‘The Pretty Birds Got Smashed, and Then They Got Smashed’

Adam Rogers for Wired, “Animals Who Drink and the People Who Cut Them Open”:

The first thing Kinde noticed in the birds was damage, bits of bleeding and bruising to the muscles. No surprise—they’d run into buildings. In most of the birds, the liver had also burst, another hallmark of collision. But it was the throat that took Kinde by surprise. Cut open, the esophagus of each was packed with tiny red berries. “And then we go down to the stomach, the gizzard, and it’s engorged, too,” Kinde says. That’s not weird by itself; cedar waxwings are frugivores. They live mostly on fruit. But it started Kinde thinking. “The immediate cause of death in these birds was trauma,” he says. “But why?”

Kinde sent samples of the birds’ tissue for the usual tests—heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, organophosphate pesticides, West Nile virus, avian influenza, bacterial infection. And he hit the books. Cedar waxwings sometimes get disoriented because of heat, but only at a certain time of year, so that wasn’t the answer. The fruit, though, was interesting. They were from an invasive ornamental pepper tree that grows clusters of bright red berries, inducing animals like cedar waxwings to eat them and spread the seeds via droppings. When the fruit ripens and animals don’t get to it right away, yeast moves in. Pepper fruit can ferment right on the tree.

So next Kinde sent the intestinal contents of one of his birds out for an ethanol screen. He got a major hit—226 parts per million. “It was much, much higher than the amount of alcohol that would make a person intoxicated” Kinde says. Cedar waxwings get anywhere from 85 to 100 percent of their calories from fruit, and the pepper berries seemed to be the only thing available to them. Kinde concluded that the birds were stuffing themselves on fermented berries and trying to fly while intoxicated. Disoriented, they’d fly right into a building.

Interesting read; I’m fascinated by nature stuff.

On Going Home Again

Dave Zirin for The Nation, on what it means that LeBron is going back to Cleveland:

[F]or me, the idea that James would return to Cleveland, no matter how much of a train wreck of a franchise it had become, seemed preordained, even obvious, to anyone paying attention to his off-court persona. First of all, LeBron James is the most “meta”, self-aware, consciously cinematic athlete we have ever seen. If Michael Jordan was the superstar of his own blockbuster movie, LeBron has always aspired to be actor, producer, and director. Every step he takes has one eye on posterity. “The Decision” of 2010, when LeBron “took [his] talents to South Beach”, which brought him the rings that he craved but left hurt feelings and bad vibes in its wake, did not fit the script that LeBron James had already written in his own mind. If LeBron sees himself as Martin Scorsese, The Decision was his Bringing Out the Dead. By coming home to possibly bring a sports championship to the city of Cleveland for the first time since 1964, LeBron James can make Goodfellas. He can produce and direct his own magnum opus even -perhaps especially – if it means an ending where he’s eating egg noodles and ketchup.

Securing a title for Cleveland would establish a legend far greater than winning multiple championships in Miami. Dragging a snake-bitten city to the heights of the sports world and smashing on all of the Modellian ill-karma in his path, would establish a narrative singularly his own. Choosing to return to Cleveland, a city that has lost almost a fifth of its population over the last two decades, makes him a prospective folk hero.

[...]

By going back to Cleveland, LeBron is embracing his power as someone transformative, someone who could be, without cliché or Nike branding, more than an athlete. By making all the haters, from Dan Gilbert to the fans who burned his jersey, to the vicious media voices, sob in gratitude over his return, he is making this about more than just his own redemption, but theirs as well. Even by insisting on maximum money and not succumbing to the owner-friendly media-driven narrative that stars should accept less “for the good of the team”, he is doing right by young players currently getting hosed by a boss-friendly collective bargaining agreement. It may take some time to make it all work in Cleveland, but by shouldering the burden of a city’s collective damaged psyche and demonstrating the power to rebuild the most burned of bridges, LeBron is going for folk-hero status. He is attempting to produce the ultimate movie of his athletic life. Succeed or fail, it will be a collective thrill to see him try to write the final act. In other words, he’s already won.

See also: Bill Simmons’s splendid piece for Grantland on LeBron-to-the-Cavs.

On Economic Inequality in America

Katrina vanden Heuvel, writing for The Nation:

By implying that there is a disconnect between inequality and opportunity, (many, not all) Democrats ignore the fact that opportunity cannot be provided as long as the economic and financial system is so unequal. Some, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, intuitively understand this. After all, she first came to Washington to battle a system that has long been rigged against the middle class, where working families’ voices get overpowered by well-funded lobbyists who hold elected officials by the pocket. By creating an artificial division between inequality and opportunity, we turn a blind eye to this rampant unfairness that helped the 1 percent ascend to their economic perches in the first place.

We also accept the built-in unfairness of the system as, simply, the way things are. Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, labels this flawed way of thinking “passive-voice populism.” We assume that the ups and downs of the American middle class are as natural and as out-of-our-hands as the ebb and flow of the tides: economic inequality as an act of god. But, Borosage writes, “inequality didn’t just happen to us. It wasn’t inevitable. Just as the broad middle class was constructed brick by brick after World War II, the decline of that middle class was constructed policy-by-policy, step-by-step over the last three decades.” Or, as Warren Buffett famously said in 2011, “[T]here’s been class warfare going on for the last twenty years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.”

If we want to really create “opportunity” within our system, then we need to change the system. We need more than, as Borosage wrote today, “rhetorical pablum about lifting the middle class.” A solution, he continues, “will involve taking on the rigged game and changing the rules. And that inevitably will require curbing Wall Street, taxing the wealthy and making vital public investments, closing the tax havens and dodges of the multinationals, requiring the Federal Reserve to favor a full employment economy for workers rather than an austerity regime for bankers, and much more.”

But, capitalism! Free market! The American Way!

LeBron: ‘I’m Coming Home’

King James himself, in a statement on SI.com:

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

[...]

But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

What does this mean? Josh Centers nailed it, I think.

On Swarm’s Problems

Caitlin McGarry, writing for TechHive:

The iTunes ratings for Swarm are lower and the reviews more vicious than on Google Play, where the app has a 4-star average, but even fans of Swarm are asking why Foursquare needed to unbundle itself in the first place. The company amassed billions of pieces of location data with its popular check-in function—it kept people coming back. You could earn points and badges, become mayor of your neighborhood restaurant, and even unlock discounts just by checking in. Swarm shed most of the gamification features that made Foursquare a success. You can still compete for mayorships, but against your friends instead of everyone. Badges are gone, replaced with stickers. (Ugh, stickers.)

I’m using Swarm instead of Foursquare nowadays, but it doesn’t feel as engaging as it once did. For better or worse, I actually enjoyed the gamification of the leaderboard and mayorships. Plus, I don’t like the UI — or the icon — of the Swarm app. Overall, I’d say Swarm is a mixed bag; I’ll continue using it, but it isn’t the same experience. Kinda sucks.

On the NFB, Apple, and iOS Accessibility

Christina Farr, writing for Reuters:

[A]dvocates of the disabled want the problem solved by the company at the center of the app world — Apple. Rival Google Inc, whose Android operating system drives more phones than Apple, is also under pressure, but as the creator of the modern smartphone and a long-time champion for the blind, Apple is feeling the most heat.

Apple hasn’t been a steady champion. In 2008, the National Federation of the Blind sent a demand letter to Apple even as the Massachusetts attorney general began an investigation into the accessibility of iTunes. Apple eventually agreed to pay $250,000 and add captions and other accessibility improvements to iTunes. Since then it has added more such features to its iPhone, iPod, iPad and Apple TV products.

This piece may just be the most asinine thing I’ll read all year — but more on it later.

In the meantime, Jim Dalrymple sums it up nicely:

Dear Reuters, you fucking morons: You can’t pick and choose which parts of a quote you want to use to fill the narrative of a story you already have written. You could have written a fine story about accessibility and everyone would have agreed with you, but what you did is show your lack of integrity, essentially harming a very important message about accessibility.

‘Tim Cook: Damned If He Does, Damned If He Doesn’t’

John Gruber, commenting on yesterday’s WSJ profile of Tim Cook:

Last year Apple desperately needed new products and Tim Cook was failing as CEO because Apple wasn’t delivering them. Now that they seem poised to deliver new products, Cook is “spreading the company too thin” and even a successful product won’t affect the bottom line so why even bother, right?

Look for that refrain to be repeated; it seems to be the new Apple narrative.

Likewise, regarding the rumored big iPhones, people have been clamoring for years for a big iPhone, and it seems that this year it’s coming. But once they’re shown off at the event, those same people will poo-poo them, saying Android has had them forever and Apple is just playing catch-up. In short: damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

‘If You Wake Up Groggy After Napping, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong’

Benjamin Spall, “How to Nap”:

Afternoon fatigue is a real problem; a problem that can cause us to dose ourselves with as much caffeine as possible as the inevitable decline of our day plays out.

Your body is craving sleep. The solution to afternoon fatigue simple: feed your body’s desire, don’t cover it up.

Napping has gained a resurgence in popularity in recent years but it remains an area that’s largely frowned upon, rather than something that’s celebrated as the rejuvenating method of upping your per-day productivity it is.

There was a time when I would avoid naps for the reason Spall cites — the societal stigma — but I’ve since learnt to embrace naps. Especially with my cerebral palsy, I get fatigued more easily and often, so it makes sense for me to give my body the rest it needs to rejuvenate itself.

Kickstarter Project Raises $9,000 for Potato Salad

Maya Kosoff, writing for Business Insider:

With over 1,000 enthusiastic backers, Brown, a web developer, has already raised over 900 times his original goal of $10. The project, which started on July 3, doesn’t end until August. He’s already promised his backers four kinds of potato salad so far, including one vegan option.

Must be some damn good potato salad.

Regarding Intelligent Location-Based Security

John Gruber, commenting on, of all things, an Apple patent:

Location-based security for iOS has long been a hobby horse of mine. This patent describes a system that sounds exactly like what I’ve longed for: the ability to have my iOS devices turn on without a passcode while inside my home, but require a passcode or TouchID anywhere else.

I’d love to have Touch ID be contextually aware — am I at home or not? — and adjust accordingly.