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Stephen Green

Stephen Green began blogging at VodkaPundit.com in early 2002, and has served as PJMedia's Denver editor since 2008. He's one of the hosts on PJTV, and one-third of PJTV's Trifecta team with Scott Ott and Bill Whittle. Steve lives with his wife and sons in the hills and woods of Monument, Colorado, where he enjoys the occasional lovely adult beverage.
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This is Honestly One of the Scariest News Items I’ve Read in a Long Time…

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Via StrategyPage.com:

In early 2014 U.S. Navy submarine detection experts got a scare when a Russian Vishnya class AGI (Auxiliary General Intelligence, or electronic reconnaissance) ship was seen several times off the east coast of Florida, in the vicinity of naval air and submarine bases. The Vishnya spotted off Florida was accompanied by a sea going tug. Both ships used Cuban ports for resupply. The two ships apparently first showed up in Cuba in February. What scared the submarine detection crowd was the recent realization that computers had become cheap and powerful enough to make it possible to detect submarines via the faint signs (like disturbance of the surface waters above them) that they leave. It has been known for decades that these telltale signs existed and that with sufficient computing power and sensitive enough sensors you could use this method to track submarines in real time. In other words, it no longer mattered how quiet a sub was, just whether it was there or not and moving. U.S. Navy experts had been doing the math and realized that the time was rapidly approaching, if not already here, when the sensors were sensitive enough and the computers fast enough to unmask all current subs.

“All current subs” would of course include our 14 Ohio-class nuclear missile boats, carrying over half the deployed warheads of our nuclear deterrent.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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God, Guns, and Gays: Can We Find Something to Agree On?

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

GUNS

Finally, a civil rights measure on which I hope everyone can agree:

Last Tuesday, as the Nebraska legislature considered a bill making it easier for military spouses to carry concealed handguns, an unlikely issue arose: gay marriage. As written, the bill covered only spouses of military members whose marriages were recognized under state law—that is, opposite-sex partners. But Republican Sen. Paul Schumacher challenged that language, proposing an amendment that would define “spouse,” for the purposes of the legislation, using federal law—that is, including same-sex partners.

“Is not the Second Amendment sex-blind? Color-blind?” Schumacher asked during the debate. “What great evil would come from saying a partner of somebody in the military … is entitled to exercise their Second Amendment rights to carry a concealed weapon in this state?”

Schumacher’s amendment was adopted by a vote of 38-0.

Certainly, everyone in the Nebraska Senate agreed.

Further down there’s an interview with Schumacher where you get a good look at his thinking, and why he didn’t let his district’s opposition to gay marriage* get in the way of Second Amendment protections:

The amendment doesn’t [recognize gay military members’ spouses as their legal spouses], because our constitution prohibits saying that they are spouses. But we can create exceptions in which we say: Someone who receives a benefit of a spouse of a military person under federal law will [be covered] by this legislation. And that’s what everyone was satisfied was a good and fair thing to do.

Basically, the amendment grants benefits using [the federal government’s definition] of who gets benefits. If the federal government came out with a ruling that we confer upon a general’s grandmother the same rights and benefits of a general’s spouse—this would cover a pistol-packing grandma.

More guns, less crime.

(*When asked he if supports same-sex marriage, Schumacher deflected a bit with, “The people in my district do not support it.” And as a popularly elected lawmaker trying to stick to the issue at hand with a Slate writer, that’s a fair answer.)

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cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock / 

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So Does Samsung Just Not Want Anyone To Buy Their TVs Anymore?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

shutterstock_240743233

but this story is filled with ouch:

Thought you could watch that video on your local hard drive without ads? Think again: A number of owners of Samsung’s smart TVs are reporting this week that their TV sets started to interrupt their movie viewing with Pepsi ads, which seem to be dynamically inserted into third-party content.

“Every movie I play 20-30 minutes in it plays the pepsi ad, no audio but crisp clear ad. It has happened on 6 movies today,” a user reported on Reddit, where a number of others were struggling with the same problem.

Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos.

Putting ads into movies you own? Yep:

It looks like the ad insertion was accidentally turned on by default for apps that it wasn’t actually meant for, but the faux pas points to a bigger issue: Device makers like Samsung have long tried to figure out how to monetize their platforms and generate additional revenue in a time where margins on hardware are slim at best.

Back in the ’60s when color TV was introduced, Sony almost went broke by refusing to put out a color model. The reason for that was Sony founder Akio Morita didn’t want to sell a “me-too” color TV. The company’s B&W sets were the best money could buy, and he was going to make damn sure the same was true when the company finally put out color sets.

The result was the innovative Trinitron color tube, which went on to define the best color screens money could buy — for the next 35 or more years.

Today, everybody is using pretty much the exact same LCD screens, printed in massive sheets by inexpensive Asian suppliers. That’s sucked all the profit out of the big screen market, which is why TV makers are instead competing on how many software functions they can cram into your set.

Of course, none of these manufacturers know squat about good software or what might actually be a smart way to make TVs “smart,” and so consumers are stuck paying more for a lot of crap they mostly don’t use, and which barely works when they try.

Ideally, a TV set should be a dumb screen like it always was, and consumers would each add the “smart” their own way — through the set-top box of their choice. But then companies like Samsung are stuck selling zero-margin dumb screens, and they don’t like that.

If TV makers really want to earn fatter profits on smarter hardware, then they’d better get a whole let better at writing software. To date however, they show zero talent for it.

*”Trinitron” is Sony branding for “three in one electron.” The Trinitron CRT electron gun combined a typical color tube’s three electron guns into one, giving the beam a greater depth of field. As a result, a Trinitron screen could be made flat in the vertical plane. All other screens curved back towards all four corners, like a rectangular section cut out of a sphere. A Trinitron screen was like a rectangular section cut out of a cylinder. That shape allowed for fine wires (the “aperture grill”) to be used behind the glass, instead of the bulkier mesh (“shadow mask”) used by standard color sets. As a result, more of the electron beam hit each color phosphor, transferring more energy to the screen and creating a sharper and more vivid picture.

So now you know that.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock

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Don’t Try This at Home! Firefighters Brace for 50 Shades of #Fail

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

50 SHADES

Firefighters don’t just put out fires. They rescue cats from tall trees, they give safety lessons to school children, and sometimes they use hydraulic cutting equipment to remove penis rings.

They expect to be doing more along the lines of that last item following the release of 50 Shades of Grey to movie screens:

Firefighters today warned the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey film could cause a spike in callouts from over-zealous lovers having bondage mishaps.

The London Fire Brigade said it is called at least once every day to “compromising” situations – including stubborn penis rings and a man with his genitals stuck in a vacuum cleaner.

In one instance in November last year the brigade was called by doctors to King’s College Hospital to help remove two steel rings which had been stuck on his penis for three days.

Firefighters were eventually able to remove them using hydraulic cutting equipment after the unfortunate incident.

You know you’re not supposed to…

…actually, knock yourself out and enjoy all the kinky thrills you like. But you might want to try not involving the local fire department.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock / 

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How Apple’s Going to Fix The Next iOS Update

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

9to5Mac has the story:

For 2015, iOS 9 is going to include a collection of under-the-hood improvements. Sources tell us that iOS 9 engineers are putting a “huge” focus on fixing bugs, maintaining stability, and boosting performance for the new operating system, rather than solely focusing on delivering major new feature additions. Apple will also continue to make efforts to keep the size of the OS and updates manageable, especially for the many millions of iOS device owners with 16GB devices.

It’s unclear whether this might be accomplished by limiting iOS 9 support to relatively recent devices. If the iPhone 5c, original iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch are discontinued by the end of 2015, all of Apple’s “currently available” iOS devices would be using 64-bit A7, A8, and A9 processors. This could simplify iOS development for both Apple and third-party app developers.

Like Snow Leopard, iOS 9 will be pitched with stability as a tentpole component, but under-the-hood enhancements will not be the only feature.

All I can say is: It’s time — and I hope the do the same thing for this year’s OS X 10.11 release.

Apple’s annual release schedule makes for a great big splash, debuting new iPhones and iPads each fall, running the very latest version of iOS. But that schedule has taken its toll on the operating system, which still “just works,” but really needs the latest and greatest hardware to just work well in some cases. My iPhone 5S never even ha a hiccup, but my early-2012 iPad with Retina Display chokes on Javascript-heavy webpages.* You can turn off Javascript, and I usually do, although that limits the functionality of many sites.

The annual release schedule could easily take a breather for Macs, which are slaves to Intel’s schedule, rather than to the autumn iDevice reveal. As the story notes, Apple kinda-sorta took a release cycle off with Snow Leopard. Instead of introducing big new features, Snow Leopard focused on stability and bug fixes, as well as completing the move to 64-bit architecture. Much as I love Yosemite, something like “Snow Yosemite” would be welcome.

Operating systems, even mobile ones, are big, complex beasts. Apple would be smart — Microsoft and Google, too — by moving to a “tick-tock” release schedule like Intel does with CPUs. The “tock” generation of chips introduces a new architecture, but the next “tick” generation is just a die-shrink. Some automakers do much the same thing. An all-new model might come with an existing engine, then two or three year later, an all-new engine goes into the mid-model refresh. Engines and models are each on, say, a six-year replacement cycle, but staggered. This year’s iOS/OS X/Android/Windows has big new features, next year’s version concentrates on making it “just work.”

It would be bad for the sales brochures, but better for Apple, Windows, and Android users to get off the annual BIG NEW FEATURES annual cycle and on to a “tick-tock” biannual cycle.

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Here’s A Creative Way to Make Sure Food Stamps Aren’t Wasted on Weed, Booze, & Lap Dances

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - by Stephen Green
Marijuana Welfare

An ATM is positioned inside a marijuana store, in Boulder, Colo., Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Colorado state lawmakers this year are poised to pass a law clarifying that public benefit cards can’t be used at pot dispensary ATMs. A bill facing its first hearing next week in the state Senate would add marijuana businesses and strip clubs to the list of Colorado businesses where public benefits cards – called EBTs – can’t be used to withdraw cash. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Colorado is stuck between a hookah and a hard place on preventing welfare recipients from using their EBTs to buy legalized weed:

Despite mounting evidence that “welfare for weed” is more than an urban myth, Democratic legislators are balking at a bill that would add marijuana dispensaries and strip clubs to the list of places, along with casinos and liquor stores, where debit-style benefits cards cannot be used to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, or ATMs.

Democrats killed a similar bill last year, but now the stakes are higher. States had two years to align their statutes with a 2012 federal law banning the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards at gambling and adult-entertainment venues.

As of this year, states that fail to take action risk having their federal grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program reduced by 5 percent.

While pot shops aren’t on the federal list, Colorado officials are concerned that failing to disable ATMs at marijuana dispensaries for EBT cards would violate the spirit of the law and provoke the ire of the Justice Department, which is keeping the legalized pot industry in states like Colorado and Washington on a short leash.

Democrats don’t want to offend the tender sensibilities of their most devoted voters — people on the dole. Republicans don’t want local businesses at the tender mercies of Washington’s jackbooted thugs.

But is removing ATM machines from poor neighborhoods — where pot stores are mostly located — the answer? Before we get to that, maybe we need to look at the real problem, which in this case is not legalized marijuana.

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King of Jordan: Trekkie

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

PRINCE

Back when he was a mere prince, his advisors managed to get King Abdullah II a cameo on Star Trek: Voyager, and now he’s kicking ISIS butt.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Must See Video: What Is Operation Choke Point?

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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What Is Apple’s Next Big Move?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Before we get to that the cutesy headline to this post would have been “iHealth,” but with the introduction of Apple Watch last year, it’s clear that Tim Cook is moving away from Jobsian “i” branding of its products. The i moniker will likely stick to existing products, but the direction is clear. iPhoto is being replaced with the new cross-platform Photos app, and the iWork branding is rarely used to describe the company’s productivity suite. Also note that it’s “Apple Pay” and not “iPay,” which sounds tacky. What I’d really like to see is the iMac name dropped from the next redesign of the all-in-one Macintosh. A fresh design with a name hearkening back to 1984: “The Mac.” (“Mac Pro” would remain for the Xeon-class workstation.)

Anyway — what’s the Next Big Thing for Apple? Matt Richman says it’s health care:

Though we’re still in the early stages of Apple Pay, I think Apple is planning to leverage those same strengths to create another uncopyable billion-dollar service. Consider what else Tim Cook mentioned during his prepared statement on last week’s earnings call:

There’s also been incredible interest in HealthKit, with over 600 developers now integrating it into their apps. Consumers can now choose to securely share their health and wellness metrics with these apps, and this has led to some great new and innovative experiences in fitness and wellness, food and nutrition, and healthcare. For example, with apps such as American Well, users can securely share data such as blood pressure, weight, or activity directly with physicians. And leading hospitals such as Duke Medicine, Stanford Children’s, and Penn Medicine are integrating data from HealthKit into their electronic medical records so that physicians can reach out to patients proactively when they see a problem that needs attention. With HealthKit and the iOS Health app, we believe we’re just at the beginning of amazing new health and wellness solutions for our customers.

In other words, Apple is laying the requisite foundations today to announce a healthcare service tomorrow. It’s building relationships with key players, enabling third party hardware innovation through HealthKit, getting people comfortable with iPhones as health repositories, and in the secure enclave and Touch ID, Apple already has a method to store and share healthcare data securely.

Over the next few years, Apple will add more sensors to the iPhone and Apple Watch that can be used to measure your health, and third-party medical accessories designed for use with iOS devices will continue to grow in popularity. The healthcare industry will salivate for the resulting data.

As Richman notes, healthcare is a $2,900,000,000,000 industry. Anyone who can make a device to function as the front man and facilitator for that industry stands to make a lot of money.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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I Wouldn’t Have One of These Things in My House if Samsung Paid Me…

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

TELESCREEN

Introducing the full 1080p Samsung Telescreen:

The potential privacy intrusion of voice-activated services is massive. Samsung, which makes a series of Internet connected TVs, has a supplementary privacy policy covering its Smart TVs which includes the following section on voice recognition (emphasis mine):

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

As an Electronic Frontier Foundation activist pointed out earlier today, via Twitter, the concept of a TV screen that might be snooping on your private conversations — and thus broadcasting a chilling effect by inculcating self-censorship within its viewers — is straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.

I’ve been happily using “Hey, Siri” to give instructions to my iPhone since the feature debuted last year, having it do everything from change music playlists to send messages to my wife. So maybe you think I’m the wrong guy to criticize Samsung’s voice commands.

But: iOS devices listen for spoken commands only when plugged in to a power source, and each command must be prefaced with “Hey, Siri.” From there, iOS anonymizes and encrypts your voice command before sending it only to a first party — Apple’s Siri servers. Apple never receives any personal data directly, much less some unnamed third party.

To recap: Siri only listens when plugged in, you must wake her with a specific voice command, no third party is given your data, and your data is sent anonymously and protected by encryption. That’s a whole lot of protection going on.

According to the company’s own privacy policy, Samsung offers zero such protections. And yet it gets even worse:

If the SmartTV owner does realize how ridiculous this is, Samsung does at least allow them to disable the eavesdropping voice recognition ‘feature’, and instead use a more limited set of predefined ‘voice commands’ — and in that instance says it does not harvest their spoken words.

However it will still gather usage info and any other text-based inputs for data mining purposes, as it also notes further down in the policy. So an entire opt-out of being tracked is not part of this very expensive package. [Emphasis added]

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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911 to 13-Year-Old Girl of Dying Father: ‘Stop Whining’

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

shutterstock_238229284

Good lord:

The 911 call came in Sunday after a car hit Rick Warrick, 38, of Washington, D.C., and his fiancee as they changed a tire on a highway about halfway between Washington and Baltimore. The driver of the car that hit the couple fled. No arrests have been made, and police say they have no description of the car.

Warrick was killed. His fiancee, Julia Pearce, 28, was seriously injured but was in fair condition at Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center on Thursday.

Warrick’s 13-year-old daughter was in the back seat with her younger brother, and called 911.

During the five-minute call, the dispatcher asks the teen for more details about her location and about what happened. The teen answers many of his questions but struggles at times to remain calm.

At one point, the dispatcher interrupts her.

“OK, let’s stop whining. Let’s stop whining, it’s hard to understand you,” he says.

The dispatcher sounds frustrated when the girl asks him to send help quickly. At one point he asks if there’s someone else he can talk to.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Guess Who Wants to Tax You for Being Fat

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

I supposed it was inevitable that we’d learn that Jonathan Gruber wants to tax body weight:

“Ultimately, what may be needed to address the obesity problem are direct taxes on body weight,” Gruber wrote in an essay for the National Institute for Health Care Management in April 2010, just months after helping design ObamaCare with the president in the Oval Office and during the period in which he was under contract as an Obama administration consultant.

“While it is hard to conceive of this approach being a common public policy tool in the near term, such taxation may be happening indirectly through health insurance surcharges,” he wrote. “Currently, employers may charge up to 20 percent higher health insurance premiums for employees who fail to meet certain health-related standards, such as attaining a healthy BMI.”

A couple of things.

The first is that BMI is a BS way to determine obesity, or much of anything else, really. But it’s easy to measure, especially if you just line up bunches of mostly-naked American Serfs™ for their annual IRS weigh-in. You might think I’m kidding, but if we’ve got to tax fat people, then we’ve got to weigh and measure them, and with 315 million Americans, the logistics get… busy. The Nazis used cattle cars, but I’m sure our tender IRS thugs would come up with something more humane.

The second is that if ♡bamaCare!!! saves us all this money, why do we have to keep coming up with new and ridiculous ways to finance it?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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A Sick Argument From One of Jeffrey Epstein’s Academic Defenders

Saturday, February 7th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

The Ick Factor on the story behind Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to science goes up to 11:

“His interest is in interesting people and interesting ideas,” Lawrence Krauss, an Arizona State University physicist, told Reuters. Krauss directs a program on the origins of life — a program that Epstein has supported. Krauss said he would feel cowardly if he turned away from Epstein, given that he doesn’t know anything about the accusations.

Another professor who has received funds from Epstein and defended him was Robert Trivers, a Rutgers University biologist who received about $40,000 from Epstein to study the link between knee symmetry and sprinting ability. Trivers questioned how bad the charges are, noting that girls mature earlier than used to be the case. “By the time they’re 14 or 15, they’re like grown women were 60 years ago, so I don’t see these acts as so heinous,” he told Reuters.

I hope Trivers doesn’t serve at Rutgers in any sort of teaching position. If he does, I’m sure the parents of his female students would want to be informed of his feelings about sex with girls as young as 14 and 15.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Death of Radio Shack

Friday, February 6th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

SHACK

… Here it comes:

RadioShack Corp. is preparing to shut down the almost-century-old retail chain in a bankruptcy deal that would sell about half its store leases to Sprint Corp. and close the rest, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the wireless carrier’s name, meaning RadioShack would cease to exist as a stand-alone retailer, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.

The negotiations could still break down without a deal being reached, or the terms could change. Sprint and RadioShack also have discussed co-branding the stores, two of the people said. It’s also possible that another bidder could emerge that would buy RadioShack and keep it operating, the people said.

RadioShack had its time, and served millions of us (me included) very well during that time. It had a great mix of nerdy products and nerdy expertise — at a location usually not very far from you. But now I can get an even wider selection of nerdy stuff, and even nerdier expertise, without ever leaving the comfort of my desk chair. With one exception of when I just had to have a headphone minijack-to-RCA-left-right-splitter, I don’t think I’ve set foot inside a RadioShack since the end of the 20th century. And it just isn’t possible to keep a retail chain going on once-in-a-decade purchases of $2 cables.

Radio Shack — even the name shouts “1933!” — was the 20th century’s nerd shopping Mecca, but the 20th century is long over.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why Are People So Crazy About E-Cigarettes?

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

VAPING

The California Department of Public Health has decided — no joke here — that e-cigarets are “a community health threat.” Reason’s Jacob Sullum reports:

The report includes the same lame claims that people who hate vaping for subrational reasons tend to offer when they try to justify their gut reactions to products that offend them mainly because they look too much like the real thing. There is the purported epidemic of poisonings involving children whose parents fail to keep e-cigarette fluid out of reach, the absurd insistence that candy or fruit flavors must be aimed at children because they could not possibly appeal to adults, the worry that vaping will encourage teenagers to smoke by making it seem cool again or by getting them hooked on nicotine (even though smoking among teenagers has reached record lows as experimentation with e-cigarettes has risen dramatically), and the warning that e-cigarette vapor, despite very low levels of just a few problematic substances, may pose a threat to bystanders because no one has conclusively proven that it doesn’t. Generally speaking, these claims amount to unsubstantiated speculation or an alarmist spin on actual facts. But at least one crucial statement in the report is simply false: “There is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers successfully quit traditional cigarettes.”

It would be fair to say there is not a lot of scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit (although the testimony of former smokers surely should count for something). But there is some evidence.

Read the whole thing.

My only experience with e-cigarettes is my friend Matt, who had tried and failed in every attempt to quit smoking. Now he vapes instead of smokes, and enjoys the pleasures nicotine provides but without all the lung damage, coughing, cancer risk, etc. To me, that’s a big plus. And as a former smoker myself, the only reason I’ve never tried vaping is that I’m afraid the busybodies like those in California will eventually succeed in getting e-smokes banned. But it sure is tempting, because there’s nothing like a mild nicotine buzz with that first morning cup of coffee, or with a snifter of brandy after a big meal.

So why all the fuss from the busybodies? My best guess is that people are enjoying themselves doing something which the busybodies didn’t pre-approve — a major stumbling block on the road to that happy place where everything which isn’t compulsory is forbidden.

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Pardon The Language… This Is Shocking

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

If you must see it, here’s the ISIS execution-by-immolation video of Jordanian Air Force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh.

A month or so ago another one of these snuff films surfaced, that one of a young ISIS boy executing two prisoners by shooting them in the backs of the head. I didn’t bother writing anything about it, because I dismissed it as a fake. It was impossible to say who actually put the thing together (I thought maybe the Russians), but it featured the same Hollywood production values as today’s video.

Both videos use dramatic music, slo-mo, quick cuts, and depth-of-field changes to heighten the tension and tell a story, rather than just a GoPro clip of somebody getting killed. It’s enough to make me think that ISIL’s many Western recruits include at least a few talented and trained filmmakers. Another possibility, even more conspiracy-minded, is that Putin’s propagandists have a hand in ISIL’s work. Compare today’s clip to al Qaeda agitprop from just a few years ago, and it’s like comparing old family Super 8 home movies with Gone with the Wind. If you can’t bear to watch, and I wouldn’t blame you, then you’ll just have to take my word for it.

But the production quality really is everything I’ve described.

I didn’t just watch a friendly Air Force fighter pilot die in one of the most horrible ways imaginable, I watched a terrorist organization of 7th Century cultists use al-Kaseasbeh’s murder to tell the story of ISIL’s command of 21st Century propaganda techniques.

After I pick up my kids from school this afternoon, I’m going to pour myself a very large brandy and try very hard to forget how I saw al-Kaseasbeh die today. But I won’t allow myself to forget that ISIL’s real power isn’t terror or death, but their effective and affecting ability to dictate a narrative.

And I’m clear-eyed and sober with the realization that we, or somebody, is going to have to kill every single last one of these murderous sons of bitches.

UPDATE: It’s a sure thing that President Obama will try to talk Jordan out of doing the right thing and executing every single last one of their ISIS prisoners, but I hope King Abdullah II tells him to get stuffed.

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cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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VIDEO: Israel Is One of the World’s Medical Marijuana Capitals?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Actually, not so high:

In a greenhouse in the mountains of the Galilee, a technician in a lab coat is coddling a marijuana seedling that is coveted for life-saving medical benefits for epileptic children, doctors say — without the high.

Named “Rafael,” for a healing angel called upon by Moses, this varietal of cannabis is for people who don’t want to be under the influence, and it is available in oral doses in Israel.

Israel has become a world leader in science on the medical uses of marijuana, and its producers could become major exporters of medical cannabis, experts say. But so far the government has allowed them to export only their knowledge — not the actual product.

Interesting work they’re doing, and potentially quite valuable. It’s interesting that the Drug War stigma associated with marijuana is enough to prevent Jerusalem from allowing exports of stuff which won’t get anyone high, but will give chemo patients their appetites back. This is doubly strange for Israel, which has made itself quite rich on high-tech exports.

Once again, government moves much more slowly than the private sector.

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Is Mike Huckabee Right About Being Gay?

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 - by Stephen Green
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“It’s not my cup of tea.”

The former Arkansas governor and probable presidential candidate compared homosexuality to drinking and swearing on CNN:

“People can be my friends who have lifestyles that are not necessarily my lifestyle. I don’t shut people out of my circle or out of my life because they have a different point of view,” Huckabee told CNN’s Dana Bash, while deflecting a question about whether he believes being gay is a choice.

“I don’t drink alcohol, but gosh — a lot of my friends, maybe most of them, do. You know, I don’t use profanity, but believe me, I’ve got a lot of friends who do. Some people really like classical music and ballet and opera — it’s not my cup of tea,” Huckabee said.

Whether or not Huck is right that being gay is a choice — and the building scientific consensus on human sexuality seems to be “it’s complicated” — he is right on a broader point. You can find something distasteful or even wrong, without advocating laws against it. And he’s also correct that just because something is legal doesn’t that everybody must be legally required to support it:

“I’d like to think that there’s room in America for people who have different points of view without screaming and shouting and wanting to shut their businesses down,” he said. “What worries me in this new environment we’re in, it’s not just that someone might disagree, they don’t want to argue with me, even take a different point of view. They want to close someone’s business down.”

Bingo. But Progressivism is a jealous god, which brooks no dissent from its narrow orthodoxy.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Incredible Shrinking Toilet Paper Square

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 - by Stephen Green

EMPTY

More evidence that inflation is real but increasingly hidden from consumers:

Toilet paper squares, the individual sheets that connect to make each roll, were once 11.43 centimetres (4.5 inches) wide and the same long. That standard, however, has shifted, or at the very least loosened its grip on the industry, to a point where companies are selling sheets that are 1.3 centimetres (half an inch) shorter or thinner, or both.

A reader wrote in to a columnist at the Los Angeles Times saying he’s noticed a roughly 26 per cent reduction in the surface area of his toilet paper.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Apple is Certain, Once Again, to Garner the Biggest Quarterly Profits in Corporate History

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 - by Stephen Green

rev-eps-q1-15-copy

Apple reports last quarter’s profits at market close today, but Fortune says the company will surpass even the most optimistic forecasts:

Apple told Wall Street to expect total sales somewhere in the range of $63.5 to $66.5 billion — representing, at the midpoint, 15% growth from fiscal Q1 2014.

Analysts aren’t buying it. They saw the lines for the new iPhones. They’ve seen IDC’s Mac numbers. They know iPad sales haven’t totally died. They watched Apple shift production to meet demand for the larger — and higher margin — iPhone 6 Plus.

They’re expecting a big quarter.

The consensus among the analysts Fortune polled — 20 professionals and 15 amateurs — is that Apple’s total sales for fiscal Q1 2015 will come in at about $68.3 billion, up 21% year over year.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why Some Cops Are Worried About the Waze App

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

waze-logo

Are you familiar with Waze? It’s a smartphone app, which my wife turned me on to a year or two ago, which crowdsources traffic information. There’s not much use for it here in Monument, Colorado (“Teeming city of tens!”), but I keep it installed for shopping & drinking excursions to Denver, or for road trips to anywhere. It’s well designed, it works in realtime, and I’ve avoided some serious snarls with small kids in car — which by itself elevates Waze to “priceless.” Google, which is pretty smart about these kinds of products, bought the company in 2013 — but it’s handy enough that I don’t mind occasionally letting Google data-mine me about my driving habits.

Of course, users can and do crowdsource information about speed traps, and that has some cops up in arms:

Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.

To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in Southern California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.

There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but law enforcers such as Kopelev are concerned it’s only a matter of time.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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VIDEO: Here’s the Proof That Big Government Can’t Fix Poverty

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Reason‘s Jim Epstein reports on the extremely pricey efforts to fix public education in the nation’s poorest small town:

By far, the largest initiative to combat poverty with government largess has been directed at Camden’s public schools. New Jersey spends about 60% more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But all that extra money hasn’t changed the fact that Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

Watch the video (above), which is the first of three parts. The rest are available at the link, which I would have headlined “Required Reading” if I hadn’t already posted one of those today.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Who Are Your Dream Directors To Shoot Star Wars Spin-Offs?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

There’s so much to explore in the Star Wars universe, that something like this could easily become a standout entry in the Saga.

What would you want to see?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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What Will High-Tech Warfare Look Like In Coming Decades?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

B-3?

From Andrew Metrick at warontherocks.com:

Revolutionary technologies, such as the machine gun, aircraft carrier, and stealth, are characterized by large increases in performance per unit cost – gains so great they shift established paradigms. Yet, their revolutionary characteristics are ultimately transitory. The hard truth is that stealth, the cornerstone of American airpower, has entered the evolutionary phase of its development. Evolutionary technologies, which revolutionary technologies eventually become, are characterized by small increases in performance per unit cost. (For more, see Michael Horowitz’s The Diffusion of Military Power and Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma). In fact, evolutionary technologies demonstrate diminishing returns along the investment curve. In the case of stealth, the initial generation of aircraft represented a massive performance increase over existing, non-stealth platforms. However, as the technology matured, continued investment began to see decreasing performance gains and therefore advantage per unit cost.

This declining return on investment is accelerated by the emergence of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) networks creating lethal, sensor-fused operating environments that dramatically raise the threat faced by aircraft.

There’s an age-old technological battle between thicker armor and more powerful weapons to defeat it — and eventually the more powerful weapons always get the upper hand. Think of European knights of the Middle Ages. Armor kept getting thicker and more cumbersome, until the knights could barely move or effectively wield their increasingly massive swords. They required teams to get them into their armor and mounted on their massive Clydesdale horses. Then the crossbow came along, which most anyone could use, and obviated nearly all of it.

At that point, mobility became the prime battlefield advantage, and steel armor was lightened and reduced to cover just the head, chest, and back.

Something similar has happened to the Main Battle Tank (MBT) which evolved after the Light and Heavy and Really Super Heavy tanks of WWII. The ultimate MBT is arguably the United States Army’s M1-A3 Abrams, an evolution of 1979′s M1. The thing is massive, weighing in at over 70 tons, and there’s really no practical way to make it any bigger or give it any thicker or more effective armor. The things are so expensive we’ve only built 9,000 of all M1 varieties in the last 30 years, compared to almost 50,000 M4 Shermans we built during the three-and-a-half years we fought in WWII.

The tank as we knew it — the ultimate armor-vs-armor weapon — is at an evolutionary dead end, and improving man-portable antitank weapons will bring its ultimate survivability into question. What keeps it relevant on today’s battlefield is computer network enhancements, making the tank into almost a mere cog in the information-aware battlespace of the 21st Century.

But please note that the Army hasn’t done any truly serious work on replacing the M1. It’s just that good — and at just that much of a dead end. It’s about as up-armored as anything can get and still move, and so most future enhancements will be further networking improvements. When/if the Abrams does meet its replacement, that new tank is likely to be smaller and lighter, instead of larger and heavier. The next tank, if we build it, will probably serve as the manned, networked hub of even smaller robotic weapon systems, which might use AI to control their own miniature drones, for a near-perfect picture of the battlespace, and the ability to direct lethal firepower on it almost instantly — all with little risk to our soldiers.

Something similar is happening in the skies to fighters and bombers. As I wrote here previously, stealth is like “safety” in the automobile business — it’s a feature that must be baked in by the manufacturer right from the concept stage, or there’s no market for the product. Within a human generation or two, every fighter and bomber built, even by technological laggards like China, will enjoy a serious degree of stealth. And every detection system built will, although perhaps with some struggle, be able to defeat it. Stealth is the armor, detection is the warhead — and it’s a battle stealth must ultimately lose.

So what’s the solution for future jets and bombers needing to reach their targets? I think the answer will be much the same as it was after the introduction of the crossbow: Mobility.

For air forces, that means an initial strike capability of hypersonic missiles, or more accurately kinetic kill vehicles, capable of overwhelming enemy detection systems with little or no warning. Only then would stealthy jets be sent in to do their work, although its likely that the “sixth generation” aircraft designs will be completely (or perhaps just optionally) unmanned. Initial studies of a potential “B-3″ bomber indicate the Air Force will compromise on smaller size, lighter payload, longer reach — and a cockpit where the human pilot might never have enter.

Stealth isn’t going away, and it isn’t even really in decline. But it will eventually take a backseat to newer ways of protecting our Air Force and keeping it lethal.

UPDATE: It took until after my third cup of coffee to realize that exothermic hypervelocity kinetic kill vehicles should be thought of, and eventually given the official name, “Wild Weasels from Outer Space!”

Which would also make an excellent name for a totally ironic New Wave revival band.

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cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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