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This Is What Classic Pieces of Art Would Look Like if the Prudes at Fox 5 News Had Their Way

| Thu May 14, 2015 3:04 PM EDT

On Monday, a Picasso painting titled Women of Algiers (Version O) fetched a record-setting $179.4 million at a Christie's auction, beating out Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which just two years prior had sold for $142 million, as the most expensive piece of artwork ever sold.

The sale price for the Women of Algiers (Version O) marked the latest entry into a world so mind-numbingly wealthy and closed off to the general public. It's the perfect illustration of privilege consolidating into the hands of so few, for no one else to appreciate.

New York's senior art critic Jerry Saltz has tackled this issue at large on numerous occasions. But this time around, Saltz identified something perhaps even more outrageous than the $179.4 million price tag:

This is pathetic. In anticipation of a piece inevitably shattering another sale record and this Fox affiliate being right there to cover it—both journalistically and visually—here are a few examples of how that coverage might look like:

Henri Matisse, Dance (1)
 
Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses), Paul Cézanne
Katsushika Hokusai's The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
Michelangelo's David

An abominable peek into the dark arts.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said it was Fox News that had blurred the Picasso painting. This has since been corrected to say it was a Fox affiliate in New York. 

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Lunatic Conspiracy Theories Aren't What They Used to Be

| Thu May 14, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago there was a minor hoorah over a military training exercise called Jade Helm, scheduled to take place this summer in various states in the southwest. A few lunatics in Texas got wind of this, along with a map or two, and decided that Jade Helm was really just a pretense for President Obama to take over Texas.

Sadly for me, this all happened while I was near the bottom of my chemotherapy regimen and I barely had enough energy to make an occasional run to the bathroom, let alone write blog posts about stuff like this. Today, however, the fine folks at PPP have given me a second bite at the apple. They polled a bunch of Republicans about Jade Helm, and then broke down the answers by which candidate they currently support. Here are the results:

Apparently a full third of the Republican base believes that President Obama plans to order the military to take over Texas. Booyah! And supporters of Ted Cruz and Rick Perry—who are probably mostly from Texas—believe this idiocy by 60-70 percent.

So what do we take from this? I think there are two main interpretations:

  • Fox and Rush and the rest of the conservative media have driven conservatives into such a frenzy that a third of them really, truly do believe that President Obama plans a military takeover of Texas.
  • Poll questions like this no longer have any real meaning. This is basically little more than a survey of mood affiliation that tests how much you hate and distrust President Obama. That is to say, a yes answer has little or nothing to with Jade Helm. It just means you really hate and distrust Obama.

I'm inclined to the second interpretation myself. It's all good fun, but no, I don't think that a third of Republicans really believe this nonsense. It's just their way of showing that they're members in good standing of the political faction that believes Obama is capable of anything in his power-mad struggle to turn the United States into a socialist hellhole. The rest is just fluff.

Bee Die-Offs Are Worst Where Pesticide Use Is Heaviest

| Thu May 14, 2015 1:34 PM EDT
Dancestrokes/Shutterstock

The nation's honeybee crisis has deepened, with colony die-offs rising sharply over last year's levels, the latest survey from the US Department of Agriculture-funded Bee Informed Partnership shows. A decade or so ago, a mysterious winter-season phenomenon known as colony-collapse disorder emerged, in which bee populations would abandon their hives en masse. These heavy winter-season losses have tapered off somewhat, but now researchers are finding substantial summer-season losses, too. Here are the latest numbers.

Chart: Bee Informed Partnership/University of Maryland/Loretta Kuo

Note that total losses are more than double what beekeepers report as the "acceptable rate"—that is, the normal level of hive attrition. Losses above the acceptable level put beekeepers in a precarious economic position and suggest that something is awry with bee health. "We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist and director for the Bee Informed Partnership said in a press release. But now his team is also seeing massive summer die-offs. "Years ago, this was unheard of," he added.

And here's a map a map depicting where losses are heaviest:

Chart: Bee Informed Partnership/University of Maryland/Loretta Kuo

The survey report doesn't delve into why the nation's bees are under such severe strain, noting only, as USDA entomologist and survey co-coordinator Jeffrey Pettis put it, "the need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses."

A growing weight of science implicated pesticides—particularly a ubiquitous class of insecticides called neonicitinoids, as well as certain fungicides—as likely factors.

Here are US Geological Survey maps of where two major neonics, imidacloprid and clothianidin, are grown. Note, too, the rapid rise in their use over the past decade.

Chart: USGS

 

 

Chart: USGS

A 2013 paper co-authored by the USDA's Pettis and the University of Maryland's vanEngelsdorp found that lows levels of two particular fungicides, chlorothalonil and pyraclostrobin, "had a pronounced effect" on bees’ ability to withstand a common pathogen. Here are the USGS's maps for them.

 

Chart: USGS

 

 

 

Your Weak Handshakes Are Slowly Killing You

| Thu May 14, 2015 12:17 PM EDT

The life of someone with a weak handshake, already burdened with the stereotypes of being passive and awkward, just got much worse. According to a new study published in The Lancet, a weak hand grip may be strongly correlated to an increased chance of being diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease and even a premature death.

"We think it fits the measure of someone's frailty, and frailty can be thought of as your ability to withstand having a disease," the study's lead author Dr. Darryl Leong explained, according to CTV News.

The study, which focused on roughly 140,000 adults across 17 countries, asked participants to squeeze objects as hard as they could. After measuring their grip strengths, those who demonstrated a lack of muscular strength were shown to be at a far greater risk of having a heart attack.

While previous studies have shown similar links, the new findings are the first to show that handshakes can be a reliable indicator of premature mortality. But the study did not establish whether illnesses were the consequences of reduced muscular strength or if the diseases were already present. From the Economist:

If the former is true, then building up strength through exercise might avert early death. If it is the latter, a person’s cards are probably marked irreversibly. Most likely, it is a bit of both, with muscle strength being a good marker of "real" ageing—in other words, of generalised biochemical decrepitude—which correlates only imperfectly with someone’s calendar age.

You can read the study in its entirety here.

Bad News for Simpsons Fans

| Thu May 14, 2015 8:20 AM EDT

Harry Shearer, the iconic voice of countless "Simpsons" characters including Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders, sent out a pair of ominous tweets last night signaling he may be exiting the show due to what appears to be a contract dispute with executive producer James L. Brooks:

Fox recently renewed the show for another two seasons to last till 2017, but Shearer was reportedly still trying to work out his contract. Judging by the tweets sent out last night, it looks an agreement couldn't be reached. We're still hoping for the best, but for now, we leave you with this clip:

 

Asians Are Kicking Ass in Silicon Valley, So Why Are So Few in the Boardroom?

| Thu May 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Asians are far less likely than whites to land tech leadership roles. Ascend

When people talk about the need for diversity in tech, they aren't usually talking about Asian Americans. Though they make up less than 6 percent of the overall workforce, Asians account for a whopping 17 percent of all tech-sector workers and a far higher percentage of engineers. (At Twitter, for instance, people of Asian descent hold 34 percent of the technical positions.) By focusing exclusively on the obvious need for more blacks, Latinos, and women in Silicon Valley, however, diversity advocates have missed a key point: Asian workers are far less likely than whites to end up in the leadership ranks.

White workers were 2.5 times more likely than Asian workers to end up in leadership roles, the study found.

According to a study that the nonprofit Ascend Foundation released last week, white workers are two and a half times more likely then their Asian counterparts to serve as executives at major tech companies. The study, which examined the workforce demographics at Google, HP, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, found that the "Asian effect" was nearly four times greater than gender as a glass-ceiling factor. (The authors also pointed to leadership gaps for blacks and Latinos, but dismissed those results as less statistically significant, given how few blacks and Latinos are employed by the industry overall.)

The finding for Asians is notable, among other reasons, for what it says about the case of Ellen Pao, whose unsuccessful sex discrimination case against her former employer, the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, obsessed the technology press. Though the particulars of her case are unique, the study suggests that Pao, as an Asian American, was 40 percent as likely as a white woman and 28 percent as likely as a white man to land in a leadership role.

"Asians are generally stereotyped as being nonconfrontational or timid," says Pandora's Lisa Lee, "so they may be overlooked."

The "bamboo ceiling," as author Jane Hyun terms it, is hardly limited to technology, but its existence in a sector where Asians are thriving illustrates the intractability of the problem. Hyun blames the workers for the promotion gap, arguing that they need to take a page from Sheryl Sandberg and "lean in." But other observers, such as Lisa Lee, a senior diversity manager for Pandora, point to the need for companies to curb their preconceptions about who will make a good leader.

"Asians and Asian Americans are generally stereotyped as being nonconfrontational or timid," says Lee, the former publisher of Hyphen, a magazine about the Asian-American experience. "So they may be overlooked for leadership roles because they're not thought of as leadership material. This has nothing to do with their actual skills or abilities. Part of the solution is companies making a concerted effort to address bias in the promotion process to ensure it's more fair for everyone."

There may be additional factors at play. Mario Lugay, a program officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which advocates for diversity in tech, makes the point that non-Asians are quick to lump Asians into one category, whereas Silicon Valley, for example, includes economically disadvantaged Southeast Asians and foreign-born workers from a variety of cultures. "My hope is that we strive to research and address the nuances of underrepresentation," says Lugay, who is Filipino. "That includes the diversity within the category of Asian, as well as Asian Americans."

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Health Update

| Wed May 13, 2015 6:27 PM EDT

Today was my one-week follow-up at City of Hope, and everything seems pretty peachy. My counts are down since I'm no longer getting meds that artificially stimulate white blood cell production, but even without the meds my counts are all within the normal range and will likely be even better at my next follow-up. Every other lab result was positive too. I will remain fatigued for some time, but the extreme fatigue should last only another week or two. We hope.

Assuming that I have no setbacks, the next real milestone will be a bone marrow biopsy at the end of June to see if I've achieved total remission. I will then have to decide if I want to begin Revlimid maintenance therapy, which I'm very much undecided on at the moment (my doctor is all in favor). Other than that, I just wait to get better.

For my follow-up visit today I was directed to the DEM clinic. I wonder how they knew? And where do Republicans go? I guess it's a secret. But I'll bet their clinic is pretty nice. Probably open bar and free massages while you wait.

Pope Francis Will Officially Recognize Palestinian Statehood

| Wed May 13, 2015 11:59 AM EDT

The Vatican is set to sign a new treaty to formally recognize the state of Palestine. The statement was released by a joint commission of Vatican and Palestinian officials on Wednesday, and indicated an agreement had been "concluded," with an official signing to take place soon.

Though the Vatican has long hinted at supporting an official recognition, Wednesday's news signals the Vatican's first legal shift from recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine, according to the AP. In 2012, the Vatican applauded the United Nations' decision to formally observe a Palestinian state.

Shortly after the statement's release, Israel expressed disappointment in the Vatican's decision.

"This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations," the Israeli foreign ministry said, according to the AP. "Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly."

Alan Grayson Just Called a Reporter a "Shitting Robot"

| Wed May 13, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)—known as something of an active volcano ever since he said in a 2010 floor speech that the Republican health care plan was to "die quickly"—is considering running for Senate next year. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already settled on a candidate, Rep. Patrick Murphy, but Grayson believes that "our voters will crawl over hot coals to vote for me."

That feeling of invincibility extends to his dealings with reporters. To wit, today's interview with Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:

Alan Grayson!

This Is the Perfect Response to Fox's Racist Theory About Michelle Obama's Time at Princeton

| Wed May 13, 2015 11:07 AM EDT

Over the weekend, Michelle Obama delivered a passionate, candid commencement speech to the graduating class at Tuskegee University, Alabama, in which she addressed the daily slights of racism she has endured throughout her life. From Saturday's ceremony:

We've both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives. The folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety, the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores. The people at formal events who assumed we were the help. And those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country, and I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day.

It was a powerful speech, and naturally, the folks at Fox News were not happy. Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan on Tuesday suggested the speech was yet another example of the White House dividing the country on issues of race, asking, "Why didn't the first lady share the reason why she got into Princeton was probably because of Affirmative Action?"

"The reason why she became an associate at a law firm was probably because of diversity, they needed a woman—not saying that she wasn’t qualified—but they needed a woman, and a woman of color," she said.

Comedy Central's Larry Wilmore was not having it. In a segment on the Nightly Show, he fired back: "When a coke-snorting, alcohol-guzzling son of a CIA director DUI's his way into Yale and ultimately into the Oval Office because his daddy's was in both places, that's affirmative action."

George W., we hope you're watching.

Watch the full segment below: