Chart of the day: The U.S., fatter by the year


From Gallup:

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Jack Ohman: Black holes. . .


From the editorial cartoonist of the Sacramento Bee:

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And now for something completely different. . .


Lenin’s Tomb, the most famous monument of the Soviet era is one that can’t be explained in terms of orthodox Marxism.

After all, a philosophy that rejects life after death has no need of carefully embalmed corpses.

But there it is, a architectural anomaly next to the Kremlin Wall, housing a carefully preserved by a process that remains a state secret in the post-Soviet era.

What, then, is it all about?

Historian J. Arch Getty offers his own sometimes humorous take in the UCLA Academic Senate’s 119th Faculty Research Lecture.

Getty is a professor affiliated with UCLA’s International Institute’s Center for European and Russian Studies, and has served as a research fellow at the Russian State Humanities University in Moscow and as a senior visiting scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He has written several books on Soviet era, and is currently writing a text on the history on the treatment of the dead in Russian history.

From University of California Television:

Dead Man Talking: Lenin’s Body and Russian Politics

Program notes:

Arch Getty explores the intriguing details surrounding Lenin’s body, which was embalmed shortly after his death in 1924 and has been on public display ever since in a mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square. Getty is a Distinguished Professor in the UCLA Department of History.

Chart of the day II: Students more eager for protest


From The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015 [PDF], the annual survey of America’s first year college students, from the University of California, Los Angeles’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program:

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Heavens above!: Visualizing gravity waves


From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

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LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves from Merging Black Holes
Illustration Credit: LIGO, NSF, Aurore Simonnet (Sonoma State U.)

Explanation: Gravitational radiation has been directly detected. The first-ever detection was made by both facilities of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Washington and Louisiana simultaneously last September. After numerous consistency checks, the resulting 5-sigma discovery was published today. The measured gravitational waves match those expected from two large black holes merging after a death spiral in a distant galaxy, with the resulting new black hole momentarily vibrating in a rapid ringdown. A phenomenon predicted by Einstein, the historic discovery confirms a cornerstone of humanity’s understanding of gravity and basic physics. It is also the most direct detection of black holes ever. The featured illustration depicts the two merging black holes with the signal strength of the two detectors over 0.3 seconds superimposed across the bottom. Expected future detections by Advanced LIGO and other gravitational wave detectors may not only confirm the spectacular nature of this measurement but hold tremendous promise of giving humanity a new way to see and explore our universe.

Blood on the border: Homeland security run amok


From being a relatively minor federal law enforcement before 9/11, the Border Patrol has been radically re-envisioned and empowered Borders and Customs, a militarized forced equipped with the latest in technology and more than doubled in size to a force of more than 21,000 armed agents.

In this investigation conducted by a Berkeley-based journalism center, MSNBC, and Mexican broadcaster Telemundo, we get a unique look at the actions U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the Department of Homeland Security, boasting more than 60,000 employees,

The focus is seen from the viewpoints of those who have been the subjects of violence from the agency’s 21,000 armed agents, as well as by those who have been charged with overseeing the agency and investigating its actions.

Alonzo Pena, Deputy Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from 2009 until the following year, and had spent 24 years as a special agent for other federal law enforcement agencies, describes the mindset succinctly: “They think they are the policemen of the world,” proudly declaring themselves La Máquina Verde, the Mean Green Machine,fighting alien invaders.

They live by the motto “When I bleed, my blood is green” Substitute blue for green and the words are the same as esnl heard many, many times during our years as a reporter. We suspect they also employ a rationale we’ve heard repeatedly from police at all levels of government: “Better to be judged by twelve [the size of the jury in most U.S. criminal courts] that carried by six [pallbearers in the typical funeral],” a rationale all too often accepted by their bosses, though less so since phones started coming out with built-in video cameras.

And when it comes to shooting brown people, they seem find it just as easy a do cops farther north of the border.

The report focus on men and women who have been the victims of agent violence, including rape and murder. Their numbers include unarmed criminals and alleged criminals, shot in the back while fleeing — an action strictly against agency policy — and Native American youths, shot on their own land.

One was a sixteen-year-old Mexican youth, shot in the back by an agent who fired through border fence and killed the boy on a Mexican street.

James Tomsheck, deputy commissioner for internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection from 2006 to 2014, came to the agency from a distinguished 30 years in the Secret Service. He describes an agency with a history  of protecting agents they know to have acted wrongly, then lying about the crimes they have committed. “I believe there is a culture of holding only themselves accountable, and interfering with outside agencies who attempt to hold Border Patrol personnel accountable for their actions.”

Tomsheck looked at 28 fatalities inflicted between January 2010 and June 2014 that he deemed merited further investigation, including seven he deemed high suspicious. None was prosecuted.

His frankness may have cost him his job under the new “reform” director brought in because of the results from Tomsheck’s findings.

It’s an important report, well worth your time.

From Noticias Telemundo:

Border Patrol Shooting | Noticias | Noticias Telemundo

Program notes from Reveal, the renamed website of Berkeley’s Center for Investigative Reporting:

Paralleling a decade of growth, the U.S. Border Patrol has seen a rise in corruption and a troubling trend of the use of deadly force. Amid a national debate around police use of force, The Center for Investigative Reporting, in collaboration with Telemundo and MSNBC, spent seven months investigating deadly force by Border Patrol agents and how these incidents are handled by its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Highlighting specific shootings involving agents and how a hiring surge that began more than a decade ago contributed to these issues, the investigation charted several incidents along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and Texas.

Among those interviewed were victims, speaking publicly for the first time, of a brutal assault, rape and attempted murder by a Border Patrol agent in South Texas. Reporting from Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, correspondent José Díaz-Balart got an exclusive first look at a new Border Patrol training tool: a use-of-force simulator used to prepare agents to respond appropriately to threats. Along with interviews of former high-ranking officials, some speaking publicly about inside details for the first time, the investigation offered new insights into how the U.S. government has failed to hold the agency accountable.

Study: Pot use up, no increase in problems


Some interesting research from the Washington University School of Medicine:

Marijuana use is on the rise, with an estimated 12.5 percent of adults living in the United States reportedly using the drug at least once in 2013, according to a new study that looked at drug usage over the span of a decade.

But that research, from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, also shows that the rate of pot use did not double from 2002 to 2013 — as had been reported in the fall — and that the rate of problems related to the drug remained steady.

The Washington University researchers found that rather than doubling, the increase in marijuana use among adults was closer to 20 percent over the same time period and that problems related to using pot, such as addiction, remained steady or even declined.

The new findings are in stark contrast to data published in 2015 by another team of researchers. They had suggested the percentage of U.S. adults using marijuana had more than doubled from 2002 to 2013, with a similar increase in the rate of marijuana-use disorders.

But the new research comes with a caveat: Even though the percentage of adults smoking pot has not doubled, an overall higher percentage of people reported using the drug in 2013 than had been reported in the previous study. That study had indicated that 9.5 percent of American adults used the drug, as compared with 12.5 percent in this study.

The new findings are available Feb. 10 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the same journal that published the 2015 report.

“It’s not surprising that marijuana use is on the rise — several states have legalized it for either medicinal or recreational use — but our data suggest that the use rate hasn’t come close to doubling,” said first author Richard A. Grucza, PhD, a professor of psychiatry. “That doesn’t mean there are no problems. The two studies agree that close to 1 in 10 adults uses the drug. The difference is that we believe the 2002 survey for the other study underestimated the percentage of adults using the drug.”

There’s more after the jump. . . Continue reading