Facebook’s News Feed Has Decided That I Like Gruesome Murders

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I’m not exactly sure when the problem started, but I imagine it was around the time of one of the now too-common stories of mass shootings like Sandy Hook. Or at least, that’s what I like to tell myself.

This is an interesting article. Part of me misses the personal updates from friends on Facebook. Part of me also misses seeing articles from sources I don’t follow in my regular reading (with the awesome newsblur). And yet part of me is also very content with quitting Facebook because I’m not seeing their algorithmic analysis.

July 26, 2014 at 2:23PM
via Digg Top Stories http://ift.tt/1pUvkeB

Southwest Groundwater Disappearing at ‘Shocking’ Rate

By Becky Oskin, LiveScience

The Colorado River Basin's underground water supplies are shrinking faster than they're being replenished.

Trouble ahead. Our drought is bad now and depleting groundwater this fast could make things really bad in the future.

July 25, 2014 at 8:30AM
via Discovery News http://ift.tt/1una6N1

Is One Of The Most Popular Psychology Experiments Worthless?

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A trolley is careening toward an unsuspecting group of workers. You have the power to derail the trolley onto a track with just one worker. Do you do it? It might not matter.

I’ve read many books that discuss “trolley-ology” and the trolley problem (and its variants) always seemed both contrived and intriguiging. Especially the research showing different responses in a second language. Responses to its various permutations were measureable, which is something, but this is an important idea to keep in mind too.

July 24, 2014 at 4:31PM
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The Trick To Cooking A Perfect Pot Of Rice

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Of the many ways you can be humbled in the kitchen, rice is at the top of the list. You might not be a bad cook but, oh, the pots of rice driven to a gummy, scorched grave can still haunt you.

July 24, 2014 at 8:37AM
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A Bold Critic of the Big Bang’s “Smoking Gun”

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David Spergel explains why a widely publicized gravitational-wave discovery could be wrong, and how it could affect the public’s perception of science

– Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

This is an excellent summary of both the theory of inflation and the value of meaningful peer-review of scientific publication.

July 24, 2014 at 7:00AM
via Scientific American Content: Global http://ift.tt/1AbaPkK

A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We’re Gone

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In the digital age, our online accounts don’t die with us. A proposed law might determine what does happen to them. But the tech industry warns the measure could threaten the privacy of the deceased.

» E-Mail This

Death and the internet.

July 23, 2014 at 6:34AM
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This Is Your Brain on War: A Dispatch From Jerusalem

By Gershom Gorenberg

AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, as Israeli airstrikes pummeled a wide range of locations along the coastal area and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the two-week war.

 

As I write, the livestream from Gaza of news about death continues. If I give a casualty count, it may be outdated before I finish typing it. It won’t include those Palestinians—civilians and Hamas fighters—who may be buried in rubble in the Sajaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, which the Israeli army has invaded in search of rockets and of tunnels leading into Israel. Nor will it include recent deaths of Israeli soldiers; the military often delays such announcements for hours. Collapsing under the weight of the Gaza reports is whatever initial support Israel had in the West as its cities came under rocket fire. The same reports have fed criticism of Hamas in the Arab world.

The war isn’t a hurricane; it didn’t happen by itself. Leaders on both sides made choices. In Israel, despite an unusual number of protests so early in a war, most of the public seems to think the government is doing the right thing, perhaps too timidly. I doubt anyone can judge public opinion accurately amid the chaos and fear in Gaza, but credible estimations are that support for the Hamas government rises in proportion to Israeli attacks.

Maybe just to keep my own sanity, I have to ask: How do leaders believe that such flawed decisions were the only reasonable choices? How can masses of people keep supporting those policies even as they prove disastrous? What’s wrong with our heads? By that I mean not just the heads of Israelis and Palestinians but of human beings, since I don’t have any cause to think that the sides in this conflict are being uniquely irrational.

In a 2007 article that now reads as if written to explain the 2014 Gaza war, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and fellow psychologist Jonathan Renshon succinctly gave some answers. Human minds, they said, have hard-wired biases that favor hawks. People are too optimistic about their own strengths, including the strength of their armies. They prefer to double down rather than to cut their losses. They’re sure that other people can read their thoughts and understand their good intentions—even while they misread their opponents’ intent.

You can go down this list and find painful proofs in the events of recent weeks: Hamas appeared absurdly overconfident that rocket fire would force Israel to stop air attacks and loosen its siege on Gaza. When that didn’t work, rather than accept a ceasefire, it upped the ante by sending gunmen through tunnels to surface in Israeli territory. Israel thought Hamas would surely fold in the face of air strikes. When that didn’t happen, it quintupled its bet with the ground invasion. The Israeli government thinks the world has to understand that it’s acting in self-defense, even as whole families die in Gaza. This isn’t just a PR ploy Or rather, the PR is sincere, which doesn’t make it more convincing outside Israel.

 

While I can’t match the breadth of Kahneman’s research, I live within the laboratory of Israeli-Palestinian relations and inside this latest, horrid experiment. On that basis, I’ll suggest several more shared biases that warp decisions and make it easier to ignore mistakes afterward.

First: The other side in a conflict appears more unified than it is. On your own side, you know the divisions. You know the names and the faces of proponents of each nuance. To most people, though, the opposing side is a faceless mass. “The Palestinians” or “the Arabs.” “The Israelis” or even just “the occupation.”

A leader is supposed to do better. The Israeli prime minister has several agencies that map the fissures between and within Palestinian organizations. But that advice has to overcome the monolith bias, which is usually fiercer on the political right. In June 1982, when Israeli ambassador to Britain Shlomo Argov was shot, intelligence officials told then-prime minister Menachem Begin that the Abu Nidal group—an extreme Palestinian faction bitterly opposed to the PLO—was responsible. Begin responded, “They are all PLO,” and broke a ceasefire with PLO forces in Lebanon. So began the First Lebanon War.

Fast forward to last month: After the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame on Hamas as an organization, ordered a massive round-up of Hamas figures in the West Bank, and asserted that the Palestinian Authority shared responsibility because the kidnappers, who subsequently murdered the teenagers, came from its territory. As former general Shlomo Brom told me this week: “There’s still no evidence that the attack was the result of an order from the Hamas military command or political leadership… All the signs point to it being local initiative.” That is, a group of militants acted on its own, possibly because it saw Hamas as becoming too pragmatic, too moderate. Netanyahu cynically exploited that terror attack to crack down on Hamas, but the blanket accusation fit his monolith bias.

Second: Here’s another distortion, possibly also in our human firmware, that maintains support for aggressive policies even as they backfire: judging the decision in the narrow context of the moment in which it was made. For instance, the Israeli cabinet ordered the first stage of Operation Protective Edge, the air offensive against Gaza, after Hamas began firing dozens of rockets a day at Israeli cities. Look at that precise moment, orphaned from any chain of events, and it sounds reasonable that the Israeli government had to do something against the rain of rockets.  Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any elected government telling citizens living with a routine of air-raid sirens, dashes for cover, and explosions that it has decided to just wait things out and pray that the missile defense system doesn’t miss a rocket en route toward a mall, hospital or bus.

But there was a chain of events. To go back only a few weeks, there was the kidnapping itself, whose perpetrators quite likely sought to set off escalation. There was the Israeli response, which unwisely provided the escalation. Armed factions in Gaza that only sometimes accept Hamas authority exploited the heated atmosphere by launching rockets at Israel, violating a previous ceasefire. Israel carried out air strikes against those groups—but also against Hamas which, after all, governs Gaza and didn’t crack down on the free-lancers. Instead of restoring quiet, Hamas began firing its own rockets. If challenged on that decision, the Hamas leaders involved would undoubtedly respond: Did you expect us to do nothing?

This points to another flaw in retrospective rationalization: Assuming that the only alternatives were the one taken and doing nothing at all. Last week, for example, the Israeli cabinet decided on a ground offensive in Gaza. Not only had Hamas rejected an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, a squad of its fighters used a tunnel from Gaza to surface in Israeli territory. Israeli troops thwarted that attack. But it concentrated attention on the threat from an unknown number of cross-border tunnels that Hamas has laboriously built—using Gaza’s scarce concrete supplies for offense rather than civilian needs or bomb shelters. Even Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, often the last responsible adult in the cabinet, concluded that the only option was to send ground forces into Gaza to find where the tunnels began. And many of them start inside the crowded buildings of Gaza’s Sajaiya neighborhood.

Brom, the former head of strategic planning in the Israeli general staff, quietly points out that there was another immediate military option: to deploy more defensive forces within Israel near the Gaza border in order to foil attacks from tunnels. That would have risked Israeli losses, since gunmen surfacing at an unexpected spot have the advantage of surprise. But the invasion certainly risked losses. In fact, it’s when the army began suffering significant casualties.

People don’t suffer equally from the biases I’ve described. A good working hypothesis is that they correlate with hawkish—which usually means conservative—politics. Alas, another cognitive reflex seems nearly as common among self-described progressives: assuming that if one side is wrong, the other is right. Call it moral zero-sum thinking: If Israel is ignoring the cost in lives of bystanders in Gaza, if it has for too long avoided a two-state agreement, so the flawed reasoning goes, then Hamas is justified in its actions. That perception also collapses with a moment of clear thinking. Hamas’s rigid political theology has done nothing to get Palestinians closer to a just political outcome. Its willingness to make the civilian population of Gaza hostage to its military strategy is indefensible. In a war—in this war—both sides can, in fact, be wrong.

If all-too-human blindness to alternatives has led us into this tragedy, the proper response isn’t despair. It’s to look for better options, for diplomatic opportunities, that are being ignored right now.

There’s a Hebrew saying: A clever man climbs out of a hole that a wise man wouldn’t fall in. We’ve missed the chance to be wise. It’s not too late to be clever.

 

 
 

Both this and the Kahneman article linked in it are excellent.

July 23, 2014 at 7:05AM
via The American Prospect http://ift.tt/1paHIFN

On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

By Paul Waldman

If you don’t have mixed feelings about what’s going on in Gaza, there’s something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that’s the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side?

Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there’s no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you’ll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment. On one hand you’ve got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group’s leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you’ve got anti-Semites everywhere coming out of the woodwork to protest outside synagogues and shout “Death to the Jews!” Do you want to side with the apologists for Hamas terrorism, or the apologists for Israeli government actions that must be given the same name? No matter which you choose, you ally yourself with the worst people making the most indefensible arguments.

So what if you want to condemn Hamas, not only for their terrorism but for the way they bait Israel into conflict, knowing that the result will be Palestinian deaths, but you also want to condemn the Israeli government for the suffering and destruction it brings down on Palestinians?

You can understand people’s reactions and decisions while still concluding that they’re wrong and disastrous. It isn’t surprising that Israelis huddled in bomb shelters would say to Bibi Netanyahu, “Yes, crush them, do whatever you have to do,” and convince themselves that the result will be something other than more terrorism. Nor is it surprising that Palestinians watching their streets blown to rubble and their neighbors killed would say to Hamas, “Yes, fight them, strike back however you can,” and convince themselves that the result will be something other than more death and misery.

But what I find most unfathomable is what the hawks on both sides imagine the future will bring. There are Israelis on the right who actually believe that if the Palestinians can just be beaten down a bit more, then they will abandon their hopes for their own country and resign themselves to their abysmal fate, and then Israel will live in peace. And there are Palestinians who believe that Hamas, with some rockets and the occasional kidnapping or bus bombing, will be able to drive the Jews into the sea and reclaim the entire land for its rightful owners. These beliefs are not just deluded, they are positively insane. And yet they persist, encouraging mini-wars like the one we’re seeing now and making a lasting solution more difficult.

In the face of all that, it’s awfully hard not to get hopeless. Perhaps Israel will destroy most of the tunnels Hamas has built, and take out many of the rocket emplacements. To do it they’ll kill hundreds more Palestinian civilians. And what then? Nothing will change, except for the worse.

That hopelessness, and the fact that the debate so often features one repugnant advocate arguing with an equally repugnant advocate from the other side, has for years made me reluctant to write about this topic. But maybe there’s a chance, however slight, that this abysmal iteration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will open some small possibility for change. Maybe it will convince more Palestinians that Hamas’s way promises them nothing but more suffering. Maybe it will convince more Israelis that Netanyahu’s way promises them nothing but more fear. Maybe it will convince more Americans that being “pro-Israel” as it’s been defined here (i.e., as taking the Likud position, whatever it might be) has done Israel no favors.

And maybe all that will make a resolution that ends this seemingly endless cycle of war and death and misery and hate just a bit more likely. Maybe. 

This is pretty close to my feelings on the issue.

July 23, 2014 at 11:08AM
via The American Prospect http://ift.tt/1nr1nUC

The National Bar Exam That Could Save the Legal Profession

By Barron YoungSmith

Law schools and the legal job market are having a mutual meltdown. The number of applicants has collapsed, while schools can’t seem to control their soaring costs and the industry they feed is drooping like a day-old party balloon. New graduates are desperate for jobs just as clients are desperately cutting spending. As a recent law school graduate staring into the employment abyss, here’s my modest proposal: Junk the state bar exam, an outdated, expensive licensing scheme that prevents mobility. We should get rid of state-by-state tests and bar admissions and replace them with a universal exam that licenses new lawyers to practice anywhere in the country. It even exists already—it’s called the Uniform Bar Exam.

I support this. As it is, I so dislike the idea of taking another bar exam that I don’t foresee ever leaving California (even if I might want to).

July 22, 2014 at 5:13AM
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Slaughter-Free Milk Is Great for Cows, But Not the Environment

By Josh Harkinson

If you don’t eat beef because you feel sorry for those cows in Chick-fil-A ads, then you probably shouldn’t drink milk either. The typical male calf born to a dairy cow becomes veal. The typical female is milked for five years—a quarter of her natural lifetime—then sent to the abattoir to become pet food or low-grade hamburger meat. Elsie the Cow, Borden Dairy Company’s famous cartoon logo, is smiling only because she doesn’t realize that she’s about to get euthanized with a cattle gun.

Yet if you’re an ethical vegetarian who still can’t bear to give up milk, you now have another option: slaughter-free dairy, which comes from farms where cows never get killed. Since 2011, the UK-based Ahimsa Dairy has offered slaughter free-milk and cheese to customers in London. In February, Pennsylvania’s Gita Nagari Creamery, which has supplied no-kill milk to the local Hare Krishna community for many years, began offering it to the public through subscription and mail order—for a whopping $10 a gallon. The price includes a $2.50 cow retirement fee and $1.50 for “boy calf care.” Less than half of its 60-head herd gets milked; the rest of the animals pull plows or spend their golden years lackadaisically chomping grass.

“For us, the cows or oxen or bulls are seen as extended family members,” says Pari Jata, the co-president of Gita Nagari Creamery. “It’s very important for us to protect them in their retirement. We take care of them just as one would take care of elderly parents in their old age.”

The slaughter-free milk movement takes its cues from India, where many vegetarian Hindus drink milk but consider cows sacred animals that should never be consumed for meat. Yet increasing numbers of Gita Nagari and Ahimsa customers are Westerners who eschew meat for ethical reasons. Both dairies have considered selling their milk in stores; Ahimsa is in talks with a major retailer.

As vegetarianism gains popularity, slaughter-free milk could become a bona fide food trend—but there’s a catch: It might take a toll on the environment. Cows are already the nation’s single largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas produced by oil extraction, decomposing trash, and the guts of grazing animals that’s as much as 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A single cow farts and belches enough methane to match the carbon equivalent of the average car. According to a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, the world’s 1.4 billion cows produce 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases—more than the entire transportation sector. Since the turn of the 19th century, global methane emissions have increased by more than 150 percent, and cows are largely to blame.

If all dairies became slaughter-free, we’d need three to four times as many dairy cows to produce the same amount of milk, which would mean adding at least 27 million additional cows to our herds. Those added cows would each year produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to four large coal-fired power plants. We’d also need more meat cows to keep up with the demand for products such as veal and dog food. Pasturing all of these cows would displace wildlife or agricultural crops, straining biodiversity and increasing food prices.

Jata knows there’s a potential for the slaughter-free milk trend to go bad—just like the craze for tofu and soymilk caused soybean plantations to decimate South America’s rainforests. “Where does it end?” she asks. “For us, as a community, we bring it all back to local food sources and local practices that are self-contained but shared, so it doesn’t create this mass corporation-style approach to everything.”        

Small, humane dairies can certainly find other ways to mitigate their environmental impacts. The Gita Nagari and Ahimsa dairies employ cow manure to fertilize their organic vegetables and bull power to plow their fields, avoiding carbon-intensive tractors and chemical fertilizers. And the Gita Nagari dairy uses an anaerobic digester to convert manure into a gas that residents of the dairy use for cooking—but this sort of thing would be hard to implement on a larger scale.

For Nicola Pazdzierska, the co-director of the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation, the price and environmental impact of slaughter-free milk underscores the need to rethink our relationship with dairy products. “We’re not saying more cows,” she told me. “We’re saying possibly even fewer cows, but kept in better circumstances.” She went on: “We think milk is a precious foodstuff. If you pay more for it, you value it more. You use it more thoughtfully. It should be treated with respect.”

Hmm. This is very thoughtprovoking. As someone who avoids meat for environmental and ethical reasons, the impact on males and on milking cows after their “productive life” is definitely something to keep in mind.

July 21, 2014 at 3:00AM
via MoJo Articles | Mother Jones http://ift.tt/1u8npAV

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