Archive for December, 2013

It’s time to name huge hurricanes after the politicians who deny climate change

December 30, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Check it out:

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Eye tracking – saccade recording

December 30, 2013 | By | 2 Replies More
Eye tracking – saccade recording

Fascinating saccade-tracking document at this Wikipedia article. Here’s more on general scanning of photos.

And check out this article too, indicating that when we read, we can only see 4 or 5 letters at a time with high acuity.

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Glenn Greenwald: To be a modern journalist means that one understands and uses cryptography tools

December 29, 2013 | By | Reply More

To be a modern journalist means that one understands and cryptography tools. This is the modern price to pay in order to do any investigative journalism, and Greenwald made it clear that training up on these tools is a significant investment of time and energy. This is one of the themes of this talk by Glenn Greenwald, who indicates that all serious journalists now embrace tools such as TOR browser, PGP and OTR.

[Note the minute markings are from an audio recording that is no longer available – I’ve substituted a video of Greenwald’s talk that more recently became available].

He also indicates:

The NSA, the President and Congress will only pretend to reform the NSA. (6 min mark). There will not be “meaningful reform.”

It is “possible” that some courts might asserts some meaningful oversight. Other countries will put pressure on the U.S., and some large

Crytography tools such as TOR browser, PGP and OTR will be more often employed, and the battle for privacy will be fought on a technological battlefield. That’s why Keith Alexander dresses up in a “cool” way trying to recruit young hackers at hacker conferences. (8 min)

The power to further the power of the government to spy lies with programmers who develop internet/computer tools. (11 min).

Gives great credit to Laura Poitras (13 min) and Edward Snowden (14 min) for allowing him to do his job. He speaks of Snowden in terms of courage, bravery and inspiration. But all of them have been inspired by others, notably Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning). Also inspiring much of this work was Daniel Ellsberg (16 min). The organization that “pioneered the template” was Wikileaks, including Sarah Harrison, who rescued Edward Snowden from Hong Kong. (17 min). Barrett Brown and Aaron Swartz.

It is a long growing list of whistle blowers and transparency activists who are being disproportionately intimidated and punished, and this demonstrates how sick the system is. (Min 20). When these people have seen government abuses, it emboldens them to step forward to do what was right, and this is a sign of “serious activism.”

The U.S. government is completely committed to one outcome: putting Edward Snowden in a small cage, incommunicado. (23 min). The U.S. cannot allow Snowden to live any sort of decent life, because that might inspire others who might also be tempted to act against government abuses.

There are people who are willing to stand by and allow people of good conscience get crushed by corrupt governments. This includes many politicians who express indignation for spying on their own country, but fail to take steps to protect whistle-blowers who have exposed this wrong-doing. (min 26). The U.S. will make many of these countries (Germany and Brazil, for example), pay a price, but they should pay that price. Edward Snowden certainly paid that price.

Greenwald knew that the some of his biggest adversaries would be the so-called news media, who constitute the most loyal and devoted servants of governments who are abusing the privacy of their citizens. (min 28). He decided that he would need to be “very disruptive” of the status quo regarding the media. These leaks did not occur with the assistance of the media, but despite the media. (min 29). Greenwald recounts a BBC interview from last month where he commented that government officials routinely lie. The interviewer interrupted Greenwald and was incredulous that U.S. and British officials were routinely making false statements. (30 min). This is common behavior for “media stars,” who consider it immoral to seriously question government officials. This, despite clear proof that James Clapper lied to Congress. Keith Alexander clearly lied that the NSA couldn’t give numbers involving the number of those affected by the NSA program, “Boundless Informant.” Many reports have now shown that the NSA is commonly spying on private corporations. (32 min). This is “serial lying,” yet the media acts scandalized when you suggest that they have an adversarial role. (34). There are “very brave” journalists out there who heaped criticism upon those whistle-blowers who the U.S. government has scandalized and marginalized. (35 min). They argue that these whistle-blowers have “broke the law and should now pay the penalty.” But when the NSA lies to Congress, as James Clapper has done, you hear only silence. (35 min).

The media has decided that its job is to serve the government. That is why Greenwald is part of a new journalistic enterprise, which takes on a clear adversarial role.

There is one over-arching point to all of the recent revelations: The goal of the NSA and its five-eyes partners is to eliminate privacy globally, to ensure that there cannot be any human communications that evade their surveillance net. They want to be sure that all forms of communication by telephone or internet are “collected, monitored, stored and analyzed by that agency, and by their allies. This is a ubiquitous surveillance state. You don’t need hyperbole to make that point.” All of this has been proven with the documents released by Edward Snowden. “The NSA and the GCHQ are being driven crazy by the idea that you can go on an airplane and use certain cell phone devices and internet services and be away from their prying eyes for a few hours at a time.” (min 39). They aren’t targeting particular people; rather they are targeting everyone, at all times.

This goal collides with the need to express dissent without fear. (40 min). “A surveillance state by its necessity, by its very existence, breathes conformity. because whenever people know that they are always susceptible to being watched, even though they are not always being watched, the choices that they make are far more constrained, far more limited than when they could act in the private realm. The “elimination of privacy” is at the top of the list for the NSA.

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Is there anyone out there still defending the NSA?

December 29, 2013 | By | Reply More

Is there anyone out there still defending the NSA and criticizing Edward Snowden? The NSA is thoroughly corrupt.  Why the fuck do they think that law abiding citizens put locks on our doors and carefully employ passwords when we use our devices on the internet? This is arrogant and illegal activity–just because their big budget has allowed them to invade our privacy ubiquitously doesn’t make it legal. Hundreds or thousands of NSA operatives should be escorted out in handcuffs, starting with those at the top. Consider today’s report by Der Spiegel–it is a detailed article filled with red flags:

Sometimes it appears that the [NSA’s] spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.

Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called “load stations,” agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the “most productive operations” conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”

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Koch money buys the right to screen new faculty at public university

December 29, 2013 | By | Reply More

Nothing new here, in a way. Big money getting its way.

On the other hand, it is outrageous that anyone should be able to invade a public university’s hiring process, yes, even in return for donations. This is shameful. Rachel Maddow reports.

Apparently unsatisfied with simply buying politicians, the Koch Brothers have turned their attention and pocketbooks to purchasing economics professors of supposedly “public” universities and funding economic studies which support their extreme right-wing economic theories.

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The Power of Negative Thinking

December 28, 2013 | By | Reply More

Oliver Burkeman writes in The Guardian:

[Research] points to an alternative approach [to happiness]: a ‘negative path’ to happiness that entails taking a radically different stance towards those things most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid. This involves learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure. In order to be truly happy, it turns out, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them.

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Is this new Pope actually Catholic? Bill Moyers discusses Pope Francis with Thomas Cahill

December 28, 2013 | By | Reply More

This is a delightful conversation, in which author Thomas Cahill offers excellent insights into Pope Francis. Cahill’s view on Christianity meshes well with the teachings by Pope Francis.

Here is how Cahill would describe the important part of Christianity:

I’ve come to the conclusion that they are really only two movements in the world. One is kindness, and the other is cruelty. I don’t think there’s anything else, really. You can explain virtually everything by those two movements. The cruelty in religion is so often a form of, “Under no circumstances may you do this, because if you do, we will exclude you. That’s not how Jesus spoke. Jesus is the one who, you know, lifted the weeping prostitute off the floor and said, “Your sins are forgiven you.” He had no problem with sexual deviancy of any kind. It’s we who have that problem. And it’s a problem for institutionalized religion as it is for institutionalized anything. The institutions will tend to exclude.

I’m a believing Christian who finds himself equally at home and equally impatient and equally ill-at-ease in virtually any church.

BILL MOYERS: Why is that?

THOMAS CAHILL: I just don’t think that it matters that much. I think that we’ve, you know, in the 16th and 17th centuries, we killed one another over doctrine. It was after this period that you finally had in the period of the enlightenment, people saying, “Do we really have to keep doing this? Do we really have to keep– is it really necessary to kill one another? Couldn’t we just agree to disagree?” And then you have the beginning of a new era. And it’s time that we got past the largely silly divisions, theological divisions, which really don’t count. Because people don’t care about those things anymore.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think they care about? Or what do you care about?

THOMAS CAHILL: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” That’s Christianity. The rest of it, isn’t worth a hill of beans.

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Pope invites non-believers to join in effort for peace

December 25, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

I’m ambivalent about Pope Francis. He believes many things I don’t, including non-physical sentient beings, virgin birth, life after death and many other things too numerous to list.

Today, however, he made another eyebrow raising statement, inviting non-believers to join the effort for peace, according to the NYT:

Francis has regularly attracted huge crowds in Vatican City, and almost overnight he has emerged as a major figure on the global stage, surprising many Catholics with his nonjudgmental tone on issues like homosexuality and divorce, and his focus on the plight of the world’s poor. He has also been unpredictable, telephoning ordinary people who have written him letters, embracing a badly disfigured man at St. Peter’s and making unannounced visits in Rome.

He proved unpredictable again on Wednesday, when he went off script to include atheists in his call for peace, rare for a Catholic leader.

“I invite even nonbelievers to desire peace,” he said. “Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace.”

What kind of person would mention non-believers without vilifying them? A half-decent person. Thus, the Pope’s neutral inclusion of atheists was quite a low bar, indeed. But he did hop over that bar. For a Pope, this statement was extraordinary, especially considered along with the many other reasonable statements by this Pope, including his refusal to obsess about abortion or homosexuality. Many of this Pope’s recent statements are shocking only in comparison with the many ludicrous, bigoted statements of his predecessors.

Consider also, this statement the Pope made on December 5, 2013:

In a speech that shocked many, the Pope claimed “All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I would summarize as follows: “One small step for a man. One giant leap for a Pope.”

May the new Pope continue to be decent, which must be extraordinarily difficult in such as wretchedly backward and corrupt place as the Vatican.

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Lee Camp on Why we are Here

December 25, 2013 | By | Reply More

This is a Lee Camp episode from Nov, 2013. Entertaining and quite serious, like all of his work:

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