Opportunity finds Mars mystery rock "like nothing we've ever seen before"

So 99% chance that this is completely mundane, a piece fell off the rover or something...but as Issac Asimov once noted, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but 'That’s funny...'" This could, maybe, possibly, be such a moment. Keep watching the skies.

Nasa says Mars mystery rock that ‘appeared’ from nowhere is ‘like nothing we’ve seen before’ (The Independent)

A mysterious rock which appeared in front of the Opportunity rover is "like nothing we've ever seen before", according to Mars exploration scientists at Nasa.

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Astronomers noticed the new rock had "appeared" without any explanation on an outcrop which had been empty just days earlier. The rover has been stuck photographing the same region of Mars for more than a month due to bad weather, with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California monitoring the images it sends.

Philadelphia cops literally bust teen's balls over a smart remark

The latest from the cops-gone-wild department: literal ball-busting.

Philadelphia Teen Alleges Severe Abuse During Police Pat-Down (The Root)

Darrin Manning and his high school basketball teammates were dressed for the cold when they hopped off the subway on Jan. 7, wearing hats, gloves and scarves given to them by a teacher, the Raw Story reports.

But the 16-year-old student at Mathematics, Civics & Sciences Charter School in Philadelphia found himself in a quandary when one of his classmates may have smarted off to an officer who was staring them down, according to the article, which cites the Philadelphia Inquirer. Things became complicated when the boys ran as the officer began approaching, sparking a chain of events that left Manning with a ruptured testicle and misdemeanor charges. He says he did nothing wrong.

The boy's mother is quoted as saying, "I blame myself. I taught my son to respect cops, not to fear them. Maybe if he was afraid, he would have run like the other boys and he would have been OK." Yep, there's your problem. While there are good people with badges, as institutions our police forces are corrupt and brutal and should always be viewed with suspicion and caution. "Police privilege" makes any interaction with cops dangerous.

Ohio strangles man to death

So the state of Ohio basically slowly strangled a man to death via a drug overdose yesterday.

The only unusual thing about it, really, is that they did it slowly, slowly enough for some who think that the state should have the power of life-and-death over its citizens to find the process (not the end result, mind, but the process) disturbing.

Those who think that murder by the state is not murder, that state violence can prevent individual violence, find themselves in a sort of double bind. The state must do its killing cleanly. Otherwise those who favor the ritual of human sacrifice as a means to placate the gods of justice and protect us from violent crime, find themselves confronted with uncomfortable questions about if and how execution really differs from criminal murder.

We've come a long way from the days of public crucifixions and impalements and beheadings. Visible violence is déclassé -- just look at headlines about beheadings and stonings in other nations. The method of execution must be perceived to be humane, neat and tidy, civilized and bloodless.

But it's difficult to quickly and bloodlessly kill a human being who does not wish to die. Probably the quickest and most pain-free method would be to use high explosives to render them into a fine pink mist, destroy the brain before any sensory data could even be processed. But this would make it hard to view the process as non-violent.

The medicalization of execution, via lethal injection, seemed to offer promise. Many of us have been under general anesthesia, and the idea of "it's like that but you don't wake up" seems humane enough...until a case like McGuire's shows us the truth.

Ohio executions face criticism after unusual death (Yahoo News)

McGuire's lawyers had attempted last week to block his execution, arguing that the untried method could lead to a medical phenomenon known as "air hunger" and could cause him to suffer "agony and terror" while struggling to catch his breath.

A few minutes before McGuire was put to death, Ohio prison director Gary Mohr said he believed the state's planning would produce "a humane, dignified execution" consistent with the law.

McGuire, 53, made loud snorting noises during one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Nearly 25 minutes passed between the time the lethal drugs began flowing and McGuire was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m.

the Israeli nukes that no one talks about

So long as the U.S. not only continues to maintain its huge nuclear arsenal, but turns a blind eye to Israeli nukes, it has no moral authority to demand other nations dismantle theirs.

The truth about Israel's secret nuclear arsenal (the Guardian)

The exotic tale of the bomb hidden in the desert is a true story, though. It's just one that applies to another country. In an extraordinary feat of subterfuge, Israel managed to assemble an entire underground nuclear arsenal – now estimated at 80 warheads, on a par with India and Pakistan – and even tested a bomb nearly half a century ago, with a minimum of international outcry or even much public awareness of what it was doing.

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Meanwhile, western governments have played along with the policy of "opacity" by avoiding all mention of the issue. In 2009, when a veteran Washington reporter, Helen Thomas, asked Barack Obama in the first month of his presidency if he knew of any country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, he dodged the trapdoor by saying only that he did not wish to "speculate".

scandals in the nuclear missile force

"The cheating scandal is the latest in a series of Air Force nuclear stumbles documented in recent months by The Associated Press, including deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections, breakdowns in training, and evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout. In October the general who commands the nuclear missile force was fired for engaging in embarrassing behavior, including drunkenness, while leading a U.S. delegation to a nuclear exercise in Russia." Well, nothing scary about that.

Cheating alleged in US nuclear missile force (Yahoo News)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In what may be the biggest such scandal in Air Force history, 34 officers entrusted with land-based nuclear missiles have been pulled off the job for alleged involvement in a cheating ring that officials say was uncovered during a drug probe.

defensive gun use, police privilege, and the Florida theater shooting

(Prompted by my friend Jason Mankey's Facebook share of David Frum's piece over at The Daily Beast; you can read that for the other side.)

The fatal shooting of Chad Oulson by Curtis Reeves, a 71-year-old former Tampa police captain, over a dispute about texting in a theater certainly illustrates something disturbing about American culture...but perhaps not what advocates of firearms prohibition think.

To be sure, texting and throwing popcorn should not result in someone's death.

And it is true that foolish people sometimes bring guns into situations that would not be dangerous if the fool had not introduced a firearm into the equation.

And it's true that the opt-cited statistic of 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year may be way off -- it is highly controversial.

On the other hand, for example, a woman who carries a gun in her purse for protection because she is frightened of an abusive ex-paramour, should not face jail time for exercising her right to self-defense (which necessarily includes the right to take reasonable precautions against rationally apprehended danger). Because it's also true that guns are used by innocent people to protect themselves or others in legitimately dangerous situations.

How often? The error bars are huge, because many cases are never reported to the authorities. (Why open yourself for possible prosecution from an overzealous or hoplophobic prosecutor?) The lowest figure I've seen in the literature is 64,000 defensive gun uses a year. That's likely an under-count given the methodology: "I'm calling on behalf of the federal government, and I'd like to ask you some questions about crime. Have you ever pointed a gun at someone?" I exaggerate somewhat, but surveys conducted on behalf of governments about behavior with legal implications are going to see an under-report of that behavior.

The next lowest estimate is over 100,000, based on a similar method of questioning.

support cannabis legalization in Maryland: NORML

NORML's page (at the link below) lets you easily contact your MD state reps. Do it. Do it now.

Maryland: Marijuana Legalization Bill to be Introduced

Lawmakers in Maryland intend to introduce legislation to legalize the possession, cultivation, and retail sale of cannabis to adults. The proposed legislation removes all criminal and civil penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana...

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Please take a moment of your time to enter your zip code below and easily contact your elected officials in support of this important legislation.

the myth of the moderate Republican politician

An interesting hypothesis. It's clear that the mainstream of the Republican Party is insane, disconnected from reality on science and economics. Are we therefore more vulnerable to stories about "moderates" so that we don't have to admit that one of our two major parties is completely off that rails? (This is not to say that the Democrats are in any way on track.)

How the media created Chris Christie

I think the mainstream media and its dominant pundits are unable to take in exactly how far to the right the Republican Party has swung in the last decade, and so they need to invent “moderates” to keep from writing over and over about the party’s departure from political sanity. And when their moderates either show themselves as extremists, as Christie has repeatedly, or else as severely flawed politicians, as Christie has lately, those pundits either ignore it or rush to rescue them over and over.

dick pic critic

For the record: I have never taken, much less send to anyone, a "dick pic". And, guys? Sending a lady an unsolicited picture of your man parts is not interesting to them. But this is interesting.

What I've Learned From My Side Job Critiquing Dick Pics (The Hairpin)

... I don’t want to send anyone’s ego out of the stratosphere by saying that, but it’s not really an exaggeration: after I received that photo, invigorated and shot through with dopamine, I tweeted about how rare and encouraging it was to receive a decent dick pic. That sparked an online conversation about how to improve the dismal state of dick pics—I would classify them as generally dull, artless and unsolicited—and that lead to my rise as the Internet’s most beloved dick pic critic.

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All in all, Critique My Dick Pic is proving to be an extremely positive and humbling project. It’s fun and light, but it’s also confirmed to me just how fragile men are; how crumblingly insecure and self-conscious so many of them are about their bodies. That’s very human and understandable, and it’s a terrain with which most women are familiar, but men in particular are exhorted to grin and bear their body issues rather than talk about them.

report a security hole? you must be a criminal

At least the cops didn't follow up on it, but the idea that a company would call them in the first place in such a situation is ludicrous enough.

Teen Reported to Police After Finding Security Hole in Website | Threat Level | Wired.com (Threat Level)

Rogers says he contacted the site after Christmas to report the vulnerability but never got a response. After waiting two weeks, he contacted the newspaper to report the problem. When The Age called the Transportation Department for comment, it reported Rogers to the police.

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The practice of punishing security researchers instead of thanking them for uncovering vulnerabilities is a tradition that has persisted for decades, despite extensive education about the important role such researchers play in securing systems.

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Update 1.9.14: Rogers confirmed to WIRED that the vulnerability he found was a SQL-injection vulnerability. He says the police have not contacted him and that he only learned he’d been reported to the police from the journalist who wrote the story for The Age.

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