Red Burger, Blue Salad( 57 )

This looks like an online quiz waiting to happen.

Would you think a person who frequents Arby’s is a conservative? What about Applebee’s? Is a person who buys Grey Poupon likely rich? Is someone who buys Thomas’ English muffins probably white?

The answer to all of the above questions are “yes,” according to an interesting University Of Chicago study covered in The Washington Post this week. The study claims that researcher-developed algorithms can predict a person’s political and social viewpoints—or even their race—depending on what they purchase with up to 90 percent accuracy

A lot of it is probably regional selection. You have some things, like ranch dressing, that are absolutely huge in East Texas and Oklahoma, which are red. And even national brands are more competitive in some places than others.

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Does US Government Have an Overgrowth of Ivy?( 14 )

If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, all nine Justices of SCOTUS will be Ivy League affiliated in their education. But the Presidency is not any less upper-crust in credentials of late, to say nothing for the rest of government. Bill Whalen writes at Real Clear about “America’s Government-Hooked Up to an Ivy Drip?”

A second point worth noting: It’s not just the Supreme Court that’s covered in Ivy, but the White House too.

Starting with George H.W. Bush (Yale Class of ’48), the five most recent presidents have earned a combined seven Ivy degrees – George W. Bush (Yale-Harvard) and Barack Obama (Columbia-Harvard) being double-dippers. Yes, this includes Donald Trump, University of Pennsylvania Class of ’68 (apparently, this vexes the southernmost of the Ivy campuses).

Never before has the White House experienced such an Ivy rash. Prior to Bush 41, the last Ivied presidents were John F. Kennedy (Harvard and, briefly, Princeton) and Franklin Roosevelt (Harvard undergrad and a posthumous JD from Columbia).

The American presidency did experience an Ivy spurt in the first two decades of the 20th Century – Theodore Roosevelt (Harvard and Columbia Law), William Howard Taft (Yale) and Woodrow Wilson (Princeton). Somehow, the nation survived the 60 years between Roosevelt and the previous Ivied president, William Henry Harrison (the briefest of America’s presidents spent one semester at Penn; technically, he’s a non-graduate alumnus of the Medical Class of 1793).

Is America destined for an Ivy-Ivy duel in 2020, ala fellow Harvardians Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 and Yalies George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004? That would exclude the likes of former Vice President Joseph Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

However, it rules in New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (Yale Law), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Columbia) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Dartmouth undergrad). As Harvard seems to work wonders for Democratic nominees (Obama, Kennedy and FDR went 7-0 in presidential elections) the smart option would seem to be former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, owner of two Harvard degrees (maybe that’s why some Obama insiders reportedly want him to run).

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The Case(s) Against The Straw Ban( 24 )

For the sake of the disabled:

On social media, many people are ecstatic about the crush of cities and businesses pledging to ban plastic straws once and for all. Ever since a video showing a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, campaigns like #StopSucking for a strawless ocean have gained considerable traction. Seattle this month implemented a citywide ban on plastic straws, Starbucks announced on Monday that it will phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020, and many other municipalities and businesses are likely to follow suit. As one Twitter user posted, “My waiter asked ‘Now, do we want straws OR do we want to save the turtles?’ and honestly we all deserve that environmental guilt trip.”

But for many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws isn’t a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles; it can be a matter of life or death.

There are many alternatives to plastic straws — paper, biodegradable plastics and even reusable straws made from metal or silicone. But paper straws and similar biodegradable options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible — one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk.

And also to… uhhh… use less plastic?

The World Wildlife Fund and Ocean Conservancy both provided ebullient quotes for Starbucks’ press releases. Liberal magazine The New Republic praised the move as an “environmental milestone.” Slate hailed the Starbucks straw ban as evidence of as a victory for a bona fide anti-straw movement, one that would hopefully lead to bans of more things plastic in years to come.

Yet missing from this fanfare was the inconvenient fact that by ditching plastic straws, Starbucks will actually be increasing its plastic use. As it turns out, the new nitro lids that Starbucks is leaning on to replace straws are made up of more plastic than the company’s current lid/straw combination.

Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.

(I got these results by measuring Starbucks’ plastic straws and lids on two separate scales, both of which gave me the same results.)

This means customers are at best breaking even under Starbucks’ strawless scheme, or they are adding between .32 and .88 grams to their plastic consumption per drink. Given that customers are going to use a mix of the larger and smaller nitro lids, Starbucks’ plastic consumption is bound to increase, although it’s anybody’s guess as to how much.

And the main argument in favor seems to be… raising awareness?

Straw bans aren’t going to save the ocean, but they could jumpstart much-needed conversations about the level of non-biodegradable trash in them.

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Private Person, Unwilling Celebrity( 6 )

I don’t think there is any such thing as a “private person” anymore. The vast majority of us constantly groom our internet presence, choosing the right filter on Instagram for our brunch and taking polls of our friends about our next Facebook profile picture. We don’t think about this as a public act when we have only 400 connections on LinkedIn or 3,000 followers on Tumblr. No one imagines the Daily Mail write-up or the Jezebel headline. We actively create our public selves, every day, one social media post at a time. Little kids dream of becoming famous YouTubers the same way I wanted to be a published author when I was twelve.

But there are also those of us who don’t choose this. We keep our accounts locked, our Instagram profile set to “friends only.” Maybe we learned a lesson when a post took off and left the safe haven of our community, picked apart in a horrifying display of context collapse. Maybe we are hiding from something: a stalker, an abusive ex, our family members who don’t know our true queer identity. To some of us, privacy is as vital as oxygen. Without it we are exposed—butterflies with our wings pinned to the corkboard, our patterns scrutinized under a magnifying glass. For what? For entertainment? For someone else’s mid-workday escapism? For a starring role in someone else’s bastardized rom com?

A woman boarded a plane in New York and stepped off that plane in Dallas. She chatted with a stranger, showed him some family photos, brushed his elbow with her own. She wore a baseball cap over her face and followed him back on Instagram. At no point did she agree to participate in the story Rosey Blair was telling. After the fact, when the hunt began and the woman took no part in encouraging it the way Holden did, Blair tweeted a video in which she drawled, “We don’t have the gal’s permish yet, not yet y’all, but I’m sure you guys are sneaky, you guys might…”

Blair’s followers were sneaky. They did as they were told and immediately replied with screenshots of the woman’s Instagram account. They shared links.

When people called Blair out for this blatant invasion of privacy, she blocked them. Because she, apparently, could control her own boundaries. Later she tweeted about wanting a job at BuzzFeed.

Source: We Are All Public Figures Now – Ella Dawson

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DAG Rosenstein Announces Indictments of 12 Russian GRU Members( 11 )

DAG Rosenstein announced indictments of 12 Russian GRU members for various activities related to the 2016 Presidential Election.

WaPo:

The 12 were members of Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, and are accused of engaging in a sustained effort to hack the computer networks of Democratic organizations and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein planned to detail the new charges at a mid-day press conference. Mueller, as has been his practice, was not expected to attend the announcement. Court records show a grand jury Mueller has been using returned an indictment Friday morning.

Mueller and a team of prosecutors have been working since May 2017 to determine if any Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the election. His work had already led to charges against 20 people on crimes ranging from money laundering to lying to the FBI. Fourteen of those charged earlier are Russians who are unlikely to ever be put on trial in the United States.

CBS News:

“There is no allegation in this indictment that Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers,” Rosenstein said in his announcement.

The charges come just days before President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Rosenstein said he briefed Mr. Trump on the indictment earlier this week.

The charges come after Mueller’s investigation has already led to the indictment of 12 Russian nationals earlier this year.

The indictment charges 11 of the defendants with conspiracy to commit computer crimes, eight counts of aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money, according to the special counsel’s office. Two of the defendants are charged with a separate conspiracy to commit computer crimes.

In the face of alleged foreign interference, Rosenstein urged unity and patriotism against foreign interference.

“The partisan warfare fueled by modern technology does not fairly reflect the grace, dignity and unity of the American people,” Rosenstein said.

Let’s all hope that last statement hold ups. Full indictment can be read here.

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Find The Nearest Black Kid?( 3 )

Probe found Fla. police chief told officers to pin unsolved crimes on random black people: report

The police chief in a small Florida town is accused of encouraging his officers to pin unsolved crimes on random, nearby black people so the department would have a better arrest record, the Miami Herald reported Thursday.

Former Biscayne Park Chief Raimundo Atesiano and two officers, Raul Fernandez and Charlie Dayoub, have been charged with falsely accusing a black Haitian-American teenager — identified as T.D. — with burglaries to impress local officials in the village north of Miami Shores.

All have pleaded not guilty to the accusations. A trial date is set for later this month.

The charges were part of a long history of targeting random people to achieve a spotless crime-solving record before an internal investigation in 2014, the Herald reported.

Innocent until proven guilty and all that, but apart from that I got nothin’.

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The Denmark Dilemma( 23 )

Center-left parties all over Europe are struggling. Could they find their foot-hold by turning against immigration?

Several factors lie behind the Social Democratic policy change on immigration.

First, welfare state ideology. SD believes itself to be the prime sponsor of the Danish welfare state. As various scholars have pointed out, there is a fundamental contradiction between a very liberal immigration policy and the survival of the welfare state. A welfare state simply cannot afford anything other than a restrictive immigration policy if welfare arrangements are to remain at a reasonable level. This has now been fully agreed upon by the Danish Social Democratic leadership.

The contradictions between a liberal immigration policy and the continued existence of the welfare state has most recently been emphasized in an analysis from the Danish Ministry of Finance, which shows that immigration from third world countries costs the Danish exchequer more than DKK 30 billion (€4bn) a year. This, of course, means a loss of public money which cannot at the same time be spent on the welfare state’s core activities.

In its latest manifesto, “United on Denmark”, SD describes the dilemma as follows: ‘As Social Democrats we believe that we must help refugees, but we also need to be able to deliver results in Denmark via local authorities and for the citizens. For the Social Democratic Party, it is about finding the balance between helping people in need and ensuring the coherence of our country, and continuing to be able to afford the high level of welfare provision that characterizes our society. […] We have therefore been tightening asylum rules and increased requirements for immigrants and refugees. And we will continue to pursue a tight and consistent asylum policy, which makes Denmark geared to handling refugee and migratory pressures’.

It could be! One of the problems they have is when the center-right parties are sufficiently centrist on the issue that they get challenged from their right. In turn, they end up occupying political middle ground and having a cultural pose that makes it difficult for center-left parties to distinguish themselves. That, combined with post-Cold War communist chic splitting the broader left between center and left, is a significant part of their problem. This does at least shake up the board.

More:

For those who imagine Denmark as some form of progressive paradise, the notion of parents being forced to hand over toddlers or face punishment might seem bizarre and alarming. The idea of some criminals receiving lighter punishment because they robbed someone in a well-to-do area seems equally concerning. We look to Scandinavia for wind-turbines and nice furniture, not baby-snatching and Apartheid-lite. The story behind the measures is, however, more complex, if not less alarming: They have been presented as a way of easing social and residential segregation in Danish cities.

The measures come as part of a national plan to get rid of concentrated areas of poverty, and the attendant problems such as low educational performance and lower levels of public health. Also included in the plan, for example, is a ruling that in areas of high deprivation, no more than 40 percent of future housing can be public—an attempt to increase the country’s social mix. Denmark is not alone in Europe in trying this approach. As CityLab has noted in the past, cities like Berlin and Rotterdam have experimented with public housing quotas aimed at diluting concentrations of ethnic minorities, while the Paris region offers frequent tax breaks to encourage businesses to relocate to the deprived banlieues.

Denmark also aspires to integrate by acculturation: The plan would dilute other cultures with (typically wealthier) residents from Danish backgrounds and oblige ethnic minorities to send their children to institutions where their inculcation into official Danish culture is overseen by the state.

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Steve Ditko’s Legacy( 2 )

Steve Ditko Was More Than Just the Guy Behind Spider-Man

In addition to his work on Peter Parker and Stephen Strange, Ditko, whose death at age 90 hit the news late last week, also introduced the most iconic Iron Man suit of all time: the first armor in red and gold—a color scheme that would come to define the character. He also refined the helmet design from “a bucket on someone’s head” to its sleeker incarnation. Ditko also, reportedly, was the one who decided Bruce Banner would transform into the Hulk in times of emotional stress and anger, instead of just when provoked by the multiple triggers the series had been using.

Ditko parted ways with Marvel in 1966. There are still multiple versions of the story behind his exit, ranging from disagreements over the direction of Amazing Spider-Man (and, specifically, the yet-to-be-revealed identity of the Green Goblin) to a general mismatch of attitudes between Ditko and Lee. Regardless of what happened, Ditko moved on from the publisher and continued creating. He alternated work for horror publisher Warren’s Creepy and Eerie anthologies with new superhero work for Charlton Comics, for whom he created Blue Beetle, the Question, and Captain Atom. (All three of those characters would, two decades later, become the basis for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, which without Ditko arguably wouldn’t exist at all.) He moved on to DC, where he created the Creeper and Hawk and Dove. While working on the small press series witzend, he created what might be his true trademark character: Mr. A, a reporter who fights crime in a particularly uncompromising (almost cruel) manner that reflected Ditko’s own objectivist beliefs.

Impressively, this burst of creativity that produced characters and concepts that would shape comics—and pop culture as a whole—for more than half a century all occurred in a six-year span, from the debut of Spider-Man in late 1962 through the creation of the Creeper, Mr. A, and Hawk and Dove in mid-’68. Ditko continued to work for multiple publishers, including Marvel, after that but his star had started to fade.

I’ve always been more on the DC side of collecting, so a lot of his star characters are lost on me. I did really like his DC characters and the Charlton characters that became DC characters. They tended to be second string, though, and DC has never been kind to its second stringers. Ted Kord is dead. Captain Atom has been Hawkmanesquely bent and twisted and turned so many times it’s hard to keep track of who he is. Vic Sage died and is sort of back and sort of not back, but became a liberal anyway. Creeper was killed, I think. Hawk from Hawk and Dove turned into a villain and killed Dove (though I think that was the Dove who was Dove after Ditkos… who was also killed though not by Hawk).

But most of them were around when I was originally collecting and they added to my reading enjoyment. And they were some good characters and good concepts who probably deserved better than they got from DC.

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AI is Coming, But What Culture Will Influence It?( 0 )

The questions surrounding AI development are heavy on the why, the how, the should, and other things; so what about what culture that AI would be operating from? Naturally the designer will be reflected, but something as complex as culture meeting the brave new world of AI, there are questions to answer for both fields.

William Michael Carter writes an interesting piece in The Conversation “How to Get Culture Right When Embedding It Into AI,” and the whole thing is a great read, including this excerpt:

What happens when these very unique ecosystems begin to communicate with each other? How will norms and values be determined as the various AI entities begin to exchange information and negotiate realities within their newly formed cultures?

MIT’s Norman, an AI personality based on a fictional psychopath produced a singular example of what we have long known in humans: With prolonged exposure to violence comes a fractured view of cultural norms and values. This represents a real danger to future exposure and transmission to other AI.

How so?

Envision Norman and Alexa hooking up. Both AI’s are representative of the people who made them, the human data that they consume and a built-in need to learn. So whose cultural values and norms would be more persuasive?
Norman was built to see all data from the lens of a psychopath, while Alexa as a digital assistant is just looking to please. There are countless human examples of similar personalities going awry when brought together.

Social scientists argue that the debate over AI is set to explode and, as a result, that multiple versions of AI are bound to co-exist.

As philosophers, anthropologists and other social scientists begin to voice their concerns, the time is ripe for society to reflect on AI’s desired usefulness, to question the realities and our expectations, and to influence its development into a truly pan-global cultural environment.

Read the whole piece at The Conversation, and comment below.

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Introductory Rates & Inertia( 6 )

How I got my landlord to lower my rentand save me 2400 over the next year – MarketWatch

It’s always a good idea to negotiate rent, said Erin Lowry, personal finance expert and author of the book “Broke Millennial,” especially if the landlord has raised the rent for the new lease period. That is, unless you have been a bad tenant.

“This strategy is best deployed only if you’ve been a model tenant,” she said. “If you’ve had conflict with your landlord in the past or been late on rent, then he or she isn’t likely to take your request too seriously.”

When asking for a rent decrease, I was sure to remind my landlord that I had lived at other properties owned by the same rental company for the past three years and had never been late on rent or caused any property damage.

In this case it’s because of various changes that actually make apartments less expensive sometimes, but it reminds me of something tangential.

It used to be a common pet peeve of mine that people moving in always got much better rent than renewals. They were basically betting that they could charge people for their interia (and the cost of relocating), and I suspect that they were right. It reached the point for me where I started contemplating “They should pass a law!” which is not my instinct.

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh is President Donald Trump’s SCOTUS Pick( 53 )

President Donald Trump made his second SCOTUS pick his administration: Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh will be nominated to replace Anthony Kennedy

Politico

A longtime foe of former President Bill Clinton and a former aide to President George W. Bush, Kavanaugh is favored by many conservatives and has served on the D.C. Circuit Court since 2006, bringing with him a long record of conservative jurisprudence.

Kavanaugh, a graduate of Yale Law School, cut his teeth under former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who led the investigation that ultimately resulted in Clinton’s impeachment. Kavanaugh himself was a lead author of the controversial Starr Report.

A former Kennedy clerk, Kavanaugh is much loved in conservative legal circles as an originalist in the mold of Justice Clarence Thomas and former Justice Antonin Scalia.

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The Technological Convergence & Divergence( 0 )

This makes a lot of sense.

We study the cross-country evolution of technology diffusion over the last two centuries. We document that adoption lags between poor and rich countries have converged, while the intensity of use of adopted technologies of poor countries relative to rich countries has diverged. The evolution of aggregate productivity implied by these trends in technology diffusion resembles the actual evolution of the world income distribution in the last two centuries. Cross-country differences in adoption lags account for

This makes a lot of sense. Especially when you consider the figurative (maybe literal) exponential increase in technology adoption. They’re at radically difference places in the curve and the curve is so steep now that even a small lag creates gigantic discrepencies.

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The Ending Of The Last Track( 8 )

The end of an era

In February, we reported that Best Buy would be pulling the plug on CD sales. Well, it’s official, you can no longer get CDs at one of the major US retailers.

According to Billboard, Best Buy’s U.S. CD sales generally average about $40 million per year, though the sales of the format were down 18.5% last year in the United States. Best Buy still currently has a vinyl section, but the corporate giant is planning on phasing that out as well.

That leaves very few major retailers left to buy actual physical product. There’s Target (who are also considering dropping CDs), WalMart, FYE (which seems to be metal’s biggest supporter in the retail space) and then Hot Topic. Of course, there are independent music stores, which are still doing their best to keep the format alive, but even those are dying out.

CDs were around for 35 years and were on top at least half of that time. When you think about it, that’s a really good run. And they’ll likely remain the last physical medium for music.

The car stereo was the last refuge of the CD for me, and I got a new aftermarket installed last year and now almost everything runs through my phone and Bluetooth. Which is good, because I was struck by how terrible the interface for the car player is.

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Thailand Boys Found Alive in Cave, Now Comes the Hard Part.( 0 )

The good news is the kids were found alive. The bad news is there is no good way to get them out, and dangerous conditions could change at a moments notice.

BBC:

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach went missing on 23 June. It is believed they entered the cave when it was dry and sudden heavy rains blocked the exit.

They were found on a rock shelf about 4km (2.5 miles) from the mouth of the cave.

It is thought the boys could move through parts of the cave in dry conditions but rushing waters clogged the narrow passages with mud and debris, blocking visibility and access.

One of the toughest stretches for the divers came as they neared the so-called Pattaya Beach – an elevated mound in the cave complex – where it was hoped the boys had sought refuge.

Divers had to navigate a series of sharp, narrow bends in near-darkness. They completed the difficult journey to find Pattaya Beach flooded, so swam on and found the boys about 400m away.

Bringing the trapped boys to safety is an extremely dangerous task given the conditions inside.
The Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand is regularly flooded during the rainy season which lasts until September or October.

The options are being pressed into action as fears of further flooding worry rescue officials, plus the fact that apparently none of the boys can swim.

News Corp Australia:

SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew said seven members of his unit — including a doctor and a nurse — are now with the 12 boys and their coach in the cave where they took shelter.

He told a news conference that his team members “have given the boys food, starting from easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals.” He said that having the rescued people dive out of the cave was one of several options being considered. If it were employed, he said they “have to be certain that it will work and have to have a drill to make that it’s 100 percent safe.”

According to Thai media reports, a first meal of pork and rice is being prepared for the boys with rescuers signalling that sealed portions of the dish will be taken to the trapped boys.

“A telephone line will be installed tonight… they (the boys) will be able to talk with their families via military phone,” Passakorn Boonyarat, deputy governor of Chiang Rai province, told reporters late on Tuesday.

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Happy Canada Day!( 0 )

Canada Day!

When is it?

July 1 is Canada Day. However, because that date falls on a Sunday this year, many Canadians will take off from work on Monday, July 2.

How did it start?

July 1 commemorates the joining of Canada’s original three provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Canada province, which is now Ontario and Quebec) as one nation in 1867. The holiday was previously called Dominion Day, for the Dominion of Canada in the British empire.

How do Canadians celebrate it?

Events start early in the morning and go until the evening. They include parades, barbecues, fireworks displays, concerts, and also welcome ceremonies for those who recently became citizens. Members of the British government have also celebrated the holiday. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended the celebration in the capital, Ottawa, in 2010, and Prince William and his wife, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, attended in 2011.

Events start early in the morning and g

Source: Canada Day: What is it? When is it celebrated? How do Canadians celebrate? – CNN

No matter where you are, you can celebrate Canada Day by looking at the London’s gallery of Canadian photographs.

Copyright collections – those aggregations of published material accumulated by libraries as a result of copyright deposit laws – can provide a unique view of the world; especially when they have the opportunity to add photographs to their holdings. With minimal curatorial involvement in their selection and collection, as well as few gate keepers beyond the administration fee required to register copyright, you could say that such caches of material are a rare thing – a photographic world selected by myriad photographers themselves.

This is the format of the British Library’s Colonial Copyright Collection of Canadian photographs, over 4,000 images registered for deposit and collected by the Library between 1895 and 1924. By and large the contents of the collection have been copyrighted as a result of the quality of the shot, the potential to make money from the photograph or, most likely, a mixture of both. These photographs were then accessioned by the British Library and left relatively untouched until a series of works were begun on them in the 1980s.

Why would such a collection end up in London? The answer hangs on an arcane piece of British copyright law, the colonial copyright legislation of the nineteenth century. To be frank the law was a lame-duck: it attempted to extend a part of British law to the Empire and ensure the comprehensive collection of intellectual property from beyond the metropole but in both areas it was fairly ineffective, with only a few territories taking it seriously.

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Progress!( 0 )

West Point gets its first black superintendent in 216-year history

‘If [Williams] is confirmed by the Senate, he will be a breath of fresh air,’ Caslen predicted.

West Point, founded in 1802 along the west bank of the Hudson River 50 miles north of New York City, didn’t graduate its first black cadet until the Reconstruction in 1877.

No black cadet had graduated in the 20th century when trailblazer Benjamin O Davis Jr arrived in there in 1932.

Davis ate alone, roomed alone and was shunned by fellow cadets because he was black.

After graduating in 1936, he went on to command the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and retired as an Air Force general in 1970. West Point recently named its newest cadet barracks for Davis.

The announcement of Williams’ appointment comes less than a year after an African-American cadet and Rhodes Scholar was selected to take the top position in West Point’s cadet chain of command.

Simone Askew, of Fairfax, Virginia, was selected first captain of the Corps of Cadets last summer and graduated in May.

You take good news (and anything resembling positive steps by this administration) whenever you can find them these days. And here we go.

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Mayors In The Crosshairs( 1 )

18 mayoral candidates killed ahead of Mexico’s July elections, 2 in less than 24 hours

His party said issued a statement saying that Fernando Angeles Juarez was assassinated, and called on the government to provide protection for people running in the July 1 elections.

Ocampo is a rural township about 95 miles (150 kilometers) west of Mexico City best known for the Monarch butterfly wintering grounds that occupy part of the mountainous municipality. It also been plagued by illegal logging and gangs.

Almost all of the 18 candidates killed across the country so far have been running for local posts in the July 1 elections, which will also decide the presidency, governorships and Congress. Other politicians who were considering a run have been killed before they could even register as candidates. The killings have particularly hit states like Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

Mexican Drug War: More than 100 Mayors Killed Since 2006 Because the Federal Government Has Abandoned Them, Data Shows

Since 2006—the year in which the Mexican War on Drugs started under President Felipe Calderón—108 mayors have been murdered, of which 50 were in office, nine were mayors-elect and 49 were former officials. Just this year, 18 mayors were killed—the worst rate since 2010—according to data from the National Association of Mayors, an organization that currently has 479 mayors as members.

“These deaths have a lot to do with organized crime, mainly drug cartels, because they’re trying to control drug-trafficking areas,” Association President Enrique Vargas del Villar, who is also mayor of Huixquilucan in Mexico State, told Newsweek. “But it also has to do with the lack of public force presence in smaller municipalities and scarce institutional development.”

Mayors have suffered the brunt of violence during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration. A total of 59 mayors have been killed in a span of four years during his term, compared to 49 murdered during the entire six-year Calderón term, the data indicates. The states of Durango, Oaxaca, Michoacán and Veracruz are considered the most dangerous for mayors, according to the study.

A town in Mexico overthrew their local government. Things couldn’t be going better.

Seven years ago, the people of Cherán — a town of some 20,000 inhabitants in the highlands of Michoacán, one of the Mexican states worst-affected by the drug wars of the last decade — decided it was time to start over. And now, after they’ve kicked out all the criminals, cops, and politicians, things couldn’t be going better.

The town had been terrorized for years by an organized crime syndicate devoted to illegally logging the surrounding forests. So after mobs drove out the criminals, they disarmed and drove out the corrupt cops who had protected them. Then they banned the politicians, along with the parties that put them in power.

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The Capitol Gazette, In Their Own Words( 9 )

Presented without further comment, as their response was already superb:

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The Short List? Deciding the SCOTUS Nominee( 6 )

Tea leaves, prognostications, wild guesses, and predictions sure to go wrong. Everyone can play in the “Who will be the next justice for the Supreme Court of the United States?” While President Trump mulls over what will be his second pick for SCOTUS, and before delving into the myriad of predictions, let’s go back a bit to The White House’s “official list” as it stood a few months ago.

Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Keith Blackwell of Georgia, Supreme Court of Georgia
Charles Canady of Florida, Supreme Court of Florida
Steven Colloton of Iowa, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Allison Eid of Colorado, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Britt Grant of Georgia, Supreme Court of Georgia
Raymond Gruender of Missouri, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Joan Larsen of Michigan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Mike Lee of Utah, United States Senator
Thomas Lee of Utah, Supreme Court of Utah
Edward Mansfield of Iowa, Supreme Court of Iowa
Federico Moreno of Florida, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Kevin Newsom of Alabama, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
William Pryor of Alabama, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Margaret Ryan of Virginia, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
David Stras of Minnesota, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Diane Sykes of Wisconsin, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Amul Thapar of Kentucky, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Timothy Tymkovich of Colorado, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Robert Young of Michigan, Supreme Court of Michigan (Ret.)
Don Willett of Texas, Supreme Court of Texas
Patrick Wyrick of Oklahoma, Supreme Court of Oklahoma

The administration having a list of potential SCOTUS nominees started back during the Trump campaign, when the death of Antonin Scalia brought the issue of Supreme Court vacancies to the fore, and then-candidate Trump looked to reassure a leary right that he would please them with a pick.

That pick went to Niel Gorsuch, after Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell blocked then-President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland. Most of the right has been pleased with Gorsuch thus far, and many on left still feel it is a “stolen seat.”

So now that Anthony Kennedy will be stepping aside July 31st, President Trump mulls a replacement as Democrats again bring up the way the Garland nomination was handled. The problem, as CNN’s The Point points out, is there is little beyond rhetoric the Democrats can do about it:

1. They don’t control the Senate: The majority leader of the Senate sets the schedule. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made very clear his plan during remarks on the floor after the Kennedy news broke.
“The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President Trump’s nominee to fill this vacancy,” said McConnell. “We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.”

2. Senate Republicans only need 50 votes: After Senate Democrats changed the rules to allow simple majorities to confirm judges below the Supreme Court level earlier this decade, McConnell pushed through a measure that made it a 50-vote threshold to confirm judges to the highest court in the country as well. (McConnell did so after Democrats held together and blocked consideration of the nomination of Neil Gorsuch in the spring of 2017.)
What that rule change means is that if all 51 Republicans support Trump’s court pick, that person will be confirmed. But a totally unified vote would depend on the likes of Sen Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who have publicly trumped Trump in the past, staying in line behind party orthodoxy.

3. The 2018 map: There are 10 Democrats up for re-election in states that Trump won in 2016; five of those members — Sens. Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Jon Tester (Montana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia) represent states that Trump carried by double digits.
It’s no coincidence that Heitkamp, Donnelly and Manchin were the only three Democrats who voted for Gorsuch’s confirmation last year. They will be under even more pressure to support Trump’s eventual pick this time, given that the November midterms are looming.

That 50 vote issue was bound to cause this exact situation, as The Atlantic recaps for us:

A little over three years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor and issued a warning to the Democrats who then controlled the majority.

“I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this,” McConnell, then the minority leader, told them. “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

At the urging of Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrats had just voted along strict party lines to change the rules of the Senate, deploying what had become known in Washington as “the nuclear option.” McConnell and his Republican colleagues were furious. Under the new rules, presidential nominees for all executive-branch position—including the Cabinet—and judicial vacancies below the Supreme Court could advance with a simple majority of 51 votes. The rules for legislation were untouched, but the 60-vote threshold for overcoming a filibuster on nearly all nominations was dead.

As Donald Trump prepares to assume the presidency this afternoon flanked by Republican majorities in Congress, McConnell’s warning is looking more and more prescient. Trump may win Senate confirmation of his entire Cabinet, and while Democrats will oppose many of his nominees, it was their vote in November 2013 that helped pave the way for their success.

So, what say you? Login and Comment.

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Anthony Kennedy to Retire From SCOTUS( 178 )

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement. His pending vacancy will be the 2nd appointment by President Trump.

CNN

Kennedy, always the subject of intense retirement rumors (none was announced from the bench Wednesday morning), shuffled right and never sided with liberals in the major 5-4 cases that split down familiar ideological lines.

This term, Kennedy voted with his conservative colleagues in cases concerning issues such as the travel ban, religious liberty, voting rights, arbitration agreements, corporate liability and public sector unions.
“Although there were 19 5-4 decisions, none of those saw Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with the four more progressive justices — as he has done so often in high-profile cases in recent years, such as the gay marriage ruling in 2015,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

But conservatives haven’t forgotten that Kennedy cleared the way for same-sex marriage in 2015,and he voted with the liberals in 2016 in an abortion case and one concerning affirmative action.

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About Last Night: Ocasio-Cortez Unseats Crowley in NY-14( 25 )

Rep. Joe Crowley had himself a whisper campaign going for leadership, and perhaps held thoughts of becoming Speaker of the House if the much discussed “blue wave” came ashore just right in November. Instead, he finds himself being compared to Eric Cantor on the list of stunning incumbent upsets:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina running her first campaign, ousted 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district on Tuesday, CNN projects, in the most shocking upset of a rollicking political season.
An activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Ocasio-Cortez won over voters in the minority-majority district with a ruthlessly efficient grassroots bid, even as Crowley — the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House — outraised her by a 10-to-1 margin.

This was the first time in 14 years a member of his own party has attempted to unseat Crowley, who chairs the Queens County Democrats. His defeat marks a potential sea change in the broader sphere of liberal politics — a result with implications for Democrats nationwide that would recall, as optimistic progressives routinely noted during the campaign, former GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss to the insurgent, tea party-backed Dave Brat in June 2014.

So, now that Ocasio-Cortez appears to be on her way to the House, how did she get this far? And what will she do once she is there?
Washington Post

She wasn’t inclined to back House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker, name-checking one of the House’s most left-wing members as a better choice.

“I’d like to see new leadership, but I don’t even know what our options are,” she said. “I mean, is Barbara Lee running? Call me when she does!”

Ocasio-Cortez’s politics are substantially to the left of most of the party, and even Sanders. In her campaign videos and posters, designed by friends from New York’s socialist circles, she came out for the abolition of ICE, universal Medicare, a federal jobs guarantee and free college tuition. The ads also made it clear that she was a different candidate — a young Latina from the Bronx, not a white man from Queens. The posters, which she said were designed to look “revolutionary,” were bilingual and centered her face; her viral campaign video, created by a socialist team called Means of Production, began with her saying that “women like me aren’t supposed to run for office” over an image of her getting ready for the day in a busy apartment building.

“The only time we create any kind of substantive change is when we reach out to a disaffected electorate and inspire and motivate them to vote,” Ocasio-Cortez told the left-wing magazine In These Times, in one of many interviews she gave as her campaign seemed to surge in the final weeks. “That is how Obama won and got reelected, and that’s how Bernie Sanders did so well.”
In interviews last week, as Ocasio-Cortez canvassed voters in Queens, she said her campaign began with grass-roots organizers and took off once national left-wing media noticed what she was doing. An early profile in the Intercept, she said, was “a game-changer,” leading to more interviews and profiles that led with the audacity of her challenge, then got to her policies. By the final week of the campaign, when she briefly left the state to see conditions at immigrant detention centers in Texas, she was updating Vogue on how the campaign was going.

In an interview given to John Iadarola days before the election to, Ocasio-Cortez opines on her campaign and opponent, and in describing Crowley as out of touch and no longer living in the district, you can see the Cantor comparisons.

Well-earned as the plaudits for an underdog winning may be, excitement from the progressive left over Ocasio-Cortez success may be getting just a bit ahead of itself. NY14 is a +29 Democrat district, and the “New York socialist circles” that facilitate things like media assistance and Vogue write-ups is not translatable to, say, Wisconsin or Iowa. Safely Democrat seat is still safely Democrat, but the aging leadership on the left side of the aisle in Congress (Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn are 78, 79, 77 years old, respectively) makes for a sharp contrast from the younger, rising progressives that see them as “establishment”. There is also the still smoldering “Bernie wing vs Hillary wing” narrative that former Sanders supporter and volunteer Ocasio-Corte openly embraces.

Still, at least for one night in NYC, the progressive wing of the Democratic party has a young, charismatic, card-carrying democratic socialist with a mark in the win column, and a clear path to congress.

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Rise of the (Debating) Machines( 4 )

So man has built Deep Blue to play chess, Watson that can play quiz shows and problem solve, the worlds most powerful supercomputer, and now comes IDM’s “Project Debater”, which makes up for in tech what it lacks in imaginative branding. So who will talk to it?

Tim Smith-Laing writes “AI Rest My Case” for The Economist 1843 Magazine

To put this in context, the greatest achievement of Google’s Duplex system (basically an AI secretary that can make phone calls for you) has been to book a haircut without the receptionist noticing that it was not a human. (One feels like the joke was actually on Duplex with that one. Given the number of times I have dealt with receptionists who failed to notice that I was a human, I am not sure they are the best control group.) And let us not even contemplate the notion of holding a conversation with Siri or Alexa. Project Debater, meanwhile, will independently formulate its own arguments for and against a proposition, listen to a human opponent and formulate counterarguments, and even – at least in the sense of the term understood by computer researchers – make jokes. Perhaps the most human thing about it, though, is that it cannot intelligently absorb more than four minutes of speech at a time. Me too, buddy.

We are obviously still a fair way from the researchers’ goal of what is technically called Artificial General Intelligence: a machine that can successfully perform any task an average human could and even, perhaps, become self-aware. But what is really engaging in all this is the spectacle of watching IBM’s AI researchers gamely think through the kinds of problem-solving activities that, rolled together, would make something like a human brain.

In their quest to do so, the company’s coneheads have over the last three decades created a chess player (Deep Blue), a quiz contestant (Watson) and now a debater (by which time they had apparently run out of names altogether). If you wanted to make machines self-aware, could you choose worse groups of humans to emulate than chess players, quiz nerds and people who think debating is a sport? Roll Deep Blue, Watson and Project Debater into one entity, and you would essentially be creating the most bully-able kid in school – one of those children who are not even popular with their own mothers. It would be like bringing Pinocchio to life and sending him out into the world with a note saying “Kick Me” pinned to his back.

The irony of the route they have mapped for themselves is that if IBM does one day succeed in creating an intelligent machine, conscious of its own consciousness, capable of moving through the world and engaging its fellow sentient entities in conversation, it will most likely be a machine that no one will want to talk to.

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Burgers For The Buns In The Oven( 13 )

I marvel when I consider the layers of approval this must have gone through without anybody thinking it’s a bad idea.

Burger King, within the framework of social responsibility, has appointed a reward for girls who get pregnant from the stars of world football. Each will receive 3 million rubles, and a lifelong supply of Whoppers. For these girls, it will be possible to get the best football genes, and will lay down the success of the Russian national team on several generations ahead. Forward! We believe in you!

Or maybe, for Russians, it isn’t, and they merely regret that we heard about it over here?

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Starbucks to Close Stores Amid Competition, Controversy( 0 )

Starbucks continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. After public controversies and new competition rising to meet the coffee giant, Starbucks is looking to streamline 150 stores, mostly in urban areas.

CBS:

The Seattle-based company announced Tuesday that it will close 150 underperforming stores in heavily penetrated markets, up from the usual rate of 50 closings a year.

Starbucks now operates about 13,900 locations in the U.S., putting it within sipping distance of the 14,400 restaurants operated by McDonald’s. In the past year, Starbucks has opened almost 1,000 new stores in the Americas, which includes the U.S., Canada and Latin America. One analyst estimates that new stores may be cannibalizing traffic from existing stores, potentially diverting 1 out of 7 transactions.

Competition from rivals like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts is heating up, said Bernstein analyst Sara Senatore in a research note.
“Intensified competition in the slushy coffee category is exacerbating the shift towards health and wellness weighing on Frappuccino demand,” she wrote. “Starbucks will focus on Teavana drinks and other more healthful options in its core offering, which it views as ‘more differentiated.'”

The old joke of “a Starbucks on every corner” might be slowing down, but the issues of growing too fast are not new for the coffee giant. CEO Howard Schultz returned to the company during the last period of adjustment, and his current retirement from the company has a familiar feel to it.

Bloomberg:

For the ubiquitous chain, moving slower and shutting unprofitable stores may trigger some deja vu. In 2008, longtime leader Howard Schultz returned to the company that was struggling after expanding too quickly across the U.S., giving competitors like McDonald’s Corp. a chance to elbow back into breakfast. Investors cheered as Schultz retook the helm and closed some underperforming stores, and share prices at the chain have been up eight of the last 10 years. So far this year through Tuesday’s close, shares have been essentially flat.

But now, with Schultz stepping back from his beloved company, the task of the righting the ship will fall to Johnson, who took over as a CEO just over a year ago. Schultz, who had already transitioned away from running the coffee chain’s day-to-day operations, announced earlier this month he’d be leaving the company, fueling speculation he could be gearing up for a political career. Veteran retailing executive Myron Ullman is taking over as the new head of the board as Schultz departs.

While Schultz had been trying to expand the Seattle company’s premium business, dubbed Reserve, along with Italian bakery Princi, analysts have speculated that these may be put on the back burner under the new leadership. The company is also facing a resurgent McDonald’s, which has been advertising $2 cold-brew coffees, along with other steep discounts from fast-food rivals.
“The competitive environment has really become a lot stronger in the U.S. and a lot of that is the fast-food chains really improving the quality and breadth of their offerings in terms of hot beverages and breakfast,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus. Americans can “get that same flavor profile at a much lower price somewhere else. That becomes an area of concern for Starbucks.”

Starbucks has also faced backlash this spring after two black men were arrested at one of its stores in Philadelphia while waiting for a meeting to begin. The company and Johnson apologized, calling the arrests “reprehensible.” Last month, Starbucks closed about 8,000 cafes so its employees could undergo racial-bias training, which did hurt sales in the quarter, Johnson said. After stores reopened following the May 29 training, sales have started to rebound at U.S. locations, with the chain expecting domestic same-store sales growth of around 3 percent in June, according to the company.

Regardless of where folks fall on the controversy it’s clear the issues and publicity have Starbucks reacting, both in policy and in its bottom line.

The company also said it expects 1 percent growth in global sales for the third quarter, a period that encompassed an uproar over the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Starbucks closed its U.S. stores on May 29 to conduct racial-bias training for its employees.

CEO Kevin Johnson told investors the company halted its marketing campaign for cold beverages while it addressed with controversy, which may have affected sales.

Starbucks shares slipped nearly 2 percent in after-hours trading.

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President Trump Signs Executive Order on Border Separations( 16 )

After days of controversy over the “border separation” policy, President Trump has signed an executive order addressing the policy, while calling for Congress to also act.

ABC News:

President Donald Trump, under growing pressure to act unilaterally to address the immigration crisis, Wednesday signed an exeutive order that he said would keep immigrant families at the border together.

Trump said he didn’t like the sight of families being separated, according to a pool report. He said the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally would continue.

“It’s about keeping families together,” Trump said, “while ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border.”

“I think the word ‘compassion’ comes into it,” he said. “My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way,” he added.

“We have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want,” Trump said earlier Wednesday when he announced he would be signing the order.

Full Text from Whitehouse.gov:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce our immigration laws. Under our laws, the only legal way for an alien to enter this country is at a designated port of entry at an appropriate time. When an alien enters or attempts to enter the country anywhere else, that alien has committed at least the crime of improper entry and is subject to a fine or imprisonment under section 1325(a) of title 8, United States Code. This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce this and other criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise. It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources. It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.
Sec. 2. Definitions. For purposes of this order, the following definitions apply:
(a) “Alien family” means
(i) any person not a citizen or national of the United States who has not been admitted into, or is not authorized to enter or remain in, the United States, who entered this country with an alien child or alien children at or between designated ports of entry and who was detained; and
(ii) that person’s alien child or alien children.
(b) “Alien child” means any person not a citizen or national of the United States who
(i) has not been admitted into, or is not authorized to enter or remain in, the United States;
(ii) is under the age of 18; and
(iii) has a legal parent-child relationship to an alien who entered the United States with the alien child at or between designated ports of entry and who was detained.
Sec. 3. Temporary Detention Policy for Families Entering this Country Illegally. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary), shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.
(b) The Secretary shall not, however, detain an alien family together when there is a concern that detention of an alien child with the child’s alien parent would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.
(c) The Secretary of Defense shall take all legally available measures to provide to the Secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.
(d) Heads of executive departments and agencies shall, to the extent consistent with law, make available to the Secretary, for the housing and care of alien families pending court proceedings for improper entry, any facilities that are appropriate for such purposes. The Secretary, to the extent permitted by law, shall be responsible for reimbursement for the use of these facilities.
(e) The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions, CV 85-4544 (“Flores settlement”), in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.
Sec. 4. Prioritization of Immigration Proceedings Involving Alien Families. The Attorney General shall, to the extent practicable, prioritize the adjudication of cases involving detained families.
Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented in a manner consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
DONALD J. TRUMP
THE WHITE HOUSE,
June 20, 2018.

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Video: An Animated Guide To Dystopian Fiction( 1 )

I’ve been picking up an interest in classic science fiction lately, so I found this interesting:

How to recognize a dystopia – Alex Gendler

Literature and film can open up to the depth and immensity of social truths we find profoundly difficult, if not impossible, to articulate.

Source: How to Recognize a Dystopia: Watch an Animated Introduction to Dystopian Fiction | Open Culture

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Bugs on the Eastern Front Terrorize World Cup( 0 )

General Mud and General Winter have long been the defenders of the Russian Motherland from foreign invaders, or so the mythology goes. Perhaps its time to add General Insect, as the World Cup is finding out in Russia.

New York Times:

City officials have reportedly been spraying Volgograd Arena and the nearby marshlands with insecticide for the last few days, to little avail. Apparently bugs are a regular feature of the Volgograd summer, due to warm air and fertile breeding grounds in the Volga River. But no one seems to have issued any particular advance warning to the visitors who came to watch England’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia in the first World Cup match in this city, in the Russian southeast.

If the situation was untenable during the day on Monday, when the temperatures climbed into the 90s, it certainly improved by the time the game started, at 9 p.m. But the bugs were still there, at times deploying their own kind of teamwork by massing together and attacking as a unit.

Players could be seen waving their arms futilely in front of their faces during play. So could many fans, who were not allowed to bring liquids into the stadium and had to go bug spray-less. A reporter for a German TV station resorted to protective netting around her head.

No one was happy (except maybe the bugs themselves, with all those new victims in town). Presumably, Tunisians are as discomfited by insects to the same degree as English people are. But characteristically, the English news media interpreted the situation as a kind of national affront disproportionately affecting its own players — and its own reporters.

The Sky correspondent Kaveh Solhekol, for instance, tweeted that he had to abort a live broadcast at the last minute after being swarmed by “an invasion of flies” outside the England team’s hotel.

Washington Post:

The bugs, a frequent issue in the city, are so prevalent that helicopters have been deployed to spray insecticide on Volgograd Arena, the site of four games over the course of the tournament. The choppers will also spray marshlands on the outskirts of the Volga River, which flows through the city.

How bad is it?

“They are on your face, stick to your lips, get inside your nostrils, your ears and your hair,” BBC Sport’s Natalie Pirks said. “I’ve had to debug myself at bedtime as you find dead ones you’ve splatted in the strangest of places.”

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Whither Small Talk( 4 )

Another question not to ask?

It’s holiday season, a time of year for celebration.

So here’s a friendly reminder that “holiday” and “celebration” need not be synonyms for “drinking.”

Canadians are big drinkers, consuming 50 per cent more alcohol than the global average. Our reputation as a nation of beer drinkers is well earned. The average Canadian adult knocks back 76 litres of beer, 16 litres of wine, five litres of spirits and four litres of other alcoholic beverages annually. But averages don’t tell the whole story.

There are about 22 million Canadians who consume alcohol. Roughly 3.1 million people drink to the point of risking immediate physical harm (often binge drinking), and another 4.4 million drink to excess so routinely that they suffer chronic health problems as a result. Drinking is not always good fun.

One in four Canadian adults is a teetotaler – seven million in total – and that number is growing. The holidays can be hellish for them, given the relentless social pressure to imbibe and the constant interrogations. There are many reasons people don’t drink. None of them are any of your business.

I understand where the writer is coming from here, especially when it comes to questions like “Are you an alcoholic?” (way out of bounds) but while I don’t doubt that it’s an uncomfortable subject for some, almost anything is an uncomfortable subject for some.

Another question I’ve heard that it’s not polite to ask is if you have kids because what if they’re trying and having trouble? I can actually sympathize with that, but the world can’t stop for them any more than there is no safe space after a miscarriage. “Are you trying” is a little more personal and therefore a slightly stronger argument can be made, but I’m not sure eggshells are appropriate.

But when we meet people, we have to have stuff to talk about. There is only so much we can put out of bounds. What I guess we need is a better protocol for “I’ve answered your question can we move on now?”

Photo by Brian Lane Winfield Moore Whither Small Talk

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Humans Weren’t Meant To Live In Cities( 47 )

Science says so:

The study found that people in general were less happy in areas of greater population density. The report’s authors see this is as support for the savannah theory because we would naturally feel uneasy in larger groups if — as evidence they cite suggests — our brains evolved for functioning in groups of about 150 people {…}

The study discovered, though, that the negative effect of the presence of lots of people is more pronounced among people of average intelligence. They propose that our smartest ancestors were better able to adapt to larger groups on the savannah due to a greater strategic flexibility and innate ingenuity, and so their descendants feel less stressed by urban environments today.

And you can’t argue with science.

That wasn’t the only interesting finding, though. Even while they were better at adapting at being around a lot of people, they were also… better off alone?

The data they analyzed supports the assumption that good friendships — and a few good ones is better than lots of weaker ones — do significantly increase life satisfaction for most people.

In highly intelligent people, though, the finding is reversed: Smart people feel happier alone than when others, even good friends, are around. A “healthy” social life actually leaves highly intelligent people with less life satisfaction. Is it because their desires are more aspirational and goal-oriented, and other people are annoyingly distracting?

That they’re better at being alone than the normals would not be surprising because maybe they’re just more adaptable around a lot or no people. Interesting that they’re happier that way, though.

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Manafort Ordered to Jail( 54 )

Paul Manafort is in custody after a US District court judge ruled he had violated the terms of his pre-trial release. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had filed additional charges alleging Manafort had attempted to tamper with witnesses in the six months of house arrest.

Buzzfeed:

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson announced the ruling in court Friday. Manafort was immediately taken into custody. He appeared calm. He was led to a nonpublic area behind the courtroom, turning to briefly wave at his wife before going back.
Jackson found that in light of the new allegations from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office that Manafort and his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik had repeatedly attempted to call and text two former business associates starting in February — an effort that one of those associates told an investigator he understood to be an effort to “suborn perjury — she could not craft release conditions that she thought would be sufficient to protect the community. Manafort did not pose a physical danger, she said, but he presented a danger to “the administration of justice.”

“I cannot turn a blind eye to these allegations … You have abused the trust placed in you six months ago,” Jackson said.
Jackson denied a request by Manafort’s lawyer to put her order on hold to give the defense an opportunity to appeal her decision, a request that special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres opposed. Jackson said she was concerned that in light of her order, Manafort’s risk of flight had just “multiplied.”

Jackson rejected a request by Manafort’s lawyer to consider imposing a clearer “no contact” order covering his communications going forward in lieu of incarceration, arguing he had “largely” been in compliance with her pretrial release conditions until now.

“This is not middle school. I can’t take his cell phone,” Jackson said.

CBS News:

He was in court to face superseding charges accusing him of witness tampering, charges to which he pleaded not guilty. Manafort had previously been out on bail on house arrest, but the government requested that his bail be revoked.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has brought additional charges against Manafort and longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, accusing them of obstructing justice.

The new charges were unsealed last week against Paul Manafort and Kilimnik, who worked in the Ukraine offices of Manafort’s firm, Davis Manafort Partners International (DMI). Mueller is accusing Manafort and Kilimnik of tampering with two witnesses. Manafort is awaiting trial in federal court in Washington and Virginia on felony charges related to his work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

The witnesses, who had worked with Manafort as he represented a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, have told the FBI that they believed Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to get them to lie about the nature of their work.

US District Court Judge Jackson was not impressed with Mr. Manafort’s conduct:

Jackson chastised Manafort for his behavior in the case over the previous months, noting it was not the first time she had to address his compliance with her rules. Earlier in the hearing, she had pointed to a previous incident in which prosecutors accused Manafort of violating Jackson’s order against making public statements prejudicial to the case, citing his role in editing an op-ed that ran in a Ukrainian newspaper about his case. Jackson did not find him in violation of the order, but warned him to be careful going forward.

The judge said she was troubled that Manafort seemed “to treat these proceedings as just another marketing exercise.”

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“Classical” Thoughts on Solving Urban Planning( 12 )

The growth of cities, and what to do to about housing both affordable and otherwise, is a never-ending debate. Clive Aslet argues that a least some thought-if not outright guidance-of this newest version of an old problem should have a place for “a constant—indeed inevitable—theme of classical architecture”; the classical revival.

The Future of Classicism by Clive Aslet From The New Criterion

Cities are one of the big issues facing the planet. Hundreds of new cities are expected to be created across Africa and Asia in the course of the next century. Researchers believe that, if current population trends continue, Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, could develop into a vast, sprawling metropolis of over eighty-five million people. Niger has the highest birth rate in Africa; Niamey, its capital, is expected to explode in size, from less than one million people to forty-six million by 2100. Unfortunately, the urban expansion that has already taken place across the developing world has been ramshackle. Much of it has taken the form of shanty towns, where groups of shacks are crowded together with little sanitation or governance. This is brewing an obvious problem. The example of the West is, alas, little more encouraging. Much new development takes the form of suburban sprawl, which is wasteful of precious land, and has little character of its own. Young people are frustrated because they cannot break out of parental nests; the elderly feel isolated. And yet the pressure to build more housing—for reasons of immigration, increased life expectancy, and the creation of more households due to divorce—will increase, not abate. The need for master-planning has never been greater.

Master-planning is not the exclusive preserve of the classical movement. But following the public disgust at the failure of the tower blocks of the mid-twentieth century (in Britain, Grenfell Tower, a tower in North Kensington which burned in 2017 in a catastrophe apparently caused by the attachment of cladding intended to remedy some original defects of the specification, has become a cause célèbre), the Corbusian vision is dead. So modernism has borrowed the language of classicism: there is now hardly a wafer to put between Foster + Partners and Prince Charles. Both advocate sustainable neighborhoods, which have strong senses of local identity, and where people can walk, bicycle, or use public transport; communal streets, where neighbors meet each other going in and out of local shops, are good, selfish motorcars bad. But the visual results will be different. Modernism is not naturally local—it’s international. Nor is it human in scale—it favors the big, the spectacular, the mass-produced. But classicism has for centuries been making the towns and cities that—in Britain at least—house prices suggest people most want to live in. Its principles are universal, being based on the human form. But the classical language has dialects that differ from place to place. It is comfortable with traditional building technologies; this makes it particularly suited to less prosperous parts of the globe. Here is demand, on an epic scale, and here, too, the solution. It is appropriate that classicism should occupy a niche—or as one might term it, an aedicule. But there could be a great destiny for practitioners who climb.

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Giving Up Your Seat( 14 )

When You Can and Cannot Say ‘No’ When Someone Asks to Switch Seats With You on an Airplane

Duane Pickering, a 58-year-old flight attendant from Milwaukee, agrees, saying it’s entirely within a passenger’s right to decline an offer. “It’s up to them, really. It’s their seat, they paid for it, and if they don’t want to move, they don’t have to,” he says.

But as Roscoe and Del Rey articulate, there’s still considerable social pressure on the person to say yes. It’s hard to look a person in the eye and tell them no, you will not let them sit next to their loved one or their small child, even if it means wedging into the middle seat, in the back row of the plane, between two meaty dudes who have already established dominion over your armrests.

Not to mention, Masterson says she’s seen some passengers get noticeably angry and start swearing when their request for a seat change is rebuffed. “I’ve had to step in and say, ‘Ma’am that’s their seat, and they don’t have to change,’” she says.

My policy is that I will only ask if it’s the same type of seat, which is okay according to the rules. Of course, I won’t even usually ask then.

We had a different sort of situation when we recently flew. A guy was trying to save his (exit row) seat for his girlfriend… but you can’t save a seat on a plane. My wife called him on it and was called a “nasty bitch”… but we did get the seat.

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Teaching Philosophy to Weaponized AI( 26 )

The philosophical questions of morality in warfare are as old as recorded human history. With the rise of AI, drones, and technology, those age-old questions are only getting more complicated.

“When it comes to AI and weapons, the tech world needs philosophers” by Ryan Jenkins
Washington Post:

What’s harder is figuring out, going forward, where to draw the line — to determine what, exactly, “cause” and “directly facilitate” mean, and how those limitations apply to Google projects. To find the answers, Google, and the rest of the tech industry, should look to philosophers, who’ve grappled with these questions for millennia. Philosophers’ conclusions, derived over time, will help Silicon Valley identify possible loopholes in its thinking about ethics.

The realization that we can’t perfectly codify ethical rules dates at least to Aristotle, but we’re familiar with it in our everyday moral experience, too. We know we ought not lie, but what if it’s done to protect someone’s feelings? We know killing is wrong, but what if it’s done in self-defense? Our language and concepts seem hopelessly Procrustean when applied to our multifarious moral experience. The same goes for the way we evaluate the uses of technology.

In the case of Project Maven, or weapons technology, in general, how can we tell whether artificial intelligence facilitates injury or prevents it?

The Pentagon’s aim in contracting with Google was to develop AI to classify objects in drone video footage. In theory, at least, the technology could be used to reduce civilian casualties that result from drone strikes. But it’s not clear whether this falls afoul of Google’s guidelines. Imagine, for example, that artificial intelligence classifies an object, captured by a drone’s video, as human or nonhuman and then passes that information to an operator who makes the decision to launch a strike. Does the AI that separates human from nonhuman targets “facilitate injury?” Or is the resulting injury from a drone strike caused by the operator pulling the trigger?

No matter the advancement of technology, at some point some human will influence that technology and what it does. The military spends millions of dollars and thousands of hours training people in things like Law of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, Lawful Orders, and so on. That we may soon have to worry about weapons systems knowing the same is a brave new world indeed.

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Net Neutrality Passes Away (2015-2018)( 0 )

Net neutrality is officially repealed as of Monday, June 11. While the vote to repeal occurred back in December, the process required several further steps before officially being implemented on Monday.

CNN:

The controversial repeal of Obama-era net neutrality protections is officially set to take effect on Monday, despite ongoing efforts from members of Congress, state officials, tech companies and advocacy groups to save the rules.

The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines in December to repeal the rules, which were intended to prevent internet providers from blocking, speeding up, or slowing down access to specific online services.

The order required the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which the FCC announced receiving last month. In a statement at the time, FCC chairman Ajit Pai framed the upcoming repeal as removing burdensome regulations.

“Now, on June 11, these unnecessary and harmful internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored,” Pai said in a statement last month.

Supporters of net neutrality vow to fight on, such as Chad Marlow at ACLU:

On June 11, net neutrality protections will cease to exist. This means your internet service provider will be able to engage in content based discrimination. Internet content it likes — for political or financial reasons — will be delivered at top speeds, while content it disfavors will be slowed or even blocked.

But will that start happening on day one? Almost certainly not, because the big telecoms that fought so hard to kill net neutrality are smarter than that.

Internet service providers spent millions of dollars lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to end net neutrality, and they are certainly going to expect a healthy return on that investment. While the ISPs are clearly focused on increasing their profits, here the ISPs are likely to be patient. Their wisest course of action will be to eliminate net neutrality like a slow drip over time in the hope that consumers won’t notice and will stop caring.

While fans of repeal, such as Joe Kane at R Street, emphasize the past as prelude to the end of the regulations being hardly noticeable:

Title II rules only went into effect in 2015. If those rules were essential to the functioning of an open Internet, then it is hard to see how the online services we all use every day grew up and flourished without them.

The Internet became great without Title II rules, and we do not need 1934 telephone regulations to keep it that way. With the order that took effect today, you will still be able to use all your favorite web services. Meanwhile, the light-touch approach will foster new improvements to things like live-video streaming and online gaming, which could have been stifled by heavy-handed restrictions.

More from Ordinary Times on Net Neutrality:
The Messy Convergence of Sh**ty Customer Service and Net Neutrality By Tod Kelly
Net Neutrality, Libertarianism, and Free Information By Mark Thompson
How Neutral will Congress Make the Net?

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The Third Coming of Mitt Romney( 70 )

In a hotly contested election year, the most boring US Senate race might prove to have the most impact after the election. Barring something unheard of Mitt Romney is going to become the junior US Senator from Utah. But the former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate would not be your typical freshman senator.

NY Times:

While his wife looms largest in his life and decision-making, former aides and advisers say, Mr. Romney’s aspiration to live the lessons of George Romney cannot be overstated. When he debated Barack Obama in 2012, Mr. Romney scribbled a single word atop his notes to anchor himself: “Dad.”

“His dad’s legacy weighs into every decision he makes,” Josh Romney said.

After George Romney left office in Michigan, his son recalled in 2014, he grew “quite frustrated” at his diminished relevance, saying that Washington was “the fastest place to go from ‘who’s who’ to ‘who’s that’?”

Mr. Romney plans to avoid a similar coda. He has already spoken in private about serving two terms. He hopes to join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, among other assignments. And he has told supporters he wants to become a leading voice on fiscal discipline and immigration policy — about which he has said he is “more of a hawk” than the president.

“He’s hesitant to even bring up his name,” Josh Romney said. “He doesn’t want it to be about Donald Trump.”

Nor do the voters, in a state Mr. Trump lost decisively in the 2016 Republican caucus, seem especially inclined to make Mr. Romney talk about him. At the festival, Mr. Romney fell into conversation with firefighters, a sheriff, a former volunteer on his presidential race. “Wish I’d have won,” Mr. Romney told the man. “I apologize.”

And that name Romney is hesitate to speak, President Donald J. Trump, was very much on his mind two years ago in his well publicized speech during the 2016 campaign:

AP:

He once called Donald Trump “a con man,” but Mitt Romney is now predicting that Trump will “easily” win his party’s presidential nomination in 2020 and “solidly” win a second term. The president, in turn, called Romney “a straight shooter.”

Romney, the GOP’s failed 2012 presidential nominee from Massachusetts, now a Republican Senate candidate in Utah, made the prediction Thursday as he welcomed dozens of high-profile business and political leaders to a mountainside retreat in Utah. As he has every year since 2012, Romney played host to an invitation-only summit focused on the future of American leadership at home and abroad.

The future, he predicted, would feature Trump as America’s leader at least for another six years.

“I think that not just because of the strong economy and the fact that people are going to see increasingly rising wages,” Romney said, “but I think it’s also true because I think our Democrat friends are likely to nominate someone who is really out of the mainstream of American thought and will make it easier for a president who’s presiding over a growing economy.”

Asked about Romney’s comments as he left the White House on Friday, Trump said he appreciated his formal rival’s assessment.
“Mitt’s a straight shooter — whether people love him or don’t love him,” Trump said.

The remarks from Romney marked a sharp reversal, in tone if not substance, from his original characterization of Trump. Romney briefly served as the face of the so-called “Never Trump” movement before the 2016 election. He delivered a scathing speech in Utah before the 2016 election, calling Trump “a con man” and “a fake.”

Yet Romney’s criticism has softened since then. And now, in the midst of a Republican Senate primary campaign, the former Massachusetts governor appears to be embracing Trump and his leadership role in the modern-day Republican Party.

Which version of Mitt will be serving in the US Senate remains to be seen. But unless something unforeseen happens, we will find out come January.

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One Second Is Worth A Thousand Words( 17 )

This is, quite obviously, going to be a picture for the history books.

One Second Is Worth A Thousand Words

As Matthew Stinson and Matt Dawson point out, though, it’s a picture from a narrative. It could well have been this picture:

One Second Is Worth A Thousand Words

Both Trump and anti-Trump have latched on to the first picture as one that supports their narrative. There are even some “Trump and Abe versus the world!” takes on the pro-Trump side, and the sense that Trump being obstinant while dreaded globalist foreign leaders are upset fits a picture that many like.

What I find interesting, and I need to remember, how much story can be told by the selection of one photograph instead of another. Stinson, a photographer, explains further in his Twitter thread.

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