Link(s): Wed, May 12th, 9am

[In case it needs to be said: I don’t agree with every word of everything I link to. –L.]

AMAZIAN OF THE WEEK! Diana Keng (DisgrasianTM)
Name: Diana Keng

Age: 18

Hails from: Silicon Valley

Occupation: High school senior, CEO

Known for: Doing business. WSJ just profiled Keng, a high school senior that presented her company, (a social networking management site that launched in March), to venture capitalists at last week’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. Keng shares MyWeboo with her 25-year-old brother, but it’s her third start-up company. Yeah, that’s right muthafuckaz! THIRD START-UP.

ICRC Confirms Existence of Second Secret Prison at Bagram, BBC Reports Torture (Firedoglake)
Hilary Anderson at BBC has been following the Bagram prison story closely. Today, she reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has confirmed the existence of a second prison site at Bagram. The presence of a second site has long been suspected, a prison the Afghans call Tor Prison, or the “Black” Prison.

…The scenes as described were right out of the iconography of Guantanamo. Prisoners in handcuffs and leg shackles, “moved around in wheelchairs” with blackout goggles and headphones “to block out all sound.” This was the treatment for a prison population that even the U.S. military admits is far and away not made up of serious terrorists. Meanwhile, the number held at Bagram has swelled to approximately 800 prisoners.

But we don’t know how many are in the other, “the Black Hole.” We don’t know because the U.S. still insists that no second prison exists…

Chris Hayes on Audit the Fed: “The Single Greatest Act of Bipartisanship Since Obama Took Office” (Firedoglake)
Something truly remarkable happened in Washington today. The United States Senate passed something, by the way of a 96 to 0 vote — 96 in favor, 0 against. Which means Democrats and Republicans voted together, for the same thing.

And this incredible unanimous vote was not for one of those things that always passes, no matter what. Things like renaming a post office, or declaring Grandmothers’ Appreciation Day, or a bill with the word “Patriot” in the title – although that last one did get one dissenting vote, props to Russ Feingold.

No, the Senate voted today to audit the Federal Reserve. So what exactly is an audit of the Federal Reserve, and how did it become the impetus for perhaps the single greatest act of bipartisanship since President Obama took office?

Well, let’s start with the Federal Reserve itself. The Fed is the nation’s bank. Its job is to lend money to other banks. That’s what it does, and that’s what it’s always done.

But beginning in 2007 you might recall that the economy went into an apocalyptic death spiral, and the system went haywire. And suddenly the Fed wasn’t just loaning money to commercial banks, it was loaning money to all sorts of parties it had never before lent money to, and doing it in all kinds of ways it had never done before.

Most troubling of all, the Fed wouldn’t say who those borrowers were, and how much they got…

Update: John Nichols at the Nation has more. [link]

Con-Lib Pact Brings Cameron to PM's Chair (FiveThirtyEight)
While the marriage of Lib and Con seems rather counterintuitive at first glance, given the Lib Dems self-proclaimed center-left stances, Liberal-Conservative coalitions are quite common in European politics. In Germany, the liberal "Free Democrats" joined with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats to form the current center-right government. In France, Sarkozy's UMP includes the centrist-liberal "Democratic Movement" party. While by no means identical in their ideologies, both of these share the Lib Dems affiliation in the European Parliament with the "Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe" (ALDE).

Of course, the first question being asked is whether the coalition can survive beyond the first crisis of political difference.

Unserious People (Paul Krugman)
…Cantor is calling on the public to “vote” on spending cuts — like eliminating $1 million, that’s right, $1 million — in HUD dissertation grants. Because nothing does more to ensure that taxpayer money is well spent than making sure that nobody actually studies what works and what doesn’t.

As Benen points out, however, the real story here is that the sums involved are ludicrously trivial; eliminating everything on Cantor’s list would amount to a rounding error on federal spending.

Meanwhile, of, course, the GOP went wild against real efforts to control spending, crying “death panels.”

Malamanteau (xkcd)
Global child deaths on decline (Science News)
I Don’t Feel Your Pain (NeuroLogica Blog)
A recent study uses EEG to look at brain activity in doctors and control subjects while viewing another person being poked with either a needle or a cotton swab. The control subjects showed activity in parts of the brain consistent with empathy – a negative experience in reaction to the pain of the other. The doctors, however, did not demonstrate this brain activity.

These results, while preliminary, are not surprising to me at all… The first invasive procedure most medical students learn is blood drawing, which involves sticking a needle into the vein of a patient in order to fill tubes with blood to send off to the lab.

This is no big deal, but when I first learned to do this I felt a strong inhibition against the deliberate infliction of pain on another person…

This was a problem. Optimal blood drawing technique, to minimize patient discomfort, requires no “flinching” or hesitation on the part of the blood drawer – one quick smooth motion is ideal. I found I had to consciously suppress the instinctive inhibition, which took a little practice. After a few weeks of regular blood drawing, however, I found that I could focus on the procedure and was no longer distracted by any pesky empathy.

This experience prepared me for the more elaborate and uncomfortable procedures I would learn as my training progressed.

[I think there's a point to be learned here regarding empathy and, um, let's call it utilitarian callousness. It is, perhaps, important to distinguish between acts which require empathy and acts which are good in effect though better practiced without empathy. What would modern medicine look like if patients mainly interfaced with, say, 1) doctors/nurses who were empathetically-inclined diagnostician/advocates, who in turn communicated with 2) doctors/nurses who carried out uncomfortable procedures? -L]

The Best Visual Illusion of the Year [Illusion]
"Impossible Motion: Magnet-like Slopes" won the 6th Annual Best Visual Illusion of the Year competition, held in Florida a few days ago. And, much like yesterday's street paintings, it will make your brain hurt.
Japanese Kanji Transformers Are Killing Words [Japan]
Bandai's new Mojibakeru toys transform from kanji characters to actual animals (i.e. the kanji for "dragon" becomes a dragon). It's like the Autobots tabled their quarrel with the Decepticons to teach literacy in Japan!

[I am totally forwarding this link to my brother-in-law. -L]

War court judge sets new Khadr trial date: Aug. 10 – Guantánamo –
Khadr, now 23, was captured critically wounded in a July 2002 …Pentagon prosecutors alleged Khadr, 15 at the time, threw [the grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer]…

the suppression hearings in the case would resume July 12, potentially with mental health witnesses. The hearing was suspended last week after eight days to give Pentagon officials time to submit Khadr, held at Guantánamo since October 2002, to a mental health exam.

Parrish also said that on Aug. 10 he would begin assembling a jury of senior military officers with opening arguments in the trial to “follow immediately thereafter.''

Islamic calendars set the start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan for that week.

[Awesome scheduling fail, there. -L]

Size and density of Gulf of Mexico oil spill, May 12: A graphic representation |
The size and shape of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico changes by the day, depending on weather conditions as well as conditions in the Gulf itself.

This graphic shows the forecast for today and Wednesday, May 12…

Top 10: Craziest Election Results | APOLITICUS.COM
[This article is a mix of historical geekery, unfunny business, and When Satire Becomes Reality. -L]

Number 3: Jacob Haugaard, Denmark, 1994

Much like Britain’s Monster Raving Loony Party, Haugaard’s party – The Union of Conscientiously Work-Shy Elements – was started as a joke. This joke backfired on the Danish comedian somewhat in 1994 when he received 23,253 votes and found himself with a seat in parliament. Despite winning his seat after a campaign that promised things like ‘better Christmas presents’ and ‘less sex in school staff rooms’, he took the job seriously and gratefully retired four years later, having learned that it’s much easier to make fun of politicians when you’re not one of them.

Democrats still have an opening if they choose to use it (Hullabaloo – Digby)
Too Big To Fail didn't happen, but the Audit the Fed bill passed unanimously yesterday […] And today the consumer focused Merkley-Klobuchar Amendment to Protect Homeowners from Deceptive Mortgage Practices passed as well, with some crossover Republican votes to boot. This shows that the Republicans know they are vulnerable to the populist critique…

And the starting point for Republicans is, and always has been, its close relationship with big business and big money. During periods of economic well-being, when the American Dream seems within easy reach, this works well for their coalition of resentful white people, social conservatives and the wealthy. In bad times, this can be problematic.

The Democrats could have taken advantage of this structural weakness in the GOP narrative and come down hard with a populist attack on the Reagan era and particularly the Bush years, but they chose not to play the blame game and look in the rear view mirror. (They have, of course, been complicit, so it makes it much more difficult). […] The way this Financial Reform debate is unfolding indicates there's still some daylight if they choose to take advantage of it.

[Re her claim that the Republicans have "always" had a close relationship with big business, I do wonder (yeah, I'm really feeling my Ugly American ignorance here) has this actually always been true? Also, while I think it is currently more true of the Republican leadership than of the Democratic leadership, have the Republicans really always been more plutocratic than the Democrats?

Of course, when you consider the good ol' days of the Founders, when only land-owning white men could vote, it's kind of stunning that ANY of our political leadership has ever resisted plutocracy.


“Complete the Dang Fence”
Aren’t the conservatives who want to build this wall the same ones who always so proudly reference Reagan saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”?

Police Taze Man Threatening to Jump Off a Bridge Who Then Falls Off the Bridge
"Caught in a Bad Hotel" = The Future of Protest?
Pride at Work's latest stunt infiltrating the Westin St. Francis is now a YouTube sensation, generating over 35,000 hits yesterday. It was featured on two local evening news shows, the progressive webzine Common Dreams, and the LGBT blog Towleroad – and on countless Facebook pages. But besides being a fun video, it deftly shows how activists can adapt to new ways of getting their message out. Mass rallies are much less effective today than they were in the Sixties, but too often progressives want to re-live this era by using the same tools and expecting a different result. People don't get their news from just a few channels anymore, so it's possible to have a march with thousands of people with little effect.

[Not to mention the demise of USian journalistic standards, which has allowed, for example, the world-wide protests against the Iraq invasion to go largely unnoticed in the mainstream media. -L]

…"Caught in a Bad Hotel" was not the first YouTube flashmob, but it was the first one with a political purpose. And hopefully, it won't be the last.

Students' American Flag T-Shirts Are Protected Speech (ACLU Blog)
Last week, five students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., were sent home on Cinco de Mayo for wearing T-shirts bearing the American flag. The students were reportedly sent home after Vice Principal Miguel Rodriguez told them the shirts posed a "safety issue" on a day celebrating Mexican heritage.

Punishing students for wearing T-shirts with the American flag is a clear violation of their free speech rights. The ACLU of Northern California responded to the incident by sending a letter [blah blah etc. -L]

There is another important lesson for the school here. For displays of the American flag to create such a strong concern about disruption, it's likely the school has underlying racial and cultural tensions that need attention.

linkspam: Why didn’t you call the police? Part One | The Angry Black Woman
Megyn Kelly gives a nice demonstration in corporate censorship: She won't let Josh Silver explain how net neutrality works
…right-wingers like Glenn Beck and his fellow Foxheads (see especially Michelle Bachmann) have managed to turn things smack on their heads and create the Planet Bizarro talking point that "net neutrality means censorship of the Internet".

It never seems to occur to them that, you know, lots of other people are perfectly capable of taking away your freedoms. Especially the giant corporations who control our media.

Megyn Kelly gave a succinct demonstration of how this works at propaganda shops like Fox News yesterday on her America Live program. To discuss net neutrality, she brought on Jim Harper of the libertarian Cato Institute and Josh Silver of Free Press.

Kelly proceeded to let Harper ramble uninterrupted at length, pitching the hogwash notion that "free enterprise created the Internet" (um, no it didn't). Then, when it was Silver's turn to talk, Kelly aggressively interrupted him, notably just as he was getting to the major point: Maintaining net neutrality is about ensuring that there will be no corporate censorship of content — in other words, about maintaining the architecture that made the Internet the free and open medium that it is.

Then, when Silver finally got a chance to raise that point again, Kelly again interrupted…

Easter Island Continues To Baffle The Heck Out Of Archaeologists [Unsolved Mysteries]
For 50 years, archaeologists assumed that the 800-year-old road network on Easter Island was used to transport the mysterious moai. But new fieldwork from UK researchers shows that the roads were mostly ceremonial. How did those blockheads get there?
Creepy Portraits Of Where All Those Frozen Heads Go [Photography]
These are pictures of facilities where technicians store cryogenically frozen bodies in the hope that one day they can be revived using advanced technology. Patrick Millard's photos of cryostat tanks blur the line between death and industrial design.
Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac – The Next Financial Problem to Fix (Banking Law Prof Blog)
The secondary mortgage market is a critical component of the U.S. financial structure and the heart of it is broken. Fannie Mae needs $8.4 Million in additional government aid to survive. Congress must tackle restructuring the secondary mortgage market soon…
Drifting satellite threatens U.S. cable programming – Space-
[Sometimes I have inappropriate science fiction fansquee reactions to stories like this. Satellite named "Galaxy 15" is out of control, wheeee! -L]
Why Goldman Sachs "Innovations" Failed (Banking Law Prof Blog)
Bloomberg Business Week discusses Peter Drucker's core principles of "innovation"…
We Must All Unite Against Unity (Pandagon – Jesse Taylor)
Arizona just banned ethnic studies classes from their public schools.

Now, some might say, “Oh, they didn’t ban all ethnic studies classes from schools, just the ones that promote ethnic solidarity or resentment.” That would be totally cool, except that the bill as passed is so vague that you pretty much can’t mention a (non-white) ethnicity in the classroom, lest you hurt someone’s fee-fees. What the bill bans: [bullet points redacted -L]

There is no reason you should be discussing racial conflict or identity in this country, because this is America, and everyone in this country is an individual – together.

[…] I just can’t wait until the Arizona state legislature bans refried beans as a preventative measure against Latino supremacy. That’s going to be a great day.

unusualmusic | A range of women's voices in rock
[Share your recs! -L]
SB1070 Not Xenophobic Enough, Arizona Now Says Teachers Cannot Have Accents (Crooks and Liars)
Makes me wonder if Arizona will ban Kindergarten Cop from the area video stores.
About New York – Creating a Network Like Facebook, Only Private –
How angry is the world at Facebook for devouring every morsel of personal information we are willing to feed it?

[…] They have called their project Diaspora* and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. Mr. Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary.

GOP Candidate Dan Fanelli Backs Racial Profiling in Ad – Political Hotsheet – CBS News
"Does this look like a terrorist?" he asks in the spot, pointing at a white-haired white man in a tie. Then a darker-skinned man in a black t-shirt enters the frame as Fanelli asks, "or this?"

"It's time to stop this political correctness and the invasion of our privacy," he says.

Think Progress » Rep. Steve King: Gay men and women should stop wearing their ‘sexuality on their sleeve.’
Tinkering (Geek Feminism)
One of the early things I did when I started earning money above my basic living needs (in 2000 some university students could get computing jobs that met this criteria) was buy my very own computer, and it was worth it many times over for all the Linux installs, Windows installs, SMTP config and similar I did to it.

What about you? Did you have a tinkerable toy (in the broad sense of ‘toy’) as a child that you were granted licence to tinker with? How about as an adult? How about now? Or alternatively, have you been put in second place while your useful tool was given to someone else to take apart and put together at their own leisure? And how has this influenced your geek journey?