Saturday, August 31, 2013

As Attack Looms, F.B.I. Sharpens Scrutiny of Syrians in U.S. for Signs of Retaliation

Source: New York Times
...
The authorities are particularly concerned because Iran — one of Mr. Assad’s closest allies — has said there will be reprisals against Israel if the United States attacks Syria. The Iranians have also shown a willingness to sponsor terrorist attacks on American targets
...
Senior national security officials at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington have told the bureau’s field offices in recent days to follow up with sources who have ties to Syrians in an attempt to find talk or evidence of a retaliatory strike, the officials said.
...
And Syrians implicated in continuing investigations will be put under even closer scrutiny, the officials said.
...
Mansur Haqiqatpur, an influential member of the Iranian Parliament, was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying, “In case of a U.S. military strike against Syria, the flames of outrage of the region’s revolutionaries will point toward the Zionist regime” — Iran’s derogatory term for Israel.
...

Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Keep the NSA Out of Your Computer

Source: Mother Jones

"It changes attitudes," Bonicioli says. "People start sharing a lot. They start getting to know someone next door—they find the same interests; they find someone to go out and talk with."
...
THE RISE OF community meshes suggests a possibility that is considerably more radical. What if you wanted a mesh that spanned the globe? A way to communicate with anyone, anywhere, without going over a single inch of corporate or government cable? Like what Joseph Bonicioli has in Athens writ large—a parallel, global internet run by the people, for the people. Could such a beast be built?

On a purely technical level, mesh advocates say it's super hard, but not impossible. First, you'd build as many local mesh networks as you can, and then you'd connect them together. Long-distance "hops" are tricky, but community meshes already use special wifi antennas—sometimes "cantennas" made out of Pringles-type containers—to join far-flung neighborhoods.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Listen To This Argument Against Bombing Syria Before You Make Up Your Mind

Source: Huffington Post

"Why would Assad want to use chemical weapons in the northeastern suburbs of Damascas -- Damascus that's under his control -- to kill only, forgive me for being so cold, about 1,000 people, whereas he's killed 5,000 people every month for 16 months without chemical weapons? So why now?"

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Future flood losses in major coastal cities

Source: Nature via Vice Motherboard

With climate change and subsidence, present protection will need to be upgraded to avoid unacceptable losses of US$1 trillion or more per year. Even if adaptation investments maintain constant flood probability, subsidence and sea-level rise will increase global flood losses to US$60–63 billion per year in 2050. To maintain present flood risk, adaptation will need to reduce flood probabilities below present values. In this case, the magnitude of losses when floods do occur would increase, often by more than 50%, making it critical to also prepare for larger disasters than we experience today. The analysis identifies the cities that seem most vulnerable to these trends, that is, where the largest increase in losses can be expected.

Right now, global loses due to flooding run about $6 billion per year, hitting primarily four cities: Miami, New York, and New Orleans in the United States, and Guangzhou in China. Together those four pay out just under half of the yearly global total.

Zurich unveils 'sex boxes' for prostitutes

Here's an interesting example of direct democracy at work.

Source: The Local

But with local residents fed up of prostitutes and clients plying the streets, notably along the riverside Sihlquai, the authorities decided to try to shift the sex trade from the city centre.
...
The sex-box plan was approved by Zurich's voters in March 2012 -- referendums from the local to the national level are the bedrock of Switzerland's system of direct democracy.

Insight: After disaster, the deadliest part of Japan's nuclear clean-up

Source: Reuters

The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is preparing to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from a damaged reactor building, a dangerous operation that has never been attempted before on this scale. ... more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) is already in a losing battle to stop radioactive water overflowing from another part of the facility, and experts question whether it will be able to pull off the removal of all the assemblies successfully.
...
The operation, beginning this November at the plant's Reactor No. 4, is fraught with danger, including the possibility of a large release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle, said Gundersen and other nuclear experts.
...
Tepco has already removed two unused fuel assemblies from the pool in a test operation last year, but these rods are less dangerous than the spent bundles. Extracting spent fuel is a normal part of operations at a nuclear plant, but safely plucking them from a badly damaged reactor is unprecedented.
...
The utility says it recognizes the operation will be difficult but believes it can carry it out safely.

Nonetheless, Tepco inspires little confidence. Sharply criticized for failing to protect the Fukushima plant against natural disasters, its handling of the crisis since then has also been lambasted.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Historic and future increase in the global land area affected by monthly heat extremes

Source: IOP Publishing Ltd

The projections show that in the near-term such heat extremes become much more common, irrespective of the emission scenario. By 2020, the global land area experiencing temperatures of 3-sigma or more will have doubled (covering∼10%) and by 2040 quadrupled (covering ∼20%). Over the same period, more-extreme events will emerge: 5-sigma events, which are now essentially absent, will cover a small but significant fraction(∼3%) of the global land surface by 2040. These near-term projections are   practically independent of emission scenario.

The rise in the frequency of extremes becomes strongly  dependent on the emission scenario only by mid-century.

Dim Coumou (1) and Alexander Robinson (1,2,3)
1 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research—Earth System Analysis, Telegrafenberg A62/0.04, D-14412 Potsdam, Germany
2 Departamento de Astrofísica y Ciencias de la Atmósfera, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, E-28040 Madrid, Spain
3 Instituto de Geociencias, UCM-CSIC, E-28040 Madrid, Spain
Dim Coumou and Alexander Robinson 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034018
doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034018
© 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd
Received 11 June 2013, accepted for publication 26 July 2013
Published 14 August 2013

Content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI

Brooklin Mother Says State Not Happy With Her Formula Choice

Source: WABI TV

Alorah Gellerson loves her three month old son.

"Oh he loved it. We put celery juice in it and he just loves that and it worked really well with his body and he grew like a weed," she said.

But when her doctor reported this to the Department of Health and Human Services, things got messy.

"She came in and threatened to take him away and put him in foster care until I complied to go to the doctor and get him seen and he's perfectly healthy, we can all see that," said Gellerson.

Gellerson, who receives state benefits, says she has complied with all of the mandates from DHHS, including numerous doctor visits, an overnight hospital stay, and even switched over to store bought formula to please them, but she says the state is still not dropping it.

DHHS said they had no one available to speak with us. But they sent us to websites for procedures they follow, like one from the USDA, which says goat milk is not recommended for infants because of inadequate quantities of certain vitamins.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why This Year's Gulf Dead Zone Is Twice As Big As Last Year's

Source: Mother Jones

Why such massive annual dead zones? It's a matter of geography and concentration and intensification of fertilizer-dependent agriculture. Note that an enormous swath of the US landmass—41 percent of it—drains into the Mississippi River basin, as shown below. It's true that even under natural conditions, a river that captures as much drainage as the Mississippi is going to deliver some level of nutrients to the sea, which in turn will generate at least some algae. But when US Geological Survey researchers looked at the fossil record in 2006, they found that major hypoxia events (the technical name for dead zones) were relatively rare until around 1950—and have been increasingly common ever since. The mid-20th century is also when farmers turned to large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers. Now as much a part of Mississippi Delta life as crawfish boils, the Gulf dead zone wasn't even documented as a phenomenon until 1972, according to NOAA.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Snowden: NSA targeted journalists critical of government after 9/1

Edward Snowden said in an interview that he chose to leak details about top secret programs to documentary filmaker Laura Poitras and reporter Glenn Greenwald because they had both been targeted by the NSA for being critical of the government after 9/11. The following are quotes from Snowden's interview.

Source: The Hill

“Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures".

“I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world. In the wake of this year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless,”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg trashes New York judge’s stop-and-frisk curbs

Source: Russia Today

On Monday, US District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that police have intentionally and systematically violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of New Yorkers by mainly targeting black and Hispanic men. Scheindlin said she wasn’t putting an end to the practice, but merely trying to reform the way the NYPD carried it out.

The judge has also appointed an outside independent monitor to oversee major changes in police tactics, a reform in policies and training and supervision of officers. She has also ordered a pilot program to test body cameras, which will be worn by police in the areas of the city where most checks occurred.

“This is a dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the US Constitution as determined by the Supreme Court,” Bloomberg said. “I worry for my kids, and I worry for your kids. I worry for you and I worry for me. Crime can come back any time the criminals think they can get away with things.”

He warned that the ruling could see a return to the days of mayhem and rampant crime in the 1990s before his predecessor, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, took office. Murders in the city hit an all-time high in 1990 at 2,245, but by 2012 the murder rate had fallen to an all-time low of 418.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

$1990 for Launch of Cremated Remains on an Elysium Memorial Spacecraft

Source: Elysium Space

For US $1990 you will receive:

  • A custom ash capsule with up to 3 characters of your choice engraved on its cap.
  • A mini-scoop to easily transfer a symbolic portion of the remains from a cremation urn
  • A message of your choice, up to 80 characters, engraved in one of the  Elysium memorial spacecraft metal plates.
  • A launch viewing event and webcast of the launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • A professionally produced video
  • A certificate attesting the success of the launch and official spacecraft tracking ID assigned by NORAD
  • A few months to several years orbiting the Earth while family and friends follow the journey using a mobile app for iOS and Android devices
  • A reentry of the remains into the Earth's atmosphere, blazing as a shooting star.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Ozone Hole Takes Its Revenge with Climate Change

New modeling suggests that the ozone hole affects climate more than expected.

Source: VICE

The Antarctic ozone hole is shifting the southern-hemisphere jet stream further toward the south and, according to the models used in the study, the effect is to pull clouds toward the South Pole. Cloud cover over the polar region is less effective at blocking radiation, so the net effect is an increase in radiation hitting the Earth. In total, we should see an additional 0.25 watts per square meter being absorbed by the planet, which adds up to a good blast of extra heat.

Robotic plant learns to grow like the real thing

Source: New Scientist

Modelling a growing root is complex because it bends while increasing in length, adding cells on the opposite side from the direction in which it is heading. At the same time, a root perceives several physical and chemical stimuli at once and prioritises them; how it makes these decisions is not completely understood.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fears over NSA surveillance revelations endanger US cloud computing industry

Companies say they could lose billions as customers become wary about their data being turned over to US authorities

Source: Guardian

A survey by the US-based Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) found that American companies which offer file storage and computing in cloud systems – so they can be stored and accessed anywhere in the world – are gloomy about the effects of the Guardian's revelations of the extent of US government snooping and data gathering through projects such as Prism and Xkeyscore.

Daniel Castro, author of the ITIF survey, said that it seemed reasonable to suggest that US cloud businesses could lose between 10% and 20% of the overseas market to rivals.

The effect has already been felt, Castro said. The ITIF survey found that of those outside the US, 10% had cancelled a project with a US-based cloud computing provider, and 56% would be "less likely" to use a US-based cloud computing service.

Of those surveyed inside the US, 36% said that the NSA leaks had "made it more difficult" for them to do business outside the US.

Congress Exempt from Obamacare, or Something

Source: New York Magazine

Republican senator Charles Grassley introduced an amendment into the [healthcare reform] debate over the law requiring Congress and its staff to get its own insurance under Obamacare. It was a message amendment — that is, an amendment designed not to actually change the law in a way Grassley wanted but to provide the grist for a talking point for opponents of the law. The talking point would be that those fat cats in Washington are forcing their laws down yer throat but won’t live by the same laws. Democrats surprised Grassley by accepting the amendment. That’s where the trouble began.
<p>
The inherent problem is that the entire premise of the amendment is false. The premise was that Obamacare is going to wreck the whole health-care system, forcing decent Americans to lose their hard-earned employer health insurance and be herded on to grim, socialistic health-care exchanges. That is false: The law was designed to leave virtually the entire employer-sponsored health-insurance system alone and create subsidized coverage for the people who don’t get insurance through their job (or through Medicare or some other government plan) already.
<p>
... So Grassley’s amendment created a situation for government workers that Republicans claimed, falsely, the law would create for everybody else: forcing them off their employer insurance and on to the exchanges.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Exclusive: U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans

Source: Reuters

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
<p>
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
<p>
The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
<p>
The documents reviewed by Reuters are marked "Law Enforcement Sensitive," a government categorization that is meant to keep them confidential.
<p>
"Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function," a document presented to agents reads. The document specifically directs agents to omit the SOD's involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use "normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD."
<p>
...two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to "recreate" an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.
<p>
A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. "You'd be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.' And so we'd alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it," the agent said.
<p>
The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as "parallel construction."
<p>
... Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said that using "parallel construction" may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began may violate pretrial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

XKeyscore: NSA tool collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet'

Source: The Guardian
<ul>
<li>XKeyscore gives 'widest-reaching' collection of online data
<li>NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches
<li>Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history
</ul>
A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
<p>
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
<p>
While the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 requires an individualized warrant for the targeting of US persons, NSA analysts are permitted to intercept the communications of such individuals without a warrant if they are in contact with one of the NSA's foreign targets.
<p>
The ACLU's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian last month that national security officials expressly said that a primary purpose of the new law was to enable them to collect large amounts of Americans' communications without individualized warrants.
<p>
"The government doesn't need to 'target' Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications," said Jaffer. "The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans" when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance