June 15, 2017

The “killer app of space tourism”

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The “mile-high club” will soon be replaced by the “sixty-two-mile-high club“, says Glamour in their coverage of “Sex in Space“:

As Elon Musk announces a plan to start colonizing Mars in 2020 and space tourism companies begin offering (very pricey) trips outside the planet, space vacation is suddenly looking less like a sci-fi plot and more like a real possibility. And like any other type of vacation, one of the best parts will probably be sex. But sex in space? Is that even a thing?

To our knowledge, no one’s boldly gone there, but that hasn’t stopped the experts from guessing. Here, they answer some of our most pressing questions about the future of hooking up in space.

Is it even possible?

Sure, though keep in mind that in space capsule conditions, there’ll be considerably more fumbling around. Just getting our parts to touch could be a puzzle, since it turns out gravity is the important sex aid you didn’t even realize you were using.

“Because successful coitus for humans relies on gravity to achieve correct alignment and maintain contact with the participants’ genitals, its absence will pose a novel problem,” says OBGYN Kyrin Dunston, MD. “In addition, the thrusting motions required for successful coitus will present unique reactions in the female, where she will be propelled away from her partner during coitus, making the act very difficult.” (Though it’s pretty hilarious to picture.)

According to Dr. John Millis, Ph.D, a physicist and astronomer at Anderson University, it would be almost like two ice skaters pushing their hands against each other while standing on ice. “This two-dimensional example is complicated further by the fact that, in space, the astronauts would be moving in three-dimensions,” he says.

Will we need a whole new genre of sex toys, then?

If we want to streamline space sex, we may have to enlist technology to stop people from floating away from each other. A good space-sex device would have to attach the astronauts to their partners and the space station, says Millis.

Dr. Dunston elaborates: “That could be a jungle gym-type apparatus that allows people to position themselves appropriately to a strap system that holds them together, or clothing that accomplishes the same thing. Imaginative minds will create something ingenious, I’m sure.”

Words & Numbers: What You Should Know About Poverty in America

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 14 Jun 2017

Poverty is a big deal – it affects about 41 million people in the United States every year – yet the federal government spends a huge amount of money to end poverty. So much of the government’s welfare spending gets eaten up by bureaucracy, conflicting programs, and politicians presuming they know how people should spend their own money. Obviously, this isn’t working.

This week on Words and Numbers, Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan delve into how people can really become less poor and what that means for society and the government.

Activists lobbying the UN to make cultural appropriation an international crime

The stupid, it burns:

Due to the fact that the United Nations doesn’t have anything more important to deal with, delegates from 189 countries, including the United States and Canada, are lobbying in Geneva for the organization to institute laws to make cultural appropriation illegal – and for those laws to be implemented quickly.

The delegates are a part of a specialized international committee in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which was founded in 2001 to expand intellectual property regulations to protect indigenous art, forms of expression like dance, and even words.

According to CBC, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, said that the United Nations document should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”

Not only could the state put you in jail for cultural appropriation, those who feel as though their culture is appropriated would be able to sue you for damages. In other words, you could go to jail for making and selling burritos if you’re not Mexican, or wearing a kimono while white.

There has never been a human culture that has not “appropriated” from other cultures except for those so isolated that they never encounter other cultures. Appropriation is literally older than civilization, and no action of WIPO is going to change that. It may, however, provide even more ways for emotional and legal blackmail to be made profitable, and give even more tools to those who long to force others to bend to their will.

Ed Krayewski has more at the Hit and Run blog:

What sort of appropriation does the committee want to stop? University of Colorado Law Dean James Anaya, an indigenous leader and a technical analyst for the IGC, points to products that purport to be made or endorsed by indigenous groups but aren’t. At the Geneva meeting, Anaya offered Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo line” as an example. The Navajo Nation actually brought suit in U.S. court against Urban Outfitters over that line of products in 2012, and the case was settled out of court last year. It’s unclear how an international intellectual property bureaucracy would improve the situation.

But it’s clear how it could create new avenues for rent-seeking. The World Intellectual Property Organization generates revenue from fees, such as the ones it charges for international trademarks. Any system the IGC creates is likely to include a similar international mechanism for registering whichever “traditional cultural expressions” get protections. Such a setup could have a chilling effect on any commercialization of folklore, even by members of the original indigenous communities.

After all, the same forces of globalization and decentralization that have made intellectual property laws more difficult to enforce offer the potential to drastically expand native producers’ reach. KPMG has noted, for example, that the internet offers a “new potential for indigenous Australians in regional and remote areas to access global audiences.” An IGC-style intellectual property regime would inevitably require such entrepreneurs, not just the big corporations accused of cultural appropriation, to get additional approvals for their activity.

Meanwhile, the same governments with long histories of abusing indigenous populations would be responsible for deciding who belongs to such populations and who faces criminal penalties for not meeting the governments’ definitions. Kathy Bowrey, a law professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, tells Reason that she would love to see the IGC succeed in setting up an system that genuinely protects indigenous culture. But she has no hopes that it will. Given the “racist practices that mark everyday lives of First Nations people domestically,” she says, “I’m not sure why there is an expectation that these states would operate differently on the international stage.”

Why is Rommel so complicated? – Erwin Rommel vs. Desert Fox

Filed under: Germany, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 May 2017

This video takes a look at why Erwin Rommel often called the “Desert Fox” is so complicated due to the various interest groups and his complex situation in World War 2.

QotD: The Budapest Effect

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A group of Manhattan Project physicists created a tongue-in-cheek mythology where superintelligent Martian scouts landed in Budapest in the late 19th century and stayed for about a generation, after which they decided the planet was unsuitable for their needs and disappeared. The only clue to their existence were the children they had with local women.

The joke was that this explained why the Manhattan Project was led by a group of Hungarian supergeniuses, all born in Budapest between 1890 and 1920. These included Manhattan Project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, Nobel-Prize-winning quantum physicist Eugene Wigner, and legendary polymath John von Neumann, namesake of the List Of Things Named After John Von Neumann.

The coincidences actually pile up beyond this. Von Neumann, Wigner, and possibly Teller all went to the same central Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke about the atomic bomb being basically a Hungarian high school science fair project.

But maybe we shouldn’t be joking about this so much. Suppose we learned that Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all had the same childhood piano tutor. It sounds less like “ha ha, what a funny coincidence” and more like “wait, who was this guy, and how quickly can we make everyone else start doing what he did?”

In this case, the guy was Laszlo Ratz, legendary Budapest high school math teacher. I didn’t even know people told legends about high school math teachers, but apparently they do, and this guy features in a lot of them. There is apparently a Laszlo Ratz Memorial Congress for high school math teachers each year, and a Laszlo Ratz medal for services to the profession. There are plaques and statues to this guy. It’s pretty impressive.

A while ago I looked into the literature on teachers and concluded that they didn’t have much effect overall. Similarly, Freddie deBoer writes that most claims that certain schools or programs have transformative effects on their students are the result of selection bias.

On the other hand, we have a Hungarian academy producing like half the brainpower behind 20th century physics, and Nobel laureates who literally keep a picture of their high school math teacher on the wall of their office to inspire them. Perhaps even if teachers don’t explain much of the existing variability, there are heights of teacherdom so rare that they don’t show up in the statistics, but still exist to be aspired to?

Scott Alexander, “The Atomic Bomb Considered as Hungarian High School Science Fair Project”, Slate Star Codex, 2016-05-26.

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