Chicago calls for stricter gun laws – again – after 14 people shot overnight


Click to enlargeArmando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

Fourteen people, including two young boys, were shot in Chicago over a 15-hour period from Monday night to Tuesday morning.

Six people were killed and at least eight were wounded, following two consecutive weekends when more than 50 people were shot in the city.

Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and police officials repeated their calls for stricter gun laws and a more robust criminal justice system.

“I’m angry about what happened here and I think I speak for everybody,” Emanuel said on Tuesday. “And I think I speak for everybody when I say enough is enough.”

RTFA here if you think you need more details of our gun plague.

The Tribune has been tracking gun violence in Chicago for four years and regularly reports record-breaking incidents of gun violence.

The shootings these past two weeks follow a four-week period in August, when more than 40 people were shot each weekend. At least 2,300 people have been shot in the city this year, which the Tribune said is 400 more than were shot in the same period last year.

The four other people shot from Monday night to Tuesday morning include a two-year-old boy, who was grazed by a bullet in an accidental shooting. Police said he was in good condition.

“Here we go again,” said Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy. “We’ve had the same conversation over and over. What do we have to do? We have to hold criminals responsible.”

The “criminals” include Congress. Cowards and copouts. The criminals include the NRA. The criminals include politicians up and down the line lacking courage enough to challenge the gun manufacturers lobby who sell fear as much as death.

Yes, the criminals include lawyers who found a profitable career on playing off mediocre legislation against chickenshit courts, bought-and-paid-for judges. That includes more than judges owned by political interests; but, those who cave in to foolish political trends which have nothing to do with reality.

I could roll on for pages on all the currents that bring us to this whirlpool of death. Yes, it includes the history of corrupt, racist police departments. Chicago being one of the worst. None of it takes away from the consummate cowardice and failure of Congressional political hacks. They couldn’t provide leadership to a hound dog looking for a meal in the city garbage dump.

Don’t worry about Styrofoam in landfills – just add mealworms

image

If you’ve ever kept mealworms as food for a pet reptile or frog, then you probably fed them fruits or vegetables. What you likely didn’t know, however, was that the insects can also survive quite nicely on a diet of Styrofoam. With that in mind, scientists at Stanford University have now determined that mealworms can break the difficult-to-recycle plastic foam down into a biodegradable waste product.

The Stanford team fed Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene to a colony of approximately 100 mealworms.

Within 24 hours, the worms consumed 34 to 39 milligrams of the plastic, converting about half of it to carbon dioxide – as they would with any other food source. Bacteria in the worms’ gut degraded the other half into tiny biodegradable droppings. The researchers believe that those droppings could safely be used as a crop fertilizer.

The mealworms themselves appeared to be just as healthy as worms that received a more traditional diet of vegetable matter.

Working with colleagues in China, the Stanford team members are now investigating whether mealworms or other insects could also be used to break down additional types of plastic, such as polypropylene. They also hope to find a marine equivalent to mealworms, that could consume the tons of plastic waste currently fouling the world’s oceans.

Phew! Now we can go back to comfy styrofoam cups of coffee at our favorite fast food joints.

New York mayor calls on pension funds to divest from coal


Koch Bros carbon wall of shame

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the city’s five pension funds…to end their investments in coal companies, demonstrating his commitment to taking on climate change.

The pension funds – whose assets total a collective $160bn – have $33m invested in coal, according to the mayor’s office.

“New York City is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start,” De Blasio said…

This announcement follows a continued global movement to divest from coal. In June, Norway’s parliament endorsed the selling of coal investments from its $900bn sovereign wealth fund, and on 2 September, California lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state’s two largest pension plans to divest any holdings of thermal coal within 18 months…

The mayor also proposed that the pension funds establish long-term investment strategies for all fossil fuel investments “as New York City continues to move toward renewables and away from fossil fuels”.

Now, if we would only kick the foot-draggers [knuckle-draggers?] out of Congress we might see progressive movement in the whole United States on pollution and climate change.

2015 Ig-Nobel Prizewinners

Always worth checking out. My favorite, this year –

Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items — A study supported by European Research Council grants.

But, wait, there’s more. Many more. All worth a chortle.

A chemistry award for partially unboiling an egg; pretty much all mammals take the same time to pee; an economics award for offering cash to coppers who turn down bribes.

And on and on.

A horrifying death in an American jail

During his 17-day stay in jail, 32-year-old David Stojcevski lost 50 pounds, hallucinated, and experienced seizures and convulsions. It was all caught on a security camera that jailers were supposed to regularly watch. But no one helped — and Stojcevski died.

Now, the FBI is investigating the death, according to Detroit News.

The horrifying death of Stojcevski in the Macomb County, Michigan, jail — first reported by Local 4 — is drawing national attention as the latest example of horrific neglect and brutality by the criminal justice system. And unlike previous cases, it was all caught on video — making it easy to see exactly what went wrong.

But beyond the gruesome images and FBI investigation, Stojcevski’s death speaks to a much larger problem in the criminal justice system: In many cases, jails aren’t staffed, trained, or resourced to deal with cases like Stojcevski’s. But they continue locking up excessive numbers of people, even when it might not be necessary…

Macomb County sheriffs picked up Stojcevski in 2014 after he failed to pay a $772 traffic ticket for careless driving. Stojcevski was placed in a jail cell and later a mental health cell, even though a nurse who evaluated Stojcevski suggested putting him in a drug detox unit.

He was supposed to serve 30 days in jail for not paying the ticket. But he would be held there, naked (inmates don’t wear clothes in the mental health unit, apparently for their own protection), until his death, 17 days after he was locked up…

Over 17 days, Stojcevski displayed typical withdrawal symptoms. He didn’t eat, likely due to withdrawal-induced nausea. He shook and appeared to experience seizures. He seemed to hallucinate, reenacting a previous fight with an inmate. On his last two days, he laid on the floor, shaking and in clear distress.

During all this time, staffers rarely tended to Stojcevski’s needs, even though his cell was under surveillance 24 hours a day. As he lay on the floor shaking and not eating his food over 48 hours, no one showed up to help until the very end. But it was too late — he was pronounced dead at the hospital…

By definition, an overcrowded jail doesn’t have the staff to handle all the problems that arise in these facilities. In Stojcevski’s case, it’s possible that staffers didn’t respond to his clear medical crisis because no one was available, either to watch the 32-year-old or to care for him…

There are also signs that jail staff simply didn’t know how to treat an inmate with medical needs like Stojcevski. As two mental health experts told Local 4, Stojcevski was clearly suffering from a medical condition even as jailers did nothing to care for him.

Or – as so often is the case – jail staff, administrators, county officials and, ultimately, voters, just don’t care a rat’s ass about what happens to people in jail.

Apple products get more personal – and private – and piss off the NSA

Fire up the new Apple News service for the first time on your iPhone, and it’ll ask for your favorite topics and news outlets. Use it over time, and you’ll find that it is behaving like your personal news recommendation engine.

Read a lot about gardening, and you’ll see more stories about hardy perennials. Click on every story about the Red Sox? Get ready for more bullpen analysis. But eventually you may start to wonder — just how much does this app know about me?

You may think you know the answer, given that we live in a world where our every click and scroll is obsessively tracked by tech companies eager to sell us personalized ads. Apple, too, has been employing a small amount of targeted advertising since at least 2010.

But in a revamped privacy policy Web site, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, Apple on Tuesday attempts to lay out how its philosophy on data collection distinguishes itself from its tech industry rivals.

In essence, the company is telling customers it is not interested in their personal data, even as it must use more of that data to deliver personalized products…

Apple News, which can deliver a stream of headlines right onto one of the home screens of the iPhone, launched this month into a crowded space. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have long been using algorithms to serve piping hot headlines from the Web to consumers while using their reading habits to enhance the vast trove of data the companies keep on every user.

Apple’s offering is different in that its stories are also curated by a small team of journalists. And the company clearly hopes a selling point will be its pledges on privacy protection.

“We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter that introduced its privacy Web site last year. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud.”

Apple made substantial updates last fall to its privacy policies and the revamped Web site launching Tuesday offers new details and language on several topics. It is broken down into several sections — such as how it handles information requests from the authorities including the National Security Agency, instructions on how to secure devices from, say, third parties which may be interested in tracking behavior, and how some of Apple’s services work…

A new section on the Apple News app states that it collects data on what each user is reading so it can offer personalized headlines and ads. But the service does not tie reading habits to an Apple account and uses a unique identifier — which functions only within the News app — to send you targeted ads. Readers can also remove a record of their reading history from their device.

It works just like Apple Pay – which is why we love Apple Pay. No chance of anyone from a checkout clerk to the NSA accessing any personal info about the transaction.

In a separate section, the company laid out new language on encrpytion. Last year, Apple made it impossible for the company to turn over data from a customer’s iPhones or iPads — even when authorities have a search warrant — if users turn off automatic back-ups to the company’s servers. The policy has generated protests from police departments and Obama administration officials.

The new language doesn’t mention law enforcement, but the debate over Apple’s decision last fall motivated the company to spell out its thinking on encryption…“Encryption protects trillions of online transactions every day. Whether you’re shopping or paying a bill, you’re using encryption. It turns your data into indecipherable text that can only be read by the right key… And we can’t unlock your device for anyone because you hold the key — your unique password. We’re committed to using powerful encryption because you should know that the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected.”

There’s an interesting discussion at the end of this article about educated consumers coming down on the side of privacy. Hopefully, such questions will make a difference to voters, as well.

Jeb Bush is the ultimate opponent of Internet Freedom

Do you want to live in a country where Internet Service Providers can slow down and censor your internet traffic at will, where the NSA has vastly more power than it does today and where end-to-end encryption may be illegal? Then Jeb Bush is the Republican presidential contender for you: he has positioned himself as the anti-internet candidate in an election where internet rights have never mattered more.

A lot of the White House candidates have made worrying comments about the future of surveillance and the internet – from Chris Christie’s bizarre vow to track 10 million people like FedEx packages, to Hillary Clinton’s waffling on encryption backdoors – but Jeb Bush’s deliberate campaign to roll back internet rights is the perfect storm of awful.

Bush proudly stated on his campaign website this week that he would axe the FCC’s important net neutrality rules, a hard-fought, grassroots victory from earlier this year by internet rights activists almost a decade in the making. As the New York Times described it at the time, the net neutrality rules “are intended to ensure that no content is blocked and that the internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else…”

As Gizmodo’s Kate Knibbs put it, however, “Instead of viewing the FCC’s net neutrality rule as a safeguard for consumers, Bush is framing it a way to sandbag ISPs out of their rightful profit margins, with no upside for people using their services.” Jeb Bush is apparently happy to side with Comcast and Time Warner, two of the most hated conglomerates in America, rather than the tens of millions of people who just want watch Netflix every night without their internet slowing down or having to pay more.

But that’s just his latest vow to dismantle the hard-fought rights internet users have won over the past few years. Bush is also a mass warrantless surveillance fanatic. He not only continually defends the NSA on the campaign trail, but has called for the mammoth spy agency to be handed even more powers. He’s defended the massive phone metadata program that collected Americans’ phone records that is both wildly unpopular with voters and has already been modified by Congress – and to a large extent shuttered – with the passage of the USA Freedom Act. Bush even claimed the expansion of the NSA over the past six or seven years has been the “best part” of the Obama administration.

Perhaps worst of all, Jeb Bush has ignorantly criticized the welcome trend of tech companies like Apple implementing end-to-end encryption in their devices to protect its millions of users from criminals and government spying. Seemingly channeling his brother George W at an event in August, Jeb said, “If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job…”

I rarely expect the average American voter to vote on behalf of their own economic interest. Might be a bit of a stretch for a society working harder than ever at perpetuating ignorance and obedience.

I hope geeks interested in blogs fond of tech and science are brighter than that. I hope that vague number of Americans still believing in personal privacy will vote – even in another election featuring the untrustworthy vs the folks who try to be nice.

Back to the Future? Not with my vote!

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 8.35.30 PM

I spend a fair piece of time criticizing President Obama for what he does – instead of doing what he could do. And, frankly, he doesn’t deserve all the credit he gets. Folks like Peter Orszag, Ian Bremmer, even Ben Bernanke and more contributed to fighting our way out of the economic struggle that left us with less than we all had – and might have had.

But, the comparison that creeps in the Republican Party make, the comparison that cretins in the Tea Party make – are not laughable, they are criminally backwards.

Thanks, SmartAlix

There’s a very cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean

day after tomorrow

Last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015.

Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months:

What’s up with that?

images.washingtonpost.com

First of all, it’s no error. I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months…

And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”

Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold.

At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation…

The fact that a record-hot planet Earth coincides with a record-cold northern Atlantic is quite stunning. There is strong evidence — not just from our study — that this is a consequence of the long-term decline of the Gulf Stream System, i.e. the Atlantic ocean’s overturning circulation AMOC, in response to global warming.

The short term variations will at some point also go the other way again, so I don’t expect the subpolar Atlantic to remain at record cold permanently. But I do expect the AMOC to decline further in the coming decades. The accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet will continue to contribute to this decline by diluting the ocean waters.

This won’t lead to anything remotely like The Day After Tomorrow (which was indeed based — quite loosely — on precisely this climate scenario). But if the trend continues, there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe.

A good time to go back and watch at least the first portion of Day After Tomorrow. The movie does a good job of explaining the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation and what potentially can happen. There are climate scientists who agree – and some who disagree. A localized effect can become a regional effect and vice versa.

What is fairly likely is that if the circulation is interrupted by what has long been a predictable feature of global warming, folks in NW Europe and the UK who’ve been getting used to a generally warmer year-round batch of seasons better get out their woolies. The Gulf Stream circulation brings a fair chunk of warmth to what should feel like Poland or even Belarus. And may, soon.