Shared posts

23 Apr 15:52

Flying in the face of convention

THE Gulf states have been on the radar of the world’s airlines since the 1930s. Then Dubai, a pearl-fishing port, served as a stopover for the flying boats of Imperial Airways (a forerunner of British Airways) on routes connecting London to distant colonial outposts. BA still serves Dubai but most of the tail fins at its vast main airport, which recently overtook London’s Heathrow as the world’s busiest for international traffic, carry the logo of Emirates, the small state’s own network airline. The balance of power among the world’s carriers has shifted.

A decade ago Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways were insignificant. But these three “super-connectors”, joined in recent years by Turkish Airlines, increasingly dominate long-haul routes between Europe and Asia. Whereas most other international airlines rely heavily on travellers to or from their home countries, the super-connectors’ passengers mostly just change planes at the carriers’ hub airports on their way to somewhere else. In 2001 Emirates and Qatar both flew from 17 destinations in Europe; they now serve 32. Last year all...Continue reading

23 Apr 02:14

Calbuco Volcano Erupting [Greg Laden's Blog]

by Greg Laden

Press play. Very short

Calbuco is a volcano in southern Chile. This one erupts fairly frequently averaging about every 20 years, sometimes quite impresively. The largest eruption during historic times in Chile occurred at Calbuco in 1894.

It is erupting now. Evacuations have been ordered. Here is some amazing footage:

20 Apr 15:47

‘10 anos com Mafalda’ (Quino)Essa Antologia foi organizada por...

‘10 anos com Mafalda’ (Quino)

Essa Antologia foi organizada por Esteban Busquets. O meu exemplar é da sexta tiragem da primeira edição publicada pela WMF Martins Fontes e conta com a reprodução de uma entrevista com o Quino concedida a Rodolfo Bracel em 1987, 14 anos após a publicação da última tirinha da Mafalda.

A capa é fofa e a qualidade gráfica excelente. A editora usou papel de alta gramatura que dá um prazer adicional à leitura pois você manipula papel próprio para desenho, inclusive dá vontade de colorir as tirinhas. Adorei ter praticamente todas as tirinhas da Mafalda em um livro e pretendo comprar o ‘Toda Mafalda’. Amo essa criança, para mim a Mafalda simplesmente existe.

Mas há alguns problemas do livro (não das tirinhas!) que acho *quase* imperdoáveis.

A organização da Antologia é temática e há capítulos dedicados a cada amiguinho e ao Guile, o que é interessante pois você conhece melhor as paixões e aversões da menina e o perfil de cada personagem.  

Mas a falta de cronologia, e o que é pior, a ausência de uma informação histórica tão básica quanto qual foi a primeira tirinha publicada ou qual foi a última tirinha me decepcionaram um tanto.  

Pelo traço às vezes dá para o leitor intuir que a tirinha é mais antiga porque nem a ordem dos capítulos ou a ordem dentro de cada capítulo é cronológica, o que o organizador fez foi agrupar a continuidade de cada abordagem dentro de cada capítulo. Pesquisando na internet percebi algo mais absurdo: nem a primeira  nem a última tirinha estão neste livro. Ele deveria ter outro título, né?

As tirinhas foram criadas por Quino considerando o momento social e político dos últimos dias. Ele tentava deixar a tirinha mais fresca quanto fosse possível. Seria muitíssimo interessante que uma reedição passasse a informar pelo menos a data de publicação de cada tirinha para que o leitor formasse uma timeline em sua mente e viesse com uma apresentação dando mais detalhes sobre a concepção das personagens pois há elementos muito interessantes.

Mas ter quase 200 páginas da menina que ama os Beatles e odeia tanto sopa quanto ama o conhecimento e a liberdade de expressão vale muito a pena pois as outras informações a gente encontra por aí (mas como sou chata resolvi dar meus pitacos).

Quero muito a ‘Toda Mafalda’, como estava em falta na livraria vou comprar online.



22 Apr 20:10

United Should Thank, Not Ban, Researcher Who Pointed Out a Major Security Flaw

by Dan Gillmor

I’m about to board a United Airlines 747 in Frankfurt, on my way to San Francisco. Last night, the airline sent me an email saying that the flight would be equipped with Wi-Fi. Until last week I’d have been glad for that, as I have a lot of work to do and could use the roughly 11-hour flight to get some of it done. I’m wishing United would turn off the wireless connection altogether.

Here’s why: Last week, Chris Roberts, a highly respected security researcher, alerted the world to what sounded like incredibly lax digital security on the carrier’s Wi-Fi–equipped planes. He taunt-tweeted this from a United flight: “Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)” Translation: He basically suggested that he could play with the engine indicators and crew alerts, and might be about to deploy the oxygen masks. (I’ve seen nothing to suggest that he had access to critical flight-control systems.)

The feds, who appear to have Twitter and other public networks under massive real-time surveillance, met his plane in Syracuse and grilled him for hours. FBI agents confiscated his computer gear before letting him go. Then United compounded the response by refusing to let Roberts board a flight to San Francisco for—no kidding—a security conference. In fact, according to news accounts, the airline has banned him.

It’s entirely fair to say that passengers shouldn’t be probing these systems during flight. I’d also call Roberts’ sarcastic tweet somewhat ill-conceived, but that’s in part a reflection on our culture, not just his judgment. America is still in the grip of 9/11 paranoia, and officials in government and companies that worry about terrorism usually seem to make their decisions on the basis of one motivation: “Don't let me be blamed the next time there’s an attack.”

Zero tolerance (or the pretense of it; see the Transportation Security Administration’s “security theater”) hasn’t just led to zero sense of humor. It’s also generated zero common sense. If the FBI overreacted—and I don’t think it did in a major way, except by confiscating Roberts’ gear—the airline’s banning of a researcher who was doing it a favor was way, way over the top. (Another carrier, declining to join United’s freakout, took him to his destination.)

United’s explanation for banning Roberts strikes me as just weird. It told the Washington Post: “Given Mr. Roberts’ claims regarding manipulating aircraft systems, we’ve decided it’s in the best interest of our customers and crew members that he not be allowed to fly United. However, we are confident our flight control systems could not be accessed through techniques he described.”

The illogic of this statement is obvious. If the second sentence is true, then nothing Roberts was doing could harm anyone. So why ban him?

If United and the aviation industry as a whole want to earn customers’ confidence in this situation, they should put Roberts and a bunch of other white-hat hackers on retainer. These very smart folks should be invited to probe at the systems, to help prevent the scenarios described in a new federal General Accountability Office report, which noted the very real potential for aviation system penetration by bad people.

The airlines probably do some of this already. Smart companies realize they can be more safe when they look for vulnerabilities instead of hoping that their almost certainly insecure networks can stand up to experts. The industry, increasingly an oligopoly, is making profits now that an improving economy has led to more demand for seats. I hope the carriers will put more of that cash into digital security—one of many American industries that clearly needs to care more about this. And I hope we’ll inject enough common sense back into our society to stop vilifying security researchers who go public with their concerns, often after being ignored when they try to alert the victims privately.

Meanwhile, United’s uninspiring approach to customer information—such as its insistence that its mileage-account holders still have four-digit passcodes—definitely doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies. When it comes down to deciding whether to have confidence in United's “trust us” statement or Roberts’ reputation for knowing what he’s talking about, I know which way I lean: not toward the airline, despite being a longtime (and generally satisfied) customer. The airline should strike a deal with Roberts, who’s now being represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to resume flying and help make its data security the best in the business.

I’ll be heading to the gate in a few minutes. I won’t twiddle with any systems, I promise. (Not that I have the technical ability to do so in any case.) But I find myself wishing the airline would just turn the Wi-Fi off for the time being. When they talk about being cautious, this is one example I’d endorse.

22 Apr 17:33

Say hi to Fi: A new way to say hello

by Google Blogs

Nice, but I already have the Tmobile plan that is close to this already.

In today's mobile world, fast and reliable connectivity is almost second nature. But even in places like the U.S., where mobile connections are nearly ubiquitous, there are still times when you turn to your phone for that split-second answer and don't have fast enough speed. Or you can't get calls and texts because you left your phone in a taxi (or it got lost in a couch cushion for the day). As mobile devices continually improve how you connect to people and information, it's important that wireless connectivity and communication keep pace and be fast everywhere, easy to use, and accessible to everyone.

That's why today we’re introducing Project Fi, a program to explore this opportunity by introducing new ideas through a fast and easy wireless experience. Similar to our Nexus hardware program, Project Fi enables us to work in close partnership with leading carriers, hardware makers, and all of you to push the boundaries of what's possible. By designing across hardware, software and connectivity, we can more fully explore new ways for people to connect and communicate. Two of the top mobile networks in the U.S.—Sprint and T-Mobile—are partnering with us to launch Project Fi and now you can be part of the project too.

Our three focus areas include:

Helping you get the highest-quality connection
Project Fi aims to put you on the best network wherever you go. As you move around, the best network for you might be a Wi-Fi hotspot or a specific 4G LTE network. We developed new technology that gives you better coverage by intelligently connecting you to the fastest available network at your location whether it's Wi-Fi or one of our two partner LTE networks. As you go about your day, Project Fi automatically connects you to more than a million free, open Wi-Fi hotspots we've verified as fast and reliable. Once you're connected, we help secure your data through encryption. When you're not on Wi-Fi, we move you between whichever of our partner networks is delivering the fastest speed, so you get 4G LTE in more places. Learn more about our network of networks.

Enabling easy communication across networks and devices
Project Fi works to get technology out of the way so you can communicate through whichever network type and device you're using. Wherever you're connected to Wi-Fi—whether that's at home, your favorite coffee shop or your Batcave—you can talk and text like you normally do. If you leave an area of Wi-Fi coverage, your call will seamlessly transition from Wi-Fi to cell networks so your conversation doesn’t skip a beat. We also want to help phone numbers adapt to a multi-screen world. With Project Fi, your phone number lives in the cloud, so you can talk and text with your number on just about any phone, tablet or laptop. So the next time you misplace your phone, you can stay connected using another screen. Check out how it works.

Making the service experience as simple as possible
Project Fi takes a fresh approach to how you pay for wireless, manage your service, and get in touch when you need help. We offer one simple plan at one price with 24/7 support. Here's how it works: for $20 a month you get all the basics (talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering, and international coverage in 120+ countries), and then it's a flat $10 per GB for cellular data while in the U.S. and abroad. 1GB is $10/month, 2GB is $20/month, 3GB is $30/month, and so on. Since it's hard to predict your data usage, you'll get credit for the full value of your unused data. Let's say you go with 3GB for $30 and only use 1.4GB one month. You'll get $16 back, so you only pay for what you use. Get all the details about our plan.

Be part of the project from the start
We're beginning Project Fi's Early Access Program to invite people to sign up for the service. Project Fi will be available on the Nexus 6, which we developed with Motorola and is the first smartphone that supports the hardware and software to work with our service. If you live where we have coverage in the U.S., request an invite at to get started.

We look forward to connecting!

Posted by Nick Fox, VP of Communications Products
22 Apr 16:10

This black artist dressed up like her white ancestors to prove a point

by Jenée Desmond-Harris

Click through for the pictures.

Stacey Tyrell, a Canadian artist whose parents are from the West Indian island of Nevis, knows that when most people look at her they see a black woman.

"Backra Bluid" artist Stacey Tyrell. (

But Tyrell has a background that's invisible to many observers. She explained in an interview with the Huffington Post that some of her ancestors were enslaved African people who were forced to work on plantations and often coerced into sexual relationships. The result: she, like many other people in the Caribbean and in the United States, has Europeans in her family tree, too.

Still, because of what she calls "a dualism that is inherent in Euro-centric constructs of 'Whiteness' and 'Blackness' in western societies" — the idea that most people are one race or the other, not both — she often gets uncomfortable looks when she openly claims her English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors, she wrote on her website. She says it started when she was "a black child attending a predominantly white school," and it hasn't stopped.

"Over the years I have found that a lot of people (often white) get very uncomfortable at the mention of such a connection because they half expect me to launch into a diatribe about colonialism and slavery when all I really seek is an inclusive conversation about the fact that all of us are more related than we think," she told the Huffington Post.

The solution: in a photography project titled "Backra Bluid," (the name combines the Caribbean slang for "white master" or "white person" and the Scottish word for "blood" and "kin") she's dressing up like the white people in her family tree using full costumes, hairstyling, and makeup, to challenge the way people think of race and heritage.

An image from "Backra Bluid." (Courtesy of Stacey Tyrell/

"The images in the series are an attempt to interpret and explore these relatives from both past and present that I know are out there," Tyrell writes.

An image from "Backra Bluid." (Courtesy of Stacey Tyrell/

The artist believes the resistance she often encounters when she discusses her white heritage is "due to the fact that with the very act of mentioning such ties I am inadvertently reminding them of the brutal system of colonial African slavery and its legacy that has brought about such connections."

An image from "Backra Bluid." (Courtesy of Stacey Tyrell/

She says she's simply trying to get across that the majority of people in post-colonial societies are "hybrids of its past and current inhabitants. "

An image from "Backra Bluid." (Courtesy of Stacey Tyrell/

What's the point of using her own face and body to make this statement? Tyrell says, "By simply changing my skin color and making subtle tweaks to my features I wish to show that if someone were to take a closer look at my face they would see that it might not be that much different than their own."

"Backra Bluid" artist Stacey Tyrell prepares for a photo shoot. (

(h/t Huffington Post)

Further reading:

Watch: The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes

22 Apr 12:20

Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’ Returning for a Second Season on Netflix, Along With New Showrunners

by Sarene Leeds

about 8 episodes in and I am hooked.

The second season will premiere sometime in 2016; writers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez replace Steven DeKnight as showrunners.
21 Apr 18:24

obviousplant: Doing my best to help prevent crime…


via David Pelaez


Doing my best to help prevent crime…

21 Apr 22:34

9 Charts about Wealth Inequality in America


for Luke

Nine Charts about Wealth Inequality in America

Why hasn’t wealth inequality improved over the past 50 years? And why, in particular, has the racial wealth gap not closed? These nine charts illustrate how income inequality, earnings gaps, homeownership rates, retirement savings, student loan debt, and lopsided asset-building subsidies have contributed to these growing wealth disparities.

1 Wealth inequality is growing

Sources: Survey of Financial Characteristics of Consumers 1962 (December 31), Survey of Changes in Family Finances 1963, and Survey of Consumer Finances 1983–2013.

Notes: 2013 dollars. No comparable data are available between 1963 and 1983.

Average wealth has increased over the past 50 years, but it has not grown equally for all groups. Between 1963 and 2013,

  • families near the bottom of the wealth distribution (those at the 10th percentile) went from having no wealth on average to being about $2,000 in debt,
  • those in the middle roughly doubled their wealth—mostly between 1963 and 1983,
  • families near the top (at the 90th percentile) saw their wealth quadruple,
  • and the wealth of those at the 99th percentile—in other words, those wealthier than 99 percent of all families—grew sixfold.

These changes have increased wealth inequality significantly. In 1963, families near the top had six times the wealth (or, $6 for every $1) of families in the middle. By 2013, they had 12 times the wealth of families in the middle.

2 One reason for rising wealth inequality is income inequality

Sources: Current Population Survey 1963–2014. Calculations provided by Karen Smith, Urban Institute.

Notes: 2013 dollars. Income here is measured as private income (e.g., earnings and dividends) plus cash government benefits. Income differences narrow when all taxes and transfers—such as health insurance and in-kind government benefits—are included, but private wealth does not change.

Income is money coming into a family, while wealth is a family’s assets—things like savings, real estate, businesses—minus debt. Both are important sides of families’ financial security, but wealth cushions families against emergencies and gives them the means to move up the economic ladder. Also, wealth disparities are much greater than income disparities: three times as much by one measure.

Income inequality can worsen wealth inequality because the income people have available to save and invest matters. Focusing on private income, such as earnings and dividends, plus cash government benefits, we see that families near the top had a 70 percent increase in income from 1963 to 2013, while the income of families at the bottom stayed roughly the same.

3 Racial and ethnic wealth disparities are also growing

Median wealth by race and ethnicity is lower than average wealth, but the trends stay the same. Both measures are important because average wealth indicates how a group is prospering as a whole relative to other groups, while median wealth shows how the “typical” family is doing.

Sources: Survey of Financial Characteristics of Consumers 1962 (December 31), Survey of Changes in Family Finances 1963, and Survey of Consumer Finances 1983–2013.

Notes: 2013 dollars. No comparable data are available between 1963 and 1983. African American/Hispanic distinction within nonwhite population available only in 1983 and later.

Families of color will soon make up a majority of the population, but most continue to fall behind whites in building wealth. In 1963, the average wealth of white families was $117,000 higher than the average wealth of nonwhite families. By 2013, the average wealth of white families was over $500,000 higher than the average wealth of African American families ($95,000) and of Hispanic families ($112,000). Put another way, white families on average had seven times the wealth of African American families and six times the wealth of Hispanic families in 2013. The ratio of white to African American or Hispanic family wealth remained extremely high over this period and deteriorated in recent years.

4 The racial wealth gap grows sharply with age

Source: Survey of Consumer Finances 1983–2013.

Notes: 2013 dollars. Hispanic sample size too small to show. Age is defined as the age of the household head. In 2013, these people were age 62–70. In 1983, ages 32–40.

White families accumulate more wealth over their lives than African American or Hispanic families do, widening the wealth gap at older ages. In their 30s, whites have an average of $140,000 more in wealth than African Americans (three times as much). By their 60s, whites have over $1 million more in average wealth than African Americans (11 times as much).

Median wealth by race is lower. Though the dollar gap grows with age, the ratio doesn’t grow in the same way: whites have seven times more median wealth than African Americans in their 30s and in their 60s.

5 Differences in earnings add up over a lifetime and widen the racial wealth gap

Sources: Health and Retirement Study 1992-2012 matched to Summary Earnings Records 1951–2007. Calculations provided by Melissa Favreault, Urban Institute.

Notes: 2013 dollars. These people are age 61 in 2004–2012.

Why is the racial wealth gap so big? People with lower earnings may have a harder time saving. The typical white person earns $2 million over a lifetime, while the typical African American earns $1.5 million and the typical Hispanic person earns $1 million. These disparities partly reflect historical racial disadvantages that continue to affect later generations.

6 African Americans and Hispanics lag behind on major wealth-building measures, like homeownership

African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to own homes and have less in liquid retirement savings, so they more often miss out on these powerful wealth-building tools. Homeownership, in particular, makes the most of automatic payments—homeowners must make mortgage payments every month—to build equity.

In 1983, 68 percent of white families owned their home, compared with 45 percent of African Americans families and 41 percent of Hispanic families. By 2013, the racial homeownership gap improved slightly for Hispanics, but it grew worse for African Americans. African Americans and Hispanics were also less likely to own homes than whites at the same income level.

7 African American and Hispanic families have less in liquid retirement savings

Source: Survey of Consumer Finances 1989–2013.

Notes: 2013 dollars. Liquid retirement savings include dollars in accounts such as 401(k), 403(b), and IRAs. Median liquid retirement savings for African American and Hispanic families were zero from 1989 to 2013. Median liquid retirement savings for whites were zero through the mid-1990s, about $1,500 in 1998, and $5,000 in 2013.

In 2013, white families had over $100,000 more (or 7 to 11 times more) in average liquid retirement savings than African American and Hispanic families. In sheer dollar terms, this disparity quadrupled over the past quarter-century: in 1989, white families had $25,000 more (or five times more) in average retirement savings than African American and Hispanic families. This gap is becoming more important as liquid retirement savings vehicles, like 401(k)s, replace more traditional defined-benefit pension plans.

Why does this gap exist? It’s not just income differences; even at the same income level, gaps remain. African American and Hispanic families have slightly less access to retirement saving vehicles and lower participation when they have access. But lower access and participation isn’t the full story. Hispanic workers are less likely to participate in employer retirement plans than African American workers but have similar average liquid retirement savings. This suggests that simply having more employers offer retirement plans will not be enough to close the gap, especially if lower-income groups contribute smaller portions of their income to retirement plans and have a greater likelihood of withdrawing money early to cover financial emergencies. Lower-income families may also get lower returns on average if they invest in safer, more short-term assets.

8 African American families carry more student loan debt than white families

Source: Survey of Consumer Finances 1989–2013.

Notes: 2013 dollars. Age is defined as the age of the household head.

Since the mid-2000s, African American families, on average, have carried more student loan debt than white families. This is driven in large part by the growing share of African American families that take on student debt. In 2013, 42 percent of African Americans ages 25 to 55 had student loan debt, compared with 28 percent of whites.

Because African American families, on average, have less wealth and fewer private resources, they may be more likely to turn to loans to finance their education. White families are five times more likely than African American families to receive large gifts or inheritances, which can be used to pay for college.

However, African Americans also have lower graduation rates than whites, and people of color disproportionately attend for-profit schools, which have low graduation rates. This means that student loan debt doesn’t always translate into a degree that would promote economic mobility—and income and wealth—in the long run.

9 Federal policies fail to promote asset building by lower-income families

The federal government spent $384 billion to support asset development in 2013, but those subsidies primarily benefited higher-income families—exacerbating wealth inequality and racial wealth disparities.

About two-thirds of homeownership tax subsidies and retirement subsidies go to the top 20 percent of taxpayers, as measured by income. The bottom 20 percent, meanwhile, receive less than 1 percent of these subsidies. African Americans and Hispanics, who have lower average incomes, receive much less of these subsidies than whites, both in total amount and as a share of their incomes.

Low-income families benefit from safety net programs, such as food stamps and welfare, but most of these programs focus on income—keeping families afloat today—and do not encourage wealth-building and economic mobility in the long run. What’s more, many programs discourage saving: for instance, when families won’t qualify for benefits if they have a few thousand dollars in assets or when they have to give up rent subsidies to own a home.

Promising policies to shrink wealth inequality and racial wealth gaps

Federal asset-building subsidies disproportionately benefit high-income families that need them the least. Here are six recommendations that could help reduce wealth inequality and racial wealth disparities:

  • Limit the mortgage interest tax deduction and use the revenues to provide a credit for first-time homebuyers.
  • Establish automatic savings in retirement plans.
  • Offer matched savings such as universal children's savings accounts.
  • Reform safety net program asset tests, which can act as barriers to saving among low-income families.
  • Promote emergency savings with incentives linked to savings at tax time.
  • Reduce reliance on student loans while supporting success in postsecondary education.

By more efficiently and equitably promoting saving and asset building, more people may have the tools to protect their families in tough times and invest in themselves and their children.

21 Apr 18:11

Taiwanese Animators Take On "Fabulous Flannel" Day Of Silence Protesters

by Joe Jervis


17 Apr 19:25

WATCH: Chimps In Uganda Look Both Ways Before Crossing

by Scott Neuman

WATCH: Chimps In Uganda Look Both Ways Before Crossing

Call it Darwinian evolution in action: A troop of wild chimpanzees in Uganda has learned a valuable survival skill — to look before crossing.

In a video published by New Scientist, one chimp can be seen pausing at the edge of the road and then backtracking to retrieve a smaller companion. What appears to be the alpha male waits on the far side of the road as the smallest in the group looks several times to each side before cautiously committing to a hasty crossing.

New Scientist says:

"In a 29-month survey, researchers observed and recorded 20 instances of wild chimps crossing a busy road in Sebitoli, in the northern part of Uganda's Kibale National Park. They watched 122 chimps cross the highway used by 90 vehicles an hour, many speeding at 70 to 100 kilometres an hour.

"It's the first report on how chimpanzees behave crossing a very busy asphalt road, says Marie Cibot of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. 'We've described chimpanzee behaviour facing a dangerous situation never described before,' she says, pointing out that earlier studies looked at narrower, unpaved and less busy roads."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit
17 Apr 21:53

HomoQuotable - Paul Kuntzler

by Joe Jervis

The first organized gay rights demonstration. Wow.

"It was so revolutionary. It had never been done before anywhere in the world. We all wore coat and ties and we all had pseudonyms. I wasn’t scared. I was intrigued by the idea. But I was intimidated by all the photographers. I was only 23. And as they came across the street they started photographing us. Every time I approached the cameras, I hid behind my sign because I was unnerved by the whole thing. But I don’t think I was scared. I was very open and proud of being gay. People passed by in disbelief. It was written on their faces. It had never had happened before. My sign read, '15 million homosexuals protest federal treatment.' It reflected what I thought. We could not conceive then the astonishing progress we would eventually make as a community. The idea that gay people, gay men and women, could work openly in the government and serve in the military. It was beyond our imagination." - Paul Kuntzler, 73, speaking to ABC News about picketing the White House fifty years ago today on April 17th, 1965. That protest, which included future LGBT rights giants Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, is believed to have been the first organized gay rights demonstration in American history.
17 Apr 22:13

Pirate Bay Co-Founder Cruelly Held in Swedish Prison Without Classic Nintendo

by Lily Hay Newman

Kids, don't be a criminal or you will be without video games.

Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij just wants to play some classic 8-bit Nintendo while he serves time in Swedish prison for involvement with the file sharing site. But the Swedish Prison and Probation Service isn't allowing it. Harsh.

The service told Expressen, as translated by TorrentFreak, “The console is sealed in such a way that it cannot be opened without the machine being destroyed.” Basically if anything were hidden in the case, the guards wouldn't be able to find it without defeating the purpose of bringing the device into the slammer in the first place.

Neij responded, “That the institution lacks a screwdriver which costs 100 kroner ($11.59) can not be considered reasonable.” Pull it together, Swedish prison guards.

Skänninge prison, where Neij is being kept, is in central Sweden and is known for experimenting with alternative incarceration and rehabilitation tactics. As Ars Technica notes, recent profiles of Skänninge indicate that it is humane and even comfortable. The institution is the largest prison in Sweden, housing 234 prisoners. The guards there are unarmed. No word on whether they are any good at Duck Hunt.

16 Apr 16:23

Antonin Scalia Lauds RBG For TIME

by Joe Jervis

OMG, I think I like Scalia's writing this time.

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had two distinguished legal careers, either one of which would alone entitle her to be one of TIME’s 100. When she was a law professor at Rutgers and later Columbia, she became the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women’s rights—the Thurgood Marshall of that cause, so to speak. President Carter appointed her to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980, and President Clinton to a seat on the Supreme Court in 1993. Having had the good fortune to serve beside her on both courts, I can attest that her opinions are always thoroughly considered, always carefully crafted and almost always correct (which is to say we sometimes disagree). That much is apparent for all to see. What only her colleagues know is that her suggestions improve the opinions the rest of us write, and that she is a source of collegiality and good judgment in all our work." - Antonin Scalia, writing for TIME.
13 Apr 17:12

Someone Calculated How Many Adjunct Professors Are on Public Assistance, and the Number Is Startling

by Jordan Weissmann

Once in a while, someone publishes an article about adjunct professors who resort to food stamps in order to survive on the rock-bottom pay that so many college instructors are expected to live on. But until today, I had never seen a statistic summing up how many academics are actually resorting to government aid. The number, it turns out, is rather large. According to an analysis of census data by the University of California–Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, 25 percent of "part-time college faculty" and their families now receive some sort public assistance, such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps, cash welfare, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. For what it's worth, that's not quite so bad as the situation faced by fast-food employees and home health care aids, roughly half of whom get government help. But, in case there were any doubt, an awful lot of Ph.D.s and master's degree holders are basically working poor.

Low-Wage Occupations and Public Assistance Rates

I don't think it would be quite accurate to say that 25 percent of all adjuncts are getting aid, since some do in fact have full-time jobs that would show up in the census as their occupation. Still, we're talking about a large group of highly educated individuals. According to NBC News, which reported on some of the labor center's data prior to publication, "families of close to 100,000 part-time faculty members are enrolled in public assistance programs."

Despite their symbolic value, food stamps aren't the most popular program among adjuncts. According to the NBC report (I haven't been able to find these specific numbers published elsewhere), 7 percent of part-time faculty are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 7 percent are signed up for Medicaid (though the number may be higher thanks to Obamacare's expansion of the insurance program), and "one in five" receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, which boosts pay for low-wage workers.

Over the past several decades, colleges and universities have come to rely on adjuncts in order to keep down education costs and tuition. According to the American Association of University Professors, "more than half of all faculty hold part-time appointments." But despite the awful compensation these teachers receive, the unfortunate reality is that instruction costs per student have still risen faster than inflation at schools in recent years. (Though they did fall a bit during the recession.) If we ever want universities to pay part-time educators a decent wage, one of three things needs to happen: Either institutions will have to find savings elsewhere in their budgets, states are going to have to refund their higher education systems, or students are going to have to pay more. The first two seem unlikely, unfortunate as that may be. And the third is a choice nobody really wants to make.

10 Apr 19:00

Tavis Smiley gave Jon Stewart the clearest “Black Lives Matter” explanation possible

by Jenée Desmond-Harris

Ever since Michael Brown's death at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson last summer, "Black Lives Matter" has been the unofficial rallying cry of people who are fed up with racialized police violence and the wildly disparate rates at which African Americans are killed by people charged with enforcing the law. (Read more: This chart explains why black people fear being killed by police)

(Joe Posner/Vox)

In some ways, "Black Lives Matter" is — or should be — an obvious statement. After all, few would actually argue that the life of anyone, of any race, is completely worthless. That's the thinking that inspired the more general "All lives matter" version, which has been embraced by many Americans as an alternative slogan. And it's true — all lives do matter.

This is why people think black lives don't matter to police officers

But that broader "All lives matter" statement obscures the uniquely disturbing attitudes that "Black Lives Matter" responds to, which can actually be kind of hard to articulate to those who might not have the personal perspective of feeling that people who look like them are being treated as less than human.

Tavis Smiley has done a really good job of explaining it.

On Wednesday's episode of The Daily Show, the talk show host explicitly connected the dots, in a step-by-step analysis of the video showing South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shooting a fleeing 50-year-old Walter Scott during a traffic stop.

Smiley described the mindset that would have had to existed for Slager to make each of the choices that led him to shoot his victim eight times in the back, decline to give him medical attention, and handcuff his dead body. And he broke down the exact actions that would lead many to conclude that the officer, who's now been charged with murder, didn't have much regard for Scott as a human being:

"What we're seeing in this country is the contestation of the humanity of too many people, and when you think that black men's lives don't matter and their humanity, their dignity can be contested — If that's the starting place then the ending point is eight bullets in your black lying face down. Now how do you know he didn't care about his humanity? Because he shot him, like a coward, 8 times in the back as he's running away. How do you know he doesn't care about his life? Because as he's dead on the ground, you're so afraid of a black man that as you shoot him 8 times in the back and he's face down he's dead and you still handcuff him. What does that say about how you regard or disregard the humanity of that particular human being?"

Basically, Smiley explained sentiments behind "Black Lives Matter" to all Americans like we were kindergarteners. And we needed that, because while it's easy for people to agree that they believe that black lives, like all lives, matter, actions like these speak louder than words.

10 Apr 13:39

Headline Of The Day

by Joe Jervis
Details. (Tipped by JMG reader Scott)
06 Apr 14:06

Breast Laugh I Had All Day

by Matthew Rettenmund


09 Apr 16:40

Watch the BBC debunk one of Russian media's most upsetting lies

by Amanda Taub

Sadly this video is not surprising.

In late March, Russian media widely reported that a 10-year-old child had been killed by Ukrainian government shelling in rebel-held Donetsk, Ukraine. The story was heartbreaking — no child should die in war — and also carried the horrifying implication that Ukrainian forces were targeting civilian neighborhoods.

It turns out, though, that the story was completely made up, a fabrication created for Russia's propaganda war in Ukraine.

The BBC's Natalia Antelava and Abdujalil Abdurasulov took a camera crew to the area where the child had supposedly been killed, but found that no one was even able to remember shelling on the day the girl supposedly died, much less identify who she might have been.

Her supposed neighbors said it must have happened somewhere else. "News spreads fast here. We'd know if it was here." The local morgue had no record of a girl matching her description being killed. A nervous-looking morgue official tried to suggest that perhaps she had been sent to "another place," but when asked if there was another place she could have been sent, he simply shrugged and said he didn't know.

The story became clearer when Antelava found a group of Russian journalists in town on a rebel-organized press trip. Two of them, their faces blurred to hide their identities, told Antelava that the girl "doesn't exist."

"What do you mean?" Antelava asked. "You broadcast it."

"We had to broadcast it," they replied, implying that they had been pressured to run the story even though they knew it was false.

This is hardly the first time Russian media has broadcast false propaganda about the war in Ukraine. State media has accused Ukrainian forces of "genocide" against ethnic Russians and claimed that the Kiev government is controlled by anti-semitic fascists.

And that propaganda has been effective: "The Kremlin has reinvented the conflict in Ukraine as a genocide against Russians," journalist Peter Pomerantsev wrote in an article for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. "People believe that the fascists are coming to get them, because that’s what they have seen on TV."

Even in Donetsk, the people Antelava spoke to had all seen the story of the child's death on television. Many of them believed a child had died, even though they knew it couldn't have happened in the place reported on the news.

"And that sort of information," Antelava said, "fuels the hatred that drives this war."

09 Apr 14:07

Justice Through a Lens

by Amanda Hess

Maybe it is time to add this app?

About 10 times a day, Darren Baptiste gets an email informing him that footage of police brutality may have been posted to YouTube through software he developed. Baptiste is the creator of CopWatch, an iPhone app that helps people record police-citizen interactions, upload them directly to the Internet, then alert Toronto-based activist group the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence to the material’s existence. Most of the videos that are whisked from people’s phones to Baptiste’s eyes are mundane test recordings by people just trying out the app for the first time. He ends up seeing a lot of shots of people’s socks. But occasionally, the video will reveal a dashboard view from a car stopped in traffic. As a cop marches up to the driver’s side window, Baptiste will watch and wait to see how the event ends. “Thankfully, none of those incidents have gone sideways yet,” Baptiste told me. But with every new email, he braces himself for the worst.

CopWatch launched in January of 2014, as if anticipating the year that police brutality would go viral. In July, a New York cop held Eric Garner in a banned chokehold while Garner protested, “I can’t breathe.” A friend filmed Garner’s death on his cellphone from a few feet away. In August, audio of the police shooting of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown was inadvertently recorded by a neighbor, then played back on CNN; several bystanders filmed the immediate aftermath of Brown’s death. In November, a security camera directed at a Cleveland park recorded a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, running around and playing with an airsoft gun. It also recorded cops driving their car onto the grass, jumping out of the police vehicle, and shooting Rice with a real weapon.

This week, another white cop killed another unarmed black man on tape. This time, the video was longer, clearer, and closer than any we’d seen before. Chris Hayes called it “instantly iconic.” At first, South Carolina cop Michael Slager claimed that he shot and killed 50-year-old Walter Scott because he feared for his life after Scott commandeered the cop’s Taser during a routine traffic stop gone bad. But the leaked cellphone video of the incident, recorded by a 23-year-old bystander named Feiden Santana, contradicts Slager’s narrative. From his vantage point behind a chain-link fence, Santana captures Slager shooting Scott eight times in the back as Scott runs away from the officer. After Scott hits the ground and Slager cuffs his lifeless wrists behind his back, Slager can be seen running to retrieve a handheld object, then returning to drop it near Scott’s body. The video was published Tuesday night on the home page of the New York Times. Notably, given the paper’s strict profanity policy, Santana can be heard saying: “Oh, shit. Oh shit. Shit.”

Santana talks about the act of capturing evidence as if it were a reflex. “I was just witnessing it with my eyes and letting the phone do the work," he told MSNBC Wednesday night. His video arrives as organizations like the NEPV and the ACLU are encouraging more citizens to make more videos of more incidents, and to remind cops that they’re always being watched. Joining the CopWatch app is Mobile Justice, a free Android app developed by local ACLU chapters in Oregon, Missouri, Mississippi, and Nebraska that allows users to record videos of cops behaving badly and automatically zip them over to their local ACLU branches. And the International Evidence Locker, an app that will help bystanders record evidence of systematic abuse, encrypt it, and send it directly to a human rights organization, is currently in development by students at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and members of Amnesty International.

The main feature shared by all of these services is the ability to quickly send video evidence straight from the witness’s private device and into the public sphere. Though Americans have a constitutional right to record video in public, the ACLU says it has monitored “a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.” In some cases, cops have confiscated cameras from bystanders recording arrests and then deleted the photo and video evidence they contain. These apps ensure that even a snatched phone’s video will reach the public eye. For extra protection, the ACLU app allows users the option to have their phone “automatically enter lock mode” while recording a police incident, so that prying cops can’t peer inside without a password. If a video is deleted from a phone, CopWatch encourages users to download recovery software like PhotoRec to help resuscitate lost evidence.

The explicit justification for these apps is to help deter police misbehavior and supply evidence against them should they fall out of line. But Baptiste admits that “the expectation has outstripped the reality” in terms of the influence of these videos in securing a verdict. Instead, Baptiste hopes the videos spark a conversation “about what it’s going to take to make the killings stop” and help inspire local citizens to stand up for themselves. “People feel powerless next to a cop with a gun and a night stick and a can of pepper spray,” he says. “Now, they have a camera.” Citizen-captured video “has opened the eyes of a lot of people who in the past have generally trusted the police over every accused criminal—especially if the accused criminal is a black man,” says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy and Technology.

The CopWatch and ACLU apps pair their video technology with informative guides that remind users of their rights while warning them about the potential hazards of capturing the shot. The ACLU advises amateur videographers to “announce that you are reaching for your phone” so an aggressive cop doesn’t mistake it for a weapon; if an officer “forbids or prevents you” from filming, users are urged to “not argue or resist” and to agitate for their rights later, in a court of law. CopWatch’s 35-page online guidebook advises that witnesses maintain a space of 10 feet between themselves and the incident, and tells them never to walk “within striking distance of a police officer.” Witnesses should also be careful to avoid minor, common infractions while otherwise legally filming a scene, like standing on the street instead of the sidewalk. Because a witness of police misconduct can sometimes become its target, CopWatch advises users to “have a friend present when you decide to record community-police interactions”: One person to film the cop, and another to film the person filming the cop.

These guides hope to keep amateur witness videos safe and legal. But they also aim to make them more sophisticated. In 2013, Carlos Miller, founder of the citizen journalist advocacy website Photography Is Not A Crime, published a list of guidelines for amateur videographers of police interactions. Rule No. 1: “Learn how to hold a camera.” Writes Miller: “Please, for the love of God, hold the phone horizontally so your videos come out horizontally. While it may be easier to hold the camera in the vertical position, you end up with a video that uses only a third of the available screen sandwiched by two black lines.” CopWatch—which has adopted some of Miller’s tips in its own guidebook—is designed to subtly encourage witnesses to turn the phone to landscape mode by orienting the text on the screen horizontally instead of vertically. Baptiste couldn’t help but notice that the South Carolina footage “begins in portrait as this tiny sliver of video” before Santana turns the phone to landscape to access a wider shot.

Miller’s second rule is “Keep your mouth shut.” We’ve “all seen videos of cops violently arresting somebody,” Miller writes, “only for the person holding the camera to be shrieking hysterically that they’re pigs or that they’re going to end up on YouTube or that the person they’re arresting didn’t do anything illegal. Keep in mind that your mouth is closer to the microphone than anybody else’s mouth, so your voice is going to be magnified as it drowns out the relevant audio that needs to be captured.” In order to encourage viral pick-up, Miller advises amateur videographers to keep their videos to three minutes, five at most, because “people on the internet don’t have time to sit through a ten minute video.” And one last thing: “Please, no matter how cool you think it may sound, do not add music to the video.”

The nonprofit Witness, which trains citizens around the world to film human rights abuses in their own backyards, also focuses on quality control. As the New York Times Magazine reported in February, Witness has found that most videos of traumatic events filmed by untrained bystanders end up being “shaky to the point of ambiguity” or else “lacking in metadata that would have helped confirm their veracity.” So Kelly Matheson, who heads up Witness’ Video as Evidence program, shells out advice for creating a better piece of evidence. Amateur videographers should capture tight shots that clearly show the action, but also remember to pan the camera to “document as much of your surroundings as possible” and record “geographic landmarks that can’t be faked” in order to situate the event in a specific place and time, the Times reports. It’s particularly important, Witness says, to resist an activist bent when shooting these videos. The best evidence contains not just obvious acts of cruelty but also mundane shots of “license-plate numbers, military-uniform patterns,” and “close-ups of official documentation” too. And the ACLU’s Stanley offers this advice: Start filming the interaction as early as possible, and keep the camera running as long as you can, to help defend against criticism that the footage has been taken out of context.

But for Baptiste, there’s no such thing as “the best” video of a cop killing a man. I asked Baptiste how it felt—as a person who actively encourages his fellow citizens to film the actions of the police—to watch the video of Walter Scott being gunned down. “A man died in the frame,” Baptiste told me. “I don’t enjoy watching that.” When he releases a new version of CopWatch later this month, it will come with a new feature: A field to note whether a new upload is just a test, so Baptiste knows to prepare himself for the footage he’s about to see.

08 Apr 18:28

This simple comic strip concisely explains the complexities of white privilege

by Caroline Siede

via Bewarethewumpus


The concept of “white privilege” (brilliantly explained in Peggy McIntosh’s essay, "Unpacking The Invisible Backpack") can be a difficult one to grasp. After all, the entire idea of “privilege” is that it's invisible to those who have it. Thankfully, a new comic from Barry Deutsch of Lefty Cartoons called “Bob And Race” lays out some of the many factors that contribute to white privilege. Specifically, the comic looks at privilege from a historical lens. In this case, the central figure, Bob, may not think he’s benefited from racism, but a quick trip through recent history shows the factors that gave him a step up from the day he was born.

For instance, Bob’s grandparents were more easily able to get homes and jobs in the overtly racist past while their black peers were shut out of such advantages. Their stability directly helped Bob’s parents and Bob himself, who was also more likely to be given the “benefit of the doubt” by society when it came to behavior that black people are disproportionally arrested for (for instance, drug possession).

The comic is a brilliant illustration of the ways in which white privilege is embedded in so many of the realities white people take for granted.

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07 Apr 21:43

YouTube Copyright System Yanks Rand Paul's Presidential Announcement Clip

by Joe Jervis

who needs property rights?

Rand Paul entered and exited the stage today to the tune of an anti-Wall Street country song owned by Warner Brothers. So of course YouTube's magic genie recognized the track as copyrighted material and blocked the clip from further viewing. Snicker.
06 Apr 15:41

People Left $674,841 in Spare Change at U.S. Airports Last Year

by Alison Griswold

Ever gone through airport security in such a rush that you left something behind? Maybe a couple of cents that you really didn’t miss? You wouldn’t be the only one. In the latest fiscal year, travelers at U.S. airports left behind $674,841.06 in spare change, according to new figures released by the Transportation Security Administration. That was up about $37,000 from the previous year, when TSA collected a total of $638,142.64 in pocket change forgotten by harried flyers.

What happens to all that extra money? It goes to the TSA! “TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed,” TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein explained via email. “Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office.”

Congress gave TSA the power to put travelers’ unclaimed money toward security operations in 2005. TSA plans to put the money it collected in fiscal year 2014 toward expanding its expedited TSA Pre-Check program (well, most of the money—per the agency’s report to Congress, it spent $3.87 on “administrative overhead” in 2014).

TSA defines unclaimed change as “money passengers inadvertently leave behind at airport screening checkpoints.” The agency says this typically means coins that passengers take out of their pockets to go through security, and forget to put back. Not surprisingly, the busiest U.S. airports also seem to wind up with the most extra funds. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport racked up the most accidental donations with $42,550 left on screening tables. Los Angeles International Airport was close behind with $41,506.64 in spare change.

What would really be interesting to know is how the $674,841.06 that TSA pooled last year breaks down. Was it mostly nickels? Dimes? Is it possible that for the TSA the penny still has value? At any rate, next time you rush through airport security, check to make sure you return all those coins to your pockets. If not, it’s going right back toward that annoying screening process—and it adds up.

05 Apr 12:13

An Unforgettable Time-Lapse Volcano


video is way cool.

“It’s tempting to go to the throat of the volcano to get the data, because if you do you’re a hero … It’s a battle between your mind and your emotions. If your emotions win out, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.” -Ken Wohletz

Just a short while ago — on Monday — I shared with you the story of volcanic lightning in (mostly) pictures, with a longer explanation over here. Little did I know that earlier that night, Colima volcano in Mexico had begun erupting. And when it did, world-class astrophotographer César Cantú just happened to be there to capture it.

All images and videos credit: César Cantú.

As the smoke, ash, cloud and soot filled the skies thanks to the volcanic eruption, night began to fall. And when it did, the eruption intensified even more, with fountains of lava flowing out of the mountain’s peak.

All images and videos credit: César Cantú.

The earliest stages of a volcanic eruption tend to be the hottest, most chaotic, and to also spew out the greatest amounts of ash and soot.

All images and videos credit: César Cantú.

It’s these very conditions, where you have the combined factors of:

  • high temperatures at the base with much cooler temperatures above it,
  • ionized particles with turbulent airflow,
  • a sooty, ashy, cloudy area where the air is highly conductive, and
  • these three conditions sustained over a sufficient time with dark enough skies for photography,

that you’ve got the greatest chance to capture a volcanic lightning strike.

All images and videos credit: César Cantú.

With his long-exposure photography techniques, with his equipment, his experience, and his skill in framing and compositing shots, Cesar was able to do exactly this.

All images and videos credit: César Cantú.

The image above is actually just a single-frame from the long-exposure image displayed prior to that, which you can see from the identical shape of the lightning strike. (Like snowflakes, no two are identical.)

But the best shot he captured? That was an up-close masterpiece of the most spectacular strike the Colima eruption put on display.

All images and videos credit: César Cantú.

Completely spectacular, so much so that his video composition is worth another look. As far as I know, it’s the first time-lapse video of a volcanic eruption that showcases the incredible phenomenon of volcanic lightning!

We’ll be back with our regularly scheduled weekend post tomorrow, but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist sharing this with you. Hope you enjoyed it just as much as I did!

03 Apr 02:21

Bill Gates is an amazingly humble man


via Luke.Stirling

04 Apr 14:30

What’s behind a conservative panic over refugees on food stamps

by Dara Lind

This is actually a pretty radical critique of the legal immigration system from Laura Ingraham:

Insanity: "@ImmigrationGOP: Office of Refugee Resettlement: 3 in 4 refugees in the US are on food stamps:"

— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 2, 2015

If it's "insane" that most refugees are on food stamps, the implication is that America shouldn't be taking in any refugees who can't support themselves through work in the US. So either the country is taking in the wrong sort of refugees, or else it's taking in too many of them.

That's just antithetical to the way the immigration system actually works. The US allows refugees to come for a very particular reason: they've demonstrated that they're the victims of persecution based on specific characteristics (like race or political opinion) in their home country. That's it. Refugees don't gain or lose points for having relatives in the US (in most cases); they don't gain or lose points for being well or poorly educated, or being rich or poor.

The entire premise of admitting refugees is that there are people who are in serious danger in their home countries because they're the victims of targeted oppression and violence, and that those people deserve a chance to live safely somewhere — and the United States should be one place they can do it. It's an affirmation that people have intrinsic worth regardless of whether they can make a contribution in the countries that take them in.

That's why refugees and asylees are allowed to use food stamps to begin with, while most legal immigrants aren't.

There's not a lot that can be changed here, from a policy standpoint: there are international agreements preventing America from making its refugee policy much less welcoming. But it's a good illustration that there's a tremendous difference between the way the US immigration system actually chooses immigrants and the kind of immigrants that many Americans (particularly white Americans) think are deserving.

Many Americans prefer for immigrants to be employed and self-sufficient, preferably educated, English-speaking, and European: likely to assimilate quickly and easily into American society. And assimilability is something that many European countries value as part of their immigration policy. But under American immigration law, while there are a few ways for an immigrant to arrive — having family ties in the US, or having a job offer already, or showing humanitarian need — they're all very narrow, and they're all independent of each other. It doesn't value the sort of things Ingraham and company might want it to value, at all.

04 Apr 15:00

Bayesian survival analysis in A Song of Ice and Fire

by Allen Downey

This post originally appeared on Allen Downey's personal blog.

Last fall I taught an introduction to Bayesian statistics at Olin College. My students worked on some excellent projects, and I invited them to write up their results as guest articles for my blog.

One of the teams applied Bayesian survival analysis to the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series by George R. R. Martin.  Using data from the first 5 books, they generate predictions for which characters are likely to survive and which might die in the forthcoming books.  

With Season 5 of the Game of Thrones television series starting on April 12, we thought this would be a good time to publish their report.

Bayesian survival analysis in A Song of Ice and Fire

By Erin Pierce and Ben Kahle

The Song of Ice and Fire series has a reputation for being quite deadly. No character, good or bad, major or minor is safe from Martin's pen. The reputation is not unwarranted; of the 916 named characters that populate Martin's world, a third have died, alongside uncounted nameless ones.

In this report, we take a closer look at the patterns of death in the novels and create a Bayesian model that predicts the probability that characters will survive the next two books.

Using data from A Wiki of Ice and Fire, we created a dataset of all 916 characters that appeared in the books so far. For every character, we know what chapter and book they first appeared, if they are male or female, if they are part of the nobility or not, what major house they are loyal to, and, if applicable, the chapter and book of their death.  We used this data to predict which characters will survive the next couple books.


We extrapolated the survival probabilities of the characters through the seventh book using Weibull distributions. A Weibull distribution provides a way to model the hazard function, which measures the probability of death at a specific age. The Weibull distribution depends on two parameters, k and lambda, which control its shape.

To estimate these parameters, we start with a uniform prior.  For each alive character, we check how well that value of k or lambda predicted the fact that the character was still alive by comparing the calculated Weibull distribution with the character's hazard function. For each dead character, we check how well the parameters predicted the time of their death by comparing the Weibull distribution with the character's survival function.

The main code used to update these distributions is:

class GOT(thinkbayes2.Suite, thinkbayes2.Joint):

def Likelihood(self, data, hypo):
"""Determines how well a given k and lam  predict the life/death of a character """
age, alive = data k, lam = hypo
if alive:
prob = 1-exponweib.cdf(age, k, lam)
prob = exponweib.pdf(age, k, lam)
return prob

def Update(k, lam, age, alive):
"""Performs the Baysian Update and returns the PMFs of k and lam"""
joint = thinkbayes2.MakeJoint(k, lam)
suite = GOT(joint)
suite.Update((age, alive))
k = suite.Marginal(0, label=k.label),  lam = suite.Marginal(1, label=lam.label)
return k, lam

def MakeDistr(introductions, lifetimes,k,lam):
"""Iterates through all the characters for a given k  and lambda.  It then updates the k and lambda distributions"""
k.label = 'K'
lam.label = 'Lam'
print("Updating deaths")
for age in lifetimes:
k, lam = Update(k, lam, age, False)
print('Updating alives')
for age in introductions:
k, lam = Update(k, lam, age, True)
return k,lam

For the Night’s Watch, this lead to the posterior distribution in Figure 3:

The distribution for lambda is quite tight, around 0.27, but the distribution for k is broader.

To translate this back to a survival curve, we took the mean of k and lambda, as well as the 90 percent credible interval for each parameter. We then plot the original data, the credible interval, and the survival curve based on the posterior means.

Jon Snow

Using this analysis, we can can begin to make a prediction for an individual character like Jon Snow.  At the end of A Dance with Dragons, the credible interval for the Night's Watch survival (Figure 4) stretches from 36 percent to 56 percent. The odds are not exactly rosy that Jon snow is still alive. Even if Jon is still alive at the end of book 5, the odds that he will survive the next two books drop to between 30 percent and 51 percent.

The credible interval closely encases the data, and the mean-value curve appears to be a reasonable approximation.

However, it is worth considering that Jon is not an average member of the Night's Watch. He had a noble upbringing and is well trained at arms. We repeated the same analysis with only members of the Night's Watch considered noble due to their family, rank, or upbringing. There have only been 11 nobles in the Night's Watch, so the credible interval as seen in Figure 5 is understandably much wider, however, the best approximation of the survival curve suggests that a noble background does not increase the survival rate for brothers of the Night's Watch.

When only noble members of the Night’s Watch are included, the credible interval widens significantly and the lower bound gets quite close to zero.

The houses of ASOIF

The 90 percent credible intervals for all of the major houses. This includes the 9 major houses, the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings, and a "None" category which includes non-allied characters.

90 percent credible interval for Arryn (Blue), Lannister (Gold), None (Green), and Stark (Grey)

90 percent credible interval for Tyrell(Green), Tully(Blue), Baratheon(Orange), and Night’s Watch (Grey)

90 percent credible interval for Martell(Orange), Targaryen (Maroon), Greyjoy (Yellow), and Wildling (Purple)

These intervals, shown in Figures 6, 7, and 8, demonstrate a much higher survival probability for the houses Arryn, Tyrell, and Martell. Supporting these results, these houses have stayed out of most of the major conflicts in the books, however this also means there is less information on them. We have 5 or fewer examples of dead members for those houses, so the survival curves don’t have very many points. This uncertainty is reflected in the wide credible intervals.

In contrast, our friends in the north, the Starks, Night’s Watch, and Wildlings have the lowest projected survival rates and smaller credible intervals given their warring positions in the story and the many important characters included amongst their ranks. This analysis considers entire houses, but there are also additional ways to sort the characters.

Men and women

While A Song of Ice and Fire has been lauded for portraying women as complex characters who take an a variety of roles, there are still many more male characters (769) than female ones (157). Despite a wider credible interval, the women tend to fare better than their male counterparts, out-surviving them by a wide margin as seen in Figure 9.

The women of Westeros appear to have a better chance of surviving then the men.


The ratio between noble characters(429) and smallfolk characters (487) is much more even than gender and provides an interesting comparison for analysis. Figure 10 suggests that while more smallfolk tend to die quickly after being introduced, those that survive their introductions tend to live for a longer period of time and may in fact outpace the nobles.

The nobility might have a slight advantage when introduced, but their survival probability continues to fall while the smallfolk’s levels much more quickly.

Selected Characters

The same analysis can be extended to combine traits, sorting by gender, house, and class to provide a rough model for individual characters. One of the most popular characters in the books is Arya and many readers are curious about her fate in the books to come. The category of noblewomen loyal to the Starks also includes other noteworthy characters like Sansa and Brienne of Tarth (though she was introduced later). Other intriguing characters to investigate are the Lannister noblewomen Cersei and poor Myrcella. As it turns out, not a lot noble women die. In order to get more precise credible intervals for the specific female characters we included the data of both noble and smallfolk women.

While both groups have very wide ranges of survival probabilities, the Lannister noblewomen may be a bit more likely to die than the Starks.

The data presented in Figure 11 is inconclusive, but it looks like Arya has a slightly better chance of survival than Cersei.

Two minor characters we are curious about are Val, the wildling princess, and the mysterious Quaithe.

Representing the survival curves of more minor characters, Quaithe and Val have dramatically different odds of surviving the series.

They both had more data than the Starks and Lannisters, but they have the complication that they were not introduced at the beginning of the series. Val is introduced at 2.1 books, and so her chances of surviving the whole series are between 10 percent and 53 percent, which are not the most inspiring of chances.

Quaithe is introduced at 1.2 books, and her chances are between 58 percent and 85 percent, which are significantly better than Val’s. These curves are shown in Figure 12.

For most of the male characters (with the exception of Mance), there was enough data to narrow to house, gender and class.

The survival curves of different classes and alliances of men shown through various characters.

Figure 13 shows the Lannister brothers with middling survival chances ranging from 35 percent to 79 percent. The data for Daario is less conclusive, but seems hopeful, especially considering he was introduced at 2.5 books. Mance seems to have to worst chance of surviving until the end. He was introduced at 2.2 books, giving him a chance of survival between 19 percent and 56 percent.

The survival curves of different classes and alliances of men shown through various characters.

Some characters who many wouldn’t mind seeing kick the bucket include Lord Walder Frey and Theon Greyjoy. However, Figure 14 suggests that neither are likely meet untimely (or in Walder Frey’s case, very timely) deaths. Theon seems likely to survive to the bitter end. Walder Frey was introduced at 0.4 books, putting his chances at 44 percent to 72 percent. As it is now, Hoster Tully may be the only character to die of old age, so perhaps Frey will hold out until the end.


Of course who lives and who dies in the next two books has more to do with plot and storyline than with statistics. Nonetheless, using our data we were able we were able to see patterns of life and death among groups of characters. For some characters, especially males, we are able to make specific predictions of how they will fare in the next novels. For females and characters from the less central houses, the verdict is still out.

Our data and code are available from this GitHub repository.

Notes on the Data Set

Most characters were fairly easy to classify, but there are always edge cases.

  1. Gender - This was the most straight forward. There are not really any gender-ambigous characters.
  2. Nobility - Members of major and minor Westeros houses were counted as noble, but hedge knights were not. For characters from Essos, I used by best judgement based on money and power, and it was usually an easy call. For the wildlings, I named military leaders as noble, though that was often a blurry line. For members of the Night’s Watch, I looked at their status before joining in the same way I looked at other Westeros characters. For bastards, we decided on a case by case basis. Bastards who were raised in a noble family and who received the education and training of nobles were counted as noble. Thus Jon Snow was counted as noble, but someone like Gendry was not.
  3. Death - Characters that have come back alive-ish (like Beric Dondarrion) were judged dead at the time of their first death. Wights are not considered alive, but others are. For major characters whose deaths are uncertain, we argued and made a case by case decision.
  4. Houses - This was the trickiest one because some people have allegiances to multiple houses or have switched loyalties. We decided on a case by case basis. The people with no allegiance were of three main groups:

    — People in Essos who are not loyal to the Targaryens.

    — People in the Riverlands, either smallfolk who’s loyalty is not known, or groups like the Brotherhood Without Banners or the Brave Companions with ambiguous loyalty.

    — Nobility that are mostly looking out for their own interests, like the Freys, Ramsay Bolton, or Petyr Baelish.

04 Apr 12:30

'Lost In America' Is A Heartbreaking Expose Of Youth Homelessness: VIDEO

by Jim Redmond

Lost in America

"My dad hates gays," said one youth in the teaser for the new documentary Lost in America. "My dad's tried to kill me once or twice."

It is estimated that there are between 1.3 and 2.8 million homeless youth in the US, 40 percent of whom identify as LGBT.

5,000 homeless kids die on the streets every year as a result of assault, illness or suicide.

Meanwhile, there are only 5,000 beds available for homeless youth nationwide.

Currently seeking crowdfunding for post production work, watch a trailer for Lost In America, AFTER THE JUMP...

03 Apr 23:55

Tweet Of The Week

by Joe Jervis
03 Apr 18:00

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants fellow Republicans to terminate religious freedom laws

by German Lopez

Don't listen to him, he is an immigrant!

Following the national firestorm over Indiana's controversial religious freedom law, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a message for his fellow Republicans: stop getting bogged down in culture wars.

In a new column for the Washington Post, the former California governor blasted the party for alienating the "next generation of voters" — young people — by proposing divisive religious freedom measures that polarize the country and critics say could lead to discrimination against LGBT people:

If the Republican Party wants the next generation of voters to listen to our ideas and solutions to real problems, we must be an inclusive and open party, not a party of divisions. We must be the party of limited government, not the party that legislates love. We must be the party that stands for equality and against discrimination in any form.

We must be the party that originally attracted this young Austrian immigrant.

Despite the growing controversy, legal experts argue — citing decades of court battles over similar laws — that Indiana's religious freedom law couldn't be used to discriminate against LGBT people. These laws, which exist in 19 states besides Indiana, are traditionally meant to protect religious minorities by stopping the government from intruding on a person's religious practices without a compelling interest. What actually lets businesses deny jobs, housing, and service to LGBT people is the lack of civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in most states.

But there's very little question that Indiana's religious freedom law was passed to appease religious conservatives who feel defeated as same-sex marriage rights spread across the US. Advance America, a conservative organization in Indiana that helped get the law passed, said on its website that the legislation would help "Christian bakers, florists and photographers" so they're not "punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!"

These are simply unpopular positions among younger voters, as Schwarzenegger notes in his column. Not only do polls show that millennials are much more likely to support same-sex marriage, but they're also more likely to say businesses shouldn't be allowed to use their religion to deny wedding services to same-sex couples:

The takeaway, Schwarzenegger argues, is that Republicans should focus on the issues that matter to younger voters — the economy, education, pollution — not keep pandering to older voters who will matter a lot less in future elections.

Watch: How most states still discriminate against LGBT people

Further reading