November 30, 2014

Never donate to the Red Cross

Never give to the Red Cross unless you like your charity money being wasted on fundraising and PR and poorly managed photo-ops.

The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster - ProPublica

What’s more, Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.
. . .
According to interviews and documents, the Red Cross lacked basic supplies like food, blankets and batteries to distribute to victims in the days just after the storms. Sometimes, even when supplies were plentiful, they went to waste. In one case, the Red Cross had to throw out tens of thousands of meals because it couldn’t find the people who needed them.

On Mississippi's legacy of racism and their current fucked state

Mississippi ever since the civil war has been waging a white supremacist battle against african americans in the state. The newest ground of the war is denying health care to them, and to poor white people too. Which reveals half of their plan: the only social services the GOP in Mississippi believe on are the ones that they can reserve for whites only.

Remind me who won the Civil War?

Mississippi, the Affordable Care Act, and racism: The state’s failures are rooted in its violent and racist history.

In Mississippi—as in the rest of the South—white supremacy brought a politics of racist antagonism. For instance, the Civil War was hardly over before, notes historian Eric Foner in his book Reconstruction, it passed the first of the “Black Codes” that would limit freedom for freedpeople:

Mississippi required all blacks to possess, each January, written evidence of employment for the coming year. Laborers leaving their jobs before the contract expired would forfeit wages already earned, and, as under slavery, be subject to arrest by any white citizen. A person offering work to a laborer already under contract risked imprisonment or a fine of $500. To limit the freedmen’s economic opportunities, they were forbidden to rent land in urban areas. Vagrancy—a crime whose definition included the idle, disorderly, and those who “misspend what they earn”—could be punished by fines or involuntary plantation labor; other criminal offenses included “insulting” gestures or language, “malicious mischief,” and preaching the Gospel without a license.

Other states would follow suit, but Mississippi’s codes would stand as the most severe, setting a pattern for the next century. The rest of the South might have the same kind of racist customs, but they were worst in the swamps and cities of Mississippi. In fact, the state had fewer Jim Crow laws than its neighbors; they just weren’t needed. Instead, there was a status quo of violence and ruthless suppression. Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings—539 between Reconstruction and the civil rights era—and the most severe convict leasing, where it became a kind of neoslavery.

20-year study reveals strong correlation between pesticides and depression

Landmark 20-Year Study Finds Pesticides Linked to Depression In Farmers - Modern Farmer

There’s a significant correlation between pesticide use and depression, that much is very clear, but not all pesticides. The two types that Kamel says reliably moved the needle on depression are organochlorine insecticides and fumigants, which increase the farmer’s risk of depression by a whopping 90% and 80%, respectively. The study lays out the seven specific pesticides, falling generally into one of those two categories, that demonstrated a categorically reliable correlation to increased risk of depression.

These types aren’t necessarily uncommon, either; one, called malathion, was used by 67% of the tens of thousands of farmers surveyed. Malathion is banned in Europe, for what that’s worth.

I asked whether farmers were likely to simply have higher levels of depression than the norm, given the difficulties of the job — long hours, low wages, a lack of power due to government interference, that kind of thing — and, according to Kamel, that wasn’t a problem at all. “We didn’t have to deal with overreporting [of depression] because we weren’t seeing that,” she says. In fact, only 8% of farmers surveyed sought treatment for depression, lower than the norm, which is somewhere around 10% in this country. That doesn’t mean farmers are less likely to suffer from depression, only that they’re less likely to seek treatment for it, and that makes the findings, if anything, even stronger.

The study doesn’t really deal with exactly how the pesticides are affecting the farmers. Insecticides are designed to disrupt the way nerves work, sometimes inhibiting specific enzymes or the way nerve membranes work, that kind of thing. It’s pretty complicated, and nobody’s quite sure where depression fits in. “How this ultimately leads to depression, I don’t know that anyone can really fill in the dots there,” says Kamel. But essentially, the pesticides are designed to mess with the nerves of insects, and in certain aspects, our own nervous systems are similar enough to those of insects that we could be affected, too. “I don’t think there’s anything surprising about the fact that pesticides would affect neurologic function,” says Kamel, flatly.

"Disruptive" all too often just means "illegal"

It turns out that Uber's smartphone app spies the FUCK out of your phone.

How Often Do "Disruptive" Business Practices Actually Mean "Illegal" Business Practices? - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

Security researcher GironSec has pulled Uber’s Android app apart and discovered that it’s sending a huge amount of personal data back to base – including your call logs, what apps you’ve got installed, whether your phone is vulnerable to certain malware, whether your phone is rooted, and your SMS and MMS logs, which it explicitly doesn’t have permission to do. It’s the latest in a series of big-time missteps for a company whose core business model is, frankly, illegal in most of its markets as well.

Taxi-busting ride share app Uber might have an operating model that suits customers better than traditional, regulated taxi services – but the company’s aggressively disruptive (and frequently illegal) business practices don’t seem to stop at harming the taxi industry.

Its vicious attacks on competitors have included ordering and cancelling more than five and a half thousand rides through its chief competitor Lyft. Its senior Vice President of Business, Emil Michael, casually mentioned at a dinner that maybe Uber could start digging up personal dirt on journalists critical of the company.

FBI Agents Pose as Repairmen to Bypass Warrant Process

Schneier on Security: FBI Agents Pose as Repairmen to Bypass Warrant Process

This is a creepy story. The FBI wanted access to a hotel guest's room without a warrant. So agents broke his Internet connection, and then posed as Internet technicians to gain access to his hotel room without a warrant.

From the motion to suppress:

The next time you call for assistance because the internet service in your home is not working, the "technician" who comes to your door may actually be an undercover government agent. He will have secretly disconnected the service, knowing that you will naturally call for help and -- when he shows up at your door, impersonating a technician -- let him in. He will walk through each room of your house, claiming to diagnose the problem. Actually, he will be videotaping everything (and everyone) inside. He will have no reason to suspect you have broken the law, much less probable cause to obtain a search warrant. But that makes no difference, because by letting him in, you will have "consented" to an intrusive search of your home.

Basically, the agents snooped around the hotel room, and gathered evidence that they submitted to a magistrate to get a warrant. Of course, they never told the judge that they had engineered the whole outage and planted the fake technicians.

November 10, 2014

*UPDATE* HELLA GOOD DEAL ALERT! $7 "Helping Hands" from Maker Shed!--and Even Cheaper at Harbor Freight!?! #diy

UPDATE: My lifelong compadre Adam Stein points out that Harbor Freight has basically the same Helping Hands for $3.50! *Yikes!* BUY NOW!

I don't normally post stuff like this, but Maker Shed has a couple really good deals right now for folks new to soldering.

These helping hands are a *steal* at $6.99, and make life *so much easier.* There is now almost *no* soldering task I do without using my helping hands (although I have pulled off the magnifier, which was never very useful to me). Also, this variable-temp soldering iron also looks promising. The reviews are mixed, but at $25, it's probably worth taking a chance.

October 04, 2014

Here is what is happening in Hong Kong

Hong Kong--proof that revolutions are complicated and everything is the fault of the British.

The Rude Pundit: Why Hong Kong Is Massively Pissed (A Primer from Big Lychee)

You may have heard Hong Kong is a ‘freewheeling’ capitalist paradise. But its economic structure is closer to feudalism. A small group of family-run companies controls the real-estate sector. This has enabled them since the 1970s to amass the fortunes necessary to corner other sectors, like retail and distribution, transport, electric and gas, and construction supplies. Cartels – price-fixing and other anti-competition arrangements – are essentially legal. Hong Kong consumers work like serfs for these guys.

(A quick explanation of the Hong Kong land system is in order. The government owns all the land – a British colonial practice adopted way back following the unforgettable failure of stamp duties as a viable way to raise revenue in the American colonies starting in the 1760s. In today’s Hong Kong both bureaucrats and developers have an interest in maintaining an artificial shortage of land to boost government revenues and profits. The government revenues are earmarked for pointless infrastructure projects which empower bureaucrats and further enrich the tycoons.)

Since the 1997 handover, any semblance of balance between tycoon and public interests has gone out the window. Beijing has bought the tycoons’ loyalty partly by giving them access to Mainland China markets; the plutocrats’ Mainland assets are profitable but at the mercy of an authoritarian system with no due process (the state can grab private assets at any time, thus has the tycoons by the balls). China also seems to have guaranteed that the tycoons will be allowed free rein to gouge whatever they like from the rest of Hong Kong’s economy and society. China’s leaders’ own families are of course up to their ears in Hong Kong-based money laundering and deals with the tycoons.

The result is a huge concentration of wealth in the hands of half a dozen or so families who control the housing market and rented commercial space. Hong Kong’s post-1997 administrations have deliberately kept land supply tight. At the same time, immigration controls on Mainlanders have been relaxed, so Chinese property-buyers and shoppers have flooded into Hong Kong. The young ‘umbrella revolution’ protestors have little hope of buying a decent home in their own city: a tiny apartment (say 400 square feet) will cost the equivalent of maybe 12 years’ total average income for a couple. And their chances of starting a business have plummeted as commercial rents have soared: landlords lease space at sky-high rents to luxury-goods chains selling crap to Mainland shoppers (such goods are taxed or faked in the Mainland). Neighborhood stores selling basics to local residents are closing to give way to designer-label brands for outsiders, adding to the feeling that Hongkongers’ own city is being taken away from them.

You get some of this in New York, San Fran, Vancouver or London. But the process is on steroids in Hong Kong, thanks to the distortions created by government land policies and the influx of Mainlanders. And people are stuck here: move more than 20 miles and you’re in Mainland China, a still-Third World place of corruption, total internet censorship, and worse.

The students on the streets are looking at a future where they can’t afford a home or even to have kids. Subsidized housing for the less well-off is in such short supply that some people are seeking demotions at work and pay cuts to qualify. Meanwhile, in response to the unrest, Beijing is using intimidation and other tactics to subdue the city’s traditional free press. Its rule of law – independent judges, trial by jury, etc – could be next.

This is an incredibly peaceful and civilized place (read the accounts of protestors picking up and recycling trash, or doing their homework during sit-ins). The murder rate in this city of 7 million is one-14th of New York City’s, no-one has a gun, and the police force’s recent use of tear gas is almost unprecedented. Kids don’t blockade streets here, ever. So what might look like a plain everyday urban riot elsewhere is a major deal.

The Hong Kong government has hunkered down, sent the riot cops away and is waiting for the protestors to go home or back to class, which presumably they eventually will. The dictatorship in Beijing is worried about other restive regions, like Tibet, Xinjiang and (free but next-on-the-list) Taiwan. Common sense says that a Communist dictatorship will not and cannot allow democracy, but it can at least let Hong Kong people have their city back, and drop the landlords and tycoons as more trouble than they’re worth. What Beijing decides will give everyone a clue about whether China is going to be a pragmatic force in the world or get deeper into the paranoid mouth-frothing lunatic thing.

Chicago cop tortured and burned over 100 innocent men, receives only 4 years in jail

Chicago cop tortured and burned over 100 innocent men, receives only 4 years in jail

Jon Burge, ex-Chicago cop who ran torture ring, released from prison | MSNBC


A former Chicago police commander who for decades ran a torture ring that used electrical shock, burning and beatings on more than 100 black men has been released from federal prison after spending less than four years behind bars.

Jon Burge was transferred to a Florida halfway house on Thursday, reigniting the nightmares of many of his victims. Burge and his crew of detectives terrorized the city’s predominantly black South Side throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

In 2010, long after the statute of limitations had expired for his many vile acts, Burge was convicted of perjury for lying about police torture that he oversaw. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for that charge alone.

September 30, 2014

When the courts refuse to give you the lawyer you're entitled to, what can you do?

In Mississippi the accused who cannot afford representation can find themselves waiting up to four months to even be indicted, let alone provided with counsel.

Challenging Mississippi’s depraved justice system: Months in jail, with no indictment and no lawyer - Salon.com

Another plaintiff, Octavious Burks, has been sitting in jail there for 10 months without being indicted. He is also entitled to a court-appointed attorney but has never spoken with one. He was arrested in November 2013 for attempted armed robbery, weapons possession, disorderly conduct and possession of paraphernalia. Without a lawyer present, a judge set bail at $30,000—too high for Burks to pay—and Burks has been trying to talk to a lawyer ever since.

The Scott County prisoners are caught in a Catch-22.

The law—based on a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright—says they are entitled to a lawyer to represent them. But without a lawyer, they have no way of forcing the local courts to take notice. The law also says that people who are arrested must be formally indicted and that they have a right to a speedy trial—but the Mississippi judges in Scott County and the 8th Circuit Court District won’t give the prisoners attorneys to represent them until they are indicted.

And this is where it gets truly strange. In this, and other parts of rural Mississippi, judges only convene grand juries—the group that hands down indictments—three times a year. That means someone can sit in jail for four months before learning whether or not he has been indicted for a crime. If the district attorney isn’t ready to present a case to the grand jury because say, he needs more time to investigate, that person can sit in jail even longer—as Burks and Bassett have.

Why the lag in appointing a public defender? “I can only imagine it’s a fiscal reason,” says Mississippi state public defender Leslie Lee, explaining that the county likely saves money by not paying a public defender during that long lag period between arrest and indictment.

September 29, 2014

"Here are some things you must do or not do if you want to stay alive . . . "

Fruit for Crows | LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM

Here are some things you must do or not do if you want to stay alive, we tell our black citizens: do not ever commit a crime, no matter how petty, any time in your life. In any encounter with the police, do your best to behave as a soulless automaton, stripped of any volition or dignity, of the very suggestion that you are a human being cognizant of your rights under the law. Do not speak, move, dress, or behave unusually or unexpectedly. Do not buy anything that might alarm a white person, no matter how legal or harmless. Do not respond to any provocation of any kind, ever. Do not ask to be treated fairly; certainly do not demand it. Do not wear a Halloween costume; do not get in a car accident; do not walk around at night. Recognize in all white people moral authority, and in yourself moral culpability, at all times. Do not go to a place where you might not expected to be, even if you are invited. Make sure you have a biological mother and father that you live with, who are married to one another, and who share the same surname. Do not look like another person of your race who might have done something wrong. Do not, ever, become upset about anything. Do not live near white people, but do not gather in groups with your own. Try to arrange it so that your actual physical body is not taller, younger, heavier, more fit, or more adorned than any white person with whom you might come into contact. Do not carry a gun, legally or not. Avoid any expression of your own culture as if it were a particularly virulent plague. Do not ever drink. Do not ever take drugs. Do not ever be loud. If you do all these things, always, as long as you live, you may feel yourself so reduced in the basic qualities of humankind that you think yourself still a slave, or worse, a herd animal, but at least there is a chance you will not be killed. If you are, though, rest assured that whites in their thousands will make a moral example of you to your people, reminding them of other things that they must not do. Then they will start a charitable drive to lessen the burdens of the man who killed you.

If you are a white person, try to imagine your life if it were demanded that you behave in such a way every day for the rest of your life, under the very real threat of death. It’s harder than you think; millions of people literally cannot conceive of it.

August 26, 2014

Coroner Claims Black Man Shot Himself in Chest With Hands Cuffed Behind Back While In Police Car

A culture of sanctioned murder by police? Whatever do you mean?

Coroner: Black Man Shot Himself in Chest With Hands Cuffed Behind Back

According to a coroner's report obtained by NBC News, Victor White, a 22-year-old black man, committed suicide in the back of a police car by shooting himself in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back. The report contradicts the official police account, which said White shot himself in the back.

White died March 3rd in New Iberia, Louisiana, after a night spent hanging out with friends. He was stopped by police along with an acquaintance, Isaiah Lewis, on the way back from buying cigars at a local gas station. Cops found a small amount of pot on White during a pat-down, then ran the two men's names through a database and called for backup. A second search yielded a small amount of cocaine, and White was arrested and placed into an Iberia Parrish police cruiser, where he allegedly produced a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun and shot himself in the right side of the chest.

The story and the new coroner's report raise several questions about the incident. One friend said White joked about having a gun earlier that night, but no one is on record as having seen one. If he did have a gun, why didn't police find it during one of the two searches? How was he able to reach around and shoot himself in the chest with his hands cuffed behind his back? (The coroner's report said it was possible due to White's "body habitus.") Why did police initially claim he shot himself in the back? Why didn't the coroner find the gunpowder stippling common to close-range shots on White's wound? White had a laceration on his face at the time of his death that Lewis said wasn't there the last time two men saw each other, before White got into the cruiser. Where did it come from?

August 16, 2014

New unedited Nixon papers confirm he was a traitor

Nixon--as a private citizen--convinced the South Vietnamese government to prolong the war for his own gain.

George Will Confirms Nixon's Vietnam Treason | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Richard Nixon was a traitor.

The new release of extended versions of Nixon's papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.

Nixon's newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nixon's interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams's 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.

Published as the 40th Anniversary of Nixon's resignation approaches, Will's column confirms that Nixon feared public disclosure of his role in sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace talks. Will says Nixon established a "plumbers unit" to stop potential leaks of information that might damage him, including documentation he believed was held by the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank. The Plumbers' later break-in at the Democratic National Committee led to the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.

Nixon's sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks was confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chernnault told the South Vietnamese ambassador that "she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should "hold on, we are gonna win."

As Will confirms, Vietnamese did "hold on," the war proceeded and Nixon did win, changing forever the face of American politics—with the shadow of treason permanently embedded in its DNA.

August 03, 2014

"I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn't"

Believing in the cultural myths about virginity made this woman miserable and made her leave her church.

IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn't | xoJane

Sex hurt. I knew it would. Everyone told me it would be uncomfortable the first time. What they didn't tell me is that I would be back in the bathroom afterward, crying quietly for reasons I didn't yet comprehend. They didn't tell me that I'd be on my honeymoon, crying again, because sex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married and it was supposed to be okay now. When we got home, I couldn't look anyone in the eye. Everyone knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers. They all knew I was soiled and tarnished. I wasn't special anymore. My virginity had become such an essential part of my personality that I didn't know who I was without it. It didn't get better. I avoided undressing in front of my husband. I tried not to kiss him too often or too amorously so I wouldn't lead him on. I dreaded bedtime. Maybe he'd want to have sex. When he did, I obliged. I wanted nothing more than to make him happy because I loved him so much and because I'd been taught it was my duty to fulfill his needs. But I hated sex. Sometimes I cried myself to sleep because I wanted to like it, because it wasn't fair. I had done everything right. I took the pledge and stayed true to it. Where was the blessed marriage I was promised? I let it go on this way for almost two years before I broke down. I just couldn't do it anymore. I told my husband everything. My feminist husband was horrified that I'd let him touch me when I didn't want him to. He made me promise I'd never do anything I didn't want to do ever again. We stopped having sex. He encouraged me to see a therapist and I did. It was the first step on a long journey to healing.

Toxic algae blooms threaten the Great Lakes' water

The good people of Toledo are currently without municipal drinking water, because Lake Erie is full of toxic algae.

7 Things You Need To Know About The Toxin That's Poisoned Ohio's Drinking Water | ThinkProgress

Approximately 400,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio are being warned not to drink their tap water after high levels of a dangerous toxin were discovered in the water supply Saturday, according to the Toledo-Lucas County Department of Health.

The toxin is called microcystin, the high levels of which were caused by massive increases in algae on Lake Erie. The increases in algae, called “algae blooms”, are poisonous if consumed — causing abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness, and dizziness. Boiling the water doesn’t help — in fact, it increases the presence of the toxin.

As of now, it’s unclear when Toledo residents will have clean water again. According to the Toledo Blade, fresh water samples are being flown to a specialized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratory in Cincinnati, which will determine the extent of the contamination.

Here are 7 things you need to know about microcystin — what it does, why it’s there, and why it’s spreading in the five Great Lakes that form the largest system of fresh water in the world.

Wanna Understand Gaza? Start with the Tunnels

(This is a cross-post from my Snip, Burn, Solder Blog)

Let's face it: You probably know next to nothing about Israel and Gaza right now. You hear a lot of highly partisan screaming, but it's all *so* polemical and contradictory that it's pretty obvious that no one is being straight with you. So, if you want to understand what the hell is going on with Gaza, I strongly urge you to get your head around the tunnels; they are a very informative microcosm of the region's politics.

You've probably heard of the "terror tunnels"--which have only really started to get the press they warrant in the last week or so. If you need a catch-up: Hamas has a tunnel-network of unknown size and complexity that allows soldiers to pop up on remote locations in Israel and launch attacks.

But that's the least of the tunnels--and the easiest to understand (after all, it's not that different from similar tunnel networks that were the nightmare-terrors of U.S. grunts in Vietnam).

It's the *other* tunnels that can tell us so much about politics in Gaza, and Gaza's relations with *all* its neighbors. These are trade tunnels that run into Egypt. Check out this 2012 paper by Nicolas Pelham (" a writer on Arab affairs for The Economist and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of A New Muslim Order ... and coauthor of A History of the Middle East ... , and has reported on Gaza extensively") for the Institute for Palestine Studies ("the oldest independent non-profit, public service, research institute in the Arab world."):

  • "Gaza's Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel's Siege"

    Simple fact: This is as close as I've seen to a non-partisan article about Israel and Gaza. I'm not offering you a tl;dr, because I urge you to read the whole thing and see what you see.

    In case you need it, here's an Archive.org link to same. Why would you need this? Because the Institute for Palestine Studies webpage has been going up and down a lot, since pro-Israel bloggers recently went nuts linking to this two-year old study, under headlines like Hamas Killed 160 Palestinian Children to Build Gaza Tunnels – Tablet Magazine. Funny thing is this: Most of these posts are focused exclusively on the following 100-word excerpt from the 8700 word article:

    A similarly cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities damaged the movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials. Safety controls on imports appear similarly lax, although the TAC insists that a sixteen-man contingent carries out sporadic spot-checks.

    The bloggers go on to make much about how Hamas has sacrificed 160 children in the name of facilitating their terrorist siege of Israel (or whatever), even though that claim cannot be supported by this source; I don't know if they're purposefully muddling the waters or simply didn't read the article, but Pelham is talking about the *trade* tunnels in that section, not the *terror* tunnels. Those children were sacrificed in the name of *commerce* not war or freedom or terror or Allah or whatever--which, to my mind, says a helluva lot more about our world, which is, after all, that's why I brought you this nugget to begin with. It's a two-year old econ article about trade taxation and border infrastructure from an obscure think tank--it's practically the *definition* of boring--but right now, today, it is fascinating and it is informative, and it will tell you something of use about the humans who live in a particular place under a particular set of constraints, and how they respond to those constraints.

  • July 29, 2014

    Did you ever wonder how all those AK-47s get into places like Afghanistan?

    How A One-Time Pig Peddler Helped The U.S. Flood War Zones With Guns

    The U.S. is famously the largest arms exporter in the world. Less well-known is that America also purchases massive amounts of foreign-made weapons, most of them manufactured in the former Soviet bloc. In an effort to build up and train friendly security services, the U.S. saturates some the most violent regions of the world with these arms but has little control over who ultimately gets them.

    The Pentagon or U.S. intelligence agencies often issue contracts themselves for these weapons. But other times, American tax dollars go through a proxy, such as an Afghan government agency, which issues the contract but which is heavily funded and guided by the U.S. Dolarian was involved in both types of contracts.

    While most coverage of the weapons trade tracks the multibillion-dollar deals in fighter jets, strategic missiles, or radar systems, most killing in modern wars is done with cheap rifles, machine guns, mortars, and other small arms.

    Over the last decade, the U.S. has sent more than 700,000 weapons — the vast majority foreign-made small arms — to Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama has staked his strategy on training and arming the army and police. Likewise, in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, the U.S. disbanded the security forces only to rebuild and rearm new ones for eight years, sending over a million weapons by some estimates. The majority of these were Russian-designed small arms.

    These are the types of arms that Dolarian, a man the state of California banned from selling certain financial securities, was given U.S. tax dollars to purchase.
    . . .

    Big Pharma tests meds on homeless people

    Nothing about this sounds ethical.

    Is Big Pharma Testing Your Meds on Homeless People? — Matter — Medium

    Most people think of pharmaceutical research as a highly technical activity that takes place in world-class medical centers. The reality is somewhat different. This is apparent in a grainy video that I watched a few years ago. It had apparently been recorded on a cell phone, and the camerawork started off wobbly. A tanned man wearing sunglasses and a necklace appeared and was introduced as Dr. Johnny Edrozo, a psychiatric researcher. His shirt was unbuttoned partway down his chest. “The latest stimulant coming out of the market is Vyvanse, which is a Dexedrine preparation,” Edrozo told the interviewer, pausing occasionally to chew gum. For reasons that were not explained, the interview took place in a parked car.

    This was my introduction to South Coast Clinical Trials, a chain of private research sites in Southern California that specializes in testing psychiatric drugs. Pharmaceutical companies now typically outsource clinical studies to contract research organizations like South Coast, which run trials faster and at lower cost than universities do. Their job is simply to follow the instructions of their sponsors. This formula is working: The contract research industry has grown steadily since the early 1990s and may now generate over $100 billion in annual income, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. At the top of the heap are corporations like Quintiles, which has 28,000 employees and operates in about 100 countries. At the other end are private physicians and small companies like South Coast, which are often based in strip malls or suburban office parks.

    Dan Sfera, the owner of South Coast, has produced scores of web videos like this one, the ostensible purpose of which is to demystify drug research. (The unstated purpose, of course, is to generate business for their psychiatric research facilities.) I visited Sfera and his colleague Don Walters not long after watching the video, and they introduced me to a research subject named Steve, who vouched for the good intentions of South Coast clinic staffers. “I love this place,” he said. “It’s awesome. They don’t treat you like you have a mental illness.” A middle-aged man with a short, gray-flecked beard, Steve was starting an outpatient study of Depakote, a seizure drug that is sometimes prescribed for bipolar disorder. He had arrived at the clinic wearing red gym shorts and bedroom slippers. Over the summer, Steve told me, he’d been hospitalized for four weeks and had received eight rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. As he spoke, his hands trembled so violently that he spilled his coffee on the floor. He seemed preoccupied with his roommate, who he said hadn’t showered for weeks. “The man’s got toenails this long,” he said, holding his fingers inches apart.

    OKCupid admits they manipulate results and lie to people, to encourage dating

    If I was a paid OKCupid user and found out it was deliberating telling me that good matches were bad matches just to mess with me, I would demand my money back.

    OKCupid Dating Web Site Says it Lied to Users in Experiment | NBC Bay Area

    When you sign up for a dating website, you are supposed to be set up based on your interests, and maybe even your looks.

    The co-founder of OkCupid.com admitted the online dating web site set up people as part of an experiment.

    “I think it’s kind of false advertisement,” Michelle Cady said.

    In one of the experiments, people who were highly compatible were told they were a bad match and vice versa.

    In another experiment, the website hid singles’ profile pictures for several hours to encourage people to message each other without knowing what they look like. When they brought the pictures back online, many of the conversations stopped.

    “It shouldn’t become a game to them to see how many people they can hook up together,” Michelle Cady said.

    July 28, 2014

    New Detroit education plan: 100 kids in a Kindergarten class

    The ideal ratio is one teacher to ten kids. This is pretty far from that.

    Combined kindergarten a big teaching experiment | Detroit Free Press | freep.com

    Nevaeh Dukes, 6, sat with a tiny laptop, pressing keys as colorful shapes moved across the screen.

    To her left, three boys were sprawled stomach-down on a rug as they worked with a teacher. In the distance, children were working on laptops or writing on pieces of paper, some quietly sitting alone off by themselves and others squirming or even dancing in their seats. A couple of kids walked around.

    “I like it a lot because it’s fun,” Nevaeh said, “and I’ve got three teachers.”

    And nearly 100 classmates.

    July 23, 2014

    Nicholson Baker on the assassination of JFK

    Baker--especially when he does nonfiction--is always a must read.

    Dallas Killers Club | The Baffler

    There were three horrible public executions in 1963. The first came in February, when the prime minister of Iraq, Abdul Karim Qassem, was shot by members of the Ba’ath party, to which the United States had furnished money and training. A film clip of Qassem’s corpse, held up by the hair, was shown on Iraqi television. “We came to power on a CIA train,” said one of the Ba’athist revolutionaries; the CIA’s Near East division chief later boasted, “We really had the Ts crossed on what was happening.”

    The second execution came in early November 1963: the president of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, was shot in the back of the head and stabbed with a bayonet, in a coup that was encouraged and monitored by the United States. President Kennedy was shocked at the news of Diem’s gruesome murder. “I feel we must bear a good deal of responsibility for it,” he said. “I should never have given my consent to it.” But Kennedy sent a congratulatory cable to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the ambassador to South Vietnam, who had been in the thick of the action. “With renewed appreciation for a fine job,” he wrote.

    The third execution came, of course, later that month, on November 22.
    . . .
    “Had I been allowed to testify, I would have told them”—that is, the members of the Warren Commission—“that there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the bullet that killed President Kennedy was shot from the grassy knoll area.”

    No, the convergent gunfire leads one to conclude that the shooting had to have been a group effort of some kind, a preplanned, coordinated crossfire: a conspiracy. But if it was a group effort, what affiliation united the participants? Did the CIA and its hypermilitaristic confederates—Cold Warrior bitter-enders—engineer it? That’s what Mark Lane, James DiEugenio, Gerald McKnight, and many other sincere, brave, long-time students of the assassination believe. “Kennedy was removed from office by powerful and irrational forces who opposed his revisionist Cuba policy,” writes McKnight in Breach of Trust, a closely researched book about the blind spots and truth-twistings of the Warren Commission. James Douglass argues that Kennedy was killed by “the Unspeakable”—a term from Thomas Merton that Douglass uses to describe a loose confederacy of nefarious plotters who opposed Kennedy’s “turn” towards reconciliatory back-channel negotiation. “Because JFK chose peace on earth at the height of the Cold War, he was executed,” Douglass writes.
    . . .

    New biography of Robert E. Lee shows a cruel White supremacist behind the heroic myth

    Robert E. Lee, America's Greatest Monster.

    David W. Blight

    Pryor demures the "debunking of mythology," although in the end she does just that. She exposes some of Lee’s fateful mistakes as a general, especially at Gettysburg. She carves the mysticism away from Lee’s "decision" to join his state and therefore the Confederacy in 1861, rather than fulfill his oath to the United States government. Pryor pulls the protective curtain away from Lee’s views about slavery and race, revealing a conventional white supremacist who was a beleaguered slavemaster. The old creed in the Lost Cause catechism that Lee "never fought for slavery" crumbles in this book. And even Lee’s vaunted post-war reconciliationist spirit, quite real in public ways, had a private, opposite underside. Pryor judiciously chips away at the marble encasements around the real Lee. . . .


    Lee married into ownership of nearly 200 slaves at Arlington and adjoining properties. Pryor forthrightly confronts this side of Lee’s life; he disliked slavery and found it a burden, but he was no "good" master, communicated badly with his slaves, and considered them naturally indolent and incapable of freedom. He confronted an "epidemic of runaways" (264) in the late 1850s and oversaw one brutal beating of a returned fugitive, including brine sewn into the wounds. Modern day Lee lovers will cringe at some of Pryor’s conclusions, rooted in strong evidence: Lee broke up families and "denied the slaves’ humanity" (275).
    . . .

    July 21, 2014

    McDonald's and KFC supplier caught reusing rotten meat

    “People won’t die from eating expired food,” said the guy who sells meat to McDonald's.

    McDonald’s & KFC Meat Supplier Exposed Reusing Expired Meat – chinaSMACK

    NetEase Finance July 20 report — Dragon TV today [July 20] broadcasted a report claiming that over two months, an undercover journalist discovered widespread use of meat sources that have expired and gone bad at Shanghai Fuxi ["Husi"] Food Products Limited Company, the meat supplier for well-known international fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken [KFC], and Pizza Hut.

    This company was exposed using such methods as recooking expired food products and changing expiry dates to process expired meat products and then sell the chicken nuggets, steaks, hamburger patties, etc. to the majority of fast food chains such as KFC, McDonald, and Pizza Hut. When the reporter questioned this, the workers even cheerfully said: “People won’t die from eating expired food.”

    July 18, 2014

    Watch a 5' 100 lb woman just destroy this American Ninja Warrior obstacle course

    It's like Double Dare for grown-ups and she makes the whole thing look stupidly easy.

    ▶ American Ninja Warrior 2014 Kacy Catanzaro - YouTube

    Cops Choke Staten Island Father of six to Death

    Should selling untaxed cigarettes warrant the death sentence?

    Cops Choke Staten Island Father to Death | Mass Appeal

    Yesterday in Staten Island, a 400-pound man passed away after one cop put him in a chokehold and other cops proceeded to slam his head against the pavement. The brutality was caught on video and submitted to the NY Daily News.

    The Daily News reported that the man’s name is Eric Garner. He is a 43-year-old dad to six children who had bad asthma. However, that did not stop cops from essentially choking the life out of him and slamming his head into the pavement. According to witnesses, Eric screamed “I can’t breathe!” repeatedly after multiple NYPD officer took him down due to resisting being handcuffed.

    Shortly after, Garner stopped his struggle with the cops, and looked to be unconscious. Only then did cops call paramedics to the scenes. (You can count on cops to worry about your health after the fact.)

    What makes the story even worse is that Eric Garner’s wife, Esaw, did not receive any details from the police until she went to the hospital to identify her husband’s body. According to the police, Eric Garner wasn’t even armed. The NYPD said Garner had a stem of past arrests for selling untaxed cigarettes, and they observed him selling said cigarettes which caused them to attempt an arrest. In the video, the bystander filming says Garner was being pressed by cops, despite stopping a fight moments prior.

    With so many witnesses to Garner being choked to death by the cops, along with discomforting footage of the takedown, one can only hope that those cops are brought to justice.

    July 17, 2014

    Israel bombs four little kids playing on beach

    Since when are little kids on a beach a legitimate military target?

    Through Lens, 4 Boys Dead by Gaza Shore - NYTimes.com


    GAZA CITY — My day here began at 6 a.m. Photographing something as unpredictable as war still has a routine.

    It is important to be out the door at first light to document the destruction of the last night’s bombings. By midmorning, I check in at the hospital’s morgue to see if families have come to pick up the dead for burial.

    When the routine is broken, it is because things can go horribly wrong in an instant. That is how it happened in Libya in 2011, when three colleagues and I were taken captive by government soldiers and our driver was killed.

    On Wednesday, that sudden change of fortune came to four young Palestinian boys playing on a beach in Gaza City.

    I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.

    I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.

    By the time I reached the beach, I was winded from running with my heavy armor. I paused; it was too risky to go onto the exposed sand. Imagine what my silhouette, captured by an Israeli drone, might look like as a grainy image on a laptop somewhere in Israel: wearing body armor and a helmet, carrying cameras that could be mistaken for weapons. If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?
    . . .

    Russia probably just shot down a commercial airliner over Eastern Ukraine

    Russia has been shooting down Ukrainian planes lately, so this isn't a stretch.

    U.S. official: Malaysia Airlines plane shot down - CNN.com

    (CNN) -- A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in a rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine on Thursday, prompting swift accusations from Ukrainian officials that "terrorists" shot down the aircraft.

    The United States also has concluded that the plane was shot down, but hasn't pinpointed who was responsible, a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr.

    The Boeing 777 carrying 295 people fell from the sky near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to a Facebook post from a top Ukrainian official, as it flew at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet) on the way from Amsterdam to Malaysia.

    A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, the senior U.S. official said. A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official said. The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from.
    . . .
    Vice President of Malaysia Airlines Europe Huib Gorter told reporters that the 15 crew members on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all Malaysian nationals.

    He gave a breakdown of the known nationalities of the 280 passengers: 154 were Dutch, 27 were Australians, 23 were Malaysians, 11 were Indonesian, six were from the United Kingdom, four were from Germany; four were from Belgium, three were from the Philippines and one was Canadian. Authorities were still trying to determine the nationalities of the other passengers.
    . . .

    Snowden: The NSA loves your nude photos

    Snowden: NSA Workers Routinely Share Your Nude Photos

    Snowden says,

    You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22. They've suddenly thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility, where they now have access to all of your private records. Now, in the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example: an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation, but they're extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair, and they show their coworker. And their coworker says, "Oh, hey, that's great. Send that to Bill down the way. And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later, this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It's never reported. Nobody ever knows about it, because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak.

    When Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger asks Snowden to clarify how often he saw this sort of thing happen, he answered: "It's routine enough. Depending on sort of the company you keep, it could be more or less frequent. But these are seen as sort of the fringe benefits of surveillance positions."

    July 09, 2014

    California Highway Patrol officer beats citizen for walking on the side of the road

    California Highway Patrol punches woman in head on side of LA highway

    July 08, 2014

    Amazon & Hachette Feud Update: Amazon suggests giving 100% of the proceeds to authors while feud continues

    This is Amazon trying to make clear that their beef is with Hachette (and the others in the Big 5) and not with authors. Will Hachette agree to this? Of course not.

    The reason Amazon is playing hardball with Hachette is that Hachette is the first of the big traditional publishing houses to renegotiate its terms with Amazon, after the Department of Justice found that the Big 5 (minus one) and Apple were colluding to fix prices.

    Whatever deal Hachette gets will be the new bar set by the publishing industry, and the rest of the Big 5 will demand the same terms.

    Amazon’s Latest Attempt To Resolve Feud With Publisher Involves Offering Authors 100% Of e-Book Sales – Consumerist



    The online retailer appealed directly to Hachette-published authors on Tuesday with a letter suggesting that the authors receive 100% of their e-book sales while the feud continues, The New York Times Bits blog reports.

    A letter penned by vice president of Kindle content, David Naggar and sent to a small group of Hachette authors and literary agents for feedback, suggests that until a definitive deal is reached neither Amazon nor Hachette would make any money off the authors’ e-books.

    If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100% of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell. Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.

    That means if an e-book sells for $9.99, then the author would receive the full amount. Amazon suggests the deal would represent “many multiples” of what authors would normally receive for the purchase of a book.

    Additionally, while Amazon officials said last week that its negotiation tactics – including the removal of preorders and delayed shipping of Hachette books – were in the best interest of consumers, the company appears to be singing a different tune in the letter.

    The company proposes returning to normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats and for books that haven’t gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders.

    July 07, 2014

    Obama checkmates Republicans on contrception coverage

    The crux is that insurance companies *want* to cover birth control. They really, really do. Birth control is incredibly cheap compared to pregnancy, delivery, and actual children.

    Obama riled up Republicans on contraception, and then delivers a knock-out punch.

    After two solid weeks of Republicans rapidly escalating attacks on contraception access under the banner of "religious freedom," Obama finally announced what the White House is proposing: an accommodation of religiously affiliated employers who don't want to offer birth control coverage as part of their insurance plans. In those situations, the insurance companies will have to reach out directly to employees and offer contraception coverage for free, without going through the employer. Insurance companies are down with the plan, because as Matt Yglesias explained at Moneybox, contraception actually saves insurance companies money, since it's cheaper than abortion and far cheaper than childbirth. Because the insurance companies have to reach out to employees directly, there's very little danger of women not getting coverage because they are unaware they're eligible.

    That's the nitty-gritty. The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women's access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. (As Dana Goldstein reported in 2010, before the religious liberty gambit was brought up, the Catholic bishops were just demanding that women be denied access and told to abstain from sex instead.) With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they've been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they'll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.

    Poor Mojo's Almanac(k)

    This week's Classic PMjA: Issue #253 (first published November 17, 2005)
  • Poor Mojo's Almanac(k)
  • Giant Squid: Notes from the Giant Squid: The Squidcast Experience by the Giant Squid
  • Fiction: Almost Flushed by R.A. Lubow
  • Poetry: Animal Crackers by Laurel Sparks
  • Rants: Industrial Espionage and the World's Greatest Sangria Recipe by Morgan Johnson