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Archive for July 2015

A very nice column on Latin teachers

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Full disclosure: The Younger Daughter (TYD) teaches Latin and Classical Greek. The New Yorker column is by Ian Frazier:

Joshua Katz, professor of classics at Princeton (dark suit, high forehead, merry eyes behind Santa Claus glasses), lectured to a group of eighteen New York City high-school Latin teachers on a recent morning in a room at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, on East Eighty-fourth Street, and revved their brains to almost redline speed. These teachers could easily handle it. They sat and listened and asked pertinent questions like the students whom teachers hope to have. Sam Swope, the white-maned president of the Academy for Teachers, made a welcoming speech telling them how outstanding they were. The academy regularly rewards the best city-area K-12 teachers with high-powered daylong enrichment gatherings like this one.

Subject of lecture: The Proto-Indo-European roots of the Latin language. Professor Katz loves a blackboard, but will settle for a whiteboard in a pinch. As he talked, he tossed a blue felt-tipped marker from hand to hand. On the smooth white, his rapidly sketched blue lines veered, with occasional squeaks, this way and that—from modern English, which we understand, to Shakespearean English, which we pretend to understand but kind of don’t, to Chaucerian English, which we don’t pretend to understand, and then to Old English. The lines then went from German to Middle High German (close relative of Yiddish), to Old High German, connected somehow to East Germanic Gothic, to West Germanic, to Dutch and Frisian, and onward to North Germanic, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic. Languages and facts flew like sparks from a grindstone and skidded bluely onto the board.

A few swipes of a cloth, and many centuries of Northern European language evolution disappeared. Then, “LATIN,” he wrote, near the bottom of the board. The Latin that Latin teachers teach is the classic form that prevailed in Rome for about three hundred years—from 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. Professor Katz sketched lines connecting it to Old Latin, then to Older Latin, then to Very Old Latin, which dates to about the eighth century B.C. Very Old Latin is as far from Cicero and Julius Caesar as Chaucer’s English is from us, said Professor Katz. Passing mention was made of Plautus Livius Andronicus, who created the first Latin literature by translating Homer from the Greek, in 240 B.C.; of the familial connection between Latin and Gujarati and other languages of India but not between Latin and Hebrew; and of the word experts at NASA who have tried to find ways in which humans may communicate with space aliens, should that ever become necessary.

To illustrate the morphological nature of Very Old Latin, Professor Katz handed out photocopies of a drawing of a gold pin called the Fibula Praenestina, which dates from the sixth to the eighth centuries B.C. The pin had been used, possibly, as a fastener for a garment. On the pin’s shaft were marks that were apparently letters but looked like what you might scratch on a lawn tool so that you could reclaim it after lending it to your neighbor. “If those are letters, what do we want them to say?” Professor Katz asked. “It’s unlikely they say something like ‘I’m with Stupid’—right?” By Socratic questioning, he led the teachers to discern Latinate forms in the letters. To do that, the inscription had to be read from right to left, the usual direction for Very Old Latin. “And what, by the way, is the word for writing that goes in one direction, gets to the end, turns, and then goes back in the other direction? Our favorite Greek adverb? Comes from the words meaning ‘as the ox plows’?” asked Professor Katz. All eighteen teachers answered, as one, “Boustrophedon!” He repeated the word, happily, because it is fun to say. Accent on the last syllable: “Bou-stroph-e-DON!”

Another key to translating the Fibula Praenestina’s inscription was making the intuitive leap that it had been written in the voice of the pin itself—that is, like “I’m with Stupid,” it is in the first person. Thus the words on the pin read . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Education

Sale today on fresh sockeye salmon fillets

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So I’m going again with this recipe. I got three 1-lb fillets, so cut in half that’s six packets. The key is that they are terrific left over: just put the cooked salmon in its packet in the refrigerator, and you have a quick lunch that is stunningly good. Two will do for our dinner tonight, other four for lunches to come.

My process: oil on foil, salmon, salt, pepper, tomatoes, basil, more oil, close packet.

They in the fridge now awaiting the 500ºF oven.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

The FBI Built a Database That Can Catch Rapists — Almost Nobody Uses It

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Christian Miller reports in ProPublica:

More than 30 years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a revolutionary computer system in a bomb shelter two floors beneath the cafeteria of its national academy. Dubbed the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP, it was a database designed to help catch the nation’s most violent offenders by linking together unsolved crimes. A serial rapist wielding a favorite knife in one attack might be identified when he used the same knife elsewhere. The system was rooted in the belief that some criminals’ methods were unique enough to serve as a kind of behavioral DNA — allowing identification based on how a person acted, rather than their genetic make-up.

Equally as important was the idea that local law enforcement agencies needed a way to better communicate with each other. Savvy killers had attacked in different jurisdictions to exploit gaping holes in police cooperation. ViCAP’s “implementation could mean the prevention of countless murders and the prompt apprehension of violent criminals,” the late Sen. Arlen Specter wrote in a letter to the Justice Department endorsing the program’s creation.

In the years since ViCAP was first conceived, data-mining has grown vastly more sophisticated, and computing power has become cheaper and more readily available. Corporations can link the food you purchase, the clothes you buy, and the websites you browse. The FBI can parse your emails, cellphone records and airline itineraries. In a world where everything is measured, data is ubiquitous — from the number of pieces of candy that a Marine hands out on patrol in Kandahar, to your heart rate as you walk up the stairs at work.

That’s what’s striking about ViCAP today: the paucity of information it contains. Only about 1,400 police agencies in the U.S., out of roughly 18,000, participate in the system. The database receives reports from far less than 1 percent of the violent crimes committed annually. It’s not even clear how many crimes the database has helped solve. The FBI does not release any figures. A review in the 1990s found it had linked only 33 crimes in 12 years.

Canadian authorities built on the original ViCAP framework to develop a modern and sophisticated system capable of identifying patterns and linking crimes. It has proven particularly successful at analyzing sexual-assault cases. But three decades and an estimated $30 million later, the FBI’s system remains stuck in the past, the John Henry of data mining. ViCAP was supposed to revolutionize American law enforcement. That revolution never came.

Few law enforcement officials dispute the potential of a system like ViCAP to help solve crimes. But the FBI has never delivered on its promise. In an agency with an $8.2 billion yearly budget, ViCAP receives around $800,000 a year to keep the system going. The ViCAP program has a staff of 12. Travel and training have been cut back in recent years. Last year, the program provided analytical assistance to local cops just 220 times. As a result, the program has done little to close the gap that prompted Congress to create it. Police agencies still don’t talk to each other on many occasions. Killers and rapists continue to escape arrest by exploiting that weakness. “The need is vital,” said Ritchie Martinez, the former president of the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts. “But ViCAP is not filling it.”

Local cops say the system is confusing and cumbersome. Entering a single case into the database can take an hour and hits — where an unsolved crime is connected to a prior incident — are rare. False positives are common. Many also said the FBI does little to teach cops how to use the system. Training has dropped from a high of about 5,500 officers in 2012 to 1,200 last year.

“We don’t really use ViCAP,” said Jeff Jensen, a criminal analyst for the Phoenix Police Department with 15 years of experience. “It really is quite a chore.”

The FBI has contributed to the confusion by misrepresenting the system. On its website, the FBI says cases in its database are “continually compared” for matches as new cases are entered. But in an interview, program officials said that does not happen. “We have plans for that in the future,” said Nathan Graham, a crime analyst for the program. The agency said it would update the information on its website.

The agency’s indifference to the database is particularly noteworthy at a time when emerging research suggests that such a tool could be especially useful in rape investigations.

For years, politicians and women’s advocates have focused on testing the DNA evidence in rape kits, which are administered to sexual assault victims after an attack. Such evidence can be compared against a nationwide database of DNA samples to find possible suspects. Backlogs at police departments across the country have left tens of thousands of kits untested.

But DNA is collected in only about half of rape cases, according to recent studies. A nationwide clearinghouse of the unique behaviors, methods, or marks of rapists could help solve those cases lacking genetic evidence, criminal experts said. Other research has shown that rapists are far more likely than killers to be serial offenders. Different studies have found that between one-fourth to two-thirds of rapists have committed multiple sexual assaults. Only about 1 percent of murderers are considered serial killers.

Studies have questioned the assumptions behind behavioral analysis tools like ViCAP. Violent criminals don’t always commit attacks the same way and different analysts can have remarkably different interpretations on whether crimes are linked. And a system that looks for criminal suspects on the basis of how a person acts is bound to raise alarms about Orwellian overreach. But many cops say any help is welcome in the difficult task of solving crimes like rape. A recent investigation by ProPublica and The New Orleans Advocate found that police in four states repeatedly missed chances to arrest the former NFL football star and convicted serial rapist Darren Sharper after failing to contact each other. “We’re always looking for tools,” said Joanne Archambault, the director of End Violence Against Women International, one of the leading police training organizations for the investigation of sexual assaults. “I just don’t think ViCAP was ever promoted enough as being one of them.”

The U.S. need only look north for an example of how such a system can play an important role in solving crimes. Not long after ViCAP was developed in the United States, Canadian law enforcement officials used it as a model to build their own tool, known as the Violent Criminal Linkage Analysis System, or ViCLAS. Today, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintains a database containing more than 500,000 criminal case profiles. The agency credits it with linking together some 7,000 unsolved crimes since 1995 – though not all of those linkages resulted in an arrest. If the FBI collected information as consistently as the Mounties, its database would contain more than 4.4 million cases, based on the greater U.S. population.

Instead, the FBI has about 89,000 cases on file.

Over the years, Canada has poured funding and staff into its program, resulting in a powerful analytical tool, said Sgt. Tony Lawlor, a senior ViCLAS analyst. One critical difference: . . .

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy article.

More and more it seems as though the FBI is simply not very good at its job. It’s unclear whether the cause is incompetence or the fact that they don’t care.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 2:56 pm

Sen. Lindsay Graham is running a pro-war campaign and his biggest contributors are military contractors

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“You have to spend money to make money”: I imagine a lot of military contractors are saying this as they give checked to Sen. Graham’s campaign, counting on his promises to increase defense spending and go to war in more places. Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

The Super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised $2.9 million through the end of June, a significant portion of which came from defense contractors that stand to gain from Graham’s advocacy for greater military intervention around the world and increased defense spending.

As Graham tours the early primary states, he tells voters that he is running to boost U.S. defense spending. “My goal is to make sure the next president of the United States, the next generation of war fighters have the capability and capacity to do the job required to keep us free,” Graham said in South Carolina earlier this year.

Graham’s Super PAC, called “Security is Strength,” received $500,000 from billionaire Ron Perelman, whose company MacAndrews & Forbes owns AM General, the manufacturer of Humvees and other products for the military. In December of last year, AM General won a $245.6 million contract with the Army. . .

Continue reading.

And of course the money buys votes. Jon Schwarz in The Intercept has a very interesting piece on politicians who admit that the money they receive shapes their votes:

One of the most embarrassing aspects of U.S. politics is politicians who deny that money has any impact on what they do. For instance, Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s notoriously fracking-friendly former governor, got $1.7 million from oil and gas companies but assured voters that “The contributions don’t affect my decisions.” If you’re trying to get people to vote for you, you can’t tell them that what they want doesn’t matter.

This pose is also popular with a certain prominent breed of pundits, who love to tell us “Don’t Follow the Money” (New York Times columnist David Brooks), or “Money does not buy elections” (Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner on public radio’s Marketplace), or “Money won’t buy you votes” (Yale Law School professor Peter H. Schuck in the Los Angeles Times).

Meanwhile, 85 percent of Americans say we need to either “completely rebuild” or make “fundamental changes” to the campaign finance system. Just 13 percent think “only minor changes are necessary,” less than the 18 percent of Americans who believe they’ve been in the presence of a ghost.

So we’ve decided that it would be useful to collect examples of actual politicians acknowledging the glaringly obvious reality. Here’s a start; I’m sure there must be many others, so if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments or email me. I’d also love to speak directly to current or former politicians who have an opinion about it.

• “You have to go where the money is. Now where the money is, there’s almost always implicitly some string attached. … It’s awful hard to take a whole lot of money from a group you know has a particular position then you conclude they’re wrong [and] vote no.” — Vice President Joe Biden in 2015.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 25:  Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting featured potential Republican presidential candidates in attendance, along with Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)

Photo: Ethan Miler/Getty Images

• “Lobbyists and career politicians today make up what I call the Washington Cartel. … [They] on a daily basis are conspiring against the American people. … [C]areer politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder.” — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2015.

• “When you start to connect the actual access to money, and the access involves law enforcement officials, you have clearly crossed a line. What is going on is shocking, terrible.” – James E. Tierney, former attorney general of Maine, in 2014.

• “Allowing people and corporate interest groups and others to spend an unlimited amount of unidentified money has enabled certain individuals to swing any and all elections, whether they are congressional, federal, local, state … Unfortunately and rarely are these people having goals which are in line with those of the general public. History well shows that there is a very selfish game that’s going on and that our government has largely been put up for sale.” –John Dingell, 29-term Democratic congressman from Michigan, in 2014 just before he retired.

• “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.” — Dale Schultz, 32-year Republican state legislator in Wisconsin and former state Senate Majority Leader, in 2013 before retiring rather than face a primary challenger backed by Americans for Prosperity. . .

Continue reading. The list continues.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 2:48 pm

Obama Administration: Using strong encryption can be punished as terrorism

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The Obama administration does not look good in this report by Lee Fang in The Intercept:

The Obama administration’s central strategy against strong encryption seems to be waging war on the companies that are providing and popularizing it: most notably Apple and Google.

The intimidation campaign got a boost Thursday when a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment raised the prospect of Apple being found liable for providing material support to a terrorist.

Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of the LawFare blog, suggested that Apple could in fact face that liability if it continued to provide encryption services to a suspected terrorist. He noted that the post was in response to an idea raised by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in a hearing earlier this month.

“In the facts we considered,” wrote Wittes and his co-author, Harvard law student Zoe Bedell, “a court might — believe it or not — consider Apple as having violated the criminal prohibition against material support for terrorism.”

FBI Director James Comey and others have said that end-to-end encryption makes law enforcement harder because service providers don’t have access to the actual communications, and therefore cannot turn them over when served with a warrant.

Wittes and Bedell argue that Apple’s decision to “move aggressively to implement end-to-end encrypted systems, and indeed to boast about them” after being “publicly and repeatedly warned by law enforcement at the very highest levels that ISIS is recruiting Americans” — in part through the use of encrypted messaging apps — could make the company liable if “an ISIS recruit uses exactly this pattern to kill some Americans.”

The blog compares Apple’s actions to a bank sending money to a charity supporting Hamas — knowing that it was a listed foreign terrorist organization.

“The question ultimately turns on whether Apple’s conduct in providing encryption services could, under any circumstances, be construed as material support,” Wittes and Bedell write. The answer, they say, “may be unnerving to executives at Apple.”

One way to avoid such liability, Wittes and Bedell argue, would be to end encrypted services to suspected terrorists. But, they acknowledge, “Cutting off service may be the last thing investigators want, as it would tip off the suspect that his activity has been noticed.”

In a hearing on July 8 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Department officials insisted that companies need to be able to provide them with unencrypted, clear access to people’s communications if presented with a warrant.

The problem is that eliminating end-to-end encryption or providing law enforcement with some sort of special key would also create opportunities for hackers.

Within minutes of the Lawfare post going up, privacy advocates and technologists expressed outrage: Chris Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, called it a continuation in Wittes’ “brain-dead jihad against encryption,” while Jake Laperruque, a fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology, wrote that Wittes’ post “equates selling a phone that’s secure from hackers with giving money to terrorists.”

If Apple and Google were to cave under the pressure of being likened to terrorist-helpers, and stop making end-to-end encryption, that could be the start of a “slippery slope” that ends the mainstream availability of strong encryption, said Amie Stepanovich, U.S policy manager for Access.

But even so, strong encryption will always exist, whether produced by small companies or foreign outlets. Terrorists can take their business elsewhere, while normal Americans will be left without a user-friendly, easily accessible way of protecting of their communications. “These tools are available and the government can’t get to all of them,” says Stepanovich. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 2:37 pm

Hackers Identify Weak Link in Thousands of Industrial Control Systems

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Security apparently was not an issue or a consideration when many modern systems were designed and developed, and that now promises to be a serious problem. Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports in Motherboard:

When we think about cyberattacks against infrastructure, thanks to hyperbolic andunrealistic Hollywood flicks, we think of exploding nuclear plants or blacked out cities. But in reality, hackers could cause much more damage with subtler attacks, even without targeting critical infrastructure.

For example, a hacker might change the chemical composition of a popular medication drug during its preparation stage at a pharmaceutical plant—without anyone noticing—and kill thousands of people, according to Robert Lee, a security researcher and a PhD candidate researching cyber security at King’s College in London.

While that’s an unlikely, worst case kind of scenario, it’s theoretically possible because the backbone networks supporting thousands of industrial control systems around the world, think of water and electricity distribution facilities, automated bridges, oil rigs, and different types of factories, all have a common weak link: their network switches.

These switches, which tunnel data around in several industrial processes, are often overlooked when thinking about potential cyberattacks against infrastructure. But they are a critical point of failure.

“If you own the network switch you don’t have to even go after other devices,” Lee told Motherboard in a phone interview. “An adversary that can get on the switch and own the switch, can own everything on that network and do anything they’d like with it.”

As it turns out, popular network switches made by Siemens, GE, Garrettcom and Opengear, have flaws that make them easy to hack, according to new research by Colin Cassidy, Eireann Leverett, and Lee himself. The three plan to show their findings at the security and hacking conferences Black Hat and Def Con in Las Vegas next week.

If malicious hackers can break into a switch, for example by phishing someone who’s on the same network, then the hackers can steal data, manipulate it, or just study the industrial process to learn how to sabotage it at a later stage, Cassidy, a security consultant for IOActive, told Motherboard.

At that point, pretty much everything is possible, depending on what’s the system these switches help control, Cassidy said.

In an electrical substation, for example, a hacker could . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 1:02 pm

Pro-life, clearly defined

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Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

More about Sister Chittister in this Daily Kos post.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 12:59 pm

Posted in GOP, Medical

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