Monday, September 17, 2012

NBC "shaping" the occupy movement story...,

NBCNews | Occupy Wall Street took center stage last fall, galvanizing thousands of people across the country to protest against the abuses of what they called the “one percent.”

But one year after the movement began, it has been reduced to a shadow of its former self: Occupy’s makeshift camps have been shuttered, its membership has dwindled amid internal squabbling and what critics called a lack of direction and goals, and its hopes for social change so far have been unrealized.

Amid this backdrop, Occupy protesters have organized a sit-down protest around the New York Stock Exchange in Wall Street on Monday, their one-year anniversary, hoping to regain some momentum.

“Why are we going back to Wall Street? Because the one percent wants it all and they’re not giving any of them up without a struggle. Economic conditions are roughly as bad as they were a year ago and for many, many people they’re precarious,” said Bill Dobbs, of the Occupy Wall Street public relations team.

As Occupy struggled to find its footing after being booted out of its camps, the New York flagship, in particular, wrangled with internal conflicts over financial transparency, leadership and tactics.

Jon Reiner, a laid-off New York marketing executive who traveled to many Occupy camps last fall, is disheartened the movement didn't engage in electoral politics.

“I think there’s an opportunity that it has missed,” said the middle-aged husband and father of two. “I’m still meeting people my own age who are still being laid off. … so the issue has the same prominence in terms of its impact on people’s lives, and I think that the movement shouldn’t be quiet about any of this, and one way not to be quiet in an election cycle is to get yourself in the face of the … candidates."

“I still identify myself with the movement,” he added, “but I don’t feel like I have necessarily an outlet for my activism.”

Another point of contention was whether the movement should embrace violent tactics.

“These big arguments took up a lot of time and energy for months over whether the tactics should remain strictly nonviolent,” said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University who wrote a book on Occupy. “ … the turning inward of energy was not constructive."

ABC "shaping" the occupy movement story...,

ABCNews | A protest in New York City's financial district is planned for Monday to mark the 1-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, a movement against corporate greed that spawned tent cities of protesters around the globe and became a rallying point for the "99 percent".

Twenty-five people were arrested for disorderly conduct on Saturday at the beginning of three days of festivities planned to re-energize the movement, which fell into disarray after countless arrests, in-fighting and an eviction from Zuccotti Park last November.

"This weekend we will mark the occasion of our anniversary by once again showing the powers that be that we see what they are doing, and that soon enough the whole world will again as well," said a message on the Occupy website.

The scene was celebratory today as members enjoyed a concert in Foley Square and attended workshops on civil disobedience in preparation for Monday's march.

At 7:30 a.m. on Monday, one year to the day the movement began, protesters plan to create "a swirl of mobile occupations of corporate lobbies and intersections" in the city's Financial District, which is home to the country's largest banks and the New York Stock Exchange.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


energybulletin | There are unprecedented and widely unappreciated dangers posed to public health, nursing, medicine and allied health professions by the ongoing global economic contraction. This is a multilayered and, frankly, emotionally difficult topic to digest. Before discussing how health systems are affected we first lay out the larger social-ecological context of modern society’s predicament. This includes a brief overview of the idea of degrowth,[i],[ii],[iii] which is a response to ecological overshoot and reaching the physical resources and ecological limits to growth, and why it must supplant growth as the cardinal metaphor of modern culture. Then we outline how the inability to perceive that the world has reached the end of growth –by mistakenly seeing the present as a Great Recession- threatens health systems.

Understanding economic contraction is not merely a cognitive process of evaluating arguments and evidence. The modern mind is ensconced in a mythology that sacralizes technological progress, mastery of nature and economic growth. These convictions make it difficult or impossible to see the unfolding socioeconomic descent as anything other than a deep economic recession that will end when the correct policy measures, stimulus, austerity or some combination, are enacted. As children and throughout adulthood we moderns learn in sublime, tacit and explicit ways that a constantly expanding economy is good, has no downside, validates our sense of self-worth, and is therefore the natural state of human affairs. (We also are socialized to believe that nature is passive and subject to the dictates of humans, meaning we can use our intelligence and technology to get out of environmental dilemmas such as peak oil and other resource depletion, climate change, overpopulation, acidification of the oceans and so on through the long list of ecological insults and damage we have wrought.)

For instance, French Premier Francois Hollande in June said, “If there is no growth then no matter what we do we will not meet our debt and deficit reduction targets. President Obama at about the same time told Charlie Rose, in an interview broadcast on CBS, that running for president is about laying out your “theory for how to grow the economy.” This year Prime Minister Steven Harper said, “… we’ve tried to focus on what we can do to sustain growth in the Canadian economy.” In short, economic growth is the quintessential policy goal of all Western governments. Imagine seeing any of these three leaders giving a speech announcing that humanity has reached the limits to growth and therefore will have to redesign the social world.

This brings us to our bedrock argument: economic expansion is thermodynamically impossible because there is no longer sufficient net energy flowing into the global economy to restart and sustain growth.[iv],[v] In support of abandoning the quest for growth ecological economist Tim Jackson points out: The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. If it continues to grow at the same rate, the economy will be 80 times that size by the year 2100.”[vi] This 80-fold increase will, of course, never happen. The two-part rhetorical question we have is, how long it will take and how much further damage will be done before this is absorbed into humanity’s collective consciousness?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

job's package is ALL in your heads I-sheeple...,

the information revolution has already bypassed the American electoral process, because that's the way the parties want it...,

Cobb | I considered the question of electronic voting. I want you to think of what Jeff Bezos has done in creating, what has been done to create Pay Pal (Elon Musk) and what has been done to create the iTunes Store. All created within the last decade or so. I've worked with credit card companies as well. So now it's my turn to ask a question. Why do you think that voting has not been done on the internet, even though banking has. The answer is because it would completely subvert the way government, press and the political parties operate their control of what the public is thinking relevant to elections and policy. The excuse made is about 'voter fraud'..

Again these are subjects that have to do with the mechanisms of voter registration, fundraising, and the contact points between party operations and the public at large. I have been inside of that process and neither party wants it changed. The information revolution has already bypassed the American electoral process, because that's the way the parties want it.

The Democrats say what their bosses want them to say. The Republicans say what their bosses want them to say. That is how the sausage is made. There are only X number of issues in the news cycle, and it's a top down process. The opinion makers decide how to frame the issue according to POLICY and you consume their vetted responses and arguments.

Right now, today, you can't tell me jack about what's going on in the Horn of Africa, because that's not in play. That's not what's on the primetime political menu. Listen, I've been nationally broadcast on NPR in case you forgot. You talk about what the market wants to hear, and the parties are the market makers. Period.

the complex social lives of animals are ultimately reliant upon their symbiotic microbial communities

msu | Bacteria in hyenas’ scent glands may be the key controllers of communication.

The results, featured in the current issue of Scientific Reports, show a clear relationship between the diversity of hyena clans and the distinct microbial communities that reside in their scent glands, said Kevin Theis, the paper’s lead author and Michigan State University postdoctoral researcher.

“A critical component of every animal’s behavioral repertoire is an effective communication system,” said Theis, who co-authored the study with Kay Holekamp, MSU zoologist. “It is possible that without their bacteria, many animals couldn’t ‘say’ much at all.”

This is the first time that scientists have shown that different social groups of mammals possess different odor-producing bacterial communities. These communities produce unique chemical signatures, and the hyenas can distinguish among them by using their noses.

Past research has demonstrated important roles played by microbes in digestion and other bodily functions. It’s also widely known that most mammals use scent to signal a wide range of traits, including sex, age, reproductive status and group membership. This study details bacteria living in a mutually beneficial relationship with their hyena hosts. It also highlights the contribution of new DNA sequencing technologies showcasing the role good, symbiotic bacteria play in animal behavior.

On the grassy Kenyan plains, Theis gathered information about the bacterial types present in samples of paste, a sour-smelling secretion that hyenas deposit on grass stalks. Field samples were collected from hyenas’ scent pouches and analyzed using next-generation sequence technology back at MSU labs. The samples revealed a high degree of similarities, microbial speaking, between deposits left by members of the same clans. They also varied distinctly from paste left by hyenas from other clans.

Friday, September 14, 2012

narsty, narsty monkeys....,

plos one | Background - Sex and disgust are basic, evolutionary relevant functions that are often construed as paradoxical. In general the stimuli involved in sexual encounters are, at least out of context strongly perceived to hold high disgust qualities. Saliva, sweat, semen and body odours are among the strongest disgust elicitors. This results in the intriguing question of how people succeed in having pleasurable sex at all. One possible explanation could be that sexual engagement temporarily reduces the disgust eliciting properties of particular stimuli or that sexual engagement might weaken the hesitation to actually approach these stimuli.

Methodology - Participants were healthy women (n = 90) randomly allocated to one of three groups: the sexual arousal, the non-sexual positive arousal, or the neutral control group. Film clips were used to elicit the relevant mood state. Participants engaged in 16 behavioural tasks, involving sex related (e.g., lubricate the vibrator) and non-sex related (e.g., take a sip of juice with a large insect in the cup) stimuli, to measure the impact of sexual arousal on feelings of disgust and actual avoidance behaviour.

Principal Findings - The sexual arousal group rated the sex related stimuli as less disgusting compared to the other groups. A similar tendency was evident for the non-sex disgusting stimuli. For both the sex and non-sex related behavioural tasks the sexual arousal group showed less avoidance behaviour (i.e., they conducted the highest percentage of tasks compared to the other groups).

Significance - This study has investigated how sexual arousal interplays with disgust and disgust eliciting properties in women, and has demonstrated that this relationship goes beyond subjective report by affecting the actual approach to disgusting stimuli. Hence, this could explain how we still manage to engage in pleasurable sexual activity. Moreover, these findings suggest that low sexual arousal might be a key feature in the maintenance of particular sexual dysfunctions.

birds tweet about the dead, but do they know what they're doing?

psychologytoday | "I once happened upon what seemed to be a magpie funeral service. A magpie had been hit by a car. Four of his flock mates stood around him silently and pecked gently at his body. One, then another, flew off and brought back pine needles and twigs and laid them by his body. They all stood vigil for a time, nodded their heads, and flew off."

"I also watched a red fox bury her mate after a cougar had killed him. She gently laid dirt and twigs over his body, stopped, looked to make sure he was all covered, patted down the dirt and twigs with her forepaws, stood silently for a moment, then trotted off, tail down and ears laid back against her head. After publishing my stories I got emails from people all over the world who had seen similar behavior in various birds and mammals."

I wrote these words in an essay I published in Yes! Magazine and I've written many essays about grief and funeral rituals in nonhuman animals (animals; see also).

Here's a story I received in response to my observations of the magpie funeral.

"I have a farm in Bolton, UK and we were overrun with Magpies. The reaction from the magpies [to the corpse of another magpie] in the vicinity was akin to a scene from the film 'The Birds', as they surrounded the lifeless bird and tried to reawaken it with their beaks. When they reached the conclusion that it was indeed dead, there was an outpouring of loud cackling noises which reached quite a crescendo (there were around 20 of them); this was echoed by a similar sympathetic chorus from a nearby wood and within a minute, from all surrounding areas giving the impression that hundreds of magpies were being told of the death and simultaneously expressing their grief. It was quite unnerving and I remained within the safe confines of a barn until all was over."

Are squawking jays really holding a funeral service?

There's a lot of interest in grief in animals and yesterday I learned about a research paper published in the prestigious journal Animal Behaviour titled "Western scrub-jay funerals: cacophonous aggregations in response to dead conspecifics" by Teresa Inglesias and her colleagues at the University of California in Davis. The abstract and some other information about this paper can be found here. The last sentence of the abstract reads, "Our results show that without witnessing the struggle and manner of death, the sight of a dead conspecific is used as public information and that this information is actively shared with conspecifics and used to reduce exposure to risk." It's interesting that the response to a dead jay was the same as that observed in response to a model of a predator, in this case a stuffed great horned owl. (Conspecifics are members of the same species.)

What caught my eye about this essay is the use of the word "funeral" in the title. Most professional journals would never allow the use of this supposedly "anthropomorphic" word and those that might wouldn't unless it was bracketed in scare quotes as "funerals".

scrub jays react to their dead...,

UCDavis | Western scrub jays summon others to screech over the body of a dead jay, according to new research from the University of California, Davis. The birds’ cacophonous “funerals” can last for up to half an hour.

Anecdotal reports have suggested that other animals, including elephants, chimpanzees and birds in the crow family, react to dead of their species, said Teresa Iglesias, the UC Davis graduate student who carried out the work. But few experimental studies have explored this behavior.

The new research by Iglesias and her colleagues appears in the Aug. 27 issue of the journal Animal Behaviour.

Western scrub jays live in breeding pairs and are not particularly social birds.

“They’re really territorial and not at all friendly with other scrub-jays,” Iglesias said.

Working in the backyards of homes in Davis, Calif., Iglesias set up feeding tables to encourage visits from the jays. Then she videotaped their behavior when she placed a dead jay on the ground. She compared these reactions with the birds’ behavior when confronted with a dead jay that had been stuffed and mounted on a perch, a stuffed horned owl, and wood painted to represent jay feathers.

On encountering a dead jay, prostrate on the ground, jays flew into a tree and began a series of loud, screeching calls that attracted other jays. The summoned birds perched on trees and fences around the body and joined in the calling. These cacophonous gatherings could last from a few seconds to as long as 30 minutes.

Jays formed similar cacophonous gatherings in response to a mounted owl, but ignored painted wood. When confronted with a mounted jay, the birds swooped in on it as if it were an intruder.

Jays typically gathered within seconds of the first bird calling, Iglesias said. If they did not, the first jay would often fly higher into a tree, apparently to call more widely.

“It looked like they were actively trying to attract attention,” she said. Fist tap Dale.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the old ways...,

theviewfromhell | Human technology, like organisms themselves, evolved gradually along with human populations to solve problems posed by different environments. Successful technologies solved problems relating to nutrition, group cohesion, securing territory, and surviving the elements, among many others.

It is unlikely that the humans who used and gradually changed technologies throughout the ages were aware of all of the functions of their cultural package - any more than we are aware of all of the functions of our cultural package today. A cultural package would reproduce itself by working well enough to be passed down to another generation of humans. Conservatism among simple societies prevented dangerous innovations from destroying the carefully evolved cultural package, but rare successful innovations would occasionally become part of the cultural package.

Over the past several thousand years, civilization has independently occurred many times. The complexities of civilization have repeatedly added a snowballing load of cultural innovations to human groups, usually resulting in a population explosion and subsequent crash. We are currently likely near a population peak resulting from the greatest innovation snowball the world has ever known.

The cultural packages that were stable at past times did not evolve to maximize human happiness, but rather, like organisms, to maximize their own reproductive capabilities. A small band of happy foragers could expect to be overwhelmed by a cranky but fecund settlement of farmers; hence, in this example, the farmer cultural package would be reproduced more successfully than the forager package. That said, humans themselves evolved in the presence of past successful stable cultural packages (just as we evolved in the presence of prey species and parasites). Cultural packages that were stable for centuries appear to have done a decent job of providing humans with a sense of meaning and a decent level of wellbeing.

Should we go back to the old ways? This is both impossible and undesirable. The further back in time we go, the lower the population density norms evolved to support. It is unlikely that the world's present population could be supported in foraging tribes or even simple farming societies. Not only that, but the evolved cultural packages have largely been interrupted; even if we wanted to instantiate them, we would have a hard time finding out exactly what they were.

Given the search function that past humans used to "find" their cultural packages, it is likely that the cultural packages are local maxima for cultural reproductive success. They are hard-won solutions to complex problems, worked out in the computer of time and human lives; but they are not absolute maxima of anything, and they are not necessarily even local maxima of human wellbeing. Even if we were to go back in time to a pre-civilized society, it is not clear that maintaining existing traditions would be the best way to maximize human wellbeing. It is likely that there are many dimensions along which we could increase human wellbeing at the expense of environment-specific cultural reproduceability.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

why didn't CNN air its own documentary about the Bahrain chapter of the arab spring?

Guardian | In late March 2011, as the Arab Spring was spreading, CNN sent a four-person crew to Bahrain to produce a one-hour documentary on the use of internet technologies and social media by democracy activists in the region. Featuring on-air investigative correspondent Amber Lyon, the CNN team had a very eventful eight-day stay in that small, US-backed kingdom.

By the time the CNN crew arrived, many of the sources who had agreed to speak to them were either in hiding or had disappeared. Regime opponents whom they interviewed suffered recriminations, as did ordinary citizens who worked with them as fixers. Leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was charged with crimes shortly after speaking to the CNN team. A doctor who gave the crew a tour of his village and arranged meetings with government opponents, Saeed Ayyad, had his house burned to the ground shortly after. Their local fixer was fired ten days after working with them.

The CNN crew itself was violently detained by regime agents in front of Rajab's house. As they described it after returning to the US, "20 heavily-armed men", whose faces were "covered with black ski masks", "jumped from military vehicles", and then "pointed machine guns at" the journalists, forcing them to the ground. The regime's security forces seized their cameras and deleted their photos and video footage, and then detained and interrogated them for the next six hours.

Lyon's experience both shocked and emboldened her. The morning after her detention, newspapers in Bahrain prominently featured articles about the incident containing what she said were "outright fabrications" from the government. "It made clear just how willing the regime is to lie," she told me in a phone interview last week.

But she also resolved to expose just how abusive and thuggish the regime had become in attempting to snuff out the burgeoning democracy movement, along with any negative coverage of the government.

"I realized there was a correlation between the amount of media attention activists receive and the regime's ability to harm them, so I felt an obligation to show the world what our sources, who risked their lives to talk to us, were facing."

CNN's total cost for the documentary, ultimately titled "iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring", was in excess of $100,000, an unusually high amount for a one-hour program of this type. The portion Lyon and her team produced on Bahrain ended up as a 13-minute segment in the documentary. That segment, which as of now is available on YouTube, is a hard-hitting and unflinching piece of reporting that depicts the regime in a very negative light.

In the segment, Lyon interviewed activists as they explicitly described their torture at the hands of government forces, while family members recounted their relatives' abrupt disappearances. She spoke with government officials justifying the imprisonment of activists. And the segment featured harrowing video footage of regime forces shooting unarmed demonstrators, along with the mass arrests of peaceful protesters. In sum, the early 2011 CNN segment on Bahrain presented one of the starkest reports to date of the brutal repression embraced by the US-backed regime.

On 19 June 2011 at 8pm, CNN's domestic outlet in the US aired "iRevolution" for the first and only time. The program received prestigious journalism awards, including a 2012 Gold Medal from New York Festival's Best TV and Films. Lyon, along with her segment producer Taryn Fixel, were named as finalists for the 2011 Livingston Awards for Young Journalists. A Facebook page created by Bahraini activists, entitled "Thank you Amber Lyon, CNN reporter | From people of Bahrain", received more than 8,000 "likes".

Despite these accolades, and despite the dangers their own journalists and their sources endured to produce it, CNN International (CNNi) never broadcast the documentary. Even in the face of numerous inquiries and complaints from their own employees inside CNN, it continued to refuse to broadcast the program or even provide any explanation for the decision. To date, this documentary has never aired on CNNi.

hey now, didn't we give these folks some irish spring just a minute ago too?

usatoday | Egyptian demonstrators climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today and pulled down the American flag to protest a film they say is insulting to the prophet Mohammad.

Update at 2:07 p.m. ET: CNN reports that U.S. security guards fired a volley of warning shots as the crowd gathered outside the embassy walls.

CNN adds that the embassy had been expecting a demonstration and cleared all diplomatic personnel earlier from the facility.

Original post: The Associated Press reports that embassy officials say there was no staff inside at the time.

Reuters reports that protesters tried to raise a black flag carrying the slogan: "There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger."

The news agency says about 2,000 protesters have gathered outside the embassy and about 20 have scaled the walls.

The AP says the protesters were largely ultra-conservative Islamists.

Iran's FARS news agency says the film is the work of a group of "extremist" members of the Egyptian Coptic Church in the United States.

Al Ahram online says the film is reportedly being produced by U.S.-based Coptic-Christian Egyptians, including Esmat Zaklama and Morees Sadek, with the support of the Terry Jones Church in the United States.

Jones is the evangelical pastor who stirred controversy last year by threatening to burn a Quran in public.

CNN says the film in question is a Dutch production.

The AP says clips of the film available on YouTube show the prophet having sex and question his role as the messenger of God

didn't we coordinate and missle strike these folks to "freedom" just a minute ago? ag

ahram | An American staff member of the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi has died following fierce clashes at the compound, Libyan security sources said on Wednesday.

"One American staff member has died and a number have been injured in the clashes," Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr, spokesman for Libya's Supreme Security Committee, said, adding that he did not know the exact number of injured and could not say what the cause of death was.

An armed mob protesting over a film they said offended Islam, attacked the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Tuesday and set fire to the building, witnesses reported.

The attack happened on the same day as a similar group of hardliners waving black banners attacked the US embassy in Cairo and tore down the US flag, but it was not immediately clear if the two incidents were coordinated.

The protests came on the eleventh anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, when US cities were targeted by hijacked planes.

"Demonstrators attacked the US consulate in Benghazi. They fired shots in the air before entering the building," Libya's deputy interior minister, Wanis al-Sharif Sharif, who is in charge of the country's eastern region, told AFP.

"Dozens of demonstrators attacked the consulate and set fire to it," said a Benghazi resident, who only gave his name as Omar, adding that he had seen the flames and heard shots in the vicinity.

Contacted by AFP, a US State Department official in Washington said US officials were still seeking information about the situation in Benghazi.

Asked whether the attack in Libya and the earlier demonstration against the US mission in Egypt could be connected, the official said it was unclear yet if the protests had been coordinated.

Another Libyan witness said armed men had closed the streets leading up to the consulate, among them ultra-conservative Salafists.

The Libyan incident came as thousands of Egyptian demonstrators tore down the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy in Cairo and replaced it with a black Islamic flag, similar to one adopted by several militant groups.

Nearly 3,000 demonstrators gathered at the embassy in protest over a film deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed which was produced by expatriate members of Egypt's Christian minority resident in the United States.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chris Hedges: Obama is a "Poster Child for the Death of the Liberal Class"

democracynow | The compromise tax-cut deal that President Obama signed into law on Friday has angered many of his supporters. In his new book, Death of the Liberal Class, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges argues that the failure of President Obama to represent the interests of his supporters is just another example of a quickly dying liberal class. In the book, Hedges explains how the five pillars of the liberal class — the press, universities, unions, liberal churches and the Democratic Party — have become corrupt.

Monday, September 10, 2012

what will happen if the feds get warrantless access to phone location data?

TheAtlantic | On Tuesday prosecutors for the Obama administration argued that records of location data gathered by cell-phone companies should be available to law enforcement even when no search warrant has previously been issued by a judge.

In other words, If Uncle Sam wins on this argument, every law-enforcement agency in the country will be able to track your every move. More importantly, access to location data as comprehensive as that available to cell-phone carriers could allow law enforcement to determine everything from your complete social network and your your health status to how likely it is that you'll repay a loan.

The case at hand does not suggest that the Obama administration is attempting to gain this level of insight into the lives of every American citizen, but it's telling that the prosecutors seem ignorant of the power of the data they're requesting.

To understand how important location data is, especially of the variety gathered by smartphones, it's important to understand what academics have already accomplished with this data.

Sandy Pentland, a computer scientist at MIT who coined the term "reality mining" to describe the process of extracting and processing this data, put it this way in a recent essay for

The people who have the most valuable data are the banks, the telephone companies, the medical companies... Who you actually are is determined by where you spend time, and which things you buy... by analyzing this sort of data, scientists can tell an enormous amount about you.

In research published in 2009, Pentland and his colleagues were able to determine, for example, which students were friends based solely on mobile phone location records. Law enforcement could some day use such data to map entire criminal networks, but it could just as easily be used to visualize and contain networks of lawful protestors.

Knowing a person's location reveals their social network, which in turn reveals enormous amounts about who they are and how they are likely to behave.

fbi deploys $1 billion face recognition system across america...,

RT | In 2008, the FBI announced that it awarded Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions, one of the Defense Department’s most favored contractors, with the authorization to design, develop, test and deploy the NGI System. Thomas E. Bush III, the former FBI agent who helped develop the NGI's system requirements, tells, "The idea was to be able to plug and play with these identifiers and biometrics." With those items being collected without much oversight being admitted, though, putting the personal facts pertaining to millions of Americans into the hands of some playful Pentagon staffers only begins to open up civil liberties issues.

Jim Harper, director of information policy at the Cato Institute, adds to NextGov that investigators pair facial recognition technology with publically available social networks in order to build bigger profiles. Facial recognition "is more accurate with a Google or a Facebook, because they will have anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen pictures of an individual, whereas I imagine the FBI has one or two mug shots," he says. When these files are then fed to law enforcement agencies on local, federal and international levels, intelligence databases that include everything from close-ups of eyeballs and irises to online interests could be shared among offices.

The FBI expects the NGI system to include as many as 14 million photographs by the time the project is in full swing in only two years, but the pace of technology and the new connections constantly created by law enforcement agencies could allow for a database that dwarfs that estimate. As RT reported earlier this week, the city of Los Angeles now considers photography in public space “suspicious,” and authorizes LAPD officers to file reports if they have reason to believe a suspect is up to no good. Those reports, which may not necessarily involve any arrests, crimes, charges or even interviews with the suspect, can then be filed, analyzed, stored and shared with federal and local agencies connected across the country to massive data fusion centers. Similarly, live video transmissions from thousands of surveillance cameras across the country are believed to be sent to the same fusion centers as part of TrapWire, a global eye-in-the-sky endeavor that RT first exposed earlier this year.

“Facial recognition creates acute privacy concerns that fingerprints do not,” US Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law earlier this year. “Once someone has your faceprint, they can get your name, they can find your social networking account and they can find and track you in the street, in the stores you visit, the government buildings you enter, and the photos your friends post online.”

In his own testimony, Carnegie Mellon University Professor Alessandro Acquisti said to Sen. Franken, “the convergence of face recognition, online social networks and data mining has made it possible to use publicly available data and inexpensive technologies to produce sensitive inferences merely starting from an anonymous face.”

“Face recognition, like other information technologies, can be source of both benefits and costs to society and its individual members,” Prof. Acquisti added. “However, the combination of face recognition, social networks data and data mining can significant undermine our current notions and expectations of privacy and anonymity.”

With the latest report suggesting the NGI program is now a reality in America, though, it might be too late to try and keep the FBI from interfering with seemingly every aspect of life in the US, both private and public. As of July 18, 2012, the FBI reports, “The NGI program … is on scope, on schedule, on cost, and 60 percent deployed.”

Sunday, September 09, 2012

the sun in sunita william's hand...,

NBCNews Photoblog

the next dimension in imaging: it's about time

Fist tap Big Don.

nuclear decay rates and solar activity

wavewatching | Radioactive decay is supposed to be the ultimate random process, immutably governed by an element's half life and nothing else. There is no way to determine when a single radioactive atom will spontaneously decay, nor any way to speed-up or slow down the process. This iron clad certainty has always been the best argument of opponents to conventional nuclear fission power generation, as it means that the inevitable nuclear waste will have to be kept isolated from the biosphere for million of years (notwithstanding recent research attempts at stimulated transmutation of some of the longer lasting waste products.)

There is a video talk on this phenomenon. It takes some patience to sit through, but gives a more complete picture in explaining how these observed patterns can be correlated to the the Sun's core activity with surprising accuracy. The evidence for the reality of this effect is surprisingly good, and that is rather shocking. It does not fit into any established theory at this time. Fist tap Dale.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

kansas city, google fiber, and the digital divide...,

Wired | Two days before the deadline to get neighborhoods signed up, Google’s effort to bring ultra-high-speed internet to a major American city could end up reinforcing the digital divide.

When Google Fiber launched last month, the announcement of the service came with the caveat that to get the super-fast 1 gigabit broadband hookups, neighborhoods would have to pre-register a certain percentage of households for the service. The deadline for pre-registrations is Sunday at midnight.

Google has a map publicly tracking which neighborhoods meet the goal. As of Friday afternoon, Kansas City, Missouri, looks divided pretty much straight down the middle. On the western half of the city, nearly all neighborhoods have turned green, indicating they’ve met the goal. To the east, most are still yellow, meaning they haven’t met the goal. Right down the middle between the two halves runs Troost Avenue, the city’s historical socioeconomic and racial dividing line. Based on the map generated by the signup data, Google’s project is the latest to fall short of bridging that gap.

“The white, affluent neighborhoods qualified and the primarily black, lower-income neighborhoods didn’t,” says Michael Liimatta, who runs a Kansas City nonprofit that works to bring broadband access to low-income residents. Liimatta’s group, Connect for Good, focused on getting one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kansas, qualified. They succeeded thanks to heavy campaigning and door-to-door efforts, he says.

Google did not go into Kansas City blind to the issue of the digital divide, says company spokeswoman Jenna Wandres. It has 60 representatives on the streets trying to convince people without internet access of the benefits of getting their homes online, Wandres says. (That number will go up to about 100 for this final weekend, she says.) But the process is a challenge, with typical conversations lasting around 25 minutes per resident. Before coming into Kansas City, Wandres says Google did a survey that found about 25 percent of residents didn’t have internet access at home. While affordability is one part of the equation, she says Google found another factor keeping people offline was relevance. “They don’t think they need it,” Wandres says. “They don’t see why.”

Friday, September 07, 2012

michelle obama/anne romney - spousal convention speeches: your thoughts?

18 million u.s. households struggling to feed themselves

yahoo | Almost 18 million American homes struggled to find enough to eat in 2011, including 3.9 million homes with children, or 10 percent of all families with children, according to numbers released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even worse off were single mothers and black and Latino households, the survey found.

As NPR notes, "People went hungry."

The survey tracked families who had some issues with finding enough food, dubbed "food insecure," and those deemed "very very food insecure," who lacked basic nutrition at some point during the year. The latter category includes some 6.8 million households nationwide in which adults skipped meals, couldn't afford balanced meals, and worried about having enough money to buy food several months out of the year.

In all, the "food insecure" represented 5.7 percent of American households. It's not much of a change compared with 2010, but it's 2 percent more—thousands of people more—since 1998.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

baramney not gonna peddle his tepid mush in the BoA auditorium tonight....,

slate | President Obama will deliver his DNC speech from the relatively cosy confines of the Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday, and not from the 70,000-plus seat Bank of America Stadium.

NBC News was the first to report the change: "Democrats are moving their convention indoors for Obama's speech Thursday night due to weather," the network tweeted moments ago. The change in venue has since been confirmed by multiple other news outlets.

DNC officials had maintained all week that Obama's speech would go on as planned at the stadium that plays host to the NFL's Carolina Panthers unless there was a severe weather event that forced them to change their plans.

Some observers had wondered aloud, however, whether Democrats would be able to pack the house in time for the president's prime-time speech, or if they'd be left watching their candidate address a crowd checkered with empty seats. While that will no longer be a fear for organizers, they nonetheless now face the likelihood that Republicans will argue that the move was more about political optics than crowd safety.

is that really all the DNC heat about wall st.?

Thank you! I'm Elizabeth Warren, and this is my first Democratic Convention. Never thought I'd run for senate. And I sure never dreamed that I'd get to be the warm-up act for President Bill Clinton—an amazing man, who had the good sense to marry one of the coolest women on the planet. I want to give a special shout out to the Massachusetts delegation. I'm counting on you to help me win and to help President Obama win.

I'm here tonight to talk about hard-working people: people who get up early, stay up late, cook dinner and help out with homework; people who can be counted on to help their kids, their parents, their neighbors, and the lady down the street whose car broke down; people who work their hearts out but are up against a hard truth—the game is rigged against them.

It wasn't always this way. Like a lot of you, I grew up in a family on the ragged edge of the middle class. My daddy sold carpeting and ended up as a maintenance man. After he had a heart attack, my mom worked the phones at Sears so we could hang on to our house. My three brothers all served in the military. One was career. The second worked a good union job in construction. The third started a small business.

Me, I was waiting tables at 13 and married at 19. I graduated from public schools and taught elementary school. I have a wonderful husband, two great children, and three beautiful grandchildren. And I'm grateful, down to my toes, for every opportunity that America gave me. This is a great country. I grew up in an America that invested in its kids and built a strong middle class; that allowed millions of children to rise from poverty and establish secure lives. An America that created Social Security and Medicare so that seniors could live with dignity; an America in which each generation built something solid so that the next generation could build something better.

But for many years now, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered. Talk to the construction worker I met from Malden, Massachusetts, who went nine months without finding work. Talk to the head of a manufacturing company in Franklin trying to protect jobs but worried about rising costs. Talk to the student in Worcester who worked hard to finish his college degree, and now he's drowning in debt. Their fight is my fight, and it's Barack Obama's fight too.

People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: they're right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.

Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do. I talk to small business owners all across Massachusetts.

Not one of them—not one—made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy. I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters—people who bust their tails every day. Not one of them—not one—stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

These folks don't resent that someone else makes more money. We're Americans. We celebrate success. We just don't want the game to be rigged. We've fought to level the playing field before. About a century ago, when corrosive greed threatened our economy and our way of life, the American people came together under the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt and other progressives, to bring our nation back from the brink.

We started to take children out of factories and put them in schools. We began to give meaning to the words "consumer protection" by making our food and medicine safe. And we gave the little guys a better chance to compete by preventing the big guys from rigging the markets. We turned adversity into progress because that's what we do.

Americans are fighters. We are tough, resourceful and creative. If we have the chance to fight on a level playing field—where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot—then no one can stop us. President Obama gets it because he's spent his life fighting for the middle class. And now he's fighting to level that playing field—because we know that the economy doesn't grow from the top down, but from the middle class out and the bottom up. That's how we create jobs and reduce the debt.

And Mitt Romney? He wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. But for middle-class families who are hanging on by their fingernails? His plans will hammer them with a new tax hike of up to 2,000 dollars. Mitt Romney wants to give billions in breaks to big corporations—but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare, and vaporize Obamacare.

The Republican vision is clear: "I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own." Republicans say they don't believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney's the guy who said corporations are people.

No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that's why we need Barack Obama.

After the financial crisis, President Obama knew that we had to clean up Wall Street. For years, families had been tricked by credit cards, fooled by student loans and cheated on mortgages. I had an idea for a consumer financial protection agency to stop the rip-offs. The big banks sure didn't like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day. American families didn't have an army of lobbyists on our side, but what we had was a president—President Obama leading the way. And when the lobbyists were closing in for the kill, Barack Obama squared his shoulders, planted his feet, and stood firm. And that's how we won.

By the way, just a few weeks ago, that little agency caught one of the biggest credit card companies cheating its customers and made it give people back every penny it took, plus millions of dollars in fines. That's what happens when you have a president on the side of the middle class.

President Obama believes in a level playing field. He believes in a country where nobody gets a free ride or a golden parachute. A country where anyone who has a great idea and rolls up their sleeves has a chance to build a business, and anyone who works hard can build some security and raise a family. President Obama believes in a country where billionaires pay their taxes just like their secretaries do, and—I can't believe I have to say this in 2012—a country where women get equal pay for equal work.

He believes in a country where everyone is held accountable. Where no one can steal your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street. President Obama believes in a country where we invest in education, in roads and bridges, in science, and in the future, so we can create new opportunities, so the next kid can make it big, and the kid after that, and the kid after that. That's what president Obama believes. And that's how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt. We root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together.

I grew up in the Methodist Church and taught Sunday school. One of my favorite passages of scripture is: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40. The passage teaches about God in each of us, that we are bound to each other and called to act. Not to sit, not to wait, but to act—all of us together.

Senator Kennedy understood that call. Four years ago, he addressed our convention for the last time. He said, "We have never lost our belief that we are all called to a better country and a newer world." Generation after generation, Americans have answered that call. And now we are called again. We are called to restore opportunity for every American. We are called to give America's working families a fighting chance. We are called to build something solid so the next generation can build something better.

So let me ask you—let me ask you, America: are you ready to answer this call? Are you ready to fight for good jobs and a strong middle class? Are you ready to work for a level playing field? Are you ready to prove to another generation of Americans that we can build a better country and a newer world?

Joe Biden is ready. Barack Obama is ready. I'm ready. You're ready. America's ready. Thank you! And God bless America!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

greed and debt: the true story of mitt romney and bain capital

RollingStone | Debt, debt, debt. If the Republican Party had a James Carville, this is what he would have said to win Mitt over, in whatever late-night war room session led to the Ryan pick: "It's the debt, stupid." This is the way to defeat Barack Obama: to recast the race as a jeremiad against debt, something just about everybody who's ever gotten a bill in the mail hates on a primal level.

Last May, in a much-touted speech in Iowa, Romney used language that was literally inflammatory to describe America's federal borrowing. "A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation," he declared. "Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love." Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Mitt, it's going to burn our children alive.

And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a "turnaround specialist," a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.

The unlikeliness of Romney's gambit isn't simply a reflection of his own artlessly unapologetic mindset – it stands as an emblem for the resiliency of the entire sociopathic Wall Street set he represents. Four years ago, the Mitt Romneys of the world nearly destroyed the global economy with their greed, shortsightedness and – most notably – wildly irresponsible use of debt in pursuit of personal profit. The sight was so disgusting that people everywhere were ready to drop an H-bomb on Lower Manhattan and bayonet the survivors. But today that same insane greed ethos, that same belief in the lunatic pursuit of instant borrowed millions – it's dusted itself off, it's had a shave and a shoeshine, and it's back out there running for president.

Mitt Romney, it turns out, is the perfect frontman for Wall Street's greed revolution. He's not a two-bit, shifty-eyed huckster like Lloyd Blankfein. He's not a sighing, eye-rolling, arrogant jerkwad like Jamie Dimon. But Mitt believes the same things those guys believe: He's been right with them on the front lines of the financialization revolution, a decades-long campaign in which the old, simple, let's-make-stuff-and-sell-it manufacturing economy was replaced with a new, highly complex, let's-take-stuff-and-trash-it financial economy. Instead of cars and airplanes, we built swaps, CDOs and other toxic financial products. Instead of building new companies from the ground up, we took out massive bank loans and used them to acquire existing firms, liquidating every asset in sight and leaving the target companies holding the note. The new borrow-and-conquer economy was morally sanctified by an almost religious faith in the grossly euphemistic concept of "creative destruction," and amounted to a total abdication of collective responsibility by America's rich, whose new thing was making assloads of money in ever-shorter campaigns of economic conquest, sending the proceeds offshore, and shrugging as the great towns and factories their parents and grandparents built were shuttered and boarded up, crushed by a true prairie fire of debt.

Mitt Romney – a man whose own father built cars and nurtured communities, and was one of the old-school industrial anachronisms pushed aside by the new generation's wealth grab – has emerged now to sell this make-nothing, take-everything, screw-everyone ethos to the world. He's Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR – and a bigger goal. A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we'll all end up paying for the acquisition.

it's the bust-out, that's all it is...,

RollingStone | So our new magazine piece, Greed and Debt, about Mitt Romney's past with Bain and the use of debt to finance takeovers, is online, and already I'm getting some questions that I am anxious to answer. There's a subtle point about the private equity business that I may not have made clear enough in the piece.

One emailer writes: "You've completely misunderstood what private equity does and ignored the many success stories in the industry. There is a reason why many of PE's biggest investors are unions and pension funds . . . who have benefitted more than once from private equity deals."

This is a valid point. It is true, many of the biggest investors in private equity deals are pension funds and workers' unions. I think this is unfortunate, and I know for a fact that many union leaders discourage unions from investing in private equity takeovers. But it's an undeniable fact that unions and pension funds do sometimes make money on private equity deals.

But what people need to understand about private equity firms like Bain is that they are not in the business of turning around companies and creating jobs. The unions and pension funds that invested in those deals did not do so to rescue companies.

If you invest in a Bain or a Carlyle or a KKR takeover deal, you’re not betting on the future success of whatever company they took over. You're betting on the ability of those firms to make money on the deal, which may – or, just as importantly, may not – involve turning the target company around.

If you borrow billions to buy Dunkin' Donuts and the firm flourishes post-takeover, that's one way for investors to get paid. But another way is getting Dunkin' to take out a $1.25 billion bank loan to hand its investors $500 million in tribute payments.

It's hard to imagine anything that's dumber, from the standpoint of trying to grow a business, than taking out a billion-dollar loan to pay a dividend – one buddy of mine on Wall Street used the word "retarded" – but for a private equity firm and its investors, that might very well be a smart way to get your investors paid.

This is really the point of the piece. The interests of PE firms and their investors do not coincide with the companies that have been taken over, not in the way that Romney and his adherents would have you believe. In fact, they're often at cross-purposes. You invest in a PE deal to make money – not to grow businesses. And not to create jobs.

Again, that's not to say leveraged buyout deals don't work for investors. They frequently do. But such deals are designed for the benefit of the investor – not for the takeover target. It's two different sets of interests that have been mistakenly portrayed, in the press, as being aligned.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

what causes lightning?

holoscience | Most people are unaware that we have no understanding of how lightning is created in clouds. The simplest answer is that lightning is not generated there at all. Clouds merely form a convenient path to Earth for electricity originating in space. Without clouds it is possible to have a “bolt from the blue”. That is happening on Venus (although the sky certainly isn’t blue). Weather systems are driven primarily by external electrical influences.

Consequently the Sun has weather patterns. And the most distant planet, Neptune, has the most violent winds in the solar system though it receives very little energy from the Sun. Electric discharges from space cause Mars’ huge dust devils and planet-wide dust storms. They are responsible for Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and the “spokes” in Saturn’s rings. It is why Venus has lightning in its smog-like clouds and its mountain-tops glow with St. Elmo’s fire. It is why the Earth has lightning stretching into space in the form of “red sprites” and “blue jets”, and why tethered satellites “blow a fuse”.

However, nobody is trained to consider electrical energy input to weather systems.

The image above is a NASA artist’s view of lightning on Venus during the descent of one of the Pioneer probes. Venus has smog-like clouds that are not expected to generate lightning and yet the planet suffers intense lightning. This argues against the popular notion of what causes lightning.

from plants and fungi to clouds

thescientist | The atmosphere is replete with aerosols made up of organic molecules, which are necessary for clouds to form, as well as for rain and other forms of precipitation to fall. However, how these organic aerosols form has largely remained a mystery to atmospheric scientists. Now, a new study published in Science this week (August 30) shows that salt compounds released by plants and fungi hover above the Amazon Rainforest, where the may exert a significant impact on the region’s weather by contributing to s aerosols to the atmosphere and serving as seeds for cloud and rain formation.

An international team of researchers led by biogeochemist Meinrat Andreae of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany found the particles by climbing up a 262-foot tower and collecting air samples, PhysOrg reported. The main source of these particles, which are rich in potassium, is likely fungal spores, which have a gel coating that make it easy for water molecules to latch on, although plants had been previously shown to efficiently release salts into the air.

“Our findings support the hypothesis that the Amazonian rainforest ecosystem can be regarded as a biogeochemical reactor in which the formation of clouds and precipitation in the atmosphere are triggered by particles emitted from the biosphere,” the authors wrote in the Science paper.

Monday, September 03, 2012

the lost decade of the middle class; fewer, poorer, gloomier...,

pewsocialtrends | As the 2012 presidential candidates prepare their closing arguments to America’s middle class, they are courting a group that has endured a lost decade for economic well-being. Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.

These stark assessments are based on findings from a new nationally representative Pew Research Center survey that includes 1,287 adults who describe themselves as middle class, supplemented by the Center’s analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Fully 85% of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. Of those who feel this way, 62% say “a lot” of the blame lies with Congress, while 54% say the same about banks and financial institutions, 47% about large corporations, 44% about the Bush administration, 39% about foreign competition and 34% about the Obama administration. Just 8% blame the middle class itself a lot.

Their downbeat take on their economic situation comes at the end of a decade in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, mean family incomes declined for Americans in all income tiers. But the middle-income tier—defined in this Pew Research analysis as all adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national

median 1 —is the only one that also shrunk in size, a trend that has continued over the past four decades.

in praise of the clash of cultures

NYTimes | Can we be sure that our beliefs about the world match how the world actually is and that our subjective preferences match what is objectively in our best interest? If the truth is important to us these are pressing questions.

We might value the truth for different reasons: because we want to live a life that is good and doesn’t just appear so; because we take knowing the truth to be an important component of the good life; because we consider living by the truth a moral obligation independent of any consequences; or because, like my Egyptian friends, we want to come closer to God who is the Truth (al-Haqq in Arabic, one of God’s names in Islam). Of course we wouldn’t hold our beliefs and values if we weren’t convinced that they are true. But that’s no evidence that they are. Weren’t my Egyptian friends just as convinced of their views as I was of mine? More generally: don’t we find a bewildering diversity of beliefs and values, all held with great conviction, across different times and cultures? If considerations such as these lead you to concede that your present convictions could be false, then you are a fallibilist. And if you are a fallibilist you can see why valuing the truth and valuing a culture of debate are related: because you will want to critically examine your beliefs and values, for which a culture of debate offers an excellent setting.

Of course we don’t need to travel all the way to Cairo to subject our beliefs and values to critical scrutiny; in theory we can also do so on our own. In practice, however, we seem to need some sort of unsettling experience that confronts us with our fallibility, or, as the great Muslim thinker al-Ghazâlî (d. 1111) puts it in his intellectual autobiography “The Deliverance from Error,” that breaks the “bonds of taqlîd” — the beliefs and values stemming from the contingent circumstances of our socialization rather than from rational deliberation.

In his own case, al-Ghazâlî writes, the bonds of taqlîd broke when he realized that he would have been just as fervent a Jew or Christian as he was a Muslim, had he been brought up in a Jewish or Christian community. He explains taqlîd as the authority of “parents and teachers,” which we can restate more generally as all things other than rational argument that influence what we think and do: from media, fashion and marketing to political rhetoric and religious ideology.
More From The Stone

Read previous contributions to this series.

The problem of taqlîd (or what social psychologists today call “conformism”) has a long history. Socrates explained the need for his gadfly mission by comparing Athenian citizens to a “sluggish” horse that “needed to be stirred up.” Note that philosophers, too, fall prey to taqlîd. Galen, the second century Alexandrian doctor and philosopher, complained that in his time Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics and Epicureans simply “name themselves after the sect in which they were brought up” because they “form admirations” for the school founders, not because they choose the views supported by the best arguments.

If we take taqlîd to be a fact about human psychology and agree that it is an undesirable state to be in — at least when it comes to the core convictions that underlie our way of life and worldview — then we should particularly welcome debates across cultural boundaries. For if we engage someone who does not share the cultural narratives we were brought up in (historical, political, religious etc.), we cannot rely on their authority, but are compelled to argue for our views — as I had to in my discussions with Egyptian students in Cairo.

Sunday, September 02, 2012


slate | Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial founder of the Unification Church, died Monday in South Korea, two weeks after he was hospitalized with pneumonia, a church spokesman tells the Associated Press. He was 92.

Marijuana Legalization: What We Know and What We Don't

Rand | In November 2012, voters in multiple states will be asked to consider propositions concerning decriminalization and legalization of marijuana for commercial production and sale for general—not just medical—purposes. Medical marijuana and decriminalization are familiar concepts, albeit widely misunderstood by the public. Legalization of commercial sale and production, on the other hand, would constitute a revolution, one about which public opinion couldn't be more evenly divided. The latest Gallup poll reports that exactly half of Americans favor legalization, with indications of stronger support in states voting on it this year.

This briefing will examine
  • why the evidence on medical marijuana is inconclusive
  • what makes legalization so dramatically different from mere decriminalization
  • the possible consequences of a state legalizing marijuana for non-medical purposes, both for that state and spill-over effects on other states
  • important differences between the particular legalization measures that are on the ballot this year in Colorado and Washington
  • options and limits for federal response to state-level legalization.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

correspondence and collusion between the nytimes and the cia

Guardian | The rightwing transparency group, Judicial Watch, released Tuesday a new batch of documents showing how eagerly the Obama administration shoveled information to Hollywood film-makers about the Bin Laden raid. Obama officials did so to enable the production of a politically beneficial pre-election film about that "heroic" killing, even as administration lawyers insisted to federal courts and media outlets that no disclosure was permissible because the raid was classified.

Thanks to prior disclosures from Judicial Watch of documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, this is old news. That's what the Obama administration chronically does: it manipulates secrecy powers to prevent accountability in a court of law, while leaking at will about the same programs in order to glorify the president.

But what is news in this disclosure are the newly released emails between Mark Mazzetti, the New York Times's national security and intelligence reporter, and CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf. The CIA had evidently heard that Maureen Dowd was planning to write a column on the CIA's role in pumping the film-makers with information about the Bin Laden raid in order to boost Obama's re-election chances, and was apparently worried about how Dowd's column would reflect on them. On 5 August 2011 (a Friday night), Harf wrote an email to Mazzetti with the subject line: "Any word??", suggesting, obviously, that she and Mazzetti had already discussed Dowd's impending column and she was expecting an update from the NYT reporter.

A mere two minutes after the CIA spokeswoman sent this Friday night inquiry, Mazzetti responded. He promised her that he was "going to see a version before it gets filed", and assured her that there was likely nothing to worry about:

"My sense is there a very brief mention at bottom of column about CIA ceremony, but that [screenwriter Mark] Boal also got high level access at Pentagon."

She then replied with this instruction to Mazzetti: "keep me posted", adding that she "really appreciate[d] it".

cause of destruction of venezuelan refinery under investigation..,

axisoflogic | A massive explosion at Venezuela's main oil refinery at the Amuay plant in Falcon State occurred at 1:11 a.m. this morning (Saturday, August 25).

The Dead and Injured
According to Vice President Elías Jaua, at least 24 people were killed, 17 of them members of the Venezuelan National Guard who provide security for the refinery and 60 were injured with 5 remaining hospitalized. Many homes in the area were evacuated and med-vac ambulances were used to take the injured to hospitals.

Update: The death toll has increased to 41 people. These included 18 National Guardsmen who were among those protecting the refinery; 17 civilians and six bodies have not yet been identified.

The Material Damage
Two refinery tanks were destroyed with significant damage to the infrastructure and houses in the area and the National Guard base in front of the refinery was completely destroyed. The refinery is one of the biggest in the world, producing 645,000 barrels of crude and 200,000 barrels of gasoline a day. Amuay, on the Paraguana Peninsula, is part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex, which also includes the adjacent Cardon. The entire complex has capacity to produce 956,000 bpd.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said there are sufficient petroleum reserves in the country to continue the normal flow of exports and meet domestic demands even after the destruction that took place early this morning. Ramirez stated that all operations at the plant had stopped but he expected them to resume within two days.

Update: Rafael Ramírez, Venezuela's Energy Minister stated that nine crude-oil-storage tanks had been destroyed.

Cause of the Blasts
Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez reported on state television that a gas leak, which formed a cloud exploded, "igniting at least two storage tanks and other facilities at the refinery."

US Marine entered Venezuela illegally 2 weeks ago: Two weeks ago (August 10) we reported that the Venezuelan government captured a U.S. Marine entering the country from Colombia illegally, with "the look of a mercenary." He told the government that he "was fleeing from someone," but would not answer any questions asked during interrogation. He had stamps in his passport from visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and attempted to destroy his notebook when he was captured. But his notebook was reconstructed and found to contain "geographical coordinates." The Marine is still in Venezuelan custody and initially, the government reported that he was refusing to explain his reasons for entering the country illegally. President Chávez stated, "This [US] citizen wanted to enter the country illegally, for who knows what reason. He cannot say where he was going, or who was waiting for him." Since then, the government has not issued any additional reports.

At the time of the US Marine's arrest, President Chávez issued an alert to all Venezuelans related to possible sabotage of the presidential elections this year:
"A group of the bourgeoisie is preparing to reject the people's triumph, that's very clear. [They] are going to try to plunge the country into a political crisis and fill the country with violence. I urge everybody to be very alert."
Corporate Media Reporting: The BBC, Guardian, NYT, LAT, WP, Reuters, AP and other imperialist media jumped the gun and immediately blamed the Venezuelan government for this “accident.” They quote ex-employees of PDVSA who are telling them that the explosion is the result of poor maintenance of equipment and sub-standard safety measures by the government. One of them said the explosion is due to the oil minister working on President Chávez' re-election campaign this year instead of taking care of his responsibilities as oil minister. 18,000 of these employees were fired when they sabotaged and shut down PDVSA in 2002-2003. The imperialist media does not mention any of this, calling them "ex employees" or "retired employees" in their propaganda.

The BBC jumped on this story immediately, attributing the explosion to faulty government management before any investigation has been carried out:
"Analysts say refineries in Venezuela, South America's biggest oil producer, have suffered from a long list of problems including power failures and accidents."
The Guardian did the same with:
"Power faults, accidents and planned stoppages for maintenance have hit deliveries from South America's biggest oil exporter.“Eddie Ramirez, national co-ordinator for Gente del Petróleo, an organisation of ex-employees of PDVSA, said: "These accidents have been happening more and more frequently in the last couple years because of a neglect in safety and maintenance standards.

"Minister Ramirez dedicates his time to doing politics alongside the candidate, Hugo Chávez, instead of maintaining the level of infrastructure this kind of industry requires."
Gente del Petróleo has been attacking the Chávez government ever since the coup of 2002. They are comprised of many of the 18,000 PDVSA employees who were fired by the government after they sabotaged the Venezuelan oil industry, then abandoned their posts shutting down all oil production for 3 months and crippling the economy in 2003. On April 13, 2002, Eddie Ramirez, sought out and quoted by the Guardian for this story, sat with old PDVSA managers and defiantly cried in public while President Chávez was being held hostage, "Not one more barrel of oil for Cuba!”

The New York Times follows suit with:
“Pdvsa has been plagued by accidents and oil spills in recent years, which critics say are the result of poor management...

“José Bodas, an oil union leader, said that the company had failed to invest in maintenance.

“ 'This has as a consequence the increase in accidents and tragic deaths like what we are seeing today,' Mr. Bodas said in a telephone call to Globovision, a television channel associated with the political opposition to President Hugo Chávez.”
Rafael Ramírez, Venezuela's Oil Minister said PDVSA is investigating the cause of the gas leak that led to the explosion.