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Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 08:29 AM PDT

Backyard Scientist: Chimp Edition

by Mark Sumner

I may have been the first person to see these chimps
I'm a lover of science you can do close to home, but thanks to sites like Zooniverse, you can now do science very far away from home without taking your eyes away from your screen. For example, they have a program where you can pick through thousands of photos of the night sky and try to find asteroids.

The latest program is one in which you can try to identify chimpanzees in Africa... and it's the best video game of the year.

Under the punnish title Chimp And See, they've taken thousands of short videos captured by dozens of trap cameras in the forest of Africa, and tossed them onto the web in a grand game of "what do you see?"  Each time something moves near the cameras they take a little short 15-30 second video.  On the site, you can review these videos and tell them what, if anything you can spot.  Most of them are nothing, or pigs, or little deer-like things called duiker. Very often you see the people who set up the cameras, or branches disturbed by rain, or bats making a close pass at the infrared lights.

But you also see forest elephants and aardvarks and beautiful little antelope.  And occasionally you also see chimps.

Come inside and see...

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Earth Day graphic of headless pilot palming Earth
Heartland Institute Top Voodoo Science Advisor
The ever reliable voodoo economists and psuedoscientists of the Heartland Institute want to extend to you their thoughts on Earth Day.

Because, Earth. We hates it, we do.  

Earth Day is all but a symbol of evil, managed by those who care not at all for humans and in fact do no good for nature or the animal world. Most activities are vile recriminations staged by those who wish to keep the poor just where they are: poor. — Jay Lehr, Science Director, The Heartland Institute
Note to self: add more recriminations into today's celebration. Make sure extremely vile.  

Oh, and poor people. I am deliberately withholding the pollution that would enrich your life. Wha ha ha ha. Ha.

Earth Day should be a day for celebrating property rights and markets. — H. Sterling Burnett  Research Fellow, Environment and Energy Policy, The Heartland Institute
The Heartland Institute does not recognize any difference between nature and the marketplace. Indeed, can we not say that a re-securitized residual interest packaged as a net interest margin security and carried in an off-balance sheet transaction generating billions of theoretical dollars from an original transaction of only a few thousand is a far greater wonder than some flea-ridden cheetah or goggle-eyed fish? Verily.

Head below the fold for more on this story.

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Arya staring up at some big doors.
Dear Book Readers,

You know how for the last five years you've been keeping your mouth shut because you didn't want to spoil anything for your non-book-reading friends? No matter how much you may have wanted to let something leak, or how much someone might have begged, you've been constitutionality required to keep a totally non-smug expression on your face, to raise your right hand, and to swear, "Yeah, though I have read every book and know all, verily I canst not tell thee what mayest happen, for that would be ... a spoiler."

Some of you may have required hospitalization following the terrible levels of tongue biting required to keep spoiler-free in advance of, let's say, a wedding. Or two.

Well, the good news is, you can stop that. You can put down your hand, release your tongue, and drop that absolutely non-smug expression. Because Game of Thrones the TV show is pretty much done with the books. We've now peeled away from the "based on" and headed into "inspired by" territory. Now you're in the dark with everyone else.

Come on in and see.

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Madeleine L’Engle wrote A Wrinkle in Time in 1962, but this week we got a glimpse at pages that weren't included in the published work.
In it, Meg has just made a narrow escape from Camazotz. As Meg’s father massages her limbs, which are frozen from a jarring trip through space and time, she asks: “But Father, how did the Black Thing—how did it capture Camazotz?” Her father proceeds to lay out the political philosophy behind the book in much starker terms than are apparent in the final version.

He says that yes, totalitarianism can lead to this kind of evil. (The author calls out examples by name, including Hitler, Mussolini and Khrushchev.) But it can also happen in a democracy that places too much value on security, Mr. Murry says. “Security is a most seductive thing,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the greatest evil there is.”

Amen, Mr. Murry. The most dangerous idea that has surfaced in America is that the government's primary purpose is to protect the public. It's not. It never was. One small bit more from L’Engle.
Our country has been greatest, when it has been most insecure.
The purpose of government is to secure our rights and anyone who starts down the "you don't have any rights if you're dead" road, is announcing quite clearly that they are using fear to take your rights away.

Okay, so I've wandered a bit off the pundit trail this morning, but don't worry. Real live pundits await your astonished gaze, just step right inside this squiggly thing...

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Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 08:33 PM PDT

Game of Thrones: The Wars to Come

by Mark Sumner

Tyrion did not enjoy his off season cruise.
What's that? Oh, hey.  Sorry, I was napping there.  Let me climb out of this White Walker brand hibernation chamber ...

Okay, so, where were we?

Actually, that's kind of what the entire first episode of season five sets out to answer: where where we again? Most of the episode is spent hopscotching among storylines, touching base with characters we last saw way back in June. It's been that way in the first episode (or two) since the second season, and as more characters have been introduced, the necessity for re-grounding the viewer becomes more essential.

That doesn't mean nothing happened. Come on inside where (spoiler alert) we will actually discuss the episode that this post is about.

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Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up

by Mark Sumner

Leonard Pitts starts off the morning on the Walter Scott case.
“...You foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear.” — Jeremiah 5:21

So here we are with another isolated incident.

That, at least, is how the April 4 police killing of 50-year-old Walter Scott will play in those conservative enclaves where the notion that there is such a thing as systemic racism is regarded as deluded and absurd. Those enclaves will not, of course, be able to claim innocence for now-fired North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager. As cellphone video captured by a passerby makes brutally clear, Slager repeatedly shot the fleeing, unarmed African-American man in the back after a traffic stop.

They will likewise find it difficult to defend a police report that claims officers administered CPR to the dying man. The video shows them doing no such thing. Finally, they will find it problematic to support Slager’s claim that he shot Scott after the suspect seized his Taser. The video shows Slager picking up a small object and dropping it near Scott’s body, fueling strong suspicion that he planted the Taser.

Well, the people who shouted that looking for justice was being "anti-police" didn't let facts get in their way last time. Or the time before that. Or the time... Anyway, how much is the Slagar FundMe site up to? Can I expect Slagar supporters to accost me at the next baseball game?

Let's go in an see what else folks have to say.

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Easter eggs
Colbert King wonders whether we might already be over a very scary line.
If some red states were to openly defy the authority of President Obama in the exercise of his constitutional duties, would today’s Republican Congress side with him? Or would they honor the insurrection?

I wish it could be said with confidence that the legislative branch would oppose a rebellion against the executive branch of government. But I’m not so sure.

Last month, the Republican-led Arizona House of Representatives passed, on a 36-to-24 party-line vote, a bill sponsored by tea party Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) that “prohibits this state or any of its political subdivisions from using any personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer or cooperate with an executive order issued by the President of the U.S. that has not been affirmed by a vote of Congress and signed into law as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.” ...

The word “insurrection” does come to mind. Yet the resistance out West to federal authority has been received in virtual silence on Capitol Hill. It’s almost as if the GOP Congress wanted an uprising against the president.

I think the only word of that I would question is "almost."

But hey, Kentucky lost. Might as well burn down... well, let's say a pint of something. Drop that egg dipper and come on inside for more punditry.

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Leonard Pitts thinks Starbucks has a Venti heart.

Am I the only person in America not making fun of Howard Schultz?

The Starbucks CEO bought himself a ton of ridicule recently when he attempted to jumpstart a national dialogue on race by having baristas write the words “Race Together” on customers’ cups of Cinnamon Dolce Light Frappuccino Grande or Caffe Misto Venti with extra coconut.

On Twitter, the campaign was dubbed “patronizing,” “absurd” and “a load of crap.” On The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Rosie Perez said, “I don’t want to be forced to have a conversation. Especially early in the f------ morning.” Some folks questioned the wisdom of calling for racial dialogue when your executive team has all the rich cultural diversity of a GOP convention in Idaho.

Starbucks says there will eventually be more to the campaign, but what we’ve seen so far has been epically bad — naive at best, dumber than a sack of coffee beans at worst. Give it this much credit, though: It came out of an earnest conviction that the future health of our country requires us to solve race. In other words, Starbucks had good intentions.

You may say that’s not much. You may note that good intentions are the macadam on the road to hell.

Me, I think we dismiss good intentions at our own peril.

As happens often, Mr. Pitts has many good points to make, so go read the rest.

As a native Kentuckian, it wouldn't be nice of me to spend the morning gloating (or more accurately, trying to slow my heart, wipe off the sweat, and take a deep breath in relief). So, let me just bow to divine will and tell you to come on in and read the rest of punditry...

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Sun Mar 22, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up

by Mark Sumner

Dana Milbank wonders if Israel has seen its last democratic election.

Eleven years ago, I carried my infant daughter into a synagogue basement and plunged her tiny body, head to toe, underwater. ... Making sure she is Jewish in the eyes of the Jewish state gives me peace of mind. If the Gestapo ever comes again, she and her descendants will have a place to go. Just in case.

Israel, the Jewish state, is the antidote to this fear. The Law of Return, enacted by David Ben-Gurion’s government in 1950, guarantees Israeli citizenship to all Jews who move to Israel. This was meant to guarantee that Israel would remain Jewish (Palestinians, controversially, are not granted this right) but it also meant that, after the Holocaust, and thousands of years of wandering, there was finally a place to which all Jews could go, and defend ourselves, if nowhere else was safe.

This is why Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions on the eve of this week’s Israeli elections were so monstrous. In a successful bid to take votes from far-right parties, the prime minister vowed that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he’s in charge. It was an unmasking of sorts, revealing what many suspected all along: He had no interest in a two-state solution.

Netanyahu backed off that position after the election, assuring American news outlets NBC, NPR and Fox on Thursday that he still backs a two-state solution, in theory. His backtracking seemed nominal and insincere, but even that gesture is reassuring, for abandoning the idea of a Palestinian state will destroy the Jewish state just as surely, if not as swiftly, as an Iranian nuclear bomb.

This is a matter not of ideology but of arithmetic. Without a Palestinian state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy but not both. If it annexes the Palestinian territories and remains democratic, it will be split roughly evenly between Jews and Arabs; if it annexes the territories and suppresses the rights of Arabs, it ceases to be democratic.

After last week, it's hard to imagine that Israel can continue to ride the same knife's edge it's been on for decades.

Read the rest, then come on in...

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Dear Mr. Churchill, maybe you don't understand how our democracy works, but...
Jonathan Capehart looks at what a former general has to say about #47Mutineers.
The open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran signed by 47 senators and instigated by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was a stunning breach of protocol. One so outrageous that my former colleagues at the New York Daily News dubbed the signers “traitors.” While it is indeed a slap in the face of President Obama and an affront to the presidency, I’m not sure I would go that far, especially since Cotton is an Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. So, I turned to retired Major Gen. Paul D. Eaton for perspective. He wouldn't say Cotton and Co. were “traitors,” either. He had a better word.

“I would use the word mutinous,” said Eaton, whose long career includes training Iraqi forces from 2003 to 2004. He is now a senior adviser to “I do not believe these senators were trying to sell out America. I do believe they defied the chain of command in what could be construed as an illegal act.” ...

“What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better,” Eaton told me. “I have no issue with Senator Cotton, or others, voicing their opinion in opposition to any deal to halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Speaking out on these issues is clearly part of his job. But to directly engage a foreign entity, in this way, undermining the strategy and work of our diplomats and our Commander in Chief, strains the very discipline and structure that our foreign relations depend on, to succeed.”

Mutiny, rebellion, toe-may-toh, toe-mah-toh, Republicans love them all. Except possibly tomatoes.

Come on in for more opinions...

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"Happy Bloody Sunday" seems like the worst greeting ever.

Leonard Pitts on Selma + 50. The event and President Obama's speech are inspiring, but...

There were no commemorative t-shirts for sale here in 1965.

There were none the first time voting rights activists sought to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on a march to Montgomery, only to be clubbed and brutalized in a police riot that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Nor the second time they tried, when Martin Luther King led marchers from all over the country out onto that bridge, prayed, and then led them back into town, an event that came to be known as “Turnaround Tuesday.” Nor the third time when, under federal protection, they crossed the bridge and marched four days to the state capital, where King gave one of the most inspired orations of his life ...

No t-shirts for sale back then bearing likenesses of King or Malcolm X or, obviously, President Barack Obama. It is an oversight they seem intent on rectifying at the 50th anniversary commemoration. There is an unmistakable air of the carnival to this affair. You can buy t-shirts not only of those men, but also, for some reason, of Michael Jackson.

Nor is that all. You can also buy buttons, candy apples, lipstick, fruity drinks in frilly plastic glasses, barbecue, roasted corn, fish, dresses, earrings and glow sticks like you’d find at the circus. It cost $20 just to cross a barricade to within a couple blocks of the bridge.

One is loathe to criticize citizens of a poor and hardscrabble town for turning a buck any legal way they can. Still, all that unrestrained commerce feels ... odd. It has the effect of turning the day into not just a commemoration of America then, but a wry commentary on America now, on the seriousness, or lack thereof, of its people. We celebrate the courage of those who crossed the bridge 50 years ago, but how many of us, walking down Broad St., sipping fruity drinks and wearing our Michael Jackson t-shirts, would have the resolve and firmness of purpose to do the same thing now?

In a nation where the deaths of men and boys like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin are fresh wounds and the Justice Department just quantified the blatant racism of the police department in Ferguson, Mo., the question is not an idle one.

That question: would you put yourself on the line for the rights of others, is one that we should all face. Often.

Ok. Spring forward past the squiggle to read more punditry.

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We return you now to the stars, Leonard," fellow "Star Trek" cast member George Takei wrote on Facebook.

"You taught us to 'Live long and prosper,' and you indeed did, friend," said Takei, recalling the trademark phrase uttered by Nimoy's character.

Logically, the next thing to do is come past the break and go on with reading pundits...
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