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Canton police set dog on a driver who politely refuses to answer questions

WKYC Channel 3 in Canton, Ohio, posted footage of police smashing a car window, dragging out the driver and setting a dog on him after he very politely refused to answer questions. The driver, Ronald D. Wagner II, appears to be a "sovereign citizen" type who refuses to screw the number plate on their car for arcane constitutional reasons. Their excuse? The car's registered owner had a concealed carry permit, so they were frightened for their lives: "Stop fighting the dog"

Listen to his screams and ask yourself if America is great again.

Interactive animation of why NYC’s subway is so slow

In the last few years, the subway in New York has become clotted with delays. For just as long, the MTA -- the agency that runs the subway -- has claimed the reason was underfunding, rising ridership and overcrowding. Underfunding is a real thing, but ballooning riders isn't. Ridership has been mostly flat for the last five years.

So what's really the uptick in delays? Adam Pearce at the New York Times offers a better explanation: The MTA changed the rules of how trains run -- in a way that created gnarled, cascading slowdowns.

One rule: The spacing between trains had to be increased, because screwups in the signaling system made it hard to know precisely where the trains are. The second rule: If workers are at work on a line, the parallel lines running next to them have to slow down so they don't endanger those workers.

It's simple to state -- but hard to visualize. So the Times produced an amazing set of animations in their online story to show how these changes slow things down. About halfway the page, they really bust it out with an interactive element that lets you increase or decrease the number of temporary slowdowns on lines, so you can see how it causes ripple effects throughout the entire system.

Go check it out now if you can -- it's truly gorgeous and eye-opening.

I'm a huge fan of this sort of interactive stuff. Twenty years ago, during the first blush of Flash -- then the go-to tool for producing online animations -- I interviewed the head of the animation department at Sheridan College in Toronto, one of the world's top animation schools. He argued that we were about to see a renaissance in animation, because the tools for generating it were becoming easier (as with Flash, and today, with oodles of Javascript libraries and SVG elements) -- and the distribution was now global and instantaneous, via the intertubes. So the rhetorical power of animation, which had previously been limited to big animation houses, was going to start to spread out into everyday life.

He was insanely correct, and we're now beginning to see the fruits of that renaissance.

Major news organizations have long been fluent in wielding text, pictures and video. They've been using them for decades (centuries, in the case of text). They know their particular rhetorical strengths. But it's taken them longer to figure out the enormous explanatory force of a good interactive animation -- to wit, the ability to let people see, and muck around with, a complex system. But I see more and more of these wonderful experiments these days, and it's awesome.

(Thanks to Debbie Chachra for pointing this one out!)

Analyzing mouse-movement to see if you’re lying

Here's an interesting experiment: Using mouse-movement as a lie-detection technique.

Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have long noted a big "tell" in human behavior: Crafting a lie takes more mental work than telling the truth. So one way to spot lies is to check someone's reaction time.

If they're telling a lie, they'll respond fractionally more slowly than if they're telling the truth. Similarly, if you're asked to elaborate on your lie, you have to think for a second to generate new, additional lies. "You're from Texas, eh? What city? What neighborhood in that city?" You can craft those lies on the fly, but it takes a bit more mental effort, resulting in micro hesitations.

So a group of Italian researchers wondered -- hey, could you use mouse movement as a proxy for reaction time?

In an experiment, they took two groups of subjects and asked them to respond to questions about their identity using an online form. One group was instructed to tell the truth; the other was to lie. The liars were given a package of information about their identity, so they could rehearse their fake persona.

But! The test also included some tricky questions which the liars hadn't rehearsed, but which were logically consistent with their fake persona. For example, if they were told you were born in January 1970, they'd be asked something like are you 48 years old now? In essence, the scientists wanted to see whether they could detect -- in the mouse movements -- the hesitation of someone concocting a lie.

Turns out ... they could. The truth-tellers moved the mouse quickly and precisely to the true answer. The folks who were lying jiggered around the screen for a bit, in a sort of hemming-and-hawing adaptation of Fitts' Law. Here are some screen-shots of a sample truth-teller (left) versus a sample liar (right):

As the scientists conclude:

Liars find it hard to respond to unexpected questions quickly and without errors. Their uncertainty is captured by mouse dynamics, as their motor behavior diverges from the ideal truth-teller trajectory.

The upshot is, bien sur, that it'd be pretty easy to use this technique on a web site.

Which means, of course, that it'd be equally easy to misuse this technique on a web site. I can't wait! Frankly, I bet someone's already doing it ...

(Top CC-licensed photo via Lindsey Turner)

(A tip of the hat to Damjanski for pointing out this study to me!)

TIL: Camels can eat long-needled cactus

Do not mess with a Dromedary camel. Their mouths are adapted to eat whole pieces of prickly pear cactus, six-inch long needles and all. Watch this video by Camels and Friends if you don't believe me.

A zoologist on reddit chimed in on how this is possible:

Camel mouths are full of cone-shaped papillae that look like this. These protrusions are partly keratinised - keratin being the hard stuff your nails are made out of - which makes them tough n' semi-rigid, feeling a bit like the middle of tupperware lids when you squish 'em. The plastic-ey cones not only help protect the mouth from internal damage - scratches, abrasions etc. - when they feed on thorns and other nasties, but they also manipulate the food to go down in one direction.

Worth mentioning that modern camels wouldn't be eating cactus like this in the wild either; instead it'd be scrubby, thorny acacia bushes and the like. They also likely do feel some pain and discomfort eating this stuff, as much of their mouths - particularly their lips - are very sensitive, despite the papillae. Being metal as fuck though, camels just get on with it. They have an oddly voracious appetite for prickly pear and similar cacti native to North America, so clearly there's something about those plants that camels love, despite the irritating prickles. Makes them sort of sadomasochistic diners, really.

Anywho, the same sorts of papillae structures have independently evolved multiple times across the animal kingdom; notably inside the mouths and throats of leatherback turtles. The shelled beasties likewise use 'em to prevent themselves getting stung by their jellyfish prey, whilst also helping to keep the jellies moving down towards their demise, to be slowly digested in the darkness.


Matt Groening’s new animated series “Disenchantment” headed to Netflix

The creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, Matt Groening, has a new animated series for adults called Disenchantment. The "medieval adventure" debuts August 17 on Netflix and "follows the misadventures of a hard-drinking princess, her feisty elf companion and her personal demon."

The Guardian reports:

...Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson will voice Bean, who, in the four promotional photos released by Groening on Reddit and the show’s official Twitter account, carries either a sword, scimitar or a pint of beer, suggesting no ordinary princess.

Bean’s sidekicks Elfo and Luci will be voiced respectively by Nat Faxon, who in 2011 won a best adapted screenplay Oscar for The Descendants, and the comic Eric Andre, last seen partaking in bachelor-party shenanigans in Rough Night. Supporting the main trio is a group of celebrated voice actors including Futurama’s John DiMaggio, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, David Herman, Tress MacNeille, Jeny Batten, Rich Fulcher, Noel Fielding and Lucy Montgomery.

...In a statement last summer, Groening described Disenchantment, which has been picked up for 20 episodes, as a show “about life and death, love and sex, and how to keep laughing in a world full of suffering and idiots, despite what the elders and wizards and other jerks tell you”.

images via Netflix

Why Donald Trump is the tabloid president

It’s hard to believe that President Donald Trump didn’t personally edit the supermarket tabloids this week.

They ignore facts, present opinions as reality, leap to improbable conclusions, and claim to be doing it all first and best – just like a certain occupant of the Oval Office. Trump and the tabloids, entwined in dewy-eyed mutual admiration – the rags insist he is making America great again; he has said they deserve a Pulitzer prize – are a marriage of minds, as this week’s fact-challenged, reality-flouting, self-serving stories demonstrate.

Let’s begin with the National Enquirer cover story under the screaming headline in giant print: “Hoda Fired!” referring to NBC’s Today show anchor Hoda Kotb, reportedly axed as audience ratings fall. Except you may have seen her on the Today show this morning, because she hasn’t been fired. The cover is a lie, as the story inside retreats to merely say: “Hoda’s "Todays" Are Numbered!” Aren’t everyone’s?

The Enquirer throws logic out the window with another flight of fancy: “Revealed! The radical plan to rehire Matt Lauer!” Sure, the news anchor ousted in November amid sex harassment allegations is returning, just as the #MeToo movement gathers steam? Let’s see.

“Flight 370 Wreckage Found!” yells another Enquirer cover headline. No, the missing Malaysia Airlines flight has not been found after four years. Wing fragments were discovered off the coast of Africa more than 18 months ago, but the plane remains missing.

That doesn’t stop the Enquirer from claiming: “It was Murder!” blaming “deranged and depressed” pilot Capt. Shah for deliberately crashing the plane after his wife allegedly claimed she was ending their marriage. It’s a theory based on rumor, supposition and circumstantial evidence at best, dismissed by aviation officials who cite the difficulty of flying an aircraft at 40,000 even if the pilot donned an oxygen mask while the remaining crew and passengers passed out, while enduring the decompression sickness that would have stuck as the depressurized jet soared quickly to cruising altitude.

“New Pam Anderson Health Horror!” cries another Enquirer headline claiming that treatment for hepatitis “has ravaged her body almost beyond recognition!” And to prove it the Enquirer shows three photos of the former Baywatch actress looking sensational for any 50-year-old, her hair lustrous, skin glowing and smooth, her figure still centerfold-worthy.

“She looks unnaturally aged and gravely ill,” New York internist Dr. Stuart Fischer, “who has not treated Pam,” tells the Enquirer. You have to wonder: has Dr. Fischer even seen these stunning photos of Anderson? The Enquirer is basically telling its readers: You see these beautiful pictures of Pam Anderson? Don’t believe your eyes. She’s really ravaged. Right.

Like Trump, the tabloids’ self-promotion knows no bounds.

Under the tag-line “First to Know,” comedian Robin Williams’ “perverted pranks” are “Exposed!” in an “Enquirer Exclusive.” Yet this story is lifted wholesale from Dave Itzkoff’s new biography, Robin, as the rag proudly proclaims: “The National Enquirer has obtained an explosive new biography of the actor . . ." Yes, that’s the same biography that you or I could obtain when it went on sale on May 15, eight days before the Enquirer claimed to have its “exclusive" story.

The National Examiner brings us its more modestly ambitious “Examiner Exclusive” – “The untold story behind Robin Williams’ Suicide.” Unsurprisingly, it’s the oft-told story of his struggle with Lewy body dementia, sourced to “a new biography, Robin, by Dave Itzkoff . . . “

This word “exclusive,” it does not mean what you think it means.

“World Exclusive” tags the Globe pictorial spread of actress Helen Mirren falling while at the Cannes Film Festival. Yes, it’s the same photo you’d have seen days earlier on TMZ, in The Daily Mail, The Sun, Daily Express, and in publications and media outlets worldwide. It’s a truly Trumpian proclamation, to brazenly claim a “world exclusive” in the face of all evidence to the contrary – and many readers won’t know any better.

The Royals continue to preoccupy the tabloids, and this week the Globe dedicates its cover to Prince Harry’s newlywed American bride Meghan Markle’s alleged “Revenge on backstabbing Camilla!” Do they really have a spy within Royal quarters at Kensington Palace who eavesdrops and reports on private conversations between the Royals? Of course not.

The Globe was presented with the undramatic scene of Meghan and Harry at their first post-nuptial public event happily sharing the limelight with Prince Charles and Camilla. How does the Globe choose to explain this quartet wreathed in smiles? By claiming that Camilla wanted to shove Meghan into the background, sneering: “You’re a nobody, a commoner who thinks she’s latched on to the royal gravy train.” It’s the stuff of soap operas, and in the Globe imaginary palace, Meghan hit back, refusing to be side-lined. It’s frankly astonishing that the Globe didn’t report Meghan saying: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

People and Us magazines naturally devote their covers and acres of newsprint to the Royal wedding. People gives up 38 pages to this story in its “special collector’s issue” under the glaringly obvious headline “A Fairytale Wedding!” and Us tells us that the wedding is “Changing The Royals Forever” while making the unverifiable promise of “every spectacular photo inside.” If five hours of live TV coverage didn’t sate your appetite for Meghan and Harry, this week’s Us and People will certainly do the trick.

Fortunately we have the crack investigative team at Us magazine to tell us that Jennifer Garner wore it best, singer Teyana Taylor’s favorite things about her NBA star husband Iman Shumpert “are his height and his man parts,” that Olivia Culpo carries M&Ms, a book of poetry and lipstick in her Tod’s Gommino purse, and that the stars are just like us: they snack on fruit, play pool, and use their cell phones on the beach. Riveting, as ever.

But what are the tabloids for if not to tell us how wonderful President Trump is, and this week the sycophantic Enquirer finds a new way to say so. Its two-page feature on “15 Strange Presidential Facts!” looks at the embarrassing or bizarre foibles of past Oval Office holders: George Washington was allegedly a “whiskey mogul,” Abraham Lincoln used to be a bartender, Jimmy Carter claimed he saw a UFO, and Barack Obama once had a pet turtle.

And what bizarre detail does the Globe offer about Donald Trump? Not his sleazy affairs, nor the many allegations of his sexual harassment, his alleged rape of his first wife Ivana, his numerous bankruptcies, or his four-dimensional soufflé of hair. No, the Enquirer instead tells us that in 1987 Trump paid $29 million for the world’s third-largest private yacht, with 11 luxury suites and 50 crew members, but never spent a night aboard, confessing: “It makes me nervous to relax.”

It’s ironic that now the world gets nervous when Trump can’t relax.

Onwards and downwards . . .