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Black holes formed quasars less than a billion years after Big Bang

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Image of a glowing disk with a bright line coming out of its center.

Enlarge (credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI))

Supermassive black holes appear to be present at the center of every galaxy, going back to some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe. And we have no idea how they got there. It shouldn't be possible for them to grow from supernova remnants to supermassive sizes as quickly as they do. And we're not aware of any other mechanism that could form something big enough that extreme growth wouldn't be necessary.

The seeming impossibility of supermassive black holes in the early Universe was already a bit of a problem; the James Webb Space Telescope has only made it worse by finding ever-earlier instances of galaxies with supermassive black holes. In the latest example, researchers have used the Webb to characterize a quasar powered by a supermassive black hole as it existed approximately 750 million years after the Big Bang. And it looks shockingly normal.

Looking back in time

Quasars are the brightest objects in the Universe, powered by actively feeding supermassive black holes. The galaxy surrounding them feeds them enough material that they form bright accretion disks and powerful jets, both of which emit copious amounts of radiation. They're often partly shrouded in dust, which glows from absorbing some of the energy emitted by the black hole. These quasars emit so much radiation that they ultimately drive some of the nearby material out of the galaxy entirely.

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Manzabar
23 hours ago
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NatGeo documents salvage of Tuskegee Airman’s lost WWII plane wreckage

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Michigan's State Maritime Archaeologist Wayne R. Lusardi takes notes underwater at the wreckage.

Enlarge / Michigan's State Maritime Archaeologist Wayne R. Lusardi takes notes underwater at the Lake Huron WWII wreckage of 2nd Lt. Frank Moody's P-39 Airacobra. Moody, one of the famed Tuskagee Airmen, fatally crashed in 1944. (credit: National Geographic)

In April 1944, a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen, Second Lieutenant Frank Moody, was on a routine training mission when his plane malfunctioned. Moody lost control of the aircraft and plunged to his death in the chilly waters of Lake Huron. His body was recovered two months later, but the airplane was left at the bottom of the lake—until now. Over the last few years, a team of divers working with the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum in Detroit has been diligently recovering the various parts of Moody's plane to determine what caused the pilot's fatal crash.

That painstaking process is the centerpiece of The Real Red Tails, a new documentary from National Geographic narrated by Sheryl Lee Ralph (Abbot Elementary). The documentary features interviews with the underwater archaeologists working to recover the plane, as well as firsthand accounts from Moody's fellow airmen and stunning underwater footage from the wreck itself.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military pilots in the US Armed Forces and helped pave the way for the desegregation of the military. The men painted the tails of their P-47 planes red, earning them the nickname the Red Tails. (They initially flew Bell P-39 Airacobras like Moody's downed plane, and later flew P-51 Mustangs.) It was then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who helped tip popular opinion in favor of the fledgling unit when she flew with the Airmen's chief instructor, C. Alfred Anderson, in March 1941. The Airmen earned praise for their skill and bravery in combat during World War II, with members being awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars, 60 Purple Hearts, and at least one Silver Star.

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Manzabar
23 hours ago
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Automakers, Insurance Companies, And Apps Are Non-Transparently Spying On Your Driving Habits And Hiking Your Insurance Rates

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In 2023, Mozilla released a report noting that modern cars had the worst security and privacy standards of any major technology industry the organization tracks. That was followed by a great NYT report by Kashmir Hill earlier this year showing how automakers routinely hoover up oodles of consumer driving and phone info, then sell access to that data to auto insurance companies.

Originally, Hill found that GM was collecting both driver behavior and phone data, selling access to LexisNexis, which, in turn, sold access to insurance companies. Insurance companies then used that data to raise rates on the worst drivers — but also to non-transparently justify raising rates on everybody (“trust us, we have insider data we won’t show you indicating you should be paying significantly more.”).

Since nobody in this chain is being transparent about it, GM is now facing dozens of different lawsuits.

But Hill has found a thread and just keeps pulling. Her latest report on automakers documents how auto insurance companies are still gleaning data from apps on your phone that already have a problematic history on privacy and location tracking. Such as Life360, which was caught a few years ago funneling sensitive user location data to a broad number of barely regulated and extremely dodgy data brokers.

And they’re still doing it without being particularly clear with consumers, who routinely seem shocked when they learn the scope of the practices:

“No one who realizes what they’re doing would consent,” said Ms. Lomax, who canceled her subscription.

Auto insurance companies can buy detailed consumer behavior and location data from automakers, telecoms, app makers, or data brokers. And because the U.S. is too corrupt to pass a meaningful modern privacy law, or even implement some basic regulatory guardrails for data brokers, the whole thing has devolved into a privacy shitshow where we get at least one major scandal a week. And those scandals are getting progressively worse and more dangerous the longer the issue goes unchecked.

Companies in Hill’s stories can claim they’re being transparent or not sharing your data, but intentionally boxed in regulators like the FTC lack the resources or staff to police these issues at the scale they’re happening, so it’s not like anybody is consistently following up to make sure. Consumers generally have absolutely no idea they’re being closely monitored and how this data can be used against them, and companies often see little punishment outside of some brief public shaming to rein in bad behavior.

If this was all properly regulated and entirely transparent, there could be a future where everybody has a openly calculated driver score, and you technically pay lower rates for auto-insurance based on very clear metrics. Hill’s piece flirts with how more accurate, personalized driving and behavior data could prove particularly helpful for marginalized people harmed by current insurance practices that unfairly discriminate based on stuff like education level or credit scores.

But we’re talking about private companies motivated to pursue quarterly revenue bumps regardless of reality or ethics. Consumer advocates worry insurance companies are incentivized to use more detailed user behavior data not to improve things, but to justify entirely new bad decisions, like charging people who work the night shift more money because they drive at night.

A cornerstone of exploiting improved data collection to boost quarterly revenues will continue to be making sure the collection and analysis isn’t transparent to the public.

At some point there will be significant reform and a (hopefully) well crafted new federal law governing all of this, probably only after there’s a massive, unprecedented scandal. But right now it’s extremely difficult to get these companies to even be entirely honest about what they’re even doing.

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Manzabar
5 days ago
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Sixth Circuit Tells Ohio AG To Stop Blocking Ballot Initiative Calling For End Of Qualified Immunity

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Plenty of people don’t care for all the forms of immunity the government has granted itself. And they don’t care for qualified immunity, which is a thing the Supreme Court cooked up on its own.

These multiple forms of immunity have tended to become get-out-of-lawsuit-free cards for government employees, rather than the general encouragement to do their level best in situations involving discretion. Discretion has been abandoned because there’s been more than enough immunity to go around. Qualified immunity may seem less absolute than absolute immunity, but the Supreme Court that created the doctrine has done all it can over the past few decades to make it nearly as absolute as absolute immunity.

The public wants things to change. That explains why Ohio residents are trying to get a ballot measure added that would eliminate multiple forms of immunity for government officials. Rather than respect the wishes of the people, the Ohio Attorney General’s office has repeatedly refused to certify the proposed amendment, thus preventing the creators of the initiative from collecting the signatures needed to get it placed on the ballot.

And not just once. The AG has shot it down every time it has come up. (h/t Short Circuit)

From the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court decision [PDF]:

Pursuant to Ohio law, Plaintiffs drafted their amendment and summary, collected their one thousand qualified supporting signatures, and filed it with the Ohio Attorney General, David Yost. On at least six occasions, Yost declined to certify Plaintiffs’ summary.

It’s easy to see why the AG wouldn’t like this measure. It would remove the absolute immunity he and prosecutors in his office can currently avail themselves of when sued. And it would remove the qualified immunity law enforcement officers and officials use far more frequently. The AG is the state’s top-level prosecutor. As such, it’s obviously in his best interest to protect cops because being AG is often the equivalent of being the state’s top cop.

The lawsuit was filed in state court but moved to federal court when the state court declined to provide an expedited review of the group’s injunction request. The federal court rejected the injunction request, leading to this appeal.

Now, with the case in the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court, the plaintiffs are hoping at least one federal court might find it in its judicial heart to recognize their (reasonable) First and Fourteenth Amendment claims against the clearly biased and repeated rejections of this specific ballot initiative by the AG David Yost.

The plaintiffs followed all the rules for ballot measures. Since they’ve held up their end of the bargain, the appeals court takes a look at the reasons stated for the AG’s multiple rejections. In every case, the AG’s office used the same excuse, despite the measure and summary being revised each time in hopes of dodging yet another vaguely worded rejection: “unable to certify the submitted summary as a fair and truthful representation of the proposed amendment.”

The appeals court first corrects the lower court’s most significant error: the plaintiffs do have standing to pursue this suit and their “injury” is clearly stated: they are unable to advance a ballot measure because the AG has apparently decided it will never approve this specific sort of proposal. In doing so, the AG’s office is violating the plaintiffs’ rights.

It is undisputed that Plaintiffs suffer an “injury in fact.” Plaintiffs allege that their First and Fourteenth Amendment right to political speech is burdened by Yost’s enforcement of §3519.01 without the availability of timely review. That is, they argue Yost’s certification decision itself unduly burdens their right to political expression when § 3519.01 gave him the authority to make that decision with inadequate means for challenging it. In this context, Plaintiffs are prohibited from advocating for their proposed amendment in the way they wish, thus undermining their freedom of “expression of a desire for political change and” their ability to discuss “the merits of the proposed change.”

The dissent suggests that Plaintiffs do not have an injury in fact because, without a complaint for a writ of mandamus before the Supreme Court of Ohio or a new summary before Yost, Plaintiffs face “no ‘actual present harm.’” Contrary to our dissenting colleague’s conclusion, however, Plaintiffs’ inability to advocate for and speak about the proposed amendment how they wish is a “continuing, present adverse effect[].” Such an allegation of an ongoing injury—a barrier continuously preventing their speech—supports Article III standing.

So, it’s not a clear path to victory, but at least there’s now a path to continue the lawsuit.

AG Yost argued the federal court had no business hearing this case in the first place. The correct venue would be the state court because the federal government isn’t allowed to directly control the inner workings of state governments. According to Yost, the only court with power to make a call on an injunction or the ballot measure approval process is the state’s top court.

The Sixth Circuit disagrees, pointing out that the AG is failing (deliberately or not) to understand the nature of the relief being sought by the plaintiffs.

Yost’s redressability argument, however, misconstrues the relief that Plaintiffs seek. Yost construes Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief as a backwards looking attempt to alter his March 2024 certification decision. In contrast to that construction, Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief preventing Yost from enforcing § 3519.01 against them—enjoining Yost’s authority to certify, or fail to certify, their summary generally.

It’s not about overturning a past decision by Yost, which might have to be restricted to state courts. It’s about future enforcement, which means the federal court system can handle this lawsuit without overstepping its bounds.

Furthermore, it is AG Yost — not the state Supreme Court — that makes initiative calls and enforces this statute. That means Yost can be sued in this venue and, if needed, hit with a federal injunction preventing him from engaging in further constitutional violations.

Tellingly, the AG’s office invoked sovereign immunity as another option to escape this lawsuit and the proposed injunction. Sovereign immunity is one of several immunities the ballot measure hopes to eradicate. If the AG detected any irony when raising this immunity, it certainly didn’t stop him from invoking it.

The decision heads into the statutory weeds for awhile before emerging with this conclusion: the statute and the way it’s enforced is likely unconstitutional. With zero options available to challenge AG decisions and time being of the essence during an election year, there’s a good chance the plaintiffs will prevail in court. As the statute stands now, the AG can reject any measure it doesn’t care for every single time they’re presented. And that is definitely a rights violation.

Yost’s unreviewable discretion in this instance puts Plaintiffs in the position of altering their petition summary, which “involves both the expression of a desire for political change and a discussion of the merits of the proposed change.” This constitutes a severe burden on Plaintiffs’ ability to advocate for their initiative because it restricts one-on-one communication between Plaintiffs and potential voters.

Likewise, the second concern from Grant—that Plaintiffs will be less able to garner the necessary signatures to be placed on the ballot “thus limiting their ability to make the matter the focus of statewide discussion,” 486 U.S. at 423—is also present here. Without timely review, § 3519.01 allows the Attorney General to reject a summary in perpetuity such that the petitioners are never able to begin collecting signatures in support, much less garner the number of signatories required. Thus, the time that Plaintiffs will have to speak with potential signatories about the proposed amendment as well as how widely they can convey the message has been meaningfully diminished, if not altogether eliminated. Accordingly, § 3519.01 imposes a severe burden on Plaintiffs’ “core political speech” because it is less likely that Plaintiffs will be able to garner the necessary signatures to be placed on the ballot “thus limiting their ability to make the matter the focus of statewide discussion.”

The state court limitations AG Yost raised are even worse. It creates a catch-22 that means ballot measures not favored by the AG will never be able to meet the requirements to engage in a judicial review by the state Supreme Court.

Yost’s argument turns Ohio’s law on its head. Rather than provide limited discretion to the Attorney General, in this case Yost has issued multiple denials—six based on the fair and-truthful determination—without any review by an administrative body or court. And, although Yost is correct that § 3519.01(C) provides for original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court of Ohio, it does not require that court to review the case within a reasonable time, in light of the election deadlines. Instead, because Plaintiffs must submit their approximately 400,000 signatures 125 days before the election and the Supreme Court of Ohio’s mandatory-expedited review applies only to cases filed within ninety days of the election, the mandatory-expedited review will never apply.

And that’s how you get hit with an injunction, ladies and gentlemen. You craft a statute that makes any challenge of a rejection impossible and ensure the only political speech allowed to make it onto a ballot is speech the government likes. The case heads back down to the lower court for more examination with an injunction attached, which means the plaintiffs can not only consider seeking to have this statute blocked permanently, but can go back to trying to eliminate multiple forms of government immunity.

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Manzabar
5 days ago
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Broken Model

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In addition to eating foxes, rabbits can eat grass. The grass also eats foxes. Our equations chart the contours of Fox Hell.
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Manzabar
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Minnesota Kills Ignorant Ban On Community Broadband Bought By The Telecom Lobby

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Minnesota is the latest state to eliminate a pointless state ban on community owned and operated broadband networks ghost written by the telecom lobby.

New legislation, just signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz, eliminates two statutes that sought to protect large monopoly telecommunications providers from community-based competition. Minnesota is one of 17 (now 16) states that buckled to lobbying (usually by AT&T or Comcast) to effectively ban community owned and operated broadband networks, even if voters approve of them.

Sometimes the state laws are an outright ban. Other times, like in Minnesota’s case, the law prohibits municipalities from building such networks if a giant regional monopoly already serves (or pretends to serve via misleading maps) a location, or might someday decide to do so in the future. They’re usually written to let telecoms bog communities down in perpetual bureaucracy.

Popular telecom and media reformer Gigi Sohn, who you’ll recall was blocked from a Senate FCC nomination thanks to a sleazy telecom industry smear campaign, had this to say about Minnesota’s decision:

“This is a significant win for the people of Minnesota and highlights a positive trend—states are dropping misguided barriers to deploying public broadband as examples of successful community-owned networks proliferate across the country.”

Just a few years ago, there were 21 such state barriers. But COVID lockdowns highlighted both the substandard and expensive nature of home broadband access, and the utter, counterproductive pointlessness of letting AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, or CenturyLink executives overrule local, voter-approved infrastructure decisions.

Angered by a generation of shitty, monopolized broadband access, almost 500 communities have now built some kind of municipal broadband network. These networks take on a variety of forms including direct government builds, cooperatives, extensions of the city-owned power utility, or public-private partnerships. Many will be aided by the looming $42.5 billion in infrastructure bill broadband funds.

Telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast could have nipped this movement in the bud by building better, faster, cheaper, broadband networks. But being predatory monopolies, they found it cheaper and more efficient to lobby corrupt lawmakers into state and federal bans, and to fund fake consumer groups to lie to locals about how such efforts are a socialist “government takeover of the internet.”

The problem for telecom giants is that disdain for shitty cable, phone, and broadband monopolies is a bipartisan sport built on decades of subscriber mistreatment. Community networks generally have broad, bipartisan support, especially once locals are able to purchase symmetrical gigabit fiber service for $60-$70 a month with no caps, contracts, or annoying predatory fees.

Big telecom (and the think tankers, consultants, and lobbyists paid to love them) adore pretending that they oppose community broadband simply because they’re worried about the impact on taxpayers (many muni builds utilize zero taxpayer money).

They’re hopeful you don’t remember or realize that these same giant companies have hoovered up untold billions in taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks, merger approvals, and regulatory favors in exchange for the shitty, sluggish, spotty and expensive most Americans “enjoy” today.

The U.S. telecom market failed due to mindless consolidation, monopolization, and years of corruption and regulatory failure. Community broadband is the organic, grass roots response.

So despite protests by industry, this isn’t a trend that’s slowing down anytime soon, and it seems very likely that the number of state bans on community broadband will only continue to shrink.

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Manzabar
13 days ago
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