Monday, September 30, 2013

bet not have any friends/correspondents overseas...,

NYTimes | Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials. 

 The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. 

The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners. 

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners. 

N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest.

a little taste of what unspeakable is hogging...,


mit | It has been almost two decades since the beginning of the web. This means that the web is no longer just a technology of the present, but also, a record of our past.

Email, one of the original forms of social media, is even older than the web and contains a detailed description of our personal and professional history.

Immersion is an invitation to dive into the history of your email life in a platform that offers you the safety of knowing that you can always delete your data.

Just like a cubist painting, Immersion presents users with a number of different perspectives of their email data.
  • It provides a tool for self-reflection at a time where the zeitgeist is one of self-promotion.
  • It provides an artistic representation that exists only in the presence of the visitor.
  • It helps explore privacy by showing users data that they have already shared with others.
Finally, it presents users wanting to be more strategic with their professional interactions, with a map to plan more effectively who they connect with.

So Immersion is not about one thing. It’s about four. It’s about self-reflection, art, privacy and strategy. It’s about providing users with a number of different perspectives by leveraging on the fact that the web, and emails, are now an important part of our past. Fist tap Dale.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

quoth the godmoor...,


speaking of the unspeakable



wikipedia | The Power Elite is a book written by sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1956. In it Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by those entities. The structural basis of The Power Elite is that, following World War II, the United States was the leading country in military and economic terms. According to Mills, the Power Elite are those that occupy the dominant positions, in the dominant institutions (military, economic and political) of a dominant country, and their decisions (or lack of decisions) have enormous consequences, not only for the U.S. population but, "the underlying populations of the world." Mills outlines the historical structural trends that led to the ascension of the power elite as involving a concentration of economic power and the cultural apparatus in the hands of a few, the emergence of a permanent war economy in the U.S. during and after WW2, the emergence of a bureaucratically standardized and conditioned (controlled) mass society and a political vacuum that was filled by economic and military elites. Due to the interchangeability of top positions within these three institutions, the members of the power elite develop class consciousness and a community of interests guided by a militarized culture, or what Mills described as the military metaphysic.

The book is something of a counterpart of Mills' 1951 work, White Collar: The American Middle Classes, which examines the then-growing role of middle managers in American society. A main inspiration for the book was Franz Leopold Neumann's book Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism in 1942, a study of how Nazism came into a position of power in a democratic state like Germany. Behemoth had a major impact on Mills and he claimed that Behemoth had given him the "tools to grasp and analyse the entire total structure and as a warning of what could happen in a modern capitalist democracy".[1]

Chapter 1: The Higher Circles

  • This chapter provides a description of the power elite and the mechanism through which it acquires and exercises its power on a national level.
  • He describes the contemporary means of power as the hierarchies of state, military and the big corporate institutions. Other, previously decisive institutions such as family and religion are pushed aside in the contemporary United States. They adapt to contemporary life, which in turn is set and determined by the new means of power.
  • Wealth, power, and popularity, in this system, attach to the positions that individuals occupy, and not to the individuals themselves.
  • The power elite of the US, which never faced competition due to the absence of feudal structures (aristocracy and religion), monopolize power from the get-go.
    1. It becomes a caste within the upper classes, and makes all decisions that have important consequences.
    2. It is not a group of rulers whose every decision is correct and every consequence of such decisions is as expected.
    3. It is limited by the means of power, the techniques of power, and the means of communication. However, their limitations are much less compared to previous ruling classes, due to the expansion and centralization in the means of power.
  • To study the unity of the US power elite, one should investigate:
    1. the psychology of the elite in their respective environments (their psychological similarities)
    2. the interrelations between the military, economical, and political institutions they are part of (the social intermingling of the means of power)
    3. the co-operation between the means of power (i.e. the military, big corporations, and state)
  • The main theses of the book, as set by Mills, are:
    1. Historical circumstances have led to the rise of power elite,
    2. They now make key decisions,
    3. The enlargement and centralization of means of power increased the potency of the consequences of their decisions,
    4. The power elite is much more unified and powerful than the "mass society",[2] which is fragmented and impotent.

nsa spying on u.s. citizens was first reported in 1975..,


foreignpolicy | As Vietnam War protests grew, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the overseas communications of prominent American critics of the war -- including a pair of sitting U.S. senators. That's according to a recently declassified NSA history, which called the effort "disreputable if not outright illegal."

For years the names of the surveillance targets were kept secret. But after a decision by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, in response to an appeal by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the NSA has declassified them for the first time. The names of the NSA's targets are eye-popping. Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young were on the watch list, as were the boxer Muhammad Ali, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, and veteran Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald. But perhaps the most startling fact in the declassified document is that the NSA was tasked with monitoring the overseas telephone calls and cable traffic of two prominent members of Congress, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.). As shocking as the recent revelations about the NSA's domestic eavesdropping have been, there has been no evidence so far of today's signal intelligence corps taking a step like this, to monitor the White House's political enemies. 

As the Vietnam War escalated during Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, domestic criticism and protest movements abounded. Protesters surrounded the Pentagon in the fall of 1967 and two years later organized demonstrations and the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. The scale of the dissent angered Johnson as well as his successor, Richard Nixon. As fervent anti-communists, they wondered whether domestic protests were linked to hostile foreign powers, and they wanted answers from the intelligence community. The CIA responded with Operation Chaos, while the NSA worked with other intelligence agencies to compile watch lists of prominent anti-war critics in order to monitor their overseas communications. By 1969, this program became formally known as "Minaret."

The NSA history does not say when these seven men were placed on the watch list -- or, more importantly, who decided to task the NSA to monitor their communications. But the simple fact that the NSA secretly intercepted the telephone calls and telegrams of these prominent Americans, including two U.S. senators, at the White House's behest is alarming in the extreme. It demonstrates just how easily the agency's vast surveillance powers have been abused in the past and can be abused even today

Minaret's notoriety in U.S. intelligence history is well deserved, even if details of the operation have faded from the public's memory over the past 40 years. Minaret and its companion program, Operation Shamrock, were virtual progenitors of the now-notorious warrantless domestic eavesdropping program that George W. Bush's administration ran from 2001 to 2004. Moreover, the 1975 disclosure of the programs' existence by the Church Committee, chaired by a Minaret target himself, Sen. Frank Church, was one of the principal reasons that Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. An incredibly broad warrant, issued under that act, to monitor the call records of Verizon Business Network Services customers was the first of many documents leaked this year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. 

Carried out between 1967 and 1973, the watch list of domestic critics had its origins in the paranoia that pervaded the White House during the administrations of Johnson and Nixon, as public discontent over the Vietnam War grew. The idea of the watch list, however, developed before the war in order to monitor narcotics traffickers and possible threats to the president. The NSA watch list began informally in the summer of 1967, prompted by Johnson's belief that the growing number of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and race riots sweeping the United States were being covertly instigated and sustained by the Soviet Union and its allies. Most names placed on the first NSA watch list came from the FBI and the CIA, which wanted any intelligence concerning foreign governments' involvement with American anti-war and civil rights organizations. In 1969, during Nixon's administration, the watch list became formally known as Minaret.

so much wild and crazy stuff shook loose in the 70's...,


wikipedia | By the early years of the 1970s, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and the unfolding Watergate scandal brought the era of minimal oversight to an abrupt halt.[according to whom?] The United States Congress was determined to rein in the Nixon administration and to ascertain the extent to which the nation's intelligence agencies had been involved in questionable, if not outright illegal, activities. 

A series of troubling revelations started to appear in the press concerning intelligence activities. First came the revelations of Christopher Pyle in January 1970 of the U.S. Army's spying on the civilian population[1][2] and Sam Ervin's Senate investigations produced more revelations.[3] Then on December 22, 1974, The New York Times published a lengthy article by Seymour Hersh detailing operations engaged in by the CIA over the years that had been dubbed the "family jewels".Covert action programs involving assassination attempts against foreign leaders and covert attempts to subvert foreign governments were reported for the first time. In addition, the article discussed efforts by intelligence agencies to collect information on the political activities of US citizens.[4]

These revelations convinced many Senators and Representatives that the Congress itself had been too lax, trusting, and naive in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.[citation needed]

In 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee published fourteen reports on the formation of U.S. intelligence agencies, their operations, and the alleged abuses of law and of power that they had committed, together with recommendations for reform, some of which were put in place.

Among the matters investigated were attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Welsh Dulles's plan, approved by the President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Under recommendations and pressure by this committee, President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905 (ultimately replaced in 1981 by President Reagan's Executive Order 12333) to ban U.S. sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders.

Together, the Church Committee's reports have been said to constitute the most extensive review of intelligence activities ever made available to the public. Much of the contents were classified, but more than 50,000 pages have since been declassified under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

doctrine cannot abide the commentariate

NYTimes | When we complain about comments, I’ve noticed, we do so as if we’re dealing with some emanation of human nature or the lusty democratic energies of the American soul. But when I went digging into the history of the Web to find out where online comments really came from, it’s clear that they’re the consequences of what was technically feasible at a certain point and how that feasibility was subsequently implemented. We tend to think that comments represent the culture, but in fact the distinct culture of commenting grew out of digital constraints. Given what Web users had to work with, comments were bound to get weedy. 

Comments as we know them — lines of text stacked atop one another in chronological order — are direct descendants of bulletin-board systems, or B.B.S., which date to the 1970s; users could dial in with a modem and contribute to discussion forums. The computer code that determined the order in which text appears on a B.B.S. also provides the basic architecture of the comment thread. That code, or script, became the basis for an early commenting function called the “guest book”: a place for simple text entry in which any visitor could type a note. Guest books were attached to the Web site as a whole, not to any specific content on it. This created confusion about the sort of opportunity that the guest book presented. Was it the soapbox of the online world? Or was it a bathroom wall?

/. solved the comment signal/noise "problem" a generation ago...,


wikipedia | The administration of the site uses the Slash source code and database, a content management system available under the GNU General Public License.[39] Slashdot's editors are primarily responsible for selecting and editing the primary stories daily from submitters like Roland Piquepaille; they provide a one-paragraph summary for each and a link to an external site where the story originated. Each story becomes the topic for a threaded discussion among the site's users.[40] A user-based moderation system is employed to filter out abusive comments.[41] Every comment is initially given a score of -1 to +2, with a default score of +1 for registered users, 0 for anonymous users (Anonymous Coward), +2 for users with high "karma", or −1 for users with low "karma". As moderators read comments attached to articles, they click to moderate the comment, either up (+1) or down (−1). Moderators may choose to attach a particular descriptor to the comments as well, such as normal, offtopic, flamebait, troll, redundant, insightful, interesting, informative, funny, overrated, or underrated, with each corresponding to a -1 or +1 rating. So a comment may be seen to have a rating of "+1 insightful" or "-1 troll".[36]

Moderation points add to a user's karma, and users with high "karma" are eligible to become moderators themselves. The system does not promote regular users as "moderators" and instead assigns five moderation points at a time to users based on the number of comments they have entered in the system – once a user's moderation points are used up, they can no longer moderate articles (though they can be assigned more moderation points at a later date). Paid staff editors have an unlimited number of moderation points.[36][40][42]

A given comment can have any integer score from -1 to +5, and registered users of Slashdot can set a personal threshold so that no comments with a lesser score are displayed.[40][42] For instance, a user reading Slashdot at level +5 will only see the highest rated comments, while a user reading at level -1 will see a more "unfiltered, anarchic version".[36]

A meta-moderation system was implemented on September 7, 1999,[43] to moderate the moderators and help contain abuses in the moderation system. Meta-moderators are presented with a set of moderations that they may rate as either fair or unfair. For each moderation, the meta-moderator sees the original comment and the reason assigned by the moderator (e.g. troll, funny), and the meta-moderator can click to see the context of comments surrounding the one that was moderated.[40][42]

popular science kills comments, blames criticism of global warming and evolution...,


dailytech | But it is Ms. LaBarre's use of the phrase "scientific doctrine" which should is most interesting, and perhaps telling.  The root word of indoctrination -- brainwashing with a rigid set set of beliefs -- is "doctrine".  Indeed the Wikipedia entry for "doctrine" states:

Doctrine (from Latin: doctrina) is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system. The Greek analogue is the etymology of catechism.[1]
Often doctrine specifically connotes a corpus of religious dogma as it is promulgated by a church, but not necessarily: doctrine is also used to refer to a principle of law...
And Google Inc.'s (GOOG) built in dictionary describes doctrine as:

a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group.

Science has little to do with beliefs.  Science is the process of observation, of collecting hard, repeatable evidence.  Belief is unnecessary to a scientist who does their job right, as they are simply studying reality.

The phrase seems decidedly odd as coming from a science publication: after all isn't open, informed debate the root of all science?  Since when has indoctrination -- peddling of a set of rigid, unquestioning beliefs, most often associated with religion -- become part of the scientific process?

Perhaps lack of critical feedback, user bickering, and spam may indeed improve the perception of PopSci.  But it's hard to imagine Socrates or Plato, were they alive today, shutting the door to public commentary.  After all, as journalists we all have to remember we aren't actually doing science -- at least not at our news jobs -- we're simply trying to represent it in a clear and concise form that the public can understand and enjoy.

While PopSci writes "we have many delightful, thought-provoking commenters," it's hard to escape the impression that its editors think themselves greater science minds than their readership.  Perhaps that's why they're so eager to "indoctrinate" readers (quite literally what Ms. LaBarre says is the site's goals) with their superior wisdom (i.e. interpretations) of science.

But here at DailyTech we take a different view.  We reject censorship and believe in free expression.

We welcome all opinions from the novice to the professional.  We welcome respectful criticism of our authors, our articles, and the material therein, in a public place for all to see.  We don't believe doctrines and indoctrination have a place in open scientific discussion.

At the same time we acknowledge that comments -- criticism, trolling, and more -- are a painful burden at times.  But it is a burden we choose to bear because we must.  Perhaps it will hurt our readers' impressions of our site.  But journalism and science are founded upon open discourse and a receptiveness to feedback.  Once you lose that, you risk rapid loss of your accountability and credibility.

welcome to the marketplace of ideas

NYTimes | Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination. 

The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state is revising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember. 

Thus, even as our day-to-day experiences have become dependent on technological progress, many of our leaders have abandoned the postwar bargain in favor of what the scientist Michael Mann calls the “scientization of politics.” 

What do I tell my students? From one end of their educational trajectory to the other, our society told these kids science was important. How confusing is it for them now, when scientists receive death threats for simply doing honest research on our planet’s climate history? 

Americans always expected their children to face a brighter economic future, and we scientists expected our students to inherit a world where science was embraced by an ever-larger fraction of the population. This never implied turning science into a religion or demanding slavish acceptance of this year’s hot research trends. We face many daunting challenges as a society, and they won’t all be solved with more science and math education. But what has been lost is an understanding that science’s open-ended, evidence-based processes — rather than just its results — are essential to meeting those challenges. 

My professors’ generation could respond to silliness like creationism with head-scratching bemusement. My students cannot afford that luxury. Instead they must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas. 

During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today. 

The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. And for every parent and grandparent there is the opportunity to make a few more trips to the science museum with your children. 

Behind the giant particle accelerators and space observatories, science is a way of behaving in the world. It is, simply put, a tradition. And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.

Friday, September 27, 2013

selling food that has passed its expiration date...,


An estimated 40 percent of food in the United States ends up getting wasted and thrown away. Doug Rauch, who used to be the president of Trader Joe's, has come up with a way that might prevent some of that food from going to waste.

An estimated 40 percent of food in the United States ends up getting wasted and thrown away.
Doug Rauch, who used to be the president of Trader Joe's, has come up with a way that might prevent some of that food from going to waste.

Rauch's project is a market called the Daily Table, which is set to open next year in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Most food that gets thrown out at the grocery store has passed the sell by date, which can sometimes be inaccurate depending on how the product is stored.

Also, farmers dispose of produce that has cosmetic abnormalities, because they won't be able to sell it.

The Daily Table will use that produce in prepared fresh food, to be sold at affordable prices.

Rauch is quoted as saying: "It's kind of a hybrid between a grocery store and a restaurant... it's going to take this food in, prep it, cook it... But the idea is to offer this at prices that compete with fast food."

The market will not only conserve food that would otherwise go to waste, but they can also sell that food at a discount.

35-YEAR-OLD US VETERAN: I AM ON FOOD STAMPS BECAUSE I ENJOY NOT STARVING

classwarfareexists | This essay was written by Jason: 35 years old and a white male combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jason has been on food stamps since June. He thinks the reality of being on food stamps isn’t shameful, but the fact that people living in the richest country on Earth should go without food to conform to the ideologies of fiscal conservatism and self-reliance… is downright un-American.

His letter depicts an America where ”normal” is military service families using food stamps to survive while the soldiers who serve America are busy fighting overseas… Shouldn’t these people, giving so much for their country, have at least enough to buy food for themselves and their families?

This is the reality of the GOP War on the Poor. Fist tap Dale.

bugs for slum-dwellers around the world...,


cbcnews | A team of McGill University MBA students has won the $1 million Hult Prize for a project that aims to improve the availability of nutritious food to slum dwellers around the world by providing them with insect-infused flour.

Mohammed Ashour, Shobhita Soor, Jesse Pearlstein, Zev Thompson and Gabe Mott were presented with the social entrepreneurship award and $1 million in seed capital by former U.S. president Bill Clinton in New York City Monday evening at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting.
The money will help them grow Aspire Food Group, an organization that will produce nutritious insect-based food products that will be accessible year-round to some of the world’s poorest city dwellers.

“We are farming insects and we’re grinding them into a fine powder and then we’re mixing it with locally appropriate flour to create what we call power flour,” Ashour explained to CBC News.
“It is essentially flour that is fortified with protein and iron obtained from locally appropriate insects.” Fist tap Dale.

no more meat for prisoners...,


sideshow | Get sent to jail in Arizona’s Maricopa County and you’ll be experiencing some serious life changes. And for those who eat meat, that includes going vegetarian.

County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, he has made seemingly countless numbers of national headlines. As recently as August, the five-time elected sheriff was in the news after announcing that his deputies would be required to carry firearms at all times, even while off duty.

Arpaio’s latest move is a plan to transition all of his inmates in the county’s eight jails to a vegetarian diet. On the surface, it might sound like a health-conscious move from the 81-year-old lawman. But Arpaio said the change is all about saving the county money.

As part of an effort to publicize the move, Arpaio donned a chef's uniform during a local TV appearance.

“Little by little, this is the first step to go vegetarian,” he told Phoenix affiliate Fox 10. “There will be no more meat on the menu, we’ll save $100,000.”

Instead, the jails will serve soy. In the interview with Fox, Arpaio showed how one stew-like dish will be prepared using the soy along with a combination of carrots, peas and other vegetables.
“It looks great. It looks like stew,” Arpaio said while laughing. “I’m getting hungry.”

Of course, reporter Troy Hayden was less convinced, telling Arpaio that the soy looked like "wood chips" and pointing out that some of the carrots used were brown.

"Oh, that's probably just dirt, don't worry about that," Arpaio responded.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

the power of myth in the hood...,

wired | Last year more than 500 people were murdered in Chicago, a greater number than in far more populous cities such as New York and Los Angeles. The prevalence of gun crimes in Chicago is due in large part to a fragmentation of the gangs on its streets: There are now an estimated 70,000 members in the city, spread out among a mind-boggling 850 cliques, with many of these groupings formed around a couple of street corners or a specific school or park. Young people in these areas are like young people everywhere, using technology to coordinate with their friends and chronicle their every move. But in neighborhoods where shootings are common, the use of online tools has turned hazardous, as gang violence is now openly advertised and instigated online.

We naturally associate criminal activity with secrecy, with conspiracies hatched in alleyways or back rooms. Today, though, foolish as it may be in practice, street gangs have adopted a level of transparency that might impress even the most fervent Silicon Valley futurist. Every day on Facebook and Twitter, on Instagram and YouTube, you can find unabashed teens flashing hand signs, brandishing guns, splaying out drugs and wads of cash. If we live in an era of openness, no segment of the population is more surprisingly open than 21st-century gang members, as they simultaneously document and roil the streets of America’s toughest neighborhoods.

There’s a term sometimes used for a gangbanger who stirs up trouble online: Facebook driller. He rolls out of bed in the morning, rubs his eyes, picks up his phone. Then he gets on Facebook and starts insulting some person he barely knows, someone in a rival crew. It’s so much easier to do online than face-to-face. Soon someone else takes a screenshot of the post and starts passing it around. It’s one thing to get cursed out in front of four or five guys, but online the whole neighborhood can see it—the whole city, even. So the target has to retaliate just to save face. And at that point, the quarrel might be with not just the Facebook driller a few blocks away but also haters 10 miles north or west who responded to the post. What started as a provocation online winds up with someone getting drilled in real life.  Fist tap Big Don.


the power of myth




sciloge | Many people seem to believe that "myths" - not necessarily scientific narratives perceived as meaningful by many - are to be found only among religions. Nothing could be farther from the (now scientific!) truth: As Jonathan Gottschall showed in his great-to-read "The Storytelling Animal", we human beings evolved a hunger for sharing myths in order to be able to survive, to cooperate and to reproduce. In fact, your personal identity is a myth you are repeatedly and constantly trying to uphold in order to successfully navigate your social world.

Lacking narratives of your background, name and endeavours, you wouldn't be a person able to fit into human social life! No wonder even those of us perceiving themselves as non-religious are frequently enjoying myths in books, movies, games and talks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

if a path exists toward a moral economy, we're not on it...,


scientificamerican | In every financial transaction–whether you’re selling a car, paying employees, or repackaging commodity futures as financial derivatives–there are ethical calculations that influence economic activity beyond the price. Sure, you can cheat a potential buyer and not mention that your 1996 Ford Mustang GT has a cracked engine block, in the same way that your boss can stiff you on overtime. If you get away with it you will succeed in making a short-term gain or see a bump in the next quarterly earnings report. But, if you eventually develop the reputation as someone who consistently defrauds the people you do business with, there is a good chance that the value of your net worth will be as negative as the moral values you embraced. 

But why is it that businesses that are “too big to fail” don’t seem bound by the same moral economy as the rest of us? It turns out that anthropologists may have some insight, not only on this question, but also how we might integrate our economic and moral values that so often appear at odds. Researchers have found that the interconnection between economics and morality is seen most clearly in small communities where everybody knows each other, everyone has a free choice in who they deal with, and gossip can make or break reputations. This is even the case for societies that look very different from our own.

For example, in 2006 the anthropologist Joseph Henrich and colleagues published a study in the journal Science (pdf here) based on their analysis of 15 different societies ranging from American college students to urban wage workers in Ghana to semi-nomadic foragers in the Bolivian rainforest. By having each group conduct a series of economic games, the researchers found that there was a positive correlation between how much people punished cheaters and the amount of altruistic behavior in the society as a whole. What’s more, every society engaged in some form of costly punishment even though there was a great deal of variability between societies. 

The researchers’ conclusion was that altruistic punishment emerged in our species through a process of gene-culture coevolution. In other words, human psychology is biologically predisposed to enforce a system of fairness, but how much we do so depends on the culture we see reflected around us. This result was later supported by another study in 2010 that developed a model explaining how even “selfish genes” could promote altruistic traits.

deadly attack in nairobi shopping mall


dailymail | Some barricaded themselves in storerooms, while others hid in boxes or even played dead.

All were fleeing the bloody massacre unfolding around them as they saw terrified fellow shoppers mercilessly executed after being singled out as non-Muslim.

Men, women and children were lined up and then gunned down with AK-47s after failing to name the Prophet Mohammed’s mother or recite passages from the Koran – sure-fire proof they were ‘kafirs’, or non-believers.

Others fled and sought refuge in shops, bank vaults and store rooms as grenades exploded and bullets fired around them.

The fortunate ones managed to emerge blood-splattered and terrified, with the wounded pushed out in shopping trolleys.

Hannah Chisholm, 21, from Haslemere, Surrey, described the terror and confusion at the Westgate Mall, which she was visiting while on holiday.

She said: ‘We kept running to different places but the shots were getting louder so we barricaded ourselves along with about 60 others into a large storeroom.

‘There were children hiding with us as well as someone who had been shot. At that point we thought the gunmen were thieves so we assumed they wouldn’t try to reach the storeroom.’

Greg Aldous, from New Zealand, told how he hid in a box and watched a man being gunned down 30ft away from him. He said the terrorists ‘were coming in through the front, they were coming in through the back and we were just sitting ducks’.

He added: ‘These are Islamic fundamentalist nutcases. They just shot and killed anybody. They are horrible.’

He eventually escaped under the cover of darkness to a lorry-loading depot where people were panicking and screaming.

‘My instinct was to hide and I jumped into a large box containing supermarket cartons and hid there,’ he said. ‘I only survived the massacre because I kept out of sight.

‘If they had found me… I’m white, so I’m dead. They’re not even going to think twice. They hate your skin colour.’ Radio presenter Saadia Ahmed was one of the 1,000 who managed to flee. She said: ‘I witnessed a few people get up and say something in Arabic and the gunmen let them go.

‘A colleague of mine said he was Muslim and recited something in Arabic and they let him go as well.’

deadly attack at pakistan church


NYTimes | With its Muslim-style minarets topped by a large black cross, the All Saints Church in Peshawar has for more than a century offered a daring architectural expression of Muslim-Christian harmony and cohabitation. 

This is how the Taliban destroyed it: two suicide bombers rushed the church doors as worshipers streamed out on Sunday. One attacker exploded his vest inside, the other just outside. 

The death toll had risen to 85 by Monday evening, when Christians across the country protested the worst atrocity their community has suffered in Pakistan’s history. 

Crowds blocked roads, burned tires and waved wooden crosses as they marched in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. Many shouted demands for government protection, while voicing skepticism about whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government could stave off attacks. Mission schools announced they would close for three days. 

For government critics, the atrocity highlighted the continuing failure of the state to protect minorities against hate attacks. Hundreds of Shiites, in particular, have been killed in devastating attacks over the past year. But it also further stirred a debate about a recent political decision to start peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, billed as an attempt to stem the bloodshed. 

“Pakistan’s politicians are failing at the most basic of questions — about what kind of Pakistan they want to shape and lead,” said Cyril Almeida, a writer with Dawn newspaper. “Whether out of sympathy, fear or cowardice, no one is willing to stand up to radical Islamists and say: ‘No, enough is enough. We are taking our country back.’ ” 

Christians in Pakistan already contend with deep-rooted prejudice. Most are poor and traditionally carry out menial work like sweeping street garbage and cleaning sewers. Muslim mobs, enraged by rumors of blasphemy, occasionally rampage through Christian slums, and have burned hundreds of houses. Extremists killed the Christian minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in early 2011.

CUNY students protesting petraeus catch an NYPD special...,


firedoglake | Six students from the City University of New York were charged with multiple offenses on Wednesday night after being arrested while protesting the university’s hiring of former CIA director and ex-general, David Petraeus, who had a key role in secret detention and torture centers setup by Iraqi security forces.

The criminal complaint filed against the students indicates they were charged with disorderly conduct, riot, resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration.

The students arrested are Augustin Castro, Jose Disla, Denise Ford, Luis Henriquez, Angelica Hernandez and Rafael Pena. They were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court and appeared with Lamis Deek, a lawyer from the National Lawyers Guild who is representing them.

According to New York law, “A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly causing risk” that person “engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior” or “makes unreasonable noise.” A person can also face this charge if he or she “uses abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture” or, “without lawful authority,” disturbs “any lawful assembly or meeting of persons.”
One can face charges of “riot” if they engage in “tumultuous” behavior intended to “create public alarm.”

Obstruction of governmental administration charges are committed under the state’s law when someone “intentionally obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from performing an official function by means of intimidation, physical force or interference.”

The students were arrested while Petraeus was attending a CUNY Macaulay Honors College fundraiser. They were outside picketing on a public sidewalk, and, due to the size of the protest, the street. They were in jail for over twenty hours before finally being arraigned.

Faculty and staff from CUNY and other universities in the US signed on to a statement expressing “outrage at the violent and unprovoked actions by the NYPD against CUNY students peacefully protesting at the appointment of war criminal David Petraeus as a lecturer at the Macaulay Honors College.”

“We deplore the use of violence and brutal tactics against CUNY students and faculty who were protesting outside the college. It is unacceptable for the university to allow the police to violently arrest students,” the statement declared.

The statement further explained, “We emphatically support the efforts of these CUNY students to resist the attempts by the U.S. government and the CUNY administration to turn the university into an infamous “war college” with the appointment of Petraeus. Petraeus is responsible for countless deaths and innumerable destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan as a war commander and chief of the CIA.”

The union condemned his support for a strike on Syria and said his current role as “adjunct” lecturer at CUNY and professor at University of Southern California indicates “increasing US military and state security involvement within higher education.”

and in a country predicated on in-group/out-group killer ape violence...,

 

rawstory | The Missouri Capitol Police have said that no charges will be filed against an aide to House Speaker Tim Jones (R) who left a loaded handgun in the men’s restroom at the Capitol building.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a police report indicated that the Kahr CM9 9mm pistol was found on Friday on top of a toilet paper dispenser. 

Lisa Bondurant, a secretary for Jones, contacted police to inform them that legislative assistant Dave Evans had returned to the restroom to retrieve his firearm and discovered that it was missing. 

Although he had no proof of ownership or other paperwork, he was able to offer a “very detailed description of the weapon and the holster,” the police report said. 

After running a background check and determining that the weapon belonged to Evans and that he did not have any warrants, the pistol was returned. Officers also verified that Evans had a valid concealed carry permit. 

A 2011 Missouri law allows lawmakers and staffers with concealed carry permits to carry firearms in the Capitol building.

The Post-Dispatch‘s Elizabeth Crisp reported that Evans had an unsuccessful 2010 run for state House and was currently serving on the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

subversive to all "respectable" religious order...,


WaPo | Francis is taking a different direction. Rather than surrendering the moral distinctiveness of the Catholic Church, he is prioritizing its mission. In the America interview, he vividly compared the church to “a field hospital after battle.” When someone injured arrives, you don’t treat his high cholesterol. “You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.” The outreach of the church, in other words, does not start with ethical or political lectures. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” 

There is a good Catholic theological term for this: the “hierarchy of truths.” Not every true thing has equal weight or urgency. 

But this does not adequately capture Francis’s deeper insight: the priority of the person. This personalism is among the most radical implications of Christian faith. In every way that matters to God, human beings are completely equal and completely loved. They can’t be reduced to ethical object lessons. Their dignity runs deeper than their failures. They matter more than any cause; they are the cause.

So Francis observed: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.” 

This teaching — to always consider the person — was disorienting from the beginning. The outsiders get invited to the party. The prodigal is given the place of honor. The pious complain about their shocking treatment. The gatekeepers find the gate shut to them. It is subversive to all respectable religious order, which is precisely the point. With Francis, the argument gains a new hearing.

a parasitic gene that affects host promiscuity?


royalsociety | Selfish genes demonstrate transmission bias and invade sexual populations despite conferring no benefit to their hosts. While the molecular genetics and evolutionary dynamics of selfish genes are reasonably well characterized, their effects on hosts are not. Homing endonuclease genes (HEGs) are one well-studied family of selfish genes that are assumed to be benign. However, we show that carrying HEGs is costly for Saccharomyces cerevisiae, demonstrating that these genetic elements are not necessarily benign but maybe parasitic. We estimate a selective load of approximately 1–2% in ‘natural’ niches. The second aspect we examine is the ability of HEGs to affect hosts' sexual behaviour. As all selfish genes critically rely on sex for spread, then any selfish gene correlated with increased host sexuality will enjoy a transmission advantage. While classic parasites are known to manipulate host behaviour, we are not aware of any evidence showing a selfish gene is capable of affecting host promiscuity. The data presented here show a selfish element may increase the propensity of its eukaryote host to undergo sex and along with increased rates of non-Mendelian inheritance, this may counterbalance mitotic selective load and promote spread. Demonstration that selfish genes are correlated with increased promiscuity in eukaryotes connects with ideas suggesting that selfish genes promoted the evolution of sex initially.

how does morality work in the brain?


frontiers | Neural underpinnings of morality are not yet well understood. Researchers in moral neuroscience have tried to find specific structures and processes that shed light on how morality works. Here, we review the main brain areas that have been associated with morality at both structural and functional levels and speculate about how it can be studied. Orbital and ventromedial prefrontal cortices are implicated in emotionally-driven moral decisions, while dorsolateral prefrontal cortex appears to moderate its response. These competing processes may be mediated by the anterior cingulate cortex. Parietal and temporal structures play important roles in the attribution of others' beliefs and intentions. The insular cortex is engaged during empathic processes. Other regions seem to play a more complementary role in morality. Morality is supported not by a single brain circuitry or structure, but by several circuits overlapping with other complex processes. The identification of the core features of morality and moral-related processes is needed. Neuroscience can provide meaningful insights in order to delineate the boundaries of morality in conjunction with moral psychology.
“By four-thirty in the morning the priest was all cleaned up. I felt a lot better. I always did, after. Killing makes me feel good. (…) It's a sweet release, a necessary letting go of all the little hydraulic valves inside. (…) It has to be done the right way, at the right time, with the right partner—very complicated, but very necessary.”
Dexter, Darkly dreaming Dexter (Jeff Lindsay)
Can immoral behavior sometimes turn out to be moral? What mechanisms underlie morality? The above quotation is taken from a scene in the American TV series “Dexter.” Dexter is a respected employee at the Miami Metro Police Department, and a family man. However, at night Dexter doubles as a covert serial killer, applying his own moral code and murdering assassins whom the legal system has failed to condemn or catch. To what extent can a murder be considered necessary or even moral? Dexter's code includes clear examples of moral paradoxes that are not yet well understood. Does Dexter's brain work in the same way as the brains of other people? Researchers in moral neuroscience have tried to find domain-specific structures and processes that shed light on what morality is and where it is in the brain, if in fact it is there at all.

In this article, we focus on the history of the scientific study of neuroscience and the ways in which it has approached morality. We briefly review the main brain areas that have recently been associated with morality at both structural and functional levels and then discuss some of the implications of our review. We also speculate about how morality can be studied from the point of view of neuroscience. Here, we did a comprehensive review based on database search and references' search complemented with Neurosynth as a tool to conduct reverse and forward inferences (Yarkoni et al., 2011).

why is combinatorial communication rare in the natural world?


royalsociety | In a combinatorial communication system, some signals consist of the combinations of other signals. Such systems are more efficient than equivalent, non-combinatorial systems, yet despite this they are rare in nature. Why? Previous explanations have focused on the adaptive limits of combinatorial communication, or on its purported cognitive difficulties, but neither of these explains the full distribution of combinatorial communication in the natural world. Here, we present a nonlinear dynamical model of the emergence of combinatorial communication that, unlike previous models, considers how initially non-communicative behaviour evolves to take on a communicative function. We derive three basic principles about the emergence of combinatorial communication. We hence show that the interdependence of signals and responses places significant constraints on the historical pathways by which combinatorial signals might emerge, to the extent that anything other than the most simple form of combinatorial communication is extremely unlikely. We also argue that these constraints can be bypassed if individuals have the socio-cognitive capacity to engage in ostensive communication. Humans, but probably no other species, have this ability. This may explain why language, which is massively combinatorial, is such an extreme exception to nature's general trend for non-combinatorial communication.

how to understand the deep structures of language

scientificamerican | There are two striking features of language that any scientific theory of this quintessentially human behavior must account for. The first is that we do not all speak the same language. This would be a shocking observation were not so commonplace. Communication systems and other animals tend to be universal, with any animal of the species able to communicate with any other. Likewise, many other fundamental human attributes show much less variation. Barring genetic or environmental mishap, we all have two eyes, one mouth, and four limbs. Around the world, we cry when we are sad, smile when we are happy, and laugh when something is funny, but the languages we use to describe this are different.

The second striking feature of language is that when you consider the space of possible languages, most languages are clustered in a few tiny bands. That is, most languages are much, much more similar to one another than random variation would have predicted.

Starting with pioneering work by Joseph Greenberg, scholars have cataloged over two thousand linguistic universals (facts true of all languages) and biases (facts true of most languages). For instance, in languages with fixed word order, the subject almost always comes before the object. If the verb describes a caused event, the entity that caused the event is the subject ("John broke the vase") not the object (for example, "The vase shbroke John" meaning "John broke the vase"). In languages like English where the verb agrees with one of its subjects or objects, it typically agrees with the subject (compare "the child eats the carrots" with "the children eat the carrots") and not with its object (this would look like "the child eats the carrot" vs. "the child eat the carrots"), though in some languages, like Hungarian, the ending of the verb changes to match both the subject and object.

Monday, September 23, 2013

darwin's apple: the evolutionary biology of religion

sonic | The various theories explaining the evolutionary and biological origin of religion do not show comprehensively how religion is adaptive and increases individual fitness. The Split hypothesis proposes the co-evolution of religion and consciousness—that intrinsic religion is a compensating mechanism for higher-order consciousness. It unifies all ritual and religious behaviors under one umbrella and explains how all these behaviors are adaptive and increase evolutionary success. Empirical science is the basis for this inquiry. 

Contemporary scientists such as Daniel Wegner, Antonio Damasio, V.S. Ramachandran, Joseph LeDoux, and John Bargh attest that consciousness, the rational mind, is not solely, or even mostly, the seat of volition as many believe. Humans remain tethered to their biological heritage, which behaviorally is the emotional system as Jaak Panksepp helps reinforce. Consciousness gives humans distinct advantages (culture), but there is no absolute truth accessible solely to consciousness. It has limited inherent intelligence. Consciousness also evolved to be far noisier and distracting than is useful and carries a distinct and significant downside. The limbic system’s reward and pleasure centers are the primary arbiters of behavior and serve homeostasis, the physiological activities that ensure survival and reproductive success. Cognitive biases are the unconscious drivers of “conscious” decision-making and, themselves, are derived from innate emotional predispositions and conditioning. Religion serves to rein in overbearing consciousness and promotes instinctual knowledge. Religion quiets consciousness to let emotions and homeostasis run the show, hence religion is adaptive. 

All religious behaviors including music, art, dance, mythology, and prayer evolved to elicit emotions and suppress or quiet consciousness to various degrees. Contemporary brain and behavioral research show these ritual activities stimulate the brain’s reward systems, and people benefit from them. This would not have happened had they not been evolutionarily adaptive. These ritual behaviors are utilized by psychologists and psychotherapists to help people integrate emotions, which strongly supports their adaptive functions. 

Read the introduction that lays out The Split hypothesis of religion in more detail.

what drives dawkins is the truth and wonder of darwinism...,


guardian | One senses that for all the recognition he's garnered – the world's leading intellectual, the bestselling books, the rapt audiences etc – Dawkins would like to be a little more loved. I ask him if he thinks he's misunderstood by the media and the general public.

"Yes," he says without hesitation. "I seem to be perceived as aggressive and strident and I don't actually think I am strident and aggressive. What I think is that we have all become so accustomed to seeing religion ring-fenced by a wall of special protection that when someone delivers even a mild criticism of religion, it's heard as aggressive when it isn't. I like to think I'm more thoughtful and reflective."

Although he has only written one book specifically about religion – The God Delusion – it's the subject that has increasingly come to define Dawkins. He may have spread the message of evolution to millions, and he may have helped revolutionise our understanding of genetic biology, but it's his pronouncements on the irrationality and absurdity of religion that stick most prominently in the public's imagination. He's that bloke.

Dawkins has long maintained that there is no real difference between his work on evolution and his anti-religion position as an atheist. To some extent, he has a point. As he puts it: "I suppose my particular branch of biology is kind of in the front-line trench where religion is fighting evolution. So in a way even my science books are forced to take a stance, not against posh theologians who accept evolution but surely the absolute majority of religious people in the world who literally believe that every species was separately created and even, in the case of the Abrahamic religions, believe that Adam and Eve were created 6,000 years ago. Chemists and other scientists don't have to battle with that."

While this may be true, no other evolutionary biologist has been quite as outspoken as Dawkins in his denunciation of religion and, indeed, the religious. As a consequence, he's the go-to guy for a scathing quote on dissembling theologies and their gullible believers. He was led into attacking Peter Kay (although he later said he was unaware of who Kay was) when the comedian said that he found religion comforting; savaged the historian Paul Johnson for the "ignominious, contemptible, retarded" basis on which he held his religious beliefs; and described the British Airways employee who was suspended for wearing a gold cross at work as having "one of the most stupid faces I have ever seen".

the history of myth


as-ysu | The last essay showed that the writings of Xenophanes, Heraclitus, and Plato featured both newly minted, rational myths and discussion of traditional, poetic myths.  In fact, since the time of Xenophanes, two parallel streams have flowed from their headwaters in the so-called Greek Renaissance (c. 850-500 BCE) down to our own time.  The first is the mythic tradition itself: that is, the epics, dramas, and poems containing Greek and, later, Roman myths.  The second is the ongoing conversation about the value and meaning of those stories.  While the words myth and mythology are frequently used interchangeably, we will distinguish between them in this class.  Therefore, myth will be used when referring to the stories themselves while mythology will be used when referring to the study and analysis of those stories.

This essay will demonstrate that questions about the truth value and cultural importance of myths have generated ingenious interpretations and heated disputes ever since the time of Xenophanes and Heraclitus.  For two and a half millennia, competition among various schools of mythology has been a struggle over matters of ultimate truth, religious belief, political theory, cultural identity, verifiable history, and social custom.  Myth has been variously understood as the revelation of divine mysteries, as primitive science and faulty history, as bad philosophy, as a code containing truths hidden from the uneducated, as the cultural DNA determining a people’s identity, as a resource for learning about the material culture of “primitive” peoples, as a window into the workings of the human mind, and as a justification for deplorable acts of cruelty.  Indeed, the story of mythology demonstrates emphatically that there is a great deal more at stake in the study of myths than becoming acquainted with amusing cultural artifacts attesting how naïve and superstitious our ancestors were.

The early history of mythology may be summarized by saying that from the first flowering of scientific rationalism in Greece during the 6th century BCE until the revival of scientific rationalism in the 17th century CE, allegorical mythology of one kind or another was the only method employed for studying myths.  As the Enlightenment (c. late 1600s-late 1700s) approached, allegorical approaches were overtaken and incorporated into the new, more scientific comparative mythology.  Comparative mythology, in turn, gave rise to several related schools.  The nature school made comparisons among the world’s myths to determine what key environmental or cosmological factor gave rise to myth.  The ethnological school made comparisons among the world’s myths to discern a people’s folk-spirit—their essential ethnic qualities.  The most intense form of the ethnological school—which culminated in the Aryan hypothesis—coupled comparisons of the world’s myths with intensely racial and nationalistic political ideologies.

Thus, by the 19th century, whether their focus was the Aryan homeland, the relationships between environment, Volk, and myth, or the Ur-myth , mythologists of all schools employed the comparative method.  In practice, comparative mythologists of whatever school locked themselves in libraries and studies, reading extensively and writing theories based on linguistic and literary analyses of the myths they studied. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, interest began to wane in unverifiable theories about the Ur-myth and partisan arguments about a people’s “folk-spirit.”  A new school of mythologists was waiting in the wings to shift the conversation away from questions about tale-types and Ur-people to the matter of how living mythic traditions function in so-called primitive societies.  The next chapter examines these new, modern mythologies.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

autumnal equinox 4:44pm est...,


The autumnal equinox occurs at 4:44 p.m. EDT (20:44 UT) on Sunday, Sept. 22nd, when the Sun crosses the equator heading south. This marks the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere. You will know the equinox is near when you find yourself nearly-blinded while driving down east-west roads this afternoon.