links for 2011-01-18

  • I'd been told that President Carter did nothing to attempt to free the 52 Americans taken hostage in Tehran. The truth turns out to be exactly the opposite. Operation Eagle Claw was an amazingly brazen, totally bad-ass attempt to rescue every last one of them. It failed operationally, due to a sandstorm. There was a second amazing attempt being planned, Operation Credible Sport, that was called off when diplomacy succeeded. This whole thing would make a great movie.
  • There's just not enough crime among the Dutch anymore. Their prisons were created to hold 14,000 prisoners, but they only have 12,000, and that's forecast to keep dropping. So they're closing eight prisons.
  • This is a brief piece arguing that there's nothing unconstitutional about the individual mandate in the healthcare reform law. The author—who is both an attorney and medical doctor—makes some good arguments that I find persuasive.
  • In a story about the death of the long-time White House plumber in 2007 comes this passage about his efforts to increase the water pressure in LBJ's shower: "[M]y assistant and I worked on his shower, and the President tried it and said, 'That was nothing.' Then he said he wanted body sprays all around, not just overhead. He wanted one on the floor, too. This wasn't for his feet—he wanted it to hit up his rear."
    (tags: lbj president)
  • The much-touted paper "proving" ESP due for publication later this year is drawing attention to how this apparently flawless paper could be, in its totality, so obviously wrong. One important hypothesis: that statistical significance is based on flawed math. Whether you know it as α or σ, it's setting a bar that may simply be too low to say that a finding is statistically significant. Bayesian supporters—and I count myself among them, if a relatively uninformed one—say that these results might be internally consistent, but they may well be externally inconsistent, and should be double-checked via a different method to determine if that's so.
  • A company claims to have built a bacterium that eats carbon dioxide, drinks seawater and, with a boost from photosynthesis, produces liquid hydrocarbons—that is, oil. Everything about this story fits a century of hoaxes (company talks a good game, but won't give specifics, promises it's a few years off), except that this is at least conceptually plausible. It's increasingly clear that the simplest, best battery is liquid hydrocarbons; while not ideal, it's an awfully good method of powering automobiles.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

9 replies on “links for 2011-01-18”

  1. How do they keep this organism genetically consistent? Bacteria multiply a lot, right?

    Genetic engineering just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It is scary that scientist can build their own organism. Not this inserting fire fly genes into tobacco to make it glow, but building absolutely new organism not based on any existing genome. Not that this bacterium is that. But still, scary. Scary like a computer that can think for itself and improve its own coding.

    And then do we reach a point where our existence and reproduction are moot?

  2. Somebody else pointed out the prospect of this stuff escaping into the oceans. There is abundant CO2 and (of course) water there, plus lots of sunlight near the surface. Given enough time, it would turn our oceans to gasoline, Ice-9-style.

  3. While I like many aspects of the Health Care reform bill, I don’t like how they tacked on so many additions that are not related to health care. This thing of completing 1099’s for anyone that you do business with over $600? Things like that really spoil what could have been a great health care package. Working in health care I am seeing a few of the positive changes this is meant to bring about. If this thing is repealed, its gonna hurt alot of folks.

  4. This thing of completing 1099′s for anyone that you do business with over $600?

    That’s still subject to IRS interpretation—the law left that pretty vague, and as I understand it, it’s up the IRS to specify precisely how and to whom that’s going to apply. Clearly they don’t want every mom-and-pop business giving a 1099 to Office Depot since they bought $600 in office supplies, and I think it’s a fair assumption that the IRS is going to make pretty clear that they’re not interested in that. I think we can all agree that kind of thing is absurd. :)

    What I am sympathetic with is the notion that for businesses with more than a few employees, all of this data is being captured and stored in accounting software anyway, so combined with an electronic delivery mechanism (that is, no mailing out paper 1099s), this could require little more than push of a button in Peachtree or QuickBooks. But if that’s going to be the case, the IRS had best be working with those vendors already—January 1, 2012 is going to be here before we know it, and that’s when businesses will have to start complying with these new standards.

  5. I hope its as simple as you suggest. The IRS just isn’t the agency to allow to make their own broad interpretations. I would rather the law just spell it out simply in black and white. My faith isn’t too strong in the IRS to be proactive and work with vendors. The expectation is that the vendors should be going to the IRS. Either way, I don’t think this part should have been included in the final health care package…

  6. The IRS just isn’t the agency to allow to make their own broad interpretations. I would rather the law just spell it out simply in black and white.

    Leaving aside the agency in question, I tend to come down on the other side of that. I think we generally do well when legislators specify the law in broad strokes, and let agencies sort out the specifics. Legislators will submit bills based on shockingly little information, and it’s all too frequent that these become law without anybody ever consulting those affected by them, or by the people who will be expected to put them into force. I wish that more legislation left the specifics of implementation up to staff.

    That said, there are some clear exceptions, and it’s wholly possible that this is one of them. Some laws need to thread the needle very carefully, in which the specifics are really the important part. I don’t discount that.

  7. Carter must’ve been badass to go through submarine training and then become an engineering officer on nuclear subs! Sub crews have worked closely with Navy SEALs since they were formed, and I’m sure Carter must’ve been in close quarters with his fair share of SEALs and known of their capabilities and what ops can happen in the dark. Too bad the contingency planning didn’t cover all possibilities…

  8. “The 1099 provision appears to be too burdensome for small businesses,” said Obama. “It’s probably counterproductive. That’s something we should take a look at.”
    4 November 2010

  9. Operation Eagle Claw borrowed heavily from this prior effort to rescue POWs from inside North Vietnam, which went off almost flawlessly, with the exception being that there were no POWs there.

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