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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ice Cream Genius Makes Treat That Changes Color When You Lick It

Ice Cream Genius Makes Treat That Changes Color When You Lick It


Ice Cream Genius Makes Treat That Changes Color When You Lick It

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 11:17 AM PDT

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The global push for STEM education probably wasn’t for producing this kind of scientific innovation: color changing ice cream.

But that’s where Michael Linares, a Spanish physicist and electrical engineer, has decided to focus his talents by creating an ice cream that changes color when you lick it, according to his local Spanish news site. Called Xamaleón, a play on the Spanish word for chameleon, the ice cream starts at a lavender color before it’s sprayed with what Linares calls a “love elixir.” Once you lick it, it turns magenta.

The dessert technology is patent pending, and details on how the “love elixir” blesses the ice cream with chameleonic powers are secret. (Some reports are saying the mysterious potion indeed has aphrodisiac properties.) Linares has disclosed to Gizmodo that the “love elixir,” originally his master’s thesis, is “entirely made with natural ingredients,” and that he’s also working on two variations: one that changes under UV lights at nightclubs, and another that’ll turn from pink to white all on its own.

The color changing ice cream is currently available at only his ice cream shop in Girona, Spain.

Why I’m Not Afraid to Be Too Gay on Facebook

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 11:09 AM PDT

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

We had just lit a candle, said a blessing and were passing around the broken bread for all at the table to share when we began talking about our respective days. The kids had been about the business of getting the most out of the last days of their summer vacation (we go back to school sinfully early in Georgia) and I had been engaged in the regular ins and outs of working for the college I love, writing for the blog I adore, posting on Facebook frequently (the kids say obsessively) everything from political/theological news to rather base potty humor and the occasional dog video (what?) to responding to the regular sprinkling of hateful comments on my blog and in private messages.

I don't usually talk about that aspect of what I do in front of my kids but I said just enough in an otherwise glib moment that my oldest furrowed her brow and went off a bit "Mom, you post everything, I mean way too much – like every moment of your life! Ugh, what you eat, who you are hanging out with, pictures of me and you even check in on Foursquare and stuff. Some day one of those crazies is gonna find you and…"

I cut her off there, first hoping to reassure her that it really wasn't that bad and no one is looking to hurt me but what I needed her to hear was…

Let me back up a bit.

I've been writing this here blog for just a scooch over two years. But long before Patheos invited me to stretch my gawd-awful clothes line and hang out my weathered washin' on the front lawn of my digital acre, I was wrestling mightily with what it meant to live life fully as God created me and to as love openly as my mamma and daddy had when I was growing up.

After stuffing down my truth for for decades I found the love of my life. We fell hard and fast and it was glorious. I wanted nothing more than to love her fiercely and openly. But as it turns out we had very different notions about how to live as a committed lesbian couple. For her it meant carefully maintaining circles of who was allowed to know and who was not. In her career she carefully selected those friends and colleagues who were permitted access to the inner circle of our life. Most of her daily professional life was conducted as if I did not exist or was simply a roommate – a babysitter. I really do understand her need to live out her career not labeled and pigeon-holed into a certain trajectory based on her superiors' ability to grasp or not grasp equality – but it was hard, real hard to be invisible as a cop's wife.

Thankfully, in our church and local community life we lived more openly with no secrets from our children's teachers or folks in the neighborhood. Slowly my love invited old friends into the circle and her family, though the words were never spoken, treated us with love and genuine kindness. I never felt anything less than a daughter-in-law when in the presence of her parents. But there was a limit to our openness. Touching in public, hand holding, a stolen peck of a kiss, a loving embrace – these were always and only permitted behind closed doors. She was ever mindful of what others would think and the potential consequences of encountering hateful homophobes, especially if we were with our children.

But for me, I simply could not wrap my head or heart around the impulse to hide love. Though I tried to respect her way of living out her queerness, it would become a source of bitter conflict that would poison the wellspring of our love.

See, once I came out to my family to utterly devastating rejection, walked away from their abuse – and didn't shrivel up and die, well a setting resentment began to grow each time I was asked to dampen and hide my affection while watching friends openly share tender moments regardless of the company.

The fault that began to open between us would be the source of many a tiny, deadly tremor in our foundation and would ultimately contribute to the dark and gaping fissure into which our love fell and could not climb out.

I simply do not know any other way to exist in this mortal coil and on this beautiful and broken planet than transparent to a fault.

So now, still fumbling my way though this thing called life, I blog about the willful ignorance of homophobic "Christians". I post all over the interwebs about my utterly banal homosexual lifestyle, I write about the extravagant welcome of God and the radical hospitality of Christ, and I live openly and unabashedly for any and all to see.

As a result I encounter vitriol all up and down the ignorance, fear and loathing spectrum. Every day. And every day I do my dead level best to confront the vitriol with grace and integrity (but more often than not I fail to live up to my ideal).

It seems like every week someone asks me why I do what I do. "How do can you stand to jump into these abusive conversations? You must have thick skin!" Sometimes all I can say is that I have no idea why I do it and you have no idea how often I cry myself to sleep. But more often than not I answer something like "Because I am compelled beyond reason to show up over and over again and share the good news that God loves us. I am drawn into the fray to say, just for the outside chance that whosoever needs to hear, will maybe hear for the first time in their life, that they are loved beyond their wildest imagination and free in Christ. I know not why, only that I must proclaim, directly from the book that is otherwise used as a weapon, that nothing, nothing, nothing on earth, in heaven or all of creation can separate us from the love of God."

Most of all I know that I have no skills to be anything other than nakedly, unashamedly myself.

What I need my daughter to know is this. Yes, there are people out there who hate gays and lesbians savagely enough to kill us. They hate queer folk all the more when we have audacity to claim Jesus and cry out to God in thanksgiving for making us who we are. But I must wake up every day and be me and for some damn reason I am called to do so in a public way. I am called to speak loudly to those who would silence me, stand boldly in the light in front of those who would have me skulk away in the dark and reject the heretical theology that God would create me for a life of shame, fear and self-loathing. For do anything less is to give myself over to the power of darkness and admit that evil has already won.

Kimberly Knight is the Director of Digital Strategy at a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

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Want to See a Live Dinosaur? Set Up a Bird Feeder

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 11:05 AM PDT

When the theory first arose that birds evolved directly from dinosaurs, it was enormously controversial. It was even more contentious when some paleontologists argued that birds are dinosaurs—the only branch of the family that survived a cataclysmic asteroid strike 65 million years ago.

That initial controversy has largely vanished, thanks to a series of astonishing discoveries over the past 20 years or so—for example, that many dinosaur species sported feathers, and that the bone structures of birds and dinos are similar in all sorts of ways. “We now know birds are a subgroup of dinosaurs, like humans are a subgroup of apes,” says paleontologist Michael Lee, of the South Australian Museum, in Adelaide.

Now a new report in Science by Lee and several colleagues has laid out in unprecedented detail the exact bird branch of the dinosaur tree that sprouted and evolved over some 50 million years—and how that evolution may have saved birds from extinction when the asteroid struck.

The study is based on a cross-species analysis of more than 1,500 anatomical features across 120 species of early birds and therapod dinosaurs—the branch that includes velociraptors and T. Rex, and which is most closely related to birds. Of all the evolutionary changes that reshaped the bird lineage, says Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in the UK, writing in a commentary on the new paper that also appears in Science, “The key seems to be miniaturization.”

Starting about 200 million years ago, the paper shows, one group of therapods began to shrink rapidly, from an average weight of more than 350 lb. to less than two. Not only that, says Lee, but, “It turns out that birds and their direct ancestors evolved about four times faster than other dinosaurs over that time.”

It’s not unusual to see different rates of evolution in related species, he says. “Rodents are the most successful mammals by far, for example,” Lee says, “and one reason is that they have the most rapidly evolving DNA.” Rapid evolution could be one reason there are now 10,000 species of birds, but only a few dozen species of crocodiles, even though both are equally ancient.

Shrinkage isn’t the only change that transformed therapods into birds, says Benton. “There was miniaturization, but also modifications to the eyes, the elaboration of feathers, the development of wings out of the small, silly-looking forelimbs therapods have.”

These changes might have been driven by their helpfulness in letting birds adapt to living in trees—previously uninhabited ecological niche. It’s still just a hypothesis, says Benton, but “there might have been an opportunity to conquer a new habitat by getting smaller, developing the ability to climb and to glide, developing better vision so you don't go banging into branches.”

The changes could also have given birds a huge advantage over other dinosaurs when the asteroid finally struck. “Birds obviously didn't evolve knowing in advance that it would hit,” says Lee, “but the adaptations might have incidentally helped them survive—they could warm themselves with feathers [when dust from the asteroid cooled the Earth], fly long distances for food.”

What most people don’t realize, says Lee, is that birds didn’t show up just as the other dinosaurs were dying out. “They shared the world for 100 million years.” The quintessential proto-bird, Archaeopteryx, lived 150 million years ago, he points out. But the terrifying T. Rex wouldn’t show up until many tens of millions of years later.

 

The CDC Says You Shouldn’t Fly To Countries Hardest Hit By Ebola Outbreak

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 11:03 AM PDT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel advisory for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in response to an Ebola outbreak ravaging those West African countries, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden announced in a press conference Thursday.

The CDC’s warning recommends against non-essential travel to the three countries. Frieden also said the CDC is sending an additional 50 disease control specialists into the three countries over the next 30 days in order to establish emergency operation centers in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The centers will provide resources and fast diagnoses, according to Frieden. The CDC already has workers tracking the epidemic and its spread.

“The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa,” said Frieden. “CDC, along with others, are surging to begin to turn the tide. It is not going to be quick. It is not going to be easy. But we know what to do. The current outbreak is bad. It's the biggest, the most complex, and the first time it's been present in this region.”

Frieden said the shared border of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia appears to be the epicenter of the outbreak. One of the greatest problems facing containment efforts, he said, is that the three countries’ health care systems are not highly functional. Some residents of the worst-hit countries also lack an understanding of the disease, and many have developed a hostility towards health workers over fears they are spreading the very disease they are working to prevent.

So far, the Ebola outbreak has been isolated to West Africa. It recently spread into Nigeria, when a traveler from Liberia was recently diagnosed with the virus. Sierra Leone, meanwhile, has declared a public health emergency over the outbreak.

Despite the CDC’s travel warnings, Frieden said Ebola, which he called “frankly a dreadful and merciless virus,” poses little risk to the American population. Even if the U.S. were to have a confirmed case, the director says it is highly unlikely the disease would spread significantly — every hospital with an intensive care unit can isolate a patient, he said. Ebola transmission, meanwhile, only happens via direct contact with infected bodily fluids.

“In past outbreaks, we’ve been able to stop every outbreak, but it takes meticulous work,” said Frieden. “It’s like fighting a forest fire. If you leave behind even one burning ember, one case undetected, it could reignite the epidemic. But as difficult as it is, it can be done.”

Currently, the CDC is not screening travelers from the affected countries.

For the basics on the disease, check out the infographic below.

Sources: WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic

House Republicans Abandon Vote on Border Security Bill in Face of Tea Party Opposition

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 11:03 AM PDT

(WASHINGTON) — House Republicans abandon vote on border security bill in face of tea party opposition.

NFL Star Ray Rice on Assault: ‘My Actions Were Inexcusable’

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 10:58 AM PDT

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice publicly apologized a second time to his wife after being arrested for allegedly assaulting her. The National Football League suspended Rice for two games this season following the arrest.

“My actions were inexcusable. My actions are something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.

A grand jury indicted Rice in March for third-degree assault after TMZ posted a video of him dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an elevator at an Atlantic City hotel. Rice allegedly hit the woman so hard that she fell unconscious. Rice settled the charges by entering a pretrial program, which means he will pay a fine but serve no jail time. Rice’s record will be wiped clean in one year.

In May, Rice and his wife (the two have since married) held a press conference in which she apologized but he did not. The pair drew criticism for perpetuating victim-blaming.

“I didn’t publicly apologize to my wife. I know that hit home for a lot of people,” Rice said during Thursday’s conference. “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life. Me. She can do no wrong. She’s an angel.”

The NFL has come under fire for only suspending Rice for two games while it has suspended players who smoked marijuana for an entire season. Top sports analysts like Keith Olbermann have spoken out against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for being too lenient on Rice and not taking the issue of domestic violence seriously.

Watch Katy Perry Do What She Does Best In ‘This Is How We Do’ Video

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 10:52 AM PDT

If you can get over the fact that Katy Perry’s new single “This Is How We Do” features groan-worthy lyrics like “Now we’re talking astrology / getting our nails did all Japanese-y,” you’ll realize it’s actually kind of a jam. It’s no Dark Horse in the running for Song of the Summer, sure, but it’s certainly worthy of a video featuring over-the-top visuals and outrageous outfits — basically everything Katy Perry does best.

The singer wisely steers the costumes clear of any ethnic groups this time, instead opting for pop culture references with the Pee-Wee Herman-inspired backup dancers, some Mondrian get-ups and a brief but always welcome tribute to Aretha Franklin’s inauguration hat.

Perry is one of the most consistent pop stars around when it comes to matching her ear candy with eye-catching visuals, so if this is really how she do, she should do it more often.

This Dozing Desk Means Never Getting Out of Bed Again

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Some incredible—or incredibly useless—inventions have come out of Japan, like the ramen face shield. But this "Super Upward-Looking Dozing Desk," discovered by Kotaku, is something every lazy technology user would love to own. The contraption brings us one step closer to becoming the pod people from Wall-E.

The Dozing Desk forms a kind of armature over your prone body in bed. It holds a laptop precariously above your face with the help of elastic ties (hopefully secure enough to keep it from falling on you, which it looks poised to do). Your eyes now have a straight line to the screen even while laying down, and your keyboard is perfectly aligned to your hands. The only problem might be a lack of circulation to your arms, but you don't type that much anyway, do you?

The desk apparatus looks funny, but there's a burgeoning line of products for those who don't want to do their computing while sitting—which, after all, kills you slowly. The Zero Gravity Desk kind of looks like a dentist's chair, with its various arms and levers. But it's designed to keep your body perfectly balanced and unstressed while working, and who wouldn't want that?

These devices are the closest thing we have to becoming floating brains in tanks, controlling our digital lives through the power of our thoughts. Before we achieve that singularity, there's always the bed-desk. Or at least these prism-spectacles that let you read while laying down.

Argentina Defaults After Debt Talks Collapse

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 10:35 AM PDT

The last time Argentina defaulted on its debts it was announced at a packed session of Congress with the nation’s legislators hollering anti-imperialist slogans and singing the Peronist March, the battle hymn of the Peronist political party that has ruled Argentina for 24 of the last 31 years.

That 2001 default of $93 billion was considered a slap in the face of an international financial system that Peronism abhors and that it sees as saddling countries such as Argentina with unmanageable debt levels. But once the cheering died down, Argentina’s economy collapsed like a house of cards. All banks were closed by government order, destroying the life savings of millions and reducing Argentina to a cashless economy that for about a year relied on barter markets for the procurement of essential household essentials such as food and clothing.

By contrast, 13 years later, on July 30, Argentina went into default quietly, with its political leaders in a state of deep denial. “It’s not default,” claimed Argentina’s Economy Minister Axel Kicillof against all evidence at an improvised press conference in a small wood-paneled room of the Argentine consulate in New York.

Argentina’s blue-eyed 42-year-old minister, who has drawn sighs on the internet for his perceived good looks, disparaged the fact that the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s had earlier in the day downgraded Argentina to “selective default” for failing to meet a payment deadline on its 2001 debt. “Who believes in credit rating agencies at this stage?” Kicillof sharply demanded.

Turning a blind eye to evident economic realities has been the Achilles heel of the Peronist government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is facing a sharp economic downturn in the last 18 months of her second period in office. When inflation reared its ugly head a few years ago, Kirchner ordered the INDEC national statistics bureau to release grossly low inflation figures. Then she prohibited private economists from putting out their own more realistic estimates.

Similarly, only last week Kirchner remained in sharp denial of the default deadline. “They’re going to have to invent another name for it because Argentina has paid,” Kirchner said.

Yesterday’s default came about after American hedge funds won a lawsuit ordering Argentina to pay them some $1.6 billion for bonds they bought at a low market price after the 2001 default. Some 93% of bondholders accepted a 75% reduction on the Argentine debt they were saddled with back then. But the remaining seven percent who refused the “haircut” took Argentina to court in New York demanding full payment. Two years ago they won the case and last month that victory was validated by the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear an appeal by Buenos Aires.

“That Supreme Court decision was like a lightning bolt out of a cloudless sky,” said Kicillof, who was in New York seeking a last-minute way out of the looming crisis.

President Kirchner has staunchly refused to pay the “vulture funds” that she says prey on weak economies with debt problems. She claims paying them would leave Argentina vulnerable to gigantic claims from the other 93% of bondholders.

“The vulture funds did not lend Argentina a single dollar, a single penny,” said Kicillof. “They are not lenders from 2001 who were cheated.”

Last night’s mini-default could have immediate financial consequences for Argentina, such as a possible devaluation of the Argentine peso and the drying up of investments. But economists expect the jolt for ordinary citizens will be far slower. Although the economy has hit a recession, the situation is nowhere near as fragile as it was 13 years ago.

Meanwhile, a consortium of private Argentine banks has been working on an original solution. At a meeting with the “vulture funds” in New York yesterday, the consortium offered to cover the $1.6 billion awarded by the US court. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a solution was found between private parties, including private bankers,” Kicillof said.

White House: Shelling Of U.N. School in Gaza ‘Totally Indefensible’

Posted: 31 Jul 2014 10:34 AM PDT

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has issued the Obama administration’s toughest critique yet of Israeli conduct in the ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza, saying Thursday that the Israeli shelling of a U.N. school-turned-shelter for Palestinian civilians was “totally indefensible.”

Addressing reporters, Earnest quoted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that "all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause" of the attack, which took place early Wednesday morning. At least 19 people died in the incident, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which ran the shelter. The shelling marked the sixth attack on a U.N. shelter during the ongoing conflict.

On Wednesday, National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said “the United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza,” but did not single out Israel for responsibility. Earnest’s comments went further, noting that the U.S. government has no reason to doubt U.N. reports that Israel was behind the shelling.

“It does not appear there's a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident,” Earnest said.

“The shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” Earnest said. “And it is clear that we need our allies in Israel to do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves.”

Earnest said the incident should redouble efforts for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, prospects for which slimmed Thursday as the Israeli military prepared to broaden its operations inside Gaza.

“The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of those who have been lost in this terrible conflict,” Earnest added. “And what we are simply asking the Israelis to do, in fact urging the Israelis to do, is to do more to live up to the standards that they have set for their own military operations to protect the lives of innocent civilians.”

Caches of weapons have been found in at least three UNRWA schools over the course of the three-week conflict. In the most recent incident, the Israeli military said its forces took fire from the area around the school and returned fire.

“We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Meehan said. “All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the UN's neutrality.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This Girl Is Replacing Photos of Her Ex’s Face with Beyoncé’s to Help Cure Her Broken Heart

This Girl Is Replacing Photos of Her Ex’s Face with Beyoncé’s to Help Cure Her Broken Heart


This Girl Is Replacing Photos of Her Ex’s Face with Beyoncé’s to Help Cure Her Broken Heart

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 11:15 AM PDT

After a breakup, Cassandra Blackwell photoshopped Beyoncé’s face over the photos she took with her ex-boyfriend. Then she compiled the images on a Tumblr called “Beyoncify My Boyfriend.” Since the website has gone viral, she has offered to “Beyoncify” other people’s photos with their exes. And now we can’t get the pop star’s hit “Single Ladies” out of our head.

Cassandra Blackwell

 

Cassandra Blackwell

Contract Negotiations Stall Big Bang Theory Production

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 11:15 AM PDT

Production for the upcoming season of The Big Bang Theory has been postponed due to contract negotiations, Warner Bros. Television said Wednesday.

The nerdsploitation comedy series has consistently garnered high ratings for CBS, and has received Emmy love for star Jim Parsons and series regular Mayim Bialik. According to The Wrap, the actors who were still negotiating their contracts were Parsons, Johnny Galecki, and Kaley Cuoco. Warner Bros. would not comment past their statement announcing the production’s postponement.

The Wrap reports that network executives were confident contract negotiations would pan out during the Television Critics Association press tour earlier in July. No word yet about how this will affect the show’s scheduled return Sept. 22.

Perhaps Wil Wheaton is to blame.

“The Book Was Better”: Why Readers of TV Adaptations Need to Let Go

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 10:59 AM PDT

The battle between books and TV used to be fought by bibliophiles proclaiming that they didn’t even own televisions. Today, the terms of battle have changed, as prestige TV has gotten enough cultural status that there is probably some counter-snob bragging, at a cocktail party somewhere, “Why, I don’t even own a book!”

But the latest point of contention is between readers and watchers of the same story, when an acclaimed, popular work of fiction (e.g., A Song of Ice and Fire) becomes an acclaimed, popular TV drama (e.g., Game of Thrones). If you read a franchise before it was adapted for the tube, is your fandom more true than a newcomer viewer? Does the TV series owe you a faithfulness to the original story? And do you suddenly have to clam up about “spoilers” you read a decade ago?

Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones recently weighed in on that last issue with a directness that would do her character Arya Stark proud, sticking book purists with the pointy end: “I'm so sick of going on the Internet and seeing all the book readers being snobby, spoiling it for other people, then saying, ‘Well, it's not a spoiler. The books have been out for years.’ Like, couldn't you just stop being mad for a second and let other people enjoy the show?”

Speaking as a reader of the books, she’s right–up to a point. If anyone that desperately wants to know what’s coming up in the books, nothing’s stopping them from reading ahead, so I’m not taking a vow of silence. On the other hand, I don’t have to be a jerk about it: in my reviews of GoT–which at this point has started diverging from the books in key ways anyway–I pointedly avoid book spoilage, at least without warning anyone. There are plenty of big forums for book readers to discuss the series with other readers–the AV Club has gone as far as publishing separate “newbies” and “experts” reviews.

There’s a similar dynamic going on with The Walking Dead (which has diverged even father from the source graphic novels, or so I’m told). And pretty soon we’ll have a new book fandom entering the TV-space: Outlander, based on a massively popular fantasy-romance-history series by Diana Gabaldon–involving war, sex, time travel and 18th-century Scotland–debuts on Starz August 9. And as with Game of Thrones, its loyal readers will be watching closely. Very closely.

Writing for Vanity Fair online, Joanna Robinson angered some of these Outlanderphiles Tuesday when she posted a critique of the credits sequence that Starz has put online, arguing that the misty-highlands music and the “Ren-meets-Lilith-Fair” visuals suggested that Starz was positioning and marketing the series as a genre romance in a way that might turn off a larger audience, especially men. It was hardly an in-depth review, but it was a legitimate enough subject for a short post about the marketing of a TV series–from a writer who has been an astute critic of series like Game of Thrones. (I’ve seen six episodes of Outlander, which I’ll review later. I think it has crossover potential, and I didn’t exactly think I needed to turn in my Man Card for watching it. But, to Robinson’s concern, the series itself is a good bit less gauzy than those credits and Bear McCreary theme song suggest.)

A slew of commenters, though, took Robinson’s critique of Starz’s marketing of the TV series specifically as an attack on the books, and their genre at large–on them. (Starz, she suggested, was making Outlander look like “Fifty Shades of Plaid,” in a way that might appeal only to “your dear old mum.”) What especially struck me, though, was a repeated refrain in the angry replies from fans: “If you have read Outlander, which I don’t believe you did, you would never make those silly comments.”

Robinson pointed out on Twitter that she actually has read Outlander. But suppose she hadn’t. So what? What’s really going on here is a larger, recurrent argument here about fandom and ownership.

Outlander the TV series is an adaptation, which Starz–like HBO or AMC or any other adapter–is making for an audience that, ideally, will be far larger than the readership alone. Can you not have a legitimate opinion on them unless you have read the source books–and unless you love the source books and are invested in a series you haven’t yet seen? Are the old fans the true fans, the authentic fans, the authoritative fans? Can you truly appreciate and understand an adaption without reading the source–or is it actually a handicap?

HBO’s Game of Thrones. HELEN SLOAN

I’ve been on both sides of this, and my strict rule about reading the source material is: there is no rule. I’ve read the A Song of Ice and Fire books and I love them–not without reservation–but there are times I wish I could watch Game of Thrones without knowing what’s coming or being tempted to compare. Knowing the general story lets me focus on Thrones‘ themes and characters without getting bogged down in plot speculation. On the other hand, I can never un-read the books and know what it would be like to watch the series from that perspective.

So when I heard HBO was adapting The Leftovers, I decided not to read the book, even though I’m a fan of Tom Perrotta’s other novels. I’ve never read The Walking Dead graphic novels, not because I care about being spoiled but because I don’t have enough interest. Outlander—that’s a lot of books to read in a little time, and I’d just as soon go in without preconceptions. On the other hand, I eagerly read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, long before the BBC announced its upcoming adaption of the fantasy novel, and I can’t wait to see it.

In other words, I’ve been a reader and a non-reader. One experience is not better, purer or more authoritative than the other. Neither experience makes judgment of the visual version of the story more or less legitimate. They are qualitatively different experiences–but they are just that, different, and it’s impossible to have both experiences at once. That’s why I’m glad, for instance, that I can read Game of Thrones reviews both by critics who have read the source and ones who haven’t–I find things in both that I can’t expect to get from the other.

People who came to Game of Thrones years after I read the books are not fandom gentrifiers. Our perspectives aren’t inherently better or worse than the other. And the same goes for books vs. their adaptations. As a reader of ASOIAF, HBO owes me precisely nothing–except in the sense that it “owes” me as a subscriber to make any TV series a good TV series. It doesn’t owe me a reproduction of my favorite scenes and storylines. Our default adjective for adaptations is “faithful,” but there’s no breach of faith inherent in changing a story for the screen. There are things I miss in Game of Thrones, but in many ways the streamlining of the vast, digressive story has been an improvement–and in any case, it’s better suited for TV.

But beyond that, HBO could have turned ASOIAF into a laugh-track family sitcom–That’s My Lannister!–with a wacky space-alien neighbor living next door to the Red Keep, and it would not diminish my reading experience one bit. It would change the larger world’s perception of the story, yes. Any TV or film adaptation is likely to have a much broader cultural reach than the novels it was based on–and there’s another reason for readers to feel anxious about adaptations. But in the end, what other people think of a story you love doesn’t matter. What matters is the individual, and inalienable, bond the story makes with you.

I don’t know how true Outlander will ultimately be to the books, but one way or another Outlander‘s literary fans will soon have to deal with all of this just as ASOIAF‘s have. (If my friend and colleague Lev Grossman’s The Magicians ends up becoming a series at Syfy, so will its readers.) And I recognize that this tension is especially strong among readers of genre fiction, who have learned to expect their favorites to be dismissed as silly stories for Dorito-stained fanboys or doily-clutching old ladies. That may be, for instance, why you don’t hear the same kind of outcry or policing among Perrotta fans over HBO’s Leftovers–literary-fiction readers just don’t have to deal with the same kind of insults. As a genre fan, you become protective. You are The Watcher–or rather, The Reader–on The Wall.

But in the end, the book is the book. The show is the show. I’m glad to accept that I’m going to get different things from one than from the other–and if one of them ends up sucking, it doesn’t diminish the other. It’s just one more reason that it’s a good thing to own both a TV set and a bookcase.

CDC Reports More Cases of Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 10:57 AM PDT

More than 600 Americans have been infected with the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus so far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. The vast majority of cases, the CDC says, were not contracted locally.

The disease (pronounced: chik-en-gun-ye), which causes fever, joint pain, headaches, swelling and rashes is not fatal, but it can be very painful. Earlier this month, the first locally-transmitted case was reported in Florida. There is no vaccine for chikungunya, but it is not contagious. The best way to avoid the disease is to stay protected from mosquitos by wearing adequate clothing and by getting rid of standing water.

The CDC says it expects more cases of the virus to pop up among travelers, given recent outbreaks in regions like the Caribbean and the Pacific. Imported cases of the virus could mean the disease will spread locally, the CDC said.

You can read more about chikungunya in the U.S. here.

Congress Plays Chicken With Highway Funding

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 10:50 AM PDT

The House and Senate have two competing versions of a temporary fix for the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to run out of money at the beginning of August if nothing is done.

The House passed its version of the $10.9 billion fund bailout on July 15, while the Senate passed a bill of its own Tuesday night. The problem, however, is that House Republicans object to how the Senate pays for its bill, arguing the upper chamber has left a $2 billion hole that's unpaid for.

"I just want to make clear: If the Senate sends a highway bill over here with those provisions, we're just going to strip it out," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday.

The legislative friction comes just as both chambers are expected to recess for five weeks at the end of this week, setting up a game of congressional chicken. The House plans to re-pass its version and send it back to the Senate before breaking for recess, thus leaving the Senate with the choice of defaulting or passing the House bill. If there’s enough time, however, the Senate could turn the tables on the lower chamber, passing its version of the bill and daring the House to not come back to work and prevent a default.

Such games of chicken are common before recess breaks. In this case, what will most likely happen is the slower-moving Senate will likely accept and pass the House version. But all the ping-ponging doesn't endear Congress to the states and companies depending on Highway Trust Fund money for projects—or to the American people at large.

Turkish Women Can’t Stop Laughing at Minister’s Advice to Stop Laughing

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 10:44 AM PDT

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc did not intend his Monday speech on “moral corruption” to get big laughs, but when he advised women to suppress their laughter in public, it landed on the public like a well-crafted punchline. Women in Turkey have since tweeted pictures of their reactions, ranging from grins…

…to guffaws.

Over the past three days, hundreds of thousands of people have tweeted under the hashtag, “kahkaha,” the Turkish word for laughter. Sadly, the minister wasn’t joking.

 

How 2 Gay Men Live in a Country Where Homosexuality Is Illegal

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 10:20 AM PDT

Some 37 African countries criminalize homosexual relationships, with penalties ranging from misdemeanors to death sentences, according to a Human Rights Campaign Foundation report released Tuesday. The report, which analyzed LGBT rights in 54 African countries in total, paints a picture of a continent in crisis.

In Ghana, a country often regarded as among the most progressively democratic nations in Africa, homosexuality remains illegal, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. A recent Pew survey of various countries, not all African, reveals that 98 percent of Ghanaians feel that homosexuality is "morally unacceptable," the highest percentage of any country surveyed.

“In Ghana, everybody is culturally and religiously blinded," says Fred K., an openly gay man living in the Ghanaian capital of Accra who didn’t want to share his last name for fear of criminal and social repercussions. "They think that it's demonic … so I just pray that a time comes that they decide to change and be like the Western countries."

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation's report is out just a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is slated to hold the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.. Advocates from the U.S. and Africa are jumping on that opportunity to bring the the continent’s controversial LGBT rights record to the world’s attention.

"My fellow gays don't want anything to be legalized," Nana Yaw, a human rights activist and openly gay man, says. "All they want is for their rights to be respected and protected."

Inside Sarah Palin’s Truman Show

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 10:18 AM PDT

Any time former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has a thought, she now can share it with the world, or at least the world of Internet television subscribers willing to pay $9.99 a month or $99.95 a year for Palin's pearls of wisdom.

The newest platform for Palinisms is brought to us by Tapp, a platform for subscription video channels. Palin is the second channel Tapp has launched, following one for radio relationship guru Steve Arterburn. But while Arterburn usually films his daily shows over a day and a half each week, Palin's approach is decidedly more Truman-esque — that's Truman like Jim Carrey's The Truman Show, not the former President.

Tapp installed dozens of cameras in Palin's two homes, one in Alaska and another in Arizona, so that any time the mood strikes her, she can flip on a camera virtually anywhere in her house and broadcast. "She's not on a set. She can just riff and you're seeing your idol in their natural habitat," Jon Klein, Tapp co-founder and CEO, tells TIME.

Palin has also gone mobile, shooting video on smartphones "as she's taking her kids around town," says Klein. "It's really front row seat of her life as it unfolds,” he adds.

Klein approached Palin with the idea through her lawyer, Bob Barnett, and he has shouldered all the upfront costs, while he’ll split any profits with Palin. He says he's already happy with the response to their endeavor, though he declines to "characterize" the number of people who have signed up thus far. Active members of the armed services can sign up for free.

So, what does Palin talk about all day long? "She's really in to what people post— the comments on her Facebook page, she reads Twitter—and she's really into the communal aspects of things. She loves crowds; loves engaging. Instead of keeping all the responses to herself or turning to [her husband] Todd Palin, she can flip on the camera and respond."

And her "super fans," as Klein calls her subscriber base, can respond as well. A sampling of some of the comments Palin followers have made on her channel:

Curtesy of Tapp cable tv

 

But Palin's "super fans" aren't the only ones who have taken notice. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert registered the domain TheSarahPalinChannel.com. Thus far, the site just links to a Colbert show segment on Palin and Paul Revere, but Colbert and his staff have promised to have some fun with Palin and her channel's footage. Super fans, it seems, come in all different forms.

ManServants: The Startup That Promises to Make (Almost) All Your Fantasies Come True

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 09:57 AM PDT

Ladies, are you tired of (and maybe a little grossed out by) the male strippers at bachelorette parties? Do you wish instead that you could just hire a hot guy to serve you food, do your laundry, or dole out creative compliments whenever you walk into a room? Beginning in the fall, new San Francisco-based startup ManServants promises you can have all that, and more, with their rent-a-perfect-guy service.

The men for hire go through “a very rigorous training process,” co-founder Dalal Khajah told Mashable, and they can be hired to do whatever the client wants. During the testing phase of the service, one woman wanted a sassy gay friend to give her relationship advice. Another wanted her man to serve her food while singing songs from The Little Mermaid.

The singing will cost you extra – according to ManServants’ website, the standard services include waiting on you hand and foot, serving drinks, acting as a body guard, taking photos, giving compliments, and “[cleaning] up your hot mess.” For an additional fee, you can get your ManServant to do things like speak in an accent, or give you a spa day complete with cucumber water and chocolate covered strawberries. (The website doesn’t say what it will cost you to hire your ManServant, but he will be compensated by the company beginning at $80 per hour and $300 per day.)

Josephine Wai Lin, Khajah’s business partner, explained all the customizable options: “Every woman’s fantasy is different.”

But one thing the men won’t do is fulfill fantasies that are less innocent than say, singing “Under the Sea.” In the ManServants code of conduct it says, “A ManServant keeps his penis in his pants and out of the lady’s face.” Chivalry isn’t dead!

The company’s vision is “to empower women to make their own rules. Rules a ManServant may then follow.” So watch the hilarious promo video, and start coming up with ideas.

Stephen Colbert Scoops Up Sarah Palin’s Domain Name

Posted: 30 Jul 2014 09:54 AM PDT

Two competing Sarah Palin websites have launched in recent days. The first is called “Sarah Palin Channel,” and it offers subscribers a 24-hour newsfeed of pure, unmediated Palin for $99.95 a year. The second is called “The Sarah Palin Channel” (emphasis ours), and it promises to be “The only Sarah Palin Channel on the internet with a definite article in the address!” (emphasis theirs).

The website also happens to be a parody concocted by Stephen Colbert, who announced on Tuesday night’s episode of the Colbert Report that he had exclusive rights to TheSarahPalinChannel.com. Unlike its rival, the Colbert version will offer all of its content free of charge.

Today’s exclusive content? A link to another Colbert Show parody of a Sarah Palin project.

 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa


Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 11:03 AM PDT

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain't good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

"The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights," Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. "This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country."

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging "particular attention" at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

"We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures," they wrote. "The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets."

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. "There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws," Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. "A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It's too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it's a trend we should watch and support."

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

GOP Conference Bids Eric Cantor Farewell With Video Tribute

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 11:01 AM PDT

In what will likely be former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s last conference meeting before he’s expected to resign, House Republicans paid tribute on Tuesday to Cantor’s legacy.

“While it's impossible to fully capture your leadership on behalf of House Republicans, I wanted to remind everyone of a few of your many highlights," said House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rogers introducing the above video.

The video emphasizes Cantor’s work with children and, set to hopeful music, America’s bright next generation. It ends with the Virginia Republican’s own words from a recent speech on children’s issues: “Each setback is an opportunity and that there's always optimism for the future.”

Cantor’s next steps are largely unknown. Many have speculated he’ll take a lucrative lobbying or government relations or consulting job. Though his dreams of becoming speaker were dashed when he lost his GOP primary last month, Cantor’s future is certainly not looking too shabby with what are surely many multi-million dollar options on the table.

The Man Who Haunts Israel

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:59 AM PDT

Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader's life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu… Read the full story

The Story Behind President Obama’s Custom Golf Balls

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:47 AM PDT

Golfing at the tony Congressional Country Club this weekend, President Barack Obama shanked a ball off the first tee into the woods, providing a similarly unlucky player with a keepsake souvenir—a personalized presidential golf ball.

Dallas resident Pace Doherty found the president’s ball on Sunday, a day after the duffer-in-chief hit the links with aide Marvin Nicholson and ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. The Titleist balls were personalized with Obama’s official nicknames, with the word “POTUS” on one side and the number “44” on the other. (Obama is the 44th President of the United States, and POTUS is the quasi-official acronym for his job title.)

A source familiar with the president’s golfing confirmed that Obama personally pays for the golf balls, which retail for $57.99 a dozen, or about $10 more than a non-customized set.

Doherty posted a photo of the custom golf ball on Instagram.

Titleist spokesman Eric Soderstrom identified the ball as from the company’s signature Pro V1 line, currently played by 2013 Green Jacket winner Adam Scott. “We have been supplying golf balls to golfing presidents for many years,” he said Monday. “It is harder than you think to stamp perfectly on a round sphere with dimples in it.”

In his definitive tome on presidential golfing, First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush, ESPN reporter Don Van Natta, Jr. records former President Richard Nixon playing with custom golf balls featuring his signature and the presidential seal. Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all had golf balls featuring their signatures as well.

Presidential golf balls and boxes, 1970-92.
Presidential golf balls and boxes signed by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Sarah Fabian-Baddiel—Heritage Images/Getty Images

The golf ball in question differs slightly in design from Obama’s first presidential model, also a Pro V1. The initial version featured the “44” with the presidential seal on the opposite side. Titleist sold Obama those balls in a custom half-dozen box emblazoned with the presidential seal.

As recently as 2010, double-digit play numbers were reserved for the commander in chief alone, requiring the company to make special modifications to its processing line. But no longer. The company upgraded its manufacturing systems to allow anyone to print double-digit play numbers. Custom Pro V1 golf balls monogrammed with a “44” and “POTUS” like Obama’s retail for $57.99 on the website Golfsmith.com.

Amazon.com sells the monogram-free stock dozen Pro V1 golf balls for $47.95.

 

 

 

Poll: Most Americans Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Roughly seven in 10 Americans would prefer to see unaccompanied migrant children in the U.S. treated as refugees rather than illegal immigrants who should face immediate deportation, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

The findings, released by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that only one-quarter of Americans expressed support for immediate deportation of the migrant children, while 70% preferred temporary shelter along with the option of permanent residency for any child whose safety is threatened back home.

Support for temporary shelter and possible refugee status crossed party lines somewhat, with 80% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans favoring the option over immediate deportation.

The results come as the White House promised last week to stanch the flow of unaccompanied children across the southern border, while bills to address the issue are working their way through Congress. The Obama administration estimates some 90,000 migrant children from Central America will attempt to cross the U.S. border this year. Some 57,000 unaccompanied minors, meanwhile, have been picked up by law enforcement at the United States’ southern border since October.

How Can I Get What I Want in Life?

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:43 AM PDT

Answer by Oliver Emberton, founder of Silktide, for Quora

There are just two reasons why you haven’t done the stuff you ‘want’ to do.

  1. You can't because of something external
  2. You won't because of something internal

Here's the thing: nearly everyone who succeeds, will always assume number #2. By default, the reason they have failed is themselves. It is, without fail, their own fault. Always.

If this sounds like willful bunk, consider the flipside: those who fail always assume it's not their fault. With that attitude, your ego is forever letting itself off the hook. You can't learn from your experiences, except maybe that you shouldn't have even tried, because – well – that big bad world was just super-mean to you again.

Try listening to a lot of normal conversation: it's just ego repair.

"I've been here 6 years in the same job and they still haven't promoted me!"
"I know, me too! It's so unfair…"

As Don Draper would say: I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.

Whenever "it" or "they", "he" or "she" is to blame, you're just diverting the blame. Because the only thing that matters is what you can control: what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it?

There are always situations when you really can't have something that you don't control. Maybe you dream of being a championship triathlete, but you were born without legs. Well of course.

Except that kind of reductio ad absurdum doesn't excuse 99.99% of the identical, fundamental bullcrap that most people lament about: their health, jobs and relationships. For this trinity, the principles are well known and within the capability of everyone. Assuming, of course, you accept responsibility for that.

Why do we make excuses?

Making excuses can make us feel better. Excuses are like painkillers for our self-respect.

Surely they evolved with this purpose. For not everyone can succeed all the time, and if you can't, it's better that you don't become too depressed about it.

But the chances are the things that you want – that you want the most – are not fast cars, Angelina Jolie's chest or a giant catapult to the moon. Most of us crave fundamentally simple things: love, respect, security, health, significance. These things don't require that we're born to wealthy parents, or with perfect genes.

If you're reading this, the chances are you have access to education, sanitation, medicine, freedom of speech, shelter and the sum of the world's knowledge (The Google), and that you take them for granted. For over 150,000 years human life would have utterly sucked compared to now, and you've been born in the last 70 or so, in the blessed minority, when it doesn't. You're so lucky you can't imagine.

You are the problem

Whenever you hit a wall: find what you can do about it, do it, and forget anything else. All the other stuff just consumes your attention and accomplishes nothing.

The solutions to all your problems are probably so obvious, you likely already know them. The trick is simply acknowledging it's your responsibility alone to make it happen.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Life: How can I get what I want? More questions:

John Kerry Hopes for Warmer Welcome in India After Israel Fiasco

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:32 AM PDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to New Delhi on Wednesday in a bid to improve Washington’s relationship with India. He is undoubtedly hoping the visit will go well. Kerry, after all, has not had the best week.

On Friday, the Secretary of State left Egypt with his tail between his legs having failed to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Things got worse for him Monday after the cease-fire framework he helped draft was leaked to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which called it a “prize for terror.” Haaretz, which is normally considered left-leaning, claimed the former Democratic senator was like “an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.”

This was hardly the reaction Kerry and his team expected from one of the U.S.’s staunchest allies. On Monday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We sent them a clearly labeled confidential draft of ideas… This draft… of ideas was based on the Egyptian proposal that they had supported from just weeks … just a couple of weeks before that.”

Luckily for Kerry, experts say he’s likely to receive a friendlier welcome when he arrives in India this week. “The Indians would like a good relationship with the U.S.,” says Ronald Granieri, executive director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of America and the West. “The U.S.-India relationship is fundamentally a very important one,”adds Xenia Wickett, project director of Chatham House’s U.S. Program. “There’s a recognition on both sides that this could be a very positive and strategic relationship.”

That’s not to say the ground is completely smooth ahead of Kerry’s India trip. In recent days, the Indian media has highlighted the December arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was accused of falsifying her housekeeper’s papers and underpaying her. Media outlets have claimed that this has soured relations with India, impeding Kerry’s visit.

Then there’s India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for failing to halt the 2002 Hindu-led riots which occurred when he was governor of Gujarat. The mobs killed 1,000 people, the majority of which were Muslims.

Wickett, who has just returned from India, is unconvinced that either of these events will hurt Kerry’s visit. “Within the new government… there is a much more rational sense of what’s important. This will not affect bilateral relations.” Modi, after all, was first denied a visa by the Bush administration. Khobragade was arrested during the former Indian administration.

But what about trade relations? The waters of U.S.-India relations were muddied at the ongoing World Trade Organization talks in Geneva, when member states had agreed to a reform of custom rules but India demanded that a deal on stockpiling, scheduled for 2017, be reached now.

That demand threatens to derail the anticipated reform, and has been met with criticism from the U.S. Ambassador to India, Michael Punke, who said he was “extremely discouraged” by Indian negotiators’ intransigence.

These tensions can easily be put aside in favor of pursuing mutually beneficial relations, says Milan Vaishnav, associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The new government in India recognizes that if they were elected on a platform of getting the economy back on track, they need the U.S,” he says. “This is a relationship that has been gathering speed for the past decade.”

“If the Indian economy grows, the U.S. will do well and [any future] trade disputes will fade into the background,” he adds.

Strategically too, both sides need each other. If the U.S. and India can forge greater economic ties, it reduces the reliance that both countries have on the Chinese economy. “The U.S. would like a better relationship with India as they start to see China as a strategic rival,” comments Granieri.

All of that said, Kerry’s visit to New Delhi is unlikely to make great waves. Modi is due to visit the U.S. in September to meet with President Barack Obama and it is then, according to Granieri that any new initiatives would be announced. “Modi wouldn’t want to devalue the importance of his September visit,” he says.

Nevertheless Kerry is likely to be greeted with open arms when he disembarks from his spaceship on Wednesday. His job too, will be far easier than it was in Egypt. “It’s not a heavy lift [this time],” notes Vaishnav. “I think that it’s going to go pretty well, the trip is largely symbolic rather than substantive.” Surely that’s a welcome alternative to brokering peace in the Middle East.

What People Learn About You From Your Selfies

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:31 AM PDT

According to new research, there are scientific reasons why you judged that girl who posted a selfie on Instagram last night.

It’s no secret that people make snap judgments about each other, but the study, conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York, was able to accurately predict what those judgments would be based on facial measurements such as “eye height” and “eyebrow width.”

Previous studies have shown that first impressions often fall into three categories: approachability, dominance, and attractiveness. The researchers at the University of York took 1,000 photographs from the Internet, analyzed the facial features of the subjects (who were all Caucasian), and studied how people reacted to each photograph. They were then able to develop a statistical model that predicted what the viewer’s impression of the face would be based on the measured facial features.

The findings of this study help illuminate the importance of these impressions in an age of social media, in which pictures of faces proliferate and people meet, talk, and even date online. According to the researchers‘ report, curating the perfect photo for these websites isn’t as trivial as it seems. “Some of the features that are associated with first impressions are linked to changeable properties of the face or setting that are specific to a given image,” they wrote. “So things like expression, pose, camera position, lighting can all in principle contribute alongside the structure of our faces themselves.”

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that snap judgments based on a photo could shape the way we respond to a person even after we’ve met them in person. The researchers explain it this way in the introduction to their report: “Although first impressions are formed rapidly to faces, they are by no means fleeting in their consequences. Instead… facial appearance can affect behavior, changing the way we interpret social encounters and influencing their outcomes.”

Less surprisingly, the research showed that “masculine” faces, determined by factors such as cheekbone structure, eyebrow height and skin texture, were seen as dominant, whereas more feminine faces were perceived as more attractive and youthful.

But the researchers also found that the shape and size of a person’s mouth directly affected his or her perceived approachability, and that larger eyes tend to predict higher levels of attractiveness.

So it’s time to stop making fun of people who obsess over choosing their profile picture. Richard Vernon, a PhD student who worked on the study, said, “Showing that even supposedly arbitrary features in a face can influence people’s perceptions suggests that careful choice of a photo could make (or break) others’ first impressions of you.”

How Hamas Wields Gaza’s Casualties as Propaganda

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 09:44 AM PDT

An informational battle of competing messages directed at international audiences parallels the military fighting between Israel and Hamas. Accompanying a barrage of wrenching images are Palestinian fatality statistics alleging disproportionate numbers of non-combatants. These figures are crucial because they form the basis of accusations that Israel uses excessive and indiscriminate force.

Hamas, the terrorist group controlling Gaza, endeavors to turn Israel’s military superiority to its own advantage by portraying the Israeli response to intense rocket and mortar fire as disproportionate and indiscriminate. In doing so, it hopes to turn public opinion against the Jewish state, as well as bolster its own standing at the expense of the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank.

Fatality figures provided by Hamas and other groups should be viewed with suspicion. Not only do Israeli figures cast doubt on claims that the vast majority of fatalities are non-combatants, but a careful review of Palestinian sources also raises doubts.

Analyses of the casualties listed in the daily reports published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based organization operating under Hamas rule, indicate that young males ages 17 to 30 make up a large portion of the fatalities, and a particularly noticeable spike occurs between males ages 21 to 27, a pattern consistent with the age distribution typically found among combatants and military conscripts. Palestinian sources attempt to conceal this discrepancy with their public message by labeling most of these young men as civilians. Only a minority is identified as members of armed groups. As a result, the PCHR calculates civilian fatalities at 82% as of July 26. PCHR provides the most detailed casualty reports of the various Palestinian agencies from Gaza that provide figures to the media and to international organizations like the UN. Its figures closely match those of the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry and other groups.

We have seen this before. A similar dispute over casualty figures occurred during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. The Israelis contended that the majority of the fatalities were combatants; the Palestinians claimed they were civilians. The media and international organizations tended to side with the Palestinians. The UN's own investigatory commission headed by Richard Goldstone, which produced the Goldstone Report, cited PCHR's figures along with other Palestinian groups providing similar figures. Over a year later, after the news media had moved on, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad enumerated Hamas fatalities at 600 to 700, a figure close to the Israeli estimate of 709 and about three times higher than the figure of 236 combatants provided by PCHR in 2009 and cited in the Goldstone Report. Initially, playing to the international audience, it was important for Hamas to reinforce the image of Israel's military action as indiscriminate and disproportionate by emphasizing the high number of civilians and low number of Hamas combatants among the fatalities. However, later on, Hamas had to deal with the flip side of the issue: that Hamas's own constituency, the Gazan population, felt they had been abandoned by the Hamas government, which had made no effort to shelter them.

Scrutiny of Palestinian figures in the current conflict reveals a spike in fatalities among males ages 21 to 27 and an over-representation from ages 17 to 30. Data gleaned from the daily reports of the PCHR show that from July 8, the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” through July 26, 404 out of 915 fatalities tallied from daily reports in which the ages were identified occurred among males ages 17 to 30, comprising 44% of all fatalities among a group representing about 10% of Gazans.

Expanding the age range from 17 to 39 and including those identified as combatants whose ages were not given increases that number to 551 fatalities, or 57% of all fatalities, even though this group represents less than one-sixth of Gazans. By contrast, adult female fatalities were less than 10% of total fatalities for a group that comprises a quarter of the total population.

Children, here defined as those under age 17, represented 194 of fatalities, 20% of the total. Any child fatality is a tragedy, but it is important to note that children make up over half the population of Gaza.

Despite the discrepancies noted, the substantial number of civilian fatalities leaves room for further scrutiny. In seeking an alternate explanation for the excess of young male fatalities, it might be posited that this reflects some behavioral feature of this group separate from combat-related activities. However, the shape of the fatality demographic makes this unlikely. What feature would explain the sharp increase from age 17, peaking at ages 22 to 25 and then declining rapidly after age 30?

A more plausible explanation is that the age demographic of the fatalities reflects the relative involvement of different age bands in hostilities. Of course, some of those in the most represented age-bands aren't combatants. However, balancing that, Palestinian and Israeli sources confirm that a portion of the fatalities over age 40 were senior Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives targeted by Israel.

Furthermore, this overall breakdown of the number of fatalities doesn't address important issues like the portion of female and children casualties who were family members of targeted combatants who failed to heed Israeli evacuation warnings or were perhaps intimidated into remaining as “human shields.”

The demographic analysis of the fatalities in the Gaza conflict has limitations. It can't identify who is or isn't a combatant. But the spike in fatalities among males starting in their late teens and peaking in their early to mid-twenties, and the divergence of the pattern of fatalities from the demographic pattern of the population, raises considerable doubt about claims that as many as 75% or more of the fatalities are non-combatants. In light of evidence—provided by groups that monitor Arabic language media (like the Middle East Media Research Institute)—that Hamas has instructed Gazans to describe anyone killed as a civilian, journalists have a responsibility to convey this uncertainty to their audiences and not present figures provided by Hamas and Hamas-affiliated sources as unqualified fact.

Steven Stotsky is a senior analyst with The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a U.S.-based group that monitors the news media for what it considers to be anti-Israel bias.

Kerry Says Not ‘a Shred’ of Evidence Russia Wants to Ease Ukraine Fighting

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 09:43 AM PDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to impose wider sanctions on Russia in a Tuesday press conference, arguing that Russian officials had “not shown a shred of evidence” that they want to de-escalate the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Kerry accused Russia of continuing to ship arms, funds and personnel into eastern Ukraine even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. If Russia failed to reign in its separatist allies, “we and our European partners will take additional measures and impose wider sanctions on key sections of the Russian economy,” Kerry said during a Washington, D.C. appearance alongside Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

The announcement echoed a warning from the White House on Monday that the United States and European Union were prepared to tighten sanctions over key sectors of the Russian economy.

Kerry also blasted separatists militias for blocking international investigators’ access to the MH17 crash site and failing to return victims’ remains and belongings to their families. Kerry urged Russia to intervene, calling the behavior “an appalling disregard for human decency.”