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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cops vs. Burgers: How L.A. regulated a burger stand out of existence.

Read the whole story at Reason:

... in 2012 the city declared Tam’s a “public nuisance,” claiming the late-night joint was a haven for criminals. Benetatos says he is simply located in a high-crime area and has tried to work with the Los Angeles Police Department, honoring its requests that he remove pay phones on the property and tables for outdoor seating, which he says resulted in a 15 percent decline in revenues.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What sequester? University of Iowa gets $500k fed grant to study snail sex

Read all about it.  Last award March 15, 2013.

Texts from Dog

More here.

Researchers Discover Amphibian Species that Peel and Eat their Mother's Skin

Sheesh - and I thought my kids were bad (just kidding, guys).  Not only that, but
"What we've found is another species that's a skin-feeder, but most importantly, it's another species that's quite distantly related to other skin-feeders we've found, meaning that skin-feeding is probably an ancestral characteristic for caecilians," said Dr Emma Sherratt from Harvard University, according to
Really?  There's a bunch of them?

Thursday links

8 Facts You May Not Have Known About Salt.

7 Most Bizarre Types of Cheese.

The History of Insect Head Transplants.

Gallery of excellent Shadow Art Sculptures.

Scientists on Whether Game of Thrones‘ Wall Could Exist In Real Life.

Chameleon Sticky Tongue In Slow Motion.

Elementary school takes Easter out of egg hunt

"And we just make sure we don't say the Easter bunny so that we don't infringe on the rights of others because people relate the Easter bunny to religion; a bunny is a bunny and a rabbit is a rabbit."

Legal Insurrection has this:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Feds Routinely Track Cell Phones Without Telling Judges

Stingray technology, also referred to by investigators with a confusing array of other names including "WIT" and "Triggerfish," is interesting and creepy stuff. It mimics cell phone towers to get mobile devices to reveal their locations, turning your handy widgets into tracking beacons. The technology is controversial because courts are generally unfamiliar with the devices, and there's growing evidence that they're being used by law-enforcement agencies who obtain authorization for their use by peddling them to jurists as older, much less-intrusive technology, when they bother seeking permission at all.

The LAPD was caught presenting stingrays to judges as "pen register/trap and trace," which dates back to the days of operators and land-line exchanges. Now, as noted at Reason 24/7, the American Civil Liberties Union has unearthed evidence that the feds have been doing the same thing — so frequently, in fact, that judges have become annoyed and the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California is trying to get a handle on the practice.

In the process of gathering information about the use of stingrays in the case of United States v. Rigmaiden, the ACLU obtained several internal Justice Department emails. The first email in the series, sent to the USACAN-Attorneys-Criminal mailing list on May 23, 2011, says in part:
Effective immediately all pen register applications and proposed orders must be reviewed by your line supervisor before they are submitted to a magistrate judge.
As some of you may be aware, our office has been working closely with the magistrate judges in an effort to address their collective concerns regarding whether a pen register is sufficient to authorize the use of law enforcement's WIT technology (a box that simulates a cell tower and can be placed inside a van to help pinpoint an individual's location with some specificity) to locate an individual. It has recently come to my attention that many agents are still using WIT technology in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit.
The rest of the email makes it clear that higher-ups have no idea as to the extent of stingray use, beyond the fact that it's common.

Another email makes it clear that using stingray technology was sometimes the initial intent of a pen register application, and other times it was just dropped in as a matter of convenience. "In other words, a pen might have started out as just a pen, and later the agents decided to use the order to also attempt to locate the target," the author suggests with a fine regard for plausible deniability. "They may or may not have told you about this decision. So check in with your agents to find out if they have been using pen register orders to locate targets with the WIT boxes, whether or not they started out intending to do so."

Who knew that warrants were so ... elastic? Well, aside from the agents stretching them to acommodate powerful new surveillance technologies, that is.

Scientists on Whether Game of Thrones‘ Wall Could Exist In Real Life

Short version below, but read the whole thing at Wired:

What’s the verdict? Could such a thing really exist?


Even if it were built in the real-world equivalent to Game of Thrones‘ wintry North, where temperatures never get above freezing, an ice structure as large as the Wall would still “deform under [its] own weight... the deformation would take the form of the bottom of the Wall bulging out as the pressure bears the top of it down.

China’s Naval Dragons Go Off Leash?

China is making waves again, this time by allegedly firing on a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea. Reuters reports:
A statement posted on the Vietnamese government’s website said the trawler was chased away and came under attack from Chinese ships near the Paracel islands on March 20, calling the incident a breach of international maritime law.
The hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea has plenty of countries lined up to stake their claims. This incident occurred near the Paracel islands, claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and China. These islands don’t have any hydrocarbon reserves of their own, but that hasn’t stopped China from antagonizing the various claimants in the past.

Update: This morning, the WSJ reported that China sent four ships to a disputed reef off the coast of Malaysia.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

California’s $910 Million ObamaCare Exchange.

Read the whole thing at Reason
Health policy consultant Robert Laszewski notes that California has already received a little more than $909 million in federal grants—an amount that’s actually $32 million less than the state’s exchange director asked for.
So where’s all the money going? A big chunk is going to the infrastructure and information technology components—building out the website and database technology necessary to manage the law’s subsidies and facilitate enrollment in the exchange-based health plans. But a lot of it is just going to marketing and enrollment. As Laszewski notes, the state is launching a two-year, $250 million marketing campaign intended to get people to sign up for the exchange. The state is also paying 20,000 part-time "enrollers" $58 an application for each person they sign up. In contrast, California Blue Shield serves 3.5 million members with just 5,000 employees.

Failed (but politically connected) Iowa entrepreneur awarded $112 million for Obamacare co-ops

Instapundit:  Another $112 million handed out by HHS to fund new Obamacare co-op in Iowa and Nebraska headed by a politically connected entrepreneur with a spotty record of successful startups. Previously reported: New York/New Jersey/Oregon and Ohio.

Mark Kelly’s (Mr. Gabby Gifford's) ‘Assault Weapon’ Purchase Rescinded By Dealer

A Tucson gun store owner has decided to rescind the sale of a military-style rifle to Mark Kelly, the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, after Kelly said he had intended the purchase to make a political point about how easy it is to obtain the kind of firearms he's lobbying Congress to ban.

Kelly's March 5 purchase of an AR-15-style rifle and a 45.-caliber handgun at Diamondback Police Supply sparked a frenzy of reaction from both sides of the debate after he posted to Facebook a photo of himself shopping.

"While I support and respect Mark Kelly's 2nd Amendment rights to purchase, possess, and use firearms in a safe and responsible manner, his recent statements to the media made it clear that his intent in purchasing the Sig Sauer M400 5.56mm rifle from us was for reasons other then for his personal use," MacKinlay said in the statement.

He added that the store will return Kelly's money, donate the rifle to the Arizona Tactical Officers Association to be raffled as a fundraiser and make an additional contribution of $1,295 -- the value of the rifle -- to the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program.

"Velociraptor" turkeys attack church-goers in Maryland

Turkey hunting season is about to start, so these guys might want to watch it.

FREDERICK, Maryland -- A couple of tom turkeys are terrorizing folks in Frederick, harassing church-goers, drivers inside their cars, and cyclists.

Essex school bans triangular flapjacks

A school has banned triangular flapjacks on health and safety grounds after a pupil was hit in the eye by one during a lunch-time food fight.

Dinner ladies at the comprehensive school were told to cut flapjacks into squares or rectangles only from now on after the Year 7 boy was sent home complaining of a sore eye.

Aren't we all guilty of this? Woman busted for having crack in her genitals

Woman busted for having crack in her genitals: that's got to be the headline of the day. The story itself is disappointing: An Alabama woman was arrested after she was found with drugs hidden in her private parts.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Bizarre History of Insect Head Transplants

Head transplants sound the most crazy futuristic scenario imaginable. Right? But not to entomologists. They’ve been transplanting the head of one insect onto another for 90 years -- while keeping both insects alive. What can you learn from giving an insect a total head transplant?


The entire process seems to have started in 1923, when a biologist named Walter Finkler reported that he had managed to successfully transplant the heads of insects. He’d been working with water boatmen, meal worms, and common butterflies – both in adult and grub form. The transplantation process was not complex. He’d grab two insects, cut off their heads with sharp scissors, and switch them. The fluid that the insects themselves leaked cemented the new heads in place. After a little time -- a 1923 article says a few weeks -- the insects were healed up and doing whatever their new heads told them to do. Finkler claimed that the heads of female insects on male bodies continued female behavior, and the head of one species of butterfly kept the habits of its own species, even when its body belonged to a different species.

Seattle school renames Easter eggs 'Spring Spheres'

This is actually from a couple of years ago, but it's still great. On top of all the additional ways in which this is ridiculous, eggs are, of course, not spherical.

Researchers Figure out How to Get Rid of an Earworm

More, plus links, at Neatorama: If you want to get rid of an earworm, you need to use all of your working memory on another task, such as solving a puzzle:
Researchers claim the best way to stopping the phenomenon, sometimes known as earworms – where snippets of a catchy song inexplicably play like a broken record in your brain – is to solve some tricky anagrams.
This can force the intrusive music out of your working memory, they say, allowing it to be replaced with other more amenable thoughts. [...]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

10 Wild Ways to Woo a Mate

I like this guy:  This satin bowerbird, from Australia, knows that the female of the species is a fan of all things blue. He goes on a mission for blue things, then uses them to decorate his bower; a sort of love nest. Females visit all the bowers in the area until they find one that meets their satisfaction.

And speaking of being attracted to blue:  Hailing from the Galapagos Islands, the blue-footed booby does a stomp with his massive turquoise feet in an attempt to impress potential mates. The brighter the blue feet, the healthier the male.

Obama EPA illegally gave information on livestock farmers to extremist animal rights groups

Farm Futures reported:
NCBA and the National Pork Producers Council are both furious with EPA for handing extremist groups illegally gathered data on farmers who operate confined animal feeding operations.

Grandmothers who are brilliant at technology

"Grandma Got STEM" profiles grandmothers who have accomplished marvelous feats of technology. via BoingBoing.

Whale bone porn leaves Vancouver mother ‘extremely disturbed’

Ms. Pimentel told the Vancouver Sun that her two small children — aged two and three — were needlessly exposed to the disturbing “whale bone porn.” No advance warnings were made to sensitive patrons outside the display room, she complained.

But the nine pieces with sexual content are displayed in a case raised high off the floor, well beyond scope of a toddler’s inquisitive eyes, and lighting is prudishly dim. Next to the display is a sign: “Hide Your Eyes! These pieces of scrimshaw are not intended for children.”

Obama’s Arafat blunder is an embarrassment for the leader of the free world

The Telegraph:

Obama took part in a joint press conference with President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank under a beaming banner of Yasser Arafat, also known as the “father of modern terrorism”.

President Obama’s first term was littered with embarrassing gaffes abroad, and it looks like his second term will be more of the same. This is in many respects an amateurish presidency, headed by a president who is frequently out of his depth on the world stage, and all too willing to appease America’s adversaries.

Among "the best boiled sheep heads I have ever had"

Here's some news from Iceland (via News of Iceland). Minister of Foreign Affairs Ă–ssur Skarphedinsson declared that the boiled sheep head he was served at a recent meeting of the Social Democratic Alliance was among "the best boiled sheep heads I have ever had. They stuck to my gum as proper heads should do."

His only minor criticism was that "the head could have been more fermented. We, from the West fjords, prefer our sheep heads so fermented that we can drink the eye out of the eye socket."

More info about this Icelandic delicacy can be found at Wikipedia.

John Mackey on Whole Foods, Conscious Capitalism, and Life Beyond the Profit Motive

"I think the critics of capitalism have got it in this very small box - that it's all about money," explains John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods. "And yet, I haven't found it be that way. I've known hundreds of entrepreneurs and with very few exceptions most of them did not start their businesses primarily to make money."

Doc Zero: The latest news from the blasted wasteland of austerity

Doc Zero:
Even as Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) complains that the ravages of austerity threaten to starve her retinue of six-figure aides because they can't afford good meals at tony Washington cafes any more, we learn that the IRS blew $60,000 making a Star Trek parody video (in which aU.S.S. Enterprise staffed by IRS agents approaches a hostile planet called "Notax").

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden took his gigantic imperial retinue on a fun-filled trip through London (where he rented out 136 five-star $500-per-night luxury hotel rooms for a total bill exceeding $459,000. Then it was on to Paris, where Sultan Joe blew a cool $585,000 putting up his vast entourage at the Intercontinental Paris le Grand for a single night. All payable by you, dear taxpayer.
Will the brutality of sequestration never end? How are our noble public servants supposed to endure these Spartan lifestyles of austerity? Wasserman Schultz was heard to remark that her army of congressional aides might just start looking for work in the private sector, because tightwad taxpayers are forcing them to make do without gourmet appetizers at their elegant luncheons. Good luck with that, kids. Unlike the Army of Debt you currently serve in, the private sector hasn't been hiring much for several years now, and the perks are nothing like what you've become accustomed to.

No Money for Air Traffic Control, But $500 million for Hamas

At WyBlog, via Doug Ross:

The United States has quietly unblocked almost $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority which had been frozen by Congress for months, a top US official said Friday.

"To date, we have moved $295.7 million in fiscal year 2012 money. and $200 million in fiscal year 2013 assistance," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

New Apology Tour, Same Result: Turkey Reneges on Israel Deal

On Friday, the White House released a statement hailing “the restoration of positive relations” between Israel and Turkey as a result of Netanyahu’s apparently forced apology over the flotilla raid. A day later, however, Turkey appeared to renege on the deal, with Erdogan telling the Turkish press that it was too soon to send a new ambassador to Israel or to stop the show-trial prosecutions, despite President Obama's assurances.