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Archive for June 11th, 2017

Fetuses Prefer Face-Like Images Even in the Womb

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Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic:

It is dark in the womb—but not that dark. Human flesh isn’t fully opaque, so some measure of light will always pass through it. This means that even an enclosed space like a uterus can be surprisingly bright. “It’s analogous to being in a room where the lights are switched off and the curtains are drawn, but it’s bright outside,” says Vincent Reid from the University of Lancaster. “That’s still enough light to see easily.”

But what exactly do fetuses see? And how do they react to those images? To find out, Reid shone patterns of red dots into the wombs of women in the third trimester of their pregnancies, and monitored the babies within using high-definition ultrasound. By looking at how the babies turned around, Reid showed that they have a preference for dots arranged in a face-like pattern—just as newborn infants do.

“This is the first time that anyone’s been able to deliver an image to a fetus,” Reid says. And it will finally allow scientists to study the mental abilities of humans at the earliest possible stage of our development—before we are even b

For decades, scientists have known that third-trimester babies can perceive sounds and other stimuli while still in the womb. For example, in 1980, Anthony DeCasper and William Fifer asked pregnant women to read The Cat in the Hat to their fetuses, again and again for the last 7 weeks of their pregnancies. As soon as the babies were born, DeCasper and Fifer gave them pacifiers. The babies could then choose to hear a recording of either The Cat in the Hat or a different children’s story, by sucking at different times. And they sucked for the cat.

“People showed that a fetus could learn, was aware of elements of language, and preferred its mother’s own voice,” says Reid. But while such studies looked at hearing, touch, taste, and balance, vision was bizarrely neglected. A lot of researchers have looked at how newborns see the world, but most suspected that there was no way of doing similar tests before babies were actually born. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Science

It wasn’t just Comey: Federal attorney says Trump’s contacts made him uncomfortable before he was fired

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Sandhya Somashekhar reports in the Washington Post:

Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York ousted by President Trump, said Sunday that he had become increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s efforts to “cultivate some kind of relationship” with him and that his March firing came 22 hours after finally refusing to take a call from the president.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” Bharara said Trump called him twice as president-elect, “ostensibly just to shoot the breeze.” The calls took place after a meeting at Trump Tower in November at which Bharara, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said Trump asked him to stay on in the new administration.

The third call came in March, he said. After consulting with staff members, he said he decided not to return the call because he felt it was inappropriate.

“It’s a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation, without the attorney general, without warning, between the president and me or any United States attorney who has been asked to investigate various things,” he said.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for one of Trump’s attorneys, said on Twitter on Sunday that it would not be unusual for Trump to contact Bharara and that if he refused to take Trump’s call, “he deserved to be fired.” He accused Bharara of being a “resistance Democrat” with a political “axe to grind.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 12:04 pm

Very interesting development: Robert Mueller brings on board a top-notch criminal attorney

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Paul Rosenzweig posts at Lawfare:

What’s the worst thing that happened to Donald Trump this week?  It was NOT Director Comey’s testimony.  Rather, it must be the late Friday news that Robert Mueller has hired Michael Dreeben, on a part-time basis, to help with his investigation.  Dreeben, a deputy in the Office of the Solicitor General, has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court.  His specialty has, for the last 20 years, been criminal matters and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of criminal law.  I once saw him argue a Supreme Court matter without a single note.  In short, he is quite possibly the best criminal appellate lawyer in America (at least on the government’s side).  That Mueller has sought his assistance attests both to the seriousness of his effort and the depth of the intellectual bench he is building.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 8:52 am

Any working woman could have told James Comey what would happen when he spurned President Trump

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Robin Abcarian writes in the LA Times:

Is there a working woman alive who cannot identify with poor James Comey right now?

The former FBI director’s boss tried to seduce him. When the seduction failed, his boss fired him.

And then called him “crazy, a real nut job.”

Hell hath no fury like a scorned President Trump.

When you are the kingpin of a family business, used to a world in which no one questions or challenges you, where you can grab anyone in the … well, you know, it’s no wonder you see the world as divided into two sorts of people: you, and the subordinates who are here to meet your every need.

Comey’s first private encounter with President-elect Trump came shortly before the inauguration. According to a copy of the testimony Comey is to give Thursday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI director asked if he might have some alone time with Trump. He wanted to warn the incoming president about a “salacious and unverified” intelligence report involving Trump, Russian hookers and bizarre sexual behavior, which Trump adamantly denied.

How surprised Comey must have been when Trump thought their tete-a-tete meant they had created some sort of special bond — “that thing,” as the president would later describe it. Comey, by contrast, was discomfited enough by the president that he decided to document their conversation in a memo “the moment I walked out of the meeting.”

Three weeks later, Comey reluctantly attended a White House ceremony honoring law enforcement officials who had worked during the inauguration. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the president; the FBI is supposed to have limited contact with the White House.

So, like Scarlett O’Hara, he wore a suit that looked like blue curtains and tried to camouflage himself by standing next to a window. Unfortunately, when you are 6-foot-8, it’s hard to hide.

The president spotted him and called Comey across the room. The director, determined to minimize physical contact, held out his long, long arm for a handshake. The president tried to yank him into a hug. What resulted was the don’t-hug-me-handshake, a hybrid greeting familiar to any woman trying to fend off unwanted touching by an alpha male.

Like so many clueless pursuers, Trump could not take a hint. On Jan. 27, an unbidden invitation arrived from the White House. Dinner tonight, Mr. Comey?

“It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room,” he wrote. “Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.”

At least the president didn’t excuse himself to slip into something more comfortable. He did, however, ask Comey if he wanted to keep his job. Of course, Comey replied, puzzled because he’d already told the president twice he planned to finish his 10-year term.

“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” the president told him.

“I didn’t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed,” wrote Comey. “We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Awkward for Comey perhaps, but enflaming for his dining partner.

Their next meeting (not making this up) was on Valentine’s Day. After a counter-terrorism briefing in the Oval Office, the president asked everyone to clear out. Except for Comey. He wanted to be with alone with his FBI bro. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 8:48 am

Why are millennials more apt to leak government secrets?

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A very interesting column in the Washington Post by Malcolm Harris:

When the news broke of the latest national security leaker, it was obvious she was a millennial. Reality Winner is a 25-year-old veteran, a (now former) analyst for the defense contractor Pluribus International and a part-time yoga instructor. She is currently in federal custody, accused of sending a classified document about Russian hacks against a voting-software company to the Intercept, an online magazine. Three of the highest-profile leakers in recent years — Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and now Winner — were born between 1983 and 1993. Given that access to classified material is thought to belong to those who have proved their trustworthiness through their service, why do these leakers skew so young?

Without intending to, employers and policymakers have engineered a cohort of workers that is bound to yield leakers. An important part of our training for the 21st-century labor market has been an emphasis on taking initiative, hustling, finding ways to be useful, not waiting around for someone in charge to tell us what to do. In a Pew survey of young workers, a majority said they wanted to be the boss someday or already were. And if we can’t boss anyone else, we can at least boss ourselves. The gig-economy service Fiverr, for instance, recruits “doers” who “eat a coffee for lunch.” We are each of us a start-up of one, encouraged to develop and chase our values even if we don’t make much money. That’s usually a good situation for companies, which get ambitious employees (if we’re privileged enough to have that title) at basement rates as long as they’re able to make a thin claim or two about charity or sustainability. However, depending on an army of righteous, initiative-taking mercenaries does have its downsides when it comes to national security.

Niccolo Machiavelli’s counsel in “The Prince” that leaders would do well to avoid mercenaries is among the most respected nuggets of military wisdom, but for a crucial part of the millennial life cycle, the government actually sold us on the individualistic slogan “An Army of One .” Although the Army ditched the phrase in 2006, the military’s pitch to young people has continued to be that they can build job skills first and serve their country second. Winner seems to have listened well; according to her mother, she joined the Air Force after high school and trained as a linguist. When she was discharged last year, she left with an uncommon set of languages for a Texan: Pashto, Farsi and Dari. With a security clearance from her military job as a cryptologic language analyst, Winner was able to get a position at Pluribus International, where analysts make about $70,000 a year — about twice the U.S. average for workers without college degrees. Winner is a millennial success story, and she’d be a hell of a poster woman for national service if she weren’t in a cement cage somewhere.

One of the reasons Machiavelli advised against using mercenaries is that it’s a no-win situation: Either they’re not competent, or if they are, they’ll substitute their own judgment and goals for their leader’s. Snowden was so efficient at his cybersecurity job that his bosses at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Hawaii office were content to give him the run of the place, and since the government trusted his bosses, the National Security Agency was, in a very real way, relying on him. It’s the kind of mistake that will keep happening because it’s unavoidable. What kind of boss can resist a brilliant young worker who doesn’t need instruction? At a cybersecurity conference, Snowden’s former supervisor Steven Bay explained that the recruit blew away his interview, and with the paucity of technical talent in Hawaii, Booz Allen felt lucky to have him.

Employee loyalty is a two-way street, and for millennials, traffic has slowed to a crawl. Companies are investing less in workers. “Among the reasons cited for this,” according to the Wharton business school: “the recession, during which companies laid off huge swaths of their employees with little regard for loyalty or length of service; a whittling away of benefits, training and promotions for those who remain; and a generation of young millennials (ages 15 to 30) who have a different set of expectations about their careers, including the need to ‘be their own brand.’ ” In a nomadic world, one of the casualties is a decreasing sense of commitment to the organization.

Wharton management professor Adam Cobb says that over the past 30 years, the trend in business has been to have more risks shouldered by workers instead of companies. That means firms would rather hire an applicant like Snowden or Winner who already has high-value skills that someone else paid to develop. For employers, it’s a bargain, but it comes at a price: “If I’m an employee,” Cobb says, “that’s a signal to me that I’m not going to let firms control my career.” It would be uncharacteristic of millennials to sit loyally until our bosses don’t need us anymore; we’re proactive.

Since we can’t get too attached to particular employers, millennials are encouraged by baby-boomer-run institutions to find internal motivation, to live out our values through our frequent employment choices, and we’ve heard them loud and clear. A study of college-educated millennials from Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business found that they were unwilling to “tolerate unpleasant workplaces that do not allow them to be their authentic selves in expressing their personal and family values” and that “they will seek other options, such as starting their own companies, if they cannot find workplaces that accommodate their personal values.”

Lots of firms try to look like they’re doing good in the world, in line with millennial values. Facebook isn’t an ad company; it connects the world! Uber isn’t a cab company; it liberates moms to make money in their off hours! But when firms act contrary to their rosy recruiting copy, workers who weren’t disposed to be loyal in the first place might find another way to live out their values. In February 2016, Yelp employee Talia Jane wrote a long Medium post about how the company was paying insufficient wages to its customer service representatives. She was fired — and pilloried in the media as just another entitled millennial who wanted things handed to her. But a couple of months later, Yelp raised wages by $1.75 an hour and gave Jane’s former co-workers an annual 26 paid days off. Many large labor actions have achieved less.

Leaks have higher stakes, but when it comes to influencing American politics, what are defense contractors supposed to do — wait a couple of years to vote again? A 2016 poll by the Economic Innovation Group found that 72 percent of millennials had low confidence in the federal government. . . .

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Companies are finding that abandoning loyalty to their employees is a two-edged sword.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 7:24 am

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