Later On

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Archive for June 9th, 2013

What are the current odds on Edward Snowden?

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 5:57 pm

An interesting question: Is the US now a nation from which citizens who are dissidents must seek asylum?

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Certainly Bradley Manning, tortured at the hands of the government, would have been wise to seek asylum. While he must face a fair trial (unlikely in the court-martial system), what has happened to him over the past three years—prior to conviction—is a shame and a disgrace to the US. We seemed to be so afraid, but of course he was exposing evidence of war crimes committed by the US.

In reading the articles in the Guardian I was struck by the thought that no newspaper in the US would touch this. The NY Times has long showed its true colors—they would have suppressed the story altogether. And the calm way that Greenwald commits journalism—quoting direct evidence, laying out the lies spoken by the government—requires tons more guts than US journalist have, who really are comfortable only with “he said, she said” stories and tend to report government press releases as news, while hewing to the storylines from anonymous sources.

Truly a historic time. Tim Lee reports in the Washington Post:

The whistleblower who disclosed classified documents regarding NSA surveillance to The Washington Post and the Guardian has gone public. He is Edward Snowden, 29, an employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Rather than face charges in the United States, Snowden has fled to Hong Kong. He plans to seek asylum in a nation with a strong civil liberties record, such as Iceland.

Americans are familiar with stories of dissidents fleeing repressive regimes such as those in China or Iran and seeking asylum in the United States. Snowden is in the opposite position. He’s an American leaving the land of his birth because he fears persecution.

Four decades ago, Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities to face charges of violating the Espionage Act. During his trial, he was allowed to go free on bail, giving him a chance to explain his actions to the media. His case was eventually thrown out after it was revealed that the government had wiretapped him illegally.

Bradley Manning, a soldier who released classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, has had a very different experience. Manning was held for three years without trial, including 11 months when he was held in de facto solitary confinement. During some of this period, he was forced to sleep naked at night, allegedly as a way to prevent him from committing suicide. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture has condemned this as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the convention against torture.”

Ellsberg has argued that this degrading treatment alone should be grounds for dismissing the charges against Manning. Instead, the government has sought the harshest possible sentence. Even after Manning pleaded guilty to charges that could put him in prison for 20 years, the government has still pushed forward with additional charges, including “aiding the enemy” and violating the Espionage Act, that were intended to be used against foreign spies, not whistleblowers.

The civilian whistleblowers targeted by the Obama administration haven’t received treatment as harsh as Manning’s. But it’s telling that in none of their cases have the courts reached the legal and constitutional merits. The government’s strategy, in leak cases and many others, is to seek the maximum possible charges and then “plea bargain” down to a sentence the government considers more reasonable.

For example, John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on torture by the CIA, was charged with five counts, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five to 10 years. With those harsh penalties hanging over his head, Kiriakou waived his right to a trial and accepted a sentence of 30 months in prison. Shamai Leibowitz, another leaker, accepted a 20-month sentence under similar circumstances. Another whistleblower had his case thrown out, and two others still have their cases pending.

If Snowden had chosen to stay in the United States, he would have faced a stark choice: . . .

Continue reading.

Authoritarian governments always crack down hard on dissidents.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 5:03 pm

Philip K. Dick not enough! Send in George Orwell, too!

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My God! What has this country turned into? I would be totally unsurprised if Edward Snowden [and read the story at the link if you haven’t already] were assassinated by a “deranged, lone gunman who had no accomplices whatsoever and who had a history of mental illness, look in that hand-out you’ve been given. Unfortunately, the gunman was seriously wounded in the firefight that erupted when he encountered alert FBI agents on the scene. He cannot answer questions. He is now in a coma and has been removed to an unspecified location for treatment and is not expected to live—I’m sorry, no questions. Investigations are pending. In the light of this terrible incident, security restrictions have been increased. You can readily get travel passes on-line from the TSA Web site. Carry your travel pass with you at all times and show it to anyone in authority who asks to see it. Do your part to combat terrorism.” You know the drill. We’ve seen this movie many times.

All that is prompted by the Guardian article by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill on Boundless Informant:

The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.

The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA datamining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.

The focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorizing the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, “What type of coverage do we have on country X” in “near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure.”

An NSA factsheet about the program, acquired by the Guardian, says: “The tool allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country.”

Under the heading “Sample use cases”, the factsheet also states the tool shows information including: “How many records (and what type) are collected against a particular country.”

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA “global heat map” seen by the Guardian, shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide. . .

Continue reading. Images of Boundless Informant screens included. Wow. This is verging into totalitarian territory. Too much information in, too little transparency out.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 2:11 pm

Why Edward Snowden Leaked the Secret NSA Information

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The plot advances. Connor Simpson at The Atlantic Wire:

The Guardian has revealed the identity of the man who leaked information about the NSA’s surveillance programs, PRISM and Boundless Informant. Meet Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old defense contractor employee who’s worked for the NSA for four years.

Snowden is currently employed by defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he makes around $200,000, and has worked at the NSA office in Hawaii for four years. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said in a taped interview with Greenwald. He used to work for the CIA as a technical assistant. He’s an American citizen with a girlfriend and a house in Hawaii. But on May 20, he told his boss he needed to take a few weeks off work. He got on a plane and flew to Hong Kong, where he’s been holed up in a hotel room ever since. He explained his motivations for leaking the NSA information in a note:

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Snowden realizes he’s risking his life — his house, his freedom, his girlfriend — by leaking this information. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Greenwald discretely previewed his big reveal during his interview on ABC’s This Week by detailing his leaker’s motivations. “They risked their careers and their lives and their liberty because what they were seeing being done in secret inside the United States government is so alarming and so pernicious that they simply want one thing,” Greenwald said on This Week. “That is, for the American people at least to learn about what this massive spying apparatus is, and what the capabilities are, so that we can have an open, honest debate about whether that’s the kind of country that we want to live in.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell the agency has ordered a criminal investigation into Snowden’s leaks. “For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities,” Clapper said. . .

Continue reading. Clapper, of course, is the man who told a bare-faced lie to Congress. He’s totally untrustworthy so far as his statements go. However, I believe that it is true that it was “gut-wrenching” to see this come out because it revealed the extent and fact of Clapper’s lies to Congress and, by extension, to the American public. Those running the program feel perfectly fine with lying to the public, and thus they cannot be trusted.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 1:02 pm

Secure doorlocks

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I looked around for the best door lock—no particular reason, just free-form curiosity. I found this interesting video that told me about bump keys, of which I had never heard:

Consumer Reports rates Medeco’s Maxum 11WC60L as the best door lock (by a significant margin). The lock is expensive, but . . .

Here’s one comment from the Consumer Reports review:

This lock was one of the first purchases I made when my daughter moved to a townhouse where there were a number of foreclosures. Although it is a very nice, even upscale, neighborhood, I believe the foreclosures attracted criminals.

I purchased the lock based on reading Consumer Reports. It was difficult to find in the Sacramento, CA area and it was very expensive. Frankly speaking, the locksmith thought I was crazy to spend that kind of money and wondered why I would want this lock on a house. He stated that they had only installed them on businesses where there was expensive computer equipment, etc.

After about 5 months, in the middle of the night, someone attempted, unsuccessfully, to jimmy the lock and force the door – repeatedly. It and the steel-encased door stood for a lengthy period of time when seconds count. As a result my daughter was able to call the police and confront the person from the safety of the second floor. Of course by the time the police could arrive he was gone.

Today, that same lock, albeit scratched, is still in place and holding fine. The door was dented, which indicates his serious intent.

So I ask anyone who is reading this review to ask themselves how much that safety is worth to them.

It is priceless to me and certainly worth the considerable price I paid to have all the doors fitted with these locks.

This is a quality product and does what it is supposed to.
I highly recommend it!

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 10:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Corporations are happy to destroy people’s health if they make money doing it

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Capitalism is sociopathic, and Danny Hayes provides an excellent example in the Washington Post:

If you near a state line, you might be getting an unusually heavy dose of pollution from your neighbors across the border.

That’s the conclusion of a working paper by political scientists James MonoganDavid Konisky and Neal Woods. They report that air polluting facilities in the United States are disproportionately likely to be located near downwind borders. When the breeze picks up, noxious emissions are hustled out of state and become someone else’s problem.

The pattern highlights one of the difficulties facing pollution control efforts in the country. States play a major role in implementing U.S. environmental policies, but they also have an incentive to export the environmental and health costs of economic development across state lines.

Cross-border pollution is not a new issue. In the early 1900s, Monogan and his co-authors write, Georgia sued a Tennessee copper smelter for “despoiling forests and orchards and creating health problems for residents of bordering counties in Georgia.” New Jersey in 2006 accused the Environmental Protection Agency of failing to regulate toxic emissions from a coal-fired power plant across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. And several studies have argued that pollution levels tend to be higher near borders than in the interior of a state, a phenomenon referred to as “state line syndrome.”

But state line syndrome doesn’t appear to stem from lax enforcement or state regulatory policy, the authors write. Instead, it may simply be that higher levels of border pollution occur because of the strategic location of air polluters, such as power plants and industrial facilities.

To investigate their hypothesis, the authors first identified from EPA records the location of 16,211 major air polluting facilities in the United States. They also charted the prevailing wind direction along state lines, on the assumption that downwind borders would be the most enticing for pollution facilities.

But decisions about where to locate plants will, of course, also is affected by market demand, labor supply and natural resources, among other factors. So Monogan and colleagues compared the location of air polluters to a “control group,” the sites of 20,761 hazardous waste facilities, such as landfills. The logic? “The factors … that are potentially important in site selection of major air polluters also apply to the siting of hazardous waste facilities,” they write. “However, unlike major air polluters, there is no strong reason to locate a hazardous waste site either upwind or downwind. The pollution from these sites is contained (assuming they are compliant with relevant statutes) and not subject to the dispersion through airsheds.”

If air polluters are more heavily clustered along downwind borders than hazardous waste sites, then that suggests that their location reflects an attempt to send emissions out of state, not some other factor correlated with being near a downwind border.

And . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 10:33 am

The student-to-prison pipeline

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As our country contracts toward an authoritarian police state (in which police have extraordinary powers and in practice seem to be uncontrolled by law), our schools seem eager to go along. You will recall the felony charge leveled against a young student for conducting a science experiment outside the school building, an experiment that harmed no one and caused no damage, but still got a felony charge thanks to a school official. Read this account in AlterNet by another student, Alana de Hinojosa, whose school views itself as part of the police department:

The school-to-prison-pipeline is an epidemic that is plaguing the nation, making a visit to the principal’s office or a lonesome time-out outside of your classroom a thing of the past. What we have here is a war not only on students, but a war on kids, where essentially nonviolent behavior (like the two students who were arrested for pouring milk [3] on each other during a break-up) is being criminalized in a remarkably horrific pattern. What’s worse is that schools are not only allowing this criminalization, but they are actually assisting it.

Today the evolving police state and its worker bees are finding themselves rather comfortable roaming school hallways, ‘visiting’ classrooms and relaxing in school offices. In the past year, students have been arrested for burping in class [4], improperly conducting science experiments [5], or throwing water balloons [6]. When students aren’t arrested police are actively (and aggressively) making their presence known by conducting spontaneous drug searches [7], interrogations and guarding school entrances and principals’ offices.

In light of this booming trend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own case of student criminalization [8] two years ago during my senior year in high school. To my surprise, I was pulled out of my pre-calculus class and escorted to my vice principal’s office where I was greeted by a uniformed and armed police officer, otherwise known as my high school’s School Resource Officer (SRO). The SRO closed the door behind me, sat me down and said, “It’s come to my attention that you have written a story about graffiti. Would you like to help me do my job today?”

I was totally bewildered.

Before I could answer him he went on to explain that he was referring to an article I had written for my high school’s newspaper titled “Art or Vandalism?” where I discussed the illegal and creative qualities of graffiti in the city of Davis, CA. He began by insisting that I help him by disclosing the names of two graffiti artists quoted in my article.

At first I thought this was a joke, but the potential humor slowly dissolved as I was going nowhere fast.

“Tell me their names. If you don’t cooperate there will be serious consequences,” he said.

But I told him I wouldn’t help him.

“I promised I wouldn’t give their names away, I gave my word to them,” I said.

At first he was surprised by my response. And then he got mad. He then told me, in an absurdly aggressive voice, that my article was not “real” journalism. Therefore, he said, it was my “duty and obligation” to reveal the identities, and that if I refused to do so, I would be taken to court, found guilty and charged with a felony.

At this point I was still confused. I thought back to the numerous articles I had read online about graffiti and wondered if those reporters had been jailed, too. I thought, “Why would my newspaper adviser let me write about graffiti if she knew I would be prosecuted?” and “What does he mean my reporting wasn’t ‘real’ journalism?” Though I knew I had not committed any crime by reporting on an illegal activity, I grew increasingly annoyed since I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet here I was sitting in a room with an armed police officer hovering over me telling me that regardless if I decided to help him, the artists and myself would “without a doubt be put in prison.”

At the same time, my vice principal and school hall monitors crowded around me echoing the SRO’s demands, telling me to “do the right thing” and to “get this over with.” Not once was I told I could remain silent, leave the room or contact my parents or a lawyer.

Still, I continued to tell the SRO that I would not give him the names. He continued to tell me that wasn’t an option, and that he’d hold me here until he got what he needed. So I sat there with the SRO walking around me and my school officials looking at me like I was a fool. But as time wore on, and nothing changed, I began to feel at a loss. I suddenly became scared I would be put in jail. I was suddenly confused about my role as a journalist. And as the clock ticked past the hour mark, my confidence plummeted and I became tired.

In these moments of exhaustion and fear I told the officer I only knew the pseudonyms of the artists, but that I could give him the name of a documentary film student who had helped me get in contact with them.

Suddenly, at the hour and a half mark, I was allowed to leave. Though I was relieved to have been dismissed, I was humiliated and ashamed because I had also told this student I would not disclose his name. (I later discovered that this student was also interrogated and threatened. The only difference was he refused to cooperate in any fashion.)

As soon as I was dismissed, I was escorted back to my math class and a hall monitor confiscated my cell phone. In confiscating my phone, I was actively prevented from contacting my parents or a lawyer, and it was only until after school was let out, three hours later, that I was able to call my father and tell him what had happened. My school had yet to inform him.

Later that week, I was pulled out of class again and escorted by a school supervisor to the same closed-door room with the same SRO waiting for me. By this time, though, I had contacted the Student Press Law Center and been arranged to be represented by the ACLU of Northern California. I had been informed that the California Shield Law protected the confidentiality of my interviewees and that I would not be imprisoned for protecting their identities.

So, I told the SRO I would not help him and promptly left the room.

After much debate and a series of letters and legal documents sent to the Davis School District, the SRO was prevented from contacting me and the ‘case’ was dropped.

Looking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder why my school was so eager and enthusiastic to help facilitate the SRO in his interrogations. My school had happily opted me out of my education in order to assist in an off-campus investigation that had nothing to do with school policy or a campus threat. What’s more, my school hadn’t even thought of contacting my parents to let them know I was being investigated.

Unfortunately, this kind of school behavior happens all the time.

One month after my case, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 9:42 am

Posted in Education, Government, Law

Abdication of responsibilities by a cowardly Congress

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David Lightman and William Douglas report for McClatchy:

When Sen Ron Wyden stepped to the Senate floor last December, he had something on his mind. He was disturbed by what he’d learned about the way the executive branch had used a section of the USA Patriot Act to collect records from millions of Americans’ phones.

But he didn’t feel free to tell the American people what he knew.

“Senate rules regarding classified information prevent me from discussing the details of that ruling or how many Americans were affected, over what period of time,” Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said in a carefully worded floor statement. Congress prides itself on being the most open of the three branches of government, where business is conducted publicly and constituents are welcome to watch. But the phone records controversy shows that even among the elected representatives of the people, secrecy can overcome open discussions of public policy.

Former Rep. Mickey Edwards, an Oklahoma Republican, says “the idea that the executive branch is able to tell the Congress of the United States that you can’t say this or that” is alien to the concept of Congress as an equal branch of government.

“Congress has forgotten its role. They have the ability to decide what’s classified: They make the laws, they write the laws,” said Edwards, who’s the director of the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowship in Public Leadership.

Jane Harman, the president and CEO of the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California, said dealing with classification issues had grown extremely complicated for Congress, where she served on the House Intelligence, Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

“It is the executive branch’s prerogative to classify,” she said. But, she noted, the rules governing classification often mean that entire documents that could be made public are withheld because of a single sensitive paragraph.

“It’s too complicated,” she said. “Instead of classifying a whole document because of one paragraph, redact the paragraph.”

The law at the center of the current controversy, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, has long been the subject of open debate. But the results of its application have been little discussed because those investigations remain classified.

The section allows the government to seek an order for “production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

In practice, it led to a request for the daily delivery to the National Security Agency of records kept by the Verizon phone company of millions of cellphone accounts. Those records provided information such as which numbers had been called and how long phone calls had lasted.

The extent of how the law’s provision had been used was what Wyden felt he couldn’t discuss.

An intelligence reauthorization measure that set parameters for the agencies in fiscal 2013 and passed both houses of Congress last December was approved only after Wyden, who’s long spoken out about government potential for overreaching, had sections removed that he thought would put curbs on background briefings for reporters and public comments by former government officials.

Congress’ struggle with secrecy dates to the creation of the nation. Originally, the Senate and House weren’t required to meet in public, only to keep a journal of their proceedings. The House quickly opened up, since members had to run for re-election and wanted the public to notice them, while the Senate stayed closed for several years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 9:31 am

Posted in Congress

Diversity of thinking

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Diversity is difficult because it means close association with people who see things very differently, due to different life experiences, different cultural backgrounds, different talents and gifts—and of course that’s also why diversity can be so productive. In a movie I watched last night, a young vegan woman has fallen in love with a butcher. She is telling her mother that she also expected that she would love a man who was literary, opposed to killing animals, etc., and her mother says, “Basically, you expected to love a boy version of yourself.” Even in a family, monoculture is a bad idea.

Obviously, diversity requires some effort: to listen, to see things from a new perspective, to communicate well and to try to understand and to maintain mutual respect. But it can pay off as Temple Grandin points out in this article in The Scientist:

When I was young, I thought everybody processed information the same way. I assumed that everybody else thought in photorealistic pictures, as I do. For example, if I think about a soccer ball, I first see the soccer ball I played with in elementary school, then I envision the volleyball in the movie Castawaywhere the guy in the FedEx plane crashes on a remote island, and finally a FedEx package on my doorstep flashes into my imagination. My mind goes from soccer balls to FedEx packages through a process of highly associative thinking.

Rather than holding me back, however, this photorealistic thought process has been a great asset in my work as a scientist and designer of chutes and pens for handling cattle. It enables me to build and conceptually test the cattle equipment that I invent in my mind. When I read the methods section of a scientific paper, I visualize how the researchers performed their study. Conflicting results between different studies can often be explained
by differences in the methods.

Too often, however, when my way of thinking appears in young science students, it is seen as something that needs to be corrected. I am concerned that our educational system is blocking photorealistic visual thinkers like me from careers in science. Instead, we should encourage diversity in modes of thinking so that we aren’t losing the special talents of people who might contribute greatly to research and development by offering unique perspectives.

In my latest book, The Autistic Brain, I explore different types of visual thinking, from thinking like mine, which relies on object imagery and is common to many people with autism, to thinking that uses spatial imagery. Object-imagery thinkers envision the literal appearances of individual items—their form, size, shape, color, and brightness—and spatial-imagery thinkers visualize the spatial relations among objects in a more abstract way. Research has shown that these different kinds of thinking use different areas of the brain, with object imagery activating the early visual cortex and spatial imagery activating the superior parietal cortex.

People who are object-imagery thinkers are very good at seeing visual detail, and they will do well on “grain-resolution tests.” In these tests, subjects determine which object has the greatest number of units in a given area—for example, the number of holes between the strings in a tennis racket’s face versus the number of grapes in a similar area. I did extremely well on this test, even though math is not my strong suit. The spatial-imagery thinker, on the other hand, typically does well on “mental-rotation tests,” which involve imaginatively rotating pictured objects in space. Maria Kozhevnikov of Harvard University has done extensive studies to document these two kinds of visual thinking and has shown that professional scientists tend to do best on mental-rotation tests, while artists score best on grain-resolution tests (Cognition, 117:276-301, 2010).

In addition to enabling me to visually test-run ideas for experiments in my mind, relying on object imagery gives me exceptional powers of observation. In my early work with cattle, for example, I noticed that they often refused to walk over shadows or enter dark places. I found that installing lights in the alleys of processing plants improved cattle movement. Science needs my kind of mind to think up new ideas or to consider new angles for doing experiments.

Traditionally, people with more math-oriented minds who rely on spatial imagery have been attracted and encouraged to pursue careers in science. I am worried that educational barriers will make it harder and harder for brilliant people who do poorly in mathematics to make contributions to science. One time I visited a fantastic fish research lab with innovative equipment that assisted the scientists with their work. All the equipment in the lab had been built by the maintenance man. We need to create pathways for creative object-imagery thinkers to make significant contributions in science. 

Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University. She is the author of six books, including the national bestsellers Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation, and is a past member of the board of directors of the Autism Society of America.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 9:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

New Algorithms Force Scientists to Revise the Tree of Life

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A fascinating article about the struggles to find the path of evolution—and it’s a very messy path indeed. Emily Singer has an article at the Simons Foundation:

Tree of Life

When the British morphologist St. George Jackson Mivart published one of the first evolutionary trees in 1865, he had very little to go on. He built the tree — a delicately branching map of different primate species — using detailed analysis of the animals’ spinal columns. But a second tree, generated by comparing the animals’ limbs, predicted different relationships among the primates, highlighting a challenge in evolutionary biology that continues to this day.

Now, nearly 150 years later, scientists have vast amounts of data with which to build so-called phylogenetic trees, the modern version of Mivart’s structure. Advances in DNA sequencing technology and bioinformatics enable them to compare the sequence of hundreds of genes, sometimes entire genomes, among many different species, creating a tree of life more detailed than ever before.

But while the abundance of data has helped resolve some of the conflict surrounding parts of the evolutionary tree, it also presents new challenges. The current version of the tree of life is more like a contentious wiki page than a published book, with certain branches subject to frequent debate. Indeed, just as the spinal column and limbs created contrasting maps of primate evolution, scientists now know that different genes in the same organism can tell different stories.

According to a new study partly focused on yeast, the conflicting picture from individual genes is even broader than scientists suspected. “They report that every single one of the 1,070 genes conflicts somewhat,” said Michael Donoghue, an evolutionary biologist at Yale who was not involved in the study. “We are trying to figure out the phylogenetic relationships of 1.8 million species and can’t even sort out 20 [types of] yeast,” he said.To resolve this paradox, the researchers developed an algorithm, based on information theory, to gauge the level of certainty in specific parts of the tree. They hope the new approach will help to clarify periods of evolution that are potentially the most illuminating but also the most conflicted, such as the Cambrian explosion — the rapid diversification of animal life that occurred about 540 million years ago.

“Historically, the areas of the tree of life that have attracted a lot of attention and disagreement usually have to do with the most interesting episodes,” such as the origins of animals, vertebrates and flowering plants, said Antonis Rokas, a biologist at Vanderbilt University who led the new study.

Based on the results of the new algorithm, scientists can select only the most informative genes to build phylogenetic trees, an approach that could make the process more accurate and efficient. “I think it will help us quite a bit in speeding up the reconstruction of the tree of life,” said Khidir Hilu, a biologist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 9:11 am

Posted in Science

Mass Surveillance in America: A Timeline of Loosening Laws and Practices

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A valuable timeline from Cora Currier, Justin Elliott, and Theodoric Meyer of ProPublica:

On Wednesday, the Guardian published a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over data for all the calls made on its network on an “ongoing, daily basis.” Other revelations about surveillance of phone and digital communications have followed.

That the National Security Agency has engaged in such activity isn’t entirely new: Since 9/11, we’ve learned about large-scale surveillance by the spy agency from a patchwork of official statements, classified documents, and anonymously sourced news stories.


Surveillance court created

After a post-Watergate Senate investigation documented abuses of government surveillance, Congress passes theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to regulate how the government can monitor suspected spies or terrorists in the U.S. The law establishes a secret court that issues warrants for electronic surveillance or physical searches of a “foreign power” or “agents of a foreign power” (broadly defined in the law). The government doesn’t have to demonstrate probable cause of a crime, just that the “purpose of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information.”The court’s sessions and opinions are classified. The only information we have is a yearly report to the Senate documenting the number of “applications” made by the government. Since 1978, the court has approved thousands of applications – and rejected just 11.

Oct. 2001

Patriot Act passed

In the wake of 9/11, Congress passes the sweeping USA Patriot Act. One provision, section 215, allows the FBI to ask the FISA court to compel the sharing of books, business documents, tax records, library check-out lists – actually, “any tangible thing” – as part of a foreign intelligence or international terrorism investigation. The required material can include purely domestic records.

Oct. 2003

‘Vacuum-cleaner surveillance’ of the Internet

AT&T technician Mark Klein discovers what he believes to be newly installed NSA data-mining equipment in a “secret room” at a company facility in San Francisco. Klein, who several years later goes public with his story to support a lawsuit against the company, believes the equipment enables “vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet – whether that be peoples’ e-mail, web surfing or any other data.”

March 2004

Ashcroft hospital showdown

In what would become one of the most famous moments of the Bush Administration, presidential aides Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzalesshow up at the hospital bed of John Ashcroft. Their purpose? To convince the seriously ill attorney general to sign off on the extension of a secret domestic spying program. Ashcroft refuses, believing the warrantless program to be illegal.The hospital showdown was first reported by the New York Times, but two years later Newsweek provided more detail, describing a program that sounds similar to the one the Guardian revealed this week. The NSA, Newsweek reported citing anonymous sources, collected without court approval vast quantities of phone and email metadata “with cooperation from some of the country’s largest telecommunications companies” from “tens of millions of average Americans.” The magazine says the program itself began in September 2001 and was shut down in March 2004 after the hospital incident. But Newsweek also raises the possibility that Bush may have found new justification to continue some of the activity.

Dec. 2005

Warrantless wiretapping revealed

The Times, over the objections of the Bush Administration, reveals that since 2002 the government “monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants.” The program involves actually listening in on phone calls and reading emails without seeking permission from the FISA Court. . .

Continue reading.

It should be noted that Bill Keller, who was editor of the NY Times at the time, co-operated with the Bush Administration on covering up Bush’s illegal surveillance program rather than publishing the findings as one would expect a newspaper to do. After keeping the illegal program secret for months—until after Bush was safely re-elected—the paper reluctantly published its scoop only because a competing newspaper was about to break the story. So the NY Times was complicit in covering up a criminal act to protect the Bush Administration. You can see where their sympathies lie. Bill Keller, by the way, is still employed by the Times: covering up news of crimes is apparently not a firing offense.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 9:05 am

Why we can ignore any statement from Clapper

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Clapper will simply lie. Given that he is a confirmed liar, I see no reason to accept any statement that he makes from this point on:

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2013 at 8:20 am

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