuesday evening to announce that she plans to leave the program when her contract runs out at the end of the year.

“I want my 1st Amendment rights back, which I can’t have on radio without the threat of attack on my advertisers and stations,” Schlessinger said.

She emphasized that she is not retiring. “I will be stronger and freer to say my mind through my books, my YouTube Channel, my blog and my website,” she said.

I have to admit I didn’t follow this latest adventure. Frankly Dr. Laura makes me ill. Her horrible hatred and violence inciting rhetoric towards gays was all I needed to know about here many years ago. Good riddance I say.

Fannie and Freddie are apparently done, at least no longer operating as they used to:

For the first time in almost two years, some actual news came out of Washington about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The crib notes are thus: The Fannie-Freddie model of housing-finance is kaput — it will die and their legacy portfolios will be wound down; the new system will almost certainly include (explicit) guarantees on certain types of residential mortgage-backed securities to help middle-class borrowers; low-income borrowers will be incentivized to rent until they can afford to buy.


These are the kinds of things that have vaguely been suggested by the power set in Washington and the bankers on Wall Street for the past couple years of uncertainty. But now they’ve nearly been said explicitly, and with the molasses-like speed of Capitol Hill progress, that’s saying a lot.

“This is a test for Washington,” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. “The stakes are high.”

Most of the official news on policy came from reading between the lines of Geithner’s speech. In the new niche industry of speech analysis, consider the following nuggets. The Treasury Secretary cited “designing an elegant funeral for Fannie and Freddie,” the “planned wind down of the GSEs’ portfolios” (which had never before been announced) and said “I believe there is a strong case to be made for a carefully designed guarantee.”

Let’s change gears and take a look at what’s happening in the scientific and technology worlds.

In news close to my heart, Scottish scientist have figured out how to make biofuel from whisky:

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “one for the road”. Whisky, the spirit that powers the Scottish economy, is being used to develop a new biofuel which could be available at petrol pumps in a few years.

Using samples from the Glenkinchie Distillery in East Lothian, researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have developed a method of producing biofuel from two main by-products of the whisky distilling process – “pot ale”, the liquid from the copper stills, and “draff”, the spent grains.

Copious quantities of both waste products are produced by the £4bn whisky industry each year, and the scientists say there is real potential for the biofuel, to be available at local garage forecourts alongside traditional fuels. It can be used in conventional cars without adapting their engines. The team also said it could be used to fuel planes and as the basis for chemicals such as acetone, an important solvent.

That story scared me at first because I thought they would be using whisky for biofuel instead of for drinking. Blaspheme. But no, they’re just using some of the by-products. So we’re all safe. Whew.

Here’s a nice bit of work, turning bicycle power into, well, power:

A team of students from MIT’s SENSEable Cities Lab have just won the American round of the 2010 James Dyson Award for inventing the Copenhagen Wheel. This simple contraption transforms a regular peddle bicycle into a hybrid electric bike.

The wheel (PDF) employs a method used in Formula 1 race cars known has Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). Normally when a car brakes, energy is created in the form of heat on the rotors and pads. In vehicles with KERS, that energy is captured and reused by the motor during acceleration.

The Copenhagen Wheel works on the same principal. Energy from the braking is captured an electric motor, which generates a current that is stored on a battery. Later, when the rider is going uphill or needs extra speed, she can tap into that stored energy.

And when you attach your smart phone, the bike can be even more helpful. It has sensors and a Bluetooth connection that links to the user’s iPhone. The sensors monitor the bicycle’s speed, direction and distance and provides information about traffic and pollution levels.

Scientists can now control the pace of a heart with light, which could radically change pace maker technology for the better:

For the first time, researchers have controlled the pace of an embryonic heart using pulses of light. The new method is a leap forward for cardiologists and developmental biologists, who hope it will help yield a better understanding of heart development and congenital heart disease. They also hope the development could eventually lead to new types of optical pacemakers.

Artificial pacemakers normally use electrodes to deliver regular, “paced” electrical impulses to the heart muscle to keep its beats consistent. While the devices are safe in the short term, they can cause damage to the muscle if used over decades. The technique’s intrusive methods–which require contact with the heart –also limit its capabilities as a research tool.

“If you’re trying to use an electrode to touch the heart and stimulate it, the contacts could disrupt potential observation of the heartbeat,” says Ed Boyden, a professor of biological engineering at MIT. Boyden was not involved in the research. “A noninvasive methodology for pulsing the heart is important for science. Potentially, this could open up a lot of experiments.”

A million children may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD:

Nearly 1 million children in the United States are potentially misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder simply because they are the youngest — and most immature — in their kindergarten class, according to new research by a Michigan State University economist.

These children are significantly more likely than their older classmates to be prescribed behavior-modifying stimulants such as Ritalin, said Todd Elder, whose study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

Such inappropriate treatment is particularly worrisome because of the unknown impacts of long-term stimulant use on children’s health, Elder said. It also wastes an estimated $320 million-$500 million a year on unnecessary medication — some $80 million-$90 million of it paid by Medicaid, he said.

Elder said the “smoking gun” of the study is that ADHD diagnoses depend on a child’s age relative to classmates and the teacher’s perceptions of whether the child has symptoms.

“If a child is behaving poorly, if he’s inattentive, if he can’t sit still, it may simply be because he’s 5 and the other kids are 6,” said Elder, assistant professor of economics. “There’s a big difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old, and teachers and medical practitioners need to take that into account when evaluating whether children have ADHD.”

That’s very disturbing to say the least. That’s not to take away from the real issues and needs of many children of course. But the possible long term ramifications of such misdiagnosis are upsetting. More science, less fad medicine please.

In another misdiagnosis news, or rather new discovery of a similar disorder news, it looks like head trauma can be similar in symptoms and effects as Lou Gehrig’s disease:

Repeated head trauma from playing sports such as football and rugby is linked to the development of a new neurological disorder similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to U.S. researchers.

Scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs made the discovery after examining the brains and spinal cords of 12 athletes. The findings will be published in the September edition of the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.

Three of the 12 athletes, including former professional football players Wally Hilgenberg and Eric Scoggins, developed motor neuron disease later in life. While the three were diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, they probably had a similar illness never before described in medical literature, the researchers wrote. Lou Gehrig himself may have had this disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalomyopathy, they said.

“We’re hopeful that this new work may shed light on potentially exciting new possibilities for biomarker and therapy development,” said Steve Perrin, chief executive officer of the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The new illness, dubbed CTEM, is distinct from ALS, which causes muscle tissue to waste away. CTEM is likely caused by repetitive head trauma such as that experienced by athletes in contact sports, the researchers said.

And one more item in medical news, teens are loosing their hearing:

As many as 20 percent of U.S. adolescents have some amount of hearing loss, and the problem has worsened in recent years, according to a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Teenagers really underestimate how much noise they are exposed to,” said Dr. Josef Shargorodsky of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the study’s lead researcher.

“Often the individual won’t notice it, but even slight hearing loss may lead to differences in language development and learning,” said Shargorodsky during an interview with the Associated Press (AP).

Some experts have suggested that listening to loud music with earbuds may be behind the rise in teen hearing loss in recent years, and warn that even slight hearing loss can set the stage for problems later in life.

“Our hope is we can encourage people to be careful,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Gary Curhan, also of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Turn down that loud music. Wear hearing protection when using loud equipment. And be especially careful with ear phones and plugs.

Finally here’s a fun story about how the internet is changing our language:

‘To Google’ has become a universally understood verb and many countries are developing their own internet slang. But is the web changing language and is everyone up to speed?

In April 2010 the informal online banter of the internet-savvy collided with the traditional and austere language of the court room.

Christopher Poole, founder of anarchic image message board 4Chan, had been called to testify during the trial of the man accused of hacking into US politician Sarah Palin’s e-mail account.

During the questioning he was asked to define a catalogue of internet slang that would be familiar to many online, but which was seemingly lost on the lawyers.

At one point during the exchange, Mr Poole was asked to define “rickrolling”.

“Rickroll is a meme or internet kind of trend that started on 4chan where users – it’s basically a bait and switch. Users link you to a video of Rick Astley performing Never Gonna Give You Up,” said Mr Poole.

“And the term “rickroll” – you said it tries to make people go to a site where they think it is going be one thing, but it is a video of Rick Astley, right?,” asked the lawyer.


“He was some kind of singer?”


“It’s a joke?”


The internet prank was just one of several terms including “lurker”, “troll” and “caps” that Mr Poole was asked to explain to a seemingly baffled court.

Read on for more fun language examples including abbreviations and slag developed from texting, tweeting, etc. My favorite examples from the Ukraine are:

“Computer slang is developing pretty fast in Ukraine,” she said.

The Mac and Linux communities even have their own word for people who prefer Microsoft Windows – віндузятники (vinduzyatnyky literally means “Windowers” but the “nyky” ending makes it derogatory).

“There are some original words with an unmistakably Ukrainian flavour,” said Ms Pyrkalo.

The dreaded force-quit process of pressing ‘Control, Alt, Delete’ is known as Дуля (dulya).

“A dulya is an old-fashioned Ukrainian gesture using two fingers and a thumb – something similar to giving a finger in Anglo-Saxon cultures,” she said.

“And you need three fingers to press the buttons. So it’s like telling somebody (a computer in this case) to get lost.”

That’s a bit of what’s happening today. Chime in with anything fun you’re finding.