Monday, September 30, 2019

Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice.

Source: New York Times

“The guidelines are based on papers that presumably say there is evidence for what they say, and there isn’t,” said Dr. Dennis Bier, director of the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and past editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

It is one thing for an individual to believe eating less red meat and processed meat will improve health, but “if you want to say the evidence shows that eating red meat or processed meats has these effects, that’s more objective" ... "the evidence does not support it.” said, David Allison, dean of the Indiana University School of Public Health—Bloomington


Beef in particular tends to have an outsized climate footprint, partly because of all the land needed to raise cattle and grow feed, and partly because cows belch up methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Researchers have estimated that, on average, beef has about five times the climate impact of chicken or pork, per gram of protein. Plant-based foods tend to have an even smaller impact.



Saturday, September 28, 2019

NSA Call Detail Records Provision Expires in December

Section 215, the controversial law at the heart of the NSA’s massive telephone records surveillance program, is set to expire in December.

On Sept 18, the House Committee on the Judiciary held an oversight hearing to investigate how the NSA, FBI, and the rest of the intelligence community are using and interpreting 215 and other expiring national security authorities. Below are excerpts from the Joint witness statement in which reauthorization is requested. Emphasis is added to highlight their admission of NSA's inability to comply with the requirements of the law.

The Call Detail Records (“CDR”) provision permits the targeted collection of telephony metadata but not the content of any communications. Congress added this authority to FISA four years ago in the FREEDOM Act as one of several significant FISA reforms designed to enhance privacy and civil liberties. It replaced the National Security Agency’s (“NSA”) bulk telephony metadata collection program with a new legal authority whereby the bulk metadata would remain with the telecommunications service providers. As this Committee’s 2015 report described, the CDR authority provides a “narrowly-tailored mechanism for the targeted collection of telephone metadata for possible connections between foreign powers or agents of foreign powers and others as part of an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism.”

The FREEDOM Act also permanently banned bulk collection under FISA’s business records and pen-trap provisions and under the National Security Letter statutes. As this Committee is aware, the NSA recently discontinued the CDR program for technical and operational reasons.

In 2018, the NSA identified certain technical irregularities in data it received from telecommunications service providers under the CDR provision. Because it was not feasible for NSA to resolve the issue technologically, in May of 2018, NSA began the process of deleting all CDR data that it had received since 2015. Then, after balancing the program’s intelligence value, associated costs, and compliance and data integrity concerns caused by the unique complexities of using these company-generated business
records for intelligence purposes, NSA suspended the CDR program.
NSA’s decision to suspend the CDR program does not mean that Congress should allow the CDR authority to expire. Rather, that decision shows that the Executive Branch is a responsible steward of the authority Congress afforded it, and that the numerous constraints on the Government imposed by the FREEDOM Act, including oversight by the FISC, are demanding and effective. As technology changes, our adversaries’ tradecraft and communications habits continue to evolve and adapt. In light of this dynamic environment, the Administration supports reauthorization of the CDR provision so that the Government will retain this potentially valuable tool should it prove useful in the future.

During the Oversight hearing on Sep 18, Chairman Nadler asked, "The CDR Program was reconstituted under the USA Freedom Act after its passage in 2015. Now please help me update the board's findings. Sitting here today, can the NSA cite any instance involving a threat to the United States in which the CDR program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counter-terrorist investigation?" Susan Morgan answered, "Sir, as I alluded to earlier, the measure of value isn't necessarily ..." Chairman Nadler interrupted, "I heard that and you don't have to repeat it. My time is limited. The answer is No or Yes?" Susan Morgan answered, "So, in an open setting I'm really leery to get into specific examples of the value that the program ..." Chairman Nadler said, "I asked you a specific question: can the NSA cite any instance involving a threat to the United States in which the CDR program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counter-terrorist investigation?" Susan Morgan answered, "Sir, respectfully I'd say that's a complicated question that to effectively answer it I do need to go into classified ..." Chairman Nadler interrupted, "OK, Is the NSA aware of any instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack? Same answer?" Susan Morgan answered, "Again sir, I would like to ... If I may, I would like to say that I don't think a metric of a program in terms of its value should be really necessarily be focused on whether or not it prevented or stopped a terrorist attack." Chairman Nadler asked, "After the program was reconstituted under the USA Freedom Act, the NSA realized there are two problems on it's hands. First, it was pulling in phone records it should not have received. And Second, that it had no way of untangling the good data from the bad. Is that a fair assessment of the problem?" Susan Morgan answered, "Yes sir." Chairman Nadler asked, "And on June 28th of last year, the NSA decided to purge it's entire database; nearly three years of call detail records. Is that correct?" Susan Morgan answered, "Yes sir." Chairman Nadler asked, "And in the press release announcing the destruction of those records, the NSA stated that it had contacted the appropriate congressional committees of its intent to do so. Do you happen to know if the NSA contacted the House Judiciary Committee in advance of that press release?" Susan Morgan answered, "Sir, I apologize. I would have to take that back. I don't have those specifics." Chairman Nadler asked, "On August 16, 2019, the NSA decommissioned the CDR program altogether. According to former-Director Coats, the intelligence community weighed the cost against the benefits, saw that the benefits are minimal, and decided to discontinue the program. Is that correct?" Susan Morgan answered, "Yes sir." Chairman Nadler asked, "OK, to sum up, the CDR program had its origins in an extralegal Bush era spying program. From the moment it was brought under FISA in 2006 to the moment it was discontinued in 2019, it did not once make a material difference to a single counterterrorism; at least that you can tell us about. One last question Ms. Morgan. In light of this record, why has the Trump Administration asked us to reauthorize this program?" Susan Morgan answered, "Sir, as an intelligence professional, I'll tell you that I want to have every tool available in my toolbox. I am not able to, although I wish I could predict what the future situation's gonna hold. And should I confront a situation where this tool would be valuable to protect our national security and protect us against terrorist activities, I would like the tool to remain available." Chairman Nadler said, "OK, let me just say that it's a very good effort, but I think the administration will have to do a little better than that. And to say that perhaps we have a useless program but you know, we want to reauthorize it because maybe someday it'll do some good. You have to give us some more basis to believe that in fact it has a future utility. My time has expired ..."

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Insect Apocalypse Is Here

Source: New York Times

The world never feels fallen, because we grow accustomed to the fall.

insect populations, which are naturally variable, with wide, trend-obscuring fluctuations from one year to the next.

 a 2014 review in Science tried to quantify these declines by synthesizing the findings of existing studies and found that a majority of monitored species were declining, on average by 45 percent

Half of all farmland birds in Europe disappeared in just three decades. 

“it is not only the vulnerable species but the flying-insect community as a whole that has been decimated over the last few decades.”

The current worldwide loss of biodiversity is popularly known as the sixth extinction: the sixth time in world history that a large number of species have disappeared in unusually rapid succession, caused this time not by asteroids or ice ages but by humans. 

Conservationists tend to focus on rare and endangered species, but it is common ones, because of their abundance, that power the living systems of our planet.

Only about 2 percent of invertebrate species have been studied enough for us to estimate whether they are in danger of extinction, never mind what dangers that extinction might pose.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

'Oumuamua Could Theoretically Be A Probe Sent By Aliens

ʻOumuamua is the first interstellar object detected passing through our Solar System.

A new study considers the possibility that "‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization." This study has not yet made it through the scientific peer-review process but the possibilities are worth consideration.

Below are a few excerpts.

Source: arxiv.org

"A survey for lightsails as technosignatures in the Solar System is warranted, irrespective of whether ‘Oumuamua is one of them."

"We discuss the possible origins of such an object including the possibility that it might be a lightsail of artificial origin."

"We explore the possibility that the excess acceleration results from Solar radiation pressure."

"The large variations in its apparent magnitude and the non-trivial periodicity of the lightcurve, suggest that ‘Oumuamua is rotating in an excited spin state (tumbling motion),
and has an extreme aspect ratio of at least 5:1 ... an unprecedented value for pre-viously known asteroids and comets in the Solar System."

"if ‘Oumuamua rotates in its highest rotational energy state, it should be extremely oblate (pancake-like)."

"despite its close Solar approach of r = 0.25 AU, ‘Oumuamua shows no signs of a any cometary activity, no cometary tail, nor gas emission/absorption lines were observed."

"If not cometary activity, what can drive the non-gravitational acceleration observed? In this Letter we explore the possibility of ‘Oumuamua being a thin object accelerated by Solar radiation pressure, which would naturally result in an excess acceleration"

"If radiation pressure is the acceler-
ating force, then ‘Oumuamua represents a new class of thin
interstellar material, either produced naturally,through a yet unknown process in the ISM or in proto-planetary disks, or of an artificial origin."

"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment"

"Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative2"

"This would account for the various anomalies of ‘Oumuamua, such as the unusual geometry inferred from its lightcurve"

"its low thermal emission, suggesting high reflectivity and its deviation from a Keplerian orbit without any sign of a cometary tail or spin-up torques"

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Missing Files Motivated The Leak Of Michael Cohen's Financial Records

Source: The New Yorker

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration.
...
A law-enforcement official released the documents after finding that additional suspicious transactions did not appear in a government database.

...  two previous suspicious-activity reports, or sars, ... were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN.
...
“I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.”