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29 Oct 11:00

Tsu: The New Social Network That Pays You for Posts, Friends

by Erik Sherman

Filed under: Technology, Personal Finance, Internet, People, Financial Education

Three women at an outdoor party taking a self-portrait with a digital camera smiling
Sam Edwards/Getty Images
There's a saying in high tech that if you're not paying for a service, then you're the product. That's how social networks like Twitter and Facebook generally work. Users get access, while the companies that run the platforms use the personal data they acquire to better target marketing from advertisers for a price.

Some startups such as Ello have tried to break this mold and offer privacy to users by refusing to show ads, though it's unclear how well that business model will last in the long run. And then there's newcomer Tsu, which says it will share ad revenue with users. If you can't beat 'em, bill 'em.

Recently unveiled after a $7 million venture capital investment, Tsu is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Sebastian Sobczak, Drew Ginsburg, Thibault Boullenger, and Jonathan Lewin. The concept is simple: Users distribute and share original content, just like they do on all other social networks, but on Tsu, they get the lion's share of the ad revenue.

Tsu will keep 10 percent of the ad revenue, and will distribute the other 90 percent to its users, based on how often they post, how widely what they post is shared, and how many friends they have recruited into their personal networks on the system. How the money gets split up depends on a complicated formula, with the person who creates a post getting the largest amount and portions decreasing as you go further down the sharing tree.

As the blog site Re/Code points out, celebrities with large followings will make the most under this model, although people who pass along those popular posts can make something. And any compensation at all for posting on a social media site is more than what you've been getting from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and the like.

According to Re/Code, rapper 50 Cent and NBA star Carmelo Anthony are already signed up, although it's not clear how active they might be. And if you don't post, you don't profit.

Social network Bubblews launched with a similar approach in 2012. Payments are on the order of a penny per like, so don't plan on funding your Hawaiian getaway with your posting income. But if you're tired of giving those posts away for free to the Silicon Valley elite, it may be time to consider a new network.


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31 Oct 16:02

First Made-in-Colombia Drone to Track Smugglers, Volcanoes

Colombia will unveil its first domestically made drone today as a nation reliant on U.S. weaponry nurtures its own arms industry. The prototype, on show at a defense fair in Bogota, has a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles) and a carrying capacity of 100 kilograms (220...
31 Oct 17:50

Facebook offers hidden service to Tor users

by Robert Lemos

Hidden services running on the Tor network got major support on Friday when Facebook began offering Tor users a way to connect to its services and not run afoul of the social network’s algorithms for detecting fraudulent usage of accounts.

On Friday, the company added a hidden service address with a .onion top-level domain, facebookwwwi.onion, which allows Tor users to protect their data and identity all the way to Facebook’s datacenters. Hidden services accessed through the Tor network allow both the Web user and website to remain anonymous.

“Facebook’s onion address provides a way to access Facebook through Tor without losing the cryptographic protections provided by the Tor cloud,” Alec Muffett, a software engineer with Facebook’s security infrastructure group, said in a blog post. “It provides end-to-end communication, from your browser directly into a Facebook datacenter.”

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26 Oct 06:15

Alcoholics Anonymous: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

[EDIT 10/27: Slight changes in response to feedback; correcting some definitions. I am not an expert in this field and will continue to make changes as I learn about them. There is a critique of this post here and other worse critiques elsewhere. My only excuse for doing this is that I am failing less spectacularly than other online sources writing about the same topic.]

I’ve worked with doctors who think Alcoholics Anonymous is so important for the treatment of alcoholism that anyone who refuses to go at least three times a week is in denial about their problem and can’t benefit from further treatment.

I’ve also worked with doctors who are so against the organization that they describe it as a “cult” and say that a physician who recommends it is no better than one who recommends crystal healing or dianetics.

I finally got so exasperated that I put on my Research Cap and started looking through the evidence base.

My conclusion, after several hours of study, is that now I understand why most people don’t do this.

The studies surrounding Alcoholics Anonymous are some of the most convoluted, hilariously screwed-up research I have ever seen. They go wrong in ways I didn’t even realize research could go wrong before. Just to give some examples:

– In several studies, subjects in the “not attending Alcoholics Anonymous” condition attended Alcoholics Anonymous more than subjects in the “attending Alcoholics Anonymous” condition.

– Almost everyone’s belief about AA’s retention rate is off by a factor of five because one person long ago misread a really confusing graph and everyone else copied them without double-checking.

– The largest study ever in the field, a $30 million effort over 8 years following thousands of patients, had no untreated control group.

Not only are the studies poor, but the people interpreting them are heavily politicized. The entire field of addiction medicine has gotten stuck in the middle of some of the most divisive issues in our culture, like whether addiction is a biological disease or a failure of willpower, whether problems should be solved by community and peer groups or by highly trained professionals, and whether there’s a role for appealing to a higher power in any public organization. AA’s supporters see it as a scruffy grassroots organization of real people willing to get their hands dirty, who can cure addicts failed time and time again by a system of glitzy rehabs run by arrogant doctors who think their medical degrees make them better than people who have personally fought their own battles. Opponents see it as this awful cult that doesn’t provide any real treatment and just tells addicts that they’re terrible people who will never get better unless they sacrifice their identity to the collective.

As a result, the few sparks of light the research kindles are ignored, taken out of context, or misinterpreted.

The entire situation is complicated by a bigger question. We will soon find that AA usually does not work better or worse than various other substance abuse interventions. That leaves the sort of question that all those fancy-shmancy people with control groups in their studies don’t have to worry about – does anything work at all?

I.

We can start by just taking a big survey of people in Alcoholics Anonymous and seeing how they’re doing. On the one hand, we don’t have a control group. On the other hand…well, there really is no other hand, but people keep doing it.

According to AA’s own surveys, one-third of new members drop out by the end of their first month, half by the end of their third month, and three-quarters by the end of their first year. “Drop out” means they don’t go to AA meetings anymore, which could be for any reason including (if we’re feeling optimistic) them being so completely cured they no longer feel they need it.

There is an alternate reference going around that only 5% (rather than 25%) of AA members remain after their first year. This is a mistake caused by misinterpreting a graph showing that only five percent of members in their first year were in their twelfth month of membership, which is obviously completely different. Nevertheless, a large number of AA hate sites (and large rehabs!) cite the incorrect interpretation, for example the Orange Papers and RationalWiki’s page on Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, just to keep things short, assume RationalWiki’s AA page makes every single mistake I warn against in the rest of this article, then use that to judge them in general. On the other hand, Wikipedia gets it right and I continue to encourage everyone to use it as one of the most reliable sources of medical information available to the public (I wish I was joking).

This retention information isn’t very helpful, since people can remain in AA without successfully quitting drinking, and people may successfully quit drinking without being in AA. However, various different sources suggest that, of people who stay in AA a reasonable amount of time, about half stop being alcoholic. These numbers can change wildly depending on how you define “reasonable amount of time” and “stop being alcoholic”. Here is a table, which I have cited on this blog before and will probably cite again:

Behold. Treatments that look very impressive (80% improved after six months!) turn out to be the same or worse as the control group. And comparing control group to control group, you can find that “no treatment” can appear to give wildly different outcomes (from 20% to 80% “recovery”) depending on what population you’re looking at and how you define “recovery”.

Twenty years ago, it was extremely edgy and taboo for a reputable scientist to claim that alcoholics could recover on their own. This has given way to the current status quo, in which pretty much everyone in the field writes journal articles all the time about how alcoholics can recover on their own, but make sure to harp upon how edgy and taboo they are for doing so. From these sorts of articles, we learn that about 80% of recovered alcoholics have gotten better without treatment, and many of them are currently able to drink moderately without immediately relapsing (something else it used to be extremely taboo to mention). Kate recently shared an good article about this: Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out Of It: Why Is This Widely Denied?

Anyway, all this stuff about not being able to compare different populations, and the possibility of spontaneous recovery, just mean that we need controlled experiments. The largest number of these take a group of alcoholics, follow them closely, and then evaluate all of them – the AA-attending and the non-AA-attending – according to the same criteria. For example Morgenstern et al (1997), Humphreys et al (1997) and Moos (2006). Emrick et al (1993) is a meta-analyses of a hundred seventy three of these. All of these find that the alcoholics who end up going to AA meetings are much more likely to get better than those who don’t. So that’s good evidence the group is effective, right?

Bzzzt! No! Wrong! Selection bias!

People who want to quit drinking are more likely to go to AA than people who don’t want to quit drinking. People who want to quit drinking are more likely to actually quit drinking than those who don’t want to. This is a serious problem. Imagine if it is common wisdom that AA is the best, maybe the only, way to quit drinking. Then 100% of people who really want to quit would attend compared to 0% of people who didn’t want to quit. And suppose everyone who wants to quit succeeds, because secretly, quitting alcohol is really easy. Then 100% of AA members would quit, compared to 0% of non-members – the most striking result it is mathematically possible to have. And yet AA would not have made a smidgeon of difference.

But it’s worse than this, because attending AA isn’t just about wanting to quit. It’s also about having the resources to make it to AA. That is, wealthier people are more likely to hear about AA (better information networks, more likely to go to doctor or counselor who can recommend) and more likely to be able to attend AA (better access to transportation, more flexible job schedules). But wealthier people are also known to be better at quitting alcohol than poor people – either because the same positive personal qualities that helped them achieve success elsewhere help them in this battle as well, or just because they have fewer other stressors going on in their lives driving them to drink.

Finally, perseverance is a confounder. To go to AA, and to keep going for months and months, means you’ve got the willpower to drag yourself off the couch to do a potentially unpleasant thing. That’s probably the same willpower that helps you stay away from the bar.

And then there’s a confounder going the opposite direction. The worse your alcoholism is, the more likely you are to, as the organization itself puts it, “admit you have a problem”.

These sorts of longitudinal studies are almost useless and the field has mostly moved away from them. Nevertheless, if you look on the pro-AA sites, you will find them in droves, and all of them “prove” the organization’s effectiveness.

III.

It looks like we need randomized controlled trials. And we have them. Sort of.

Brandsma (1980) is the study beloved of the AA hate groups, since it purports to show that people in Alcoholics Anonymous not only don’t get better, but are nine times more likely to binge drink than people who don’t go into AA at all.

There are a number of problems with this conclusion. First of all, if you actually look at the study, this is one of about fifty different findings. The other findings are things like “88% of treated subjects reported a reduction in drinking, compared to 50% of the untreated control group”.

Second of all, the increased binge drinking was significant at the 6 month followup period. It was not significant at the end of treatment, the 3 month followup period, the 9 month followup period, or the 12 month followup period. Remember, taking a single followup result out of the context of the other followup results is a classic piece of Dark Side Statistics and will send you to Science Hell.

Of multiple different endpoints, Alcoholics Anonymous did better than no treatment on almost all of them. It did worse than other treatments on some of them (dropout rates, binge drinking, MMPI scale) and the same as other treatments on others (abstinent days, total abstinence).

If you are pro-AA, you can say “Brandsma study proves AA works!”. If you are anti-AA, you can say “Brandsma study proves AA works worse than other treatments!”, although in practice most of these people prefer to quote extremely selective endpoints out of context.

However, most of the patients in the Brandsma study were people convicted of alcohol-related crimes ordered to attend treatment as part of their sentence. Advocates of AA make a good point that this population might be a bad fit for AA. They may not feel any personal motivation to treatment, which might be okay if you’re going to listen to a psychologist do therapy with you, but fatal for a self-help group. Since the whole point of AA is being in a community of like-minded individuals, if you don’t actually feel any personal connection to the project of quitting alcohol, it will just make you feel uncomfortable and out of place.

Also, uh, this just in, Brandsma didn’t use a real AA group, because the real AA groups make people be anonymous which makes it inconvenient to research stuff. He just sort of started his own non-anonymous group, let’s call it A, with no help from the rest of the fellowship, and had it do Alcoholics Anonymous-like stuff. On the other hand, many members of his control group went out into the community and…attended a real Alcoholics Anonymous, because Brandsma can’t exactly ethically tell them not to. So technically, there were more people in AA in the no-AA group than in the AA group. Without knowing more about Alcoholics Anonymous, I can’t know whether this objection is valid and whether Brandsma’s group did or didn’t capture the essence of the organization. Still, not the sort of thing you want to hear about a study.

Walsh et al (1991) is a similar study with similar confounders and similar results. Workers in an industrial plant who were in trouble for coming in drunk were randomly assigned either to an inpatient treatment program or to Alcoholics Anonymous. After a year of followup, 60% of the inpatient-treated workers had stayed sober, but only 30% of the AA-treated workers had.

The pro-AA side made three objections to this study, of which one is bad and two are good.

The bad objection was that AA is cheaper than hospitalization, so even if hospitalization is good, AA might be more efficient – after all, we can’t afford to hospitalize everyone. It’s a bad objection because the authors of the study did the math and found out that hospitalization was so much better than AA that it decreased the level of further medical treatment needed and saved the health system more money than it cost.

The first good objection: like the Brandsma study, this study uses people under coercion – in this case, workers who would lose their job if they refused. Fine.

The second good objection, and this one is really interesting: a lot of inpatient hospital rehab is AA. That is, when you go to an hospital for inpatient drug treatment, you attend AA groups every day, and when you leave, they make you keep going to the AA groups. In fact, the study says that “at the 12 month and 24 month assessments, the rates of AA affiliation and attendance in the past 6 months did not differ significantly among the groups.” Given that the hospital patients got hospital AA + regular AA, they were actually getting more AA than the AA group!

So all that this study proves is that AA + more AA + other things is better than AA. There was no “no AA” group, which makes it impossible to discuss how well AA does or doesn’t work. Frick.

Timko (2006) is the only study I can hesitantly half-endorse. This one has a sort of clever methodological trick to get around the limitation that doctors can’t ethically refuse to refer alcoholics to treatment. In this study, researchers at a Veterans’ Affairs hospital randomly assigned alcoholic patients to “referral” or “intensive referral”. In “referral”, the staff asked the patients to go to AA. In “intensive referral”, the researchers asked REALLY NICELY for the patients to go to AA, and gave them nice glossy brochures on how great AA was, and wouldn’t shut up about it, and arranged for them to meet people at their first AA meeting so they could have friends in AA, et cetera, et cetera. The hope was that more people in the “intensive referral” group would end out in AA, and that indeed happened scratch that, I just re-read the study and the same number of people in both groups went to AA and the intensive group actually completed a lower number of the 12 Steps on average, have I mentioned I hate all research and this entire field is terrible? But the intensive referral people were more likely to have “had a spiritual awakening” and “have a sponsor”, so it was decided the study wasn’t a complete loss and when it was found the intensive referral condition had slightly less alcohol use the authors decided to declare victory.

So, whereas before we found that AA + More AA was better than AA, and that proved AA didn’t work, in this study we find that AA + More AA was better than AA, and that proves AA does work. You know, did I say I hesitantly half-endorsed this study? Scratch that. I hate this study too.

IV.

All right, @#%^ this $@!&*. We need a real study, everything all lined up in a row, none of this garbage. Let’s just hire half the substance abuse scientists in the country, throw a gigantic wad of money at them, give them as many patients as they need, let them take as long as they want, but barricade the doors of their office and not let them out until they’ve proven something important beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This was about how the scientific community felt in 1989, when they launched Project MATCH. This eight-year, $30 million dollar, multi-thousand patient trial was supposed to solve everything.

The people going into Project MATCH might have been a little overconfident. Maybe “not even Zeus could prevent this study from determining the optimal treatment for alcohol addiction” overconfident. This might have been a mistake.

The study was designed with three arms, one for each of the popular alcoholism treatments of the day. The first arm would be “twelve step facilitation”, a form of therapy based off of Alcoholics Anonymous. The second arm would be cognitive behavioral therapy, the most bog-standard psychotherapy in the world and one which by ancient tradition must be included in any kind of study like this. The third arm would be motivational enhancement therapy, which is a very short intervention where your doctor tells you all the reasons you should quit alcohol and tries to get you to convince yourself.

There wasn’t a “no treatment” arm. This is where the overconfidence might have come in. Everyone knew alcohol treatment worked. Surely you couldn’t dispute that. They just wanted to see which treatment worked best for which people. So you would enroll a bunch of different people – rich, poor, black, white, married, single, chronic alcoholic, new alcoholic, highly motivated, unmotivated – and see which of these people did best in which therapy. The result would be an algorithm for deciding where to send each of your patients. Rich black single chronic unmotivated alcoholic? We’ve found with p < 0.00001 that the best place for someone like that is in motivational enhancement therapy. Such was the dream.

So, eight years and thirty million dollars and the careers of several prestigious researchers later, the results come in, and - yeah, everyone does exactly the same on every kind of therapy (with one minor, possibly coincidental exception). Awkward.

“Everybody has won and all must have prizes!”. If you’re an optimist, you can say all treatments work and everyone can keep doing whatever they like best. If you’re a pessimist, you might start wondering whether anything works at all.

By my understanding this is also the confusing conclusion of Ferri, Amato & Davoli (2006), the Cochrane Collaboration’s attempt to get in on the AA action. Like all Cochrane Collaboration studies since the beginning of time, they find there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the intervention being investigated. This has been oft-quoted in the anti-AA literature. But by my reading, they had no control groups and were comparing AA to different types of treatment:

Three studies compared AA combined with other interventions against other treatments and found few differences in the amount of drinks and percentage of drinking days. Severity of addiction and drinking consequence did not seem to be differentially influenced by TSF versus comparison treatment interventions, and no conclusive differences in treatment drop out rates were reported.

So the two best sources we have – Project MATCH and Cochrane – don’t find any significant differences between AA and other types of therapy. Now, to be fair, the inpatient treatment mentioned in Walsh et al wasn’t included, and inpatient treatment might be the gold standard here. But sticking to various forms of outpatient intervention, they all seem to be about the same.

So, the $64,000 question: do all of them work well, or do all of them work poorly?

V.

Alcoholism studies avoid control groups like they are on fire, presumably because it’s unethical not to give alcoholics treatment or something. However, there is one class of studies that doesn’t have that problem. These are the ones on “brief opportunistic intervention”, which is much like a turbocharged even shorter version of “motivational enhancement therapy”. Your doctor tells you ‘HELLO HAVE YOU CONSIDERED QUITTING ALCOHOL??!!’ and sees what happens.

Brief opportunistic intervention is the most trollish medical intervention ever, because here are all these brilliant psychologists and counselors trying to unravel the deepest mysteries of the human psyche in order to convince people to stop drinking, and then someone comes along and asks “Hey, have you tried just asking them politely?”. And it works.

Not consistently. But it works for about one in eight people. And the theory is that since it only takes a minute or two of a doctor’s time, it scales a lot faster than some sort of hideously complex hospital-based program that takes thousands of dollars and dozens of hours from everyone involved. If doctors would just spend five minutes with each alcoholic patient reminding them that no, really, alcoholism is really bad, we could cut the alcoholism rate by 1/8.

(this also works for smoking, by the way. I do this with every single one of my outpatients who smoke, and most of the time they roll their eyes, because their doctor is giving them that speech, but every so often one of them tells me that yeah, I’m right, they know they really should quit smoking and they’ll give it another try. I have never saved anyone’s life by dramatically removing their appendix at the last possible moment, but I have gotten enough patients to promise me they’ll try quitting smoking that I think I’ve saved at least one life just by obsessively doing brief interventions every chance I get. This is probably the most effective life-saving thing you can do as a doctor, enough so that if you understand it you may be licensed to ignore 80,000 Hours’ arguments on doctor replaceability)

Anyway, for some reason, it’s okay to do these studies with control groups. And they are so fast and easy to study that everyone studies them all the time. A meta-analysis of 19 studies is unequivocal that they definitely work.

Why do these work? My guess is that they do two things. First, they hit people who honestly didn’t realize they had a problem, and inform them that they do. Second, the doctor usually says they’ll “follow up on how they’re doing” the next appointment. This means that a respected authority figure is suddenly monitoring their drinking and will glare at them if they stay they’re still alcoholic. As someone who has gone into a panic because he has a dentist’s appointment in a week and he hasn’t been flossing enough – and then flossed until his teeth were bloody so the dentist wouldn’t be disappointed – I can sympathize with this.

But for our purposes, the brief opportunistic intervention sets a lower bound. It says “Here’s a really minimal thing that seems to work. Do other things work better than this?”

The “brief treatment” is the next step up from brief intervention. It’s an hour-or-so-long session (or sometimes a couple such sessions) with a doctor or counselor where they tell you some tips for staying off alcohol. I bring it up here because the brief treatment research community spends its time doing studies that show that brief treatments are just as good as much more intense treatments. This might be most comparable to the “motivational enhancement therapy” in the MATCH study.

Chapman and Huygens (1988) find that a single interview with a health professional is just as good as six weeks of inpatient treatment (I don’t know about their hospital in New Zealand, but for reference six weeks of inpatient treatment in my hospital costs about $40,000.)

Edwards (1977) finds that in a trial comparing “conventional inpatient or outpatient treatment complete with the full panoply of services available at a leading psychiatric institution and lasting several months” versus an hour with a doc, both groups do the same at one and two year followup.

And so on.

All of this is starting to make my head hurt, but it’s a familiar sort of hurt. It’s the way my head hurts when Scott Aaronson talks about complexity classes. We have all of these different categories of things, and some of them are the same as others and others are bigger than others but we’re not sure exactly where all of them stand.

We have classes “no treatment”, “brief opportunistic intervention”, “brief treatment”, “Alcoholics Anonymous”, “psychotherapy”, and “inpatient”.

We can prove that BOI > NT, and that AA = PT. Also that BT = IP = PT. We also have that IP > AA, which unfortunately we can use to prove a contradiction, so let’s throw it out for now.

So the hierarchy of classes seems to be (NT) < (BOI) ? (BT, IP, AA, PT) - in other words, no treatment is the worst, brief opportunistic intervention is better, and then somewhere in there we have this class of everything else that is the same.

Can we prove that BOI = BT?

We have some good evidence for this, once again from our Handbook. A study in Edinburgh finds that five minutes of psychiatrist advice (brief opportunistic intervention) does the same as sixty minutes of advice plus motivational interviewing (brief treatment).

So if we take all this seriously, then it looks like every psychosocial treatment (including brief opportunistic intervention) is the same, and all are better than no treatment. This is a common finding in psychiatry and psychology – for example, all common antidepressants are better than no treatment but work about equally well; all psychotherapies are better than no treatment but work about equally well, et cetera. It’s still an open question what this says about our science and our medicine.

The strongest counterexample to this is Walsh et al which finds the inpatient hospital stay works better than the AA referral, but this study looks kind of lonely compared to the evidence on the other side. And even the authors admit they were surprised by the effectiveness of the hospital there.

And let’s go back to Project MATCH. There wasn’t a control group. But there were the people who dropped out of the study, who said they’d go to AA or psychotherapy but never got around to it. Cutter and Fishbain (2005) take a look at what happened to these folks. They find that the dropouts did 75% as well as the people in any of the therapy groups, and that most of the effect of the therapy groups occurred in the first week (ie people dropped out after one week did about 95% as well as people who stayed in).

To me this suggests two things. First, therapy is only a little helpful over most people quitting on their own. Second, insofar as therapy is helpful, the tiniest brush with therapy is enough to make someone think “Okay, I’ve had some therapy, I’ll be better now”. Just like with the brief opportunistic interventions, five minutes of almost anything is enough.

This is a weird conclusion, but I think it’s the one supported by the data.

VI.

I should include a brief word about this giant table.

I see it everywhere. It looks very authoritative and impressive and, of course, giant. I believe the source is Miller’s Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches: Effective Alternatives, 3rd Edition, the author of which is known as a very careful scholar whom I cannot help but respect.

And the table does a good thing in discussing medications like acamprosate and naltrexone, which are very important and effective interventions but which will not otherwise be showing up in this post.

However, the therapy part of the table looks really wrong to me.

First of all, I notice acupuncture is ranked 17 out of 48, putting in a much, much better showing than treatments like psychotherapy, counseling, or education. Seems fishy.

Second of all, I notice that motivational enhancement (#2), cognitive therapy (#13), and twelve-step (#37) are all about as far apart as could be, but the largest and most powerful trial ever, Project MATCH, found all three to be about equal in effectiveness.

Third of all, I notice that cognitive therapy is at #13, but psychotherapy is at #46. But cognitive therapy is a kind of psychotherapy.

Fourth of all, I notice that brief interventions, motivational enhancement, confrontational counseling, psychotherapy, general alcoholism counseling, and education are all over. But a lot of these are hard to differentiate from one another.

The table seems messed up to me. Part of it is because it is about evidence base rather than effectiveness (consider that handguns have a stronger evidence base than the atomic bomb, since they have been used many more times in much better controlled conditions, but the atomic bomb is more effective) and therefore acupuncture, which is poorly studied, can rank quite high compared to things which have even one negative study.

But part of it just seems wrong. I haven’t read the full book, but I blame the tendency to conflate studies showing “X does not work better than anything else” with “X does not work”.

Remember, whenever there are meta-analyses that contradict single very large well-run studies, go with the single very large well-run study, especially when the meta-analysis is as weird as this one. Project MATCH is the single very large well-run study, and it says this is balderdash. I’m guessing it’s trying to use some weird algorithmic methodology to automatically rate and judge each study, but that’s no substitute for careful human review.

VII.

In conclusion, as best I can tell – and it is not very well, because the studies that could really prove anything robustly haven’t been done – most alcoholics get better on their own. All treatments for alcoholism, including Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy, and just a few minutes with a doctor explaining why she thinks you need to quit, increase this already-high chance of recovery a small but nonzero amount. Furthermore, they are equally effective after only a tiny dose: your first couple of meetings, your first therapy session. Some studies suggest that inpatient treatment with outpatient followup may be better than outpatient treatment alone, but other studies contradict this and I am not confident in the assumption.

So does Alcoholics Anonymous work? Though I cannot say anything authoritatively, my impression is: Yes, but only a tiny bit, and for many people five minutes with a doctor may work just as well as years completing the twelve steps. As such, individual alcoholics may want to consider attending if they don’t have easier options; doctors might be better off just talking to their patients themselves.

If this is true – and right now I don’t have much confidence that it is, it’s just a direction that weak and contradictory data are pointing – it would be really awkward for the multibazillion-dollar treatment industry.

More worrying, I am afraid of what it would do to the War On Drugs. Right now one of the rallying cries for the anti-Drug-War movement is “treatment, not prison”. And although I haven’t looked seriously at the data for any drug besides alcohol. I think some data there are similar. There’s very good medication for drugs – for example methadone and suboxone for opiate abuse – but in terms of psychotherapy it’s mostly the same stuff you get for alcohol. Rehabs, whether they work or not, seem to serve an important sort of ritual function, where if you can send a drug abuser to a rehab you at least feel like something has been done. Deny people that ritual, and it might make prison the only politically acceptable option.

In terms of things to actually treat alcoholism, I remain enamoured of the Sinclair Method, which has done crazy outrageous stuff like conduct an experiment with an actual control group. But I haven’t investigated enough to know whether my early excitement about them looks likely to pan out or not.

I would not recommend quitting any form of alcohol treatment that works for you, or refusing to try a form of treatment your doctor recommends, based on any of this information.

28 Oct 04:15

Marc Andreessen on getting radicalized

by Walter Olson

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, quoted in New York magazine “Intelligencer”:

If you have been in an Uber car and gotten pulled over and had the car seized out from under the driver when you were like in the middle of a trip that you were otherwise having a good time on, you might be a little bit radicalized. You might all of a sudden think, Wait a minute, what just happened, and why did it happen? And then you might discover what the taxi companies did over the last 50 years to wire up city governments and all the corruption that’s taken place. And you might say, “Wait a minute.” There’s this myth that government regulation is well intentioned and benign, and implemented properly. That’s the myth. And then when people actually run into this in the real world, they’re, “Oh [...] I didn’t realize.”

One of my favorite things of all time is George McGovern, who ran for president in ’72 as a hyperliberal. Of course Nixon [beat him badly]. And in 1992 he wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal which told the story of his life after he left politics, when he bought an inn in Connecticut. And he said, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize.” And the “Oh my God, I didn’t realize” was: I did not realize what a layered impact 50 or 100 years of regulations and laws applied on small-­business owners actually meant.

Tags: small business, taxis and ridesharing

Marc Andreessen on getting radicalized is a post from Overlawyered - Chronicling the high cost of our legal system

29 Oct 12:30

Video: 8 Cops Fire 45 Shots at 1 Mentally Ill Homeless Man

by Zenon Evans

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a disturbing video of a police shooting. It shows eight officers of the Saginaw, Michigan Police Department lined up against Milton Hall, a mentally ill homeless man. There's a brief stand-off in a vacant parking lot, in which Hall pulls out a pocketknife, then the law enforcement agents fire 45 bullets at Hall, hitting him 14 times, even as he drops to the pavement, but it doesn't end there.

"One policeman, after [Hall] was on the ground, turned him over, handcuffed him, and put his foot on his back," says Jewel Hall, the mother of the 45-year-old homeless man. "And his blood is running down the street like water."

According to the ACLU, Hall only pulled out the knife because "a police dog began snarling and lunging at" him.

One has to wonder why the eight officers did not see fit to disarm Hall in a non-lethal way.

The shooting took place in July of 2012, but the organization explains why it remains relevant to this day:

In March 2014, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DoJ) declined to file federal charges against the Saginaw police officers who shot and killed Milton Hall because they claimed "this tragic event does not present sufficient evidence of willful misconduct to lead to a federal criminal prosecution." To prosecute the officers, it is necessary to prove not only that Hall's Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the use of excessive force, but also that the officers "willfully" set out to deprive him of those rights. …

The ACLU of Michigan testified that disagrees with the DOJ's decision not to prosecute, citing Supreme Court precedent indicating that an officer "recklessly disregarding" a person's rights can meet the "willfulness" standard regardless of the officer's frame of mind, calling for an expanded investigation into the practices of the Saginaw police and citing worries about an apparent pattern of racial profiling. 

On Monday the ACLU "testified… before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the failure of the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute officers involved in the unjustified police shooting death."

Although the DoJ declined to file charges in March, Jewel did receive $725,00 in a civil lawsuit settlement with the department, reports MLive.com

The Huffington Post explains that "the [IACHR] has no real authority over the U.S. Yet Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, said he hopes the hearing will serve 'as a wake-up call for the desperate need to address police misconduct against the black citizens of this country,'" and that "The power behind these international tribunals is to draw attention to the problem and to put pressure on the United States to abide by human rights principles."

You can watch the dashcam video here:

29 Oct 21:01

Sororities Don't Let Their Girls Drink in the House: Is That Wise?

by Robby Soave

The House BunnyThe Huffington Post reports that most sororities in the country are dry: They don't let girls have alcohol in the house at all. The national Greek organization that oversees most sororities, the National Panhellenic Conference, has apparently maintained that policy for as long as anyone can remember—it's a staple of a "more Victorian era," according to the organization. Fraternities, on the other hand, have no such prohibition.

Perhaps more surprising: No one seems interested in changing things.

"I hate to say it, but I don't see that changing ever," said Julie Johnson, a committee chairwoman at the NPC.

According to a HuffPost poll, 65 percent of women and 50 percent of men agreed that sororities should remain dry:

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they agreed that "sorority houses should not be allowed to host parties that serve alcohol." Yet, only 50 percent of men in the poll agreed with the statement, compared with 65 percent of women.

Just 16 percent of female respondents think sororities should be allowed to host alcoholic parties, compared with 32 percent of men, the poll found.

Technically speaking, most residents of both sorority and fraternity houses are under 21 and can't legally drink alcohol anyway. And I'm sure this policy isn't followed uniformly, and is often flouted. But just like the drinking age, a stated no-alcohol policy shifts students' drinking habits—not by stopping them from drinking, but by changing where and when they are more likely to drink. Since sorority sisters aren't supposed to drink at home, and can't host social events with alcohol, and are legally barred from drinking at bars and restaurants, they are driven to parties—at apartments, college town houses, and fraternities—when they want to drink.

It's easy to see why this may not be a socially desirable result. Drinking in a stranger's basement is inherently more dangerous than drinking in the comfort of your own home, or a bar. It seems to me that the kinds of misunderstandings, uncomfortable situations, and outright assaults that befall college women are far more likely to occur when drinking under such conditions. If college girls are going to get drunk at parties no matter what the law says, shouldn't more of those parties be happening on their own turf—in an environment controlled by women, where a potential rape victim is surrounded by girls she knows and lives with?

The so-called "epidemic" of sexual assault on campus is probably exaggerated, given how dubious the statistics are. But campus rape does happen—and when it does, it is almost always the result of blackout drinking. Don't both NPC's alcohol policy and the current legal drinking age incentivize sorority girls to binge drink in the dark, late at night, in unfamiliar, male-dominated environments, away from their sisters?

Some progressives think the best way to fix the problem is to concentrate on what happens right before a potential assault is committed. They are obsessed over the precise words leading up to an assault, and think legislatures should force colleges to police the expression of thoughts and feelings during intimate moments.

Instead of forcing students to say the right words to each other under dangerous and incapacitating drinking conditions, why don't we simply remove the policies that encourage them to drink so irresponsibly?

Read more about the libertarian answer to the campus rape crisis here.

29 Oct 20:40

College Wisely Acknowledges Game of Thrones Shirt Is Not a Violent Threat

by Scott Shackford

Hodor.No, posting a picture of your daughter doing yoga while wearing a T-shirt with a quote from Game of Thrones on social media is not a threat to do harm to anybody. Thank heavens the folks at Bergen Community College in New Jersey have finally settled that little issue.

This case goes back to January, when a college professor did what was just described above. He posted said picture on Google+. A college executive director got an e-mail notification about the picture post. He saw the picture of the girl, with her shirt that read "I will take what is mine with fire & blood," and thought that this was an actual threat. They put Professor Francis Schmidt on leave (without pay!) and ordered him to see a psychiatrist. More details here.

Months later the college has realized the professor wasn't the one who had lost his mind. Today Eugene Volokh over at The Washington Post has a letter from the college admitting as such:

This letter acknowledges that Bergen Community College (“BCC”) may have lacked basis to sanction you for your January 12, 2014 Google+ post of your daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt (the “Incident”). By sanctioning you as it did, BCC may have unintentionally erred and potentially violated your constitutional rights, including under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Upon further reflection on this matter and in order to bring this issue to closure, BCC will strike and remove from your employment file any adverse record in connection with this Incident. … Likewise, any penalty or restriction you may have suffered in connection with this Incident, … is hereby rescinded and acknowledged to be null and void. Part and parcel of this acknowledgement, the Incident shall not be considered in any future BCC decisions concerning your employment, including without limitation any decisions relating to promotion, sabbatical, compensation, or any future disciplinary proceeding. In sum, you will be in good standing with BCC as if the Incident never occurred, and BCC’s records shall so reflect.

27 Oct 22:36

NY Times peddles Obamacare fiction

by DrJohn

Obama-NYT-Media-Bias-Corruption

The NY Times today runs an article that tries vainly to rescue Obama and Obamacare:

After a year fully in place, the Affordable Care Act has largely succeeded in delivering on President Obama’s main promises, an analysis by a team of reporters and data researchers shows. But it has also fallen short in some ways and given rise to a powerful conservative backlash.

Here at the arguments:

1. Has the percentage of uninsured people been reduced? Yes, the number of uninsured has fallen significantly.

2. Has insurance under the law been affordable? For many, yes, but not for all.

3. Did the Affordable Care Act improve health outcomes? Data remains sparse except for one group, the young.

4. Will the online exchanges work better this year than last? Most experts expect they will, but they will be tested by new challenges.

5. Has the health care industry been helped or hurt by the law? The law mostly helped, by providing new paying patients and insurance customers.

6. How has the expansion of Medicaid fared? Twenty-three states have opposed expansion, though several of them are reconsidering.

7. Has the law contributed to a slowdown in health care spending? Perhaps, but mainly around the edges.

Let’s analyze some of this. The number of uninsured has fallen, but it is still higher than when Obama took office.

The CBO predicts that the number of uninsured will never fall below 30 million. The number of Obamacare enrollments is cooked:

Of the Obamacare sign-ups, only 27 percent had been previously uninsured in 2013. And of the 27 percent, nearly half had yet to pay a premium. (By contrast, among the 73 percent who had been previously insured, 86 percent had paid.) Put all those percentages together, and you get two key stats. Only 19 percent of those who have paid a premium were previously uninsured. Among those that the administration is touting as sign-ups, only 14 percent are previously uninsured enrollees: approximately 472,000 people as of February 1.

In other words, the claims for Obamacare enrollees includes those who lost their plans due to Obamacare.

Keep in mind another fact: According to the Associated Press, at least 4.7 million Americans who shop for coverage on their own have had their plans canceled because they don’t conform to Obamacare’s regulations. So Obamacare has disrupted the coverage of millions of Americans, requiring many to purchase costlier policies with higher deductibles and narrower doctor networks, for a fairly modest expansion of coverage. According to the administration, total sign-ups now exceed 4 million. But on a recent HHS conference call, Obamacare implementation point man Gary Cohen was asked the key question: how many of the people who have signed up for Obamacare were previously insured? His response: “That’s not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way.” So. The whole point of Obamacare was to expand coverage to the uninsured. But for the tens of thousands of regulations that the law has imposed on the country, its authors never bothered to try to measure the one thing that they were actually trying to achieve. That about sums it all up.

Has Obamacare made health care affordable? Not really. Premiums might appear to be lower but 1. they’re going up:

However, a new study from the well-respected and non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research (and published by Brookings Institution), overcomes the limitations of these prior studies by examining what happened to premiums in the entire non-group market. The bottom line? In 2014, premiums in the non-group market grew by 24.4% compared to what they would have been without Obamacare. Of equal importance, this careful state-by-state assessment showed that premiums rose in all but 6 states (including Washington DC).

and 2. the deductibles are onerous. A great number of people are simply unable to afford health care.

Patricia Wanderlich got insurance through the Affordable Care Act this year, and with good reason: She suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit, and has a second, smaller aneurysm that needs monitoring. But her new plan has a $6,000 annual deductible, meaning that Ms. Wanderlich, who works part time at a landscaping company outside Chicago, has to pay for most of her medical services up to that amount. She is skipping this year’s brain scan and hoping for the best. “To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?” said Ms. Wanderlich, 61. “I don’t have that money.”

Has Obamacare reduced the overall cost of health care? No.  But let’s go back to the false premise of this article:

“After a year fully in place, the Affordable Care Act has largely succeeded in delivering on President Obama’s main promises, an analysis by a team of reporters and data researchers shows.”

A team of reporters no doubt from the news outlets that roll over for Obama. The above were NOT the main promises about Obamacare. To assert that they are is a bald face lie.

There were three principal guarantees for Obamacare:

1. “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

2. “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period”

Not only can you not keep your plan and your doctor, people are growing increasingly angry when they discover their networks are narrowed. Many will not be able to get the best care for themselves and their loved ones.

3. You’ll save $2500 per year.

Those were the main promises of Obamacare. They were all lies. No amount of bullshit from the NY Times is going to change it. The NY Times has exhibited a persistent pattern of dishonesty recently and it appears nothing is going to change soon. At least, not until after the election. And we haven’t even seen the effects of the employer mandate yet but that one has been put on ice until after Obama is out of office.

Image courtesy of Frontiers of Freedom

28 Oct 03:21

Incredible Wildlife Footage Shows Lioness Hunt Prey With GoPro Camera Mounted to Its Body

by Oliver Darcy

Incredible wildlife footage posted online Monday shows a lioness hunt down her prey in the wild plains of South Africa.

The rare video was filmed by strapping a GoPro camera onto the animal’s back before letting her free to hunt. The footage depicting the waterbuck’s takedown has since amassed more than 20,000 views on YouTube.

“Wildlife observers have probably wanted footage like this for years and years now.”
Share:

“Wildlife observers have probably wanted footage like this for years and years now,” one person commented. “Thanks to GoPro and people like Kevin Richardson, it is now possible. Awesome!”

“Crazy GoPro video,” echoed another.

Watch the Footage:

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

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27 Oct 22:00

Cop Suspended After Footage Captures Him Give Teen Profanity-Laced Threat After Simple, Legal Act

by Oliver Darcy

A Philadelphia police officer captured on video issuing a profanity-laced threat to a teenager for making eye contact with him will be disciplined, the department said over the weekend.

Image source: Screen grab via Facebook

Image source: Screen grab via Facebook

According to WCAU-TV, the department is aware of the footage circulating on social media and will hold the officer responsible.

A 12-second video posted earlier this month on Facebook depicts the cop cursing at a teenager after he made eye contact with the officer while with his group of friends. It’s not clear from the video, however, what took place before the video was recorded.

“Big man, do we have a problem?” the officer asked. “Because I notice that you keep trying to make eye contact with me. Is there a problem?”

The teen then responded, but it wasn’t clear what he said.

“Okay, well keep f*****g walking,” the officer replied. “The next time you look me in my f*****g eye, I’m gonna beat the s**t out you!”

An unidentified police official told WCAU that the officer did not uphold the department’s standards.

“The video does not reflect well on the officer,” the official said. “I have no doubt he had good reason to be exasperated but you have to maintain your professional demeanor.”

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

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08 Oct 22:15

Watch Now: Frontline Revisits Willingham

Nearly four years after Frontline premiered "Death by Fire," an examination of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters, the series revisited the case in "Death by Fire 2," which aired Tuesday evening on PBS.

The follow-up show, which questions if Texas executed an innocent man, was prompted by new allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case against Willingham. In August, the Innocence Project filed a detailed grievance with the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas urging investigation in to whether former Willingham prosecutor John Jackson failed to disclose a deal with jailhouse informant Johnny Webb, who testified that Willingham, while in jail, confessed to the arson murder of his three children. This supposed confession became indispensable evidence on the eve of Willingham's execution in 2004 when an expert report was filed with courts, exposing the arson evidence against Willingham as false. Current and former Navarro County prosecutors were not aware that Jackson had reduced Webb's conviction for robbery in the first degree to robbery in the second degree based on cooperation in the Willingham case. If the plea deal between Jackson and Webb had not been hidden by Jackson prior to the execution, the prosecutor assigned to the case now says that he would have disclosed it.

"Death by Fire 2" includes an exclusive on-camera interview with Webb.

Watch the full episodes.

Learn more about Cameron Todd Willingham.


27 Oct 16:51

Minimum Wages Have Tradeoffs

by Ryan Young

Minimum wages help some workers, which is why they are so popular. But they aren’t a free lunch. There are tradeoffs. They aren’t always easy to see, but they exist just the same. My colleague Iain Murray has a piece about those tradeoffs in the Washington Examiner, to which I contributed. As Iain summarizes:

Breaking out of poverty is difficult for many people, and the evidence is that a minimum wage adds to the difficulty. Workers are fired, hours are cut, jobs are not created, non-wage perks, including insurance, free parking, free meals, and vacation days evaporate, annual bonuses shrink, prices rise, (squeezing minimum wage earners themselves), big businesses gain an artificial competitive advantage over their smaller competitors, and crime rates rise. It is a bleak litany.

26 Oct 11:15

SNL Roasts Obama’s Ebola Response. Can You Watch the Whole Thing Without Cracking Up?

by Zach Noble

“Saturday Night Live” roasted the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola crisis Saturday evening, and it was brutal.

Fake President Barack Obama’s take on how his administration has handled the Ebola outbreak:

It was nowhere near as bad as how we handled the ISIS [Islamic State] situation. I mean, our various Secret Service mishaps, or the scandals of the IRS and NSA. And I don’t know if you guys remember, but the Obamacare website had some pretty serious problems too. In fact, if you look at all the stuff that’s happened my second term, this whole Ebola thing is probably one of my greatest accomplishments!

Then journalists peppered the unprepared Ebola czar “Ron Klain” with pressing questions, and “Al Sharpton” showed up to tell New York’s people, ”pigeons, rats and sewer monsters” to go about their daily lives without fear because the Big Apple has always been home to gross diseases.

“If you worry that some parts of New York are contaminated, you’re wrong,” he quipped. “All of New York is contaminated all the time.”

(H/T: Mediaite)

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24 Oct 18:18

Biologist Dr. Philippe Henry Erroneously Assumes Pika Rodent Has Adapted To 6°C Temperature Change

by P Gosselin

By Ed Caryl

We continually see papers in the supposedly “scientific” literature that just assume climate change, usually warming, and then draw conclusions based in that assumption.

The media also does this. A recent example is a study documented on the BBC on North American pika, a small rodent that lives on rocky hillsides in the mountains of North America. The study area in this example was in British Columbia, Canada, in the coastal mountains and the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park.

pika_haying_in_rocks
The pika has neither adapted to 6°C climate change, nor moved to higher elevations. Shown above is the American pika with mouthful of dried grass. Sequoia National Park, CA. Dcrjsr – own work, CC BY 3.0.

Here are Dr. Philippe Henry’s assumptions:

I decided to study the American pika [pronounced pee-kah] along BC’s Coast Mountains because we have observed a six degree temperature change along an elevation gradient from sea level to 1500 meters where the pika lives…we know from previous studies of the pika that it is particularly sensitive to changes in temperature, which made it ideal for our study. The key for me is to have sustainable and safe interactions with wildlife as researchers. To me, there is a direct connection with this and UNBC’s status as Canada’s Green University.”

 What questions did Dr. Philippe Henry wish to answer when he set out on his research?

(1) Would the pika move from that habitat in flux?
(2) Would it stay and, if so, would it die off or find a way to adapt?

Here are the actual temperature conditions as measured at Banff National Park:

Ed_1 Banff

Temperature record by NASA GISS for Banff National Park (as measured at the townsite of Banff).

Note that the temperature increase as measured at the trend line is less than 1°C, and for the recent 30 years it has been cooling by about 0.5°C. There has certainly not been a 6°C temperature change, though there was one year in the 20th century at 0°C average temperature and one year of over 5°C average temperature, most years have been in the range of 2 to 4°C.

Dr. Philips discovered that the pika were not moving to higher elevations, so he decided that they are adapting in place.

And because of his assumptions, (and perhaps to protect his grant money) he could not allow himself the conclusion that the pika are quite happy right where they are because the climate is barely changing.

 

24 Oct 18:20

So Why Is Paul Krugman Now Defending the Privileges of the 0.1%?

by admin

Apparently Paul Krugman has weighed in on Amazon and has concluded that it has "too much power".

I just cannot believe progressives are falling into the trap of defending major publishers against Amazon.  People like Krugman who bash Amazon are effectively setting themselves up as defenders of a small oligarchy of entrenched publishers who have, until recently, done a very good job of making themselves the sole gatekeeper of who gets into print.  Amazon is breaking this age-old system down, in the same way that Uber is challenging taxi cartels and Tesla is challenging traditional auto dealer networks, and giving most everyone access to the book buyer.

The system that Krugman is defending is the system of the 1%.  Or 0.1%.  The current publishing system benefits about 200 major authors who are in the system and whose work has traditionally been spammed by the large publishers to every bookstore and news outlet.  When you walk into an airport book seller, how much diversity of books do you see on the front table?   You just know that you are going to see Sue Grafton's "AA is for Aardvark" and Janet Evanovich's "Fabulous Forty-Six".  The publishers have risk-return marketing incentives to push the 46th Stephanie Plum novel over trying any new author.

So while the traditional publishers flog the 0.1% of authors, Amazon has empowered 20,000 authors.   Those who sell just a few thousand copies (or fewer) of books have found an outlet in Amazon that never existed for them (as disclosure, I am one of those).  And writers who distribute mainly through Amazon get a far higher percentage of their book revenues than they ever would get from the traditional publishers.

So Amazon is helping the consumer (lower prices) and 99.9% of authors (better access and higher profits).  It is perhaps hurting the top 0.1% and a few century-old entrenched corporations.  So what doesn't Krugman like?

27 Oct 12:42

Guidelines On Who Might Be Suspicious: Too Nervous? Too Calm? Blending In? Standing Out? It's All Suspicious

by Mike Masnick
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

The ACLU FOIA'd up some guidelines for Amtrak staff concerning how they judge whether or not passengers are "suspicious" in terms of being "indicative of criminal activity" and the list seems fairly broad:
  • Unusual nervousness of traveler
  • Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
  • Looking around while making telephone call(s)
  • Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)
  • Carrying little or no luggage
  • Purchase of tickets in cash
  • Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding
Radley Balko takes this list and then compares it to a list put together by James Bovard concerning what the courts have said is conduct that shows "reasonable suspicion" for law enforcement to dig deeper:
  • Being the first person off a plane
  • Being the last person off a plane
  • Someone authorities believe has tried to blend in to the middle of exiting passengers
  • Booking a nonstop flight
  • Booking a flight with a layover
  • Traveling alone
  • Traveling with a companion
  • People who appear nervous
  • People who appear “too calm”
  • Merely flying to or from a city known to be a major thoroughfare in the drug pipeline
The message is pretty clear: everyone is a suspect. And anything you might do to look not like a suspect is also suspicious. In fact, you're going to be pretty hard pressed not to look suspicious under these kinds of rules, which is kind of the point.

Part of the problem is the myth out there that there's a legitimate ability to spot "suspicious" people. Sure, there are some extreme cases where people act strange before committing a criminal act, but the idea that you can scan a group of people and spot the people planning out some sort of criminal activity is a concept greatly exaggerated (often by Hollywood), but it inevitably leads to this situation where law enforcement can more or less pick and choose when they suddenly think you're "acting suspicious."

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26 Oct 15:29

The ‘Fallacy of the Special Case’: Intellectual inconsistency and economic malpractice regarding the minimum wage

by Mark J. Perry

minwagecarbonWalter Williams explains why he considers it to be “economic malpractice” for (former) economist Paul Krugman (and others) to claim that the Law of Demand applies universally except apparently in one case: the demand for unskilled and low-skilled workers. As the title of his column suggests (“Embarrassing Economists“), Professor Williams finds it embarrassing that some (former) economists like Krugman are not bothered by their own “intellectual and economic inconsistency” (see graphic above). Here’s Walter:

Suppose the prices of automobiles rose by 100 percent. What would you predict would happen to sales? What about a 25 or 50 percent price increase? I’m going to guess that the average person would predict that sales would fall. Suppose that you’re the CEO of General Motors and your sales manager tells you the company could increase auto sales by advertising a 100 percent or 50 percent price increase. I’m guessing that you’d fire the sales manager for both lunacy and incompetency.

It turns out that there’s a law in economics known as the first fundamental law of demand, to which there are no known real-world exceptions. The law states that the higher the price of something the less people will take of it and vice versa. Another way of stating this very simple law is: There exists a price whereby people can be induced to take more of something, and there exists a price whereby people will take less of something.

There are economists, most notably Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who suggest that the law of demand applies to everything except labor prices (wages) of low-skilled workers. Krugman says that paying fast-food workers $15 an hour wouldn’t cause big companies such as McDonald’s to cut jobs. In other words, Krugman argues that raising the minimum wage doesn’t change employer behavior.

Krugman says that most minimum-wage workers are employed in what he calls non-tradable industries — industries that can’t move to China. He says that there are few mechanization opportunities where minimum-wage workers are employed — for example, fast-food restaurants, hotels, etc. That being the case, he contends, seeing as there aren’t good substitutes for minimum-wage workers, they won’t suffer unemployment from increases in the minimum wage. In other words, the law of demand doesn’t apply to them.

Let’s look at some of the history of some of Krugman’s non-tradable industries. During the 1940s and 1950s, there were very few self-serve gasoline stations. There were also theater ushers to show patrons to their seats. In 1900, 41 percent of the U.S. labor force was employed in agriculture. Now most gas stations are self-serve. Theater ushers disappeared. And only 2 percent of today’s labor force works in agricultural jobs. There are many other examples of buyers of labor services seeking and ultimately finding substitutes when labor prices rise. It’s economic malpractice for economists to suggest that they don’t.

MP: I’ve often referred to the “intellectual and economic inconsistency” described by Professor Williams above regarding the minimum wage (and displayed graphically above) as the “Fallacy of the Special Case.” For example, to somehow exempt the labor market for unskilled workers from the Law of Demand is to fallaciously create a “special case” for that market when in reality that supposed “specialness” cannot be supported by any theoretical or empirical evidence. In reality, there is really nothing “special” about the market for unskilled labor that would distinguish it in any economically important way from any other good or service. In other words, the Law of Demand and the Law of Supply are economic laws that apply universally, without exception, and without any “special cases,” in the same way that the Law of Gravity applies universally, without any exceptions or special cases (Walter Williams makes this point in his column). To allow for exceptions or special cases to market fundamentals and economic reality is faulty, inconsistent and fallacious thinking.

Here are some other examples of the Fallacy of the Special Case:

1. After a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake, government-mandated price controls to prevent “price gouging” are frequently imposed by local or state governments because those major disruptions are incorrectly viewed as a “special case” that justifies temporarily ignoring fundamental economic laws of supply and demand and outlawing market prices.

2. Tickets to concerts or sporting events are a “special case” that justify laws and price controls that prevent those tickets from being sold above face value (i.e. “ticket scalping”). In contrast, other goods like old coins that sell above face value, new cars that sometimes sell above their sticker price, bonds that sell above their par (face) value, and houses that sell above their listed price are not considered to be “special cases,” and there are therefore no laws against “coin scalping,” “car scalping,” “bond scalping” or “house scalping.”

3. Rental apartments in some cities like New York City, Berkeley, and Santa Monica are viewed as a “special case” of housing that justifies special treatment in the form of rent control laws that exempt rental housing from fundamental economic laws of supply and demand. Other housing options like condominiums, homes, co-ops and hotels are not special, and are therefore not subject to any special exemptions from economic reality and market pricing.

Bottom Line: The real danger of the Fallacy of the Special Case is that those allegedly special exceptions to basic economic laws almost always result in legislation that is based primarily on political, and not economic, considerations – minimum wage laws, price gouging laws, ticket scalping laws, and rent control laws. Ignoring economics and/or attempting to circumvent market pricing by allowing for some markets or goods to be “special” might make sense politically, but the legislation that follows makes us much worse off economically, makes us all poorer, and lowers our standard of living. Politicians and the general public can be excused for falling for the Fallacy of the Special Case and supporting price controls like the minimum wage that make us worse off, but the economics profession and (former) economists like Paul Krugman should really know better.

23 Oct 22:48

Smart People Listen To Radiohead, Dumb People Listen To Beyoncé, Study Finds

by Tyler Durden
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

Now you can substantiate to today’s generation why that '60s and '70s era’s music was objectively "better," as JPMorgan's CIO Michael Cembalest has previously noted, and furthermore, researchers also found that popular music has gotten a lot louder (as SAT scores have plunged.. hhmm?) However, as Consequence of Sound notes, a software application writer by the name of Virgil Griffith has charted musical tastes based on the average SAT scores of various college institutions... and the results are.. interesting. Bob Dylan, The Shins, Radiohead, and Counting Crows are the favorite bands of smart people. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, The Used, and gospel music comes in at the lower end of the spectrum — or, as Griffith puts it, is music for dumb people.

Via Consequence of Sound blog,

 

Among other interesting revelations from the Griffith’s chart: Smart people prefer John Mayer over Pink Floyd; rock titans like Tool, System of a Down, and Pearl Jam fall right in the middle — so, music for average people?; and people still listen to Switchfoot.

 

 

 

*  *  *

Of course, correlation is not causation but...

 

As JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest has previously noted, there has been a “progressive homogenization of the musical discourse”, a process which has resulted in music becoming blander and louder.

Bring those classic rock and R&B playlists back

 

Now you can substantiate to today’s generation why that era’s music was objectively “better”.

 

The Million Song Dataset is a database of western popular music produced from 1955 to 2010. As described in Scientific Reports (affiliated with the publication Scientific American), researchers developed algorithms to see what has changed over time, focusing on three variables: timbre, pitch and loudness. Timbre is a proxy for texture and tone quality, terms which reflect the variety and richness of a given sound. Higher levels of timbre most often result from diverse instrumentation (more than one instrument playing the same note). Pitch refers to the tonal structure of a song: how the chords progress, and the diversity of transitions between chords. Since the 1960’s, timbral variety has been steadily declining, and chord transitions have become narrower and more predictable.

The researchers also found that popular music has gotten a lot louder. The median recorded loudness value of songs by year is shown in the second chart. One illustrative example: in 2008, Metallica fans complained that the Guitar Hero version of its recent album sounded better than it did on CD. As reported in Rolling Stone, the CD version was re-mastered at too high a decibel level, part of the Loudness Wars affecting popular music.

 

Overall, the researchers concluded that there has been a “progressive homogenization of the musical discourse”, a process which has resulted in music becoming blander and louder. This might seem like a reactionary point of view for an adult to write, but the data does seem to back me up on this. All of that being said, I do like that Method Man-Mary J. Blige duet.

*  *  *

So now you know...

23 Oct 23:56

Google Vs The Entire Newspaper Industry: And The Winner Is...

by Tyler Durden
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

As Brookings notes, "overall the economic devastation would be difficult to exaggerate," with regard the shift from print to online journalism - as the following chart sums up in all its devastating reality... it's a new world.

"...putting newspapers online has not remotely restored their profitability..."

 

"Now, however, in the first years of the 21st century, accelerating technological transformation has undermined the business models that kept American news media afloat, raising the possibility that the great institutions on which we have depended for news of the world around us may not survive."

 

Source: Brookings

24 Oct 17:02

‘Screw Your Victimization’: Parody Mocks Video of Little Girls Dropping ‘F-Bombs for Feminism’

by Mike Opelka

Julie Borowski is a Washington, D.C.-based political and policy commentator who also refers to herself as a “small-L libertarian.” Her YouTube channel features a variety of clips with her opinions on politics and current events.

Borowski took aim Thursday at the “Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism” video that swept the Internet this week, posting a parody with some facts debunking the original.

Image: YouTube

Image source: YouTube

Clad in her own princess attire and holding up a copy of Ayn Rand’s “Capitalism,” Borowski declared: ”Screw your victimization, I’d rather read this book.”

“I’d love for more people to see a response to the video instead of ‘our side’ just continuing to post the original video,” Borowski told TheBlaze.

Here are the links Borowski included countering the original video’s claims about wage inequality and sexual assault:

See more of Borowski’s clips here.

Follow Mike Opelka (@Stuntbrain) on Twitter

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24 Oct 12:05

Visualizing Temperature Data Tampering At NASA And NCDC

by stevengoddard
It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong. - Richard P. Feynman NASA and NCDC are going to claim that 2014 was the hottest year … Continue reading →
22 Oct 15:24

TED: Joy Sun: Should you donate differently? - Joy Sun (2014)

by TEDTalks
Technology allows us to give cash directly to the poorest people on the planet. Should we do it? In this thought-provoking talk, veteran aid worker Joy Sun explores two ways to help the poor.
24 Oct 07:57

Video: Glenn Greenwald – We All Have Something to Hide

by Mike Maharrey
Remlaps

Might've shared this already, but it's a good video.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald recently did a TED Talk addressing the prevalent idea that only “bad people” who “have something to hide” need to worry about constant government spying.

Greenwald obliterates that kind of fallacious thinking, first pointing out that while many people say they don’t care about surveillance, their actions tell a different story. He says he often challenges people parroting the “I have nothing to hide” mantra to give him the passwords to all of their email accounts (All of them, not just the nice, clean work email.) so he can poke around and publish anything he finds interesting. Greenwald said nobody has taken him up on the offer!

Greenwald goes on to point out that the “I have nothing to hide” mentality actually reveals a more sorry and troubling mindset.

The people who are actually saying that are engaged in a very extreme act of self deprecation. What they’re really saying is I have agreed to make myself such a harmless and unthreatening and uninteresting person that I actually don’t fear having the government know what it is I am doing.

Greenwald points out another disturbing fact about living in a surveillance-state: the chilling effect on the way we behave. And a society afraid to act becomes a society ripe for tyranny.

“When we’re in a state where we can be monitored, where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically. The range of behavioral options that we consider when we think we’re being watched severely reduce. When somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant,” he said. “A society in which people can be monitored at all times is a society that breeds conformity, obedience and submission, which is why every tyrant, from the most overt to the most subtle craves that system.”

Apologists for the surveillance state often argue that it will really only impact “bad people.” Greenwald points out that the political class likely embraces a much broader definition of “bad people” than you do.

When you say “somebody who’s doing bad things,” you probably mean things like plotting a terrorist attack or engaging in violent criminality – a much narrower conception of what people who wield power mean when they say “doing bad things.” For them, doing bad things typically means doing something that poses meaningful challenges to the exercise of their own power.

Greenwald builds a compelling case against those who submit to ubiquitous surveillance, convincingly arguing that they greatly minimize the risks. He rightly paints constant government spying as a threat to our freedom.

When we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.

22 Oct 06:35

Gore bet looks vulnerable with less than one-third to run

by admin

The September 2014 data showed a small lift in the global mean temperature to an anomaly of 0.3°C. Still a win for the month to Professor Armstrong and the Green, Armstrong, and Soon no-change forecast, temperatures have been cooler than Mr Gore and the IPCC’s alarming projection for 20 months in a row. Overall, global mean temperatures have come in cooler than the alarmist projection 80 percent of the time since the beginning of the bet nearly seven years ago.

23 Oct 11:24

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
Remlaps

h/.t Jts5665

(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 284 of the eminent Harvard historian Richard Pipes’s wonderful 1999 volume, Property and Freedom (footnote excluded):

The trend of modern times appears to indicate that citizens of democracies are willing heedlessly to surrender their freedoms to purchase social equality (along with economic security), apparently oblivious of the consequences.  And the consequences are that their ability to hold on to and use what they earn and own, to hire and fire at will, to enter freely into contracts, and even to speak their mind is steadily being eroded by governments bent on redistributing private assets and subordinating individual rights to group rights.  The entire concept of the welfare state as it has evolved in the second half of the twentieth century is incompatible with individual liberty, for it allows various groups with common needs to combine and claim the right to satisfy them at the expense of society at large, in the process steadily enhancing the power of the state which acts on their behalf.

Yes.  And, again, this obliviousness to the freedom-crushing features of the obsession with economic inequality and ‘redistribution’ has as part of its foundation the strange “Progressive” notion that the desire to keep what one owns and has earned is illiberal, ungenerous, anachronistic, and greedy, while the desire to take what others own and have earned is liberal, generous, enlightened, and selfless.  As I say, it’s a strange notion, but one that – because it is repeated so often in so many ways and in so many different venues – strikes most people today as being not only normal but right.

22 Oct 01:55

PayPal Co-Founder Is Skeptical of Man-Made Global Warming for This Reason

by Erica Ritz
Remlaps

Same video. Original source.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, often considered one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley, said Tuesday that he is skeptical of man-made global warming because many refuse to allow debate the subject.

“Whenever you can’t have a debate, I often think that’s evidence that there’s a problem,” Thiel said on The Glenn Beck Program. “When people use the word ‘science,’ it’s often a tell, like in poker, that you’re bluffing. It’s like we have ‘social science’ and we have ‘political science,’ [but] we don’t call it ‘physical science’ or ‘chemical science.’ We just call them physics and chemistry because we know they’re right.”

Thiel said no one will be upset if you ask questions about the periodic table, because it is actually science. But referring to man-made climate change as “science” tells you “that people are exaggerating and they’re bluffing a little bit,” Thiel said.

“The weather has not been getting warmer for the last 15 years. The hockey stick that Al Gore predicted in the early 2000s on the climate has not happened,” he remarked. “And I think as this monolithic culture breaks down, you can have more debates.”

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel speaks on The Glenn Beck Program October 21, 2014. (Photo: TheBlaze TV)

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel speaks on The Glenn Beck Program October 21, 2014. (Photo: TheBlaze TV)

Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook and a self-described Libertarian, said he favors free market economics but is liberal on most social issues.

“I believe, basically, that individual freedom is very important,” he said.

Thiel said there are countless instances where excessive government intervention and regulation stifled growth or led to economic bubbles.

Technology has been “very lightly regulated” in recent decades, and the world has seen extraordinary advances in the field, he said. But almost every other industry has been heavily regulated, and as a result, has seen very little growth.

“If you’re trying to develop a new drug, that costs you a billion dollars to get through the FDA,” Thiel remarked. “If you want to start a software company, you can get started with maybe $100,000.”

Thiel said America “could be curing cancer,” but because the government has made the cost of developing medicine so high, people are dedicating their time and energy to the tech industry instead.

Complimentary Clip from TheBlaze TV

Beck and Thiel also discussed the similarities and differences between Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.

Thiel said most innovators in Silicon Valley have libertarian instincts, “but the politics end up being liberal because that’s what’s cool.”

“For us, politics is about ideas,” he said. “It’s about changing things. But there’s also this other mode where politics is about fashion, and that’s always the risk you have in Silicon Valley. That’s why Hollywood’s so liberal. It’s not that the people have thought things through in Hollywood.”

Thiel said the political system will be changed from the outside, as will many of America’s other issues.

He specifically referenced the skyrocketing cost of education, and how many students are not learning enough to justify hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Many have focused their energy on replacing poor professors, but Thiel believes there is going to be a “reformation” the way there was in the Catholic church hundreds of years ago.

“It’s very hard for us to see it right now, because we can’t imagine anything different,” he remarked. “We believe you will only be ‘saved’ if you go to college. … When you’re scared of the future, you often retrench, and that gets taken advantage of. That’s why the millennials are graduating with a trillion dollars of debt now.”

Thiel said he doesn’t believe there will be a “single alternative system,” but the current system will undeniably change.

Complimentary Clip from TheBlaze TV

The full episode of The Glenn Beck Program, along with many other live-streaming shows and thousands of hours of on-demand content, is available on just about any digital device. Click here to watch every Glenn Beck episode from the past 30 days for just $1!

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22 Oct 12:05

Peter Thiel talks to Glenn Beck

by Luboš Motl
Remlaps

Click into the link for the video.

Peter Thiel is arguably the world's most ingenious venture capitalist. He is a co-founder of PayPal, the first major Facebook investor, a hedge fund boss, a libertarian, an excellent chess player, and one of the most influential folks in Silicon Valley.

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He believes that there is an education bubble and he actively (by significant felllowships) encourages smart kids to escape from the conventional, left-wing-politics-dominated academic system, and become builders of an independent, competing, more pro-freedom framework for the elite.

I admit that my discussions with him in Nice may make me a bit biased. As far as I remember, no other dollar billionaire has ever invited me to a luxurious place for a week and no other billionaire has asked me so many good questions about the expectations at the LHC etc. (Those 4 years ago, I happened to have a "flu" over there which, I became almost certain later, was always caused by Candida, not by viruses or bacteria. I have pretty much chased those "flus" from my life.)




Well, even though I am less corruptible than 99.9% of the mankind, I am still a realist. So I do admit that it's possible that if George Soros had ever done anything for me, maybe he wouldn't be quite the same kind of a jerk and artificially inflated bubble of hot air relatively to Peter Thiel that he is today. ;-)

At any rate, Peter Thiel was interviewed by Glenn Beck a few days ago. Beck had to wait for 6 years; I had waited for 6 minutes. ;-)




The discussion is very interesting. Thiel believes that the progress could be much better and faster than it is. We could cure many diseases and do other wonderful things. (He has been funding quite a few "truly science-fiction-like" projects like swimming cities etc.) But unlike Ray "Singularity" Kurzweil, he stresses that the future is open-ended. It is not something predetermined we may watch while eating popcorn. The future will depend on our acts, too. Defeatism is undesirable. Self-fulfilling prophesies may fulfill themselves but one may also do things because of which they will not be fulfilled.

Back in Nice, there were numerous very interesting (world's top) defenders of the Intelligent Design and I feel that he is close to that culture – despite the fact that he's been actually trained as a biologist in the college. I guess that his (heterodox evangelical) religion is behind this inclination, much like in many other cases. But even if you counted Thiel as a softcore ID guy, and Richard Lindzen, for that matter ;-), I wasn't the only evolution believer over there. An Indian chap with a Czech name – due to his Sudetenland German paternal ancestry – was a real biologist on the evolution side. It still worked.

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This part is about Thiel-inspired technology that helped to kill Osama, Snowden, NSA, the government's efforts to regulate the Silicon Valley, and related things about the Internet privacy. Thiel also points out that most (not only!) U.S. lawmakers are science-illiterate.

I would talk about the multiverse issues – obviously I must have been expected to be much more critical towards the well-known experts' opinion about these matters, and I am not critical because I am confident that the experts are much more rational than the non-experts in those matters. Richard Lindzen would give an overview of the climate debate. And of course that we would notice that Thiel's pre-existing beliefs would be "climate skeptical", too.

In the Glenn Beck interview, Thiel effectively says that he is skeptical because he feels that the advocates have turned the climate debate into a taboo that can't be debated – and such a situation is a sign of a problem. Well, most of the time. If you want to be right 80% of the time, Thiel's rule-of-thumb is very good. I still feel that similar sociological observations are somewhat unreliable methods to decide about an intrinsically scientific or technical problem.

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The interview also covers some comparisons of the Silicon Valley and Washington D.C., debt of students, financing and regulation of new drugs, and other things. We would learn that Apple lost most of the innovative edge and became as stagnant, bureaucratic, and problematic as pretty much all companies with an easy enough way to make profit become. A part of the problem is that companies often depend on the founders.

Some month ago, Thiel would argue in WSJ that competition is for losers, wise chaps manage to create monopolies. For example, Glenn Beck has a monopoly on the Glenn Beck-like shows LOL; it is not like the 1,438th restaurant in Dallas. Things that are one of a kind are most important. (Of course I mostly agree. But, hoping that I won't sound like a Marxist with their ideas about quality and quantity, I also think that many qualitative breakthroughs occur "largely" because of the accumulation of smaller, less radical and just evolutionary advances.) He also mentioned these things in the interview. It's only bad if monopolies become static, but if that's so, it's mostly the government regulation's fault. And in technology, monopolies aren't forever, anyway.
21 Oct 17:20

Video: Cop Shoots 'Aggressive' 6-Month-Old Puppy, Gets Paid Leave

by Zenon Evans

Amanda Henderson of Cleburne, Texas should have made sure her dogs were securely locked up. Otherwise, her six-month-old pit bull, Maximus, might still be alive.

Maximus and two other pit bulls escaped Henderson's property while she was shopping for school supplies for her kids in August. Officer Kevin Dupre responded to a call and shot Maximus several times, killing the pet.

Henderson, who says she never received an explanation of what happened, just came forward to local media about the incident because she recently got her hands on Dupre's body camera, and she says it contradicts his official account of what took place.

You can watch and judge for yourself whether or not the officer's action appeared to be justified. Warning: The video is graphic:

Dupre's police report reads, "I raised my duty weapon to the ready position – pointed at the growling dog's head. As soon as I lifted my pistol, the dog began coming up the hill, continuing to growl and display its teeth…I fired three shots at it."

Henderson sees something different take place. "You see the dogs are happy and playing, they don't even realize [Dupre] is there until he calls them over. They say there's more to the story, but there's no more there. There's no reason he couldn't have used a tranquilizer, pepper spray, a taser instead."

In fact, an animal control officer collected one of Henderson's other dogs without problem. That dog was also caught on Dupre's body camera, trotting right up to the other officer and obeying commands to follow. The third pet was "secured without incident before the shooting" according to the Cleburne Police Department.

Over the weekend, some 10,000 people liked a Facebook page titled "Justice for Maximus," which planned a protest on Saturday.

The police department, which acknowledges it does not train officers to deal with loose dogs, insists that the "the short video" of the shooting "does not tell the whole story" of the dog's "aggressive" behavior toward Dupre. However, yesterday the department announced that it was conducting an internal investigation. And, "we're also talking to another possible, independent, group about doing a review," says Mayor Scott Cain.

The department doesn't know how long the investigation will take, but in the meantime, Dupre is on paid administrative leave as of Friday. 

21 Oct 14:03

This app will help kids cheat on math tests

by Sonali Kohli
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

Don't bother; there's an app for that.

“Show your work” has long been the math teacher’s mantra. Making students write down each step of a math problem prevents them from merely flipping to the back of their textbook to source the correct answer. But there’s a new shortcut to math problems that gets around that constraint: a free app that solves a math problem and shows the user all the steps. All a student has to do is aim the camera toward the question.

The camera captures the equation, solves it, and the user has the option to look at the steps. The app, called PhotoMath, is free for iOS and Windows phones, and will likely be available on Android in early 2015, according to its website. On the one hand it’s a useful tool for students who need a nudge in the right direction. On the other hand, it isn’t a stretch to envision kids sneaking a phone into the classroom on test day, turning the app into a high-tech crib sheet.

The app uses text recognition technology to find the components of the expression, combined with a human-like problem solving capability, explained the company’s founder Jurica Cerovec at the TechCrunch Disrupt Europe event in London. The app can currently help students in solving relatively simple equations and fractions.

MicroBlink, the company behind the app, envisions it as a math aid for kids who don’t have access to a tutor or to individualized attention at schools, or for parents who need help advising their kids on math homework. A company spokesperson told Quartz its intention isn’t for the app to be used as a cheating device.

Eventually, MicroBlink wants to apply the technology to PDF scanning, online banking, and anything that needs to be read and analyzed. In the meantime, children without access to tutors or close classroom supervision will have an automated math aid—or an easy way to cut corners.