- Planet Money: What If We Paid Off The Debt?
Back in the good old days—before President George W. Bush, before fighting two wars, before September 11th, before a huge tax cut paid for with debt—it looked very much like the entire debt would be paid off by 2012. In producing the final Economic Report of the President, a researcher looked into what would happen when that happened. As it turned out, it would be terrible. Treasury bonds make the investment world go 'round. No debt, no t-bonds. The conclusion of the never-published report was that it was important to maintain some debt in order to maintain treasury bonds.
- The New York World: Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line
A Brooklyn bus—part of the city's public bus line—is franchised to a private company, though generally indistinguishable from any other city bus, intended to serve the Hasidic community in Williamsburg and Borough Park. It's the bus line's rule that women have to sit in the back of the bus. You can see how this story progresses. The issue of religious freedom vs. civil rights vs. free enterprise isn't wholly open-and-shut but, as a rule, anybody making an argument that a certain class of people should have to sit in the back of the bus automatically loses the debate.
- American Geophysical Union: Words matter
This vocabulary guide accompanies an article ("Communicating the Science of Climate Change") in the October issue of Physics Today, explaining to research scientists that some of the words that they use to communicate among themselves simply confuse the public. "Manipulation" of data means simply to process it, but the public thinks it means to tamper with it. A "scheme" is just a plan, but that's perceived as being illicit. A "theory" is the basic unit of scientific knowledge, but people think a theory is different from a fact. These are important, as has been observed with natural selection ("evolution is just a theory!") and global climate change ("those hacked e-mails said that were manipulating the data!").
- Wikipedia: Ellis Island
The waters around the Statue of Liberty are owned by New Jersey, but the land on which the statute sits is owned by New York. The adjacent Ellis Island is largely owned by New Jersey, which the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 has the right to all parts of the island that were created via infill after 1834. That leaves about 20% of the island (which I've been told includes the gift shop) in New York, and the remainder in New Jersey.
- National Geographic: "Sea Monster" Fetus Found—Proof Plesiosaurs Had Live Young?
Two plesiosaurs nested like Russian dolls seems like a pretty good indicator that they gave birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. There's good reason to think that other marine dinosaurs gave birth to live young, but usually to lots of little ones, while plesiosaurs would have given birth to human-like numbers of offspring, raising the possibility that they actively raised their young in a social sense.
- The Guardian: Birmingham’s Muslims and Sikhs debate response to tragedy
Three Middle Eastern men were killed in Birmingham this week, the victim of a hit-and-run as they stood guarding a gas station against roving English looters. This is the account of an impromptu meeting outside the same gas station, 24 hours later, of 300 Muslim and Sikh men. The unorganized bunch showed up expecting to march in protest, but after prayers, discussion, and votes, they collectively made a decision that probably surprised most of them.
- Naval Company Inc. Line Gun
I have occasionally wondered how utility companies run lines across rivers, ravines, etc. Here's a video about one company's shoulder-mounted, black powder mini-cannon. That seems like a great toy.
- GitHub: nysenatecio/OpenLegislation
The New York Senate's online legislative repository is available on Github. Very impressive.
- Reuters: It pays to be Murdoch. Just ask US gov’t.
Over the past four years, not only has News Corp. not paid income taxes, they've actually gamed the system to collect $4.8B in tax refunds. Murdoch has 152 subsidiaries spread among tax havens throughout the world, and uses them to make *us* pay *him*, via our government.
- The Daily Beast: Debt Crisis Deepens as Eric Cantor, GOP Propose New Cuts
Eric Cantor proposed to the president that college students start making payments on student loans immediately, rather than waiting until graduation. Apparently Cantor doesn't know any actual college students. To his credit, the president responded, "I’m not going to take money from old people and screw students."
- Discovery Channel: Mike Rowe Senate Testimony
The host of "Dirty Jobs" provided an important argument to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about why our education system needs to emphasize skilled trades. College is not for everybody. Way too many kids are going to college—it doesn't make economic sense, for them or for our society. More kids need to learn skilled trades.
- Wikipedia: Benford’s law
Numbers are not evenly distributed. Not theoretical numbers, but the real numbers that describe the world around us: stream flow rates, bank account numbers, atomic weights, street addresses, etc. Numbers start with 1 about 30% of the time. (e.g. 11, 103, 1539) They start with 2 about 18% of the time, 3 about 12%, and so on, until 9, which leads of numbers 4.6% of the time. This is described by Benford's law, which has become useful for forensic analysis of any numbers (such as accounting data), to see if it's real, or somebody has just made the numbers up. The less the adherence to Benford's law, the greater the cause for suspicion.
- New York Times: Wealthy Donors to G.O.P. Are Providing Bulk of Money in Gay Marriage Push
The push to legalize gay marriage in New York is being bankrolled by Republicans. You might need to re-read that sentence to comprehend that—a double take is a reasonable response. Although some Democrats may regard this as bad news—we've basically got a lock on the gay vote—I think it's great news. My gay conservative friends will surely welcome it. This shouldn't be a partisan issue, and I hope this is a sign that transformation is in progress.