George Bernard Shaw used 3 concepts to describe the positions of individuals in Nazi Germany: intelligence, decency, and Naziism.
He argued that if a person was intelligent, and a Nazi, he was not decent.  If he was decent and a Nazi, he was not intelligent.
And if he was decent and intelligent, he was not a Nazi.  (I suggest that the reader make any substitution for the word “Nazi” s/he deems appropriate.)

—  William Blum,

Concealing Ignorance

March 15, 2011


A Millionaire’s Tax Rate, Then and Now

A Millionaire's Tax Rate Then and Now

US Federal Tax Receipts as a % of GDP

US Federal Tax Receipts as a % of GDP
Federal Income Tax Distribution

Federal Income Tax Distribution

Share of Total Income Taxes Paid

Tax Burden Top 1% of Taxpayers Exceeds that Paid by Bottom 96%

  • Effective tax rate for head of household earning the equivalent of $1 million of non-investment income in 2010 dollars (from The Tax Foundation).
  • Hauser’s Law proposes that, in the US, federal tax revenues since World War II always approximate 19.5% of GDP, regardless of wide fluctuations in the marginal rate (from fiscal years 1946 — 2007, federal tax receipts as a % of GDP averaged 17.9%, with a range of 14.4% — 20.9%, though the top marginal federal rate varied from 28% — 91%.  Hauser’s Law proves true because the US has no national sales tax, instead collecting taxes in a federalist system (unlike many Western nations).  It represents a socio-political policy trend rather than a true economic law and would change if value-added taxes are ever imposed at the federal level.  Conversely, journalist Jonathan Chait said in The New Republic: “Swings are fairly dramatic through US history for tax receipts as a percent of GDP.”  He says the George H W Bush and Bill Clinton administrations received “massive” extra revenues as the result of tax increases while the George W Bush administration tax cuts led to a “massive” drop in revenues and labels the idea of static, flat revenues as a “scam”.  And they may both be right in a narrowly-defined way.
  • A quote from Obama’s State of the Union speech on 25 January 2011: “And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.”  Yet the top 1% of the richest Americans pay 40% of the federal tax bill and the bottom 47% of taxpayers pay no federal income tax — the bottom 40% even get money back.  The top 5% pay about 60% of the federal tax bill.  The top 1% earned 19.6% of total income before tax, yet pay 41% of the individual federal taxes — more than the bottom 95%.  Historically, each $1 in higher taxes results in $1.17 of new spending. Since WWII the debt has not come down even once no matter how much the tax increases or decreases.
  • The upper 1% earned 19.6% of total income before tax, and paid 41% of the individual federal income tax.  No other major country is so dependent on so few taxpayers.


According to economist Robert Shiller, house prices remained virtually unchanged in real terms between 1890 [about when our house was built] and the later 1990s [when we bought it].  Then, prices almost doubled in the decade starting in 1997.  Because buying a house usually involves taking on (relatively) huge debt, the bursting of a real estate bubble hits banks disproportionately hard.  (Indeed, there is a consistent link between house-price cycles and banking busts.)  The Economist (in my opinion, a consistent estimable publication) has been publishing data on global house prices since 2002 and have an interactive tool (from which the excerpt at left is taken) which enables comparison of nominal and real house prices across 20 markets over time as well as the changing relationships between house price and rent, and house price and income.

The lives of nearly 1 in 3 Britons could soon be made much easier thanks to the gift of time travel — or so they believe.  Adults across the UK mistakenly believe that time travel is actually possible and not confined to the realms of fictional films or television.  A recent survey finds that programmes such as Doctor Who and Ashes to Ashes may have a hand in blurring the line between science fiction and science fact.  44% of adults wrongly believe that memory-erasing technology similar to that used in the film Men in Black, and hover boards such as those showcased in Back to the Future, exist in reality.  The possibility of being teleported is also an option for 24% of the 3,000 people surveyed.  22% think light sabres exist not just in Star Wars, but also in real life.  18% believe they can see gravity.  Yet 78% of Britons believe invisibility cloaks are fiction — however a team at the University of Birmingham has developed one.  89% think it impossible to grow an extra pair of eyes, though it’s already been done in frogs.

A remarkable revelation from WikiLeaks about Iran: Apparently, during a heated 2009 security meeting at the height of the popular demonstrations roiling Iran in the wake of his disputed reelection, Ahmadinejad suggested that perhaps the best way to deal with the protesters would be to open up more personal and social freedoms, including more freedom of the press.  In June 2010, he publicly condemned the harassing of young women for “improperly” covering themselves, a common complaint among Iranians.  “The government has nothing to do with [women’s hijab] and doesn’t interfere in it.  We consider it insulting when a man and a woman are walking in the streets and they’re asked about their relationship.  No one has the right to ask about it.” Bear in mind that advancing such anti-regime, anti-clerical views can be considered a criminal offense in Iran, one potentially punishable by death.  And yet, they seem to be part of a larger push by Ahmadinejad and his circle to change the nature of the Islamic Republic.  Indeed, Ahmadinejad seems to be actively pursuing what Meshaei has termed “an Iranian school of thought rather than the Islamic school of thought” for Iran, one that harkens back to Iran’s ancient Persian heritage, drawing particular inspiration from Iran’s ancient king, Cyrus the Great.  Via Tywkiwdbi.


Former military ruler of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, cut a secret deal with the US in 2006 allowing clandestine CIA operations in his country so Americans would accept that Islamabad was not secretly helping Taliban insurgents.  Under this agreement, the CIA was allowed the services of Blackwater (Xe Worldwide), a private security firm, to conduct surveillance on the Taliban and al Qaeda.

  1. On 27 January, American Raymond Davis was arrested after allegedly shooting dead a motorcyclist and his passenger at a crowded bus stop in Lahore, (both men allegedly shot 5 times each — one man in the back — through Davis’ rental car windshield).  Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), says that Davis “knew both men he killed” and it appears that they were ISI agents tailing Davis (though some sources maintain they were small-time criminals intent on robbing him).  Davis calmly photographed the bodies and called for help.  A car with diplomatic plates came to his rescue on the wrong side of the street, hitting and killing a cosmetics trader on his motorcycle.  Davis, alarmed by the mood of the crowd, fled (but was tracked and arrested); the car “sped away” to sanctuary at the US Consulate.  The men in the car, never identified, were immediately spirited out of the country, presumably to avoid identification and arrest.  The 18-year-old widow of one of the shooting victims soon committed suicide saying on her deathbed that she prayed Davis would be brought to justice.
  2. Davis “was supposedly part of a covert, CIA-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country.  But the Pakistan-led murder investigation allegedly revealed that Davis had close links with militant Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an ancillary of al Qaeda.  Punjab police claim Davis was instrumental in recruiting young Punjabi for the Taliban, fueling the bloody insurgency.  Davis was said to be implementing a plan to give credence to the idea that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were unsafe; toward this end, he had set up a group of Taliban to do his bidding.  (This part will likely remain forever neither verfied nor disproven.)  Meanwhile, local authorities at the Lahore prison where Davis is held supposedly worry the US may have him killed to prevent him talking — explaining why his camera allegedly holds photographs of Pakistani military installations as well as mosques, madrassas and other schools; special guards are reportedly posted around Davis’ cell and his food is monitored. (Of course, if Davis dies, each country will say the other killed him.) Barack Obama calls Davis “our diplomat” (though this status, according to Indian and Pakistani sources, didn’t surface until after the murders) and urges his release on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.
  3. The CIA works with “ancillaries of al Qaeda in Pakistan”?  At least some Pakistanis now believe the US colludes with terrorists to spread instability, weaken the state, and increase US power in the region.  If Davis worked with Tehreek-e-Taliban, then the war on terror could be basically a ruse to advance a broader imperial agenda — in other words, a fraud.  (But who’d believe that?) Likely the truth of this incident will never be widely known and bears little resemblance to anything being proposed about it.


Young people now take longer to join adult life.  The transition from youth to adult life can be broken down into 3 key stages – the passage from student life to the world of work (joining the labour market), from a dependent member of the household to a leading figure within it (residential emancipation), and from a position of being exclusively a child to being a spouse / parent (formation of family).  In Spain in 1981, the average age at which young people gained full independence was 22 for females and 24 for males, while this age had risen by 2001 to 28 and 30, respectively.  “These ages, in comparison with other geographical locations outside southern Europe, are considered to be extraordinarily late”, the researcher explains.

Question: If everybody in the class gets an A, what does an A mean?  Answer: Not what it should.  Dartmouth transcripts include median grades along with the number of courses in which the student exceeded, equalled or came in lower than those medians.  Columbia transcripts show the percentage of students in the course who earned an A.  At Reed College, transcripts are accompanied by an explanatory card.  Last year’s graduating class had an average of 3.20, it says, but only 10% had grades averaging 3.67 or higher.  Especially in hard economic times, students worry that professors who are stingy with A’s will leave them at a disadvantage in graduate school admissions and employment.  So they visit websites like when registering to avoid tough graders.  Cornell’s experience shows the impact and unintended consequences that grade information can bring.  In 1996, faculty adopted a “truth in grading” policy; median grades were posted online.  A study by 3 Cornell economists found a large increase in enrollment in courses with a median grade of A.  Private universities give higher grades than public ones and humanities courses award higher grades than science and math.  At the University of North Carolina, 82% of the grades are A’s and B’s.  Why not just issue Pass/Fail?  That’s mostly what seems to be being conveyed here.

The motto of Academic Opportunities Unlimited (AOU): "We can’t guarantee you’ll get the job, but we can guarantee an opening."  AOU is elegant in its simplicity, rebalancing an artificially skewed market.  One of the effects of the job crisis is an ageing professoriate.  While only 17% were 50 or over in 1969, a bloated 52% were by 1998.  It’s likely worse now, strangling the air supply of potential new professors.  AOU would work to remedy this bias against youth through a rigorous screening process, pinpointing faculty who clog positions, selecting them for hits, or “extra-academic retirement” (EAR).  While this might raise qualms from the liberal-minded, it’s more humane, both to potential faculty who’ve been shunted aside and to those languishing in the holding pattern of a withered career, than the current system.  “Retirement” would be efficient and quick, strictly limited to those who, as the saying goes, have their best years long behind them.  In turn, AOU would enliven campuses with new faculty (whose best ideas come in the first flush), encouraging fresh ideas and innovative research.  Rather than looking like fugitives from a nursing home or a Rolling Stones concert, the faculty would be snappier, with better-fitting jeans.  A secondary benefit: a catalytic effect on those with tenure, who will step lively on campus, not hanging on to jobs until they’ve squeezed the last ink from their yellowed notes, Tenure would no longer be seen as protection for lazy elitists.  Though AOU might prompt arguments against euthanasia, it’s more apt to see it like “Do Not Resuscitate” orders in hospitals — no easy choice, but the reasonable one.  One can envision administrators building such a codicil into academic contracts.  While “aided retirement” might be sudden, many say if they had a choice, they would rather depart quickly than decline over years in hospitals and nursing homes.  Is not academe, given its current demographic, a kind of nursing home for the intellectual class?  AOU would be more humane than most other ways of expiring, and it turns the tide from a drain on scarce resources to a more just and productive use of them.

On the Other Hand…

What good does it do to increase the number of students in college if the ones already there aren’t learning much?  Politicians and the public are quick to blame faculty members for the decline in learning, but professors work in a context created largely by others: few understand how little control they actually have over what students can learn.  Reasons include that students are often unprepared and unqualified, grades are inflated to avoid complaints and quasi-legal battles (failing a lot of students is a serious financial risk for the college and the professor), that unqualified students must often be admitted just to be able to make ends meet, that student evaluations require professors to expect little, smile a lot, gesture freely, show movies, praise constantly, give high marks, and bring cookies on evaluation day.  (If you’re untenured and too few students sign up for your classes because they’ve heard you’re hard, that’s a problem, isn’t it?)  Faculty members can’t raise their expectations, they seem able only to lower them (competing as they are for enrollment numbers).  Reduced tenured positions means teachers are no longer free to grade honestly.  The tenured professors must now act as administrators to the contingent faculty.  some majors are now an almost incoherent grab bag of marketable topics combined with required courses that have no uniform standards.  Students can create a path through majors that allows them to avoid learning essential skills and disciplinary knowledge.  Demoralized faculty members now lack self-confidence.

Haiti occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispañiola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.  Ayiti (land of high mountains) was the indigenous Taíno name for the mountainous western side of the island.  The impoverishment of Haiti began in the earliest decades of its independence, when Haiti’s slaves and free gens de couleur rallied to liberate the country from the French in 1804.  It was the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world.  But by 1825, Haiti was living under a new kind of bondage – external debt.  In order to keep the French and other Western powers from enforcing an embargo, it agreed to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave owners (yes, freed slaves were forced to compensate their former masters for their liberty).  In order to do that, Haiti borrowed millions from French banks and then from the US and Germany.  By 1900, Haiti was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments.  It took 122 years, but in 1947 the nation had paid off about 60%, or 90 million francs, of this debt (it had been successful in negotiating a reduction in 1838).  In 2003, then-President Aristide called on France to pay restitution for this sum — valued in 2003 dollars at over $21 billion.  A few months later, he was ousted in a coup d’etat; he claims he left the country under armed pressure from the US.  In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and devastated the capital city, Port-au-Prince.  Although the exact number is difficult to determine, an estimated 316,000 people were killed.

Even if Bush had been a great president, Bush versus Gore was a disgraceful decision.  Consider this: the conservatives on the US Supreme Court ignored the decision of lower federal courts, which 4 times rejected similar stay requests from the Bush campaign.  As a result, the majority could not cite any germane Florida statutory law to support the contention that the counting must be ended immediately.  Instead, the court chose to overturn a state court’s election laws as interpreted by that state’s supreme court on the basis of a legal theory that the justices simply made up on the spot: that different counting standards violate the equal protection and due process provisions of the US Constitution.  Had this theory been applied across the board, it would have called into question almost every single state’s counting methods, but of course there was no danger of that.  The court did not hide its partisan agenda.  It insisted that its decision not be employed as precedent and released it a mere 2 hours before Florida’s “safe harbour” deadline, thereby making it impossible for Gore to contest.  (It would take longer than 2 hours just to read the decision and its many dissents.)  Yet Gore beat Bush by almost every conceivable counting standard.  Gore won under a strict-counting scenario and he won under a loose-counting scenario.  He won if you counted “hanging chads” and he won if you counted “dimpled chads.”  He won if you counted a dimpled chad only in the presence of another dimpled chad on the same ballot — the so-called Palm Beach standard.  He even won if you counted only a fully punched chad.  He won if you counted partially-filled ovals on an optical scan and he won if you counted only a fully-filled optical scan.  He won if you fairly counted the absentee ballots.  (The only way Bush won was a count of “undervotes” — whatever those might be.)  If everyone who legally voted in Florida had had a chance to see his or her vote counted, then Al Gore, not George W Bush, was elected.  What can never be known is if it would have substantively mattered.

I don’t exactly know why, but this appealed to me rather strongly — the idea of such overt manipulatation?

Aircraft Detection Before Radar

Czechoslovakian Device from the 1920s

Early Radar

Quadraphonic Listening

Alternate View

Japanese Acoustic Listening Devices

Japanese Acoustic Locator
Project Pluto Ramjet

Nuclear Ramjet Engine TORY 11 A

Electromagnetic Railgun

Gun with 110-Nautical-Mile Range

Echo Radio Antenna

Bell Labs 50-Foot Horn Antenna

(Plus One Or Two Other Things…)

Top Row: Acoustic location in air was used from mid-World War I to the early years of World War II for the passive detection of aircraft by picking up the noise of the engines.  It was rendered obsolete before and during World War II by the introduction of radar, which was far more effective.  Acoustics has the advantage that it can see around corners and over hills.  The Japanese war tuba is a colloquial name sometimes applied to Imperial Japanese Army acoustic locators due to the visual resemblance to the musical tuba.  Acoustic location was used from mid-World War I to the early years of World War II for the passive detection of aircraft.  (Lots more pictures there of other contraptions for listening, but I thought these were best.)
Bottom Row: Left — Nuclear Ramjet Engine TORY 11 A was developed under Project Pluto by the University of California’s Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.  It was an experimental nuclear reactor designed for the propulsion of aircraft at supersonic speeds and was under study by the US Air Force at the Atomic Energy Commission’s test site near Las Vegas, Nevada.  On 14 May 1961, mounted on a railroad car, it roared to life for just a few seconds.  Despite other successful tests, the Pentagon, sponsor of the project, had second thoughts; intercontinental ballistic missile technology proved to be more easily developed than previously thought, reducing the need for such highly capable cruise missiles.  So, on 1 July 1964, 7 years and 6 months after it was born, “Project Pluto” was cancelled.
Middle — The US Navy has set a record with its Office of Naval Research (ONR) Electromagnetic Railgun demonstration.  Located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, the gun fired a world-record-setting 33 megajoule shot.  This means the Navy can fire projectiles at least 110 nautical miles, placing sailors and Marines at a safe standoff distance and out of harm’s way.  This is considered tactically relevant for air and missile defense.  Besides the extended ranges, the railgun also improves safety because it will eliminate the need for a high-energy explosive warhead and traditional gun propellants.  Removing explosives and chemicals will reduce the munitions logistic chain.  A megajoule is a measurement of energy associated with a mass travelling at a certain velocity.  In simple terms, a one-ton vehicle moving at 100 miles per hour equals a megajoule of energy.  In 2008, ONR conducted a 10-megajoule shot for media and visitors at Dahlgren.  Researchers are steadily progressing toward developing a gun that can hit targets almost 20 times farther than conventional ship combat systems.  A 33-megajoule shot can reach extended ranges with Mach 5 velocity, 5 times the speed of sound.  There’s a diagram, more photos and a video here.
Right — The 50-foot horn-shaped radio antenna which Bell Labs used in Holmdel, New Jersey, could rotate and pivot on several axes.  It tracked the epically faint radio signals reflected off the “satelloon” Echo IA’s mylar surface.  It was later crucial to the inadvertent discovery of microwave background radiation, first evidence of the Big Bang (which won the Nobel Prize in 1978 for its developers).

There is an "ecological bomb" in the valley of the Oliva River that flows past Italian towns and into the Tyrrhenian Sea.  This is where the cargo of the Jolly Rosso may have been intentionally dumped and buried.  State agencies found the valley thoroughly contaminated with industrial mud laced with very high levels of cobalt, nickel, mercury, lead, other heavy metals, and cesium 137.  Investigators believe the area was an illegal dumping ground for years — no industries here produce these materials, so clearly they were shipped in.  In the 90s, Italians apparently paid Somalis with weapons in exchange for using their sea and land as dumping grounds for toxic and radioactive wastes.  Naval Captain Natale de Grazia, journalist Ilaria Alpi and cameraman Miran Hrovatin discovered what looked to be an international network involving the Italian government trading military weapons for the disposal of hazardous industrial wastes.  Alpi and Hrovatin were gunned down in Mogadishu in March 1994 by a Somali commando unit, many believe because of what Alpi discovered about the ties between the Italian military and corrupt elements of the Somali leadership.  (This was during the time of Blackhawk down and the US-led occupation.)  Captain Natale de Grazia died of sudden cardiac arrest on the 13th of December 1995 right before he was to deliver a report on these “Ships of Poison”.  Italian businessman Giorgio Comerio disposed of hazardous and radioactive wastes by torpedoing these radioactive and toxic material wastes into the Mediterranean Sea floor.  He was notorious for trafficking waste and also part of a network that collected insurance for old ships in need of disposal.  He was associated with the purchase of the Jolly Rosso, a ship beached on the shores of Amantea.  Old ships are expensive to dispose of so Comerio and mafia bosses came up with the idea of sinking them, collecting on their insurance policies, and at the same time disposing of industrial wastes.  Comerio has testified that “disposal at sea was the only viable option for disposing of radioactive wastes at that time, as sending them off in the space shuttle was too dangerous because of the possibility of an explosion in the earth’s atmosphere.”

Angry Birds is a hit game by Rovio, a small Finnish company.  It is designed to be played in short windows.  Cellphone games are often made by small companies and catch on by word of mouth.  Anyone with coding skills, an idea, and good characters can produce one without having to spend $100 million on a movie and marketing.  Rovio helps organise gatherings of participants in larger cities.  The stars of Angry Birds don’t express themselves much apart from squawks and grunts, but players seem to be connecting with them all the same.  Rovio made a smart choice in making the birds angry, said a professor at Carnegie Mellon who studies game design and entertainment technology.  “You can smash them into things and it’s okay.  Imagine if they were cute little birds.  It might be kind of funny on some level, but most people would probably be a little repulsed.”  The odds of winning the what’s-the-next-hot-trend Lotto are decidedly better than your odds at winning a multi-million-dollar Jackpot — if only because the pool of possible next-trendy-cellphone-game winners is smaller than the number of people who buy Lotto tickets for the next multi-million-dollar Jackpot.  Are the payoffs equivalent?  Consider this: Rovio says people around the world rack up 200 million minutes of game play each day.   Is this time wasted?  Or is there some deep social benefit?  Perhaps cellphone games are akin to kava, helping keep peace by defusing aggression.

Despite nearing the ripe old age of 4,000, long eyelashes still frame her half-open eyes and hair tumbles down to her remarkably well-preserved shoulders.  But the opportunity for new audiences in the United States to view the “Beauty of Xiaohe” – a near-perfectly preserved mummy from an inhospitable part of western China – has been dealt a blow after it was pulled from an exhibition following a sudden call from the Chinese authorities on the eve of opening.  The government-approved story of China’s first contact with the West dates back to 200BC when China’s emperor Wu Di wanted to establish an alliance with the West against the marauding Huns, then based in Mongolia.  However, the discovery of the mummies suggests that Caucasians were settled in a part of China thousands of years before Wu Di: the notion that they arrived in Xinjiang before the first East Asians is truly explosive.  Xinjiang is dominated by the Uighurs, who resent what they see as intrusion by the Han Chinese.  The tensions which have spilled over into violent clashes in recent years.

Strangely enough, the US itself would not have to swap its population with another country.  With 310 million inhabitants, it is the 3rd most populous nation in the world — and with an area of just over 3.7 million square miles (slightly more than 9.6 million square kilometres), it is also the world’s 3rd largest country.  Brazil, at number 5 in both lists, is in the same situation.  Other non-movers are Yemen and Ireland.  Every other country moves house.  Australia’s 22.5 million inhabitants would move to Spain, the world’s 51st largest country.  This would probably be the farthest migration, as the countries are almost exactly antipodean to each other.  But Australians would not have to adapt too much to the mainly hot and dry Spanish climate.  New Zealand would go to Latvia.  Depending on definition, China may include Taiwan and some areas which are claimed by India.

“In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines.  But you won’t find my name on a single paper.  I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Phd in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy.  I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting.  I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labour relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration.  I’ve attended 3 dozen online universities.  I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more.  All for someone else.  You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work.  I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary.  My customers are your students.  I promise you that.  Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.  Of course, I know you’re aware that cheating occurs.  But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it.”  61% of undergraduates have admitted to some form of cheating on assignments and exams.

From one of Raymond Smullyan’s books (via Paul Kedrosky at Infectious Greed):

A dealer bought an article for $7, sold it for $8, bought it back for $9, and sold it for $10.  How much profit did he make?

This seems quite straightforward to me — How could it be other than $2?  Yet the way some people define the problem causes them to come, in some cases, to rather different conclusions.  I found the replies to be even more interesting than the puzzle.

To test your knowledge of prominent people and major events in the news, you can take a short 12-question quiz.  Then see how you did in comparison with 1,001 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions in a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.  The Pew Research Center updates the News IQ quiz every few months by conducting a nationwide survey of Americans by phone.  Each version of the quiz asks a wide range of questions about current events and issues as well as relevant background facts and concepts.  When finished, you can (if you’re so inclined) compare your News IQ with the average American, as well as with men, women, university graduates, those who didn’t attend college, people your age, younger Americans and older Americans.


The Big Pigeon Parade

Union Strike

Hummingbird Nightmare

Hummingbird versus Viper

The Seeker

Buddhist Squirrel
Stuffed Up

Tipsy Armadillo

Something to Look Up To

Giraffes and Dust Devil

Swimming Pigs

Staying Alive


The umbra (Latin for “shadow”) is the darkest part of the shadow, where the light source is completely blocked by the occluding body.  An observer in the umbra experiences a total eclipse.  The penumbra (from the Latin paene “almost, nearly” and umbra “shadow”) is the region in which only a portion of the light source is obscured by the occluding body.  An observer in the penumbra experiences a partial eclipse.  The antumbra is the region from whence the occluding body appears entirely contained within the disc of the light source.  If an observer in the antumbra moves closer to the light source, the apparent size of the occluding body increases until it causes a full umbra.  An observer in this region experiences an annular eclipse, for example, the bright ring (corona) experienced during the solar eclipse (see “B” at left).

Munich police detained a BASE jumper after they found him dangling by his parachute from a construction crane 150 feet above the ground.  (“B.A.S.E.” is an acronym that stands for the 4 categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: buildings, antennae, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs).)  According to the report, the man had leapt from the 35th floor of an unfinished highrise — almost 500 feet up — only to have his parachute fail.  Luckily for him, the tangled lines of his chute snagged the crane, saving him from near-certain death.  Several days after the incident, the jumper, posting under the name “Miko”, explained the incident in BLiNC Magazine, an online forum for BASE jumpers.  The chute opened cleanly, but not in the direction that he had planned.  Before he could turn away from harm, he slammed into the building and his rapid descent was underway.  Miko was detained by Munich police and charged with trespassing and violating aviation laws.  I’d say he got off lightly.

From the website of The Clock Lady: For many different reasons, there are some types of clocks we do not repair.  These include, but are not limited to: cuckoo, 400 day or anniversary, electric, 31 day or Korean, alarm clocks or other small clocks with a hairspring, and Japanese wall clocks.  Cuckoos are easily identified by their lack of ability to keep running, no matter what you do…and also the bird that pops out and makes noise every hour and half hour.  400 day or anniversary clocks usually have a glass dome over the top, and a set of 3 balls that spin at the bottom — or don’t spin as the case may be.  31 day or Korean usually have “Made in Korea” and/or “31 days” printed on the dial.  Electric clocks usually plug into the wall.  Japanese wall clocks usually disguise themselves as American and generally come in the shape of a schoolhouse clock or regulator.  If your clock is an alarm clock or other small novelty clock that winds with a knob on the back, or has a “tin can” shaped back behind a face these are hairspring clocks that typically need to be handled by a watchmaker.


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This clock cycles through background colours depending on the time of day.

Imagine that someone has committed a murder.  Now imagine that the murderer risks his own life to save another person.  Would you forgive the murderer for his crime?  No?  So, how many lives would the murderer need to save to balance out his original sin?  5?  10?  In one study, the median answer was 25.  This is an example of what psychologists call the negativity bias.  As the murderer example shows, when we judge other people, malevolent acts often outweigh virtuous behaviour.  Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do, lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  In a relationship, bad behaviour is far more damaging than good behaviour is beneficial.  You want a happy marriage?  Not being withdrawn or defensive outweighs being supportive and encouraging.  Psychologists have worked out a ratio for success in relationships: 5:1.  In other words, 5 positive interactions are needed to balance out every negative interaction.  If the ratio falls below this, then it will probably fail.  Whether it’s money, friends, or competitions, the rule holds true: we hate losing more than we like winning.  Indeed, losing something can hurt so much that we’ll take great risks to win it back.

The average life expectancy of a human being in the 21st century is about 67 years.  Do you know what the average life expectancy for a company is?  Surprisingly short, it turns out.  The average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped precipitously, from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years in a more recent study.  Why is the life expectancy of a company so low?  And why is it dropping?  As companies grow they invariably increase in complexity and as things get more complex they become more difficult to control.  As you triple the number of employees, their productivity drops by half.  As companies add people, productivity shrinks — yet as cities add people, productivity actually grows.  Can something be done for companies?  Long-lived companies are decentralized.  They’re connected by a strong, shared culture.  And they’re constantly alert to new opportunities.

Britain’s Mr Average will spend 10,585 hours in the pub, 11 years in front of the tv and learn to cook just 4 meals in his lifetime.  He will sleep with 9 partners over a lifetime and waste one month looking for socks.  Mr Average is 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighs 175 pounds (12.5 stone or 79.8 kilograms) and earns £28,270 a year.  Each year he will spend £570 on clothes, £1,144 on beer, more than £2,001 shopping online, £2,189 on gadgets and £417 eating out.

Water Only

Shades of Grey

Water in a Wineglass

Water in a Wineglass

A Drop of Milk in My Tea

Milk in Tea
Neon Water

Water Drops with Neon Food Colouring

Rainbow Drops

Water, Milk and Food Colouring

Blue Muchroom

Blue Mushroom

What happens when a person gets a new high speed digital camera and stays up all night in a hotel room taking pictures at 2,564 frames a second?  In case you’re thinking of getting yourself a camera that can take pictures that fast, I’ve included a photo so that you can see that you’ll need a little red wagon (or something similar) to help you carry it from place to place.

Spanish industrial designer and art director Emilio Gomariz has what could be described as a wildly varied portfolio.  His animated gif series entitled Extremity is interesting.  The images are “tridimensional collages” utilising 3D models (bodies) which Gomariz found floating (?) around the internet.

These lifelike scenes are actually huge works of art, painted on the sides of perfectly intact buildings.  The paintings, which have fooled many, were created by John Pugh, who specialises in trompe l’oeil — or “trick of the eye” — art.


What Are These?  These photos were obtained by popping water balloons in utter darkness.  The water balloons are burst with a long pin and the flash is triggered by the sound of the balloon popping.  (The camera’s shutter is set to always remain open.)  “As it’s a rather messy process, I have to shoot outside,” said the photographer, Edward Horsford.  He supposedly does this “in his back garden in London” — and it’s in “complete darkness”?  He says, “I never intended to 'specialise’ in water balloons; the idea was to create some interesting images and then move on to another subject.  The problem is that each time I do a shoot with them, I come up with new ideas for how I might make them more dynamic or achieve more unusual positions.”

Humans are invested in seeing themselves as ethical creatures, wanting to believe their own conduct has a moral rightness and their own lives are a series of mostly well-intentioned decisions.  They’ll go to great lengths to feel that way, even if it means warping morality to suit need.  Psychologist Albert Bandura coined the term “moral disengagement” to capture the process by which people pervert their own sense of right and wrong in order to give in to a questionable temptation.  “Yes I know he’s married, but it’s okay to sleep with him,” the logic of moral disengagement goes, “because (insert excuse here:) I can’t stand his wife,” “...if not with me, it would be with somebody else,” “...this is his moral dilemma, not mine.” “...the institution of marriage is a meaningless concept.”  The options are many.  Moral disengagement essentially allows people to behave in ways that, at another moment, in a different mood, they would never consider.  For years, research has shown again and again that moral disengagement influences how people will behave in a given situation.  But it works both ways: how people behave influences the moral beliefs they have about their behaviour.  Moral disengagement is the result of unethical behaviour, they have now shown, not just the cause.  (Loosening your standards causes you to loosen your standards?)

According to critics of paranormal beliefs, postdiction (or post-shadowing, retroactive clairvoyance, or prediction after the fact) is an effect of hindsight bias that explains claimed predictions of significant events, such as plane crashes and natural disasters.  In religious contexts it is frequently referred to by the Latin term vaticinium ex eventu, or foretelling after the event.  Through this term, critics point out the fact that many biblical prophecies (and similar prophecies in other religions) that may appear to have come true were in fact written after the events supposedly predicted, or that their text or interpretation were modified after the event to fit the facts as they occurred.  Sceptics of premonition use these terms in response to claims made by psychics, astrologers and other paranormalists to have predicted an event, when the original prediction was vague, catch-all, or otherwise non-obvious.  Most predictions are written with such seemingly deliberate vagueness and ambiguity as to make interpretation nearly impossible before the event, rendering them useless as predictive tools.  After the event has occurred, however, details are shoehorned into the prediction by the psychics or their supporters using selective thinking — emphasise the “hits”, ignore the “misses” — in order to lend credence to the prophecy and give the impression of an accurate “prediction”.  Inaccurate predictions are omitted.  What is the point of a prediction that cannot be interpreted correctly before the event?  This includes predictions which are vague, open-ended, recycled, catch-all, shoehorning, statistically likely anyway, unfalsifiable, unavailable until after the fact, allegory, and moving goalposts.  In the field of neuroscience, postdiction has a very different meaning: there it indicates that the brain collects up information after an event before it retrospectively decides what happened at the time of the event.  (That’s what I think happens with dreams.)

What a queer thing is Christian salvation!  Believing in firemen will not save a burning house; believing in doctors will not make one well, but believing in a saviour saves men. — Lemuel K Washburn, Is The Bible Worth Reading And Other Essays


No Place Left to Go

True for Everyone

No Coming Back

Hotel California

Elevator Warning

Check Twice, Ride Once

You May As Well Laugh

I exercise regularly.  I eat moderate amounts of healthy food.  I make sure to get plenty of rest.  I see my doctor once a year and my dentist twice a year.  I floss every night.  I’ve had chest x-rays, cardio stress tests EKGs and colonoscopies.  I see a psychologist and have a variety of hobbies to reduce stress.  I don’t drink.  I don’t smoke.  I don’t do drugs.  I don’t have crazy, reckless sex with strangers.  If Charlie Sheen outlives me, I’m gonna be really pissed.

— Chuck Lorre, series creator, Two and a Half Men