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Saturday, March 17, 2012

In the News: March 17, 2012

It's been a very long time since the last ItN, so some of these may be a little old (pre-2012 old).

Mitt Romney: The Uncanny Candidate?

"The presumptive Republican nominee looks pretty much like a presidential contender should, with the right business-y haircut, dazzling smile and nice-seeming family. But he has a really hard time connecting with voters. Over at the Atlantic, Brian Fung says this is because he’s like a creepy robot — almost too perfect, yet wrong, and therefore deep in Uncanny Valley.

Romney looks right, but is undeniably uncomfortable in public situations, sinking into awkward moments where he does not seem to know where to put his limbs. Or breaking into uncomfortable song.

"How a candidate of Romney's pedigree could cut such an unsympathetic figure has become a minor obsession in the media. Explanations range from his association with the corporate one percent to his willingness to contradict himself on key issues. All these are true, but the underlying dynamic governing our reaction to his controversial affiliations and positions is a completely natural psychological response to competing stimuli -- one that's best summed up with a technological metaphor.

In robotics, researchers have observed that as an object acquires human-like properties, people respond to the object with more positive feelings. The less anthropomorphized an object, the less empathy. What's cognitively demanding about this formulation is that engineers are beginning to create robots that approximate human behavior so closely that the mind interprets the robot in human terms even if the machine lacks distinguishing anthropomorphic features, like a face. The result is an unsettling feeling that borders on anxiety or revulsion. When a robot inspires such emotions, it's said to have fallen into the uncanny valley of a conceptual graph that charts fluctuations in our empathetic capacity. The graph in question looks something like this:

"On one end of the graph, objects that look nothing like humans elicit a minimum of empathy. On the other end are real humans, with whom we identify most. In between are things that resemble humans to some degree and earn some measure of recognition for it. In the case of objects falling into the uncanny valley, the recognition can actually be negative. They recall humanity, inviting us to empathize as we might with a real human, but imperfections in the illusion create a kind of dissonance that makes us uncomfortable.

Romney's problem is that he occupies a kind of uncanny valley for politicians. Just as people who interact with lifelike robots often develop a strange feeling due to something they can't quite name, something about Romney leaves voters unsettled.
(The Atlantic)

Rape affects almost 20% of US women, study says
Really scary stats.

"Nearly 20% of women in the US are raped or suffer attempted rape at some point in their lives, a US study says.

Even more women, estimated at 25%, have been attacked by a partner or husband, the Centers for Disease Control said.

The findings form part of the first set of results from a nationwide study surveying sexual violence by intimate partners against men and women.

More than 24 people a minute reported rape, violence, or stalking, it says, with 12 million offences reported.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described the results of the first year of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey as "astounding".

Among the key figures included in the survey's findings were:

- more than one million women were raped in the 12 months prior to the survey, estimates show
- more than six million women and men were a victim of stalking
- more than 12 million women and men reported rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner over the course of a year.


Congress cuts staff, computers and staplers
Well, at least they're trying?

"In the land of big-time deficits and trillion dollar budgets, Congress is spending less money on at least one thing.

After voting last year to cut its own operating budget by 5%, House members have reduced the number of paid positions on their staffs, and are spending less on office supplies and computers.

The cuts have translated to 948 fewer salaried staff positions, a 62.5% drop in spending on computers and 30.7% less spending on office supplies, according to an analysis conducted by the Sunlight Foundation.

Staff assistant positions were the hardest hit, registering a 16.6% decline, while the number of part-time employees dropped 15.6%. Meanwhile, the number of slots for communication directors actually increased.

The House has around 12,000 staffers, and the job cuts amounted to a 7.4% overall decline in positions, according to Sunlight.
When compared to current deficits, the House spending reductions don't add up to much in the way of savings. But for a Republican-controlled chamber, they are an important reflection of legislative priorities.

"The cuts are such a tiny fraction of the overall budget," said Lee Drutman, a data fellow at Sunlight. "And the reality is it makes it harder for them to do a decent job."

And more cuts are on the way, as funding will decrease another 6.4% for the legislative year that kicks off Tuesday.

But at least we're not France....
French election: Hollande wants 75% tax on top earners

"The Socialist favourite in France's presidential election, Francois Hollande, has said top earners should pay 75% of their income in tax.

"Above 1m euros [£847,000; $1.3m], the tax rate should be 75% because it's not possible to have that level of income," he said.

Speaking on prime time TV, he promised that if elected, he would undo tax breaks enacted by Nicolas Sarkozy.

The tax proposal was condemned by his political opponents.

Opinion polls suggest the gap between the Socialist candidate and Mr Sarkozy has narrowed.

The two are tipped to reach the run-off on 6 May, after eliminating other rivals on 22 April.

Taxation for the rich has become a hot campaign issue, with tax advisers in neighbouring Switzerland saying that higher taxes for the wealthy in France could spark an exodus, Reuters news agency reports.

Many of France's richest celebrities already live abroad.

Shopping amid a massacre: Leaked e-mails from Syria's regime

"A cache of e-mails leaked to CNN is giving extraordinary insight into the life of Syria's first family during the regime's move to crush a now-yearlong civilian uprising.

The e-mails were obtained by CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" from a source in the region after the e-mail accounts were hacked. They appear to shed light on a family often occupied with YouTube videos and shopping while the brutal crackdown continued, and they also apparently reveal some of Iran's influence over Syria's president.

Just before Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech January 10, an aide apparently e-mailed him, saying a political adviser to the Iranian ambassador was encouraging al-Assad to use "strong and violent" language.

In that speech, al-Assad then promised to strike the opposition with an "iron fist."

"Shortly after the monitors' arrival in late December, an apparently amused al-Assad sent one of his closest advisers a YouTube video that mocked a theory the regime had hidden tanks during the monitors' visit.

"Check out this video on YouTube," al-Assad wrote on December 29, according to the e-mail. The reply in English: "Hahahahahahaha, OMG!!! This is amazing!"
[I love the fact that they text in English like middle school girls.]

"Al-Assad was to briefly mention government reforms, the e-mail said, but not go into detail because "Americans are too stupid to understand details."

"It would be worth mentioning how ur personality has been attacked and praised in the last decade according to the media," goes the e-mail, written in English. "At one point u were viewed as a hero and in other times u were the 'bad guy.' Americans love these kinds of things and get convinced by it."

Speaking of assholes...
al-Assad is a Chris Brown fan

"Personal emails obtained by Syrian opposition activists from two secret accounts over a period of nine months are said to have been penned by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma.

Among the many things they reveal — a duplicitous attitude towards promised reforms, detailed advice from Iran on handling the uprisings, and extravagant jewellery and furniture purchases — is perhaps the most enlightening piece of intel about Assad’s personality: He’s a Chris Brown fan.

According to The Guardian, which has pored over the thousands of emails, the Syrian tyrant used a secret iTunes account to purchase his very own copy of Chris Brown’s hit single “Look at Me Now.”

Why Interacting with a Woman Can Leave Men "Cognitively Impaired"

Chances are, you are no longer comprehending these words...

"In one experiment, just telling a man he would be observed by a female was enough to hurt his psychological performance."

"Movies and television shows are full of scenes where a man tries unsuccessfully to interact with a pretty woman. In many cases, the potential suitor ends up acting foolishly despite his best attempts to impress. It seems like his brain isn’t working quite properly and according to new findings, it may not be.

Researchers have begun to explore the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women. A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even w hen men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about.
(Scientific American)

Google Doesn't Like It When You Say 'Gchat'

At least "Google Talk" is the top result for "gchat".

"Google isn't happy when you talk about "Gchatting" your friends at work, BetaBeat discovered.

It's called "Google Talk," the company insists.

Google won't even admit "Gchat" is a word, although it's used by millions of people on a daily basis, and by countless writers and authors from the New York Times to your local newspaper.

In fact, Google hasn't even trademarked "Gchat" in the United States.

So what's the meaning of all this?

Either Google wants to make sure that the video and phone calling features of Google Talk don't get brushed under the rug, or they're just being stubborn.

Google did originally express distaste for people using "Google" as a verb a few years ago, BetaBeat reminds us.
(Business Insider)

Bishop Eddie Long crowned 'king'
This guy is awful...

"Bishop Eddie Long has been called anointed, but he was recently awarded another title, as shown in a video that’s gone viral. He’s now a king.

Long was wrapped in a “Holocaust Torah” and crowned a king during a recent Sunday ceremony at New Birth Missionary Church, his suburban Atlanta congregation.

A visiting rabbi wrapped Long in the Torah, which he said was recovered during the Holocaust. The rabbi then directed four men to lift a seated Long in his chair and parade him before the New Birth congregation.

Long wiped tears away as he looked over his cheering congregation.

“He is a king. God’s blessed him. He’s a humble man, but in him is kingship, royalty,” Rabbi Ralph Messer shouted.

Word of the pastor's crowning ceremony spread across the Web. Last year, Long settled out of court with four young men who accused him of coercing them into sexual relationships.

A rabbi and Christian scholar questioned Long and Messer, the man who led Long’s crowning ceremony.

Messer said during the ceremony that the Torah was a “priceless” 312-year-old scroll that had been recovered from the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He said he wanted to honor Long “on behalf of Jewish people, and the land of Israel.”

Rabbi Hillel Norry of Congregation Shearith Israel in Georgia said the ceremony was “ridiculous.” There’s no Jewish coronation ceremony where someone is wrapped in a Torah and made a king, he said.

“We just don’t do that. We treat it with deference,” Norry said of the Torah. “It’s not a shawl, not a crown. Don’t treat it that way.”

Norry said Messer doesn’t appear to be an ordained rabbi in the Jewish faith. He also doubts that the Torah that Long was wrapped in is actually 312 years old, and had somehow escaped detection in a concentration camp.

“The Torah is the size of a person. It’s not like you can hide one,” he said.

Google Books Reveals How Words Have Changed In Popularity Over Time
Stats and trends are awesome!

"Google's nGram Viewer is an amazing tool that lets users search word frequencies over the history of publishing.

The folks at Zerohedge turned us onto the cool widget after tweeting about a bizarre spike in the early 1940s for "iphone" (some digging reveals this was caused by a surge in sales for the Edison Company's Ediphone dictation device).

The tool searches Google's collection of 5 million digitized books (about 500 billion words) and calculates how many times a word appears in any given year.

While results after 2000 go a little haywire due to changes in data quality, it's still a pretty neat toy to play with.

"After a surging in the 1930s, "football" fell in the '60s before bouncing back in the '90s."

""God" peaked around the turn of the century"
(more at Business Insider)

Celebrity earless baby bunny killed by clumsy cameraman
This is horrible...

"An earless baby bunny that was a rising star on Germany's celebrity animal scene had his 15 minutes of fame brought to an abrupt end when he was accidentally stepped on by a television cameraman."

"The fate of 17-day-old Til, a bunny with a genetic defect, was plastered across German newspapers on Thursday, the same day a small zoo in Saxony was to have presented him to the world at a press conference.

The cameraman told Bild newspaper he hadn't seen Til, who had buried himself in hay, when he took the fateful step backward Wednesday.

Zoo director Uwe Dempewolf told Spiegel magazine Til didn't suffer: "It was a direct hit." The magazine described him as "still shaken" as he spoke of the tragedy.

"No one could have foreseen this," he told the magazine. "Everyone here is upset. The cameraman was distraught."

Rabbits without ears are "pretty rare" he said. "The other five bunnies are right as rain. It is regrettable that he was the one who got stepped on."

Man suspected in Virginia butt slashings arrested in Peru
Just a strange, strange case...

"A man suspected in a series of buttock slashings in Fairfax, Virginia, has been captured in Peru, authorities said.

Johnny D. Guillen, known as the "Corta Nalgas" -- or "butt cutter" -- was captured Friday in Lima, according to Jair Quedas, system operator for Interpol Peru.

Authorities in the United States were looking for Guillen for allegedly cutting the buttocks of 13 young women, according to America Noticias, Peruvian local television.

The Evolution of the Moon in Three Minutes

"In celebration of 1,000 days in orbit, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team released two beautiful videos of our moon, one a fiery drama showing the moon’s tough evolution and another touring its most interesting sites.

The historical montage takes you from the moon’s earliest days, through the massive south pole splat that formed the South Pole-Aitken Basin, into the Late Heavy Bombardment, mare volcanism and later craters that made the moon the orb it is today.

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