Later On

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Archive for July 4th, 2013

My God! I’ve seen everything now! A sensible drug law (in New Zealand)

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In New Scientist is a report from Michael Slezak:

Stoners, pill-poppers and drug regulators everywhere: turn your eyes to New Zealand. The country looks set to adopt new laws permitting the limited sale of some designer drugs for recreational purposes. The legislation is the first in the world to regulate new recreational drugs based on scientific evidence of their risk of harm.

Under the proposed laws, which were recommended to be passed with amendments by a parliamentary committee yesterday, manufacturers will be able to sell any currently unregulated psychoactive substance if they can demonstrate it has a “low risk of harm”. But they also allow for any psychoactive substance not already regulated to be prohibited from sale until approved by a new regulator.

The bill was designed to restrict the manufacture and supply of synthetic or designer drugs like synthetic cannabis, “bath salts”, meow meow and other new chemicals, while allowing the sale of products that meet safety requirements.

Recreational drugs are a headache for regulators because as soon as one is banned, a new unregulated one is created. Europe saw the creation of 24 new synthetic drugs in 2009, 41 in 2010 and 73 in 2012, according to European law enforcement agency Europol.

Onus on industry

“The new law will put the onus on industry to demonstrate their products are low-risk, using a similar testing process to pharmaceuticals,” says Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation in Wellington, an organisation that campaigns to reduce drug harms. A new regulatory authority will be established in government, alongside an independent expert technical committee that will advise the regulatory authority on products submitted for approval.

“The neat thing about this is that it says to the industry, ‘we’ll let you create a market for your products, but you have to play by the rules and not do stupid things like label substances as ‘plant food’ or ‘bath salts’,” says Bell. He says that while everyone else is still trying to ban every new drug that comes along, New Zealand is the first to try to regulate them.

Welcoming the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, associate minister of health Todd McClay said the legislation “will bring relief to the thousands of parents, employers and communities that have battled the destructive impacts of legal highs”.

“Our existing control mechanisms operate too slowly to allow the government to adequately respond to the harm caused by some of these substances,” McClay told New Scientist.

David Nutt at Imperial College London, former chair of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, says New Zealand’s move is a good example of the start of evidence-based policy. “My hope is this will lead to a major change in the international laws,” he says.

Prohibition collapsing

“This comes at a time when . . .”

Continue reading.

In the U.S., we’ll continue to play Whack-A-Mole with designer drugs, passing laws against each new one some time after it appears. That process doesn’t take long—“It’s a drug. People like it. That’s enough for me: make it illegal.” No need in the US to consider costs, relative harm, and indeed whether the drug is harmful at all. Just: it’s a drug and people like it.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 5:33 pm

The UK Government bans khat, ignores advice of its own experts

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One of the great frustrations about drug laws is that legislators seem to be terminally stupid so far as science is concerned and/or show totally bad faith. George Murkin has a sterling example at Transform:

The UK government has today announced it will go against the recommendations of its own drugs experts (again) and ban khat, a plant mostly used by the UK’s Somali and Yemeni communities, that produces a mild stimulant effect when chewed.

Earlier this year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the body responsible for providing the government with expert advice on drugs, produced a detailed review of the evidence (PDF) on the social and health harms of khat and offered recommendations on responses to the drug in the UK.Although acknowledging gaps in the research data available, the ACMD found little evidence to support causal link between khat use and most of the adverse medical effects around which concerns had been raised (although noting a risk of liver toxicity in heavy users), and could also find only weak evidence that use of the drug was a cause of some the societal problems that it has been blamed for by some observers. Along with a series of prgamatic recommendations on educating and supporting affected communities, and treating those whose use becomes problematic, their conclusion on khats legal status was clear:

“The ACMD considers that the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.”

The Home Secreatary who ordered today’s ban, Teresa May, has argued that the UK has become a transshipment point for khat because other countries have prohibited it. The ACMD, however, note that:

“it is likely that some khat is re-exported to countries where it is banned” (p.82)


“Fears of the UK becoming a hub for importation of khat appear not borne out by  the VAT figures provided by the HMRC regarding the volume of khat imported  into the UK since 2005 or by any evidence suggesting the UK is a landing point for the onward transportation of significant quantities of khat”(p.10)

The ACMD also point out that khat needs to be consumed within 36-48hours of harvesting or it loses its effects – another reason why the UK trafficking hub proposition lacks credibility. there simply isnt time for it to be transited through multiple destinations – it needs to go direct to consumer markets to be a viable product.The other key argument made by May has been concerns about a link between the khat trade and terrorism, specifically theAl Shabaab group in Somalia. On this question the ACMD are equally clear:

“in regard to international crime, it is known the Al Shabaab militia,which control parts of southern Somalia, tax sales of khat as all retail transactions of any product are taxed. However, in countries beyond the UK where khat has been prohibited it enters the illegal market through smuggling and illicit sale, and so becomes criminal activity by definition. To clarify, the ACMD has not been provided with any evidence of Al Shabaab or any other terrorist groups‘ involvement in khat export/sale, despite repeated requests for this information from a number of national and international official sources, including various Government bodies.”(p.55)

Dr Axel Klein, one of the key experts on khat who gave evidence informing the ACMD report, told Transform that:

“There’s no reason to support the ban except that other countries have done so. There is an alleged terror link but this looks ridiculous given that Al Shabaab in Somalia have been banning khat themselves.The trade has provided hundreds of UK Somalis with a livelihood, and their countrymen with a peaceful and agreeable past time. 

For Islamic campaigners this has long been a thorn in the flesh of the community. Mafrishes are public spaces, where discussion ranges widely and freely, as friends gather to relax and enjoy. At a time of rising hostility and nationalism making the assimilation for even second or third Generation British Somalis more difficult, such spaces come at a premium. In Somali neighbourhoods like Tower Hamlets and Lambeth these mafrishes were the strongest organised opposition to the grip held by Islamic organisations over the community. A Conservative Home Secretary with backbench support has just handed radical Islam their first political success in the UK.”

It is worth noting that the ACMD argues that the general absence of crime problems and criminal profits associated with khat are specifically due to the fact that it remains legal, stating that:

“There is no evidence of khat consumption being directly linked with serious or organised criminal behavior in the UK or to support the theory that khat is funding or fuelling crime. This is unsurprising given khat is not an illegal drug, is not a high value substance and therefore attracts very little profit from the UK market” (p.3)


“The ACMD has not fully explored the positive or negative  affects of criminalisation of khat. However, it can be assumed that if the price of khat increases, for example due to criminalisation, there is the  potential for exploitation by organised criminal gangs already involved  in the illegal drug trade and this would arguably increase funds available to such networks and groups if khat use went underground” (p.55)

and again:

“Evidence presented to the ACMD by practitioners and researchers  found no link between gang crime and khat use; although concerns were raised that if khat were criminalised this profile could change” (p.55)

The report notes that in countries where khat has been banned evidence suggests demand remains, prices rise on the newly illegal market and criminal opportunities are created. This analysis in fact closely echoes that of the ACMD’s 2005 khat report:

“The khat industry is a legitimate business. There is no indication of  organised criminals or terrorists being involved in the UK trade, perhaps because of its legality. However, since the USA made khat illegal there is some evidence of organised criminals becoming involved in its shipment to the USA.”

It is clear therefore that the Home Secretary is not only responding to a problem her expert advisors say does not exist, but is also set to create the very problem she is claiming to be responding to – exactly as her advisors have explained will happen. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 4:41 pm

Did Unleaded Gasoline Improve Educational Outcomes?

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Very interesting post by Kevin Drum on other effects (beyond the reduction of criminal violence) from the lead abatement programs (including most significantly the move to unleaded gasoline).

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 4:35 pm

The Modesty Experiment

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Quite an interesting article at Salon by Lauren Shields:

The idea for my modesty experiment began when I worked in New York City as a receptionist for a company at Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, while I edited short films on the side. Every morning I would shoehorn myself onto the train with thousands of expensive-smelling, coiffed women who somehow managed to keep their hair looking great under wool caps in winter and despite hot, stinky gusts of subway backdrafts in the summer. It was an army of ladies sporting fitted waistlines, toned arms, blown-out hair, full faces of makeup and heels (which was incredible, considering all the walking we all had to do). Everyone looked good, no one was phoning it in, and we were all stylish.

I hated every second of it. It felt like putting on a costume. In fact, that was what I called it: my “Grown-up Suit.” Still, given where I worked, I had to look like that. Every. Damn. Day.

By contrast, on my way home to the warehouse I inhabited in Williamsburg, I would look at Hasidic women in their headscarves and long skirts with something akin to envy. Gawd, I thought. How nice would it be not to have to think about stupid crap like the latest accessories and whether my hair had gone limp?

Mind you, these Hasidic women were stylish: They looked good. They just didn’t look like everyone else. These women were not “fashionable” first, like most of the women I saw everywhere else — they seemed to be focused on something else, something more important than what was trendy. They had a very good reason for not dressing like the train-squishing crowd of Fifth Avenue, and I wanted a reason too.

Out of curiosity, while I sat behind my desk answering phones or prepping conference rooms I began to research Quaker, Jewish and Muslim belief systems, which allowed adherents of both sexes to dress modestly for spiritual reasons. I briefly considered beginning to dress like a Quaker, but I thought to myself, “What’s my excuse? I can’t just magically dress like a Quaker or a Muslim because I’m tired of dressing like an American.”

Eventually I scrapped the idea: I had no excuse to buck the trend. Plus, it would be a little ridiculous: “No, I dress like this because I’m pretty sure the beauty industry is a ploy to keep us from thinking about how to break into the boys’ club of corporate America, and obsession with your appearance is frivolous and time-consuming! Would you like some more coffee, expensively dressed and perfectly nice female co-worker?” No, thanks.

Two years later, I was a first-year student at Candler Theological Seminary in Atlanta. (Don’t ask how I went from wanting to be a filmmaker in New York City to applying to seminary. It’s as long and weird a tale as you might think.) One day, a woman came to my “Women in Church History” class. She had spent some time in the Middle East with her husband (who is Middle Eastern) and children, and while there she had been required to cover her hair and adhere to particular clothing requirements.

She was there to talk specifically about hijab, the modesty requirements for many Muslims, and its effect on women. To a classroom full of vocal, educated feminists who were eager to prove themselves, this lecture might have been your typical Islam-slamming discussion on whose fault it is that men desire women (it’s men’s, in case you’re wondering). I was ready to go to battle.

Instead, it was a shock to all of us.

The speaker explained very clearly how much she had enjoyed (and admittedly, sometimes hated) dressing in accordance with modesty rules. She talked about her daughter who, being half-Muslim, had decided to wear a headscarf at age 8 soon after returning to the States from overseas. The speaker didn’t advocate for hijab, but she certainly wasn’t opposed to it.

This was not the podium-pounding, acrimonious discussion I had prepared for. Instead of feeling self-righteous and angry, I felt inspired — and profoundly unsettled. I didn’t know it then, but what I had learned about modest dress was teaching me about my own hypocrisy.

After class I retreated to my favorite couch — the one on the fifth floor the faculty didn’t usually catch me napping on — and buried my nose in that week’s reading assignment, “Muslim Women in America.” It’s not possible, I thought, that women would feel freer dressed modestly, that women would choose to be ashamed of their bodies.

But it wasn’t shame, I soon learned. In fact, for many women, it was pride. It was a desire to be considered for things other than what their hairstyle communicated, or whether their butts were shaped right — a desire that many people, not just women, share today.

In America, Islamic dress is often a choice, and the women who make this choice are declining to endorse Western Imperialism and the sexualization of their bodies. It’s a way of expressing modesty and resisting the pressure to be scrutinized against Western standards of beauty.

And then, as I sat on the couch at one of the best seminaries in the States, tummy sucked in so I looked thinner, makeup on my face to hide my blemishes, wearing uncomfortable shoes because they matched my outfit even though I had to walk three miles in them, hair with enough $15 product so it laid just so, and my whole “look” completed with a scarf that was always in my way and skirt arranged to look natural but that was actually perfectly placed to cover my knee socks — pinched, pulled, painted and still not good enough, I thought, “Is this really any better?”

Up until that moment, I had considered myself the kind of person who was “above” thinking too much about my appearance (remember, the Grown-up Suit was just a costume — deep down I disdained all that “frivolous” stuff), but that day on the couch I was uncomfortably aware of how much I did care about how I looked. One day I had noticed cellulite where it had never been before, and it really upset me. My neck was saggier than it was when I was 20, and I found myself awake at night wondering if I was just fat, or getting older, and whether I was still beautiful.

Why should I care? Why, if beauty didn’t matter to me, did I have more than $600 worth of makeup in my closet (and I never left the house without at least some of it on) and more shoes than any sane individual needs? Why was I convinced that if I didn’t look “sexy” or at least attractive no one would listen to what I had to say?

The fact that I was so afraid to let go of all those security blankets told me that I should try it. So I did.

With the support of my seminary community and my then-boyfriend, I designed the Modesty Experiment, in which I took my cues from Jewish, Muslim and some Christian modesty practices in order to loosen my death grip on the idea that youth and beauty were prerequisites to relevance. I started a blog and a journal to stay accountable, and I gave away more than a third of my clothes. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Daily life

How to Spot a Communist can easily be updated to How to Spot a Terrorist

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We seem to be heading back into “thoughtcrime” territory, and this Open Culture post by Dan Colman may prove useful:

In 1955, the United States was entering the final stages of McCarthyism or the Second Red Scare. During this low point in American history, the US government looked high and low for Communist spies. Entertainers, educators, government employees and union members were often viewed with suspicion, and many careers and lives were destroyed by the flimsiest of allegations. Congress, the FBI, and the US military, they all fueled the 20th century version of the Salem Witch trials, partly by encouraging Americans to look for Communists in unsuspecting places.

In the short Armed Forces Information Film above, you can see the dynamic at work. Some Communists were out in the open; however, others “worked more silently.” So how to find those hidden communists? Not to worry, the US military had that covered. In 1955, the U.S. First Army Headquarters prepared a manual called How to Spot a Communist. Later published in popular American magazines, the propaganda piece warned readers, “there is no fool-proof system in spotting a Communist.” “U.S. Communists come from all walks of life, profess all faiths, and exercise all trades and professions. In addition, the Communist Party, USA, has made concerted efforts to go underground for the purpose of infiltration.” And yet the pamphlet adds, letting readers breathe a sigh of relief, “there are, fortunately, indications that may give him away. These indications are often subtle but always present, for the Communist, by reason of his “faith” must act and talk along certain lines.” In short, you’ll know a Communist not by how he walks, but how he talks. Asking citizens to become literary critics for the sake of national security, the publication told readers to watch out for the following:

While a preference for long sentences is common to most Communist writing, a distinct vocabulary provides the more easily recognized feature of the “Communist Language.” Even a superficial reading of an article written by a Communist or a conversation with one will probably reveal the use of some of the following expressions: integrative thinking, vanguard, comrade, hootenanny, chauvinism, book-burning, syncretistic faith, bourgeois-nationalism, jingoism, colonialism, hooliganism, ruling class, progressive, demagogy, dialectical, witch-hunt, reactionary, exploitation, oppressive, materialist.

This list, selected at random, could be extended almost indefinitely. While all of the above expressions are part of the English language, their use by Communists is infinitely more frequent than by the general public…

Rather chillingly, the pamphlet also warned that Communists revealed themselves if and when they talked about “McCarthyism,” “violation of civil rights,” “racial or religious discrimination” or “peace.” In other words, they were guilty if they suggested that the government was overstepping its bounds.

According to Corliss Lamont’s book, Freedom Is As Freedom Does, .  . .

Continue reading.

Doesn’t that patten of thought remind you of the Tea Party and their ilk?

The key, as Steve of Kafeneio noted, is always to amp up fear, for a fearful people are easily controlled. And fear must be vague and omnipresent: if it’s specific, then it can be addressed and resolved.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 4:13 pm

How to be respectful while being inhumane

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I was struck by this account of how we’re treating the men, many of whom are innocent, whom we have imprisoned for years. It reminds me of the Russian lady weeping at the pathos of a play while her coachman freezes outside.* Elspeth Reeve writes at the Atlantic Wire:

The United States military will likely show its benevolence toward the Guantanamo Bay detainees it’s holding in perpetuity and will only force-feed the hunger strikers at night out of respect for Ramadan.Currently 106 of the 166 detainees are on hunger strike, and 44 of them are twice daily strapped into a chair while a tube is threaded through their noses into their stomachs to prevent them from escaping detention through suicide. In a motion filed Sunday night, four men asked federal court to stop the force feeding, the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg explains, and judges gave the government till Wednesday at noon to respond. Ramadan starts July 8, and if the court can’t decide by then, the men ask the judges “at a minimum, to enjoin any force-feeding between sunup and sundown during the month of Ramadan.”

That was the plan all along, a Guantanamo spokesman told Reuters’ Jane Sutton, who says the military said two weeks ago it planned to only do nighttime force feedings, as it has during past Ramadans. However, the Miami Herald reports that in previous years, there were only a few detainees being force fed at a time, and that Guantanamo spokesmen would not say whether the base was capable of following that procedure with so many detainees.

Army Col. Greg Julian told the Miami Herald the feeding would continue following the policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. “We will not let the detainees die,” he said. The problem is, the detainees aren’t in prison. And that is why beyond respecting the holy month by waiting till nightfall to ram a tube filled with nutritious goo into their bodies, a tougher legal question remains. The government can’t argue it must keep the men alive in order to punish them. All four men were cleared for release in 2010. They are Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab — both from Algeria — Abu Wa’el Dhiab of Syria, and Shaker Aamer, a Saudi with family in Great Britain.

“Their detention and their force-feeding has nothing to do with military necessity,” the men’s lawyers say in the court filings. “Their detention is solely a function of a political stalemate between the president and the Congress…. There cannot be a legitimate penological interest in force-feeding petitioners to prolong their indefinite detention… It facilitates the violation of a fundamental human right. The very notion of it is grotesque.”

Eighty-six men were cleared for release three years ago, but 56 of them couldn’t leave, because they were from Yemen. The U.S. had barred the detainees from being sent back there until Obama said he’d end that ban in May (several bureaucratic hurdles remain). The men remain in the camp because no one in Congress or the Obama administration wants to be blamed if they’re released and inexplicably take up arms against the nation that’s treated them so well for so many years.


* The story is quoted by Williams James:

All Goods are disguised by the vulgarity of their concomitants, in this work-a-day world; but woe to him who can only recognize them when he thinks them in their pure and abstract form! The habit of excessive novel-reading and theatre-going will produce true monsters in this line. The weeping of the Russian lady over the fictitious personages in the play, while her coachman is freezing to death on his seat outside, is the sort of thing that everywhere happens on a less glaring scale.

Tracking down the actual events turned out to be challenging.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 4:01 pm

Rethinking Surveillance

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Kenneth Roth writes in the New York Review of Books:

As a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, I used to think nothing of scooping up the phone numbers that a suspect called. I viewed that surveillance as no big deal because the Supreme Court had ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979) that we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone numbers we dial, as opposed to the content of the calls. And in any event, I had limited time or practical ability to follow up on those numbers.

Today, by contrast, when I look at the government’s large-scale electronic surveillance of private communications, I see an urgent need to rethink the rationale—and legal limits—for such intrusion. The government now has the technology to collect, store, and analyze information about our communications cheaply and quickly. It can assemble a picture of everyone we call or email—essentially our entire personal and professional lives—with a few computer commands. In addition, given the pervasive presence of geo-locators on our smart phones, the government is able to electronically monitor and reconstruct virtually every place we visit—a capacity that will only increase with the growing practice of photographing our license plates and the rapid improvement of facial-recognition software in combination with proliferating video cameras.

The government claims this enhanced capacity to monitor our metadata has helped to foil terrorist plots. But officials have been hard-pressed to identify cases in which broad, unfocused electronic surveillance has made a decisive difference. Meanwhile, US law has not kept up with the dramatic new intrusions on our privacy made possible by current technology.

There has long been a two-tiered approach to electronic surveillance of American citizens and others lawfully on US soil. The contents of our communications, whether by phone or email, receive heightened legal protection. The government can generally monitor them only after showing a judge that there is probable cause to believe criminal activity is being discussed, and that alternative avenues of investigation are insufficient. However, our “metadata”—including the phone numbers and email addresses with which we communicate, the timing, frequency, and pattern of those communications, and the electronic signals about our locations emitted by our smart phones—are given little protection. The government can access this information with a simple declaration to a judge that it is relevant to a criminal investigation.

The rationale for the distinction between the contents of a communication and its participants originated in the view that we expect our phone conversations to be private but not the numbers we call, because we share those numbers with the phone company to direct our call. A similar logic distinguishes between the content and recipients of our emails.

(For foreigners outside the United States, the US government makes no such distinction: because US law benightedly protects the privacy rights of only US citizens and others lawfully in the United States, the governments takes the position that even the content of phone calls and emails among most foreigners can be readily monitored. American Internet companies, which aspire to serve the world, must worry about the commercial consequences of that official disregard for others’ privacy as it becomes widely known.)

Back when I was a prosecutor, the human capacities of investigators meant that even upon accessing metadata, there was still considerable practical protection for privacy. It took little effort to obtain a judge’s order for a “pen register”—a device that recorded the numbers a suspect called—and even less to subpoena records of these numbers from a phone company. But analyzing that information was a time-consuming, manual affair. Similar practical limits governed physical surveillance. Because physical movement around town is public, the courts assumed there was no privacy interest in one’s whereabouts, so investigators were free to monitor a suspect’s movements without a court order. But clandestine monitoring was so costly—typically requiring teams of agents working long hours—that the government’s capacity to do much of it had practical limits.

Today, those limits have largely disappeared. The government still typically needs to make a more rigorous showing to a judge to target the contents of our conversations, but it can now obtain information on virtually every other aspect of our lives for the asking. The lack of a legally recognized privacy interest in our metadata lies behind the recently disclosed court order allowing the National Security Agency to vacuum up that data wholesale.

The government’s new and intrusive capacities should prompt a rethinking of the law. The rationale that we have no privacy interest in our metadata because we share it with phone or Internet companies to route our communications was always a fiction. After all, this routing information is in the same stream of electrical data that includes the contents of our communications. Both are shared with phone and Internet companies by necessity, but for a purpose: to enable our communications in the modern era, not to share them with anyone but their intended recipients. These companies should not be understood as random third parties to whom in choosing to expose our electronic activity we can be said to forego legitimate expectations of privacy. Instead, they should be viewed as custodians of today’s dominant forms of communication with a duty to protect their confidentiality. Only if the government has been able to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances—generally, by obtaining a targeted court order reflecting probable cause to believe that the communications in question contain evidence of criminal activity to which access is needed—should this confidentiality be broken.

Even our movement about town deserves some privacy protection, as a majority of the Supreme Court recognized last year in restricting the police’s ability to attach a GPS monitoring device to a vehicle. In that case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether sharing metadata with communications companies should be understood anymore to suggest the lack of a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The law recognizes other forms of privileged communication; our conversations with lawyers and doctors, for example, are protected because we understand that our legal and medical systems cannot work unless communications shared within them retain presumptive confidentiality. We should reach the same conclusion about our phone and Internet systems. The enormous efficiencies of phone and Internet communication provide great benefits to society. We should not discourage their use with privacy protections that are so lax that they force users to effectively share large swaths of their lives with the government. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 3:32 pm

Exercise Reorganizes the Brain to Be More Resilient to Stress

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Interesting finding—probably the mechanism that led to the advice that good stress management requires regular exercise. From Science Daily:

Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function, according to a research team based at Princeton University.

The researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience that when mice allowed to exercise regularly experienced a stressor — exposure to cold water — their brains exhibited a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety.

These findings potentially resolve a discrepancy in research related to the effect of exercise on the brain — namely that exercise reduces anxiety while also promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. Because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their more mature counterparts, exercise should result in more anxiety, not less. The Princeton-led researchers, however, found that exercise also strengthens the mechanisms that prevent these brain cells from firing.

The impact of physical activity on the ventral hippocampus specifically has not been deeply explored, said senior author Elizabeth Gould, Princeton’s Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology. By doing so, members of Gould’s laboratory pinpointed brain cells and regions important to anxiety regulation that may help scientists better understand and treat human anxiety disorders, she said.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the research also shows that the brain can be extremely adaptive and tailor its own processes to an organism’s lifestyle or surroundings, Gould said. A higher likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage for less physically fit creatures. Anxiety often manifests itself in avoidant behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous situations would increase the likelihood of survival, particularly for those less capable of responding with a “fight or flight” reaction, she said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Why we fought the Civil War

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Simply put: the South would not abandon slavery without a war. Jamelle Bouie and Jaime Fuller write at The American Prospect:

Today is the 150th anniversary of the final day of the Battle of ‎Gettysburg, and with that in mind, it’s worth remembering the particular actions of Confederate soldiers a week earlier, as they marched north into Pennsylvania.

In the movement that culminated in Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee’s men kidnapped free blacks by the hundreds—men, women, and children. Up to a thousand were captured and forced into labor with the Confederate Army. And during the eventual retreat from Pennsylvania, they were sent South. Once in Virginia, they were returned to their former owners, or if born free, sold into slavery.

What’s key is that this wasn’t the work of bad apples or isolated units. It won approval from field commanders and leaders at the top of the chain. It was so widespread, in fact, that you could legitimately describe these raids as an objective of the campaign, especially given the time and manpower required to carry them out.

So yeah, as we commemorate the lives lost at the battle of Gettysburg, remember this: The same Robert E. Lee who is praised as a reluctant warrior who only fought in defense of his native land was also in command of an army that made kidnapping—and enslavement—a matter of policy.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Government

Greenwald explains Obama’s motivations

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Obama doesn’t want any exposure of government wrong-doing or corruption—or indeed, even any exposure of what the government is doing except for what the Obama Administration decides to say/leak—so he has established this harsh, vindictive, scorched-earth policy toward whistleblowers (remember when he talked about how good whistleblowers are? what a shit he is) in order to frighten others. Tyrants rely heavily on fear: fear of terrorists, fear of the government, fear of losing your job, …  lots of fears.

Here’s a two-minute explanation from Glenn Greenwald on Fox & Friends that I think is right on target:

The odd thing is, as Timothy Lee points out in the Washington Post, more transparency (and more whistleblowers) would help the president:

Debates over government transparency are usually framed as a contest between the executive branch and the rest of us. Transparency is supposed to help Congress, the courts and the public hold the president accountable.

But history suggests that transparency is important for another reason: it helps the president himself keep control over his subordinates.

In a 1975 Senate hearing, National Security Agency director Lew Allen admitted that the NSA “had never received the explicit approval of incumbent presidents or attorneys general” for its program of secretly reading Americans’ international telegrams.

In another Senate hearing that same year, a White House aide who had planned acontroversial domestic surveillance plan in the Nixon administration, testified that the White House “didn’t know half the things” intelligence agencies were doing that might be legally dubious.

“If you have got a program going and you are perfectly happy with its results, why take the risk that it might be turned off if the president of the United States decides he does not want to do it,” he asked. He also said that “interagency jealousies and rivalries” caused to agencies conceal the extent of their domestic surveillance activities. Agencies didn’t want to alert their bureaucratic rivals that they were encroaching on their turf.

Secrecy also makes it easier for executive branch officials to cut legal corners on otherwise legal programs. For example, the Patriot Act gave the Bush administration broad authority to issue National Security Letters, secret requests for information that don’t require judicial oversight. But a 2007 Inspector General’s report found more than 700 cases where FBI agents who didn’t have the authority to issue NSLs had improperly obtained information by telling companies that “exigent circumstances” required that the information be turned over immediately, without even the minimal checks required by the NSL rules.

In all of these cases, secrecy made lawbreaking more likely. If an NSA or FBI employee suspected the law was being broken, there was no easy way to blow the whistle. And with limited oversight, it was less likely that Congress or the courts to notice something was amiss. So the abuses festered for years.

So far, the controversial surveillance programs revealed by Ed Snowden’s leaks appear to have been conducted with the explicit approval of President Obama. And maybe that’s because today’s executive branch officials have a healthier regard for the rule of law than they had under presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and George W. Bush.

But it’s also possible that the NSA, FBI, and other agencies are engaged in lawbreaking that neither the Congress nor the president know about yet. Some abuses festered for two decades before being brought to light by Congressional investigations in the 1970s. We haven’t had a comparable investigation of intelligence abuses under the last six presidents. And today’s executive branch is even more obsessed with secrecy than it was during the Cold War.

More transparency and oversight wouldn’t just make it easier for the public to trust their government. It would also make it easier for President Obama himself to keep his own subordinates in line. By insisting on widespread secrecy and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers, President Obama has cut himself off from valuable sources of information about what his subordinates are doing. More transparency and oversight would allow the press, the Congress, and the courts to act as the president’s eyes and ears, alerting him to cases where his subordinates have gone beyond what the law allows.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 2:55 pm

Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport With Anyone

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Useful and easy techniques that also make sense:

I’m not quite sure how I came across Robin Dreeke’s It’s Not All About Me but I’m glad I did.

Robin is the lead instructor at the FBI’s Counterintelligence Training Center in all behavioral and interpersonal skills training.

And he wrote an awesome book on how to master the skills of communication.

His process not only includes research into social and evolutionary psychology, but it’s been honed from years of field experience.

I’ve been trying these out over the last few days and I’ve already noticed an improvement. Most importantly, I’ve put away my phone and focused on the person with whom I’m talking. This simple act of giving people my undivided attention has made a world of difference.

There are not many places that teach these techniques and I couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Robin.

1. Establishing Artificial Time Constraints

I suspect you’ve sat in a bar at one point or another and been approached by a stranger who tried to start a conversation. My guess is you felt awkward or possibly even uncomfortable. This is because you didn’t know when or if the conversation would end.

The first step in the process of developing great rapport and having great conversations is letting the other person know that there is an end in sight, and it is really close.

When you approach someone to start a conversation most people assess the situation for threat before anything else.

Humans have genetically survived because of this. This is a strong reason why these techniques work; they are specifically designed to lower the perceived risk to a stranger.

2. Accommodating Nonverbals

This is a pretty simple one. You want to look non threatening. The number one nonverbal technique to use to look more accommodating is to smile.

This isn’t new. It’s the second of six principles in Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

You can however accentuate your smile in a subtle way.

Adding a slight head tilt shows the other person that you have comfort with them and trust them. Another nonverbal to try and maintain is a slightly lower chin angle.

High chin angles make someone feel like you’re looking down at them.

Another key nonverbal is body angle. Standing toe to toe with someone else can be intimidating.

A slight body angle or blade away from the individual you are engaging will present a much more accommodating nonverbal.

How you shake hands matters too.

An accommodating handshake is one that matches the strength of the other, and also takes more of a palm up angle.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 10:48 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Books about spies

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An interesting collection discussed by Ben Macintyre in an interview:

Ben Macintyre is Writer at Large and Associate Editor on The Times and writes a weekly column on history, espionage, art, politics and foreign affairs. He is the author of seven non-fiction history books, including his latest, Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that changed the course of World War II. Here he tells one of the great unsung stories of WWII: after cracking the Enigma code, the British knew when virtually every single German spy was coming. ‘They were all picked up and offered a pretty stark choice between collaborating or execution. The unlucky 14 chose trial and execution. The rest all agreed to be double agents, and this was a critical part of the war.’

Your first book is The Double-Cross System. It’s about double agents in World War II, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s written by a man called John Masterman, who was an Oxford academic and historian and latterly became Provost of Worcester College, Oxford. In the Second World War, he was head of something called the Twenty Committee, the double-cross committee – it was an elaborate joke, because two Xs are 20 in Roman numerals. Their primary function was, when German and other Axis spies were intercepted, to work out how to use them as double agents. Because of breaking the Enigma code, the British knew when virtually every single German spy was coming: we knew their names, we knew when they were landing, we knew what they were up to, the code names in lots of cases. They were all picked up and offered a pretty stark choice between collaborating or execution. The unlucky 14 chose trial and execution. The rest all agreed to be double agents, and this was a critical part of the war.

It’s one of the great unsung victories of the Second World War. The double agents were used to convey a vast quantity of lies to the Germans. This network played a critical part in the run-up to D-Day by throwing huge amounts of disinformation which was swallowed more or less whole by the Germans.

Masterman was in charge of this committee which decided what could safely be fed to the Germans. They fed a combination of what they called ‘chicken-feed’, true information which was essentially non-nutritious, and a smattering of completely false information that would lead them in the wrong direction.

Masterman’s account of the double-cross system is the definitive account and, although it’s written in quite a dry way, it’s absolutely thrilling. It was very controversial when it was published because it was a complete revelation and the head of MI5 did not want Masterman to publish this still highly classified stuff. Masterman decided that it was in the public interest to publish it and he published it first in the States to make sure that it did come out. Many criticised him very vociferously for doing it.

Had he not signed the Official Secrets Act?

He had, and he bust it. And it was a very brave thing to do. In the end, the authorities decided it was such a success they couldn’t prosecute him. It would have been very odd to prosecute him because he was singing the praises of the security services at a time when their reputation was at rock-bottom. In 1976, we’d just had the revelations about Philby, Burgess and Maclean [who were Soviet double agents]. He wanted to make the point that, in fact, Britain had made this incredible breakthrough which really helped us win the war and nobody knew about it.

It’s a wonderful book. It’s just been reissued in a Folio edition with a new introduction by M R D Foot, and it stands the test of time. It’s still as exciting to read as it was when it written and, I suspect, as when it was done. It’s really just an extended version of a long history that Masterman wrote himself at the end of the war for MI5’s consumption. It wasn’t supposed to leave the building but he kept a copy. Masterman was himself a novelist. He wrote some rather successful detective novels, and that sort of writing infuses the way The Double-Cross System is written, which is why I love it.

Let’s move on now to Christopher Andrew’s The Defence of the Realm, which is the authorised history of MI5, unlike Masterman’s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 10:40 am

Posted in Books, Government

Catholic church puts a higher priority on money than children

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The Catholic church hierarchy is truly disgusting. It kind of turns my stomach that this group of cynical and greedy men try to lecture everyone about sexual morality when their own expressed values—the values that they hold as shown by their actions—are so depraved. The NY Times comments in an editorial:

Tragic as the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has been, it is shocking to discover that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while archbishop of Milwaukee, moved $57 million off the archdiocesan books into a cemetery trust fund six years ago in order to protect the money from damage suits by victims of abuse by priests.

Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has denied shielding the funds as an “old and discredited” allegation and “malarkey.” But newly released court documents make it clear that he sought and received fast approval from the Vatican to transfer the money just as the Wisconsin Supreme Court was about to open the door to damage suits by victims raped and abused as children by Roman Catholic clergy.

“I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability,” Cardinal Dolan wrote rather cynically in his 2007 letter to the Vatican. The letter was released by the Milwaukee Archdiocese as part of a bankruptcy court fight with lawyers in 575 cases of damage claims. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. The law bars a debtor from transferring funds in a way that protects one class of creditors over another.

The release of about 6,000 pages of documents provided a grim backstage look at the scandal, graphically detailing the patterns of serial abuse by dozens of priests who were systematically rotated to new assignments as church officials kept criminal behavior secret from civil authority.

It is disturbing that the current Milwaukee leader, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said last week that the church underwent an “arc of understanding” across time to come to grips with the scandal — as if the statutory rapes of children were not always a glaring crime in the eyes of society as well as the church itself.

Cardinal Dolan was not a Milwaukee prelate during most of the abuse cases, but he faced a costly aftermath of troubles and warned the Vatican in 2003: “As victims organize and become more public, the potential for true scandal is very real.” The documents showed how the Vatican slowly took years to allow dioceses to defrock embarrassing priests. Yet the same bureaucracy approved Cardinal Dolan’s $57 million transfer just days after the Wisconsin court allowed victims’ damage suits.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

Exaggerating the Risk of Drugs Harms Us All

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Maia Szalavitz reports at The Fix:

What is the most dangerous activity you can engage in? If you guessed doing illegal drugs, you would be wrong. Extreme sports like big wave surfing, heli-skiing, cave diving, white-water rafting and mountain climbing all have a higher rate of risk to life and limb. Yet the question of a ban on these behaviors beloved by “adrenaline addicts” is viewed as ludicrous, even when the risk of death, say, in climbing Mount Everest once (until recently, about 1 in 3) is greater than the annual risk of dying from heroin addiction (around 1% to 4%).

Or consider mundane activities like driving: Car accidents are responsible for 1% of annual deaths nationwide. Cigarettes and alcohol do at least as much, if not more, harm to each user than heroin or cocaine. Alcohol, cocaine and heroin have a 3% to 15% rate of addiction, depending on how it is measured—and tobacco’s rate is higher. Yet the risks don’t align well with their legal and social status, especially when you consider that marijuana is safer than any of the legal drugs.

The reasons for this inconsistency around risk are complicated. Driving has huge personal and economic benefits. Risky sports are seen as noble challenges that foster the human will toward exploration, adventure and growth. When it comes to nonmedical drug use, however, discussion of benefits tends to be either dismissed as delusional or stifled in favor of “risk” talk.

I mention these facts not to promote drug use. That I feel compelled to immediately include such a disclaimer underlines my point: Our values shape our perception of risk and the way we make drug policy. If we recognize only the risks and ignore the benefits, we fail to understand that the real problems are addiction and harm—not the substances themselves and the people who use them.

For instance, when we talk about the “epidemics” of Oxycontin, methamphetamine or heroin, we rarely acknowledge that the majority of users never become addicted: Over the course of a lifetime, only about 10% to 15% ever get hooked. That risk is not insignificant: Few people would fly on a plane that crashed every tenth flight. But focusing on use as the main factor in addiction obscures what is actually at stake.

There are, decade after decade, headlines about the fall of one drug and the rise of another. Yet the overall rate of people with addictions remains fairly constant. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Drug laws, Science

How a Clear, Worthless Stone With a Brilliant Marketing Campaign Conquered the World

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Roy Clabin writes at PolicyMic:

Alcohol is often praised as a recession-proof industry. In times of economic woes, we spend what little money we have to drown our sorrows. In times of great fortune, we celebrate generously with imbibed cheer. Libation, in all its forms, has permeated civilizations for millennia, interlaced in song, dance and feast … so in a very human way, the product’s consistency makes sense. There is, however, another industry displaying the same economic invulnerability, and yet offering none of the same rationale: Diamonds!

Despite what the Tiffany’s receipt might suggest, diamonds have no inherent value. They are far more abundant than we are led to believe, and they cannot be resold at even a fraction of their purchase price. For inexplicable reasons, our modern culture continues to celebrate their supposed rarity and glamour. Many men have fallen on the uphill battlefield of questioning this social norm. How did this mineral gain a monopoly on representing love? At what point did romance become synonymous with a stone dug from the earth? The history of the diamond industry is riddled with brutal corruption, brilliant ad campaigns, and the slick corporate maneuverings of one of the world’s most deplorable cartels. As more of my dear friends commit to loving marriages, I thought I’d offer an uninvited and thoroughly unappreciated look into the blood-spattered lineage behind this industry’s success.

In the mid 1800s, diamonds were an actual rarity mined solely in India and Brazil. The global supply could be measured in a few pounds and they were only donned by monarchs or aristocrats as frivolous symbols of stature. In 1870, an unimaginably vast bounty of diamonds was discovered in South Africa. Tons of the gems were being pulled out of the ground, signaling a potential flooding of the market and diminishment of the stone’s value.

Sensing the untapped opportunity before them, several mining companies joined into a conglomerate, establishing a virtual monopoly in South Africa called “the De Beers Mining company.” By 1888 De Beers controlled all production and distribution of diamonds coming out of South Africa. They created international syndicates, which many other diamond claimholders and distributors soon joined (quickly realizing the profit potential of faking scarcity and fabricating high prices). By 1902, De Beers controlled over 90% of the world’s rough-diamond production and distribution. When Ernest Oppenheimer took over control of the company in 1927, he established exclusive contracts with buyers and suppliers, essentially making it impossible to deal in diamonds outside of De Beers.

The formula remained the same for much of the 20th century: An auxiliary of De Beers would buy diamonds from various sources, De Beers would then decide how many diamonds they’d like to sell (and at what price), and finally buyers would cultivate the market hubs in cities like New York, London, or Antwerp. All the while, De Beers continued to amass a stockpile measuring in the tons, hidden away in their vaults. It was during the 1930s depression, however, that the company developed its boldest and most successful tactic.

Wanting to turn America into its next big market, De Beers met with advertising agencies to form a battle strategy. Its aim? To convince consumers that “Diamonds = Love”. To romanticize the stone, the campaign sought to change the public’s idea of how a man (successfully) courts a woman. They engaged the fledgling film industry, and covered movie idols (the paragons of mass audience romance) in their product. Magazines and select publications were flooded with stories that reinforced the idea of diamonds representing an indestructible devotion. Conspicuous photographs of celebrities’ bejeweled fingers splashed across news pages. Fashion designers promoted the “rising trend” of diamonds on the radio. Even the British Royal Family was convinced to wear diamonds over other jewels, under the assertion that it could greatly aid an industry in which Great Britain had a controlling interest.

By 1947, the operation had forged a psychological necessity across several classes and markets, forming a near overnight “tradition.” Those who could not afford a ring, chose to defer the purchase rather than forgo it altogether. It became a common notion, that one’s devotion was measured by the size of the engagement ring. The now immortal De Beers tag line, “a diamond is forever,” was cemented in the common psyche. Diamond sales continued to skyrocket, as De Beers exported the campaign to a number of new countries, creating multi-billion dollar profits.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes the company utilized any and all tactics to ensure control over the flow of stones in the market. If a new discovery of diamonds threatened De Beers’ autonomy (like the large Siberian mine of the 1950s), the company simply bought the entire inventory, continuing to channel the world’s supply through a restricted funnel. When countries like Israel or Zaire attempted to protest or challenge the monopoly with diamonds of their own, De Beers would flood the market with similar products from its stockpiled inventory and drive down demand. The only threat to their dominance was the potential discovery of a giant new untapped source, outside of their control. To that end, De Beers used their colonial connections to weave discoveries of diamonds in Africa into the fold of their cartel, also bringing Russia into the conglomerate and turning a blind eye to the warlords and slavers who savaged the lands, brutalized their people, and fed the company’s ever-brimming vaults. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 10:04 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

A good story on NSA, rather than on Snowden or Greenwald

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From Der Spiegel:

At first glance, the story always appears to be the same. A needle has disappeared into the haystack — information lost in a sea of data.

For some time now, though, it appears America’s intelligence services have been trying to tackle the problem from a different angle. “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack,” says Jeremy Bash, the former chief of staff to ex-CIA head Leon Panetta.

An enormous haystack it turns out — one comprised of the billions of minutes of daily cross-border telephone traffic. Add to that digital streams from high-bandwidth Internet cables that transport data equivalent to that held in Washington’s Library of Congress around the world in the course of a few seconds. And then add to that the billions of emails sent to international destinations each day — a world of entirely uncontrolled communication. And also a world full of potential threats — at least from the intelligence services’ perspective. Those are the “challenges,” an internal statement at the National Security Agency (NSA), the American signals intelligence organization, claims.

Four-star General Keith Alexander — who is today the NSA director and America’s highest-ranking cyber warrior as the chief of the US Cyber Command — defined these challenges. Given the cumulative technological eavesdropping capacity, he asked during a 2008 visit to Menwith Hill, Britain’s largest listening station near Harrogate in Yorkshire, “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?”

All the signals all the time. Wouldn’t that be the NSA’s ideal haystack? So what would the needle be? A trail to al-Qaida, an industrial facility belonging to an enemy state, plans prepared by international drug dealers or even international summit preparations being made by leading politicians of friendly nations? Whatever the target, it would be determined on a case by case basis. What is certain, however, is that there would always be a haystack.

A Fiasco for the NSA

Just how close America’s NSA got to this dream in cozy cooperation with other Western intelligence services has been exposed in recent weeks by a young American who, going by outward appearances, doesn’t look much like the hero he is being celebrated as around the world by people who feel threatened by America’s enormous surveillance apparatus.

The whole episode is a fiasco for the NSA which, in contrast to the CIA, has long been able to conduct its spying without drawing much public attention. Snowden has done “irreversible and significant damage” to US national security, Alexander told ABC a week ago. Snowden’s NSA documents contain more than one or two scandals. They are a kind of digital snapshot of the world’s most powerful intelligence agency’s work over a period of around a decade. SPIEGEL has seen and reviewed a series of documents from the archive.

The documents prove that Germany played a central role in the NSA’s global surveillance network — and how the Germans have also become targets of US attacks. Each month, the US intelligence service saves data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany.

No one is safe from this mass spying — at least almost no one. Only one handpicked group of nations is excluded — countries that the NSA has defined as close friends, or “2nd party,” as one internal document indicates. They include the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. A document classified as “top secret” states that, “The NSA does NOT target its 2nd party partners, nor request that 2nd parties do anything that is inherently illegal for NSA to do.”

‘We Can, and Often Do Target Signals’

For all other countries, including the group of around 30 nations that are considered to be 3rd party partners, however, this protection does not apply. “We can, and often do, target the signals of most 3rd party foreign partners,” the NSA boasts in an internal presentation.

According to the listing, Germany is among the countries that are the focus of surveillance. Thus, the documents confirm what had already been suspected for some time in government circles in Berlin — that the US intelligence service, with approval from the White House, is spying on the Germans — possibly right up to the level of the chancellor. So it comes as little surprise that the US has used every trick in the book to spy on the Washington offices of the European Union, as one document viewed by SPIEGEL indicates.

But the new aspect of the revelations isn’t that countries are trying to spy on each other, eavesdropping on ministers and conducting economic espionage. What is most important about the documents is that they reveal the possibility of the absolute surveillance of a country’s people and foreign citizens without any kind of effective controls or supervision. Among the intelligence agencies in the Western world, there appears to be a division of duties and at times extensive cooperation. And it appears that the principle that foreign intelligence agencies do not monitor the citizens of their own country, or that they only do so on the basis of individual court decisions, is obsolete in this world of globalized communication and surveillance. Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency can spy on anyone but British nationals, the NSA can conduct surveillance on anyone but Americans, and Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency can spy on anyone but Germans. That’s how a matrix is created of boundless surveillance in which each partner aids in a division of roles.

The documents show that, in this situation, the services did what is not only obvious, but also anchored in German law: They exchanged information. And they worked together extensively. That applies to the British and the Americans, but also to the BND, which assists the NSA in its Internet surveillance. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 9:33 am

BBS on the 4th

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SOTD 4 July 2013

A WEdger traded me some Coates shaving cream—no longer made except for a “Limited Edition” tub—and I used some this morning. Note that the size of the tube (1.7 oz) TSA guidelines for carry-on baggage.

I got an immediate good lather, and the Wilkinson Sticky with a Feather blade yielded an extremely comfortable BBS shave in three passes. The Sandalwood fragrance in the shaving cream was somewhat muted, but the aftershave more than made up for it. This is so far my favorite Sandalwood aftershave.

Regarding Sandalwood in general note that some men turn out to have a skin reaction to some fragrances, and sandalwood and menthol+eucalyptus seem to be common culprits, but depending on the guy, almost anything can trigger a reaction—reactions to lime are not unknown, for example. If you know your skin is fine with fragrances in general, charge ahead; if you’re unsure or if you’ve had skin reactions to anything in the past, you should at least test a new product by smearing some on the crease inside your elbow joint and letting it sit 10-20 minutes to see whether your own skin reacts. It’s better than smearing on your face and making it red and burning.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 9:26 am

Posted in Shaving

Eat a poppyseed bagel, lose your infant

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The GOP loves to require drug-testing (only of the poor, mind, and of employees, not executives). Here’s what it can lead to: a newborn taken from her mother because the mother tested positive for drugs due to have eaten a poppyseed bagel. Great country we live in.

This nation’s drug laws have become insane. I’m surprised that’s not evident to more people.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 9:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

America’s Dirty, Global War on Journalists

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David Sirota writes at AlterNet on an example of America’s rapid descent into, and embrace of, totalitarian values:

Out of all the harrowing story lines in journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new film “Dirty Wars,” the one about Abdulelah Haider Shaye best spotlights the U.S. government’s new assault against press freedom.

Shaye is the Yemeni journalist who in 2009 exposed his government’s coverup of a U.S. missile strike that, according to McClatchy’s newswire, ended up killing “dozens of civilians, including 14 women and 21 children.” McClatchy notes that for the supposed crime of committing journalism, Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison following a trial that “was widely condemned as a sham” by watchdog groups and experts who noted that the prosecution did not “offer any substantive evidence to support (its) charges.”

What, you might ask, does this have to do with the American government’s attitude toward press freedom? That’s where Scahill’s movie comes in. As the film shows, when international pressure moved the Yemeni government to finally consider pardoning Shaye, President Obama personally intervened, using a phone call with Yemen’s leader to halt the journalist’s release.

Had this been an isolated incident, it might be easy to write off. But the president’s move to criminalize the reporting of inconvenient facts is sadly emblematic of his administration’s larger war against journalism. And, mind you, the word “war” is no overstatement.

As New York Times media correspondent David Carr put it: “If you add up the pulling of news organization phone records (The Associated Press), the tracking of individual reporters (Fox News), and the effort by the current administration to go after sources (seven instances and counting in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media), suggesting that there is a war on the press is less hyperbole than simple math.”

In this unprecedented global war, President Obama has been backed by the combined power of Justice Department prosecutors, FBI surveillance agents, State Department diplomats and, perhaps most troubling of all, a cadre of high-profile Benedict Arnolds within the media itself.

One of them is “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, who, after saying journalist Glenn Greenwald “aided and abetted” NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, demanded to know of the reporter: “Why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” On the same “Meet the Press” program, NBC’s Chuck Todd didn’t want to know whether the NSA’s surveillance is illegal, but instead demanded to know “how much was (Greenwald) involved in the plot” to expose the NSA’s potential crimes. They were subsequently followed up by New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, who, after years of writing hagiography that helped Wall Streeters avoid prosecution, called for Greenwald’s arrest.

Not surprisingly, the result of all this is a culture of fear. As the CEO of the Associated Press recently said, there has been a “chilling effect on newsgathering” thanks to an assault that seems “tailor-made to comfort authoritarian regimes that want to suppress their own news media.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 9:02 am

Happy Independence Day!

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Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2013 at 8:46 am

Posted in Daily life

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