Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Double-O's Death Squads

guardian | The film Dirty Wars, which premiered at Sundance, can be viewed, as Amy Goodman sees it, as an important narrative of excesses in the global "war on terror". It is also a record of something scary for those of us at home – and uncovers the biggest story, I would say, in our nation's contemporary history.

Though they wisely refrain from drawing inferences, Scahill and Rowley have uncovered the facts of a new unaccountable power in America and the world that has the potential to shape domestic and international events in an unprecedented way. The film tracks the Joint Special Operations Command (JSoc), a network of highly-trained, completely unaccountable US assassins, armed with ever-expanding "kill lists". It was JSoc that ran the operation behind the Navy Seal team six that killed bin Laden.

Scahill and Rowley track this new model of US warfare that strikes at civilians and insurgents alike – in 70 countries. They interview former JSoc assassins, who are shell-shocked at how the "kill lists" they are given keep expanding, even as they eliminate more and more people.

Our conventional forces are subject to international laws of war: they are accountable for crimes in courts martial; and they run according to a clear chain of command. As much as the US military may fall short of these standards at times, it is a model of lawfulness compared with JSoc, which has far greater scope to undertake the commission of extra-legal operations – and unimaginable crimes.

JSoc morphs the secretive, unaccountable mercenary model of private military contracting, which Scahill identified in Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, into a hybrid with the firepower and intelligence backup of our full state resources. The Hill reports that JSoc is now seeking more "flexibility" to expand its operations globally.

JSoc operates outside the traditional chain of command; it reports directly to the president of the United States. In the words of Wired magazine:
"JSoc operates with practically no accountability."
Scahill calls JSoc the president's "paramilitary". Its budget, which may be in the billions, is secret.
What does it means for the president to have an unaccountable paramilitary force, which can assassinate anyone anywhere in the world? JSoc has already been sent to kill at least one US citizen – one who had been indicted for no crime, but was condemned for propagandizing for al-Qaida. Anwar al-Awlaki, on JSoc's "kill list" since 2010, was killed by CIA-controlled drone attack in September 2011; his teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki – also a US citizen – was killed by a US drone two weeks later.

This arrangement – where death squads roam under the sole control of the executive – is one definition of dictatorship. It now has the potential to threaten critics of the US anywhere in the world.

drones over there, total surveillance over here...,

aljazeera | The massive surveillance apparatus built up over the last 10 years is the domestic companion of the overseas drone killings. It is one outcome of this deep decay of the liberal state. While much is not known about either, we know enough to recognise its potential for enormous abuse. What is known is that there are at least 10,000 buildings across the US, with a massive concentration in Washington, DC, engaged in ongoing surveillance of all of us residing in the territory of the US. Surveillance and counter-terrorism activities employ about one million professionals with top level secret clearance. One estimate has it that every day over two billion emails are tracked. And on and on along these lines.

The basic logic of such a surveillance system is that for our security as citizens we are all being surveilled, or potentially so. That is to say, the logic of the system is that we must all be considered suspect in a first step in order to ensure our safety. Who, then, have we the citizens become, or turned into? Are we the new colonials?

The source of this excess of executive power is a foundational distortion at the heart of the liberal state. The liberal state was never meant to bring equality of opportunity and full recognition of all members of the polity. Inequality was at its core since its beginning - between owners of the means of production and those who only had their labour to sell in the market. But even so, the so-called Keynesian period throughout much of the west engendered a prosperous working class and an expanding modest middle class. It was a partial democratising of the economy. In the 1980s, this began to disintegrate.

In the 2000s, just about all liberal democracies were in sharp decline, with growing inequality, weakened unions, impoverishment of the modest middle classes, and an enormous capture of the country's profits by the top layer of firms and households. This is all captured in a couple of numbers found in the US census: In 1979, the top 1 percent of earners in New York City received 12 percent of all the compensation to workers in the city, a reasonable level of inequality in a complex economy such as is NYC. (This share excludes non-compensation sources of wealth, such as capital gains, inheritance, etc.) In 2009, the top 1 percent received 44 percent - a level of inequality that cannot be good for the city's economy.

At its most extreme, this combination of massive surveillance and savage inequality may be signalling a new phase in the long history of liberal democracies, one where the executive branch gains power partly through its increasingly international activities. Over the last 20 years and more, this incipient internationalism has been deployed in support of developing a global economy and fighting the "War against Terrorism"; thus the big-bank bailout is not so much a "return of the strong nationalist state" as some would have it, but rather the use by the executive branch of national law and national taxpayers' money to rescue a global financial system.

This is a kind of internationalism. Pity it is being deployed for this. It is possible that these new international capabilities of the executive branch might be reoriented to more worthy aims - climate change, global hunger, global poverty and many others requiring new types of internationalisms.Fist tap Arnach.

questioning the jewish state

NYTimes | Any state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group.

If the institutions of a state favor one ethnic group among its citizenry in this way, then only the members of that group will feel themselves fully a part of the life of the state. True equality, therefore, is only realizable in a state that is based on civic peoplehood. As formulated by both Jewish- and Palestinian-Israeli activists on this issue, a truly democratic state that fully respects the self-determination rights of everyone under its sovereignty must be a “state of all its citizens.”

This fundamental point exposes the fallacy behind the common analogy, drawn by defenders of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, between Israel’s right to be Jewish and France’s right to be French. The appropriate analogy would instead be between France’s right to be French (in the civic sense) and Israel’s right to be Israeli.
Leif Parsons

I conclude, then, that the very idea of a Jewish state is undemocratic, a violation of the self-determination rights of its non-Jewish citizens, and therefore morally problematic. But the harm doesn’t stop with the inherently undemocratic character of the state. For if an ethnic national state is established in a territory that contains a significant number of non-members of that ethnic group, it will inevitably face resistance from the land’s other inhabitants. This will force the ethnic nation controlling the state to resort to further undemocratic means to maintain their hegemony. Three strategies to deal with resistance are common: expulsion, occupation and institutional marginalization. Interestingly, all three strategies have been employed by the Zionist movement: expulsion in 1948 (and, to a lesser extent, in 1967), occupation of the territories conquered in 1967 and institution of a complex web of laws that prevent Israel’s Palestinian citizens from mounting an internal challenge to the Jewish character of the state. (The recent outrage in Israel over a proposed exclusion of ultra-Orthodox parties from the governing coalition, for example, failed to note that no Arab political party has ever been invited to join the government.) In other words, the wrong of ethnic hegemony within the state leads to the further wrong of repression against the Other within its midst.

There is an unavoidable conflict between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. I want to emphasize that there’s nothing anti-Semitic in pointing this out, and it’s time the question was discussed openly on its merits, without the charge of anti-Semitism hovering in the background.

mormons begin redacting their history of racism and polygamy...,

religiondispatches | A newly released digital edition of the four books of LDS or Mormon scripture—the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—includes editorial changes that reflect a shifting official view on issues like polygamy, the Church’s history of racism, and the historicity of LDS scripture.

Perhaps the most significant is the inclusion of a new heading to precede the now-canonized 1978 announcement of the end of the LDS Church’s ban on black priesthood ordination:
The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.
Church leaders have long maintained public ambiguity about the history of the ban and its end; they have rarely acknowledged the ordination of early African-American Mormons nor have they cited anti-racist teaching in the Book of Mormon in connection with the Church’s own troubled history on race. The new heading historicizes the ban (suggesting the influence of a robust Church History department) and depicts it as a contradiction to the original impulses of the faith, not corrected until 1978. The heading does, some commentators have noted, offer continuing cover to Brigham Young, whose on-the-record racist statements to the Utah legislature suggest his influence in the evolution of a non-ordination policy. Commentators also note the absence of reference to the fact that black women were not historically admitted to LDS temple worship until the 1978 announcement.

Another significant change is to the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, a book of scripture long presented as a direct translation of Egyptian papyri obtained by Joseph Smith but shown by Egyptologists to have no connection to their source material. The new edition now characterizes the Book of Abraham as an “inspired translation” of the papyri. Changes to the introduction to the now-canonized official announcement of the end of institutionally-sanctioned polygamy also suggest an effort to historicize polygamy and connect it with Book of Mormon teachers that teach monogamy as “God’s standard.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

what is a person?

philomeme | What is a person?  Our debate defining ‘person’ is emotionally charged and rarely logical.  Words like ‘baby’, ‘corporation’, ‘human’, and ‘person’ are used interchangeably.  We all may have an opinion, but there is no common agreement on what is a person.

Historically women and slaves have not been considered persons, even in my own country.  Others wish to consider animals as persons and wish to grant them moral and legal rights.  Science mixes it up with tradition, religion, and law to give us a mind-numbing view of what a ‘person’ is.

When we have an opinion and seek facts to prove it, we are not being honest with truth.  Only when we seek facts first and keep an open mind can we seek truth.  Let’s examine some facts then consider what we mean when we say ‘person’.


There is no legal definition of person agreed upon by states or nations.

In most societies today adult humans are usually considered persons.

If you look-up dictionary definitions of human and person they are circular.  A human is a person and person is a human.

To many a ‘person’ can include non-human entities such as animals, artificial intelligence, or extraterrestrial life.

There are even legal definitions that include entities such as corporations, nations, or even estates in probate as ‘persons’.  In some legal definitions those with extreme mental impairment or lack of brain function have been declassified as ‘persons”.

Religious fundamentalists want to push the definition of person to the moment of conception.

Meanwhile science is struggling to find a clear definition of what constitutes a human.

Some lawyers and politicians maintain that corporations are legally persons.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

routine social guidance in a true psychopathocracy...,

wikipedia | Duck and Cover is a civil defense film (sometimes also characterized as a social guidance film or propaganda) produced in 1951 (but first shown publicly in January 1952) by the United States federal government's civil defense branch shortly after the Soviet Union began nuclear testing. Written by Raymond J. Mauer and directed by Anthony Rizzo of Archer Productions and made with the help of schoolchildren from New York City and Astoria, New York, it was shown in schools as the cornerstone of the government's "duck and cover" public awareness campaign. The movie states that nuclear war could happen at any time without warning, and U.S. citizens should keep this constantly in mind and be ever ready.

scrutinize the witch for the devil's subtle marks...,

tcm | We have the Alhambra, California police department to thank for 1970's USE YOUR EYES (RESIDENCE INVESTIGATION), an informational short clearly intended as a teaching tool for law enforcement. This 13-minute colour film opens with bouncy spy-film music as we are introduced to the scene of the crime: a normal-looking residence in which, strangely, nothing unusual seems to have happened, and it is never clear what exactly the police have been called to investigate. No matter, however; this film is not a narrative but a deliberate, eerily quiet exploration of the proper investigation techniques required to determine whether or not there has been illegal marijuana use in a home. Obviously, law enforcement officials were concerned that, unless confronted with a living room carelessly strewn with drug paraphernalia, officers might miss the otherwise subtle indications of recreational drug use. As a result, lingering shots of overflowing ashtrays, close-ups of everyday objects and scenes of someone actually appearing to smoke marijuana and hashish are combined with the calm voice of an off-screen narrator who helpfully walks you, the none-so-observant police officer, through all the steps you should wish to take to interpret the scene before you. Can you identify a lone "roach" lying in a cigarette butt-filled ashtray? If you see a hair pin or an alligator clip with burnt ends, would you know how this could conceivably have happened? If someone has a gigantic hookah sitting on their living room table, would you know what this object is generally used for? And, most importantly, are you aware that only the trained eye can make sense of these clues to avoid an unlawful search of a residence? This film also informs us that hashish use causes one to "float out of the world of reality toward a midnight of eventual regret and despair". But you, the well-trained police officer, can't put a stop to that unless you watch this film, put its techniques to work, and USE YOUR EYES.

this dead wankster had the nerve to call others "harebrained and irresponsible"...,

latimes | Gerald D. Klee, a retired psychiatrist and LSD expert who participated in experiments with the hallucinogenic drug on volunteer servicemen at U.S. military installations in the 1950s, has died. He was 86.
Klee died Sunday of complications after surgery at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Md., his family said.

In 1975, Klee made headlines when he confirmed reports that the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Psychiatric Institute had been involved in secret research between 1956 and 1959, when hundreds of soldiers were given LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide.

He said that in addition to LSD, the Army was experimenting with other hallucinogens as part of its chemical weapons research program.

Klee said the Army had negotiated a contract in 1956 with the University of Maryland's Psychiatric Institute to conduct physiological and psychological tests on the soldiers.

"A large proportion of the people who have gotten involved in research in this area have been harebrained and irresponsible — Timothy Leary being the most notorious example — and a lot of the stuff that has been published reflects that," Klee told the Baltimore Evening Sun in 1975.

"We didn't have any axes to grind, and the university's role was to conduct scientific experimentation," he said. "The interests of the University of Maryland group were purely scientific, and the military was just there."

Saturday, March 09, 2013

the biological origin of linguistic diversity

plosone | In contrast with animal communication systems, diversity is characteristic of almost every aspect of human language. Languages variously employ tones, clicks, or manual signs to signal differences in meaning; some languages lack the noun-verb distinction (e.g., Straits Salish), whereas others have a proliferation of fine-grained syntactic categories (e.g., Tzeltal); and some languages do without morphology (e.g., Mandarin), while others pack a whole sentence into a single word (e.g., Cayuga). A challenge for evolutionary biology is to reconcile the diversity of languages with the high degree of biological uniformity of their speakers. Here, we model processes of language change and geographical dispersion and find a consistent pressure for flexible learning, irrespective of the language being spoken. This pressure arises because flexible learners can best cope with the observed high rates of linguistic change associated with divergent cultural evolution following human migration. Thus, rather than genetic adaptations for specific aspects of language, such as recursion, the coevolution of genes and fast-changing linguistic structure provides the biological basis for linguistic diversity. Only biological adaptations for flexible learning combined with cultural evolution can explain how each child has the potential to learn any human language.

Linguistic diversity and the biological basis of language have traditionally been treated separately, with the nature and origin of the latter being the focus of much debate. One influential proposal argues in favour of a special-purpose biological language system by analogy to the visual system [10][13]. Just as vision is crucial in navigating the physical environment, language is fundamental to navigating our social environment. Other scientists have proposed that language instead relies on domain-general neural mechanisms evolved for other purposes [14][16]. Just as reading relies on neural mechanisms that pre-date the emergence of writing [17], so perhaps language has evolved to rely on pre-existing brain systems. However, there is more agreement about the origin of linguistic diversity, which is typically attributed to divergent cultural evolution following human migration [9]. As small groups of hunter-gatherers dispersed geographically, first within and later beyond Africa [18], their languages also diverged [19].

Here, we present a theoretical model of the relationship between linguistic diversity and the biological basis for language. Importantly, the model assigns an important role to linguistic change, which has been extraordinarily rapid during historical times; e.g., the entire Indo-European language group diverged from a common source in less than 10,000 years [20]. Through numerical simulations, we determine the circumstances under which the diversity of human language can be reconciled with a largely uniform biological basis that enables each child to learn any language. First, we explore the consequences of an initially stable population splitting into two geographically separate groups. Second, we look at the scenario in which such groups are not fully separated, but continue to interact to varying degrees. Third, we consider the possibility that linguistic principles are not entirely unconstrained, but are partly determined by pre-existing genetic biases. Fourth, we investigate the possibility of a linguistic “snowball effect,” whereby linguistic change was originally slow–allowing for the evolution of a genetically specified protolanguage–but gradually increased across generations. In each of these scenarios, we find that the evolution of a genetic predisposition to accommodate rapid cultural evolution of linguistic structure is key to reconciling the diversity of human language with a largely uniform biological basis for learning language.

inside china's bio-google

technologyreview | BGI-Shenzhen, once known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, has burst from relative obscurity to become the world’s most prolific sequencer of human, plant, and animal DNA. In 2010, with the aid of a $1.58 billion line of credit from China Development Bank, BGI purchased 128 state-of-the-art DNA sequencing machines for about $500,000 apiece. It now owns 156 sequencers from several manufacturers and accounts for some 10 to 20 percent of all DNA data produced globally. So far, it claims to have completely sequenced some 50,000 human genomes—far more than any other group.

BGI’s sheer size has already put Chinese gene research on the map. Those same economies of scale could also become an advantage as comprehensive gene readouts become part of everyday medicine. The cost of DNA sequencing is falling fast. In a few years, it’s likely that millions of people will want to know what their genes predict about their health. BGI might be the one to tell them.

The institute hasn’t only initiated a series of grandly conceived science projects. (In January, it announced it had determined the DNA sequence of not one but 90 varieties of chickpeas.) It’s also pioneered a research-for-hire business to decode human genomes in bulk, taking orders from the world’s top drug companies and universities. Last year, BGI even started to install satellite labs inside foreign research centers and staff them with Chinese technicians.

BGI’s rise is regarded with curiosity and some trepidation, not just because of the organization’s size but also because of its opportunistic business approach (it has a center for pig cloning, dabbles in stem-cell research, and runs a diagnostics lab). The institute employs 4,000 people, as many as a midsize university—1,000 in its bioinformatics division alone. Like Zhao, most are young—the average age is 27—and some sleep in company dormitories. The average salary is $1,500 a month.

Ten years ago, the international Human Genome Project was finishing up the first copy of the human genetic code at a cost of $3 billion. Thanks to a series of clever innovations, the cost to read out the DNA in a person’s genome has since fallen to just a few thousand dollars. Yet that has only created new challenges: how to store, analyze, and make sense of the data. According to BGI, its machines generate six terabytes of data each day.

Zhang Yong, 33, a BGI senior researcher, predicts that within the next decade the cost of sequencing a human genome will fall to just $200 or $300 and BGI will become a force in assembling a global “bio-Google”—it will help “organize all the world’s biological information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

lake vostok yields new bacterial life

RT | Russian researchers have found unidentified bacteria in waters of the unique sub-glacial Lake Vostok. However, this is not a sensational discovery since the microorganism was found in possible kerosene contaminated waters.

The finding from the water sample taken in May 2012 showed that the bacteria do not belong to any of the existing classes of bacteria. Before the latest discovery, science knew only one species of bacteria that can live under these conditions.

“The last analysis was completed a week ago - there will be another, but the results are unlikely to change anything. After exclusion of all known contaminants - extraneous organisms - bacterial DNA was detected, which does not coincide with any of the known species in the world,” RIA Novosti quotes Sergey Bulat of the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in Russia.
However, the discovery turns out not to be that sensational.

“There has been one strain of bacteria which we did not find in drilling liquid, but these bacteria could in principal use kerosene as an energy source,” the head of the laboratory of the same institution, Vladimir Korolev said. "That is why we can’t say that a previously-unknown bacteria was found,” he stressed.

In February 2012 Russian researchers became the first in the world to reach the waters of Lake Vostok after more than decades of drilling work.

This year, on January 10, scientists came up with another record. They managed to reach the fresh ice at a depth of 3383 meters and took samples at 3,406 meters. Ice formed as the water from the lake rose into the hole due to upward-pressure in the crack researchers drilled last February.

Last year Russian scientists managed to drill through 3700 meters of ice, reach the surface of the lake and take 40 liters of prehistoric water. However, those samples, scientists said later, were not clean enough to prove the existence of any kind of life – the water contained some substances of drilling liquid, kerosene and Freon, used while getting through the thick ice.

As recently as March 1, Russian researchers successfully obtained fresh ice samples from the lake as the work continues there. They said it would take months to clarify whether life exists in the fossil water below the 3.5-km deep glacier.

All water samples will be brought to St. Petersburg in May on board the research ship Academic Fyodorov, which is currently working in the Antarctic.

Friday, March 08, 2013

parental investment: don't leave home without it

pbs | Jerome Kagan is one of the pioneers of developmental child psychology. But I interviewed him a few weeks ago with an economic motivation. PBS NewsHour has begun to explore a virtual reality project designed to help close America's deeply troubling and widening economic gap -- between those in the bottom rungs of the income and wealth ladder and those at the top. I explored this in 2011 when I visited Sesame Street, reporting on the effectiveness of the "marshmallow test." The idea: to help kids learn to delay gratification and learn how to save, for example. The general aim: to do better in school, do better in life.

Jerome Kagan was skeptical, however of any short-term technology or test that claims it can close the achievement and economic gap. He thinks it will take a much more significant investment.

Jerome Kagan: The income inequality gap keeps on increasing. Joseph Stiglitz, [a Nobel laureate economist], said in an editorial in The New York Times that for a child born into the lower fifth of the income distribution of his family, the odds are only 50 percent that he or she will ever rise out of that [lower] fifth. That's all. Just to rise up to the next fifth. That's terrible and the achievement gap in school is getting worse.

Paul Solman: The achievement gap between richer and poorer?

Jerome Kagan: Yes, between the affluent and the bottom third of the population. Many people acknowledge that it has to do with the fact that poor, uneducated parents don't realize the importance of reading to your child, talking to your child, taking your child to the zoo. It's not that they dislike it; they don't realize it's important.

The message of Sesame Street is clear. Sesame Street was funded by public funds with the hope that it would help poor kids. But it helped middle class kids because the parents sat with them and explained it, and the gap in knowing your letters between the poor and affluent was bigger after Sesame Street than before.

So it has to do with the failures of parents. Rarely is that in the press because there's a deep reluctance to blame the victim.

Paul Solman: What is the fundamental problem?

Jerome Kagan: The fundamental problem is that the gap in educational achievement, which is a key in our technological economy, is due in my opinion -- and the opinion of many, including Arne Duncan, our secretary of education -- to the fact that the families of the poor who are not very educated are not talking to their children, interacting with their children, insisting they do their homework and so on. Should we say it's a failure? Let's say it's an error of omission.

Paul Solman: You mean that it's poor parenting?

Jerome Kagan: Right, but people don't want to say that. We don't want to blame the victim. The civil rights movement had a profound effect on the United States and on the American mind, maybe unique in the world. Once we realized how victimized people of color had been, an honest empathy went out and that's how we got civil rights legislation.

arguing about 19th century methods and standards...,

dianeravitch | I have thought long and hard about the Common Core standards.

I have decided that I cannot support them.

In this post, I will explain why.

I have long advocated for voluntary national standards, believing that it would be helpful to states and districts to have general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school.

Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one. I envision standards not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do. They should serve as a promise that schools will provide all students the opportunity and resources to learn reading and mathematics, the sciences, the arts, history, literature, civics, geography, and physical education, taught by well-qualified teachers, in schools led by experienced and competent educators.

​For the past two years, I have steadfastly insisted that I was neither for nor against the Common Core standards. I was agnostic. I wanted to see how they worked in practice. I wanted to know, based on evidence, whether or not they improve education and whether they reduce or increase the achievement gaps among different racial and ethnic groups.

After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t wait five or ten years to find out whether test scores go up or down, whether or not schools improve, and whether the kids now far behind are worse off than they are today.

I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.

The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.

resistance to common core standards is growning

WaPo | Nearly all of the states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math and are in the process of getting ready to implement them by 2014. In a number of states, however, the standards are meeting with growing resistance for reasons including questions about who was behind the initiative and whether they are better than previous standards. Alabama, for example recently said it was pulling out of the two consortia that are working on creating standardized tests aligned with the standards. In this and the next two blog posts, we explore some of the issues surrounding the standards. (And you can see more here and here and here and here.)

This first post is about Indiana, which adopted the Common Core in 2010 under then state education superintendent Tony Bennett and where some teachers are already implementing them. Bennett was ousted in last November’s elections by veteran educator Glenda Ritz who opposed his support for corporate-based school reforms. Ritz does not want to get rid of the Common Core but wants to pause implementation and review the standards. She opposes a bill in the legislature that would pull the state out of the Common Core initiative. The Indiana Senate recently voted to halt the implementation — though not pull out of the initiative, though the state Board of Education is firmly behind the standards. If it is sounds messy, that is because it is.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

the country that stopped reading...,

NYTimes | EARLIER this week, I spotted, among the job listings in the newspaper Reforma, an ad from a restaurant in Mexico City looking to hire dishwashers. The requirement: a secondary school diploma.

Years ago, school was not for everyone. Classrooms were places for discipline, study. Teachers were respected figures. Parents actually gave them permission to punish their children by slapping them or tugging their ears. But at least in those days, schools aimed to offer a more dignified life. 

Nowadays more children attend school than ever before, but they learn much less. They learn almost nothing. The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago. 

One cannot help but ask the Mexican educational system, “How is it possible that I hand over a child for six hours every day, five days a week, and you give me back someone who is basically illiterate?” 

Despite recent gains in industrial development and increasing numbers of engineering graduates, Mexico is floundering socially, politically and economically because so many of its citizens do not read. Upon taking office in December, our new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, immediately announced a program to improve education. This is typical. All presidents do this upon taking office. 

The first step in his plan to improve education? Put the leader of the teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, in jail — which he did last week. Ms. Gordillo, who has led the 1.5 million-member union for 23 years, is suspected of embezzling about $200 million. 

She ought to be behind bars, but education reform with a focus on teachers instead of students is nothing new. For many years now, the job of the education secretary has been not to educate Mexicans but to deal with the teachers and their labor issues. Nobody in Mexico organizes as many strikes as the teachers’ union. And, sadly, many teachers, who often buy or inherit their jobs, are lacking in education themselves.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

the war on consciousness

Graham Hancock tells the story of his 24-year relationship with cannabis brought to an abrupt halt in 2011 after an encounter with ayahuasca, the sacred visionary brew of the Amazon. Along the way he explores the mystery of death, the problem of consciousness, and the implications for the human future of a society that wages total war on true cognitive liberty.

14:54 "...only a truly insane global state of consciousness could allow such an abomination to occur..."

17:30 "...demand the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness..." Fist tap Arnach.

amplifying changes in successive frames of video that are too subtle for the naked eye

mitnews | At this summer's Siggraph — the premier computer-graphics conference — researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) will present new software that amplifies variations in successive frames of video that are imperceptible to the naked eye. So, for instance, the software makes it possible to actually "see" someone's pulse, as the skin reddens and pales with the flow of blood, and it can exaggerate tiny motions, making visible the vibrations of individual guitar strings or the breathing of a swaddled infant in a neonatal intensive care unit.

The system is somewhat akin to the equalizer in a stereo sound system, which boosts some frequencies and cuts others, except that the pertinent frequency is the frequency of color changes in a sequence of video frames, not the frequency of an audio signal. The prototype of the software allows the user to specify the frequency range of interest and the degree of amplification. The software works in real time and displays both the original video and the altered version of the video, with changes magnified.

 Although the technique lends itself most naturally to phenomena that recur at regular intervals — such as the beating of a heart, the movement of a vibrating string or the inflation of the lungs — if the range of frequencies is wide enough, the system can amplify changes that occur only once. So, for instance, it could be used to compare different images of the same scene, allowing the user to easily pick out changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. In one set of experiments, the system was able to dramatically amplify the movement of shadows in a street scene photographed only twice, at an interval of about 15 seconds. Fist tap Dale.

moar on scary droans

cnet | The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.

The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department's unmanned Predator B drones, which are primarily used to patrol the United States' northern and southern borders but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.

Homeland Security's specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, say they "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not," meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify "signals interception" technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and "direction finding" technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained a partially redacted copy of Homeland Security's requirements for its drone fleet through the Freedom of Information Act and published it this week. CNET unearthed an unredacted copy of the requirements that provides additional information about the aircraft's surveillance capabilities.

Concern about domestic use of drones is growing, with federal legislation introduced last month that would establish legal safeguards, in addition to parallel efforts underway from state and local lawmakers. The Federal Aviation Administration recently said that it will "address privacy-related data collection" by drones.
The prospect of identifying armed Americans concerns Second Amendment advocates, who say that technology billed as securing the United States' land and maritime borders should not be used domestically.

Michael Kostelnik, the Homeland Security official who created the program, told Congress that the drone fleet would be available to "respond to emergency missions across the country," and a Predator drone was dispatched to the tiny town of Lakota, N.D., to aid local police in a dispute that began with reimbursement for feeding six cows. The defendant, arrested with the help of Predator surveillance, lost a preliminary bid to dismiss the charges.

"I am very concerned that this technology will be used against law-abiding American firearms owners," says Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation. "This could violate Fourth Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights." Fist tap Arnach.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

drones over brooklyn

gawker | The idea of drones over New York City have inspired art projects and a rap song. Now they may be a reality too. The FAA is investigating a report from an Alitalia passenger jet of a drone spotting over Brooklyn, as he approached JFK airport in Queens. "We saw a drone, ad drone aircraft," the pilot told controllers, according to audio played on Good Morning America, below.

The FAA told CNN in a statement that it is "investigating a report... he saw a small, unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft while on final approach to Runway 31 Right... The sighting was approximately four to five miles west of the airport at an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet." No other pilots reported seeing the drone, according to CNN.

Without any more description it's impossible to tell if this might be some sort of heavy-duty unmanned aerial vehicle, or a hobbyist remote controlled gadget, which we know take to the skies occasionally around New York. In any event, the NYPD doesn't currently use drones in New York, but it's only a matter of time.

Update: The FBI has released a statement saying they'd like your help in identifying the drone operator.
On Monday, March, 4, 2013, at approximately 1:15 p.m., the pilot of Alitalia Flight #608 spotted a small, unmanned aircraft while on approach to John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Alitalia flight was roughly three miles from runway 31R when the incident occurred at an altitude of approximately 1,750 feet. The unmanned aircraft came within 200 feet of the Alitalia plane.
The FBI is investigating the incident and looking to identify and locate the aircraft and its operator. The unnamed aircraft was described as black in color and no more than three feet wide with four propellers.
Update II: a Tipster points out that Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn, just a few miles from JFK, is a favorite spot for remote-controlled plane enthusiasts to fly. It even hosts an R/C air show in the summer. Maybe the drone launched from there?

wealth inequality in america

egypt sustains severe land loss to development and desertification

egyptindependent |  Egypt is losing land faster than any country in the world, according to UN estimates announced Friday on the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

The Executive Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification announced that Egypt ranked first in the rate of desertification, painting a bleak picture of fast-shrinking agricultural lands, deteriorating soil fertility and low productivity due to increased land abuse.

The UN report also said Egypt loses 3.5 acres per hour of fertile Delta agricultural land as a result of urban sprawl and construction, which is a record unprecedented in the global rate of deforestation.

‫Ismail Abdel Galil, the national coordinator for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, said in press statements that the report did not include the painful reality of increasing construction on agricultural lands, which has jumped over the past three months to five acres per hour due to chaos and the lack of regulation.

He said Egypt is losing tracts of fertile lands formed by the Nile River's flooding over thousands of years that cannot be recovered, especially after the decline in land reclamation programs by the state.

Abdel Galil said the report emphasizes the growing size of the food gap and the inevitable increased reliance on food imports, which threatens Egypt's future and could put it on the brink of famine. He urged the government to take swift action to prevent such a crisis.

china losing vast tracts of arable land to desertification

SFGate | A new Chinese export has been spreading quietly across Asia and America: dust.

Violent sandstorms from China's expanding deserts have been battering Chinese cities, and their mustard-colored dust has begun reaching South Korea, Japan, and the West Coast of North America.

"People dusting off their cars in California or Calgary often don't realize the sand has come all the way from China," said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., who was in Beijing recently. "There is a dustbowl developing in China that represents the largest conversion of productive land to desert of any place in the world ... and it's affecting the world."

China has always suffered from aridity. About 25 percent of its landmass is composed of deserts made famous in tales about the Silk Road, which traversed many of them.

But the situation is getting worse.

Overgrazing, along with persistent drought, indiscriminate use of ground water, and rampant logging, are eroding the edges of China's deserts, allowing them to merge and spread. Recent satellite imagery shows that the Badain Jaran Desert in north-central China is pushing southward toward the nearby Tengger Desert to form a single, larger desert overlapping both northwestern Gansu province and neighboring Inner Mongolia.
Expanding deserts swallow almost a million acres of land every year, China's Environmental Protection Agency says. Soon, 40 percent of China could turn into scrubland, creating enormous social, economic and ecological challenges, including the problem of millions of "ecological refugees."

Monday, March 04, 2013

the arab spring and climate change

americanprogress | consider the following statements:
  • “A once-in-a-century winter drought in China contributed to global wheat shortages and skyrocketing bread prices in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer.” (Sternberg, p. 7)

  • “Of the world’s major wheat-importing companies per capita, “the top nine importers are all in the Middle East; seven had political protests resulting in civilian deaths in 2011.” (Sternberg, p. 12)

  • “The world is entering a period of ‘agflation,’ or inflation driven by rising prices for agricultural commodities.” (Johnstone and Mazo, p. 21)

  • “Drought and desertification across much of the Sahel—northern Nigeria, for example, is losing 1,350 square miles a year to desertification—have undermined agricultural and pastoral livelihoods,” contributing  to urbanization and massive flows of migrants. (Werz and Hoffman, p. 37)

  • “As the region’s population continues to climb, water availability per capita is projected to plummet. … Rapid urban expansion across the Arab world increasingly risks overburdening existing infrastructure and outpacing local capacities to expand service.” (Michel and Yacoubian, p. 45)

  • “We have reached the point where a regional climate event can have a global extent.” (Sternberg, p. 10)
These assertions are all essentially factual. None of them individually might be cause for alarm. Taken together, however, the phenomena they describe weave a complex web of conditions and interactions that help us understand the larger context for the Arab Awakening. Indeed, as Johnstone and Mazo argued as early as April–May 2011, in an article written just at the outset of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, it was already possible to see that climate change played a role in the complex causality of the revolts spreading across the region. They called it a “threat multiplier.” It significantly increased the interactive effects—and hence the overall impact—of political, economic, religious, demographic, and ethnic forces.
This concept of a “threat multiplier” is a helpful way to think about climate change and security more broadly.

from my dinner with andre

Sunday, March 03, 2013

prohibition and humanism

thehumanist | The legislation of morality is widespread; from blasphemy to gay inequality to reproductive rights, religious majorities actively persecute those with differing values through the codification of morality. And while many of these marginalized groups have seen notable public support, the public is largely silent when it comes to the marginalization of those who choose to use drugs. Just as religion often labels those with alternative sexual preferences as morally corrupt or evil, so too does religion judge those who choose to use drugs and alcohol as morally inferior.

Part of the philosophy of humanism is to stand against outdated codes of morality that persecute and make life difficult for people. Just as LGBT issues are humanist issues, so too are drug and alcohol issues. When evaluating how society treats inebriants, science and reason should be the standards by which we create policy, not ancient religious texts. Most comparative policy studies agree that drug and alcohol abuse should be regarded as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, and that public funds are best spent on drug treatment and prevention rather than enforcement and incarceration.

Predominant theocratic norms have so influenced society that tacit acquiescence for religious prejudice has largely replaced critical analysis when it comes to social attitudes towards drug use. Indeed, there is little opposition, even among nontheists, to laws that persecute those who choose to use drugs. However, humanism and human decency afford that individuals with varying values and beliefs should be respected, not shunned.

One example of a largely unopposed, overly harsh drug law in the United States is the Higher Education Act’s Aid Elimination Penalty, which states that any individual with a misdemeanor drug offense is to be barred from receiving federal financial aid to attend college. Because of the provision, hundreds of thousands of promising students have been forced to drop out of college because of minor, nonviolent drug offenses. The penalty was introduced in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), a Christian conservative whose battles included anti-abortion legislation and the prohibition of online gambling. Heavily influenced by his religion, when asked about his position on abortion, Souder responded, “the closer to the clearness of the Bible, the less ability I should have to compromise.” Ironically, this moral crusader left office in 2010 after admitting to an affair with a staffer, lamenting in his resignation speech that he had “sinned against God.”
- See more at: http://thehumanist.org/march-april-2013/prohibition-humanism/#sthash.pjJFzCvB.dpuf

While drug laws that prevent access to education have untold social costs, the financial burdens of the war on sin can be more easily calculated. In 2010 alone, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that this so-called war cost the U.S. federal government $15 billion, and state governments another $25 billion. Incarceration costs alone can be staggering. In 2011 the State of California spent $45,006 per inmate and approximately 31 percent of all California inmates were booked on drug offenses. To put that into perspective, the state spent $8,667 per college student in the same year. Because of the war on drugs’ mandatory minimum sentencing laws, Americans now comprise 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but 23.4 percent of its prison population.

The Obama administration has at least vocalized concerns regarding the failure of national drug policy. As stated in its recently released 2012 National Drug Control Strategy: “science has shown that drug addiction is not a moral failing but rather a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated.” However, upon review of the actual policy, many have concluded that the only thing changed is the wording. “This strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies,” stated Bill Piper, the director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “While the rhetoric is new, reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure, the substance of the actual policies is the same.” Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein raised similar concerns, noting that “President Obama promised to use a science-based approach to public policy. But when it comes to marijuana, he has continued the unscientific policies of George Bush, and has even gone far beyond Bush in his attacks upon medical marijuana clinics.”

Eighty-some years ago, the primary motivations for ending the alcohol prohibition were the staggering economic costs of enforcement, as well as the huge impact of lost tax revenues. A 1929 pamphlet distributed by the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment estimated that the total loss of federal tax revenues was $861 million, the equivalent of $108 billion dollars today. The nation, in the midst of the Great Depression, was in desperate need of these tax revenues to implement economic stimulus programs, and so in 1932 a bipartisan effort saw the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment. Perhaps a similar appeal to reason can be made in our current time of financial uncertainty. If nothing else, perhaps religious lawmakers can be made to see that their war on sin has failed in economic terms.

Ideally, a majority of lawmakers may eventually come to realize that drug experimentation is a natural human phenomenon—that humans are instinctively attracted to mind-altering substances.

the war against human nature strengthens the fear of one’s fellow man

laphamsquarterly | So again with the war that America has been waging for the last one hundred years against the use of drugs deemed to be illegal. The war cannot be won, but in the meantime, at a cost of $20 billion a year, it facilitates the transformation of what was once a freedom-loving republic into a freedom-fearing national-security state. The policies of zero tolerance equip local and federal law-enforcement with increasingly autocratic powers of coercion and surveillance (the right to invade anybody’s privacy, bend the rules of evidence, search barns, stop motorists, inspect bank records, tap phones) and spread the stain of moral pestilence to ever larger numbers of people assumed to be infected with reefer madness—anarchists and cheap Chinese labor at the turn of the twentieth century, known homosexuals and suspected Communists in the 1920s, hippies and anti-Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s; nowadays young black men sentenced to long-term imprisonment for possession of a few grams of short-term disembodiment.

If what was at issue was a concern for people trapped in the jail cells of addiction, the keepers of the nation’s conscience would be better advised to address the conditions—poverty, lack of opportunity and education, racial discrimination—from which drugs provide an illusory means of escape. That they are not so advised stands as proven by their fond endorsement of the more expensive ventures into the realms of virtual reality. Our pharmaceutical industries produce a cornucopia of prescription drugs—eye opening, stupefying, mood swinging, game changing, anxiety alleviating, performance enhancing—currently at a global market-value of more than $300 billion. Add the time-honored demand for alcohol, the modernist taste for cocaine, and the uses, as both stimulant and narcotic, of tobacco, coffee, sugar, and pornography, and the annual mustering of consummations devoutly to be wished comes to the cost of more than $1.5 trillion. The taking arms against a sea of troubles is an expenditure that dwarfs the appropriation for the military defense budget.

Given the American antecedents both metaphysical and commercial—Thomas Paine drank, “and right freely”; in 1910 the federal government received 71 percent of its internal revenue from taxes paid on the sale and manufacture of alcohol—it is little wonder that the sons of liberty now lead the world in the consumption of better living through chemistry. The new and improved forms of self-invention fit the question—to be, or not to be—to any and all occasions. For the aging Wall Street speculator stepping out for an evening to squander his investment in Viagra. For the damsel in distress shopping around for a nose like the one seen advertised in a painting by Botticelli. For the distracted child depending on a therapeutic jolt of Adderall to learn to read the Constitution. For the stationary herds of industrial-strength cows so heavily doped with bovine growth hormone that they require massive infusions of antibiotic to survive the otherwise lethal atmospheres of their breeding pens. Visionary risk-takers, one and all, willing to chance what dreams may come on the way West to an all-night pharmacy. The war against human nature strengthens the fear of one’s fellow man. The red, white, and blue pills sell the hope of heaven made with artificial sweeteners.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

putting the Internet of Things inside your body...,

wired | Chipmaker Freescale Semiconductor has created the world’s smallest ARM-powered chip, designed to push the world of connected devices into surprising places.

Announced today, the Kinetis KL02 measures just 1.9 by 2 millimeters. It’s a full microcontroller unit (MCU), meaning the chip sports a processor, RAM, ROM, clock and I/O control unit — everything a body needs to be a basic tiny computer.

The KL02 has 32k of flash memory, 4k of RAM, a 32 bit processor, and peripherals like a 12-bit analog to digital converter and a low-power UART built into the chip. By including these extra parts, device makers can shrink down their designs, resulting in tiny boards in tiny devices.

How tiny? One application that Freescale says the chips could be used for is swallowable computers. Yes, you read that right. “We are working with our customers and partners on providing technology for their products that can be swallowed but we can’t really comment on unannounced products,” says Steve Tateosian, global product marketing manager.

The KL02 is part of Freescale’s push to make chips tailored to the Internet of Things. Between the onboard peripherals and a power-management system tuned to the chemistry of current generation batteries, the KL02 is intended to be at the heart of a network of connected objects, moving from shoes that wirelessly report your steps (a natural evolution of Nike+) to pipes that warn you when they are leaking.

There are some clues we can glean about how this chip might end up inside our digestive tracts. Freescale already works with a variety of health and wellness customers. Both the Fitbit and OmniPod insulin pump use Freescale chips. It’s not hard to imagine a new generation of devices designed to monitor your internal health or release drugs and medicine from within your body. Such tiny implements, however, also creates the possibility that discarded micro-devices could soon collect in sewers and waste treatment plants.

Friday, March 01, 2013

internet of things coming soon...,

csmonitor | A car that tells your insurance company how you're driving. A bathroom scale that lets you chart your weight on the Web. And a meter that warns your air conditioner when electricity gets more expensive.

Welcome to the next phase of the wireless revolution.

The first wave of wireless was all about getting people to talk to each other on cellphones. The second will be getting things to talk to each other, with no humans in between. So-called machine-to-machine communication is getting a lot of buzz at this year's wireless trade show. Some experts believe these connections will outgrow the traditional phone business in less than a decade.

"I see a whole set of industries, from energy to cars to health to logistics and transportation, being totally redesigned," said Vittorio Colao, the CEO of Vodafone Group PLC, in a keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The British cellphone company has vast international interests, including its 45 percent ownership stake in Verizon Wireless.

Companies are promising that machine-to-machine, or M2M, technology will deliver all manner of services, from the prosaic to the world-changing. At U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.'s booth here at the show, there's a coffeepot that can be ordered to start brewing from a tablet computer, or an Internet-connected alarm clock. A former president of Costa Rica is also at the show, talking about how M2M can save massive amounts of greenhouse gases by making energy use more efficient — enough to bring mankind halfway to the goal of halting global warming.

The M2M phenomenon is part of the larger drive to create an "Internet of Things" —a global network that not only links computers, tablets and phones but that connects everything from bikes to washing machines to thermostats. Machina Research, a British firm, believes there will be 12.5 billion "smart" connected devices, excluding phones, PCs and tablets, in the world in 2020, up from 1.3 billion today.

But how does this transformation happen, and who stands to profit?

modeling social network topologies in elementary schools

Plosone | Complex networks are widely applied in disciplines as varied as economics [1], biology [2], information technology [3] and sociology [4], [5]. Further development of complex networks theory is therefore a vital research area, with recent efforts focusing on measurements [6], topologies [7], [8] and the way data is disseminated through them [9].

Complex networks are a tool for modeling systems in which elements interrelate. Social networks are systems that describe phenomena in which individuals interact within a society (e.g. people, companies, etc.); nodes represent individuals and links represent the social relationships between them. Recent research has focused on the patterns of face-to-face interaction dynamics. In one study, radio frequency identification devices were used to calculate the proximity and duration of interpersonal interactions, and thus create social networks to understand community behavior and apply diffusion processes for infectious diseases and information [10]. Using the same technology, studies have been done in high schools [11] and elementary schools [12] of the mixing patterns of students in a school environment that describe social network’s temporal evolution and apply infectious disease diffusion processes to identify high-risk situations and establish vaccination strategies.

When studying data dissemination within a social system, an understanding is needed of the network topology that models the interactions produced within it. To this end, the present study objective was to evaluate the properties of friendship and enmity networks representing interactions between elementary school students and develop models that reproduce them. This will facilitate future research into problems such as scholastic performance, disease transmission and evolution of the cultural environment, among other important phenomena occurring in schools which could benefit from the formalism of complex networks [13][15].

We describe the methodology used to collect the data and generate the databases used in developing the networks. These data have certain characteristics that are not reproduced by classic models of complex network theory. The tests used to analyze friendship networks are described in section ‘Friendship Networks Analysis’ and implementation of the proposed model is described in section ‘Friendship Network Model’, while the enmity networks are addressed in section ‘Enmity Network Analysis’ and the proposed descriptive model in section ‘Enmity Network Model’. Promising future research emphases are proposed.