24 July 2009

Tab Clearing

Fourth Circuit rules Maryland liquor regulations violate federal antitrust law

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that Maryland alcohol price regulations violate federal antitrust laws. The court upheld their previous ruling [opinion, PDF] from 2001 that state pricing schemes for liquor and wine wholesalers restrain trade and constitute horizontal price fixing under the Sherman Antitrust Act [materials]. The regulations required wholesalers to disclose and lock-in prices at a fixed date every month and restricted them from offering volume discounts to retailers.

Our brains are rewarded by sugar-laden food, even if we can't taste the sugar. They are not easily fooled by sugar substitutes.

The scientists at Duke came up with a clever paradigm for isolating this more indirect rewarding pathway: they studied mice without a functional TRPM5 channel, which is essential for detecting sweetness. As a result, these mutant mice showed no immediate preference for sugar water.

But here comes the cool part of the experiment. The scientists then allowed the mice to spend some time with the sugar water and normal water. After a few hours, it became clear that the mutant mice greatly preferred the sugar water, even though they couldn't taste the sugar. (A control experiment with sucralose, an artificial sweetener, demonstrated that the rats were responding to the caloric intake, not the sweet taste.)

Finally, the scientists measured dopamine levels (via in vivo microdialysis) in the nucleus accumbens (a brain area that processes rewards) in the mutant mice and normal mice.* While normal mice exhibited an increase in dopamine in response to both fake sugar and real sugar - the reward was the sweet taste - the mutant mice only demonstrated a dopaminergic spike when consuming genuine sugar water.

Verizon MiFi - a cellular device that creates a bubble of WiFi wherever you take it. The pricing plans are pretty weak ($40/month for 250MB, $60/month for 5GB), but other than that this is awesome. I've been waiting for a device like this since, oh, 2001? Put one of these together with a new camera & microphone enabled iPod Touch and some VOIP, and you've got yourself an iPhone on the Verizon network. (Still no GPS functionality though, which is a bummer. I think I may miss that feature on my iPod Tough more often than the internet connection.)

Teen Burns, Stomps American Flag

A teen claimed she was "making a statement" when she lit an American flag on fire with a cigarette lighter and then stomped on it in the middle of traffic, according to police.


She was charged with desecrating a flag and disturbing the peace. However, the last time we checked burning a flag was still legal in the United States, so that charge probably wouldn't hold up if pursued.
Is too much to expect that people only get arrested and charged with things which are actually ... you know ... illegal? This is up there with all that "It's illegal to take pictures of a shopping mall/playground/street light/cop car/train station" bullshit.

Re: The Gates Arrest.

I don't know what actually happened (none of us do), and I haven't wasted much time reading about this brouhaha, but here's my take. I'm almost sure Gates over-reacted. At the very least he probably realized that this incident could quadruple his next book advance. (Yes, I'm aware that's pretty cynical, even for me. Oh well.) Dude needed to cool out. The cop was, after all, trying to protect his own home for him.

I'm equally sure that his over-reaction doesn't matter. There's just no way you should be arrested for this kind of incident in your own home, but people are all the time. Police need to learn that they do not need to "win" every interaction with every citizen they come across. When the police himself is a necessary condition to the disturbance, the police officer needs to be smart enough to withdraw. Oh, and under no circumstances should an officer refuse to give out his name and badge number, which this guy apparently did.

Gates got arrested for "Contempt of Cop." Does this kind of bullshit happen more to blacks than whites? Yeah, probably. But the problem isn't that it happens more to A than B, it's that it happens at all.

Side note: Just like all stories of where cops have been accused of doing something wrong, there's a certain subset of people saying "we need to cut the police some slack, after all they're putting theirs lives on the line to protect us." It's more dangerous being a fisherman, or a logger, or a roofer, or a cabbie, or a pizza delivery guy. No one ever says "we need to cut that fisherman some slack, after all he's putting his life on the line to bring us delicious North Atlantic cod." A dangerous occupation is not a free pass to abuse authority.

The LA Times offers up some blogfodder with "61 Essential Postmodern Reads." Like all such lists, I think it's destined to leave out a lot of good stuff and include a lot of bunk, but it's interesting none-the-less. I think postmodern criticism and the general academic pomo worldview are bullshit on toast, but postmodern fiction can be fun when it doesn't take itself too seriously.

My major complaint with the list is that it's more of a list of meta-fiction than anything else. Maybe that would have made a better title. It also suffers from that perennial flaw of lists where the editors just can't resist putting something shockingly anachronistic on their like Hamlet. I guess it kind of does fit the criteria -- if there are really any criteria -- but it feels like one of those "best of sci-fi" lists that's all William Gibson and Robert Heinlein and then Frankenstein pops up out of nowhere to lend some gravitas. And besides, how are you going to include Hamlet and not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?

Anyway, I'd add The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, Baudolino by Umberto Eco, and The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic. (Warning about The Club Dumas: Roman Polanski made a really bad semi-adaptation of it called The Ninth Gate that was very, very loosely based on the book. Do not be turned off by the film version.) Baudolino is more readable and understandable and fun than the other books of Eco's I've read.

I'm happy they included Maus; it's always nice to see some comics on the book lists. Your average comic is probably more likely to be meta-textual than your average piece of fiction, too. Promethea comes to mind as having that in spades, though I've only read the first volume and didn't particularly enjoy it. Fables has some meta as well, it's spin-off title Jack of Fables has much more, with the recent "Great Fables Crossover" being a good example. (These aren't the best examples of meta-fictional comics, but I never miss an opportunity to recommend Fables, even if it has been noticeably weaker since the war ended in issue 75.)

Oh, and I f***ing loathe Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. The title story is good enough, and I confess I like the conceit, but the rest of it is unmitigated, self-indulgent, thrice-distilled crap.
In the short story, "Good Form," the narrator makes a distinction between "story truth" and "happening truth." O'Brien feels that the idea of creating a story that is technically false yet truthfully portrays war, as opposed to just stating the facts and creating no emotion in the reader, is the correct way to clear his conscience.
If you can't evoke emotion and stay true to facts at the same time then the problem isn't the facts, it's your writing. Write a novel, or write non-fiction, but spare me the James Frey/Michael Moore/Margaret Seltzer it's truer that the real truth shit.

Two astounding pieces of craftiness come to my attention from TJIC.

Bear cubs are perhaps the only animals cuter than puppies. (I can type that because my faithful companion Gus is not around right now. I would be deeply embarrassed to disparage canines in front of him.)

Via Literal Bears I'm Jealous Of, who also has this bear chilling out in a hammock. Let me repeat that: a bear in a hammock!

And I had a hammock just like that growing up. Man, hammocks are the best. I don't think I've been in one since Spring Break '06. Sad.

Finally, these dudes are like a LaBatt ad waiting to happen:

Some zippy one-liners from Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese:
1. Hillary Clinton, [pwnded] by North Korea: “We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady, as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community,” the North Korean statement said. “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”
4. President O by [pwnded] his party's congressional delegations: No health care bill vote before the recess. Don't you all think "recess" is a perfect term for Congressional breaks?
Recess. Ha!

Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites
Buffardi, Laura E. and Campbell, W. Keith

Narcissism predicted (a) higher levels of social activity in the online community and (b) more self-promoting content in several aspects of the social networking Web pages.


(No, not really.)

Via Jacob Grier, the chemistry of cocktail shaking. How does ice at 0°C get a drink down to -20°C when shaken? Read to find out. Science and booze — two of my favorite things.

Chemistry was my worst subject by far in college, so I admit to not following the explanation entirely. The bit about most of the cooling coming from the enthalpy of fusion of ice makes me wonder if maybe those granite or steel lumps I keep seeing mentioned (the ones you keep in your freezer and then put in your drinks to cool them yet not water them down) would be that effective.

Jorge Cham's PhD Comics presents "Nature vs Science, Part 1"

(Click to embiggen)

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