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Tea Party Philosophy 101

Here's your average right wing congressman's take on the default crisis:

ROKITA: We’ll learn to live within our means right now, in the here and now. And this might force that issue even if the economy does or the stock market does go down, the economy might get worse. The economy is terrible it’s been terrible for years now, and the reason it’s bad is not because of a debt-ceiling vote.

The reason it’s bad is because we have people who believe that by making government bigger by keeping people on unemployment checks and on welfare we’re going to dig us out of this mess.

That's what they think. It's about bad people on welfare. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. It's up to the GOP leadership to figure out how to deal with that. Perhaps they could consult with some special needs specialists.

I don't think I have to remind you that Bill Clinton "took welfare off the table" 15 years ago.

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Grown ups in charge

Robert Kutner is very shrill:

As the debt doomsday of August 2 draws closer, what sort of end-game can we imagine?

The worst scenario would be for an outbreak of common sense and self-interest to overtake the extremism of the House Republican caucus. If the Republicans were to accept Obama's proffered deal, they would weaken Social Security and Medicare -- and put the Democrats' fingerprints on the deed -- depriving Democrats of their traditional defense of America's best loved social programs. They would also get a ten-year deficit-reduction agreement that is mostly program cuts. And they would get an austerity package that guarantees high unemployment as Obama heads into a difficult re-election. And a Democratic president is offering this deal!

The Republicans would also get to savor the spectacle of a badly divided Democratic Party, as the White House twists arms of unwilling House and Senate Democrats to vote for a right-wing package.

It's quite a drama. Who will save us from a perverse approach to deficit reduction that is bad economics and worse politics -- the unreality of the Republicans, or the principled resistance of rank and file Democrats?

Obama and his advisers, weirdly, believe that his stance as "the only grownup in the room" who forces his own party to abandon its core principles for the sake of an austerity program will somehow win the gratitude of voters struggling with declining incomes and rising joblessness.

The unemployment may be stuck near ten percent, but good old Obama brokered a deal to balance the budget in 2021. So re-elect this man.

On which planet is this?

It would seem to be planet Earth, having something of a hissy fit.

He's rooting for a clean McConnell,as I am, but all reporting indicates that it's been dirtied up substantially to make it "palatable" to House Republicans and a disgusting sell-out for Democrats. I believe that defines bipartisan victory in the Village.

Kuttner agitates for the Democratic activist base to save Obama from himself. But I just don't think that has much salience. After all, the polls show that the public blames Republicans for the impasse and his early fundraising shows that threats by a small number of small donors to withhold donations probably won't make a difference. At this point we're forced to rely on GOP intransigence (and then last minute sanity) to stop the worst from happening. I don't think progressives are particularly relevant at the moment to any of this.It's like Iraq --- we just have to watch it play out.

By the way --- does anyone think that Karl Rove will be so hamstrung by a deal that he can't run any more of these ads in 2012?

From his point of view, it doesn't matter if a tea partier takes out a Republican in a primary or not --- he's still going to run these ads against Democrats.

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California Dream Act Lite

The first of the California Dream Act bills could become law next year.

by Brian Leubitz

With the Legislature in recess, the days until August 15, when the Legislature comes back and the redistricting commission is due to return its final maps, are focused on looking at the Governor's signings and vetoes.  And, of course, lots of dog and pony shows for the media, as Legislators attempt to get some attention for their legislation.

One item that is of particular note is the first, perhaps more modest part, of the California Dream Act.  AB 130 wouldn't cost the state money, but it could enable some "Dreamers" to afford an education:

One of two bills referred to as the California Dream Act was approved today by the state senate and is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown's office for approval. Known as AB 130, the measure would allow undocumented college students access to privately funded financial aid in the form of scholarships and other assistance as overseen by state colleges and universities. (SCPR)

Currently, immigrants who attended at least three years at California high schools and graduated from a California high school pay in-state tuition.  This legislation would simply make these same students eligible for private aid.  

Brown has previously said he supported the California Dream Act, and one would hope that would mean a quick signing of AB 130.  But one thing that I've learned from watching this process for many years is that nothing is certain.  You can contact Governor Brown to let him know you support AB 130 and help speed up the process.


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News Corp: Of course it’s an American problem too

I've been hearing quite a bit of fatuous chatter over the past few day about the superiority of the American press over the Brits and our alleged unwillingness to be manipulated by someone like Rupert Murdoch. Please.

John Nichols writes:

Just as Murdoch has had far too much control over politics and politicians in Britain during periods of conservative dominance—be it under an actual Tory such as former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and current Prime Minister David Cameron or under a faux Tory such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair—he has had far too much control in the States. And that control, while ideological to some extent, is focused mainly on improving the bottom line for his media properties by securing for them unfair legal and regulatory advantages.

Over the past decade, as media reform groups have battled to prevent FCC and Congressional moves to undermine controls on media consolidation, Murdoch and his lobbyists been a constant presence—pushing from the other side for the lifting of limits on the amount and types of media that one corporation can own in particular communities and nationally.

The objection was never an ideological one. Media owners, editors, reporters and commentators have a right to take the positions they like. Where the trouble comes is when they seek to turn politicians and regulators into corporate handmaidens—and when they build their empires out to such an extent they can demand obedience even from those who do not share their partisan or ideological preferences.

And the corruptions of the process created by Murdoch’s manipulation are not merely a British phenomenon.

Murdoch’s political pawns in the United States have been every bit as faithful to the mogul and his media machine as the British pols.

When he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee in May of 2003, at a point when he was the chief global cheerleader for George Bush’s war with Iraq (“We basically supported…I will say supported the Bush policy,” the media mogul would later admit), Murdoch was seeking to secure ownership of the nation’s largest satellite television company while pressing for FCC rule changes that would allow him to own newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same cities and for an easing of controls on the extent to which one corporation could dominate television viewership nationally.

Did Murdoch have a hard time of it?

Not hardly.

Back in the 90s the right wing laundered their Clinton hit pieces through the British tabloids so the US media could "report" it. In the aughts, Fox News dominated the American press and helped the Bush White House with its agenda and message. It exists to spread conservative propaganda and has become so powerful that the entire political establishment is cowed by it (or is keeping their professional job prospects open.) More recently it served as the public relations arm of the Tea Party movement. Murdoch's empire has had perhaps the most profound effect on American politics and culture of any corporation or individual of the last 20 years. We certainly didn't escape its malevolent ethos --- it's permeated our whole society.

If Murdoch's empire is brought down because of its sleazy, tabloid ethics my faith in justice will be restored.

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Spoonless

The Weekly Sift has moved to weeklysift.com.
You should adjust your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions accordingly.
In the meantime, I'll continue posting weekly summaries here that will link to the new blog.

This week's summary is on the new blog at: http://weeklysift.com/2011/07/18/spoonless/

BOY: Do not try to bend the spoon. That is impossible.
Instead, only try to realize the Truth.
NEO: What truth?
BOY: There is no spoon.

-- The Matrix

In this week's Sift:

  • Welcome to the new WeeklySift.com. This week the Weekly Sift moves to weeklysift.com. Simultaneously, I've changed (and, I hope, improved) the design of the blog. But the content, philosophy, and purpose of the Weekly Sift is not changing.
  • The Sifted Bookshelf: The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy.Warren Mosler's short, free, and very readable book explains why all the common-sense things you know about the economy are wrong. In particular, dollars (like Neo's spoon) are just patterns of data.
  • Meet ALEC.How did those new conservative governors all suddenly come up with the same detailed agenda after they took office? By using the model laws that the corporations who run the American Legislative Executive Council had already written behind closed doors. Now those model laws have all been leaked.
  • Short Notes.Will 3-D printers someday kill the last of the manufacturing jobs? Nobody but a reporter comes to Sarah's premier. Krugman, Mahr: If you just noticed how crazy the Republicans are acting, where have you been? Fox forgets 9-11. A song explains fracking. Stephen Colbert explains the Rupert Murdoch scandal. And more.
  • This Week's Challenge.The Wisconsin recall elections are mere weeks away, and the good guys are being outspent.
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Another week of GW News, July 17, 2011 [A Few Things Ill Considered]

Logging the Onset of The Bottleneck Years


This weekly posting is brought to you courtesy of H. E. Taylor. Happy reading, I hope you enjoy this week's Global Warming news roundup

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Collegiate Grade Inflation: It’s All About Supply and Demand [Mike the Mad Biologist]

By way of Dr. Isis, we come across this post by Catherine Rampell about the rise of grade inflation in colleges:

economix-13gradeinflation-custom1

Dr. Isis observes:

It's interesting that the real change in grading appears to have occurred in the period between 1962 and 1974, probably coinciding with the increase in conscription for the Vietnam War. After 1974 things appear to trend toward a return to baseline. Then in 1990, something new happens that drives grade inflation.

I think it's pretty obvious what happened: increased competition for graduate school slots put (and still puts) pressure on faculty to not give C's and to give more A's.

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Human-derived gelatin spares the livestock, confuses vegans

Vegans are going to be super-conflicted by this one. Researchers at Beijing University's College of Life Science and Technology are pioneering a four-legged creature friendly method for cranking out the 300,000 tons of gelatin produced each year. Their solution: people. Well, not in the Soylent Green sense. No, the process in question here takes "human gelatin genes [and inserts them] into a strain of yeast [producing] gelatin with controllable features." Sound appetizing? It might, if you want to avoid chowing down on "Mad Cow" tainted gummy worms at the cinema. Alright, so maybe these Chinese scientists are signaling the sensationalist red alert a bit prematurely -- it's just too bad Charlton Heston isn't around to witness this bit of life science imitating his art.

[Image credit via Film Critic]

Continue reading Human-derived gelatin spares the livestock, confuses vegans

Human-derived gelatin spares the livestock, confuses vegans originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 18 Jul 2011 10:26:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink DVICE  |  sourceJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry  | Email this | Comments
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Swedish Pyramidologist [Aardvarchaeology]

apples.jpg

"Pyramidology", says Wikipedia, "is a term used, sometimes disparagingly, to refer to various pseudoscientific speculations regarding pyramids, most often the Giza Necropolis and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt." The encyclopedia goes on to explain that there are several kinds of pyramidology that do not necessarily correspond, one of which is the metrological kind, where the dimensions of these great edifices are studied. In the archaeological trade, we sometimes (uncharitably) refer to writings of this kind as "pyramidiocy".

In late March I got a call from Lars Lison Almkvist who has self-published a book titled Cheopspyramidens nyckel, "The Key to Khufu's Pyramid". Almkvist explained that he contacted me in my capacities as skeptic and archaeologist, and offered to send me a copy of the book. I emphasised that I know very little about Egypt, but accepted his kind offer. And now I have studied the book and come to some conclusions.

Before I say anything about the book I must underline that Lars Almkvist has been unfailingly courteous and friendly to me. He has also shown great courage and good scientific sense in sending his work to an avowed skeptic instead of preaching only to the choir. When I criticise his book, this is in no way intended as comments on him as a person. We may disagree on points of archaeological fact and interpretation, but we share an interest in the distant past and a will to find out about it.

Approaching the book, I immediately reacted to the title, the subtitle and the first sentence of the preface. I translate:

The Key to Khufu's Pyramid
The solution of the geometrical riddle

As a lone interpreter of the ancient geometrical language, I must be strictly scientific.

I asked myself, "Why does Almkvist believe that the Great Pyramid hides a geometrical riddle that awaits its solution or a message that awaits decoding?"

As regular readers will know, I have helped my dad on and off to build an octagonal sauna. A considerable amount of 3D geometry went into its design. But I am quite sure that my dad and the architect have hidden no riddle in the sauna. Sadly, the Rundkvist lineage does not perpetuate any ancient tradition of sacred geometry. The sauna's design conceals no message. And sauna or pyramid, it's all architecture. So I entered into the book with this question foremost in my mind.

We learn in the preface and introduction that Almkvist's pyramid geometry is actually a recent outgrowth of his interest in an Early Iron Age cemetery at Gettlinge in the Swedish island province of Öland. This is a standing-stone cemetery of the same kind as the one in Ravlunda, Scania, that Bob G. Lind has been seeking alignments in. Almkvist applied his results from Gettlinge to Bronze Age rock art sites in nearby parts of the Swedish mainland, found correspondences with Babylonian mathematics, and only then took up pyramidology by way of the Fibonacci series. He finds the same mathematical relationships in all of these sites though separated by centuries or millennia and thousands of kilometres. In his reading, he has come across ideas that he has felt a need to accommodate about an Early Iron Age settlement hiatus on Öland. (This interpretation has long been abandoned by archaeology - we have found that the hiatus is one of furnished burial only, not of settlement.) To explain how the geometrical knowledge survived this purported abandonment, Almkvist suggests in a true Bob G. Lind fashion that the Gettlinge cemetery actually dates from the Bronze Age.

With these preliminaries out of the way, Almkvist launches into 40 pages of geometrical operations on the dimensions of the pyramid, explicated by over 50 schematic drawings. In his own words (p. 3, my transl.), "The very detailed scientific account is only comprehensible if one devotes a very long time to all of the drawings, c. 50 of them."

I have not devoted a very long time to all of the drawings. But I have looked them over in the light of my high-school geometry, and I have tried to find the answer to my first question. I have failed. Nowhere does Almkvist tell his readers why he assumes a riddle or hidden message in the Great Pyramid's geometry. And it is also unclear what the answer he has found to the riddle is. We are never told the hidden message. All Almkvist gives us is a series of geometrical relationships that he finds significant. His main argument can be summarised as "Coincidence? I DON'T THINK SO!".

To my mind, Almkvist's pyramidological studies are a classic case of geometrical pareidolia, apophenia or patternicity. They are akin to the Kabbalah, to the Bible Code, to the Rorschach Test, to the meanings people find in hallucinations. Our brains are not very willing to accept that anything is random or meaningless. We seek meaning in any noisy signal - and often we find it. Watch a cloud for long enough and it will start looking like Ramesses II.

So as a friendly challenge to Lars Almqvist, I have sent him the designs of my father's octagonal sauna, and a question. We know that the builders of the sauna are counting in base-10 and using a standard metre as their main unit of measurement. Is it impossible or very difficult to find geometrical relationships in the sauna of the same kind as those Almkvist operates with on the Great Pyramid? If it turns out that it is equally hard or easy, then this would to my mind suggest that the relationships Almkvist has found in the pyramid are quite fortuitous.

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Call to Action Buttons: A Survey of Best Practices

Call-to-Action buttons play a pivotal role in soliciting action from the user. To garner the requested action, buttons are placed on the website that allow the user to perform an action, such as buying something, or leading to another page for more information. Careful planning is necessary in the creation of your call to action, and in this article I will explain the best practices for creating effective call to action buttons. I will also present you with examples in action to give you a better understanding of what works.

In order for your Call-to-Actions to work successfully, you must first determine how they’ll fit into the overall scheme of your site. By laying the groundwork, or information architecture, you’ll begin to discover how the buttons work within the web interface. To survive in the market, you have to generate revenue. So, the successful website is that which leads the reader of web page to the desired end result (“Buy Now”…”Learn More”). Now the question arises, how can we make effective call to action buttons which work in the real world.

Factors to Consider

Size

In web design, historically the larger the element, the more important it is. The size of your call-to-action in relation to its surrounding elements is essential in converting users to take action. After all, it’ll be hard to get the intended action from your user if your button is miniscule in size and blends in with the rest of the text.

  • Use white space: A lot of what can be achieved from increasing the size of a button can also be accomplished by simply placing the button around plenty of white space. A button surrounded by white space will be much more prominent than one which is lost in a sea of text and graphics.
  • The more white space there is in between a call to action button and a surrounding element, the less connected they are. Therefore, if you have other elements that can help convince users to take action, reduce the white space in between those elements and the call to action.

ScrapBlog
You can see the effects of using a prominent color, sufficient white space, and size relative to surrounding elements to attract users’ attention. Straightforward language conveys a sense of easiness, claiming that you can “start” right away by taking action.

 

Mozilla Firefox
“Free Download” button of the Mozilla Firefox is a true revolution in terms of call-to-action graphics. Its large, unevenly shaped, vibrantly colored and detail oriented button has made its mark in the industry.

Color

To ensure the user notices your button, it’s also important to consider its color. Although there are a few choice colors for a call-to-action button, it can be worthwhile to choose a contrasting color than the background. This essentially makes the button jump toward you, enticing you to click it.

  • It has sometimes been said that a red button (and red text links) performs the best
  • Perform some A/B testing to see what colors performs best for your website
  • The performance of any button may be attributed to the contrast on the page instead of its color

 

Vuze.com visitors will have no problem finding the download call to action button. The use of contrasting color, plenty of white space, and placement on both the top and bottom of the page make this call to action noticeable and effective.

Placement

An effective button should be clearly visible on a page, and at least relatively prominent in relation to other elements.

  • On a landing page – and indeed for most pages, where this is feasible – a button should appear above the fold. The likelihood that a button will be clicked is greatly diminished if a visitor has to scroll to see it.
  • Increase the likelihood of a button being clicked by placing both at the top of the page (or above the fold) and at the bottom of a longer page. It’s likely a user may not scroll back up the page if they’ve passed it, or scroll down a page if they already see one.
  • Proximity to other page elements is important as well. Obviously for an e-commerce site an “add to cart” button that’s right next to a product should perform better than one that’s further removed.
  • In other situations, it is important to keep a call-to-action button close to such things as value propositions, testimonials and feature lists that are intended to stimulate conversions.

You can see these concepts in practice on the website for YourWebJob.com. By putting the call to action “Post a Job!” in a very prominent area, it is more likely that the user will notice it or remember it later, after they have looked at the site’s content.

Mobile Web Design
This call to action button is placed in a prominent location; it has large size and a distinctive color with respect to surrounding elements.

Mobile Cubix
Mobile cubix uses a round outline surrounding the “Read More” button and then leading it to the application that not only attracts visitors’ attention but also informs them what they can expect.

Making Its Use Known

Of course none of these procedures matter if the button doesn’t actually look like a button! You need to make it clear to the visitors that this graphic is in fact a button that can be clicked on to result in a specific action and not simply another element on the page. Graphically speaking there are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • Embossing the button
  • Placing the call-to-action text in a discreet bordered area
  • Offsetting the button from other graphical elements
  • Making it behave like a button when the user’s mouse hovers over it
  • For buttons that are not hyperlinked (and so do not automatically generate a hand symbol in the mouse over state) this can readily be accomplished with CSS.
  • A change in the button’s appearance itself on mouse over, such as a change in color, is a further signal to the visitor that the button is clickable.

Kalculator
This call to action tells users exactly what to expect: by clicking on this call to action, they should anticipate shelling out $3.99. Using the word “only” hints that this is quite a good deal, which can help make the sale.

 

Postbox adds value through the download call to action by adding that its “FREE” 30-day trial and reduces consumer doubt with the purchase call to action by stating it’s a “No Risk Guarantee!” More often than not web sites calls to action simply ask the visitor to Buy Now! without reinforcing the value or ease of the action.

SEO

A button, in many cases, is directly linked to a page indexed by search engines. Adding an <img> alt attribute will provide the search engines with text they will associate with the target page:  if you are targeting keywords on that target place, you should employ them in your <img> alt.

To get the most out of your button, your image’s alt attribute (or, depending on the browser, an <a> title attribute) may be displayed to a visitor when they mouse over the button, providing yet another opportunity to reinforce or your call-to-action (“start your trial today!”).

Additional Resources

5 Tips for Creating An Effective Call To Action Button

How to Create a Slick and Clean Button in Photoshop

10 Techniques For An Effective ‘Call to Action’

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