Newslinks 2015-5-15

A biological line is crossed as scientists discover a warm-blooded fish.

A paper on the genomics of fruit flies is raising eyebrows with a massive list of over 1000 authors. The list is massive because it includes over 900 undergrads who helped analyze a portion in the main professor’s class. More traditional scientists are outraged that such massive authorship makes a mockery of the Romantic system where we honor a few people for coming up with the idea, doing most of the work, and/or putting it together.

British universities are very slow to report scientific misconduct. They have no offices for research integrity and universities are expected to conduct investigations on their own, which they are very reluctant to do.

The Guardian has some nonsensical stuff on selling happiness. I’d stick to the point that money doesn’t buy happiness simply because people don’t buy things that make them happy. Maybe that’s a good thing for people who would say heroin and hookers make them happy…

Jeb Bush is struggling to answer questions about what he would have done differently from his brother in Iraq. The popular answer in retrospect is “don’t do it”.

Reuters has an exclusive of nefarious Iranian attempts to buy nuclear technology from the Czech Republic.

Congress gets a deal done on reviewing any Iran nuclear deal. It has a veto-proof majority behind it, but skeptics say it has enough poison pills to make Congress little more than a rubber stamp.

China goes big on salvaging local finances by imposing a large debt swap with municipal bonds. Chicago should be watching this very closely.

Canada’s economy is hugely dependent on oil, which is timely as Canadians continue to wring their hands about whether they can build a tech industry.

And the US is quietly in a robust bull market as stock prices continue to hit all-time highs. It continues the paradox that US stocks and by extension companies are doing well, but for some reason the economic data is still stuck in “good but not good enough”.

Sharp reports another massive bloodletting loss and tightens their options. They want to spin off businesses, but the Japanese government is very reluctant to allow electronics companies to sell technology to foreigners, especially if they can make it profitable.

The Takata airbag recall continues to grow. Engineers still aren’t sure why the airbags are not functioning correctly but opinion seems to be settling that moisture is somehow getting into the airbags and making it open unevenly or that the chemical inflator is causing some kind of rupture that flings metal shrapnel out.

Newslinks 2015-5-14

Bloomberg has a report that the US has had a new report of Assad using sarin gas in Syria. The administration hesitated to respond and then never got around to addressing it, what with all the buzz around ISIS and the administration’s great reluctance to get more involved. Alarmingly, rebel groups seem to be trying to attack facilities connected with chemical weapons storage.

There was a horrible Amtrak crash in Philadelphia and the initial report indicates the train derailed when it hit a curve at well over the speed limit, 100 mph instead of 50. As with initial details, rumors and numbers are flying all over the place, so take it with a grain of salt for now.

NYT op-ed talks in support of GMOs on the basis that it helps impoverished subsistence farmers. The author concludes with a strange scientism outlook in which he has to stick with the scientific consensus. I think it’s better to just stick with balancing the various effects on actual people and the parts where he describes the way GMOs have helped farmers in poor countries to protect their crops and make them more bountiful are more persuasive than any of the appeals to science.

A Secret Service agent serving in the president’s detail is retiring rather than await the outcome of an investigation into misconduct for an incident in which he drove into a White House barricade, presumably while drunk. It’s another dent in their reputation.

WaPo has a big report on a trip to Azerbaijan in which ten Congressional members got all sorts of sweeteners from a state-owned oil company. They’re trying to dodge by being remarkably ignorant about the value of hand-woven Persian rugs and crystal tea sets.

Today in inaccurate parenting, 95% of parents with obese children don’t think their children look unhealthy or even fat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, poorer people had the worst perceptions of fatness. I’d stick to the rule of thumb – if you look down in the shower and you can’t see your dick, then you’re too fat. For women, if your belly sticks out farther than your boobs, then you are also too fat.

WaPo op-ed hits Hillary Clinton for flip-flopping on the TPP. As Secretary of State, she was all for it. As presumptive Democratic candidate for president, she’s unsure if it’s a good idea.

TPP’s not dead in Congress but both parties are scrambling to get a new bill and put what they want in it. Republicans want measures protecting the US from currency manipulation by other TPP members while Democrats want a more robust penalty system making it easier to impose tariffs and fines for violations.

Saudi Arabia pats itself on the back that cheap oil for the last several months as choked out the US shale oil industry. Prices are rising again the OPEC is in the driver’s seat.

Pope Francis stuns again with an announcement that he is signing a “peace treaty” with Palestine. The only part of the deal that matters is that the Vatican will recognize Palestine as a separate state and respect its authority to sign treaties.

Honeybees continue to be in crisis and everyone’s still trying to figure out what’s going on. I know very little about this but numbers like 40% of bee colonies died in the last year sound pretty scary.

Vice reports there’s a drought in North Korea, which inevitably means famine. The hard truth is that the Kim regime can live with famines – people don’t revolt when they’re starving.

South Korean publisher pulls an anthology of children’s poems that included graphic thoughts from a 10 year old girl of killing one’s mother in a poem entitled “I don’t want to go to cram school”. This kind of energy is why Korean nerds get ridiculously good at StarCraft. If someone knows how to tame girls, I’d like to know within the next decade too.

Recode does a post-mortem on Google Glass. Doesn’t do much more than serve as an ad for the Apple Watch.

Medium argues Avengers 2 is peak Marvel and criticizes the movie. If you think about it too much like this guy, he starts to make a lot of sense and the movie might actually be pretty bad. Go back to the quality plot and characters of the Fast and Furious franchise.

And we can’t have a day without criticizing the young. Today, worries that online porn has made life too easy for our boys so they don’t have to bother with bad plots and horrible acting.

Newslinks 2015-5-8

The UK elections are being counted and it looks like a total disaster for Labour. Labour leader Ed Milliband goes from contemplating a broad coalition under his leadership to wondering if he’ll have a job tomorrow.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) has an op-ed in the Hill excoriating Congressional Republicans for trying to defund earth science research at NASA.

A week after his visit to Washington, a group of historians sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urging him to show more leadership in taking responsibility for Japan’s war crimes. In particular, they’re insisting the historical record shows the Japanese military knowingly participated in the impressment and maltreatment of comfort women, something Abe and Japanese conservatives have denied to varying degrees. They say they waited to hear his speech to Congress but weren’t satisfied with his remarks.

The IRS has been allowing employees caught cheating on their taxes to continue working there with slap on the wrist punishments, which violates a 1998 law that such employees be fired from the agency. The inspector-general did point out that the IRS is actually one of the most compliant agencies in the federal government in this regard.

Vice says Argentina really needs a friend and they seem to have found one in Russia. A large of it is trolling to stoke anti-US sentiment and distract citizens from bigger domestic problems. Their model seems to be Venezuela, which has run its own economy into the ground but people are still willing to blame America and capitalism for the lack of toilet paper. In the F’d up logic of South American politics, that’s what Argentina wants. They certainly have no intention of fixing the economy.
The new Bay Bridge continues to haunt the Bay Area as an example of incompetence as the foundational tower might be cracked and allowing seawater in. The hilariously bad silver lining is the salt water isn’t corroding the metal as quickly as you might expect because the tower is also leaking somewhere in the top, allowing rainwater in and diluting the salt.

Very interesting geopolitics as Japan says they’ll hand over classified data about their Soryu submarines to Australia in a bid to get the military contract. I’ve seen other sources saying Japan is a frontrunner because the Soryu class is more advanced than current European models and Australia has been angling to get sweeteners like access to classified technology and a nice discount.

Atul Gawande has an op-ed in the New Yorker about overkill treatments, continuing the new party line that America’s health costs are out of control because of excessive tests and treatments. I can understand anger at tests of dubious value like genetic testing when the resulting treatment has nothing to do with genetics but I’m more skeptical about casting scans and surgeries as excess waste. The narrative here is persuasive though.

NYT op-ed tries to draw a distinction between free speech and hate speech. Conservatives have been angered by this kind of parsing, which they claim makes heroes and villains out of ideological ideas, e.g. it’s fine to satirize Christians but hateful to poke fun at Islam.

The Atlantic goes after the pseudoscience of beauty products. It serves as humblebrag for the author’s claims about her own skin but it does make the point that there’s a lot of nonsense out there.

Zynga’s founder is back as CEO and his first order of business is a big layoff.

The Verge looks at slot machines and how every other business wants to know their tricks.

Book Review: War and National Reinvention: Japan in the Great War, 1914-1919 by Frederick Dickinson

When most people think of modern Japanese history, they think of the Meiji Restoration as the modernization of Japan, World War II, and then Japan’s subsequent rise to its current position as an economic powerhouse. This book fills in the large gap between Meiji and World War II, arguing Japan made a second transition after the Meiji era and its huge victories over China and Russia. This transition consisted of Japan’s tension in becoming a Great Power and its unique qualities as a constitutional monarchy, ending with its severe snubbing at Versailles and its growing belief that a race war with the white countries, particularly the United States, was inevitable.

The most unique part of Japan’s government was that its constitutional monarchy was designed to strengthen central authority, not weaken it. As Japan emerged to Great Power status, it came to the conclusion that the ingredients of a Great Power were a constitutional monarchy, a large empire, and a strong military, and many Japanese politicians realized they were desperately behind the other Great Powers in all three. This desperation was exacerbated by Japan entry into the Darwinian paradigm, where growth and expansion were life and failure to grow or expand meant decay and inevitable death. It’s funny that we still arguably live in this paradigm, at least economically. It’s also interesting to see Japan’s attempts at copying big dick politics they saw from the West. For instance, their entry into Korea closely mirrored their perception of how Commodore Perry had stormed Japan and forced it to open, and the way they isolated and seized Korea mirrored their worst fears of the way they believed they might be isolated and seized as a colony.

The other growing question was the best model for Japan. The traditional model was Britain, since Japan was also an island country relatively split off from the continent but managing to be greater nonetheless. But by the Great War, Japan had shifted towards Germany as the continental power. Japanese intellectuals felt they shared more in common – Germany was an even newer modernizer than Japan and it had already developed a fearsome reputation despite having few colonies. Japan also felt a kindred spirit in the way the Germans raged against a world dominated by Anglo rules and sensibilities, and it seemed the stable, direct German bureaucracy was much more efficient than the inherently unstable republics in Britain and the US. The Japanese also felt tremendous respect for the way Germany had crushed France as a traditional power. It led to consternation among Japanese intellectuals when Germany lost the war, creating great uncertainty and insecurity in Japan that they had been following the wrong model.

But the main context of the story is the way Japan sought to dominate and conquer China, and they saw the distraction of World War I as a huge opportunity. The European powers were weakening themselves tremendously and paying very little attention to affairs in Asia, allowing the Japanese to make diplomatic moves that would never be permissible otherwise (and they weren’t all that permissible during the war, given the hostility it created to Japanese interests, particularly in the US). The Japanese also became acutely aware of the threat in the United States as the other Great Power that was not participating in the war and they saw that the US was profiting from the war even more greatly than Japan, selling weapons to the Allies and buying war bonds from them at outrageous rates. Both America and Japan’s productive capacity grew quickly during the war and both eventually served relatively minor roles in the Allied victory.

Japan’s two big interests during the Versailles negotiations were a clause indicating racial equality (meaning Japanese would be statutorily recognized as equals to whites) and policies that would undermine the budding democratic regime in China. They received neither and worse, they tipped their hand about what they wanted most to the United States, and the Wilson administration used its influence to specifically deny Japan at every turn and play on Japan’s insecurities. But these political machinations firmly convinced the Japanese that the US saw them as a racial threat, when coupled with racist American policies that denied rights specifically to Japanese. Like other members at Versailles, they didn’t believe Wilson’s idealism for a minute and they were infuriated at American hypocrisy. Had America not expanded its territory at the expense of American Indians, Mexicans, Hawaiians, and Filipinos, in the name of civilizing uncivilized lands? Why was this right for America but wrong for Japan to do the same to Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, and China? Of course, the Japanese knew they were stretching severely in calling the Chinese uncivilized but maintained that argument to the bitter end with an almost desperate obsession.

Overall, the narratives are easy to read. There’s a little too much name-dropping and it gets confusing, but it appears to be a very well-researched history that does a great job of defining Japanese attitudes and narratives of the time. It’s a book that fills in a gap of history that even most Japanese know very little about – most Japanese don’t know much about the Taisho era except that it was short.

As a food, this book is a nice avocado dip. You might be skeptical that it amounts to much, but eat it and it’s actually very good. The book is nice and creamy but it’s got enough crunch and flavor to keep it interesting. Recommended.

Newslinks 2015-5-7

The espionage tables turn on Germany amid revelations that the Germans have been spying on European companies and institutions.

In the meantime, France’s National Assembly passes an intelligence bill that is so permissive that it gives NSA-like powers without judicial review.

Congress wants to take a look at Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s contacts amid allegations that the Fed leaked information to financial firms.

Acceptance of commercial drones is growing, judging by regulatory attitudes.

WaPo points out we’ve crossed the intersection between washing dishes by hand or by machine, and it might make more sense environmentally to use dishwashers.

The ACLU wants to know what was up with some small surveillance planes flying over Baltimore for days after last week’s riots.

WSJ doesn’t like the trend of wearing athletic clothes casually.

Twitter’s Periscope app can be used as a new source of watching content you’re not supposed to watch. The article keeps the focus on piracy but I think it’s a bigger issue for privacy and exclusivity.

MIT Technology Review says Apple wants to open up apps that analyze DNA. Beware the pseudoscience and fraudsters making big promises about DNA information that brings snake oil to the 21st century, I say. Leave investing in pie in the sky technology holding off death to the billionaires.

NYT has an informative article about “gotcha” games in politics. It’s an important part of the judo of modern politics even though I’m sure the candidates consider it trolling at best and must be deeply unhappy when they see their answers rehashed on the Daily Show.

Celebrities cashing in on lucrative startup acquisitions is a pretty good argument that there’s a tech bubble. Especially this howler of a line: “Jessica Alba’s Honest Company says it has a valuation of $1 billion.”

Newslinks 2015-5-6

Manny Pacquiao chalked up his loss to Floyd Mayweather to a shoulder injury, with an orthopedic surgeon indeed reporting to ESPN that Pacquiao will have surgery this week for a rotator cuff tear. But he could face disciplinary action because the Nevada Athletic Commission says Pacquiao did not report the injury and in fact reported on a survey the night before the fight that he was not injured.

Also unhappy with the loss is Cambodia’s prime minister, who is welching on a $5000 bet because he says the result was unfair. It’s interesting because gambling is illegal in Cambodia and the prime minister has claimed he has no income besides his official salary of $1150 a month.

HP is suing Autonomy’s former founder and its former CFO, alleging accounting fraud and misrepresentation that resulted in HP overpaying $5 billion for the company. If they’re smart, they should be spending all the money on hookers and blow so there’s nothing left to take in the end. Keep that extra big syringe of heroin handy for when they face criminal charges so they can just die during sentencing and never see a day behind bars.

The creator of the “Ryan Gosling won’t eat his cereal” meme died on Sunday of cancer. In tribute, Ryan Gosling made a Vine video eating cereal. I like that Slate has to report that Gosling has stated that he enjoys eating cereal.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attempted attack in Texas on a Muhammad cartoon contest. The two attackers were killed after wounding a security guard.

Everybody’s worst roommate nightmare personified by this Youtube video of a pretty girl spitting and spraying Windex on her roommate’s food in the refrigerator. It turns out that is very very illegal.

CNN interviews this dumb NYU student who purposely infiltrated North Korea and wanted to be arrested, which he was. He is a South Korean citizen but a US permanent resident. He’s being held at a hotel in Pyongyang and seems to be treated well, while North Korean officials seem baffled about what to do with him.

Some insights about what Google likes to see in their acquisitions. It’s the typical Silicon Valley lines about looking for creative ideas and good people.

Apple is flexing its big muscles and pushing music labels to stop offering free music on Spotify streams.

Politico reports the Obama administration’s secrecy on TPP negotiations is turning off Democrats. Best line is the guy who says it is easier to access documents about ISIS than TPP.

Nature News says Japan is trying to fund DARPA-like projects, blurring the line between academic science and military research in a way that is making Japanese scientists nervous. Pretty much the Japanese military wants powered armor, preferably in giant mecha form.

Newslinks 2015-5-5

Venezuela nationalizes food distribution. Considering how badly the government has mismanaged everything else, this is pretty terrifying for Venezuela’s citizens.

You know LA’s back to doing okay when the NYT is back to writing articles about how LA is such a great place for creative people.

Jalopnik plays to stereotypes with an article about ten cars representing their country of origin.

NY Magazine is critical of Chipotle’s move to stop using GMO ingredients as promoting anti-science hysteria.

Korea as fashion trend-setter. Korean consumers are fickle, picky, and not afraid of trying new things, which makes them an excellent testing ground for bigger markets. The article makes the dangerous assumption that other Asian consumers share same tastes with Koreans.

Vice asks a psychologist to explain why people get bad tattoos. Long story short, people are stupid.

Elle argues Texas fashion will never go out of style. Not so long as Texas cultivates that cowboy mythos as representing exploring frontiers and the romanticism of long days and hard work with freedom as its linchpin.

Medium looks at Silicon Valley’s history and argues it can keep the culture going. Pretty much California’s history writ large. So long as they can keep up the mythos of good weather, creative ideas, and openness to all with wealth beyond your wildest dreams as its linchpin.

The Daily Beast stokes your populist anger today by claiming the rich stole jazz.

David Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, died suddenly on Friday.

Newslinks 2015-5-2

Psychology research indicates uniforms do make the man. Suits help people think more abstractly.

A woman’s perspective on Tinder. Pretty meandering thoughts.

Tesla decides to admit it’s a battery company and has new plans for home models.

The Guardian has a feature on the internet’s love of watching people lance cysts and pop pimples. Most people find it gross but satisfying at the same time.

WSJ covers the huge sports event this weekend, the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

Related, LA Magazine looks at Pacquiao’s famed coach Freddie Roach.

A profile on one of the co-founders of Instagram.

US Treasury is having a boom in selling dollar bills with particular serial numbers, in this case serials that include 8888, considered lucky in China.

A street graffiti artist in England uses his powers for good by drawing dicks around potholes to draw attention and get them fixed quickly.

An end of the era of big-name directors in game development as Hideo Kojima leaves Konami. Games have moved away from big budgets and relying on big names, running more like tech start-ups than movies.

This FT report says the Obama administration is seeing the relationship with the UK as not so special any more. Really a complaint that absolutely nobody in the US cares about the upcoming election. It may also read as frustration from the White House about the UK joining the AIIB and the implicit jab from people supporting Japan as America’s best ally since their prime minister just visited Washington to make deals and not to complain, lecture, or ask for money. British leaders hit the trifecta.

This WaPo op-ed says churches need to stop trying to be cool to accommodate Millennials. They should just be mature and let’s face it, people will go to church when they have jobs and kids, i.e. things that require faith and grace and forgiveness.

A profile on Jay-Z’s sound engineer, who has become very influential and has a bona fide career of his own.

Newslinks 2015-5-1

Scientists publish an exciting result linking chromosome stability to aging. Time oversells it drastically by claiming scientists are on the verge of curing aging.

Psychology completes a huge project aimed at legitimacy by replicating 100 key experiments from 2008. Only 39 results could be reproduced, with another 24 producing “moderately similar” or better results but not meeting the standards for reproducing the original publication’s results. The paper is still under review but it’s a pretty disappointing result and psychologists could only lamely defend themselves by insisting cancer research and drug papers are even worse. A key issue is how close is close enough for reproducibility?

The NYT has a bombshell report that the American Psychological Association collaborated with the Bush administration to justify interrogation methods. The APA is denying it and the sources are too shrill in their tone. The NYT insists on calling it the “CIA torture program” and implying Abu Ghraib was part of the program.

Contrary to usual claims that the US government does not pay terrorists, the WSJ reports that the FBI helped the family of Warren Weinstein negotiate and pay a $250k ransom. He was not freed by Al Qaeda and was accidentally killed in a drone strike.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did a talk at NYU where he made a lot of bold claims that are in contradiction to things the Obama administration has said about the Iran deal and the politics around the deal.

Pew does a bit on the state of the news media. Mobile, basic networks, and local TV are doing well. Newspapers, cable news, and Hispanic news are not so hot.

Bernie Sanders joins the Democratic presidential race, promising to bring his socialist values to the race and take on the billionaire class. He has no realistic chance of winning the Democratic nomination, much less the presidency, but he might be able to drag the Democratic Party left and force Clinton to pander more to liberals. I would see him as the same as Ron or Rand Paul for the Republicans, for both good and ill.

Ben Bernanke takes on the WSJ editorial page in his latest blog entry. They actually agree that monetary policy is not enough on its own and fiscal policy is necessary to bring to bear, but of course the devil is in the details, which is why Congress hasn’t passed a clean budget in years.

LinkedIn takes a beating after reporting disappointing earnings. Twitter and Yelp also suffered amid slower growth than expected.

A student in France was banned from class twice after wearing a long black skirt to class, which her teacher claimed was “conspicuously” Muslim and thus in violation of France’s secularity laws. French officials were lampooned for the laws over the story but they claim that Muslim students have been trying to stretch the limits of the laws. For her part, the student claims the skirt was not intended to be a symbol of her religious beliefs.

Newslinks 2015-4-30

Nature has a great recap of the STAP saga and how it shook up Japanese science, mostly in a bad way. I think quite simply that Riken badly bungled its response, both sensationalizing the results too early and then mishandling the PR crisis. They still haven’t done the obvious of explaining how it all went sideways and what they’ve done to ensure it won’t happen again.

Sony lost the smartphone war but makes money nonetheless on every smartphone by supplying the image sensor for the camera. If you can’t make pie, be the guy making part of the filling.

Where are the most racist parts of America, by Google searches for the N-word? Appalachia and parts of the South.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a state dinner hosted by President Obama, which was apparently a subdued affair. Except for the part where dinner was cooked by Iron Chef Morimoto, which makes it one of the finest dinners anyone in the human race had last night.

US GDP growth slowed to 0.2% for Q1 of 2015. That is not good news.

And it raises new concerns about Fed plans to raise inflation targets. The Fed has already dragged its heels on raising interest rates and it appears they want to try to weaken the dollar.

Saudi Arabia had a big shake-up in the line of succession.

Co-founder of Reddit talks to the Guardian about its present and future. They’re trying to be Facebook without becoming Facebook.

BBC has a neat little primer on sales. It’s based on psychology like shooting guns is based on physics. Which is to say, it can be for people who are really smart, but most people who do this are not smart.

Designer guns are a thing. But you don’t get to carry an ivory-handled pistol unless your name is George Patton and you turn around an expeditionary force from an international joke to a fearsome force pushing back one of the greatest generals of the era.

NY Times Magazine asks what kind of person can pull of shredded jeans. The kind of person that’s so cool that not giving a crap makes them more cool. Such as Elvis, Axl Rose, or Joey Ramone.

Jogger pants are dead. You can’t be that lazy any more.

MPAA wins a big case in British court against a torrent app called Popcorn Time. They’re quietly starting to win a lot of these and snowball them into more and bigger wins.

This article complains that F1 cars have become appliances rather than rolling laboratories. With too many rules that are too specific, the engineering has almost been predestined and leaves very little room for invention or creativity, while the sport itself has moved on to the male drama between trash-talking teammates and rifts with the owner rather than inspirational driving. Ouch.

Online dating in India has thrown an interesting wrench in arranged marriages, probably for the better. Cell phones have also helped improve private conversation away from nosy family members.