2016: One year in the Upside Down – By Dan Zak December 30 at 10:20 AM


Clockwise from left: a fire burns near the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; Donald Trump; a memorial for Philando Castile; “Stranger Things”; flowers left at a gorilla statue after the shooting of Harambe; and Prince. (Hassan Al Rasi/Reuters; Evan Vucci/AP; Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP; Curtis Baker/Netflix; John Minchillo/AP; Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The year started ominously, with a big fire in a big hotel in the Middle East. Remember? You were getting dressed for a party in the waning hours of 2015 and glimpsed cable news in the mirror, where an orange blaze licked the black sky near the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The fireworks show went as planned: artful magenta flashes arching through a drifting wall of smoke. That would be 2016 in a single image. Spectacle upon spectacle.

A band of armed ranchers trapped themselves in an Oregon wildlife refuge, in the name of freedom.

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, in the name of solidarity.

A woman who represents the mythical illuminati funded by George Soros was beaten to the White House by a man who brags about sexual assault. The woman fled to the woods. The man withdrew to an upper floor of his dark tower, to plan.

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Minimum Wages Set to Increase in Many States in 2017 – By  Eric Morath Dec. 30, 2016 5:30 a.m. ET


About 4.4 million low-wage workers across the country are slated to receive a raise

Workers at a McDonald’s Corp. location in New York. At the start of 2017, the minimum wage for fast-food workers in the city will rise to $12 an hour, just one of many increases to the pay floor across the country to begin the new year.ENLARGE

Workers at a McDonald’s Corp. location in New York. At the start of 2017, the minimum wage for fast-food workers in the city will rise to $12 an hour, just one of many increases to the pay floor across the country to begin the new year. Photo: Richard Drew/Associated Press

Minimum wages will increase in 20 states at the start of the year, a shift that will lift pay for millions of individuals and shed light on a long-running debate about whether mandated pay increases at the bottom do more harm or good for workers.

In Massachusetts, the minimum wage will rise $1, to $11 an hour, a change that affects about 291,000 workers. In California, the minimum goes up 50 cents, to $10.50 an hour, boosting pay for 1.7 million individuals.

Wages are also going up in many Republican-led states, where politicians have traditionally been skeptical of the benefits of minimum-wage increases.

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Brain activity is too complicated for humans to decipher. Machines can decode it for us. – Dec 29, 2016, 12:00pm EST


Why we need artificial intelligence to study our natural intelligence.

Getty Creative Images

Over the past several years, Jack Gallant’s neuroscience lab has produced a string of papers that sound absurd.

In 2011, the lab showed it was possible to recreate movie clips just from observing the brain activity of people watching movies. Using a computer to regenerate the images of a film just by scanning the brain of a person watching one is, in a sense, mind reading. Similarly, in 2015, Gallant’s team of scientists predicted which famous paintings people were picturing in their minds by observing the activity of their brains.

This year, the team announced in the journal Nature that they had created an “atlas” of where 10,000-plus individual words reside in the brain — just by having study participants listen to podcasts.

How did they do all this? By using machine learning tools — a type of artificial intelligence — to mine huge troves of brain data and find the patterns of brain activity that predict our perception.

The goal here isn’t to build a mind-reading machine (although it’s often confused for that). Neuroscientists aren’t interested in stealing your passwords right out of your head. Nor are they interested in your darkest secrets. The real goal is a lot bigger. By turning neuroscience into a “big data” science, and using machine learning to mine that data, Gallant and others in the field have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the brain.

The human brain, after all, is the most complicated object we know of in the universe, and we barely understand it. The wild idea of Gallant’s lab — an idea that could lift the field of neuroscience out of its infancy — is this: Maybe we have to build machines to figure out the brain for us. The hope is if we can decipher the intensely intricate patterns of the brain, we can figure out how to fix the brain when it’s suffering from disease.

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Which senators will call it quits? – By Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett 12/30/16 05:06 AM EST


Retirement rumors are swirling, and the decisions could roil the 2018 Senate midterm election.

Sens. Orrin Hatch, center, and Dianne Feinstein, right, accompanied by Patrick Leahy, left, have yet to publicly entertain the potential of retirement. | Getty

Sens. Orrin Hatch, center, and Dianne Feinstein, right, accompanied by Patrick Leahy, left, have yet to publicly entertain the potential of retirement. | Getty

Orrin Hatch and Dianne Feinstein will be 84 and 85 years old, respectively, on Election Day 2018. If that thought alone isn’t tiring enough, here’s another way of looking at it: If they run and win, both would eclipse the 90-year mark by the end of their term.

But if the serenity of Utah or coastal beauty of California is beckoning either senator into retirement, neither is willing to publicly entertain it just yet.

“Age doesn’t seem to be a factor,” said Hatch, the Utah Republican who is now in the presidential line of succession and heads the powerful Senate Finance Committee. “I’m tough and strong and I have the usual infirmities that anybody my age has but nothing stops me.”

Hatch, who said after his last reelection in 2012 that this would be his last term, added, “I don’t think I’m ready to give up the ghost yet.”

As the 115th Congress — and the 2018 election cycle — begins in earnest next week, so is the accompanying speculation about who will retire, pursue other political ambitions or step down for other reasons. Much of the retirement whispering has centered on Hatch and Feinstein, two long-serving members with influential roles and seniority in the chamber.

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Don’t ring out 2016 — torch it: Some New Year’s Eve rituals to transform despair into closure — and even hope – Salon.com


Champagne and Ryan Seacrest won’t cut it this weekend — a horrible year deserves a show-stopping finale

Source: Don’t ring out 2016 — torch it: Some New Year’s Eve rituals to transform despair into closure — and even hope – Salon.com