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30 Jul 04:55

Photographer Stephen Orlando Captures the Movement of Musicians Through Light Painting

by Kate Sierzputowski

PDQ Bach's cousin LED Bach

Bach Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude

Bach Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude

Photographer Stephen Orlando (previously) captures the nearly imperceptible movement one makes when quickly sliding a bow along strings, the senses typically drawn to the sounds rather than appearance of the instrument being played. By using carefully placed LED lights and a long exposure Orlando can track these movements through space, following arms and bows with light trails that extend out from the body and instrument. These bright ghostly marks are captured through his photographic technique and not altered with Photoshop, making their distinct patterns all the more spectacular.

The Ontario-based artist was inspired by the lighting painter Gjon Mili, who also experimented with violins in 1952. Orlando explains:

A relative motion between the performer and camera must exist for the light trails to move through the frame. I found it easier to move the camera instead of the performer. The LEDs are programmed to change color to convey a sense of time. The progression of time is from left to right in the viola and violin photos and from top to bottom in the cello photos. Each photo is a single exposure and the light trails have not been manipulated in post processing.

You can see more of Orlando’s lit rainbow pieces on his Instagram and Facebook.

Viola III

Viola III

Violin I

Violin I

Seitz Concerto No. 2, 3rd Movement

Seitz Concerto No. 2, 3rd Movement

Viola - Bach Cello Suite No. 1 - Three Bowings

Viola – Bach Cello Suite No. 1 – Three Bowings

31 Jul 07:01

Technology sector, share of market over time

by Nathan Yau

Big blue is not so big anymore.

Technology sector over time

Here's a straightforward stacked area chart from the Economist that shows shifting market share in the technology sector. It highlights the quick shrinkage of IBM in the 1990s, Microsoft reign soon after, and the apple surge mid-2000s. Be sure to look at the nominal and real views too, because even though relative dominance shifted, the sector as a whole is up and up.

Tags: Economist, technology

30 Jul 22:39

A Look at the Awesome but Ridiculously Old Technology That Runs the NYC Subway System

by Lily Hay Newman

Doesn't BART run on an old VAX from the 80s?

Vintage technology is fun and fascinating. It feels new all over again to see how old devices made modern concepts possible. But buying LPs again is different than finding out that missile silos in the United States still rely on floppy disks. And this video of the old tech still in use in the New York City subway system feels more like the latter. It’s delightful, sure, but also deeply baffling.

The main point of the 9-minute video, released by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is to talk about how the subway system is modernizing. The agency has been working for years to implement “communications-based train control” on every line. It’s a system that tracks each train’s position, automates speed control, and calculates safe distances between trains. Compared with the current manual system of “fixed block signaling,” CBTC allows for more trains per hour, better precision, and less infrastructure maintenance. But first the MTA has to finish implementing it. (The automated system is only in use on one out of the system’s 34 lines so far, with another transition almost complete.)

The most captivating part of the video, though, is the opening section showing the devices that control trains in and around the West 4th Street stop in Manhattan. “What our riders don’t realize ... is that in our system it’s not just the architecture that’s 100 years old,” the narrator says. “It’s a lot of the basic technology as well. The infrastructure is old.” And the MTA is not joking around. The video shows 1930s devices, dispatchers filling out handwritten call sheets, and levers for manually operating signals and moving track switches.

In the relay room, MTA vice president and chief officer of service delivery Wynton Habersham talks about how difficult it is to maintain the aging technology.

This equipment is not supported at all by the railroad industry. We are fully self-sufficient and self-sustaining. We have a signal shop that can replace the parts, they rebuild these relays. And then when any modernization is going on we scavenge to retain the parts so we can provide replacement for those that remain in service.

Holy. Crap. This is a 24/7 subway system we’re talking about. Habersham goes on to say that the cables connecting many of the electromechanical relays throughout the system—meaning in control rooms but also on the tracks—are the original cloth-covered cables. And then Habersham talks about what would happen if there were a fire. (Bad things. Bad things would happen.) Vintage tech, so much nostalgia!

The video is fascinating, but Rebecca Fishbein put it best on Gothamist: “This shit is OLD, like grizzled dude who won’t stop stabbing at the back of your plane seat because he can’t figure out the TV touchscreen old. It’s a miracle the F train even runs at all.”

30 Jul 17:40

Eating chicken is morally worse than killing Cecil the lion

by Dylan Matthews

If the outcry over the killing of Cecil the lion tells us anything, it's that people are capable of genuine moral outrage at the needless killing of animals. And good for them. Animals are conscious beings capable of feeling pleasure and pain, and we have an obligation to make their lives as good as possible.

But in a given year, the typical American will cause the death of 30 land animals, and 28 chickens, by eating meat. And these animals aren’t just killed, they effectively live lives of constant torture and suffering — not directly at the hands of the people who eat them, but at the hands of the meat producers who sell them.

What we do to chickens

Think about chickens, for example. A little over 8.5 billion broiler chickens — the kind raised for their meat — were killed in 2013, according to the US Department of Agriculture, accounting for the vast majority of the 11 billion animals killed for meat, eggs, and milk every year. For context, that's about 1 million chickens killed every hour.

Broiler chickens have been bred to ridiculous sizes:

Giant chickens with dates

Zuidhof, MJ, et al. 2014 Poultry Science 93 :1–13

The chicken on the left is a breed from 1957. The middle chicken is a breed from 1978. The one on the right is a breed from 2005. They were all raised in the same manner for this paper and were photographed at the same age. Vox added the dates to this image.

This extreme weight pushes the chickens' bodies to a structural breaking point, and impaired walking ability is common as a result. "Broilers are the only livestock that are in chronic pain for the last 20 percent of their lives," University of Bristol veterinary researcher John Webster once said. "They don’t move around, not because they are overstocked, but because it hurts their joints so much."

But they're also overstocked. "It’s common for 20,000 chickens to live crammed in one shed that provides less than one square foot of space for each animal," the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says. "Another common practice is to keep these sheds dimly lit for 20 hours each day to keep the birds awake and eating constantly."

Broiler chickens are also forced to live in their own shit for the mercifully few weeks they're alive. Here's how the New Yorker's Michael Specter describes entering a broiler chicken farm: "I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe. … There must have been thirty thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way."

It's not just meat eaters

If anything, the treatment of chickens used for egg production is even worse. About 97 percent of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined to what are known as "battery cages." These cages typically hold 5 to 10 birds each, and United Egg Producers' minimum standards state that each bird be given 67 square inches — a smaller space than a standard 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper. And that's for farms that comply to the voluntary standards; UEP estimates that about 15 percent of hens are raised by farmers that don't, and offer more like 45 to 50 square inches per bird.

One of the worst aspects of battery cages is that because their residents are hens, they disrupt the egg-laying process, causing substantial pain to the birds. "The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act," the Nobel laureate ethologist Konrad Lorenz once said. "For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover."

You can take action to stop this

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Don't buy this.

The best way to end this cruelty would be to pass legislation restricting the overbreeding of chickens and requiring them to be raised free-range with plenty of space. The Humane Society has been doing exceptional work getting states to ban battery cages and otherwise improve conditions for farm animals. But you, individually, can also take actions that reduce chicken suffering.

Suppose a supermarket stocks chickens in units of 1,000. If you buy two or three chickens every month, and then stop, you probably won't cause them to stock 1,000 less. But you might if the supermarket is just at the threshold between order sizes. That will likely only happen about 1 in 1,000 times you buy chicken — but when you do, you save 1,000 chickens. The expected chickens saved by you not buying a single chicken is 1/1,000 times 1,000 chickens: one chicken. That then affects the chicken wholesaler's purchasing decisions, which affect farms' decisions about how many chickens to produce.

This isn't purely theoretical. Estimating the elasticity for chicken — that is, the amount less produced for every chicken that stops being demanded because a buyer became a vegetarian — is tricky, but economists have studied this, and numbers range from 0.06 to 0.7 for chicken. That means that by giving up chicken, a given person will keep 1.68 to 19.6 chickens from existing, per year. They will be spared a truly horrendous plight. The elasticity for eggs is even higher: 0.91 fewer eggs are produced for every egg not consumed, per the book Compassion by the Pound by researchers F. Bailey Norwood and Jayson L. Luck. And the fewer eggs that are produced, the fewer hens are necessary, and the fewer have to live in horrific conditions.

What you and Walter James Palmer have in common

Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Protesters outside the office of Walter James Palmer, lion killer.

Let's say you eat chicken. You thus cause massive suffering to anywhere from 1 to 20 chickens any given year. How does that compare with Walter James Palmer's killing of Cecil the lion?

Well, you certainly inflicted more suffering. Palmer wounded Cecil with a crossbow, causing him significant pain for 40 hours, before killing him with a gun. Given that male lions live about 10 to 12 years in the wild, and Cecil was already 13, Palmer didn't deny him much more happy life. So compare those 40 hours of pain and couple years of happy lion life to the weeks of excruciating agony that broiler chickens endure toward the end of their lives — and then consider that you're very likely inflicting that agony on more than one chicken. Palmer also likely prevented some animal suffering: Lions are carnivores, and Palmer increased the life expectancy of Cecil's prey by ending his life. He didn't increase it by much, given how old Cecil was and how little gazelle killing he had left in him, but it's still a factor.

Of course, there's the intangible factor that lions are a threatened species and Palmer made their continued survival marginally less likely. There's a decent argument that lion hunting shouldn't be allowed at all, even though hunting has been an effective conservation tool in other cases. But the contribution of a single killing toward the extinction of lions as a whole is minimal, especially the killing of a lion who is past reproductive age.

This is a subjective comparison, of course. But I think it's almost certainly the case that eating chicken, as raised in the US, is a greater moral wrong than killing Cecil the lion.

Palmer has faced the wrath of internet vigilantes for his actions. Signs saying "WE ARE CECIL," "#CatLivesMatter," and "ROT IN HELL" have been posted on the door of his dental office in Bloomington, Minnesota. He's received death threats on Twitter. More than 100,000 people have signed a White House petition calling for Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe.

And given that extradition to Zimbabwe is something that could actually happen (the US Fish and Wildlife Service has pledged to assist Zimbabwe in "whatever manner requested"), something much worse than internet vigilantism should be in his future. A report in the Zimbabwe Independent from inside one of the country's prisons depicts a hellhole where severe hunger and even starvation is the norm, bread is only provided twice a month, there aren't enough beds in the prison hospital, and patients are forced to sleep on the floor. Given Zimbabwe's record as one of the worst human rights abusers among all the nations of the world, the account is not particularly surprising.

If you're a meat eater and want Palmer to face that plight, fine. After all, he probably eats chicken too, and kills lions, so he's got one up on you. But his total moral wrongs aren't what'll land him in prison. The lion killing is — and you do something even worse. If you think he belongs behind bars, ask yourself: Do I do things that justify the same punishment for me?

VIDEO: Soylent is an option if you're looking for essential nutrients

Correction: This article originally stated that the elasticity for eggs; it's 0.91, not 0.94.

30 Jul 15:00

Take A Number!

by BD


30 Jul 14:19

Taco Belle, A Beautiful Gown That Combines Taco Bell and Disney Princess Belle From ‘Beauty and the Beast’

by Glen Tickle

via GN. For halloween?

taco belle

Taco Belle is a beautiful gown by artist AvantGeek that combines Taco Bell elements and the gown worn by Disney princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast. The dress uses Taco Bell wrappers and tacos made from cardstock, tissue paper, and felt.

photo via AvantGeek

via Geeks Are Sexy

29 Jul 20:25

GE Healthcare to drop $1B on healthcare provider education

by Fink Densford

GE Healthcare to drop $1B on healthcare provider educationGE Healthcare (NYSE:GE) said it is investing $1 billion in healthcare provider education and training over the next 5 years.

GE Healthcare said the enhanced training will reach more than 2 million healthcare professionals by 2020 and help more than 300 million patients. The program will deliver localized offerings and include technology-enabled training solutions.

“Challenges around localized capacity building, training and innovation are consistent themes for many healthcare systems and Ministries of Health around the world. We will continue to work closely with local governments, institutions and customers to address some of their most important concerns. In some countries, this will mean training midwives to use new ultrasound or portable diagnostic equipment. In others, it will include supporting multi-hospital networks to enhance their clinical and operational outcomes,” CEO John Flannery said in a press release.

The company said programs could include peer-to-peer training by key opinion leaders, video conference training, clinical product training, leadership training and more, all centered around improving and driving change in the healthcare industry.

The new educational plan joins 7 other global training efforts from GE, including the Skill India Initiative, Developing Health Globally initiative and other collaborative efforts.

“Our focus is to develop meaningful, relevant education solutions that will help healthcare professionals create long-term value and positive measurable impact. By combining our heritage in medical technology, healthcare IT, software and life sciences, we can provide enhanced learning, insights and best practices that can make a real difference,” global education services GM Mario Lois said in prepared remarks.

GE Healthcare said the critical goals of the program are greater access and more measurable outcomes.  The company touted its use of remotely controlled robotic teleprescence training solutions and outcome-based education offerings that leverage data and analytics to identify training needs and build plans around them.

“Healthcare providers continue to experience increased patient volumes and decreased time for training. And it’s clear to us that the skills of healthcare professionals using medical equipment are at least as impactful on the resulting outcomes, as the quality of the product itself. Healthcare providers will be able to embrace new GE education solutions, to better train their staff, optimize equipment use, and ultimately improve patient care,” Lois said in a prepared statement.

The post GE Healthcare to drop $1B on healthcare provider education appeared first on MassDevice.

28 Jul 11:30

Mormons Threaten To Leave Boy Scouts

by Joe Jervis
Last night the Mormon Church issued a press release in which they threaten to end their relationship with the Boy Scouts over the end of the ban on openly gay leaders.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America. As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.
The Mormon Church is the nation's largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts with over 30,000 LDS chapters comprising about 15% of total membership.
24 Jul 20:30

gifsboom: Video: Guy Goes Swimming with 12 Golden Retrievers


On golden pond?

23 Jul 14:32

Stunning Arabic Light Calligraphy by Julien Breton

by Christopher Jobson

light-1La beauté- The beauty. Arabic calligraphy. Tetouan, Morocco, 2015. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam. Photography by Cisco Light-painting.

Artist Julien Breton aka ‘Kaalam‘ is a master of photographic light painting, turning full-body gestures reminiscent of dance movements into the invisible pen strokes of Arabic calligraphy. Breton works silently in secluded urban environments and against dimmed architectural backdrops to execute perfectly rehearsed motions that translate on film to both abstract and literal Arabic handwriting. With its sweeping tails, loops, and punctuated diacritic dots, it’s difficult to imagine any other language more suited to the transcription of human body movement into written language.

Collected here are a number of works over the last few years, but you can see much more on Behance and on his website. If you liked this, also check out the work of Stephen Orlando.

4953231e6531d8fcdca349189213013bPensée – think. Arabic calligraphy. Saint-Laurent sur sèvres, France, 2014. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam. Photography by David Gallard.

Dead’s place. Abstract calligraphy. New York, USA, 2012. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam. Photography by David Gallard.

Fraternité. Arabic calligraphy. Alexandrie, Egypte, 2015.

La lumière – The light. Arabic calligraphy. Jodpur, India, 2012. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam. Photography by David Gallard.

Compassion. Arabic calligraphy. Issé, France, 2014. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam.
Photography by David Gallard.

Under the city. Abstract calligraphy. Nantes, France, 2012. Calligraphy by Julien Breton aka Kaalam. Photography by David Gallard.

Credit: Billy and the Kid / Morocco

Credit: Billy and the Kid / Morocco


24 Jul 21:53

Hillary Unveils Her Wonky Plan to Jack Up Taxes on Rich Investors

by Jordan Weissmann

Hillary Clinton has unveiled what might be the first truly interesting economic proposal of her presidential campaign. During a speech in New York on Friday, she detailed a plan to hike taxes on income from investments that high-income Americans hold for less than six years. It is part of a broader platform designed to fight what she refers to as "quarterly capitalism"—corporate America's focus on maintaining short-term profits in order to appease shareholders. "American business needs to break free from the tyranny of today's earnings report," Clinton said. Frankly, a few of the ideas she brought up—such as more elaborate disclosure rules regarding executive pay and stronger disclosure rules on stock buybacks—seemed a bit limp. But the tax increase on investors could become a defining issue.

Most obviously, because it's a tax increase. Republican contenders like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have argued for eliminating taxes on investment income altogether, a move that would overwhelmingly benefit wealthier households. (New York University economist Edward Wolff calculates that, in 2013, the top 10 percent of U.S. households owned 81.4 percent of all stocks.) Clinton is officially moving in the opposite direction.  

Here's how it would work. Today, when Americans sell stocks or bonds that they have held for less than a year, it's taxed as normal income. If they hold it for more than a year, they pay the lower long-term capital gains rate, which technically maxes out at 20 percent. (However, high earners also pay an additional 3.8 percent surcharge under Obamacare, so the final number is really 23.8 percent.)

Clinton argues, very reasonably, that it's silly to consider everything a long-term investment after just a year. Instead, she wants the capital gains rate to decline gradually, so that the longer people hold their stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, the less they pay after cashing them in. For Americans in the top tax bracket, the government would tax investments sold after less than two years like ordinary income. Then, over the next four years, the rate would fall back down toward 20 percent (you have to add the 3.8 percent Obama surcharge onto each of these numbers to get the total tax amount). None of this would affect people outside the highest bracket.

Again, Clinton is couching this change to the tax code as a way to prod investors into thinking long term, rather than push companies to cut investment and pay out dividends to enrich their shareholders at the expense of future growth. It might work. It might not. But, ultimately, it's a progressive tax increase on investment income, and that should make many progressives happy. Regardless of whether it changes investors' behavior, it will raise some money from the wealthy, especially given that the average stock is currently held for less than a year.

Inevitably, conservatives will argue that the plan is a job killer. In general, the right maintains that raising taxes on capital gains (or corporate dividends) is wrongheaded, because it will dissuade individuals people from investing in companies and saving, which will in turn cause companies to invest less on their operations. Suffice to say, it's far from clear that's true.

If you simply chart the top capital gains rate against economic growth, there isn't much of an obvious pattern. Given the vast number of factors at play in the economy at a given moment, it's extremely difficult for economists to design credible studies singling out the effects of the investment taxes, which, as the Congressional Research Service has noted, actually have a very small effect on how much it ultimately costs companies to fund themselves. However, a clever paper by University of California—Berkeley professor Danny Yagan found that the Bush administration's 2003 dividend tax cut had no effect on corporate investment. Yagan looked at the way companies organized as C-Corporations, which were affected by the changed, reacted compared with those organized as S-Corporations, which were not affected. Long story short: There wasn't much of a difference.

So here's the potential upside of Clinton's plan: It's a tax increase that will raise a bit of revenue and dampen some of the worst impulses of investors without risking much in the way of growth.

Economic merits aside, parts of Wall Street will obviously hate and oppose this idea. But maybe not all of it. As I wrote earlier this week, some major figures in finance, like BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, have argued that short-termism has become a crisis that threatens to undermine capitalism. It's possible that other money managers who subscribe to his buy-and-hold approach to investing might get behind Clinton's idea, if only because it would give them an advantage over competitors with a shorter horizon.

Ultimately, Clinton's proposal sets us up for a campaign-season debate about how the country should treat the money people earn from investing versus the money people earn from their work. Given the declining share of the nation's income that's going to labor, it's one of the most essential questions we could ask about inequality right now.

24 Jul 16:04

It's Pie And Beer (And Pioneer) Day In Utah!

by Elizabeth Miller
A statue of Mormon pioneer leader Brigham Young at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Temple in Salt Lake City.

A statue of Mormon pioneer leader Brigham Young at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Temple in Salt Lake City.

Douglas C. Pizac/AP

July 24 is Pioneer Day in Utah, honoring the arrival of Brigham Young and other Mormon settlers at Salt Lake Valley in 1847. State offices and banks are closed, employees have the day off, and there are parades and fireworks throughout the state.

Non-Mormons in Utah celebrate the day a little differently — as Pie and Beer Day. Breweries and bakeries team up to serve baked goods and craft beer to spend the religious holiday in a secular way.

But what about the other 49 states?

About 38 states celebrate 40 holidays unique to their state or region, made law from passage in a state's legislature, some celebrating a hero, a battle, or even a king. In a less than a month, the state of Rhode Island will be celebrating Victory Day (Aug. 10), which marks the anniversary of the Allies' victory over Japan during World War II, and Aug. 27 is dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson in Texas. Some are even celebrated nationwide, like Louisiana's Mardi Gras, held every year the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. And several communities plant trees for Arbor Day on the last Friday in April, but only in Nebraska is it a legal holiday.

States even have days dedicated to their own statehood. Alaska has two days related to its status in the union: Seward's Day, which marks the day U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signed the Alaska Purchase Treaty in March of 1867, making official the trade of Alaska from Russia. Alaska Day, on the other hand, marks the formal transfer of the state six months after that on Oct. 18.

Other holidays devoted to individuals include Hawaii's King Kamehameha I Day, celebrated on June 11 to honor the state's first king. Arkansas celebrates civil rights activist Daisy Gatson Bates on the same day as George Washington's Birthday. Susan B. Anthony is honored in Florida every year on her birthday. A bill to dedicate a day nationally for the women's rights activist was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, but failed to move forward.

A few established holidays have been contested over the years, including Robert E. Lee Day and two other Civil War-related days, Confederate Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis' Birthday. The former is celebrated by six states, and the one-time president of the Confederacy is celebrated in two states. And even though their existence is questioned, each holiday continues. General Lee's Day is a legal holiday in eight states, and his day falls on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Day in seven of them. The irony of the situation is not lost on the public, most recently in Arkansas.

But for today, the biggest holiday controversy in Utah might be choosing between apple and blueberry. Happy Pie and Beer and Pioneer Day!

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit
22 Jul 17:50

Muppets fans: You'll be thrilled (and relieved) by the mini-pilot for their new show

by Dara Lind

The first time you heard that ABC was airing a new TV show starring the Muppets, you might have been concerned.

The first film in the rebooted Muppets franchise, 2011's The Muppets, was extremely good — okay, it was great — okay, I cry every time I watch it — but the follow-up, Muppets Most Wanted, more or less bombed. It was all too easy to wonder if the real magic behind the 2011 movie wasn't Disney at all but Muppet superfan Jason Segel.

I am walking you through my (and possibly your) anxieties, so that you can first confront and then release them, as they are all about to be assuaged.

ABC has released the 10-minute mini-pilot (known as a pilot presentation within the TV industry) for its new series, after fans who saw it at a Comic-Con screening essentially demanded it be placed on the Internet. Meet The Muppets:

The genius of the Muppets has always been rooted in a total command of comedy conventions. That's evident here, as well: The mockumentary style so popular in TV comedy thanks to shows such as The Office and Modern Family has many conventions of its own, and it's clear the team behind The Muppets has been studying up.

Because the team (which includes Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Prady) understands those conventions so well — the first-person confessional, the camera pulling back at the end of a shot to reveal another character present — they're able to control the genre, rather than being controlled by it. It's not that they're subverting the mockumentary form — they just want to make sure you know they know what they're doing with it.

The actual series will bear little resemblance to the version displayed here — it will be set behind the scenes of a late-night talk show hosted by Miss Piggy, instead — but this presentation's confidence with the mockumentary form is enough to suggest all involved know what they're doing.

Will the new series reach the gloriously silly heights of The Muppet Show? I look forward to finding out.

22 Jul 09:44

How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

by By Gretchen Reynolds

Green, green is green they say, on the far side of the hill...

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health.
19 Jul 13:45

“17 Baby Names You Didn’t Know Were Totally Made Up”

by Andrew

From Laura Wattenberg:

Want to drive the baby-naming public up the wall? Tell them you’re naming your daughter Renesmee. Author Stephenie Meyer invented the name for the half-vampire child in her wildly popular Twilight series. In the story it’s simply an homage to the child’s two grandmothers, Renee and Esmé. To the traditional-minded, though, Renesmee has become a symbol of everything wrong with modern baby naming: It’s not a “real name.” The author just made it up, then parents followed in imitation of pop culture.

All undeniably true, yet that history itself is surprisingly traditional. . . .

And here are the 17 classic, yet made-up, names:


The commenters express some disagreement regarding Coraline but it seems that the others on the list really were just made up. And a commenter also adds the names Stella and Norma among the made-up list. And “People who are not Shakespeare give us names like Nevaeh and Quvenzhane.”

P.S. Wattenberg adds:

Note for sticklers: Each of the writers below is credited with using the name inventively—as a coinage rather than a recycling of a familiar name—and with introducing the name to the broader culture. Scattered previous examples of usage may exist, since name creativity isn’t limited to writers.

The post “17 Baby Names You Didn’t Know Were Totally Made Up” appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

14 Jul 21:04

The Pizza Farm Is Real: There Are Also Fish Stick Bushes And Taquito Trees

by Laura Northrup

PizzafarmerA few weeks ago, we shared our disappointment that while “pizza farms” exist, they are not places where you pluck sun-ripened pizzas from the vine and eat them in a meadow while pepperoni-beasts surround you, grazing red peppers. No, they’re places where you eat pizza on the farm where the ingredients were grown or raised, which is almost as good. Then we learned about an actual pizza farm.

We were not aware that in his downtime when he isn’t acting, Nick Offerman runs a bucolic farm that raises pizzas, taquitos, fish sticks, and other fresh products for America’s school lunches.

Fortunately, it was before the entire Consumerist team quit to work on the pizza farm that we realized this is all a hoax. There are no fish stick bushes or fields of sloppy joes. The ad is actually a message from the American Heart Association meant to persuade us to support the reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a 2010 law that shoved more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on the lunch trays of kids across the country. Ew.

Pizza Farm with Nick Offerman
Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act [USDA]

16 Jul 23:13

'Massive leap' wins engineer award

An Edinburgh company has won the UK's top engineering prize for its digital hydraulic power system.
17 Jul 20:33

Chattanooga Shooter Failed Background Check At Job At Nuclear Plant

by Krishnadev Calamur
A car tangled in fencing sits inside the gate at the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Reserve Center Friday, a day after a gunman killed four U.S. Marines in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A car tangled in fencing sits inside the gate at the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Reserve Center Friday, a day after a gunman killed four U.S. Marines in Chattanooga, Tenn.

John Bazemore/AP

Updated at 6:37 p.m. ET

Chattanooga, Tenn., shooter Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez was dismissed from his job at an Ohio nuclear plant because he didn't pass a background check, a person familiar with his employment history at at the company that operates the plant tells NPR.

Abdulazeez was dismissed for "not meeting minimum requirements for employment," a spokeswoman for First Energy told NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

He worked at the company's Perry Nuclear Plant, east of Cleveland, for 10 days from May 20 to May 30, 2013, the spokeswoman said.

But someone familiar with his employment history at First Energy tells Dina Abdulazeez was dismissed because he didn't pass a background check.

Investigators caution not to overplay this detail. It happened in 2013 and sources tell NPR the FBI does not believe agents need to go back further than a year in trying to trace Abdulazeez's possible radicalization. This employment history would fall outside that window.

Earlier today, investigators say the shootings at the two military centers, which killed four Marines as well as Abdulazeez, are being investigated as an act of terrorism. But they said it's still premature to speculate on Abdulazeez's motives.

Bill Killian, U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of Tennessee, said at a news conference Friday the investigation is being led by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is continuing to investigate it as an act of terrorism until there's proof otherwise.

But, he added, "Don't get caught up in monikers."

"If you investigate it as a criminal act, and it becomes terrorism, you may have neglected to perform some investigation," he said. "We are investigating it at the highest level of investigation."

FBI Special Agent in Charge Ed Reinhold said it's premature to speculate on Abdulazeez's motives and added that the gunman had at least two long guns and one handgun. Some of the weapons were purchased legally; some may not have been, he said.

Reinhold said investigators are looking into any foreign trips Abdulazeez, of Hixson, Tenn., may have taken and what he did during those trips. He would not say where Kuwaiti-born Abdulazeez had gone, thought NPR and others have reported that he visited Jordan. His parents are Jordanian.

Investigators did not say Thursday how Abdulazeez died, but today Reinhold said he most likely was killed by fire by Chattanooga police officers. That is still being investigated.

Abdulazeez, he said, was not wearing body armor; he had a load-carrying vest for additional magazines of ammunition.

You can read NPR's Bill Chappell's reporting on the four Marines who were killed in Thursday's shootings, and NPR's Eyder Peralta's profile of Abdulazeez.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit
16 Jul 13:34

McDonald’s Franchise Owners Think the Company Is Doing Worse Than Ever

by Alison Griswold

McDonald’s franchisees have the dimmest outlook for their company in 12 years. According to the July edition of a franchisee survey conducted by analyst Mark Kalinowski, franchisees gave McDonald’s an average rating of 1.69 out of 5 for its six-month business prospects in the U.S. That’s well below the survey’s historical average of 2.7 and also decently lower than the previous worst of 1.81.

The survey, which included 29 domestic respondents who own and operate more than 200 restaurants, also predicts that McDonald’s same-store sales for the U.S. will fall another 2.3 percent in June. That would mark the fifth consecutive month of domestic sales decline for the Golden Arches, as well as nearly two years that sales in the U.S. had either decreased or remained essentially flat. McDonald’s is due to report same-store sales for June—the last time it will provide those figures on a monthly basis—later this month.

Not surprisingly, the franchisees surveyed didn’t have much positive to say about the company’s recent performance. “There is nothing on the menu that excites our customers,” says one. “Corporate has no answers. They are throwing ideas at the wall hoping something will stick,” responds another.

It’s easy to see how they would think that. Since McDonald’s kicked off another round of turnaround efforts under the leadership of chief executive Steve Easterbrook earlier this year, the chain has announced a hodge-podge of initiatives for bringing customers back to stores. McDonald’s is testing all-day breakfast, customized burgers, and an artisan chicken sandwich. It has also increased hourly pay for U.S. employees at company-owned stores (so, not franchises), and of course plans to focus on longer-term financials with the elimination of its monthly same-store sales reporting practices.

But the real cornerstone of the turnaround plan Easterbrook laid out in May—if you can call it that—was actually the franchisees themselves. “We’re a franchiser, and that has always been part of the essence of what’s made McDonald’s successful,” Easterbrook said at the time. “I’ve a strong philosophical commitment behind franchising, I think it’s incredibly important to our business.” The hope is that handing more control to franchises will spark new enthusiasm and energy in McDonald’s stores. It’s a nice idea in theory. If the Kalinowski survey is any indication, though, McDonald’s has a long way to go before franchisees are ready to trust it again.

17 Jul 19:34

Tesla’s New “Ludicrous” Acceleration Mode Is, Yeah, Quite Fast

by Lily Hay Newman

Tesla knows that "Light speed is too slow—we're going to have to go right to ludicrous speed." So that's exactly what the company just announced.

The top-tier Model S P85D, which currently has an “Insane” mode that lets it accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.1 seconds, is getting a “ludicrous” upgrade and will now be able to do zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds. TechCrunch reports that Tesla CEO Elon Musk said, “It’s faster than falling. ... It’s like having your own private roller coaster.” (I guess now we know one of his childhood dreams.)

“Ludicrous” mode is a hardware enhancement, not just a software upgrade, and it's a $10,000 add-on for new vehicles. Upgrading an existing P85D will cost $5,000 for the part, not including installation.

During the Friday event, the company also announced a Model S 70 with a 70kWh single motor for $70,000 and debuted a 90kWh battery upgrade for the 85kWh Model S that costs $3,000 and extends driving range by 5 percent. Furthermore, Musk revealed that the company's Model X SUV will ship “in two months,” but details were scarce. He did note that the Model X won’t be able to achieve Ludicrous acceleration because it weighs in about 10 percent heavier than the Model S.

Though Tesla loves using software tweaks to draw more efficiency out of its batteries, the company is clearly not above hardware tweaks if it means the cars can hit absurd—OK, ludicrous—speeds.

17 Jul 07:45

Swear maps

by Nathan Yau

Check out the guy on Twitter for other words that I don't use.

Gosh map

Linguist Jack Grieve posted a bunch of maps that show swearing geographically, based on geotagged tweets. Above is the map for "gosh". The more red, the higher the relative usage in a county and the more blue, the less usage.

Here is the geographic distribution for "darn", which has a strong showing in the midwest:

Darn map

There are of course more four-letter words to look at, but I'll leave that to you.

Keep in mind that being Twitter-based maps, this comes with the usual caveat that the distributions show the Twitter population's language, which skews younger and more affluent than the general population. There's also some smoothing and clustering going on here. It's the same methodology Grieve used for previous maps that showed patterns for "bro", "dude", and "fella".

Tags: swearing, Twitter

14 Jul 04:29

Carpet Surfing

Carpet Surfing

14 Jul 15:20

Iran nuclear deal: Conservatives have opposed every diplomatic breakthrough for decades

by Matthew Yglesias

Within hours of the announcement of a final deal between Iran, the US, EU, China, and Russia on nuclear disarmament for sanctions relief, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol was already appalled. "We have a deal," he wrote. "It's a deal worse than even we imagined possible. It's a deal that gives the Iranian regime $140b in return for ... effectively nothing: no dismantlement of Iran's nuclear program, no anytime/anywhere inspections, no curbs on Iran's ballistic missile program, no maintenance of the arms embargo, no halt to Iran's sponsorship of terror."

How, you might wonder, could Barack Obama be so naive? And what a strange coincidence that his naiveté was shared by David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and François Hollande such that a completely preposterous deal could be agreed upon despite possessing holes that are both massive and invisible to everyone other than American conservative activists. Well, if you want to understand the deep intellectual and psychological roots of conservative opposition to Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, it's useful to take a step back from the details and look at a newspaper ad campaign conservatives ran in 1988 (via Jon Chait):

Yes, that is a conservative ad comparing Ronald Reagan to Neville Chamberlain.

You make peace with your enemies

"If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends," said Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli foreign minister and defense minister. "You talk to your enemies."

Conservatives don't believe in talking to your enemies.

  • Back in June 1950, Sen. Robert Taft explained that agreements FDR and Harry Truman reached with the Soviet Union were "really part of the sympathetic acceptance of communism as a peace-loving philosophy which has resulted in making Russia a threat to the existence of the world."
  • As Peter Scoblic recounts in his excellent history of arms control, US versus Them, in the 1960s conservatives opposed the Non-Proliferation Treaty because they "charged that the treaty violated US sovereignty while Goldwater worried that it would force the United States to defend those without nuclear weapons." National Review called the NPT "immoral, foolish, and probably most impractical."
  • A July 29, 1971, Milwaukee Journal article recounts that "a dozen conservative leaders led by William F. Buckley Thursday denounces President Nixon" over a range of issues, but "especially his recent announcement that he would go to Communist China."
  • Conservatives looked to Ronald Reagan as an alternative to Richard Nixon, but once he was in office he made some deals with the Soviet Union and was denounced for his troubles.
  • In a very different geopolitical context, back in 1999 Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol denounced Bill Clinton's efforts to negotiate an end to the war in Kosovo, writing that "the only thing to discuss with Milosevic is his unconditional surrender."
  • Applying the same logic, conservatives felt that George H. W. Bush had made a mistake by agreeing to a negotiated settlement to the Persian Gulf War and were cheered when his son chose unconditional surrender as the war aim for a second round.
  • It was swiftly forgotten due to the events of 9/11, but in April 2001 the Bush administration resolved a crisis with China by apologizing for a US spy plane that had crashed on Hainan Island after flying in Chinese airspace. Kagan and Kristol pronounced it "a national humiliation."

Needless to say, once Barack Obama took office conservatives found plenty of opportunities to be outraged by routine diplomacy. Sen. John Ensign deemed it "irresponsible" for Obama to so much as shake hands with Hugo Chavez. Conservatives denounced his New START treaty with Russia and his diplomatic opening to Russia.

Occasional agreements or perpetual war?

While the specifics certainly vary from case to case, the basic themes are always the same. Any diplomatic agreement attracts scorn for displaying a mixture of weakness (because to reach a deal indicates a preference for not fighting a war, and if you're not willing to fight a war, there's no way you're going to be able to negotiate or enforce a strong deal) and naiveté (because to reach a deal involves leaving in power untrustworthy actors who might cheat) that should be rejected in favor of a more muscular approach.

These denunciations have been brought forth against Republican presidents as well as Democrats for the simple reason that officeholders burdened with the responsibility of making actual decisions generally do need to recognize that wars are costly and unpredictable and that it is worth trying to avoid them. Only during George W. Bush's first term in office did we see a genuinely robust effort to avoid dealmaking, and the results were disastrous. But to the architects of that policy, the only history lesson worth learning is that appeasement of Adolf Hitler was a mistake and therefore all diplomatic agreements are a mistake.

14 Jul 21:03

Awesomest media request of the year

by Andrew

(Sent to all the American Politics faculty at Columbia, including me)

RE: Donald Trump presidential candidacy


Firstly, apologies for the group email but I wasn’t sure who would be best prized to answer this query as we’ve not had much luck so far.

I am a Dubai-based reporter for **.
Donald Trump recently announced his intension to run for the US presidency in 2016.
He currently has a lot of high profile commercial and business deals in Dubai and is actively in talks for more in the wider region.

We have been trying to determine:
If a candidate succeeds in winning a nomination and goes on to win the election and reside in the White House do they have to give up their business interests as these would be seen as a conflict of interest? Can a US president serve in office and still have massive commercial business interests abroad?

Basically, would Trump have to relinquish these relationships if he was successfully elected? Are there are existing rules specifically governing this? Is there any previous case studies to go on?

Lastly, what are his chances of winning a nomination or being elected? So far, from what we have read it seems highly unlikely?


Executive Editor

The post Awesomest media request of the year appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

14 Jul 17:58

The Young Professionals - S.O.S.

by Joe Jervis

What happened to our love? It used to be so good.

The Advocate recaps:
The video for the duo's rendition, which sounds a lot sexier and slinkier than the bouncy original, features vintage footage of the Swedish quartet and premieres exclusively today with The Advocate. The duo explains they they were originally asked to cover the song for an Abba tribute album. "Having the opportunity to choose the song from all these amazing songs and being able to create a new production for it and make it our own was great experience," they tell The Advocate via email, adding, "Of course if we discuss "LGBT" music, ABBA is the corner stone of the genre."

(Tipped by JMG reader Matthew)
14 Jul 20:00

UNAIDS Report: Eight Million Lives Saved Globally Since Year 2000

by Joe Jervis
NBC News reports:
The world has made "extraordinary progress" against AIDS, slashing the rate of new infections by more than a third and saving nearly 8 million lives since 2000, a new report finds. Fifteen years of work to make sure more people get drugs that can keep them healthy and keep them from infecting others has had spectacular effects on the pandemic that has killed nearly 40 million people, the United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS says in its report. Distribution of condoms has averted around 50 million new HIV infections since the HIV pandemic started in the 1980s, and other programs to educate people about how HIV spreads and to encourage safe sex have helped, also. "The world has delivered on halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
But temper your celebrations because more than a million are still dying every year. (Tipped by JMG reader David)
13 Jul 14:19

How Big Data Can Be Used to Improve Early Detection of Cognitive Disease

by John Irvine


ClockThe aging of populations worldwide is leading to many healthcare challenges, such as an increase in dementia patients. One recent estimate suggests that 13.9% of people above age 70 currently suffer from some form of dementia like Alzheimer’s or dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that by 2050, 135 million people globally will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

While these are daunting numbers, some forms of cognitive diseases can be slowed if caught early enough. The key is early detection. In a recent study, my colleague and I found that machine learning can offer significantly better tools for early detection than what is traditionally used by physicians.

One of the more common traditional methods for screening and diagnosing cognitive decline is called the Clock Drawing Test. Used for over 50 years, this well-accepted tool asks subjects to draw a clock on a blank sheet of paper showing a specified time. Then they are asked to copy a pre-drawn clock showing that time. This paper and pencil test is quick and easy to administer, noninvasive, and inexpensive. However, the results are based on the subjective judgment of clinicians who score the tests. For instance, doctors must determine whether the clock circle has “only minor distortion” and whether the hour hand is “clearly shorter” than the minute hand.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 2.16.16 PM

In our study, we created an improved version of this test using big data and machine learning. For the past seven years, a group of neuropsychologists have had patients use a digital pen to draw the clocks instead of a pencil, accumulating more than 3,400 tests in that time. The pen functions as an ordinary ballpoint, but it also records its position on the page with considerable spatial and temporal accuracy.  We applied machine learning algorithms to this body of data, constructing a data-driven diagnostic tool. So rather than having doctors subjectively analyze the pencil-drawn clocks, the data from the digital pen drawings goes into the machine learning algorithm’s model which provides the result of the test.

The performance of the model was tested on two tasks – screening (binary classification between healthy and a specific impairment) and diagnosis (selecting the most likely impairment) – on a set of three diagnoses: memory disorders (including Alzheimer’s disease), vascular cognitive dementias, and Parkinson’s disease. The model proved to be more accurate than the traditional Clock Drawing Test scoring systems for both screening and diagnosis, for all three disease. Its results were substantially better than what was reported in the literature for the doctors’ subjective results. On a scale from 0 to 100, physicians’ results with the traditional test were within the range of 66-79 points, whereas the machine learning version scored 89-93 points.

Some of the machine learning models we developed are interpretable; they are constructed using concepts familiar to healthcare providers, enabling them to explain the result to patients.

This is a great example of how machine learning and big data can be used to address important healthcare issues. Our work has the potential to make significant improvements in the screening and possible diagnosis of cognitive decline. While our models require additional testing for validation, they appear to allow for faster results, more accessible and accurate screening, and more reliable diagnoses.

Cynthia Rudin is an associate professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). 

The following researchers contributed to this report: William Souillard-Mandar,   Randall Davis,   Cynthia Rudin,   Rhoda Au,   David J. Libon,   Rodney Swenson, Catherine C. Price,   Melissa Lamar,   Dana L. Penney. Learning Classification Models of Cognitive Conditions from Subtle Behaviors in the Digital Clock Drawing Test. Accepted with Minor Revision to Machine Learning, 2015.


12 Jul 13:10

Hollywood's extreme lack of diversity, explained by a brilliant Tumblr

by Tanya Pai

What would a Hollywood film look like if it were condensed to just the lines spoken by minorities over the course of its run time? Turns out many would be much more like Vine videos than feature-length films. That's the disturbing conclusion of the new Tumblr Every Single Word, created by 27-year-old Venezuelan American actor and playwright Dylan Marron. Fed up with hearing that as a nonwhite actor he was "never going to play the romantic male lead," as he told the Washington Post's Soraya Nadia McDonald in an excellent interview, Marron set out to show just how few minorities are playing lead parts in Hollywood. Take, for instance, 10-time Oscar nominee American Hustle, for which Marron's minorities-only cut comes in at 53 seconds:

Or critical darling Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which clocks in at an anemic 10 seconds:

Or the 2014 Biblical epic Noah, coming in at ... zero:

To the Post's McDonald, Marron explains how he picks the movies he features on his Tumblr:

There’s a big variety of movies, but they do have one thing in common: all of these movies are not about whiteness. They are not about white people. They are not about the experience of being white and they are not historical dramas that are just about white people. They’re not about whiteness. They are about really universal and very human themes.

He continues:

So my question with these videos is why are we using white people to tell these universal stories? And what is that saying? I think it’s saying something really dangerous and the message it gives to people of color — and I can say this as a person of color who grew up watching these stories that I related to thematically and didn’t see reflections of myself in them — what it tells you is you don’t really have a place in this world.

This is not a new issue

The idea of white as the "normal" is longstanding, pervasive, and ties into the concept of implicit bias that manifests itself in American society in areas as widespread as criminal justice and education.

One area in which diversity has seen an uptick recently is in television: Shows like ABC’s Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat and the ratings behemoth that was the first season of Fox’s Empire proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that not only is there an audience for series centered on nonwhite characters, but that they have the potential to be hugely successful.

However, there's also the Mindy Kaling–created The Mindy Project, the first network TV series created by and starring an Indian American (and a woman, no less), which has been criticized for not having enough focus on the lead's ethnicity — or as Al-Jazeera's E. Alex Chung phrased it, "Almost any exchange [Kaling's character Mindy] Lahiri has about race appears meant to prove that she is not one of the others but a full-blooded American."

But it is pervasive

But while television is making strides toward diversity, the silver screen still notably lags behind. In its 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies found that "[a]lthough minorities posted several modest gains in several Hollywood employment arenas since the last report, they remain underrepresented on every front." The report examined the top 200 theatrical releases from both 2012 and 2013, and found that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the US population, were sorely underrepresented as male leads:

Ralph J. Bunche Center

As cast members:

Ralph J. Bunche Center

And as directors:

Ralph J. Bunche Center

A notable exception was this year's $1.5 billion grossing Furious 7, which as EW points out has a more diverse cast than most blockbusters in recent memory (and also does not feel the need to make the movie about that fact). But 2015 has also seen disappointments such as Sony's leaked emails specifying a "Caucasian and heterosexual" Spider-Man for its next movie (not to mention the sexism and ageism that still plagues Hollywood). And it's not just for lack of effort; as the Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out in a May piece aptly titled "How Hollywood stays white and male":

the same laws that protect against employment discrimination also block certain efforts to hire more women and people of color. Networks can set goals for how many female writers they want to hire, or how many characters of color they want to see on screen, but they can’t legally use quotas to reach those goals.

Marron's Tumblr serves to point out that while show biz may be improving in some areas, its diversity problem is far, far from "fixed." Whether his efforts garner him more of the casting opportunities he's thus far been denied remains to be seen.

Watch: The Oscars' horrible lack of diversity, explained in under 2 minutes

09 Jul 11:00

California: Now More Latino Than White

by Joe Jervis

The times they are a changing. Roughly 25 years to double the Latino population vs a downtrend in the Non-Latino whites.

Via the Los Angeles Times:
The demographers agreed: At some point in 2014, Latinos would pass whites as the largest ethnic group in California. Determining when exactly that milestone would occur was more of a tricky question. Counting people isn't like counting movie ticket receipts. The official confirmation had to wait until new population figures were released by the Census Bureau this summer. The new tally, released in late June, shows that as of July 1, 2014, about 14.99 million Latinos live in California, edging out the 14.92 million whites in the state. The shift shouldn't come as a surprise. State demographers had previously expected the change to occur sometime in 2013, but slow population growth pushed back projections. In January 2014, the state Department of Finance estimated the shift would take place at some point in March. Either way, the moment has officially arrived. California is now the first large state and the third overall — after Hawaii and New Mexico — without a white plurality, according to state officials. The country's Latino population is now 55.4 million. California and Los Angeles County have the largest Latino populations of any state or county in the nation, according to the new figures.
For some reason Breitbart has illustrated their anger about the report with a photo of a very buff wrestler.
09 Jul 10:15

An appalling tale of surgical “teaching” in the operating room [Respectful Insolence]

by Orac

As much as I write about the foibles, pseudoscience, and misadventures of cranks and quacks that endanger patients. However, never let it be said that I don’t also pay attention to the foibles and misadventures of real doctors that endanger patients. Sometimes that occurs due to incompetence. Sometimes it’s due to the persistent use of invasive modalities that have been shown not to work far longer than they should have been abandoned (e.g., vertebroplasty) . Sometimes it’s poor judgment. Of course, because I’m a surgeon, I tend to gravitate towards discussions of surgery when I leave my usual bailiwick of discussing alternative medicine, antivaccinationism, and various other skeptical topics.

So it was when yesterday I saw discussion of a post over at KevinMD by a surgeon who blogs under the pseudonym Hope Amantine (or apparently used to blog) over at Simple Country Surgeon entitled A lesson in the OR that prepared this doctor to be a surgeon. It is a story of training, a story that was clearly intended by its author to be a “real life” story of how a senior surgeon taught Dr. Amantine as a resident to handle a dangerous situation. The problem is that it was appalling on so many levels. You’ll see why as soon as you see the story. As a surgeon, albeit one who doesn’t do such large, risky cases anymore, I sort of understand what Dr. Amantine was trying to get at, while at the same time the story disturbed me greatly.

Dr. Amantine’s article tells the tale of a case she did during her training. It was an elective repair of an aortic aneurysm. The reason surgeons repair aortic aneurysms when they grow to a certain diameter is because, beyond a certain diameter, the risk of rupture becomes unacceptable, and the larger such aneurysms grow the greater the risk of rupture. As you might imagine, a rupture of the largest blood vessel in the body is an immediately life-threatening occurrence. At first, the blood is contained in what we call the retroperitoneal space by membrane that lines the surface of the abdominal organs, the peritoneum. That can last mere moments after the rupture to even a few hours, but sooner or later the pressure will break through the peritoneum, allowing the blood to flow freely into the peritoneal cavity, basically into the abdomen. When that happens, the game is up. Exsanguination is rapid. Indeed, the vast majority of ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) are rapidly fatal before the patient even has a chance of being brought to the operating room. A few, however, remain contained, and there is a chance to save them.

To achieve that, however, a vascular surgeon must not only be skilled but must not fold under pressure. Learning to remain calm and collected, to do what needs to be done, not to let his emotions affect his technical skills. It’s the only chance to save the patient’s life. Indeed, part of the reason I ended up going into surgery relates to an experience I had the very first day of my surgery rotation as a third year medical student. The first part of my rotation was on vascular surgery, and that very day a man with a ruptured AAA was brought to the OR. I remember it well, even though it happened nearly 30 years ago. I remember the blood everywhere. I remember helping the nurses in the OR check unit after unit of blood as the anesthesiology team tried frantically to keep up with the massive blood loss. I remember the skill of the surgeons as they labored to save this man’s life and how, somehow, they didn’t freak out, didn’t yell, didn’t lose their cool in any way. There I was, a third year medical student early in my clinical rotations, almost completely inexperienced, and I felt part of the team. The team failed to save the man, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

So it is through that lens, that memory, that I read this, with a mixture of understanding and horror, Dr. Amantine’s account of how her attending surgeon reacted during an elective AAA repair as she dissected around the inferior vena cava (IVC). The IVC is the largest vein in the body and runs right next to the aorta. Now there’s a difference between arteries and veins when it comes to repairing them. Arteries are muscular and thick. They are fairly easy to sew. Veins, on the other hand, are thin-walled and frightfully easy to tear. It is in general, all things being equal, actually more difficult to repair a torn vein or to sew two veins together than it is to repair an artery or to sew two arteries together. Now that you know that, judge this passage:

So here I was, handling the plane (the layer, or space) around the IVC with care to avoid ripping it. It seemed like the intelligent thing to do. My attending asked, “Why are you being so dainty with your dissection there?” I answered that I wanted to avoid ripping the cava because they’re so much harder to fix.

Big mistake.

I take it he interpreted my comment as fear, and decided upon a teaching moment. He took his scissors and incredibly, before my eyes, and with no warning or preparation of any kind, cut a one-inch hole in the cava.

I was stunned. As I tried to process what I just saw, incredulous that he would actually intentionally make a hole in the cava, and as dark blood poured out of the hole, the tide rising steadily in the abdomen, he remarked, “Well, are you just going to stand there or are you going to fix that?”

And so I did. Whatever thoughts I might have had about his behavior, his judgment, and his sanity (and believe you me, there were many), I put my fingers on the hole to stop the flow. I suctioned out the blood that had already escaped, and irrigated the field, the Amazing One-Handed Surgeon did nothing to help me. This exercise was clearly a test. I got two sponge sticks to occlude flow above and below the hole which I instructed him to hold in position (which he dutifully did), and then I got my suture and I fixed the hole. No problem.

All he said was, “Good job.” And we proceeded to complete the case uneventfully.

Dr. Amantine went on to describe how appalled she was but correctly noted that the culture in surgery is very hierarchical. In fact, I tend to liken it to the military. There is a very defined chain of command, from intern to resident to senior resident to attending surgeon. You do not bypass the chain of command, and you do not question your superior without very good reason. Non-surgeons might not understand, but there are definite reasons for this culture. The surgeon in the operating room is absolutely responsible for the life of the patient in a very personal way. He is, after all, given the incredible privilege and power to legally take sharp objects to living human flesh in order to rearrange a fellow human being’s anatomy for therapeutic intent. It’s an honor that is hard to understand unless you’ve actually experienced it and a profound responsibility. While it is true that surgical culture is becoming more collaborative and less top down, with surgical checklists, time outs, and mandates that if anyone sees something going wrong or that isn’t right it is his duty to question, there does still have to be a “captain of the ship.” That will never entirely go away, although that role has become noticeably less authoritarian just in the couple of decades that I’ve been a fully trained surgeon. That is, for the most part, a good thing.

So, in the context of decades ago, it’s not entirely surprising that Dr. Amantine reacted thusly:

Though I may not have agreed with his actions on that day, I do understand them. How do you teach someone to take charge when there is a crisis? I am certain that if I was put on the spot and shriveled and sniveled, and couldn’t control the bleeding, he would have taken over. And I would have failed.

Ultimately concluding:

So on that day, when the vascular attending cut that hole in the cava, he was preparing me, both for the oral exam, and for life as a surgeon. He wanted to see if I could handle it.

I guess I made the cut.

Which is absolutely the wrong attitude. Yes, I, too, can understand how an established surgeon might romanticize such an incident as having “forged her in fire.” Here’s the problem. There is another aspect of being a surgeon that is at least as important as her ability to perform under pressure, if not more so. That is, very simply, the Hippocratic admonishment not to do intentional harm to a patient. When we say, “First, do no harm,” that is our promise to the patient that we will do our best for him and we will not do anything intentionally to cause harm. That is not to say that the patient will not be harmed. Surgery in and of itself is controlled harm, as cutting into the human body inherently causes trauma and harm. Every time we operate on a patient, we are committing a form of controlled assault that causes some harm. In this case, even under the most charitable assessment of what the attending surgeon did, at the very minimum the patient was harmed by the additional blood loss (remember, Dr. Amantine described blood welling up in the abdomen, which doesn’t sound like a trivial additional loss of blood to me), more time under anesthesia to complete the repair, the necessity to occlude the IVC during the repair, and the placement of a repair in the IVC that put the patient at risk of bleeding to death if the repair were to fail. There is no excuse.

We do surgery not because we wish to do harm, but because the damage to the tissue we cause is outweighed by the therapeutic effect of the surgery itself, the aforementioned forcible rearrangement of the patient’s anatomy. Key to that is not to cause unnecessary damage, and what is intentionally making a one inch hole in the biggest vein in the body but causing intentional harm? That it was allegedly done in order to train Dr. Amantine to be able to fix the IVC if ever she accidentally cut into it during a case doesn’t matter and doesn’t justify such a betrayal of the patient’s trust.

I can’t help but contrast this to how a surgeon with whom I trained as a resident handled it. Like the surgeon described by Dr. Amantine, he was supremely confident and skilled, the very epitome of the “cowboy surgeon.” Indeed, he intimidated the residents mightily. As we would struggle through a case, he would guide us through, but he did have a tendency to yell. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It was just that he was frustrated. He knew he could do what we were doing so much more easily, so much more gracefully, and so much less clumsily. But he was so dedicated to teaching that he would let us as residents blunder through the case, trying to guide us along the way, to show us the way, realizing that to learn we had to find at least part of the way ourselves and to figure out how to get out of trouble. He could do this because, as he sometimes said to us, there was no trouble, surgically speaking that we could get into that he couldn’t get us out of, and there was no way he was going to let us get into trouble that threatened to cause serious injury to the patient. Sometimes he just couldn’t help himself and his frustration watching us newbies blunder got the better of him.

He had our backs, though. I’ll never forget one Morbidity and Mortality conference in which we were discussing a case I did with him that was complicated by bleeding that necessitated a return trip to the operating room. When I was being questioned about it, he interjected, “I made that decision” (because he did) and got me off the hook. Some attendings let residents twist in the wind at M&M, but not this surgeon.

Now here’s the kicker. The reaction to Dr. Amantine’s post was furious and uniformly negative, both in the comments and in the Twittersphere, and yesterday there was an addendum:

Author’s note 7/8/2015: This is a fictional article. No one was harmed, then or ever, in my care or in my presence. I apologize for any remark that may have been misconstrued.

I call BS. Here’s why. First, the doctor doth protest too much. There is no surgeon who can accurately say that no one has ever been harmed in her care or in her presence. We have all inadvertently caused harm, and we have all had patients whom we operated upon and probably shouldn’t have, thus resulting in harm. Our goal is to make the number of those patients as tiny as possible, but the number will never be zero. Claiming that a patient has never been harmed in her care or presence is either a delusion or a lie, unless the qualifier “intentionally” is added, which it was not. Second, in response to the criticism in the comments, Dr. Amantine responded:

I completely understand your shock and horror. As one of the other commentators remarked, it was a different era. Time will tell if we are better or worse off today… I can tell you that since much has changed in the last twenty years, surgical residents today touch instruments much less often, and many report feeling unprepared for the rigors of attendingship when they have finished their training. Their work hours are restricted, their experience likewise, and I have seen more than a few young attendings that can’t operate their way out of a paper bag. They have been trained in a kinder, gentler environment, and that is great as long as every operation goes as planned. They’re rock stars with computer keyboards, however…!

In answer to your objection, the only stake in the game is the well being of the patient – the one on the table, and every one whose life I will ever be responsible for. Don’t think for a moment I take that responsibility lightly.

When there is a computer simulation that adequately prepares surgeons for unexpected anatomy, findings, and intraoperative unplanned “events,” I will be the first one to sing Hallelujah. It hasn’t been invented yet – so until that time, you better pray that you never get a hole in a cava. But if you do, you better hope that the person holding the knife can actually fix it in less than the five minutes it will take for you to bleed to death.

Dr. Amantine’s response sure doesn’t sound to me as though her story was fictional. Neither did her other comments after her article. If the story were fictional, why didn’t she just come out and say that right away? Why was the story not labeled as fiction? Instead, she made excuses about how it was a “different era,” how surgeons today can’t operate, and how there is no good way to teach a surgeon how to remain calm and perform when disaster strikes. Yes, as surgeons, all of us have accidentally gotten into a large blood vessel at one time or another, and it’s critical to know how to control the bleeding and repair it. Making holes in living patients undergoing elective surgery is not the way to teach residents to be able to do this. Yet that’s what Dr. Amantine seemed to be making excuses about.

It’s also impossible not to note that it was only after the criticism came raining down on her on Twitter did Dr. Amantine claim that the story was fictional. Maybe it was fictional (it does have the air of being apocryphal about it), but if it was fictional she sure didn’t give any indication until after the shitstorm got really intense. Then she deleted her blog (which is gone as of this writing, as is her Twitter account). Also, as a surgeon myself I have encountered enough other surgeons over the years whom I view as potentially arrogant enough to do something like put a hole in the IVC in order to see if a resident can repair it.

So is this story true? Hell if I know. It rings true to me as a surgeon, having seen misbehavior such as thrown instruments in the OR on occasion, but on the other hand I’ve never witnessed a surgeon intentionally injure a patient that way. I also can’t help but wonder how one would dictate that part of the procedure for the operative report. Dictate the truth, and it’s there what you did in black and white, for all to see. Claim it was an accidental injury to the IVC (which can certainly happen during a AAA repair), and you’ve lied in the medical record. In the end, I conclude that Dr. Amantine probably did relate a true story and only backtracked when the criticism became too intense, and Kevin Pho, the Kevin in “KevinMD” let her:

Author's addendum added: A lesson in the OR that prepared this doctor to be a surgeon

— Kevin Pho, M.D. (@kevinmd) July 8, 2015

Which drew a response so spot-on that I have to include it:

@kevinmd Either this is true and an appalling lapse in medical ethics or false and an appalling lapse in journalism ethics.

— scott jenks (@scottjenks) July 8, 2015

Or, even if the story is indeed fictional, it was a monumental screw up to have published it without labeling it as fiction. Truth be told, I’ve noticed over time that has gotten more uneven in the quality of blog posts that it publishes. There are still some great posts, but I’ve come across more and more stinkers like this. (There’s even been the occasional infiltration of medical pseudoscience and rants by doctors complaining that evidence-based medicine is an affront on physician autonomy.) Perhaps Dr. Pho should spend more time on quality control. Strike that. There’s no “perhaps” about it. KevinMD used to be great; now, not so much.

As for Dr. Amantine’s story, I think of it this way. I’ve been in medicine 30 years now, counting medical school, and I can’t imagine a time when intentionally cutting a hole in a major blood vessel in order to provide teaching fodder for a resident would ever have been considered acceptable behavior by a surgeon, although I have encountered surgeons who, I thought, might be capable of doing such a thing. I find it heartening, however, just how negative the reaction to this story has been among physicians and surgeons. Maybe Hope Amantine and Kevin Pho will get the message and come clean about (1) whether this story is fiction or not fiction and, if it was fiction, (2) why it wasn’t labeled as such and (3) why Dr. Amantine responded in the comments to criticism in a way that sure sounded as though the article had been nonfiction, which really makes me think she was lying when she later claimed the story was fiction.

Dr. Amantine’s and Dr. Pho’s readers deserve no less.

ADDENDUM: Kevin Pho has removed the story from KevinMD.