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Trump Keeps Talking About the Last Military Standoff With Iran — Here’s What Really Happened

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Megan Rose, Robert Faturechi, and T. Christian Mille report in ProPublica:

Just before sunset on Jan. 12, 2016, 10 American sailors strayed into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, a navigation error with potentially grave consequences. On their way to a spying mission, the Americans had set sail from Kuwait to Bahrain. It was a long-distance trek that some senior commanders in the Navy’s 5th Fleet had warned they were neither equipped nor trained to execute.

Surrounded by four boats operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S. sailors, in two small gunboats, surrendered rather than opening fire. The officer in charge of the mission later said he understood that had a firefight erupted, it could well have provoked a wider conflict and scuttled the controversial nuclear deal the two countries were poised to implement in mere days.

The Navy dialed up an elaborate rescue mission to free the sailors from tiny Farsi Island involving fighter jets and a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group. But the return of the sailors was ultimately secured peacefully. The nuclear deal went forward with the U.S. providing sanctions relief and unfreezing billions in Iranian assets in exchange for Tehran’s promise to curb its nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump explicitly invoked the 2016 incident last week as he weighed actions against Iran amid rising tensions. Trump told Time magazine that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had mishandled the high-stakes confrontation, a mistake he would not make. “The only reason the sailors were let go is that we started making massive payments to them the following day,” Trump said. “Otherwise the sailors would still be there.”

But a ProPublica investigation makes clear that Trump’s repeated claims about the captured sailors – Obama’s weakness; that the money was improper – obscure the more troubling realities exposed by the Navy’s 2016 debacle in the Persian Gulf. The Farsi Island mission was a gross failure, involving issues that have plagued the Navy in recent years: inadequate training, poor leadership, and a disinclination to heed the warnings of its men and women about the true extent of its vulnerabilities.

Now, the Navy, and the 5th Fleet based in the Persian Gulf, are staring at the possibility of a military conflict, standing ready for a commander in chief who lacks a permanent secretary of defense and is thus more dependent on uniformed military leaders.

In the wake of the Farsi Island incident, the outlines of the Navy’s fumbles were widely reported. But ProPublica reconstructed the failed mission, and the Navy’s response to it, using hundreds of pages of previously unreported confidential Navy documents, including the accounts of sailors and officers up and down the chain of command. Those documents reveal that the 10 captured sailors were forced out on dangerous missions they were not prepared for. Their commanders repeatedly dismissed worries about deficiencies in manpower and expertise.

Prior to the mission, the sailors had received little training on their weapons, and the crew of one boat forgot to load the limited number of guns at their disposal during the transit. One sailor prepared to record the potentially hostile encounter with the helmet camera she’d been issued but couldn’t get it to work. So she filmed it on her personal iPhone 4. And when they were captured, a rescue seemed unlikely given that no one back at shore had yet realized they were off course.

The Farsi Island episode is consistent with ProPublica’s findings in its ongoing examination of the Navy’s state of combat readiness. ProPublica’s detailed review of the Navy’s two accidents in the Pacific in 2017, which killed 17 sailors from the 7th Fleet, shows that the most senior uniformed and civilian leaders mishandled years of warnings about degraded ships, undertrained and overworked crews, and the potentially fatal costs of tasking vulnerable sailors with an unceasing number of sometimes ill-conceived missions.

Immediately after the release of the Farsi Island sailors in early 2016, Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan launched an investigation that would divide the highest levels of the Navy over the question of who was to blame for the embarrassing incident. The findings of that investigation, completed in February 2016, did not spare the commanders and crew of the two riverine combat boats, or RCBs. They had violated fundamental Navy doctrines regarding navigation and leadership, the report found. Senior 5th Fleet commanders were also faulted and two were relieved of their commands.

Donegan’s investigators, though, dug deeper. They concluded that the riverine unit had not been properly manned or trained before being dispatched to the Persian Gulf. Riverine sailors had had to train themselves. The sailors had done most of their exercises on smaller patrol boats instead of the RCBs used in the Gulf. They had received a minimum amount of training on the latest navigation system. They had never conducted a lengthy training voyage in the open sea, something they would be asked to do routinely in the Gulf.

he investigation’s files included the personal plea of one of the enlisted men taken captive on Farsi Island, Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Diebold.

“I cannot, nor am I in a position to, determine the exact reasons why my crews were captured,” Diebold wrote. “This is something that should be discussed frankly and openly.”

The seeds of the mishap, Diebold wrote, did not “materialize on the 11th of January, nor do they end, neatly, on the morning of the 13th. It is my hope that the current investigation and the team’s findings are used not to punish 10 sailors, but educate and refocus a critical, if neglected force, if not our Navy as a total warfighting organization.”

The Navy ignored the sailor’s request. In internal Navy memos, commanders criticized parts of the investigation for being “deficient,” “incomplete” and “unsubstantiated” amid disputes over how much training has actually taken place. To address the differing views, the Navy ordered a second investigation and embraced its findings that pre-deployment training and manning for the RCB unit, in fact, had been adequate.

“Pre-deployment training and manning were not contributing factors to this incident,” the second investigation, which was released to the public, concluded.

The Navy’s top commander, John Richardson, signed off on the more reassuring set of findings.

“I’m not prepared to say that there’s a larger problem,” Richardson told reporters in 2016.

Over the weekend, the details of Iran’s downing of an unmanned American drone that further escalated the confrontation remained unclear, but it seemed possible the Navy had again mistakenly entered Iran’s territory. Iran insists the plane had penetrated its airspace; the United States says it was in international territory. Last week, The New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Trump had pulled back in part because of emerging evidence that the Global Hawk drone or a second, manned U.S. spy plane may have indeed breached Iranian territory. Trump cited the high number of possible Iranian casualties.

In a written response to questions, the Navy said it had implemented reforms to improve the coastal riverine units. U.S. trainers now keep careful track of the instruction gunboats and their crews receive while deployed. New maintenance teams are ready to fly into deployed areas to make repairs. The RCB boats have been replaced by a newer gunboat known as the Mark VI.

Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, the Navy’s spokesman, said that many of the changes were still being implemented, but that the Navy’s most senior leaders were confident that “the Coastal Riverine Force is ready to carry out all missions assigned in any numbered fleet area of operations.”

Brown also said the Navy’s investigation was “conducted in an independent manner.”

“There were no instances of facts or opinions being silenced,” Brown wrote.

Brown also offered a broader defense of the Navy’s preparedness.

“No naval forces are deployed without ensuring full readiness,” he said. “There should be no doubt — U.S. Navy Forces deployed globally are ready in all respects.”

In an interview with ProPublica on Friday, Donegan, who stepped down as commander of the 5th Fleet in September 2017, said the margin for error is small in such extraordinary circumstances. Training matters. Mistakes can prove dire.

“My biggest concern is about miscalculation,” said Donegan, who now works as a security consultant. “When you have heightened tensions, no direct communications between the two sides and forces in close proximity, an event that one side thinks is low-level might compel the other side to respond in a way that leads to expanded conflict.” . . .

Chapter 1. “What Are We Doing Here?”

To some at the Navy’s outpost in Kuwait, the last-minute mission for which they were briefed on Jan. 11, 2016, seemed preposterous.

The RCBs would have to travel from Kuwait to Bahrain — a 260-mile trip, two times longer than any they’d ever done — carefully avoiding nearby territorial waters. Once there, the National Security Agency, as part of its intelligence operations, would load up their small boats with listening equipment and have them float along the Persian Gulf’s coastline. The mission was given a name: “Radio Creep.” It was unclear who they’d be spying on, but several officers took the order as urgent, and, given worsening weather conditions, one decided the sailors would have to launch within 24 hours.

The crew raised what seemed to be an essential problem: Only one of the three RCBs was currently operational.

They might be able to fix one of the two disabled boats, Gunner’s Mate Isaac Escobedo guessed, but it would be a rush job, he later told investigators.

The boats had been run 3,000 hours beyond the cut off for required overhauls.

Lt. Kenneth Rogers, the officer in charge of the RCB unit, also had concerns. The boats were needed for another mission; to make it to Bahrain, they’d have to refuel at sea, something they’d only done once before — while they were close enough to base to make it home if it didn’t go well; and the crew, if it scrambled to get at least one more boat ready, would be exhausted when it set out, Rogers argued.

Cmdr. Greg Meyer, Rogers’ boss, was sympathetic to Rogers’ concerns, records show, and took the case up the chain of command.

Kyle Moses, the commodore with ultimate authority over the RCB unit, didn’t want to hear any of it. He thought the worried officers were being “overly cautious.” Moses said he didn’t know why so many of his officers were concerned about the riverine command boats making this kind of trip, since “the RCB is a boat and boats float.”

“Navigation is navigation,” Moses, an explosives expert, later told investigators.

The Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and is responsible for about 2.5 million square miles of water and some 20 countries. The vast expanse includes three critical chokepoints at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandab at the southern tip of Yemen. The 5th Fleet has been a vital nerve center for American action and interests in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 5th Fleet, though, doesn’t have warships of its own and instead relies on vessels and aircraft rotated in from the enormous 7th Fleet in the Pacific as well as stateside fleets.

Riverine boats, if a modest segment of the Navy’s full arsenal of ships and aircraft, have nonetheless been a staple of operations for decades, typically deployed to patrol rivers and marshes, whether they be in Vietnam or Iraq. The RCBs were then the most recent incarnation of the gunboat: 53 feet long, holding crews of eight and loaded with heavy machine guns and high-tech navigation gear.

In the Persian Gulf, the RCBs for years mostly performed escort missions for  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2019 at 2:29 pm

Google Chrome has become surveillance software. It’s time to switch.

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I switched quite a while ago. I use Firefox and Opera. Geoffrey Fowler reports in the Washington Post:

You open your browser to look at the Web. Do you know who is looking back at you?

Over a recent week of Web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the Web.

This was made possible by the Web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software.

Lately I’ve been investigating the secret life of my data, running experiments to see what technology really gets up to under the cover of privacy policies that nobody reads. It turns out, having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop.

It made me decide to ditch Chrome for a new version of nonprofit Mozilla’s Firefox, which has default privacy protections. Switching involved less inconvenience than you might imagine.

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.

And that’s not the half of it.

Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.

Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)

Firefox isn’t perfect — it still defaults searches to Google and permits some other tracking. But it doesn’t share browsing data with Mozilla, which isn’t in the data-collection business.

At a minimum, Web snooping can be annoying. Cookies are how a pair of pants you look at in one site end up following you around in ads elsewhere. More fundamentally, your Web history — like the color of your underpants — ain’t nobody’s business but your own. Letting anyone collect that data leaves it ripe for abuse by bullies, spies and hackers.

Google’s product managers told me in an interview that Chrome prioritizes privacy choices and controls, and they’re working on new ones for cookies. But they also said they have to get the right balance with a “healthy Web ecosystem” (read: ad business).

Firefox’s product managers told me they don’t see privacy as an “option” relegated to controls. They’ve launched a war on surveillance, starting this month with “enhanced tracking protection” that blocks nosy cookies by default on new Firefox installations. But to succeed, first Firefox has to persuade people to care enough to overcome the inertia of switching.

It’s a tale of two browsers — and the diverging interests of the companies that make them.

A decade ago, Chrome and Firefox were taking on Microsoft’s lumbering giant Internet Explorer. The upstart Chrome solved real problems for consumers, making the Web safer and faster. Today it dominates more than half the market.

Lately, however, many of us have realized that our privacy is also a major concern on the Web — and Chrome’s interests no longer always seem aligned with our own.

That’s most visible in the fight over cookies. These code snippets can do helpful things, like remembering the contents of your shopping cart. But now many cookies belong to data companies, which use them to tag your browser so they can follow your path like crumbs in the proverbial forest.

They’re everywhere — one study found third-party tracking cookies on 92 percent of websites. The Washington Post website has about 40 tracker cookies, average for a news site, which the company said in a statement are used to deliver better-targeted ads and track ad performance.

You’ll also find them on sites without ads: Both Aetna and the FSA service said the cookies on their sites help measure their own external marketing campaigns. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2019 at 12:33 pm

At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives

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The article has a sidebar:

KEY FINDINGS

  • Facebook’s content moderation site in Tampa, FL, which is operated by the professional services firm Cognizant, is its lowest-performing site in North America. It has never consistently enforced Facebook’s policies with 98 percent accuracy, as stipulated in Cognizant’s contract.
  • For the first time, three former Facebook moderators in North America are breaking their nondisclosure agreements and going on the record to discuss working conditions on the site.
  • A Facebook content moderator working for Cognizant in Tampa had a heart attack at his desk and died last year. Senior management initially discouraged employees from discussing the incident, for fear it would hurt productivity.
  • Tampa workers have filed two sexual harassment cases against coworkers since April. They are now before the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Facilities at the Tampa site are often filthy, with workers reporting that the office’s only bathroom has repeatedly been found smeared with feces and menstrual blood.
  • Workers have also found pubic hair and fingernails at their desks, along with other bodily waste.
  • Verbal and physical fights at the office are common. So are reports of theft.
  • The Phoenix site has been dealing with an infestation of bed bugs for the past three months.
  • Facebook says it will conduct an audit of its partner sites and make other changes to promote the well-being of its contractors. It said it would consider making more moderators full-time employees in the future, and hopes to someday provide counseling for moderators after they leave.

Casey Newton writes in The Verge:

 Utley loved to help.

First, he served in the Coast Guard, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. He married, had a family, and devoted himself utterly to his two little girls. After he got out of the military, he worked as a moderator for Facebook, where he purged the social network of the worst stuff that its users post on a daily basis: the hate speech, the murders, the child pornography.

Utley worked the overnight shift at a Facebook content moderation site in Tampa, FL, operated by a professional services vendor named Cognizant. The 800 or so workers there face relentless pressure from their bosses to better enforce the social network’s community standards, which receive near-daily updates that leave its contractor workforce in a perpetual state of uncertainty. The Tampa site has routinely failed to meet the 98 percent “accuracy” target set by Facebook. In fact, with a score that has been hovering around 92, it is Facebook’s worst-performing site in North America.

The stress of the job weighed on Utley, according to his former co-workers, who, like all Facebook contractors at the Tampa site, must sign a 14-page nondisclosure agreement.

“The stress they put on him — it’s unworldly,” one of Utley’s managers told me. “I did a lot of coaching. I spent some time talking with him about things he was having issues seeing. And he was always worried about getting fired.”

On the night of March 9th, 2018, Utley slumped over at his desk. Co-workers noticed that he was in distress when he began sliding out of his chair. Two of them began to perform CPR, but no defibrillator was available in the building. A manager called for an ambulance.

The Cognizant site in Tampa is set back from the main road in an office park, and between the dim nighttime lighting and discreet exterior signage, the ambulance appears to have had trouble finding the building. Paramedics arrived 13 minutes after the first call, one worker told me, and when they did, Utley had already begun to turn blue.

Paramedics raced Utley to a hospital. At Cognizant, some employees were distraught — one person told me he passed by one of the site’s designated “tranquility rooms” and found one of his co-workers, a part-time preacher, praying loudly in tongues. Others ignored the commotion entirely, and continued to moderate Facebook posts as the paramedics worked.

Utley was pronounced dead a short while later at the hospital, the victim of a heart attack. Further information about his health history, or the circumstances of his death, could not be learned. He left behind a wife, Joni, and two young daughters. He was 42 years old.

On Monday morning, workers on the day shift were informed that there had been an incident, and they began collecting money to buy a card and send flowers. But some site leaders did not initially tell workers that Utley had died, and instructed managers not to discuss his death, current and former employees told me.

“Everyone at leadership was telling people he was fine — ‘oh, he’ll be okay,’” one co-worker recalled. “They wanted to play it down. I think they were worried about people quitting with the emotional impact it would have.”

But the illusion shattered later that day, when Utley’s father, Ralph, came to the site to gather his belongings. He walked into the building and, according to a co-worker I spoke to, said: “My son died here.”

 February, I wrote about the secret lives of Facebook contractors in America. Since 2016, when the company came under heavy criticism for failing to prevent various abuses of its platform, Facebook has expanded its workforce of people working on safety and security around the world to 30,000. About half of those are content moderators, and the vast majority are contractors hired through a handful of large professional services firms. In 2017, Facebook began opening content moderation sites in American cities including Phoenix, Austin, and Tampa. The goal was to improve the accuracy of moderation decisions by entrusting them to people more familiar with American culture and slang.

Cognizant received a two-year, $200 million contract from Facebook to do the work, according to a former employee familiar with the matter. But in return for policing the boundaries of free expression on one of the internet’s largest platforms, individual contractors in North America make as little as $28,800 a year. They receive two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch each day, along with nine minutes per day of “wellness” time that they can use when they feel overwhelmed by the emotional toll of the job. After regular exposure to graphic violence and child exploitation, many workers are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.

My initial report focused on Phoenix, where workers told me that they had begun to embrace fringe views after continuously being exposed to conspiracy theories at work. One brought a gun to work to protect himself against the possibility of a fired employee returning to the office seeking vengeance. Others told me they are haunted by visions of the images and videos they saw during their time on the job.

Conditions at the Phoenix site have not improved significantly since I visited. Last week, some employees were sent home after an infestation of bed bugs was discovered in the office — the second time bed bugs have been found there this year. Employees who contacted me worried that the infestation would spread to their own homes, and said managers told them Cognizant would not pay to clean their homes.

“Bed bugs can be found virtually every place people tend to gather, including the workplace,” Cognizant said in a statement. “No associate at this facility has formally asked the company to treat an infestation in their home. If someone did make such a request, management would work with them to find a solution.”

Facebook executives have maintained that the working conditions described to me by dozens of contractors do not accurately reflect the daily lives of the majority of its workers. But after publishing my story about Phoenix, I received dozens of messages from other contractors around the world, many of whom reported having similar experiences. The largest single group of messages I received came from current and former Facebook contractors in Tampa. Many of them have worked closely with employees at the Phoenix site, and believe working conditions in Florida are even more grim.

In May, I traveled to Florida to meet with these Facebook contractors. This article is based on interviews with 12 current and former moderators and managers at the Tampa site. In most cases, I agreed to use pseudonyms to protect the employees from potential retaliation from Facebook and Cognizant. But for the first time, three former moderators for Facebook in North America agreed to break their nondisclosure agreements and discuss working conditions at the site on the record. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more—a lot more. The article also has a video:

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2019 at 10:44 am

Progress report on vegan exploration

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I have high praise for Cronometer.com, who dietary analysis and tracking program provides really excellent information via a well-designed interface. I upgraded to Gold, and with that I could link my Withings account so that my weight, pulse rate (which I check it: 58bpm this morning), body-fat percentage, and total daily steps are automatically imported to the day’s data. Blood glucose readings I enter by hand, but since the Contour NEXT is bluetooth-enabled and keeps readings in the cloud, I imagine that in time those, too, will be automatically imported (this morning: 6.3 mmol/L).

The only micronutrient that has been a bit of a challenge has been calcium. I get plenty of B12 (2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast that I include in my breakfast—it’s tasty—provides 333% of the daily requirement), and I get plenty of iron: the cooked scallions I had in my breakfast and the pinto beans I had later in the day provided 150% of my daily iron requirement. And protein is so totally not a problem: I got 100g of protein without even trying, and my daily protein allotment is 68g (0.36g/pound).

But I got some Silk Almond Milk, Unsweetened Original and that totally took care of my calcium and also bumped up my iron and B12: obviously supplements are added. I also, out of curiosity, tried some veggie breakfast links and veggie “bacon,” but I don’t think I’ll repeat it: yet more iron and more B12, neither of which I need, plus rather more sodium than I want. I suspect that these products must be salted so they don’t taste bland to those accustomed to salty food. And in any event, I’m suspicious of processed foods. They were interesting to try, but that’s over now. I’ll stick with foods I cook.

As I mentioned, I am cooking up lots of food to have available on hand, so that I had to buy a few more of the Glasslock storage containers I like. Yesterday I had the idea of using a strip of masking tape on the lid and writing on it with a Sharpie the contents and date cooked. That has made managing the icebox much easier.

So far, so good. I do like diet, and Cronometer is being a big help in tuning it. I still want to solve the calcium problem without resorting to processed foods (like Silk).

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2019 at 8:39 am

The times they are a-changing: Crusading Bloggers Expose Abuse in Protestant Churches

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Sarah Stankorb reports in the Washington Post:

During the fall of 2017, along with the rest of the country, Jules Woodson watched the Me Too movement play out in the media. As women came forward to expose the predatory behavior they’d survived, the Colorado Springs-based flight attendant reflected on a night in 1998, when Andy Savage, the youth pastor at her local church in her hometown of The Woodlands, Tex., offered her a ride home. At some point, Woodson says, Savage passed the turn to her home and drove down a dirt road, where he reached a dead end and switched off the headlights. He unzipped his jeans and asked Woodson, then 17, to perform oral sex. A few minutes later, she says, Savage jumped from the truck, fell to his knees and told Woodson she must take what happened to the grave.

The next day, terrified and traumatized, Woodson told the church’s assistant pastor what happened; she says he asked if she’d “participated.” While Savage continued as youth pastor — even leading a True Love Waits event encouraging youth to abstain from all physical contact, not just from sex — Woodson sank into shame and a deep depression. Although she retained her faith, she eventually left the church.

Twenty years later, Woodson found Savage’s email and sent him a note with the subject line: “Do you remember?” She asked if he recalled the night he was supposed to drive her home — “and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?” She signed off with “#metoo.”

When Woodson Googled his name, along with “sex abuse in church” and “youth pastor sex abuse,” she found a blog dedicated to Christian survivor stories called the Wartburg Watch; there, she read a post about an alleged abuse coverup at a church affiliated with Savage’s current church. About a month later, Woodson submitted her own first-person account about her abuse to the Wartburg Watch and a similar Christian survivor blog called Watch Keep. When the blogs simultaneously published her story, Woodson figured that maybe a hundred people would read it — but by that afternoon, the posts had spread enough that Savage responded with a statement. On the website of the Highpoint Church in Memphis — where he worked at the time — Savage described a regretful “sexual incident with a female high school senior” 20 years prior. For his mea culpa at church that Sunday, Savage’s congregation gave him a standing ovation. Within days, Savage responded to Woodson’s email, saying, in part: “I am genuinely sorry for the pain this has caused you and I ask for your forgiveness.”

Woodson soon found herself at the center of a media storm. The hashtag #JusticeForJules bubbled up on Twitter. On a CNN commentator’s radio show, Savage described the incident as an “organic sexual moment.” The New York Times ran a news story the next week and, two months later, a video piece in which Woodson detailed her story. Eleven days after the video came out, Savage resigned from Highpoint Church, acknowledging that his “relationship” with Woodson was “not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power.” The same day, Savage emailed Woodson to again apologize and to say his initial in-church statement and the church’s response were “defensive and self-serving.” (Savage did not respond to my requests for comment.)

Savage’s ouster was a direct result of Woodson’s posts on the Wartburg Watch and Watch Keep, blogs that are part of a larger constellation of “Christian watchdog” outlets. While clergy sex abuse within the Catholic Church has been in the headlines for years, it’s only more recently that abuses within Protestant churches have started to draw mainstream media attention. Much of the credit for this quickening churn goes to a circle of bloggers — dozens of armchair investigative journalists who have been outing abuse, one case and one congregation at a time, for over a decade now, bolstering their posts with court records, police reports, video clips of pastors’ sermons, and emails, often provided to them by survivors.

Most of these bloggers are women; many come from churches that teach women’s submission and deny women’s spiritual authority. “Investigative blogger women started a revolution at their kitchen tables,” says pastor Ashley Easter, who hosts the Courage Conference, a Christian, survivor-focused gathering. They have advocated “for victims of abuse from where they were, where they could find a platform — blogs and social media.”

Recently, a younger cohort of “ex-vangelicals” and online activists have joined the fold, and in late 2017 #ChurchToo started to trend on Twitter. In turn, a wave of secret-smashing tweets blossomed into reported pieces at publications like Mother Jones and the New Yorker. Yet the bloggers who built the foundation for this activist network are known mainly to church abuse survivors and reporters covering these stories. To the rest of the world, their efforts have mostly blended into the joint backgrounds of the clergy sex abuse scandal and #MeToo.

The Wartburg Watch is run by Darlene Parsons, a 65-year-old former home health nurse who goes by “Dee” online; Watch Keep was founded by Amy Smith, a 50-year-old Houston mother of four. Both sites have covered numerous stories of abuse in recent years. Posts on both blogs, for instance, helped a missionary’s wife in Dallas put pressure on her church after she said she was disciplined for requesting an annulment (her then-husband had admitted to watching child pornography and being attracted to children, according to a report Smith obtained from the missionary organization where he worked at the time). And a Pennsylvania minister resigned three months after a woman alleged on the Wartburg Watch that he’d molested and raped her 40 years before, when he was a teenager and the woman was a child. Parsons believes her post had something to do with his resignation, as the minister’s attorney reached out with a letter demanding she stop writing about the man. She was unfazed: “I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, so I wasn’t worried about it,” she told me.

Parsons, one of the first watchdog bloggers, isn’t a trained journalist — but she hawkishly covers any credible allegation of church-based abuse she finds. It’s no wonder, then, that a year ago reporters for the Houston Chronicle contacted Parsons and Smith — along with others in the watchdog blog world — for the paper’s joint investigation with the San Antonio Express-News that uncovered 700 sexual abuse victims over a 20-year span in Southern Baptist churches. Much of what Parsons and Smith had to offer had already appeared on their blogs.

Parsons runs the Wartburg Watch from the kitchen of her brick Colonial outside Raleigh, N.C. Online, she’s forceful and fearless, tagging celebrity pastors, churches and Christian publications alike; her Twitter profile photo is the Church Lady, Dana Carvey’s famously prim, purse-lipped and piously judge-y “Saturday Night Live” character. Parsons is nervous to meet a reporter in person, she admits, offering me a plate of cookies while her three rescue pugs skitter across the tile floor. It’s hard to fathom that this suburban mom of three, with her tidy cardigan and sensible bob, is the same person online haters have called “the Wartburg witch,” a “feminist heretic,” an “e-pharisee” and a “minion of Satin [sic].”

In 2006, leaders at Parsons’s former church, Providence Baptist, called in Parsons and other parents for a meeting. A seminary student and church volunteer who led a youth Bible study, Brian “Doug” Goodrich, had been found with a child in a local park. That child, it seemed, was not the only suspected victim. “We’re so sorry there were some boys who were harmed,” Parsons says she recalls the church leaders saying; she also remembers them saying they hadn’t received any prior reports of wrongdoing and that, “if you have any information, let us know. The police are involved.” The church leaders asked the parents not to talk among themselves to figure out which boys had been victims, to protect their privacy. (Parsons’s son had soccer practice during Goodrich’s Bible study and wasn’t part of the core group of boys who regularly interacted with Goodrich.)

A few weeks later, a friend and fellow congregant, Janet Wilson, told Parsons her elder son was one of the boys involved. Parsons was afraid to talk about it, since the parents had been instructed not to; besides, she trusted the matter was being well handled by law enforcement and the church.

In 2007, Goodrich was convicted on 10 charges of statutory sex offense, indecent liberties and first-degree sex exploitation, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Wilson was understandably distressed during the investigation, and after the conviction she stopped by Parsons’s house, wracked with guilt. Wilson wished she’d done more, she told Parsons, because the church leaders had known about Goodrich before the 2006 incident. In 2005, Wilson says that she and her husband had described incidents with Goodrich to two youth pastors. Goodrich had exposed himself to a group of boys, including Wilson’s eldest son, at church camp, Wilson told Parsons, and encouraged them to reciprocate.

At the time, Wilson had been too embarrassed to tell anyone else about the flashing, or about the conversation with the youth pastors in which she and her husband reported Goodrich’s behavior. But Wilson knew her son was not the only boy hurt by Goodrich’s abuse. “My kids were okay,” she told Parsons that day, “but I feel terrible that these other boys have been harmed.” Wilson told me, “I felt guilty because the church knew about it. They didn’t feel guilty, but I did.”

Parsons was appalled — and decided to do something about it. She, Wilson and a few church friends wrote a letter to the church elders reminding them of the earlier incident. She expected the pastors would say they’d made a horrible mistake. When they didn’t, and the church instead began an internal investigation, Parsons and her group wrote another letter to the entire congregation. Fed up, Parsons and her cardiologist husband, Bill, left Providence Baptist to join another church.

(Goodrich’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Brian Frost, senior pastor at Providence Baptist, confirmed that the church’s internal investigation was motivated by Parsons’s group letter, and said church policies have since changed: Now, any report or allegation of abuse by an employee or volunteer triggers a leave of duty until an investigation is completed, and all allegations of abuse must be reported to police.)

During their second week at the new church, Parsons says, she saw a man she knew to be a convicted pedophile. (His wife used to teach at her kids’ school, so news of the man’s conviction had circulated among the parents.) “I thought God was playing a joke,” she says. Two churches, two convicted sex offenders. She remembers thinking, “God, this is really not funny.”

Parsons decided to turn to the Internet. . .

Continue reading.

Before the internet, there was no way for these stories to get out save very limited word of mouth.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2019 at 8:49 am

Good dietary analysis program: Cronometer.com

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I just learned about Cronometer.com: it’s free, and it includes an analysis of your micronutrient intake (and goals). Worth entering a day’s food from time to time and see how you’re doing.

The breakdown has color bars that show what percentage of the recommended amount of each micronutrient you’re getting. If you hover the mouse over the color bar, a popup shows the contribution from each of the foods you entered sorted in descending order on amount.

Also, if you highlight (click on) one of the foods you entered, you get the analysis just for that food.

And you can drag and drop the foods you’ve entered to reorder them.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2019 at 8:50 am

Michelin’s ingenious new tires ensure you’ll never get a flat again

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Mark Wilson reports in Fast Company:

There’s no force in the universe more humbling than a flat tire. Here you are, god of combustion engines, cruising effortlessly at 40 miles per hour in your Kia crossover with half a Costco’s worth of steamy rotisserie chickens in the back when, bdump bdump bdump. And then the inner monologue begins: Oh no. Not me. This couldn’t be happening to me. I drive a gently used 2016 Sorento! 

But now tire manufacturer Michelin and the car giant GM are teaming up to eliminate the problem. How? By taking the air out of tires altogether.

Michelin is developing a tire called the Uptis (or Unique Puncture-proof Tire System), which is a tire that cannot ever go flat or blow out because it doesn’t require oxygen to stay rigid. Instead, the Uptis features an internal system of flexible spokes that support the tire.

The Uptis is a working prototytpe that will begin testing on some Chevy Bolt models this year in Michigan. By 2024, the two companies hope to release the Uptis on a commercially available vehicle.

Airless tires are not an entirely new idea. They already exist in the world of cycling, and even Michelin sells something called the Tweelfor lawnmowers. The Tweel looks a whole lot like a mini version of the Uptis, with the same rubbery spokes in the middle of the tire. As the Tweel’s marketing materials explain, those spokes don’t merely replace the need for air, they work like mini shock absorbers, deforming to bumps to ensure a smoother ride than a bouncier, inflated tire offers today. Yet the car industry has been shy to adopt airless tires because, when properly contained, air is in many ways the perfect material for a tire. Air is virtually weightless, so it doesn’t impact a vehicle’s performance and efficiency. Air can also be hit with bump after bump and it doesn’t lose any structural integrity. After all, it’s just air.

For a moment I wondered, why would Michelin ever want to create a tire without air? Wouldn’t a tire that couldn’t go flat mean consumers would never buy tires again? But of course, Michelin isn’t in the air business; it’s in the tire business. Just because its Uptis tires can’t leak doesn’t mean they won’t still wear out. From the treads to the internal support structure itself, all of these elements seem susceptible to the ongoing punishment of pavement. That said, Uptis tires could last longer than conventional ones, Michelin claims, simply because drivers can never make the mistake of over- or under-inflating them, which can cost tires some longevity.

Indeed, it’s not just the promise of added safety, but the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2019 at 2:37 pm

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