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Archive for March 13th, 2018

A disheartening report: New CIA Director Gina Haspel Oversaw Torture at a Black Site Then Lost Evidence of It

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Matthew Gault writes in Motherboard:

In another shake up in Washington, Rex Tillerson is out as the Secretary of State and President Trump said he will promote CIA Chief Mike Pompeo to the position. Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Haspel famously ran the CIA’s first black site prison in Thailand during the early days of the War on Terror.

Haspel has tortured people, overseen the torture of people, and destroyed the evidence of said torture. A quick reminder—torture isn’t an effective method of intelligence gathering.

We know this because of cables the CIA declassified describing the torture. In August 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah—former manager of a training camp in Afghanistan—and began to torture him at a black site in Thailand while Haspel was running it. The Senate’s infamous torture report also details the torture of Zubaydah while he was in Haspel’s custody.

“Subject began crying as he was told that we wanted information to stop operations against the U.S,” the cables read. “Subject was told he could stop the process at any time. Subject continued with his appeal that he has told all that he has and muttered ‘help me.’ Between 1250 and 1315 the waterboard technique was applied numerous times. Subject was put into a large box at 1317.”

To get a sense of Zubaydah’s treatment, the Senate report mentions his name 1,343 times in 712 pages.

On another day, “subject was led to the small box and shut in at 1349 hours…at 1412 hours, subject could be heard sobbing, which continued for some time.” When the CIA captured Zubaydah, he had two eyes. Now he has one. He was waterboarded a total of 83 times.

According to the Senate’s torture report, “CIA Headquarters formally proposed that [Zubaydah] be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that [Zubaydah] not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions would lead [Zubaydah] to develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness.’”

Haspel was the head of the Thailand site during Zubaydah’s torture, a position referred to in the documents as the “chief of base.” Repeatedly in the cables, the chief of base or COB takes a direct role in the torture. “On July 15, 2002, a cable providing details on the proposed interrogation phase stated that only the DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base would be allowed to interrupt or stop an interrogation in process, and that the chief of Base would be the final decision-making authority as to whether the CIA’s interrogation techniques applied to [Zubaydah] would be discontinued,” the Senate torture report explained.

At one point, the chief of base congratulated Zubaydah on a fine acting job and accused him of faking a mental breakdown under torture, according to CIA psychologist and torture architect James Mitchell. “Good job,” Mitchell wrote in his book, quoting the COB. “I like the way you’re drooling, it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.” Several former associates put her in the room at the time of Zubaydah’s torture. She signed many of the reports sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

One cable detailed in the Senate report attributed to Detention Site Green’s chief of base read notes some opposition to the techniques: . . .

Continue reading.

A willingness to torture people is to my mind a sign of bad character, as is a willingness to torture animals.

Trump has declared that he wants the US to resume its practice of torture. He has also called for the entire family of any terrorist to be murdered (i.e., no due process). The US seems to be circling the moral drain.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 11:19 am

A heartening report: Their school deleted an article on a teacher’s firing. So these teens published it themselves.

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Modern publishing technology makes it more difficult to control the availability of information. Eli Rosenberg reports in the Washington Post:

The teenagers’ newspaper story started with a simple question: Why had a well-liked history teacher at their high school been missing from campus? Was there a medical issue, or something else?
Conor Spahr, 18, a senior at Herriman High School and a news editor at its newspaper, the Herriman Telegraph, decided to find out. There were rumors floating around, but he and the paper’s editor in chief, Max Gordon, 17, wanted to know what really happened.
Spahr started interviewing students and teachers at the public high school of about 2,600 on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, and sending out requests for public records. The journalists soon learned the teacher had been dismissedthey said. Further digging led them to report that the teacher’s dismissal was related to alleged misconduct.
“Herriman High Teacher Fired For Misconduct,” read the headline when the story dropped last Thursday after more than a month and a half of reporting.
The reactions were swift, the two journalists said.
The website for the Telegraph, which normally receives about 10 page views a day, shot up to about 800. Some local news outlets, which the two high-schoolers say they had alerted as they were readying their story, published reports that appeared to corroborate key aspects of it: The police and the State Board of Education were investigating the teacher after a complaint from a parent that he had allegedly sent a student inappropriate messages, according to multiple local news reports.
But Spahr and Gordon woke up Friday morning to find their story had been deleted from the newspaper’s website and their status as site administrators revoked, they said. Within a few hours, the whole site was taken down at the behest of the school’s leadership.
“It’s not completely surprising,” Spahr said. “Throughout our investigative process, interviewing vice principals and others, it’s all been sort of closed off, they’ve been very distant from us.”
The two developed a plan: They quickly went to work creating a website of their own for the story. They bought a domain for about $34 and enlisted other designers at the newspaper to help them pull it together. By Sunday they had a new site up with the slogan: “Student Run. No Censorship.” They called it the Herriman Telegram and republished their story. That too drew a round of news coverage.
School district spokesman Scott Iddings did not comment on the allegations outlined by the student journalists in their story and declined to answer questions about the piece that had been taken down.
“Jordan School District encourages thought-provoking, informative and accurate reporting of all stories in our school newspapers,” read a statement he distributed.
Another district spokeswoman, Sandra Riesgraf, told the Salt Lake Tribune that as the publisher of the student newspaper “we have to watch out for students.”
“I think they know, legally, that there’s got to be some oversight of that newspaper,” she said.
Spahr and Gordon stand by their reporting.
They say they had shown the story to the newspaper’s faculty adviser, as well as Richard Price, a vice principal at the school, who they said suggested some tweaks that they then made, but did not point out any factual inaccuracies.
“All of that negative attention on the school I think caused them to have a knee-jerk reaction and censor the website,” Gordon said. “We believed that if there were any inaccuracies in an article there’s no reason the vice principal wouldn’t have had us make those changes right then and there.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 9:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Media

A big divide over gun policy between gun owners who are NRA members and those who are not

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Matt Berman and Paul McLeod report in Buzzfeed:

Gun owners who are members of the National Rifle Association and those who are not are sharply divided over support for new gun control proposals, according to a new Ipsos/BuzzFeed News poll.

A slew of new proposals have come out of Congress and the White House in the weeks since 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. President Donald Trump has personally suggested ideas ranging from limiting access to certain types of guns to arming teachers or professionals within schools.

Some ideas have more buy-in with gun owners than others.

Approximately 76% of gun owners who are not members of the NRA said they’d support raising the minimum age for buying a high-capacity semi-automatic rifle like an AR-15 from 18 to 21. That proposal even has substantial backing among gun-owning NRA members: 53% support it, with only 25% strongly opposed.

But while raising the legal age for ownership for all firearms from 18 to 21 has support from 64% of gun owners who aren’t NRA members, just 40% of NRA-member gun owners would back such a plan. There’s also a significant split on support for banning the AR-15 nationwide: 45% of gun owners who aren’t NRA members support a ban, compared to only 24% of gun owners who are members.

And a majority of gun owners — 69% of NRA members and 58% of nonmembers — said they believed banning the AR-15 would be the first step toward more restrictive gun laws.

The idea of training and allowing teachers to carry guns at schools also has broad support among gun owners, but especially among NRA members — 79% of owners who are NRA members would back that plan, as would 58% of nonmember owners. NRA members are most enthusiastic about the idea, though: 58% of gun-owning members strongly support the plan, versus 31% of nonmembers. . .

Continue reading.

More at the link, including graphs and charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 9:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Law

Enjoy Your Job in Software? You Have a Woman to Thank

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Elaine Ou reports in Bloomberg:

The most tragic story of the computer industry is how a field once dominated by women became the domain of men. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just a matter of the latter pushing out the former. To a large extent, men have women to thank for the very existence of their jobs.

Once upon a time, only programmers could interact with computers. It was considered a form of clerical work, like data entry or switchboard operation. Female programmers — known as computer “feeders,” because they fed data into a machine (hence the term “data feed”) — translated flow charts into logic operations, then punched the corresponding machine codes into cards.

A mathematician at Remington Rand, Dr. Grace Hopper recognized that human feeders were a bottleneck in the programming process. Hopper imagined that someday, nontechnical users could communicate directly with machines in English, bypassing the inefficient process of translating commands into cards. Although her employer dismissed the idea, Dr. Hopper went ahead and created her own English-like computer language called FLOW-MATIC.

At the same time, Hopper’s colleague Betty Holberton wrote the first automatic programming system — that is, a program that people can use to create or operate other programs. The two women contributed to what became one of the first widely used programming languages, COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language).

COBOL obviated the need for human-to-machine translation, a process that in 1959 could require more than $600,000 and two years of effort for just one program. 1 Software became both intelligible and reusable across different machines. Within 10 years, computer-feeding jobs were automated out of existence.

So women created the technology that took their jobs. But this gave rise to demand for all kinds of new tasks, such as developing the software that quickly became a critical component of every business sector, from banking to inventory control. Hopper’s vision of humans conversing with computers also led to tools such as Excel and Quickbooks, which provide accessible interfaces that translate users’ requests into code.

When people say that women are insufficiently represented in the computer industry, perhaps they’re defining it too narrowly. In a sense, everyone who uses a computer today — a management consultant armed with Microsoft Access, a teenager using Snapchat — is doing what the early programmers once did. Today’s database software is so far removed from the underlying computations that we don’t think of users as coders at all. . .

Continue reading.

Here’s an illustration from the article, giving a 1967 view of computers and programming.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 9:03 am

A great RazoRock shave: Italian flag synthetic, Zi’ Peppino, and Baby Smooth

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Today’s shave was a great pleasure. The RazoRock Baby Smooth is the favorite razor of one of my grandsons, and I’m thinking I should briing one to The Son when I visit in late May.

Extremely nice lather, and I do like this fragrance. Three totally easy passes and a splash of Zi’ Peppino aftershave to finish the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 8:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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