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Backer of Indiana Law Says "It's Impossible to Satisfy the Homosexual Lobby"

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 4:16 PM EDT

Considering it seems like everyone from Tim Cook to the whole state of Connecticut is incensed by a new law that allows Indiana businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers based on "religious grounds," it seems crazy to think anyone is still out there actually defending it—at least openly. Alas, here's Bryan Fischer of "gay sex is terrorism" notoriety and head of the American Family Association, to prove otherwise:

 

Gov. Mike Pence may now be trying to play down criticism the law discriminates against gay people, support from people like Fischer make it difficult to make such an argument.
 

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If Hillary Clinton Testifies About Her Emails, She Should Do It In Public

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 4:12 PM EDT

Here's the latest on Hillary Clinton's emails:

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks asked Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday to appear for a private interview about her exclusive use of a personal email account when she was secretary of state.

....Mr. Gowdy said the committee believed that “a transcribed interview would best protect Secretary Clinton’s privacy, the security of the information queried, and the public’s interest in ensuring this committee has all information needed to accomplish the task set before it.”

Go ahead and call me paranoid, but this sure seems like the perfect setup to allow Gowdy—or someone on his staff—to leak just a few bits and pieces of Clinton's testimony that put her in the worst possible light. Darrell Issa did this so commonly that it was practically part of the rules of the game when he was investigating Benghazi and other Republican obsessions.

Who knows? Maybe Gowdy is a more honest guy. But since Clinton herself has offered to testify publicly, why would anyone not take her up on it? It's not as if any of this risks exposing classified information or anything.

James O'Keefe Loses Libel Suit Over Landrieu Incident

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 3:58 PM EDT

Conservative filmmaker and provocateur James O'Keefe has lost another legal battle: on Monday, a federal court in New Jersey dismissed a libel suit O'Keefe filed against legal news website MainJustice. In August 2013, MainJustice published an article referring to a 2010 incident in which O'Keefe and his associates posed as telephone technicians to gain access to the offices of then–Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). O'Keefe and three others ultimately pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses.

In its original article, MainJustice said that O'Keefe was "apparently trying to bug" Landrieu's offices. After O'Keefe complained, the website changed the sentence to read that O'Keefe and his associates "were trying to tamper with Landrieu's phones." Still, O'Keefe sued, alleging that both characterizations were defamatory because they implied he had committed a felony. MainJustice countered that the language wasn't defamatory because the substance of the article was true, and the site accurately described the legal proceedings triggered by the episode.

The court didn't find O'Keefe's case convincing. Judge Claire Cecchi wrote in her opinion:

Regardless of whether the article used the words "apparently trying to bug" or "trying to tamper," the few words challenged by the Plaintiff, taken in context, do not alter the fundamental gist of the paragraph… Therefore, the words "trying to tamper with," understood in the colloquial sense, convey the substantial truth of the Landrieu incident and do not alter the ultimate conclusion of the paragraph—that Plaintiff was guilty of a misdemeanor.

Mary Jacoby, editor-in-chief of MainJustice, writes in a statement:

This is an important First Amendment victory. It's a total, resounding defeat of O'Keefe's attempts to intimidate journalists into accepting his spin on the circumstances of his 2010 entry into Sen. Landrieu's offices under false pretenses.

In 2013, O'Keefe paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against him by a former employee of ACORN, a nonprofit the filmmaker had targeted. Mother Jones has requested comment from O'Keefe.

"The Americans" Is One Of The Best Shows On Television—And It Just Got Renewed For Another Season.

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 3:49 PM EDT

Do you watch The Americans? You should watch The Americans! Why don't you watch The Americans? Do you not watch it because it's about Soviet spies who love each other and also work together to bring down America by wearing wigs and having sexxxxxxx? Well, guess what? That's only sort of what it's about. It's really about a marriage. Are you married? If you're married, you'll relate to this show a lot.

You'll watch it and be like "God, my wife and I just had a very similar fight about how to raise our daughter." Just replace spying for the Soviets with whatever you do for a living. They're so cute together, The Americans! They love each other so much, but they're torn in different directions by competing loyalties, and they don't know what to do! Bonus: I recently found out that The Americans are dating in real life, which is so cute OMG.

I love The Americans. I'm not nuts about the dumb kids, and some of the storylines are dumb, but the show is really great. The one thing I don't like about the show is that The Americans are not actually Americans, they're Soviets and I don't like rooting for people who are trying to bring down America. I keep hoping they're going to defect.

But I think they probably won't. They seem to like communism a lot. But at the same time they also like living in America and enjoying the fruits of capitalism. Their minds are all messed up! You can see what a complicated situation they're in. A lot of D-R-A-M-A.

Anyway, it's maybe the second best show on television (after The Good Wife).

The problem is, not that many people watch it. :(((.

The ratings for season 3 are in the hole. A cloud of pessimism and fear has overshadowed the last few episodes; I figured it was unlikely to get renewed by FX for a fourth season. But, guess what? Good news! It's coming back!

So start watching it please oh dear god I beg you please watch it, please! We can be best friends if you watch it.

Cancel Your Meetings. You Can Now Play Pac-Man On Google Maps.

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Just in time for April Fool's Day, Google has released a neat feature that allows users to play Pac-Man pretty much anywhere in the world right now. Simply load up Google Maps and click on the Pac-Man option patiently waiting for you at the bottom-left-hand corner of your computer screen:

The feature then transforms your set location into a virtual Pac-Man universe, where the classic arcade game's dotted streets and gobbling ghosts prepare to chase your every move. Want to mix it up? Click the "Return to Google Maps" icon on the left and edit your location to any other address and voila, your newly customized Pac-Man game awaits.

Prepare for a complete time-suck of your day.

(h/t Engadget)

Look At These Crazy Wave Clouds!

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 1:31 PM EDT

Look! In the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a cloud that looks like neither a bird or a plane! A wave! It looks like a wave!

High above South Carolina yesterday "wave clouds" rippled through the sky. They are bonkers!

Look at this video:

Now look at this one:

Weather.com has a whole gallery of crazy shots.

What is a wave cloud? WIRED explains:

These crazy clouds that look like a row of crashing waves are known as Kelvin-Helmholz waves. They form when two layers of air or liquid of different densities move past each other at different speeds, creating shearing at the boundary.

“It could be like oil and vinegar,” Chuang said. “In the ocean, the top is warm and the bottom is really cold. It’s like a thin layer of oil on a big puddle of water.”

When these two layers move past each other, a Kelvin-Helmholz instability is formed that is sort of like a wave. Parts of the boundary move up and parts move down. Because one layer is moving faster than the other, the shear causes the tops of the waves to move horizontally, forming what looks like an ocean wave crashing on the beach.

“It really is like breaking waves,” Chuang said. “A wave breaks when the water on top moves so much faster than the water below that it kind of piles up on itself.”

The world is a weird and beautiful place.

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Ditch the Keyboard, Take Notes By Hand

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

Joseph Stromberg reports on recent research suggesting that taking notes by hand is way better for students than taking notes on a laptop:

The two groups of students — laptop users and hand-writers — did pretty similarly on the factual questions. But the laptop users did significantly worse on the conceptual ones.

The researchers also noticed that the laptop users took down many more words, and were more likely to take down speech from the video verbatim....As a final test, the researchers had students watch a seven-minute lecture (taking notes either on a laptop or by hand), let a week pass, then gave some of the students ten minutes to study their notes before taking a test.

Having time to study mattered — but only for students who'd taken notes by hand. These students did significantly better on both conceptual and factual questions. But studying didn't help laptop users at all, and even made them perform slightly worse on the test.

The researchers explain this by noting previous research showing the act of note-taking can be just as important as a later study of notes in helping students learn. When done with pen and paper, that act involves active listening, trying to figure out what information is most important, and putting it down. When done on a laptop, it generally involves robotically taking in spoken words and converting them into typed text.

Makes sense to me. No matter how good a typist you are, writing by hand is a more natural process that doesn't engage your entire brain. You have to figure out what's being said and how to paraphrase it, and that act is part of learning. Rote note taking isn't.

Plus of course laptops are distracting. So put 'em away. Use the Cornell system if you want a system. But either way, use pen and pad, not keyboard and mouse.

Here's What President Obama Just Promised the World in the Fight Against Climate Change

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 11:26 AM EDT

This morning, hours ahead of a looming deadline, the United States released its formal submission to the United Nations in preparation for global climate talks that will take place in Paris later this year. Known as an "intended nationally determined contribution," the document gives a basic outline for what US negotiators will pony up for an accord that is meant to replace the aging Kyoto Protocol and establish a new framework for international collaboration in the fight against climate change.

The US submission offered few surprises and essentially reiterated the carbon emission reduction targets that President Barack Obama first announced in a bilateral deal with China in November: 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The document then gives a rundown of Obama's climate initiatives in order to demonstrate that the US goal is attainable with policies that are already in place or are in the works. Chief among those policies is the Clean Power Plan, which sets tough new limits for carbon emissions from the electricity sector, with the aim to reduce them 30 percent by 2030.

 

With today's announcement, the United States joins a handful of other major polluters, including Mexico and the European Union, in formally articulating its Paris position well in advance. In a series of earlier UN meetings over the fall and winter, negotiators stressed that setting early delivery dates for these pledges was important so that countries will have time to critique each others' contributions in advance of the final summit in December. But although the deadline is today, many other key players—including China, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and India—have yet to make an announcement.

Environmental groups' immediate reactions to the US submission were mostly positive.

"The United States' proposal shows that it is ready to lead by example on the climate crisis," World Resources Institute analyst Jennifer Morgan said in a statement. "This is a serious and achievable commitment."

At least one leading Republican offered an equally predictable rebuttal, according to the Associated Press:

"Considering that two-thirds of the US federal government hasn't even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Yemen "On the Verge of Total Collapse"

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 10:54 AM EDT

As expected, things are going from bad to worse in Yemen:

The United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned on Tuesday that Yemen was on the brink of collapse, as his office said that heavy fighting in the southern port city of Aden had left its streets lined with bodies and its hospitals full of corpses.

....Houthi forces were reported to have forced their way into Aden’s northeastern suburbs despite airstrikes by the Saudi Air Force and a naval blockade intended to sever the flow of weapons and other supplies to Houthi forces.

Well, perhaps the pan-Arab military force announced a few days ago will restore order? Unfortunately, Laura King of the LA Times reminds us that the last time Arabs fought together was during the 1973 war—which ended in disaster:

Now, nearly 50 years later, Arab states are joining forces again — this time, with the immediate aim of restoring order in chaotic Yemen, and moving as well to quell other regional conflicts.

But analysts say the nascent military alliance, whose planned formation was announced over the weekend by Arab leaders meeting in Egypt, could usher in new regional crises and intensify existing ones, sharpening sectarian differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and complicating already tangled national conflicts.

Yemen, whose tribes have for centuries been hostile to outsiders, could prove a deadly quagmire if conventional infantries from elsewhere in the Arab world attempt to wage a ground war against a homegrown, battle-hardened guerrilla force, the Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels. And a momentary sense of unity among Arab comrades-in-arms may fade as their sometimes-conflicting agendas come to the fore.

Read the whole thing. If it wasn't obvious already, King's piece makes it clear that the various Arab actors all have different goals and different agendas in Yemen. This is not likely to end well.

The World's Worst Climate Villain Just Showed Us Exactly How to Stop Global Warming

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 6:30 AM EDT

There was a somewhat surprising announcement this week from a country with one of the world's worst climate reputations: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's office declared that his government is committed to signing on to the next major international climate accord, set to be hammered out in Paris later this year.

In a statement, the PM's office said that "a strong and effective global agreement, that addresses carbon leakage and delivers environmental benefit, is in Australia’s national interest."

I have no idea what "carbon leakage" is. Presumably it's something similar to carbon dioxide emissions, which are the leading cause of global warming. (Update: Carbon leakage is "the term often used to describe the situation that may occur if, for reasons of costs related to climate policies, businesses were to transfer production to other countries which have laxer constraints on greenhouse gas emissions," according to the European Commission.) Regardless, the announcement is a welcome sign from an administration that was recently ranked as the "worst industrial country in the world" on climate action.

The Paris summit is meant to elicit strong commitments to reduce carbon pollution from all of the world's leading economies, so it's a good thing Australia is willing to play ball. The country gets 74 percent of its power from coal (that's nearly twice coal's share of US energy generation). Australia has the second-largest carbon footprint per capita of the G20 nations (following Saudi Arabia), according to US government statistics.

Whether or not Australians liked their carbon tax, new data show it absolutely worked to slash carbon emissions.

But let's not get too excited. Although Abbott hasn't yet specified exactly what kind of climate promises he'll bring to the table in Paris, there's good reason to be skeptical. Here's why: In the run-up to the talks, developed countries are keeping a close eye on each others' domestic climate policies as a guage of how serious they each are about confronting the problem. It's a process of collectively raising the bar: If major polluters like the United States show they mean business in the fight against climate change, other countries will be more inclined to follow suit. Of course, the reverse is also true—for example, the revelation that Japan is using climate-designated dollars to finance coal-fired power plants weakens the whole negotiating process. That's one reason why President Barack Obama has been so proactive about initiating major climate policies from within the White House rather than waiting for the GOP-controlled Congress to step up.

So, on that metric, how are Australia's climate policies shaping up? It looks like they're going straight down the gurgler.

Almost a year ago, Australia made a very different kind of climate announcement: It became the world's first country to repeal a price on carbon. Back in 2012, after several years of heated political debate, Australia's parliament had voted to impose a fixed tax on carbon pollution for the country's several hundred worst polluters. The basic idea—as with all carbon-pricing systems, from California to the European Union—is that putting a price on carbon emissions encourages power plants, factories, and other major sources to clean up. Most environmental economists agree that a carbon price would be the fastest way to dramatically slash emissions, and that hypothesis is supported by a number of case studies from around the world—British Columbia is a classic success story. (President Obama backed a national carbon price for the US—in the form of a cap-and-trade system—in 2009, but it was quashed in the Senate.)

In Australia, the carbon tax quickly became unpopular with most voters, who blamed it for high energy prices and the country's sluggish recovery from the 2008 global recession. Abbott rose to power in part based on his pledge to get rid of the law. In July 2014 he succeeded in repealing it.

Now, new data from the Australian Department of the Environment reveal that whether or not you liked the carbon tax, it absolutely worked to slash carbon emissions. And in the first quarter without the tax, emissions jumped for the first time since prior to the global financial crisis.

The new data quantified greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector (which accounts for about a third of total emissions, the largest single share) in the quarter from July to September 2014. As the chart below shows, emissions in that same quarter dropped by about 7.5 percent after the carbon tax was imposed, and jumped 4.7 percent after it was repealed:

oz carbon emissions
Tim McDonnell

It's especially important to note that the jump came in the context of an overall decline in electricity consumption, as Australian climate economist Frank Jotzo explained to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Frank Jotzo, an associate professor at the Australian National University's Crawford School, said electricity demand was falling in the economy, so any rise in emissions from the sector showed how supply was reverting to dirtier energy sources.

"You had a step down in the emission intensity in power stations from the carbon price—and now you have a step back up," Professor Jotzo said.

…[Jotzo] estimated fossil fuel power plants with 4.4 gigawatts of capacity were been taken offline during the carbon tax years. About one third of that total, or 1.5 gigawatts, had since been switched back on.

In other words, we have here a unique case study of what happens when a country bails on climate action. The next question will what all this will mean for the negotiations in Paris.