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‘Now this world is arranged as it had to be if it were to be capable of continuing with great difficulty to exist; if it were a little worse, it would be no longer capable of continuing to exist. […] and so this world itself is the worst of all possible worlds.’ –Schopenhauer

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While we have come to expect bullshit from politicians, there is no shortage of judicial bullshit either. After discussing Harry Frankfurt’s famous description of bullshit, I illustrate possible instances of judicial bullshit in a wide range of bioethics cases, mostly at the Supreme Court. Along the way, we see judges bullshit for many reasons including the desire to keep precedents malleable, avoid line drawing, hide the arbitrariness of line drawing, sound important, be memorable, gloss over inconvenient facts, sound poetic, make it seem like their hands are tied, and appear to address profound questions without actually staking out provocative positions.

{ Arizona State Law Journal | Continue reading }

photo { Ramón Masats, Tomelloso, Ciudad Real, 1960 }

Are you better at exits? Or entrances?

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Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic debris ends up in the sea […] Where does all the plastic come from anyhow? And how does it get into the sea? […]

Researchers calculated that ten rivers (eight in Asia and two in Africa) are responsible for around 90 percent of the global input of plastic into the sea.

{ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research | Continue reading }

Pikes clash on cuirasses. Thieves rob the slain.

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The ATM-busting technique, known as jackpotting, has been around for almost a decade […] ATM jackpotting is both riskier and more complicated than card-skimming. For starters, scammers have to hack into the computer that governs the cash dispenser, which usually involves physically breaking into the machine itself; once they’re in, they install malware that tells the ATM to release all of its cash, just like a jackpot at a slot machine. These obstacles mean the process takes quite a bit longer than installing a card skimmer, which means more time in front of the ATM’s security cameras and jackpotters triggering an alarm in the bank’s control center at every step. But as chip-and-PIN becomes the standard in the U.S., would-be ATM thieves are running out of other options. […]

It was the Secret Service’s financial crimes division that spotted the series of attacks on multiple locations of the same bank in Florida in December and January, and put out a bulletin to financial institutions, law enforcement, and the public about the new style of ATM theft. The two major global ATM manufacturers, Diebold Nixdorfand NCR, also alerted the public and issued security patches within a few days. Banks started monitoring their ATMs around the clock. Less than 24 hours after the Secret Service’s public alert, Citizens Financial Group, a regional bank with branches all over the northeast, notified the local police that its security folks noticed one of its ATMs go off line. The police contacted the Secret Service, which made its first arrest on the scene.

{ Bloomberg | Continue reading }

photo { Jerome Liebling, Union Square, New York City, 1948 }

What’s in the wind, I wonder

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In 1985, Tony Schwartz, a writer for New York magazine, was sitting in Donald Trump’s office in Trump Tower interviewing him for a story. Trump told him he had agreed to write a book for Random House. “Well, if you’re going to write a book,” Schwartz said, recalling this interaction in a speech he gave last fall at the University of Michigan, “you ought to call it The Art of the Deal.”

“I like that,” Trump said. “Do you want to write it?”

These sorts of arrangements typically are not that generous for the writer. “Most writers for hire receive a flat fee, or a relatively modest percentage of any money the book earns,” Schwartz said in the speech. Schwartz, by contrast, got from Trump an almost unheard-of half of the $500,000 advance from Random House and also half of the royalties. And it didn’t even take a lot of haggling.

“He basically just agreed,” Schwartz told me in an email, meaning Schwartz ever since has brought in millions of dollars more of royalties and Trump has brought in millions of dollars less.

It’s a telling example, Harvard Business School negotiating professor Deepak Malhotra said in a recent interview. “What should have been a great deal on a book about negotiation actually is one of the most interesting pieces of evidence that he’s not a good negotiator.” Malhotra pointed out Schwartz even got his name on the cover, and in same-sized text. “I don’t think there’s a better ghostwriting deal out there.”

[…]

Trump made $50,000 an episode in the first season. In the second season? “He wanted a million dollars an episode,” Jeff Zucker, the current boss of CNN and former head of NBC, told the New Yorker’s David Remnick last year. And what did Zucker give him? “Sixty thousand dollars,” Zucker said.

“We ended up paying him what we wanted to pay him.”

{ Politico | Continue reading }

brush and india ink on paper { Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Duck, 1958 }

Why Not Sneeze Rrose Sélavy?

the intensity of the emotional response people experience when they act dishonestly is reduced every time they lie

{ NBC | Continue reading }

‘L’orgueil est la même chose que l’humilité, c’est toujours le mensonge.’ —Georges Bataille

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Austrian nobles Princess Pauline von Metternich and Countess Anastasia Kielmansegg agreed to a topless duel in the summer of 1892.

The duel went down in history as the first ‘emancipated duel’ because it involved female participants, female seconds’ and a female medic.

Baroness Lubinska from Warsaw, who had a medical degree, oversaw the duel and advised the women to sword fight topless to avoid infection.

{ Daily Mail | Continue reading }

Princess Pauline was involved in many charitable organizations. It was in her capacity as Honorary President of the Vienna Musical and Theatrical Exhibition that she quarreled with the Countess Kilmannsegg, wife of the Statthalter of Lower Austria and President of the Ladies Committee of the Vienna Musical and Theatrical Exhibition, apparently over the flower arrangements for the exhibition.

Whatever was said about those flowers could not be unsaid, and the Princess, then 56 years old, challenged the Countess to settle their dispute by blood.

The two adversaries and their seconds, Princess Schwarzenberg and Countess Kinsky, traveled to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, and took to the field of honor. Presiding over the encounter was Baroness Lubinska who, unusually for women of the time, was a medical doctor. Her modern understanding of infection proved pivotal. Having seen many superficial battle wounds turn septic and fatal because fragments of dirty clothes were driven into them, the Baroness insisted both parties remove all clothing above the waist.

So the Princess Metternich and Countess Kilmannsegg, both topless, took up their swords to fight until first blood.

After a few exchanges, the Princess received a small cut to the nose and the Countess was cut on the arm practically at the same time. The seconds called the duel and Princess Metternich was declared the winner.

{ Mental Floss | Continue reading }

‘Maybe don’t expect us to ‘just know’ what all your color-coded espresso pods mean.’ –Tim Geoghegan

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A distant galaxy that appears completely devoid of dark matter has baffled astronomers and deepened the mystery of the universe’s most elusive substance.

The absence of dark matter from a small patch of sky might appear to be a non-problem, given that astronomers have never directly observed dark matter anywhere. However, most current theories of the universe suggest that everywhere that ordinary matter is found, dark matter ought to be lurking too, making the newly observed galaxy an odd exception. […]

Paradoxically, the authors said the discovery of a galaxy without dark matter counts as evidence that it probably does exist.

{ Guardian | Continue reading }

photo { Luc Kordas }

Dom Dom Dombdomb

I am Mr Trump’s longtime special counsel and I have proudly served in that role for more than a decade. In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms Stephanie Clifford. [Note the ambiguous phrasing: “facilitate a payment.” This doesn’t necessarily mean Cohen ultimately funded the 130k payment to Clifford, just that he made it happen.] Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. [The fact that the Trump Organization and campaign didn’t reimburse Cohen doesn’t mean that members of the Trump family or campaign (or indeed anyone else) didn’t reimburse him, or give him the funds before he made the payment.] The payment to Ms Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone. [Note that Cohen doesn’t say whether or not Trump knew about the payment.]

{ Michael Cohen, annotated by Quartz | Continue reading }

And his derry’s own drawl and his corksown blather and his doubling stutter and his gullaway swank

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Scotland’s Aldwych Café and Ice Cream Parlor is dishing up what they’ve deemed the world’s “most dangerous ice cream.”

You have to be 18 years or older just to get a taste. Even if you pass the adult test, you’ll still need to sign a waiver warning of the ice cream’s “risk of personal injury, illness, and possible loss of life.”

The makers of Respiro Del Diavolo – Italian for “Breath of the Devil” – claim the velvety red ice cream is 500 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. The Carolina Reaper pepper used comes in at a whopping 1,569,300 SHU on the Scoville scale.

{ IFL Science | Continue reading }

We are advised the waxy is at the present in the Sweeps hospital and that he may never come out!

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Nine months after the Ukrainian revolution, Manafort’s family life also went into crisis. The nature of his home life can be observed in detail because Andrea’s text messages were obtained last year by a “hacktivist collective”—most likely Ukrainians furious with Manafort’s meddling in their country—which posted the purloined material on the dark web. The texts extend over four years (2012–16) and 6 million words. Manafort has previously confirmed that his daughter’s phone was hacked and acknowledged the authenticity of some texts. […]

When he called home in tears or threatened suicide in the spring of 2015, he was pleading for his marriage. The previous November, as the cache of texts shows, his daughters had caught him in an affair with a woman more than 30 years his junior. It was an expensive relationship. According to the text messages, Manafort had rented his mistress a $9,000-a-month apartment in Manhattan and a house in the Hamptons, not far from his own. He had handed her an American Express card, which she’d used to good effect. “I only go to luxury restaurants,” she once declared on a friend’s fledgling podcast, speaking expansively about her photo posts on social media: caviar, lobster, haute cuisine.

The affair had been an unexpected revelation. Manafort had nursed his wife after a horseback-riding accident had nearly killed her in 1997. “I always marveled at how patient and devoted he was with her during that time,” an old friend of Manafort’s told me. But after the exposure of his infidelity, his wife had begun to confess simmering marital issues to her daughters. Manafort had committed to couples therapy but, the texts reveal, that hadn’t prevented him from continuing his affair. Because he clumsily obscured his infidelity—and because his mistress posted about their travels on Instagram—his family caught him again, six months later. He entered the clinic in Arizona soon after, according to Andrea’s texts. […]

By the early months of 2016, Manafort was back in greater Washington, his main residence and the place where he’d begun his career as a political consultant and lobbyist. But his attempts at rehabilitation—of his family life, his career, his sense of self-worth—continued. He began to make a different set of calls. As he watched the U.S. presidential campaign take an unlikely turn, he saw an opportunity, and he badly wanted in. He wrote Donald Trump a crisp memo listing all the reasons he would be an ideal campaign consigliere—and then implored mutual friends to tout his skills to the ascendant candidate. […]

In 2006, Rick Gates, who’d begun as a wheel man at the old firm, arrived in Kiev. (Gates did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this article.) Manafort placed him at the helm of a new private-equity firm he’d created called Pericles. He intended to raise $200 million to bankroll investments in Ukraine and Russia. […]

Manafort had always intended to rely on financing from Oleg Deripaska to fund Pericles. In 2007, Manafort persuaded him to commit $100 million to the project, a sum that would have hardly made a dent in the oligarch’s fortune. On the eve of the 2008 global financial crisis, he was worth $28 billion.

Deripaska handed his money to Paul Manafort because he trusted him. […] Manafort used Deripaska’s money to buy a telecommunications firm in Odessa called Chorne More (“Black Seas,” in English) at a cost of $18.9 million. He also charged a staggering $7.35 million in management fees for overseeing the venture.

But months after the Chorne More purchase, the 2008 financial crisis hit, gutting Deripaska’s net worth. It plummeted so far that he needed a $4.5 billion bailout from the Russian state bank to survive. The loan included an interest payment in the form of abject humiliation: Putin traveled to one of Deripaska’s factories and berated him on television.

As Deripaska’s world came crashing down, his representatives asked Manafort to liquidate Pericles and give him back his fair share. Manafort had little choice but to agree. But that promise never translated to action. An audit of Chorne More that Rick Gates said was under way likewise never materialized. Then, in 2011, Manafort stopped responding to Deripaska’s investment team altogether. […]

The FBI investigation into Yanukovych’s finances came to cover Manafort’s own dealings. Soon after the feds took an interest, interviewing Manafort in July 2014, the repatriations ceased. Meanwhile, Manafort struggled to collect the money owed him by Yanukovych’s cronies. To finance his expensive life, he began taking out loans against his real estate—some $15 million over two years, his indictment says. This is not an uncommon tactic among money launderers—a bank loan allows the launderer to extract clean cash from property purchased with dirty money. But according to the indictment, some of Manafort’s loans were made on the basis of false information supplied to the bank in order to inflate the sums available to him, suggesting the severity of his cash-flow problems. All of these loans would need to be paid back, of course. And one way or another, he would need to settle Deripaska’s bill. […]

The Reagan administration had remade the contours of the Cold War, stepping up the fight against communism worldwide by funding and training guerrilla armies and right-wing military forces, such as the Nicaraguan contras and the Afghan mujahideen. This strategy of military outsourcing—the Reagan Doctrine—aimed to overload the Soviet Union with confrontations that it couldn’t sustain.

All of the money Congress began spending on anti-communist proxies represented a vast opportunity. Iron-fisted dictators and scruffy commandants around the world hoped for a share of the largesse. To get it, they needed help refining their image, so that Congress wouldn’t look too hard at their less-than-liberal tendencies. Other lobbyists sought out authoritarian clients, but none did so with the focused intensity of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. The firm would arrange for image-buffing interviews on American news programs; it would enlist allies in Congress to unleash money. Back home, it would help regimes acquire the whiff of democratic legitimacy that would bolster their standing in Washington.

{ The Atlantic | Continue reading }

Oil on linen { Suzan Frecon, lantern, 2017 }

Ho hang! Hang ho! And the clash of our cries till we spring to be free.

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Why the Victorian era saw a surge in female births and war begets boys

There is empirical evidence that heavy sexual activity increases the chances that conception will occur before the most fertile time of the female cycle, as the woman may be pregnant by then. And the data also suggest that, possibly for hormonal reasons, such conceptions are slightly more likely to be boys. “It doesn’t take much imagination to suppose that the ends of wars, with servicemen home on leave or returning home, are associated with fairly intense sex – more babies were born in the UK in 1919 than any other year in history. Put all these together and you get the conclusion – frantic fornication breeds boys.”

[…]

Which brings us back to the mysterious surge of female births in the late Victorian period. Could it be that, in the same vein in which heavy sexual activity increases the sex ratio, a  trend towards sexual inactivity lowers it? “Victorian morality” distinguished itself through a set of values that espoused sexual restraint, with an increased condemnation of masturbation and sexual activity in general, repressing any form of sexuality other than penetrative intercourse. And indeed, statistics reflect a steady decline of sexual activity throughout the Victorian period, reaching its lowest point in the year 1898. But as there was less sex going on, conception tended to occur around the most fertile time of the months, bestowing a (relative) excess of baby girls on the Victorians.

{ Rolf Degen | Continue reading }

Hypothesis 1

Up to circa two decades age, it was generally supposed – but without hard supporting evidence – that pregnant women exposed to adverse environmental circumstances were at increased risk of foetal loss, and that male foetuses were at greater risk than female foetuses; and that therefore the liveborn infants produced by stressed women contained a higher proportion of daughters. That hard evidence has now been accumulated in a series of papers by Catalano and colleagues, and others.

Using time-series analysis, it has been shown that the Sex ratios at birth (SRB) briefly declined, slightly but significantly, some three to five months after many catastrophic and other adverse events e.g. the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001; the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969–1998), the Breivik shooting in 2011 in Norway, the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 in Connecticut; the assassination of President Kennedy [though the effect in this case was more marked in non-White than White births]. […]

Thus there is overwhelming evidence that sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by maternal stress-induced selective culling of frail males in utero, resulting in a conception cohort with a low sex ratio at birth. It has also been postulated that the ratio may be skewed because of fertilization of non-optimally matured oocytes under these circumstances. Moreover, it has also been hypothesized that higher coital rates will lead to ejaculation of newly formed spermatozoa cells, possibly leading to a preponderance of Y-sperm since it is also hypothesized that X-sperm age faster and are eliminated earlier.

However, it will be appreciated that selective culling of frail males during pregnancy cannot explain some of the established variations of SRB. First, it cannot explain why some reported sex ratios are higher than prevailing norms. Second, it cannot explain why these norms almost always exceed 0.5 (equal numbers of males and females).

Hypothesis 2

It has been hypothesized that human sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by the parental hormone levels of both parents around the time of conception. Ex hypothesi, high levels of testosterone (in either parent) and/or of oestrogen (in the mother), are associated with subsequent male births. And high levels of gonadotrophins (in either parent) are associated with subsequent female births. Most of this evidence is observational and correlational, and is in accordance with the hypothesis of Trivers & Willard.

{ Early Human Development | Continue reading }

lithograph { Ellsworth Kelly, Small Blue Curve, 2013 }

After infusion of glucose, men’s VTA activity was higher for clothed than for nude female stimuli

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Energetic vampirism is the process whereby one person, through manipulation, essentially steals some life energy from another. […]

Vampirism is all around you.  In fact, most of us have done it a little, at least.  […]

According to Roy Masters and some other authorities on this subject, women who are not well enough developed spiritually vampirize others more than men.  This may occur because such women, whom Roy Masters calls “females”, have their energy centers reversed, and they tend to absorb energy rather than radiate energy.  Also, they may steal some energy from others, particularly men, in an effort to correct their energy centers. […]

We find that most successful vampires are fast oxidizers on hair tests. This is a higher amperage state, electrically speaking, and this may be necessary to extract energy from another person. It could also just be a result of the vampirism, but it is an interesting observation.

{ Dr. Lawrence Wilson | Continue reading }