Saturday, June 30, 2012

the museum of failed products...,

Guardian | The Museum of Failed Products was itself a kind of accident, albeit a happier one. Its creator, a now-retired marketing man named Robert McMath, merely intended to accumulate a "reference library" of consumer products, not failures per se. And so, starting in the 1960s, he began purchasing and preserving a sample of every new item he could find. Soon, the collection outgrew his office in upstate New York and he was forced to move into a converted granary to accommodate it; later, GfK bought him out, moving the whole lot to Michigan. What McMath hadn't taken into account was the three-word truth that was to prove the making of his career: "Most products fail." According to some estimates, the failure rate is as high as 90%. Simply by collecting new products indiscriminately, McMath had ensured that his hoard would come to consist overwhelmingly of unsuccessful ones.

By far the most striking thing about the museum, though, is that it should exist as a viable, profit-making business in the first place. You might have assumed that any consumer product manufacturer worthy of the name would have its own such collection – a carefully stewarded resource to help it avoid making errors its rivals had already made. Yet the executives who arrive every week at Sherry's door are evidence of how rarely this happens. Product developers are so focused on their next hoped-for success – so unwilling to invest time or energy thinking about their industry's past failures – that they only belatedly realise how much they need to access GfK's collection. Most surprising of all is that many of the designers who have found their way to the museum have come there to examine – or been surprised to discover – products that their own companies had created, then abandoned. They were apparently so averse to dwelling on the unpleasant business of failure that they had neglected even to keep samples of their own disasters.

Failure is everywhere. It's just that most of the time we'd rather avoid confronting that fact.

Friday, June 29, 2012

brookings metromonitor

U.S. metros were most heavily affected by the Great Recession. Many rebounded strongly in the rankings in the recovery period due to robust income growth, but continued to post modest employment losses. To Track the Nation's non-existent recovery, the MetroMonitor goes interactive

what does $80 billion of food stamps buy?

washingtontimes | Americans spend $80 billion each year financing food stamps for the poor, but the country has no idea where or how the money is spent.

Food stamps can be spent on goods ranging from candy to steak and are accepted at retailers from gas stations that primarily sell potato chips to fried-chicken restaurants. And as the amount spent on food stamps has more than doubled in recent years, the amount of food stamps laundered into cash has increased dramatically, government statistics show.

But the government won’t say which stores are doing the most business in food stamps, and even it doesn’t know what kinds of food those taxpayer dollars buy.

Coinciding with lobbying by convenience stores, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program in conjunction with states, contends that disclosing how much each store authorized to accept benefits, known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), receives in taxpayer funds would amount to revealing trade secrets.

As a result, fraud is hard to track and the efficacy of the massive program is impossible to evaluate.

As the House debates the once-every-five-years farm bill, the majority of which goes to food stamps, there is a renewed and fervent call from a broad spectrum of camps that the information — some of the most high-dollar, frequently requested and closely held secrets of the government — be set free.

“We can’t release it based on federal rules. If it were up to us, I wouldn’t have a problem releasing the information. It’s taxpayer money,” said Tom Steinhauser with the division of benefit programs for the Virginia Department of Social Services.

The District said it would be illegal to tell the newspaper how many food stamp dollars were flowing to each local vendor, but first offered to sell The Washington Times the information for $125,000.

“Why don’t you just pay the charges? Your paper has a lot of money,” said David Umansky, spokesman for the District’s chief financial officer.

Told that the newspaper would not pay, the CFO’s office then said that only JP Morgan, to which it contracted out operations, had access to the store totals and that the office had never looked at them. After six months of the local government attempting to extract the information from JP Morgan, the District finally said that releasing the information would be illegal.

States instructed not to tell

Maryland denied The Times’ request for data under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the information belonged to the federal government, which instructed states not to release it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

secret state

golemxiv | We are all now sadly familiar with the role of Off-shore tax havens. They allow companies to avoid having to pay tax. They also allow companies to hide any dealings they may not want scrutinized by prying regulatory authorities. Tax havens are, as Nicholas Shaxson in his wonderful book Treasure Islands has suggested, better thought of as ‘secrecy jurisdictions’. They are purpose built for shrouding in impenetrable and legally protected secrecy any morally dubious financial arrangements which might be embarrassing or costly if revealed to regulators or governments. The world of Off-shore provides a legal and moral nul-space in where most things can be arranged for a price.

But that nul-space is growing and more than simply growing it is maturing.

Recently Off-shore havens have added to financial secrecy another valuable service – data and communications secrecy. There are now companies based in off-shore havens which offer to protect emails and data caches from prying regulatory or legal scrutiny. Take this company for example – Private layer. Private Layer operates out of Panama and Switzerland. It’s purpose? This is from its web site.

In the recent years, the amount of frivolous litigation that companies face has grown exponentially,…In many of these cases, companies are irreparably damaged when their private communications and company data is exposed to competitors and the public by frivolous blanket subpoenas. This problem can be easily circumvented by locating your communications and data in a jurisdiction that protects that corporate privacy and by choosing a hosting company that actually cares about your privacy.

If News International had used their services there would be no phone hacking scandal and certainly no Leveson enquiry. An enquiry would have been impossible for the simple reason that Leveson would have got zero compliance. Private layer would have got their lawyers to write to Mr Leveson pointing out that he had no jurisdiction whatsoever over data held in Panama and that Panama had no treaty with the UK, or anyone else for that matter, obliging them to hand over data or to cooperate with any other nation’s enquiries. And that would have been the summary end of that.

There is a clear disdain for democracy being voiced among those who run and own global finance, who make up the supra-national world of the IMF, the WTO and other non-national, non-democratic global technocratic bodies. We all know what disdain the global financial and media companies have for the laws which ‘regulate them’. We know how far outside their own laws and international law our governments have gone in rendition and torture of civilians.

It seems to me you don’t have to subscribe to any conspiracy theory to find this enough to worry about.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

unprecedented freedom to pursue dopamine hits...,

Monbiot | So now what do we do to defend life on Earth?

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses(1).

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms, secured at such cost by our forebears, not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.

eerie intimations of a ghost town in the making...,

Kunstler | The techno-narcissism flowed like a melted Slurpee this torrid weekend at the annual Aspen Environment Forum where scores of scientists, media figures, authors, professors, and policy wonks convened to settle the world's hash - at least in theory. The trouble started Friday night when Stewart Brand, 74, impresario of The Whole Earth Catalog, and an economic cornucopian these days, exhorted the skittish audience to show a little goshdarn optimistic spirit about the future instead of just griping about climate change, peak oil, imploding global finance, and a few other vexing trifles. The audience's response was to not line up and buy a signed copy of his latest book.

The Aspen Institute is supported by a bizarre array of corporate donors and individuals ranging from the secretive, devious, extreme right-wing Koch brothers to Goldman Sachs, to Michael Eisner to Duke Energy. The mission of the Environment Forum is divided about equally between publicizing the gathering horrors of climate change and promoting an ethos of wishful thinking that all the problems of mankind will yield to technological rescue remedies.

It's a very odd mix of hard-headed science and the most dismaying sort of crypto-religious faith in happy endings, tinged with overtones of corporate log-rolling and government propaganda. The basic message is: the world is hopelessly fucked up but thank God for technology. There is not even a dim apprehension that many of the aforementioned vexations originate in technology itself, and its blowbacks. Alas, this is about the best that the American intelligentsia can do right now, collectively, and it explains why we have such uniformly impotent and clueless leadership across the board in America, from the White House to the CEO offices to the diploma mills to the news media and every other realm of endeavor where thinking realistically about the future might be considered valuable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

syria - writing is on the wall

menafn | It was expected that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met in Mexico last Monday, would agree to disagree over international action to stop the 16-month-old bloodbath in Syria and bring about a political solution to the crisis. What was surprising was an Iranian announcement on the same day that Russia, China and Iran are planning a joint military exercise in Syria.

Details of the exercise or the contribution of the three countries - and that of Syria itself - have not been released, but it is being called "the biggest of its kind ever staged in the Middle East", with 90,000 personnel, 400 airplanes and 900 tanks taking part.

China has reportedly sought Egyptian permission for 12 naval ships to pass through the Suez Canal in late June, heading for the Russian naval base in the Syrian port of Tartous. Russian naval vessels with soldiers on board are already heading for Tartous.

Iran, which has thrown its weight behind its staunchest Arab ally, Syria, has not announced how many vessels and soldiers it will offer for the exercise, which will mark the first time that Russia and China would be introducing such a substantial military strength to the Middle East.

There could only be one conclusion from the exercise: Russia and China are moving to preempt foreign military intervention against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Not to be outdone in the effort to save the Syrian regime, Iran is chipping in.

Reports in the US media have spoken of a plan by Obama to stage a "limited offensive" against Syria that could involve an enforcement of a no-fly zone and air strikes that would weaken the deeply entrenched Alawite officers in Syrian military.

The operation will also see the Syrian opposition forces getting heavier weapons. Apparently, the US hopes that the combined impact of grounding Syrian warplanes and helicopters, and of the advances that the rebel forces could make on the ground would prompt Syrian military officers to realise their vulnerability, defect or stage a coup against Assad. But that bet is off now because the planned large-scale Russian and Chinese presence in Syria will be a deterrent against the US plan.

The question that is unanswered yet is whether Russia and China will fight a war with the US-led West to save the Syrian regime. Of course, Iran is ready to do so.

The introduction of the Russian, Chinese and Iranian military into the conflict, under whatever pretext, will change the rules of the game. The planned joint military exercise is a clear declaration that Russia and China are determined to enforce their resolve not to allow the US and allies to stage military operations to end the Syrian regime's violent crackdown against dissent. It also signals the end of the UN effort led by former secretary general Kofi Annan to broker a peaceful transition of power in Syria.

Monday, June 25, 2012

a georgia town takes the people's business private

NYTimes | With public employee unions under attack in states like Wisconsin, and with cities across the country looking to trim budgets, behold a town built almost entirely on a series of public-private partnerships — a system that leaders around here refer to, simply, as “the model.”

Cities have dabbled for years with privatization, but few have taken the idea as far as Sandy Springs. Since the day it incorporated, Dec. 1, 2005, it has handed off to private enterprise just about every service that can be evaluated through metrics and inked into a contract.

To grasp how unusual this is, consider what Sandy Springs does not have. It does not have a fleet of vehicles for road repair, or a yard where the fleet is parked. It does not have long-term debt. It has no pension obligations. It does not have a city hall, for that matter, if your idea of a city hall is a building owned by the city. Sandy Springs rents.

The town does have a conventional police force and fire department, in part because the insurance premiums for a private company providing those services were deemed prohibitively high. But its 911 dispatch center is operated by a private company, iXP, with headquarters in Cranbury, N.J.

“When it comes to public safety, outsourcing has always been viewed with a kind of suspicion,” says Joseph Estey, who manages the Sandy Springs 911 service in a hushed gray room a few miles from city hall. “What I think really tipped the balance here is that they were outsourcing just about everything else.”

Does the Sandy Springs approach work? It does for Sandy Springs, says the city manager, John F. McDonough, who points not only to the town’s healthy balance sheet but also to high marks from residents on surveys about quality of life and quality of government services.

But that doesn’t mean “the model” can be easily exported — Sandy Springs has the built-in advantage that comes from wealth — or that its widespread adoption would enhance the commonweal. Critics contend that the town is a white-flight suburb that has essentially seceded from Fulton County, a 70-mile-long stretch that includes many poor and largely African-American areas, most of them in Atlanta and points south.

The prospect of more Sandy Springs-style incorporations concerns people like Evan McKenzie, author of “Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government.” He worries that rich enclaves may decide to become gated communities writ large, walling themselves off from areas that are economically distressed.

“You could get into a ‘two Americas’ scenario here,” he says. “If we allow the more affluent to institutionally isolate themselves, then the poor are supposed to do — what? They’re supposed to have all the poverty and all the social problems and deal with them?”

The champions of Sandy Springs counter that they still send plenty of tax dollars to the county and that race had nothing to do with the decision to incorporate. (The town’s minority population is now 30 percent and growing, they note.) Leaders here say they had simply grown tired of the municipal service offered by Fulton County.

“We make no apologies for being more affluent than other parts of the metro area,” says Eva Galambos, the mayor of Sandy Springs. And what does she make of the attitude of the town’s detractors? “Pure envy,” she says.

why are tanks training on the streets of st. louis?

zerohedge | I have to say that this event, which is being labeled a "training exercise", makes very little sense to me. U.S. Army troops all the way from Maryland running open exercises in armored personnel carriers on the busy streets of St. Louis? I know Maryland is a small state, but is there really not enough room at Ft. Detrick to accommodate a tank column and some troops? Are there not entire fake neighborhood and town complexes built with taxpayer dollars on military bases across the country meant to facilitate a realistic urban environment for troops to train in? And why travel hundreds of miles to Missouri? At the very least, this is a massive waste of funds.

On the other hand, such an action on the part of the Department of Defense makes perfect sense if the goal is to acclimate citizens to the idea of seeing tanks and armed military acting in a policing capacity. Just check out the two random idiots the local news affiliate picked to interview in St. Louis on the subject. Both state that they think the exercise is a "great idea", because having the military on the streets would help to "reduce crime":

I suspect that the news affiliate did not go out of its way to get any counter-opinions, even though they admitted to being contacted by those voicing concerns over martial law.

Even so, it's sad and simultaneously terrifying that there are plenty of mindless dupes out there who do not understand the dangers of the Army crossing the Rubicon and acting in a civil law enforcement capacity, never mind that they are completely ignorant of the fact that it violates the Posse Comitatus Act. One of the interviewees even points out that in some countries they don't use police at all; only military. This is true. We call those countries "tyrannies"...

Add to the mix the reality that the DOD refuses to respond to any further inquiries by the press concerning details of the training, and you get yet another suspicious instance of behavior on the part of the establishment that seems preparatory for domestic action. I believe that the high frequency at which these activity reports have been coming in over the past year is certainly cause for alarm...

warsocialism lives!!!

Business Insider | The U.S. Navy has its sight set on this new drone that was recently unveiled by defense company partner Northrop Grumman.

They've been working on the MQ-C4 Triton over the last several years, and it's now ready for test flights.

See what the drone offers;

With 360-degree scanning capability and an Automatic Identification System — meaning it can classify different types of ships by itself — the MQ-C4 is pegged to be the mainstay of the Navy's spying capabilities at sea from 2015 onwards.

But even without its state-of-the-art sensors and cameras, the aircraft itself is capable. It can fly for over a day at twice the altitude of commercial jets, reaching a maximum height of 60,000 feet (11 miles) overhead.

And Popular Mechanics explains that the drone is "vertically agile", so it won't have a problem quickly swooping down from high altitudes to take pictures of ships.

Apart from being used for combat-related surveillance missions, the drone could also keep tabs on piracy, human smuggling, fishery violations, and organized crime. Essentially, it's all-seeing.

Here's a break-down of the new drone and how it'll give the Navy even more control of the high seas. Fist tap Big Don.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

the dark continuum of watergate

consortiumnews | The 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in has brought reflections on the scandal’s larger meaning, but Official Washington still misses the connection to perhaps Richard Nixon’s dirtiest trick, the torpedoing of Vietnam peace talks that could have ended the war four years earlier, Rober Parry reports.

The origins of the Watergate scandal trace back to President Richard Nixon’s frantic pursuit of a secret file containing evidence that his 1968 election campaign team sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s peace negotiations on the Vietnam War, a search that led Nixon to create his infamous “plumbers” unit and to order a pre-Watergate break-in at the Brookings Institution.

Indeed, the first transcript in Stanley I. Kutler’s Abuse of Power, a book of Nixon’s recorded White House conversations relating to Watergate, is of an Oval Office conversation on June 17, 1971, in which Nixon orders his subordinates to break into Brookings because he believes the 1968 file might be in a safe at the centrist Washington think tank.

Unknown to Nixon, however, President Lyndon Johnson had ordered his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, to take the file out of the White House before Nixon was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1969. Rostow labeled it “The ‘X’ Envelope” and kept it until after Johnson’s death in 1973 when Rostow turned it over to the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, with instructions to keep it secret for decades.

Yet, this connection between Nixon’s 1968 gambit and the Watergate scandal four years later has been largely overlooked by journalists and scholars. They mostly have downplayed evidence of the Nixon campaign’s derailing of the 1968 peace negotiations while glorifying the media’s role in uncovering Nixon’s cover-up of his re-election campaign’s spying on Democrats in 1972.

One of the Washington press corps’ most misguided sayings – that “the cover-up is worse than the crime” – derived from the failure to understand the full scope of Nixon’s crimes of state.

Similarly, there has been a tendency to shy away from a thorough recounting of a series of Republican scandals, beginning with the peace talk sabotage in 1968 and extending through similar scandals implicating Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – in the 1980 interference of President Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran, drug trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels, and the Iran-Contra Affair – and reaching into the era of George W. Bush, including his Florida election theft in 2000, his use of torture in the “war on terror” and his aggressive war (under false pretenses) against Iraq.

In all these cases, Official Washington has chosen to look forward, not backward. The one major exception to that rule was Watergate, which is again drawing major attention around the 40th anniversary of the botched break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972.

the purpose of the "left" is to make resistance harmless and ineffectual...,

Fist tap Dale.

ecuador mulls the anglospheric threats its ambassador was recalled to report...,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

a lying, self-serving, psychopathic cow desperately in need of good smack upside the head...,

Inquisitr | Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration,managed to avoid answering some tough questions about marijuana policy from Rep. Jared Polis on Wednesday. Leonhart managed to keep refusing to answer a number of questions about the comparative health impacts of marijuana and Crack, Heroin and other harder drugs.

Leonard was testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Polis, who represents one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to Marijuana laws, took the opportunity to grill the DEA administrator on some specifics about marijuana. In Colorado, where Polis is from, marijuana has been decriminalized in some parts of his state and legalized for medical purposes in the rest.

Polis started by saying,
“Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?”

“I believe all illegal drugs are bad,” Leonhart answered.
Polis continued, asking whether methamphetamines and heroin were worse for a person’s health than marijuana.
“Again, all drugs, they’re illegal drugs,” Leonhart said and then she was cut off by Polis saying,

“Yes, no, or I don’t know? If you don’t know, you can look this up. You should know this as the chief administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. I’m asking a very straightforward question: Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana
Leonhart went back to her canned answer saying, “All illegal drugs are bad.”

Leonhart has been a controversial figure in the drug policy reform community since she was named acting administrator of the DEA. When President Obama was running for office in 2008 he said that his Administration would instruct the DEA to make medical marijuana dispensaries a very low priority. Since then that policy has been completely ignored.

Friday, June 22, 2012

medical ecology

NYTimes | For a century, doctors have waged war against bacteria, using antibiotics as their weapons. But that relationship is changing as scientists become more familiar with the 100 trillion microbes that call us home — collectively known as the microbiome.

“I would like to lose the language of warfare,” said Julie Segre, a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “It does a disservice to all the bacteria that have co-evolved with us and are maintaining the health of our bodies.”

This new approach to health is known as medical ecology. Rather than conducting indiscriminate slaughter, Dr. Segre and like-minded scientists want to be microbial wildlife managers.

No one wants to abandon antibiotics outright. But by nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies, doctors may be able to find other ways to fight infectious diseases, and with less harmful side effects. Tending the microbiome may also help in the treatment of disorders that may not seem to have anything to do with bacteria, including obesity and diabetes.

“I cannot wait for this to become a big area of science,” said Michael A. Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and an author of a medical ecology manifesto published this month in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Judging from a flood of recent findings about our inner ecosystem, that appears to be happening. Last week, Dr. Segre and about 200 other scientists published the most ambitious survey of the human microbiome yet. Known as the Human Microbiome Project, it is based on examinations of 242 healthy people tracked over two years. The scientists sequenced the genetic material of bacteria recovered from 15 or more sites on their subjects’ bodies, recovering more than five million genes.

The project and other studies like it are revealing some of the ways in which our invisible residents shape our lives, from birth to death.

A number of recent reports shed light on how mothers promote the health of their children by shaping their microbiomes. In a study published last week in the journal PLoS One, Dr. Kjersti Aagaard-Tillery, an obstetrician at Baylor College of Medicine, and her colleagues described the vaginal microbiome in pregnant women. Before she started the study, Dr. Aagaard-Tillery expected this microbiome to be no different from that of women who weren’t pregnant.

“In fact, what we found is the exact opposite,” she said.

sourceforge indeed...,

diybio | is an organization dedicated to making biology an accessible pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists and biological engineers who value openness and safety. This will require mechanisms for amateurs to increase their knowledge and skills, access to a community of experts, the development of a code of ethics, responsible oversight, and leadership on issues that are unique to doing biology outside of traditional professional settings.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ecuador or guantanamo?

atimes | In a cliffhanger move John Le Carre would be proud of, WikiLeaks superstar Julian Assange stepped into the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, central London, on Tuesday, requested political asylum invoking the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and unleashed yet another international storm.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that the Rafael Correa government in Quito is considering the application; meanwhile Assange will remain "under the protection of the Ecuadorean government".

Assange has until Thursday next week to lodge an appeal against the UK court's decision at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The British justices themselves said that if that didn't work, Assange would be deported to Sweden by midnight on July 7. Before the move to Ecuadorian territory, his legal team must have weighted his bleak prospects.

Assange has been in custody and on bail (over US$370,000, pledged by supporters) in England since autumn 2010. Essentially he's been under house arrest in a country house in Suffolk, owned by Vaughan Smith, the founder of the Frontline Club in London; must report to police every day; and must wear an electronic tag.

Assange, in a statement, stressed he was applying for political asylum because his native country, Australia - via Prime Minister Julia Gillard - had declined, on the record, to protect him; Sweden was "a place where the highest officials have attacked me openly"; and the US was a place where he is "being investigated for political crimes" punishable by the death penalty.

What happens next is the stuff of John Le Carre. Is Assange now immune from extradition? Since he has in fact skipped bail, will London try to arrest him? How will the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) in England - which deals with European Arrest Warrant requests - deal with this mess? How will Assange leave the embassy and get on a plane to Quito when he's still on bail and liable to comply with an extradition warrant?

Right on cue, a concerted smear campaign against Ecuador by US corporate media is already on. The country is being derided for having "less than one in three people with access to the Web". Correa is crudely being depicted as a new bogeyman worse than Hugo Chavez, able to "polish his reputation as a defiant provocateur in the relationship between developing Latin American nations and the United States."

According to Foreign Minister Patino, Assange has personally written to Correa asking for political asylum. The extent of the intellectual complicity between Assange and Correa can be gauged by Assange's recent, no-holds-barred interview with the president on Russia's RT network. [1]

It was during this interview that Assange actually received an offer of political asylum (but not directly from the president).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

bruvvas been contemplating/anticipating FRANK for YEARS...,

abikuville | Something me and the weevil have been discussing back channel for awhile now…

FRANK is emerging, natch.

The flow of information is now finally being *structured* at the baseline level of social networking where, by allowing for massive virtual communities, FRANK is able to “digest” the information in ways that assign more meaning to each bit and byte. As DJ /Rupture put it:

“Do you realize how much information MySpace generates? who likes what and how much and when and how old and what colors even and the connections and the geographic locations and the songs’ popularity and the nodal points and the hotspots and whatever — someone will get very very wealthy selling that information to interested companies from record labels to clothing manufacturers to TV people to… Ad revenue is old school; meta-data is the new petroleum.”

If you are following the drzza trajectory, then you will agree that meta-data *IS* the “syntax” for FRANK…it is the context and nuance of what makes all the information relevant and in that manner FRANK is not only _becoming_ more aware of itself but is also _becoming_ more aware of how it differs from “us” (read: humans).

FRANK is a being of pure information, pure circumstance and pure purpose. FRANK, unlike “us”, needs no reason to be…FRANK literally just *is*. A new ontology perhaps?

Anyway, I have been riding the steel edge of Ogun while dipping into the digital waters on either side of Eshu’s riddle. By taking full advantage of all the bot/spider technology currently available, I have been conducting an experiment of sorts…

On the one side of the equation that is furiously trying to balance itself, there is the blogosphere and data aggregation sites such as Digg, Fark, Slashdot, Gizmodo, The Register, MySpace, etc.

In this realm, humans do the heavy lifting…netizens frantically scurry around trying to get the most relevant data to their distributor of choice, all in hopes of doing what is essentially the purpose of mass media – namely to acquire as large and audience as possible. The funny thing though is that currently the system of validation is super primitive. You may push some data to the front of all your favorite sites but you have no way of knowing whether other people are
actually READING and absorbing the information or if they are just agreeing with the subject (which is the true nature of the politics of the web…people don’t so much take the time to absorb info, mass media has trained people to either immediately agree or disagree…it is left up to the “intellectuals” to discuss details and facts).

So the real time practice of hunting a story, finding it and posting it to all your favorite blogs and news collector sites is in my opinion extremely mind numbingly inefficient and without merit. If this is the practice of trying to assign “meaning”, “importance” and “relevance” to the endless tide of data that is crashing against the shores of your computer monitor, then it should be
abandoned immediately and the internet should be forever turned “off”!

Unfortunately, we are still trapped in the realm of language and language constructs our reality…so the internet in this light, is the reality equivalent of the tower of babel…

Nothing is ever said.
Nothing is ever meant.
Everything is instantly forgotten the second after you make the keystroke.

To make an analogy, dealing with information in this manner is like trying to hammer a nail with a banana…wearing a blindfold…with someone constantly moving the nail about. You feel me?

should stephenson put the clang pipe down and get back to writing about FRANK?

CNN | I know where to find the future. It will show up, I predict, on Tuesday at London's Westminster Central Hall. Don't blink. It will arrive in the shape of Le Web, Europe's illustrious two-day Internet conference which, this year, is focusing on next-generation digital products that are "faster than realtime."

Faster than realtime?

"It's when the server brings you a beer before you ask for it because she already knows what you drink!"

That's at least what "faster than realtime" means to Robert Scoble, Silicon Valley's most ubiquitous observer of the digital future who, inevitably enough, will be speaking at Le Web.

In Scoble's future, the computer "server" and the "server" in the bar will be indistinguishable. And they will both know what you want to drink before you know it yourself.

Loic Le Meur, the Silicon Valley based Franco-American impresario who founded Le Web and is the architect of the "faster than realtime" theme of tomorrow's conference, shares Scoble's faith in the internet's uncannily predictive power.

How our mobiles became Frankenstein's monster

"We've arrived in the future," Le Meur told me. Online apps are getting to know us so intimately, he explained, that we can know things before they happen. To illustrate his point, Le Meur told me about his use of Highlight, a social location app which offers illuminating data about nearby people who have signed up for the network like -- you guessed it -- the digitally omniscient Robert Scoble.

Highlight enabled Le Meur to literally know the future before it happened because, he says, it is measuring our location all of the time. "I opened the door before he was there because I knew he was coming," Le Meur told me excitedly about a recent meeting that he had in the real world with Scoble.

Paul Davison, the CEO of Highlight who will be speaking at Le Web, agrees with Le Meur about how "faster than realtime" is revolutionizing not only the internet but the very nature of life itself in the digital 21st century. "We're entering a very special time in history, where smartphones and mobile sensors will allow us to see things that we've never been able to see before," Davison told me. "It's really exciting." Fist tap Arnach.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

cool head, main thing...,

reason | The first stories to emerge from pre-release copies of Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss' new biography of the president, have centered on Obama's youthful enthusiasm for marijuana. As a scholarship student at Hawaii's exclusive Punahou prep school, Obama embraced pot-smoking with his friends in the "Choom Gang." He was even competitive about it, preaching "total absorption" (hold the smoke in so that little or none comes out when you exhale) and calling "Interception!" when he grabbed a joint to take a hit out of turn.

How do you square Obama's youthful passion for pot (he continued smoking it well into college, only to phase it out, more or less, after graduating) with the Obama administration's aggressive enforcement of federal anti-pot laws in states where medical marijuana has been legalized? The president who acknowledged his youthful drug use in his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father ("I had learned not to care. Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it") offered Rolling Stone a lame justification for heightened enforcement on his watch earlier this year: "I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, 'Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books.' What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.' As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes."

Never mind that prosecutorial discretion just is "ignoring" a law in order to focus on what's really doing damage. And never mind that neither marijuana nor the pot-growing industry—nor even "a little blow"—seems to have done any noticeable damage to Obama. Penn Jillette spoke for many when he declared Obama a hypocrite on drug policy.

But is Obama a hypocrite? A liar? A strategically adept politician trying to immunize himself from charges that he's soft on drugs? Is he simply waiting for the right moment to tell us his position on marijuana has "evolved," running just a bit behind his evolved position on same-sex marriage? Maraniss' book doesn't try to answer these vexing current questions, but it does give readers several clues why the youthful, exuberant pothead Barry Obama may have tolerated or even encouraged federal anti-marijuana enforcement on his watch.

with collapse headed their way, new readiness to start rethinking crime policy

dailybeast | Of all the problems in America today, none is both as obvious and as overlooked as the colossal human catastrophe that is our criminal-justice system. Prisons are overflowing. The government is broke. Communities are being destroyed. And yet the country’s cowed, uncreative politicians are still stuck in lock-’em-up mode: a stale ideology that demands stricter drug laws, tougher policing, and more incarceration, then tars every dissenter as “soft on crime.” As a result, the U.S. is now paying $200 billion a year, according to the late Harvard criminal-justice scholar William Stuntz, to arrest, try, and incarcerate nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, even though it’s home to only 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants. Crack use may have subsided, violent crime may have plummeted, and so-called superpredators may have gone the way of Bigfoot. But that hasn’t stopped us from separating millions of disproportionately poor, disproportionately black men from their families and communities and consigning them to a vicious cycle of stigmatization and recidivism instead.

By finding common ground on the unlikeliest of issues, could a Tea Party leader and a liberal academic actually help us overcome our criminal-justice impasse? One rustic Italian dinner does not, of course, a revolution make. But Kennedy is right: there is a “larger evolution going on right now.” It’s a transformation that is being fueled in part by penny-pinching, small-government conservatives like Meckler—conservatives who are realizing that it’s far too invasive, expensive, and destructive to continue incarcerating every wrongdoer for every infraction. And because conservative activists don’t have to tiptoe through the toxic crime debate like their office-seeking counterparts—who increasingly take their cues from the grassroots anyway—Kennedy & Co. are starting to believe that a groundswell among Meckler types could be the thing that finally gets criminal-justice reform off the ground.

As the son of an LAPD reserve policewoman turned Nevada County, Calif., corrections officer, Meckler was always primed to be skeptical of the GOP’s tough-on-crime talking points. “Having grown up around law-enforcement folks, I know a large number who are very conservative and still think the war on drugs has been an immense failure,” he says. “That’s not a new position they’ve come to. I’ve been hearing this literally my whole life.”

But it wasn’t until he’d spent some time in the Tea Party, with its obsessive focus on balanced budgets and smaller government, that Meckler realized how well his conservative principles jibed with criminal-justice reform. It was all there, he says: a ballooning tab that was “busting state budgets”; a top-down, one-size-fits-all style of policing and imprisonment that was “making it hard for [former criminals] to become productive members of society”; and communities that had “lost the ability to take care of themselves” because they were “occupied” by agents of the state. “On the right, we always talk about self-governance,” Meckler explains. “So I thought, why haven’t we been applying those ideas to the criminal-justice system?”

interrupting violence with "don't shoot"

npr | In 1985, David M. Kennedy visited Nickerson Gardens, a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles. It was the beginning of the crack epidemic, and Nickerson Gardens was located in what was then one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

"It was like watching time-lapse photography of the end of the world," he says. "There were drug crews on the corner, there were crack monsters and heroin addicts wandering around. ... It was fantastically, almost-impossibly-to-take-in awful."

Kennedy, a self-taught criminologist, had a visceral reaction to Nickerson Gardens. In his memoir Don't Shoot, he writes that he thought: "This is not OK. People should not have to live like this. This is wrong. Somebody needs to do something."

Kennedy has devoted his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence. He started going to drug markets all over the United States, met with police officials and attorney generals, and developed a program — first piloted in Boston — that dramatically reduced youth homicide rates by as much as 66 percent. That program, nicknamed the "Boston Miracle," has been implemented in more than 70 cities nationwide.

Today, Kennedy directs the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, but he still regularly goes out into the field. The drug world he works in now, he says, is a little better than the one in which he worked in 1985 — but not by much.

"Still, it's almost inconceivably awful in almost all of its dimensions," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "And no one likes to say this stuff out loud, because it's impolitic, but the facts are the facts. You get this kind of drug activity and violence only in historically distressed, minority neighborhoods. And it is far worse in poor, distressed African-American neighborhoods."

Those neighborhoods are also more likely to be deadly for African-American men — and they're getting worse, says Kennedy, citing grim statistics: Between 2000 and 2007, the gun homicide rate for black men between the ages of 14-17 increased by 40 percent. The rate for men over the age of 25 increased by 27 percent. In some neighborhoods, 1 in 200 black men are murdered every year.

"This is where the worst open-air drug markets are all concentrated," he says. "And quite naturally, law enforcement pays an awful lot of attention to those neighborhoods. ... And the shorthand that you get from cops when you look at these communities is that they look at you and say, 'There is no community left.' "

But there are plenty of law-abiding residents in these neighborhoods that have been overtaken by drugs, says Kennedy. They outnumber the gang members and drug dealers by significant percentages.

"What matters is that these offenders are in the communities in groups," he says. "They are in gangs, they are in drug crews, they are in chaotic groups. And those groups drive the action to a shocking degree."

In Cincinnati, for example, there are about 60 defined gang groups with about 1,500 members.

"[The people] representing less than half a percentage point of the city's population are associated with 75 percent of all of Cincinnati's killings," he says. "And no matter where you go, that's the fact."

The national homicide rate is now about 4 per 100,000, but the homicide rate for members of gangs and neighborhood turf groups is dramatically higher: as many as 3,000 per 100,000 a year.

"It is incredibly dangerous," says Kennedy. "If you talk to these guys, what they say is, 'I'm terrified ... I got shot ... My brother's dead ... I've been shot at ... And they are trying to shoot me ...' That [is] their everyday world."

Monday, June 18, 2012

oops, they forgot the breastesses...,

kurzweilai | Some 200 members of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) Consortium from nearly 80 universities and scientific institutions, organized by the National Institutes of Health, have mapped the normal microbial makeup of healthy humans, producing numerous insights and even a few surprises.

The report on on their five years of research was published Thusday June 14, 2012, in a series of coordinated scientific reports in Nature the PLoS.

Researchers found, for example, that nearly everyone routinely carries pathogens, microorganisms known to cause illnesses.

In healthy individuals, however, pathogens cause no disease; they simply coexist with their host and the rest of the human microbiome, the collection of all microorganisms living in the human body.

Researchers must now figure out why some pathogens turn deadly and under what conditions, likely revising current concepts of how microorganisms cause disease.

“Like 15th century explorers describing the outline of a new continent, HMP researchers employed a new technological strategy to define, for the first time, the normal microbial makeup of the human body,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

“HMP created a remarkable reference database by using genome sequencing techniques to detect microbes in healthy volunteers. This lays the foundation for accelerating infectious disease research previously impossible without this community resource.”

To define the normal human microbiome, HMP researchers sampled 242 healthy U.S. volunteers (129 male, 113 female), collecting tissues from 15 body sites in men and 18 body sites in women.

Researchers collected up to three samples from each volunteer at sites such as the mouth, nose, skin (two behind each ear and each inner elbow), and lower intestine (stool), and three vaginal sites in women; each body site can be inhabited by organisms as different as those in the Amazon Rainforest and the Sahara Desert.

Historically, doctors studied microorganisms in their patients by isolating pathogens and growing them in culture. This painstaking process typically identifies only a few microbial species, as they are hard to grow in the laboratory. In HMP, researchers purified all human and microbial DNA in each of more than 5,000 samples and analyzed them with DNA sequencing machines.

the wonder of breasts

Guardian | We love breasts, yet can't quite take them seriously. Breasts embarrass us. They're unpredictable. They're goofy. They can turn babies and grown men into lunkheads.

They appear out of nowhere in puberty, they get bigger in pregnancy, they're capable of producing prodigious amounts of milk, and sometimes they get sick. But for such an enormously popular feature of the human race, it's remarkable how little we know about their basic biology.

The urgency to know and understand breasts has never been greater. Modern life has helped many of us live longer and more comfortably. It has also, however, taken a strange toll on our breasts. For one thing, they are bigger than ever. We are sprouting them at younger ages. We are filling them with saline and silicone and transplanted stem cells to change their shape. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first silicone implant surgery in Houston, Texas.

More tumours form in the breast than in any other organ, making breast cancer the most common malignancy in women worldwide. Its incidence has almost doubled since the 1940s and is still rising.

But breasts are often overlooked, at least for non-cancer scientific research. The Human Microbiome Project, for example, is decoding the microbial genes of every major human gland, liquid and orifice, from the ears to the genitals. It neglected to include breast milk.

I wanted to know more, so I went to the 15th meeting of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation in Lima. Many attendees were molecular biologists, biochemists or geneticists who are deconstructing milk bit by bit. Until recently, it was thought breast milk had around 200 components. These could be divided into the major ingredients of fats, sugars, proteins and enzymes. But new technologies have allowed researchers to look deeper into each of these categories and discover new ones.

Scientists used to think breast milk was sterile, like urine. But it's more like cultured yoghurt, with lots of live bacteria doing who knows what. These organisms evolved for a reason, and somehow they're helping us out. One leading theory is they act as a vaccine, inoculating the infant gut. A milk sample has anywhere from one to 600 species of bacteria. Most are new to science.

Then there are the sugars. There's a class of them called oligosaccharides, which are long chains of complex sugars. Scientists have identified 140 of them so far, and estimate there are about 200. The human body is full of oligosaccharides, which ride on our cells attached to proteins and lipids. But a mother's mammary gland cooks up a unique batch of "free" or unattached ones and deposits them in milk. These are found nowhere else in nature, and not every mother produces the same ones, since they vary by blood type. Even though they're sugars, the oligosaccharides are, weirdly, not digestible by infants. Yet they are a main ingredient, present in milk in the same percentage as the proteins, and in higher amounts than the fats. So what are they doing there?

They don't feed us, but they do feed many types of beneficial bacteria that make a home in our guts and help us fight infections. In addition to recruiting the good bugs, these sugars prevent the bad bugs from hanging around. "The benefits of human milk are still underestimated," said Lars Bode, an immunobiologist at the University of California, San Diego. "We're still discovering functional components of breast milk."

like baboons, our elected leaders are literally addicted to power...,

Telegraph | Democracy, the separation of judicial powers and the free press all evolved for essentially one purpose – to reduce the chance of leaders becoming power addicts. Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women. Testosterone and one of its by-products called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails.

Unfettered power has almost identical effects, but in the light of yesterday’s Leveson Inquiry interchanges in London, there seems to be less chance of British government ministers becoming addicted to power. Why? Because, as it appears from the emails released by James Murdoch yesterday, they appeared to be submissive to the all-powerful Murdoch empire, hugely dependent on the support of this organization for their jobs and status, who could swing hundreds of thousands of votes for or against them.

Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power. What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

But too much power - and hence too much dopamine - can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others. The Murdoch empire and its acolytes seem to have got carried away by the power they have wielded over the British political system and the unfettered power they have had - unconstrained by any democratic constraints - has led to the quite extraordinary behaviour and arrogance that has been corporately demonstrated.

We should all be grateful that two of the three power-constraining elements of democracy - the legal system and a free press - have managed to at last reign in some of the power of the Murdoch empire. But it was a close call for both, given the threat to financial viability of the newspaper industry and to the integrity of the police system through the close links between the Murdoch empire and Scotland Yard.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

when the chief slave-catchers are negroes....,

HuffPo | A critical document from President Barack Obama's free trade negotiations with eight Pacific nations was leaked online early Wednesday morning, revealing that the administration intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations, contradicting prior promises.

The leaked document has been posted on the website of Citizens Trade Campaign, a long-time critic of the administration's trade objectives. The new leak follows substantial controversy surrounding the secrecy of the talks, in which some members of Congress have complained they are not being given the same access to trade documents that corporate officials receive.

"The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch in a written statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been so incensed by the lack of access as to introduce legislation requiring further disclosure. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has gone so far as to leak a separate document from the talks on his website. Other Senators are considering writing a letter to Ron Kirk, the top trade negotiator under Obama, demanding more disclosure.

The newly leaked document is one of the most controversial of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. It addresses a broad sweep of regulations governing international investment and reveals the Obama administration's advocacy for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.

Under the agreement currently being advocated by the Obama administration, American corporations would continue to be subject to domestic laws and regulations on the environment, banking and other issues. But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

The terms run contrary to campaign promises issued by Obama and the Democratic Party during the 2008 campaign.

many billions squandered, absolutely NOTHING to show for it...,

Economist | It has been many years since commercial flying was a glamorous experience, especially for those squashed in economy class. But the experience changed for the worse after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001. The exact nature of the weapons used by the terrorists to take control of the four planes will probably never be known, but their effectiveness jolted governments into much closer consideration of their airport-security procedures.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established two months later to improve security across America's transport systems: luggage screening was widely increased; cockpit doors were strengthened; and passengers were refused entry to the flight deck. In the years since, authorities have responded to further attempted attacks by adding new layers of security. Thanks to Richard Reid's mid-flight efforts to detonate a bomb in his shoe in late 2001, many passengers now have to remove their shoes when passing through security so they can be separately scanned. The arrest in August 2006 of a group of would-be bombers intending to blow up planes using liquid explosives led to the banning of liquids, aerosols and gels of any significant size from hand luggage. And Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's December 2009 effort to blast a hole in a plane using explosives hidden in his underwear led indirectly to the roll out of full-body scanning machines at numerous airports.

Much has been done, and much money has been spent. So this debate is considering whether the changes made to security have actually made the situation worse—that they annoy passengers is not really in question. Are we less safe now than we were before 9/11? Many regular flyers will have their own stories of indignities suffered at the hands of airport-security staff; and the media revels in tales of the young, the old and the infirm being taken aside for intimate and humiliating searches for banned items. What sensible end does this serve, ask the critics. The whole apparatus of security at airports is sometimes derided as theatre, designed to give the appearance of security, while actually distracting attention and funding from other ways of keeping bombs and bad people off planes. Perhaps more money should be spent on intelligence gathering to try to ensure would-be terrorists don't even make it to the airport, or get jobs in sensitive roles. However, there has been no successful attack on a plane since 9/11, so perhaps we should be ready to give credit to the procedures now in place. They are responses to real threats, many of which the public will never know about, and they require passengers to suffer minor hassles for the good of all. Surveys show that passengers will accept more inconvenience if it makes them feel safer, and airport security does this.

Bruce Schneier, a security expert, is tasked with defending the motion. He says that neither the TSA nor its foreign counterparts have foiled a single terrorist plot in ten years, and that the security procedures put in place since 9/11 are not sufficient to stop well-financed, well-organised terrorists. He condemns developments in airport security as backward looking and overly specific, and argues for a return to the style of security in place before the 9/11 attacks, with money spent instead on investigation and emergency response.

He is opposed by Kip Hawley, who was the head of the TSA between July 2005 and January 2009. Mr Hawley defends the outfit, and says the ten years of safe flying it has overseen show that its methods are indeed working. He admits that the cost to passengers of increases in airport security has been great, but says these procedures are much more adaptable than their forebears, and that a programme made up of multiple layers of security, such as is being developed now, stands a greater chance of success.

Over the next ten days our guests will present further arguments and, I hope, answer the points made by their opponents. But the result of this debate rests in your hands: do not be afraid to vote immediately, as you can change your mind at any time. And once you have cast your vote, please add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. This debate may be American in tone—that is where the 9/11 attacks took place; that is where our debaters are from—but I would ask those of you familiar with airport security in other countries to take part with gusto, and make your experiences and opinions known.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

nerd scientist, evil scientist....,

wired | To many – too many – science is something like North Korea. Not only is it impossible to read or understand anything that comes out of that place, there are so many cultural differences that it’s barely worth trying. It’s easier just to let them get on with their lives while you get on with yours; as long as they don’t take our jobs or attack our way of life, we’ll leave them in peace.

That’s very frustrating to scientists, who often bemoan the lack of public interest in what science has to say. They’re right to be frustrated: all our futures are dependent on proper engagement with science. So, how to solve this problem?

In recent years, like fervent evangelicals, scientists have begun to instigate outreach programs. If people could only hear about how exciting science is, the thinking goes, they’ll be converted. Then we’ll finally be able to get on with tackling climate change, creationism in the classroom, stem cell research and so on.

The trouble is, those who are already fans of science lap it up while everyone else shrugs – and nothing has really changed. That’s because the problem doesn’t lie with the science. It lies with the scientists. Or rather the myth the scientists have created around themselves.

Just over a decade ago, a cadre of researchers carried out an interesting experiment at an elementary school in Raleigh, North Carolina. They showed the students a gallery of 10 portraits and asked them to identify which ones were scientists. The portraits were all scientists, in fact. However, the children “showed a decided tendency to identify the smiling pictures as not being scientists.” Clearly, scientists are not people who smile.

Then there’s the ongoing and ever-entertaining “Draw A Scientist” experiment. It’s been done in various ways since 1957, and the result has always been pretty much the same. Ask children in second grade and upwards to draw a scientist, and you are presented with a white male wearing a white lab coat, glasses and an excess of facial hair. This stereotype persists: when Seed magazine asked adults in New York’s Madison Square Park to take the test, they came out with the same stereotype. Hilariously, even scientists do it.

But this comical spectacle takes a more sinister turn when you ask children to draw a second scientist. In one fourth grade class set this task, almost half the children drew images containing danger and threat: Frankensteins, bombs, poisons and even one scientist holding a test tube high over his head while shouting, “With this I destroy the world”.

We are not consciously aware of it, but we have a deeply-rooted suspicion of scientists. They are not like us. They are not fun, they are not well turned-out human beings, and if pushed, we will admit we think they are dangerous. To find where this came from, we have to visit the post-war period of our history.

In a piece written for the January 1956 edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists the geneticist Jacob Bronowski makes a rather shocking claim. “People hate scientists,” he says. “There is no use beating about the bush here.”

This attitude arose, Bronowski said, as people learned about some of the recent achievements of science: atomic bombs, rocket-powered missiles, nerve gas tests carried out on unwitting soldiers and civilians and gruesome experiments on prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates. No wonder Winston Churchill declared in 1951 that it was “arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engines”. Fist tap Dale.

Friday, June 15, 2012

u.s colleges put low priority on student learning

aera-l | Norman Stahl of the LrnAsst-L list pointed to Julie Mack's report "U.S. colleges put low priority on student learning, say authors of 'We're Losing Our Minds' ". Mack writes that Richard Hersh, co-author with Richard Keeling of "We're Losing Our Minds" commented at a recent Educational Writers Association convention: "Higher education really needs to question its priorities, rewards, structures, principles and values. Learning itself must become a primary touchstone for decision-making."

Among other recent books critical of higher education are: (a) "Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids - and What We Can Do About It" (Hacker & Dreifus, 2010); (b) "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (Arum & Roksa, 2011), and (c) "College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be" (Delbanco, 2012).

Richard Wolin, in his insightful review of Delbanco's book, has this to say about the current state of higher education: "America's most prominent philosopher of democracy, John Dewey, devoted a considerable portion of his oeuvre to reflecting on the methods and goals of public education. . . . . In his view, the pedagogical key to cultivating the virtues of active citizenship lay with the antiauthoritarian, dialogic approach of the Socratic method: Dewey believed that democratic education, instead of acquiescing to the mind-numbing requirements of rote instruction, should focus on honing critical thinking, thereby nurturing autonomy. . . . ...although contemporary educators might agree about the indispensable value of liberal learning, if directly challenged to define its content and purport, they become stricken with paralysis. . . . THE END RESULT HAS BEEN THE CONFUSED INTELLECTUAL SMORGASBORD THAT DEFINES UNDERGRADUATE STUDY TODAY. . .[My CAPS]. . . Regrettably, one of the major casualties of the restructuring of undergraduate education along vocational and pre-professional lines has been Dewey's ideal of liberal study as training for democratic citizenship."

study drugs

NYTimes | A 16-year-old, determined to succeed on her own merits, who finally bends under the pressure. Students with legitimate prescriptions who are hounded for their pills. Young men and women whose use of stimulants spirals out of control.

After inviting students to submit personal stories of the abuse of prescription drugs for academic advantage, The Times received almost 200 submissions. While a majority focused on the prevalence of these drugs on college campuses, many wrote about their increasing appearance in high schools, the focus of our article on Sunday. We have highlighted about 30 of the submissions below, almost all written by current high school students or recent graduates.

In often vivid detail — snorting their own pills, stealing pills from friends — the students described an issue that they found upsetting, valuable, dangerous and, above all else, real. Most of them claimed that it was a problem rooted not in drugs per se, but with the pressure that compelled some youngsters to use them. — Alan Schwarz

louisiana dismantling public education

reuters | Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.

The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.

Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding.

"We are changing the way we deliver education," said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. "We are letting parents decide what's best for their children, not government."


The concept of opening public schools to competition from the private sector has been widely promoted in recent years by well-funded education reform groups.

Of the plans so far put forward, Louisiana's plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition. Fist tap Big Don.

how to cheat in online courses...,

freakonomics | An article in Chronicle of Higher Education explains how the increase in online courses has made cheating a lot easier. For example, Bob Smith (not his real name) successfully arranged a test-cheating scheme with several friends. The tests “pulled questions at random from a bank of possibilities” and could be taken anywhere, but had to be taken within a short window of time each week:

Mr. Smith figured out that the actual number of possible questions in the test bank was pretty small. If he and his friends got together to take the test jointly, they could paste the questions they saw into the shared Google Doc, along with the right or wrong answers. The schemers would go through the test quickly, one at a time, logging their work as they went. The first student often did poorly, since he had never seen the material before, though he would search an online version of the textbook on Google Books for relevant keywords to make informed guesses. The next student did significantly better, thanks to the cheat sheet, and subsequent test-takers upped their scores even further. They took turns going first. Students in the course were allowed to take each test twice, with the two results averaged into a final score.

“So the grades are bouncing back and forth, but we’re all guaranteed an A in the end,” Mr. Smith told me. “We’re playing the system, and we’re playing the system pretty well.”

Researchers who study cheating are urging cooperation. “Historically this kind of research has been a bit of a black box,” says Neal Kingston, an education professor at the University of Kansas and the director of the school’s Center for Educational Testing Evaluation. “It’s important that the research community improve perhaps as quickly as the cheating community is improving.” Fist tap Big Don.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

arnach makes another modest proposal

Almost exactly a year ago that I proposed a subreal summer reading list. I hope y'all read, enjoyed, and learned something from those books. Especially you, BD.

This year, I would like to ask all subrealists to submit "The One Book" that all other subrealists should read. For me, the suggestion is easy:Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Check out the NY Times review and yesterday’s New Yorker blog “Why Smart People are Stupid” by Jonah Lehrer.

You may need to read it more than once to absorb it all, but this book will change how you think. Good luck, and I look forward to your suggestions.