Friday, October 31, 2014
thiscantbehappening | On Thursday, a reader who is an MD contacted someone he knew at Tulane, Vice President for Research Laura Levy, asking her to explain what Tulane was doing in Kenema. He later sent me her response, which was a link to a web page on Tulane's website. It seeks to debunk "myths" about Tulane's work in West Africa. In that article , it states that it is a "myth" that Tulane has been ordered to leave Sierra Leone. But no one is saying that. Tulane was ordered to shut down it's Ebola lab in the town of Kenema, not to leave Sierra Leone altogether. The article also states that it is a "myth" that the University and its researchers are "collaborating" with the military in Sierra Leone. It goes on to say that "Tulane is working with Harvard University and others in the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium to develop diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for Lassa fever and Ebola. Support for the consortium has come principally from the National Institutes of Health."
But actually the consortium's own website  says that Tulane is the leader of the consortium. It lists a number of partners, including Harvard University, Scripps Research Institute, and a company called Corgenix. No government "partners" are listed. Yet Corgenix, on its company site , lists USAMRIID, the Pentagon's bioweapons research unit, as a "member of the consortium."
Curious indeed that Tulane Research VP Levy omitted that important bit of information.
Here's what Coregenix had to say about USAMRIID:
USAMRIID (U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases), located at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is the lead medical research laboratory for the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program, and plays a leading role in national defense and in infectious disease research. The Institute’s mission is to conduct basic and applied research on biological threats resulting in medical solutions (such as vaccines, drugs and diagnostics) to protect the warfighter. USAMRIID is a subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command.
Corgenix and USAMRIID are members of the Viral Hemorrhagic fever Consortium, working to develop state of the art diagnostic products for biothreat agents and emerging pathogens./em>
Navy Times, hardly a den of conspiracy writers, published an article about Ebola  and the US decision to send 3000 troops (not doctors!) to the impacted countries in west Africa, back on August 1. That article states:
Filoviruses like Ebola have been of interest to the Pentagon since the late 1970s, mainly because Ebola and its fellow viruses have high mortality rates — in the current outbreak, roughly 60 percent to 72 percent of those who have contracted the disease have died — and its stable nature in aerosol make it attractive as a potential biological weapon.
Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) have sought to develop a vaccine or treatment for the disease.
Boyle’s contention is that ever since the US signed onto the Geneva Convention outlawing germ warfare, it has used research into defense against germ weapons as a cover for US research into germ weapons themselves.
It’s interesting that Navy Times is reporting that Pentagon-funded researchers at USAMRIID have been trying to develop a vaccine for Ebola for decades, yet how does that square with a report on Oct. 23 in the New York Times  that Canadian and US researchers had developed an Ebola vaccine that was 100% successful in monkeys a full decade ago, long after the Pentagon began “seeking to develop a vaccine” and several years after the NIH began a campaign to develop one. And yet, as the Times article states, the promising vaccine “sat on the shelf” for years without being tested in humans, because it encountered a “biotech valley of death” with no drug companies willing to pay for human testing.
So where was all that public US Defense Department and NIH funding, given the promise that this vaccine was showing?
Maybe it was just bureaucratic bumbling, nationalist prejudice (the vaccine was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, for god’s sake!, a concept that is toxic to the US drug industry), or just Washington stupidity. But then, if Boyle is right, then the Pentagon may not really have been all that interested in finding a vaccine, but rather was focussed on doing covert research on bioweapons, including Ebola.
It may seem hard to swallow the idea that your government could be contemplating such awful weapons, but let’s remember that the US is the country that continues to insist on its right to strew highly toxic and carcinogenic depleted uranium dust all over countries it invades or bombs, like Afghanistan, Syria and especially Iraq (according to a new report by David Swanson , the Obama administration is sending DU-armed aircraft to the Middle East again, evidently for use in its attacks on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as if it hadn't spread enough of the stuff across the desert already).
As well, the US stands credibly accused of having deployed germ weapons in Cuba, Nicaragua and East Germany over the years, and perhaps in other places too.
And there was one other article in the New York Times  -- this one pulled, oddly, after it made it into the first edition of the paper on October 17. It reported that President Obama, “Prompted by controversy over dangerous research and recent laboratory accidents,” had announced that he was temporarily halting “all new funding for experiments that seek to study certain infectious agents by making them more dangerous.” He asked those scientists already doing such government-funded research to “voluntarily halt” their work during this moratorium. Could this be a backhanded admission, or at least hint, that something like that might have been done to the Zaire Ebola strain that is circulating now in west Africa?
Got that? Your government has been paying researchers to do genetic modification of dangerous pathogens like avian or pandemic flu strains, SARS...and hemorrhagic fever viruses like Ebola, to make them more deadly and/or more easily transmitted! (Of course the government and its apologists insist that they and the researchers they fund in this work are only trying to see if it could be done, either by some nefarious enemy, or by nature itself.)
aljazeera | In political science, descriptive representation refers to legislators’ having things in common with the groups they represent. It has been linked to confidence in government, positive legislative outcomes and engagement with the political process. Political scientist Christian Grose found that black legislators lead to more congressional attention and money for black constituents.
Benefits such as these could have stopped the crisis in Ferguson. A black city council may have raised the alarm about police treatment in a city where blacks make up 93 percent of arrests, 91 percent of searches and 86 percent of stops by the Ferguson police.
Researcher David Canon suggests that descriptive representation can be especially useful in areas with racial tension, where politicians must balance the needs of a diverse constituency. By contrast, policymakers in Ferguson were sharply criticized for their handling of the crisis and the poor performance of the police chief they appointed. As one protester told the council, “You’ve lost your authority to govern this community.” Another noted, “Mike Brown had to die for our voices to be heard.”
Most blacks, in Ferguson and beyond, do not enjoy descriptive representation, because of the municipal electoral process, in which the game is rigged against candidates of color.
theroot | Although presenting evidence of the daily indignity of catcalls and unwarranted advances that women face was an admirable goal, the video just contains too much selective finger-pointing to be effective.
Critics quickly assailed the fact that the most common form of harassment the video’s subject, Shoshana B. Roberts, received were phrases like “How are you?” and just “Hi.” And the takeaway for many men—in conversations, on social media—was simply that if you speak to a woman on the street, then, according to this video, you are harassing her. That’s a narrative that many were quick to take issue with and others simply dismissed.
As a man, I found it easy to be put off by the video because it doesn’t seem particularly nuanced. Rather than allow for the existence of polite conversation between strangers, it simply points at any salutation—from “hello” to “damn!”—and labels it harassment.
Maybe I’m just looking at this from my perspective as a man, but clearly, I’m not the only guy seeing it this way.
“I can only imagine what it’s like to walk the streets and have people tell me that I’m beautiful, that I should smile, ask me how I’m doing, say god bless you and generally seem to like me,” wrote former XXL columnist Byron Crawford on his website. “Literally, I have no idea what that would be like.”
There’s also the racial makeup of the “10 Hours” cast of antagonizers. The conspicuous preponderance of black and Latino men who make appearances as harassers didn’t escape men of color—or women, for that matter.
“The racial politics of the video are [f--ked] up,” tweeted Purdue University professor and blogger Roxane Gay. “Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”
nation | Last year, Wendy Heller Chovnick, a former Teach For America manager, spoke out against her former organization in The Washington Post, decrying its “inability and unwillingness to honestly address valid criticism.” In recent years, such criticism has centered on Teach For America’s intimate involvement in the education privatization movement and its five-week training, two-year teaching model, which critics claim offers recruits a transformative résumé-boosting experience but burdens schools with disruptive turnover cycles.
In the interview, Chovnick referenced the extent to which Teach For America manufactured its public image, explaining, “Instead of engaging in real conversations with critics, and even supporters, about the weaknesses of Teach For America and where it falls short, Teach For America seemed to put a positive spin on everything. During my tenure on staff, we even got a national team, the communications team, whose job it was to get positive press out about Teach For America in our region and to help us quickly and swiftly address any negative stories, press or media.”
An internal media strategy memo, obtained by The Nation, confirms Chovnick’s concerns, detailing TFA’s intricate methodology for combating negative media attention, or what it calls “misinformation.” Given that TFA takes tens of millions of government dollars every year, such strategies are troubling. According to its last three years of available tax filings, Teach For America has spent nearly $3.5 million in advertising and promotion. As the strategy memo indicates, much of this promotion goes toward attacking journalists, including ones previously published in this magazine. The memo details the numerous steps TFA’s communications team took in order to counter Alexandra Hootnick’s recent piece for the The Nation, “Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, but Teach For America Is Expanding. What’s Wrong With That?”
Thursday, October 30, 2014
MoBS Lab | The 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak is so far the largest and deadliest recorded in history. The affected countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and recently Senegal have been struggling to contain and to mitigate the outbreak. We have developed a modeling approach aimed at assessing the progression of the epidemic in West Africa and its international spread under the assumption that the EVD outbreak continues to evolve at the current pace.
Our results have been published in PLOS Currents Outbreaks. However, our modeling work has been motivated by the need for a rapid assessment of the EVD outbreak trends and the obtained results may change as more information becomes available from the EVD affected region and more refined sensitivity analysis can be implemented computationally. For this reason, the paper on PLOS Current Outbreaks shall be considered as a live paper that is constantly updated with new data, projections and analysis.
In this web page we try to provide a home for such a "live" paper. More in general we link to constantly updated versions of the paper, new figures/analysis and supplementary data files.
Washington Post | Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they've done the opposite.
The country's universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens -- and even of foreigners.
Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees "discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany."What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English -- and it's not the only country. Let's take a look at the surprising -- and very cheap -- alternatives to pricey American college degrees.
Posted by Dale Asberry at 10/30/2014 08:53:00 AM
The New York Times | MANY people think that the key to success is to cultivate and doggedly maintain an optimistic outlook. This belief in the power of positive thinking, expressed with varying degrees of sophistication, informs everything from affirmative pop anthems like Katy Perry’s “Roar” to the Mayo Clinic’s suggestion that you may be able to improve your health by eliminating “negative self-talk.”
But the truth is that positive thinking often hinders us. More than two decades ago, I conducted a study in which I presented women enrolled in a weight-reduction program with several short, open-ended scenarios about future events — and asked them to imagine how they would fare in each one. Some of these scenarios asked the women to imagine that they had successfully completed the program; others asked them to imagine situations in which they were tempted to cheat on their diets. I then asked the women to rate how positive or negative their resulting thoughts and images were.
A year later, I checked in on these women. The results were striking: The more positively women had imagined themselves in these scenarios, thefewer pounds they had lost.
Posted by Dale Asberry at 10/30/2014 08:35:00 AM
technologyreview | One of the great challenges of neuroscience is to understand the short-term working memory in the human brain. At the same time, computer scientists would dearly love to reproduce the same kind of memory in silico.
Today, Google’s secretive DeepMind start-up, which it bought for $400 million earlier this year, unveils a prototype computer that attempts to mimic some of the properties of the human brain’s short-term working memory. The new computer is a type of neural network that has been adapted to work with an external memory. The result is a computer that learns as it stores memories and can later retrieve them to perform logical tasks beyond those it has been trained to do.
DeepMind’s breakthrough follows a long history of work on short-term memory. In the 1950s, the American cognitive psychologist George Miller carried out one of the more famous experiments in the history of brain science. Miller was interested in the capacity of the human brain’s working memory and set out to measure it with the help of a large number of students who he asked to carry out simple memory tasks.
Miller’s striking conclusion was that the capacity of short-term memory cannot be defined by the amount of information it contains. Instead Miller concluded that the working memory stores information in the form of “chunks” and that it could hold approximately seven of them.
That raises the curious question: what is a chunk? In Miller’s experiments, a chunk could be a single digit such as a ‘4’, a single letter such as a ‘q’, a single word or a small group of words that together have some specific meaning. So each chunk can represent anything from a very small amount of information to a hugely complex idea that is equivalent to large amounts of information.
But however much information a single chunk represents, the human brain can store only about seven of them in its working memory.
Here is an example. Consider the following sentence: “This book is a thrilling read with a complex plot and lifelike characters.”
This sentence consists of around seven chunks of information and is clearly manageable for any ordinary reader.
By contrast, try this sentence: “This book about the Roman Empire during the first years of Augustus Caesar’s rein at the end of the Roman Republic, describes the events following the bloody Battle of Actium in 31 BC when the young emperor defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra by comprehensively outmaneuvering them in a major naval engagement.”
This sentence contains at least 20 chunks. So if you found it more difficult to read, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The human brain has trouble holding this many chunks in its working memory.
In cognitive science, the ability to understand the components of a sentence and store them in the working memory is called variable binding. This is the ability to take a piece of data and assign it to a slot in the memory and to do this repeatedly with data of different length, like chunks.
computerworld | High-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk made headlines when he said artificial intelligence research is a danger to humanity, but researchers from some of the top U.S. universities say he's not so far off the mark.
"At first I was surprised and then I thought, 'this is not completely crazy,' " said Andrew Moore, dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. "I actually do think this is a valid concern and it's really an interesting one. It's a remote, far future danger but sometime we're going to have to think about it. If we're at all close to building these super-intelligent, powerful machines, we should absolutely stop and figure out what we're doing."
Musk, most well-known as the CEO of electric car maker Tesla Motors, and CEO and co-founder of SpaceX , caused a stir after he told an audience at an MIT symposium that artificial intelligence (AI), and research into it, poses a threat to humans.
"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence," Musk said when answering a question about the state of AI. "If I were to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that… With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. In all those stories with the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, and he's sure he can control the demon. It doesn't work out."
He added that there should be regulatory oversight -- at the national and international level -- to "make sure we don't do something very foolish."
Musk's comments came after he tweeted in early August that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes."
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
guardian | You can tell a lot about the moral quality of a society by what is, and is not, considered news.
From last Tuesday, Parliament Square was wrapped in wire mesh. In one of the more surreal scenes in recent British political history, officers with trained German shepherds stand sentinel each day, at calculated distances across the lawn, surrounded by a giant box of fences, three metres high – all to ensure that no citizen enters to illegally practice democracy. Yet few major news outlets feel this is much of a story.
Occupy Democracy, a new incarnation of Occupy London, has attempted to use the space for an experiment in democratic organising. The idea was to turn Parliament Square back to the purposes to which it was, by most accounts, originally created: a place for public meetings and discussions, with an eye to bringing all the issues ignored by politicians in Westminster back into public debate. Seminars and assemblies were planned, colourful bamboo towers and sound systems put in place, to be followed by a temporary library, kitchen and toilets.
There was no plan to turn this into a permanent tent city, which are now explicitly illegal. True, this law is very selectively enforced; Metropolitan police regularly react with a wink and a smile if citizens camp on the street while queuing overnight for the latest iPhone. But to do it in furtherance of democratic expression is absolutely forbidden. Try it, and you can expect to immediately see your tent torn down and if you try even the most passive resistance you’re likely to be arrested. So organisers settled on a symbolic 24-hour presence, even if it meant sleeping on the grass under cardboard boxes in the autumn rain.
The police response can only be described as hysterical. Tarpaulins used to sit on the grass were said to be illegal, and when activists tried to sit on them they were attacked by scores of officers. Activists say they had limbs twisted and officers stuck thumbs into nerve endings as “pain compliance”. Pizza boxes were declared illegal structures and confiscated and commanders even sent officers to stand over activists at night telling them it was illegal to close their eyes.
newsweek | In June 2011, Julian Assange received an unusual visitor: the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, arrived from America at Ellingham Hall, the country house in Norfolk, England where Assange was living under house arrest.
For several hours the besieged leader of the world’s most famous insurgent publishing organization and the billionaire head of the world’s largest information empire locked horns. The two men debated the political problems faced by society, and the technological solutions engendered by the global network—from the Arab Spring to Bitcoin.
They outlined radically opposing perspectives: for Assange, the liberating power of the Internet is based on its freedom and statelessness. For Schmidt, emancipation is at one with U.S. foreign policy objectives and is driven by connecting non-Western countries to Western companies and markets. These differences embodied a tug-of-war over the Internet’s future that has only gathered force subsequently.
In this extract from When Google Met WikiLeaks Assange describes his encounter with Schmidt and how he came to conclude that it was far from an innocent exchange of views.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Wikipedia | Bat bombs were an experimental World War II weapon developed by the United States. The bomb consisted of a bomb-shaped casing with numerous compartments, each containing a Mexican Free-tailed Bat with a small timed incendiary bomb attached. Dropped from a bomber at dawn, the casings would deploy a parachute in mid-flight and open to release the bats which would then roost in eaves and attics. The incendiaries would start fires in inaccessible places in the largely wood and paper construction of the Japanese cities that were the weapon's intended target.
The Bat Bomb was originally conceived by a Pennsylvania dentist named Lytle S. Adams, a friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Dr. Adams submitted it to the White Housein January 1942, where it was subsequently approved by President Roosevelt on the advice of Donald Griffin.
Adams observed that the infrastructure of Japan was especially susceptible to incendiary devices as many of the buildings were made of paper, bamboo, and other highly flammable material. The plan was to release bat bombs over Japanese cities having widely-dispersed industrial targets. The bats would spread far from the point of release due to the relatively high altitude of their release, then at dawn they would hide in buildings across the city. Shortly thereafter built-in timers would ignite the bombs, causing widespread fires and chaos.
The United States decided to develop the Bat Bomb during World War II as four biological factors gave promise to this plan. First, bats occur in large numbers (four caves in New Mexico are each occupied by several million bats). Second, bats can carry more than their own weight in flight (females carry their young—sometimes twins). Third, bats hibernate, and while dormant they do not require food or maintenance. Fourth, bats fly in darkness, then find secluded places (often in buildings) to hide during daylight.
By March 1943 a suitable species had been selected. The project was considered serious enough that Louis Fieser, the inventor of military napalm, designed 0.6 ounce (17 g) and one ounce (28 g) incendiary devices to be carried by the bats. A bat carrier similar to a bomb casing was designed that included 26 stacked trays, each containing compartments for 40 bats. The carriers would be dropped from 5,000 feet (1,525 m). Then the trays would separate but remain connected to a parachute that would deploy at 1,000 feet (305 m). It was envisioned that ten B-24 bombers flying from Alaska, each carrying a hundred shells packed with bomb-carrying bats could release 1,040,000 bat bombs over the target—the industrial cities of Osaka Bay. A series of tests to answer various operational questions were conducted. In one incident the Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base near Carlsbad, New Mexico, was set on fire on May 15, 1943, when armed bats were accidentally released. The bats incinerated the test range and roosted under a fuel tank. Following this setback, the project was relegated to the Navy in August 1943, who renamed it Project X-Ray, and then passed it to the Marine Corps that December. The Marine Corps moved operations to the Marine Corps Air Station at El Centro, California. After several experiments and operational adjustments, the definitive test was carried out on the "Japanese Village" a mockup of a Japanese city built by the Chemical Warfare Service at their Dugway Proving Groundstest site in Utah. Fist tap Drew.
salon | If you want to understand the fight the gun safety movement faces in trying to win over gun extremists in red states, my experience this summer will be instructive.
Moms Demand Action, a group formed after the Sandy Hook shooting to crack down on gun violence, began pressuring the Kroger supermarket chain to prohibit “open carry” in its stores after gun extremists used Kroger stores to demonstrate their “rights.” Gun laws are lax in many states, and it can be legal to openly carry a firearm with no training, and, in some cases, no background checks. The Kroger campaign is the most recent in a string of corporate responsibility efforts in which mothers, flanked by other gun violence prevention advocates, have asked companies to tighten gun policies, arguing that the businesses have an obligation to keep their customers safe.
Of course, gun extremists did not respond kindly to the Kroger campaign. What follows is a recounting of their disturbing tactics, from the shocking intimidation and harassment of unsuspecting commenters on Kroger’s Facebook page to right-wing media propaganda that disingenuously portrayed Kroger as being allies of the gun extremists.
Secret Facebook groups such as “People Who Were Blocked by Moms Demand Action Demand Action Now” — which has well over a thousand members — disseminated gun rights propaganda and helped orchestrate attacks on individuals commenting on Kroger’s page. Some gun nuts combed the profile pages of people commenting in support of gun reform, harvested personal photos of them and Photoshopped them to include obscene or humiliating comments, before reposting the photos on Kroger’s page, or on other social media sites. Because Kroger frequently bans users who post that kind of content, the gun extremists created disposable fake accounts — sometimes using the name and profile photo of an opponent— to quickly dump posts without being held accountable.
NYTimes | The interactive age had arrived, and video games were its most promising entertainment.
And then came GamerGate. Over the past few weeks, as this inchoate but effective online movement has gathered momentum, I’ve begun to wonder if I’ve made a horrible mistake.
GamerGate — named for its Twitter hashtag — began this summer when Zoe Quinn, the designer of the game Depression Quest, received threats of violence after an ex-boyfriend posted a long diatribe about her on the Internet. Some of the crusaders against Ms. Quinn justified their actions by constructing flimsy conspiracies that she colluded unethically with journalists who write for enthusiast websites about video games.
After targeting Ms. Quinn, GamerGate widened its scope to include others perceived to be trying to cram liberal politics into video games. The movement uses the phrase “social justice warriors” to describe the game designers, journalists and critics who, among other alleged sins, desire to see more (and more realistic) representations of women and minorities. That critique, as well as more accusations of collusion among developers and journalists, attracted some conservative gadflies to GamerGate, like the “Firefly” actor Adam Baldwin.
For all of us who love games, GamerGate has made it impossible to overlook an ugly truth about the culture that surrounds them: Despite the growing diversity in designers and in games — games about bullying, games that put you in the role of a transgender woman, games about coming out to your parents — there is an undercurrent of “latent racism, homophobia and misogyny,” as the prominent game designer Cliff Bleszinski wrote in March, before GamerGate even began.
It’s the players who enjoy this culture, even as they distinguish themselves from the worst of the GamerGate trolls, who truly worry me. If all the recent experimentation and progress in video games — they’re in the permanent collection at MoMA now — turns out to be just a plaster on an ugly sore, then the medium’s long journey into the mainstream could be halted or even reversed.
The very word “game” understates (and in some ways restricts) the promise of this new form. Video games have been used, yes, to create digital translations of sports, folk games and carnival games. And they have also been used to invent new modes of competition, from classics like Pong to the “e-sport” League of Legends.
But like any medium of communication, the possibilities for what games can do are close to limitless. Already we use video games to exercise, to make music, to advance political arguments, to tell stories, to create beauty.
nybooks | People are amazed or disgusted, or both, at today’s “power of the media.” The punch is in that plural, “media”—the twenty-four-hour flow of intermingled news and opinion not only from print but also from TV channels, radio stations, Twitter, e-mails, and other electronic “feeds.” This storm of information from many sources may make us underestimate the power of the press in the nineteenth century when it had just one medium—the newspaper. That also came at people from many directions—in multiple editions from multiple papers in every big city, from “extras” hawked constantly in the streets, from telegraphed reprints in other papers, from articles put out as pamphlets.
Every bit of that information was blatantly biased in ways that would make today’s Fox News blush. Editors ran their own candidates—in fact they ran for office themselves, and often continued in their post at the paper while holding office. Politicians, knowing this, cultivated their own party’s papers, both the owners and the editors, shared staff with them, released news to them early or exclusively to keep them loyal, rewarded them with state or federal appointments when they won.
It was a dirty game by later standards, and no one played it better than Abraham Lincoln. He developed new stratagems as he rose from citizen to candidate to officeholder. Without abandoning his old methods, he developed new ones, more effective if no more scrupulous, as he got better himself (and better situated), for controlling what was written about him, his policies, and his adversaries. Harold Holzer, who has been a press advocate for candidates (Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo) and institutions (the Metropolitan Museum of Art and various Lincoln organizations), knows the publicity game from the inside, and he is awed by Lincoln’s skills as a self-publicist, that necessary trait of his time. Holzer is also a respected and influential Lincoln scholar who does not come to bury Lincoln with this new information but to wonder how a man could swim so well through the sewer and come out (relatively) clean.
Lincoln’s arena broadened as he climbed the ladder of power. He went from local venues in his own state—rival papers in Springfield and Chicago—to the newspaper power center in New York, with three main papers and the pioneering syndicate the Associated Press. Then, in Washington, he had to deal with the concentration there of many papers’ bureaus. He developed different skills for each widening stage of his career. In roughly chronological but overlapping order, there were five main stages. Fist tap Vic.
guardian | Earlier this year engineer Dr Craig Labovitz testified before the US House of Representatives judiciary subcommittee on regulatory reform, commercial and antitrust law. Labovitz is co-founder and chief executive of Deepfield, an outfit that sells software to enable companies to compile detailed analytics on traffic within their computer networks. The hearing was on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and the impact it was likely to have on competition in the video and broadband market. In the landscape of dysfunctional, viciously partisan US politics, this hearing was the equivalent of rustling in the undergrowth, and yet in the course of his testimony Labovitz said something that laid bare the new realities of our networked world.
“Whereas internet traffic was once broadly distributed across thousands of companies,” he told the subcommittee, “we found that by 2009 half of all internet traffic originated in less than 150 large content and content-distribution companies. By May of 2014, this number had dropped by a factor of five. Today, just 30 companies, including Netflix and Google, contribute on average more than one half of all internet traffic in the United States during prime-time hours.”
To those of us who were accustomed to thinking of the internet as a glorious, distributed, anarchic, many-to-many communication network in which anyone could become a global publisher, corporate gatekeepers had lost their power and peer-to-peer sharing was becoming the liberating norm, Labovitz’s brusque summary comes as a rude shock. Why? Because what he was really saying is that the internet is well on its way to being captured by giant corporations – just as the Columbia law professor Tim Wu speculated it might be in The Master Switch, his magisterial history of 20th-century communications technologies.
In that book, Wu recounted the history of telephone, movie, radio and TV technologies in the US. All of them had started out as creative, anarchic, open and innovative technologies but over time each had been captured by corporate interests. In some cases (eg the telephone) this happened with the co-operation of the state, but in most cases it happened because visionary entrepreneurs offered consumers propositions that they found irresistible. But the result was always the same: corporate capture of the technology and the medium. And the most insidious thing, Wu wrote, was that this process of closure doesn’t involve any kind of authoritarian takeover. It comes, not as a bitter pill, but as a “sweet pill, as a tabloid, easy to swallow”. Most of the corporate masters of 20th-century media delivered a consumer product that was better than what went before – which is what consumers went for and what led these industries towards closure.
At the end of his book, Wu posed the 64-trillion-dollar question: would the internet also fall victim to this cycle? For years, many of us thought that it wouldn’t: it was too decentralised, too empowering of ordinary people, too anarchic and creative to succumb to that kind of control.
Labovitz’s testimony suggests that we were wrong.
Monday, October 27, 2014
NYTimes | The Nazi spies performed a range of tasks for American agencies in the 1950s and 1960s, from the hazardous to the trivial, the documents show.
In Maryland, Army officials trained several Nazi officers in paramilitary warfare for a possible invasion of Russia. In Connecticut, the C.I.A. used an ex-Nazi guard to study Soviet-bloc postage stamps for hidden meanings.
In Virginia, a top adviser to Hitler gave classified briefings on Soviet affairs. And in Germany, SS officers infiltrated Russian-controlled zones, laying surveillance cables and monitoring trains.
But many Nazi spies proved inept or worse, declassified security reviews show. Some were deemed habitual liars, confidence men or embezzlers, and a few even turned out to be Soviet double agents, the records show.
Mr. Breitman said the morality of recruiting ex-Nazis was rarely considered. “This all stemmed from a kind of panic, a fear that the Communists were terribly powerful and we had so few assets,” he said.
Efforts to conceal those ties spanned decades.
When the Justice Department was preparing in 1994 to prosecute a senior Nazi collaborator in Boston named Aleksandras Lileikis, the C.I.A. tried to intervene.
The agency’s own files linked Mr. Lileikis to the machine-gun massacres of 60,000 Jews in Lithuania. He worked “under the control of the Gestapo during the war,” his C.I.A. file noted, and “was possibly connected with the shooting of Jews in Vilna.”
Even so, the agency hired him in 1952 as a spy in East Germany — paying him $1,700 a year, plus two cartons of cigarettes a month — and cleared the way for him to immigrate to America four years later, records show.
Mr. Lileikis lived quietly for nearly 40 years, until prosecutors discovered his Nazi past and prepared to seek his deportation in 1994.
When C.I.A. officials learned of the plans, a lawyer there called Eli Rosenbaum at the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit and told him “you can’t file this case,” Mr. Rosenbaum said in an interview. The agency did not want to risk divulging classified records about its ex-spy, he said.
Mr. Rosenbaum said he and the C.I.A. reached an understanding: If the agency was forced to turn over objectionable records, prosecutors would drop the case first. (That did not happen, and Mr. Lileikis was ultimately deported.)
The C.I.A. also hid what it knew of Mr. Lileikis’s past from lawmakers.
In a classified memo to the House Intelligence Committee in 1995, the agency acknowledged using him as a spy but made no mention of the records linking him to mass murders. “There is no evidence,” the C.I.A. wrote, “that this Agency was aware of his wartime activities.”
alternet | And then those legislatures redrew the lines from the census, and made more safe districts for hardcore right-wingers, and protected their incumbents. Unpleasant, huh? The same situation will present itself in 2020. Will there be more powerful liberal and progressive groups in place in all those states and others? If not, the road to progressive oblivion will be further greased. For those who are electorally oriented, the next six years are very important if we are able to make headway electorally, which sadly is not going to happen in 2014, with a few notable exceptions.
In a recent AlterNet article by Amanda Marcotte, I was struck by this statistic about the extent of steady polarization going on in the country: "Previous Pew research shows the percentage of Americans who are ‘mostly’ or ‘consistently’ conservative has grown 50 percent from 18 percent in 2004 to 27 percent in 2014, while the number of people considered liberal has remained the same."
The conservative propaganda apparatus is changing minds, convincing people that climate change is not a problem, that government is the problem, and motivating them to vote for increasingly extreme candidates in very red districts that are committed to paralyzing our government. For them it is a war; and they are not interested in compromise.
Most progressives are not prepared for a future where politics is even more dicey and dangerous than it is now. So we have to stop going through the motions of not producing change and get down to the basics where and when we can make a difference.
Let's do more political action with friends and colleagues. Let's agree that a higher level of popular political education and self-reflection is necessary. Let's build up ways in our neighborhoods, cities and towns, where progress can be made to protect ourselves from hostilities and repression from the hugely militarized police and the massive network of spying on us. More repression is bound to come.
It is time to take a hard look at why and how we have failed. And we need to rethink pretty much everything, along the way. As Robert Jensen writes in his mini book and on AlterNet, "We are all apocalyptic now."
Sunday, October 26, 2014
frontiersin | Individuals with a predisposition to mental disorder may utilize different strategies, or they may use familiar strategies in unusual ways, to solve creative tasks. For over a century, knowledge of psychopathological states in the brain has illuminated our knowledge of normal brain states, and that should also be the case with the study of the creative brain. Neuroscience can approach this study in two ways. First, it can identify genetic variations that may underlie both creativity and psychopathology. This molecular biology approach is already underway, with several studies indicating polymorphisms of the DRD2 and DRD4 genes (Reuter et al., 2006; Mayseless et al., 2013), the 5HT2a gene (Ott et al., 2005) and the NRG1 gene (Kéri, 2009) that have been associated with both creativity and certain forms of psychopathology.
Second, brain imaging work can be applied to the study of the cognitive mechanisms that may be commonly shared between creativity and psychopathology. For example, psychologists have long suggested that both schizotypal and highly creative individuals tend to utilize states of cognitive disinhibition to access associations that are ordinarily hidden from conscious awareness (e.g., Kris, 1952; Koestler, 1964; Eysenck, 1995). Research is revealing that indeed both highly creative subjects and subjects who are high in schizotypy demonstrate more disinhibition during creative tasks than less creative or less schizotypal subjects (see Martindale, 1999; Carson et al., 2003; Abraham and Windmann, 2008; Dorfman et al., 2008). However, the neural substrates of cognitive disinhibition, as applied to creativity, need to be further studied.
My colleagues and I have found that cognitive disinhibition (in the form of reduced latent inhibition) combined with very high IQ levels predicts extraordinary creative achievement (Carson et al., 2003). These results have since been replicated (Kéri, 2011). We hypothesized that cognitive disinhibition allows a broadening of stimuli available to consciousness while high IQ affords the cognitive resources to process and manipulate that increased stimuli to form novel and creative ideas without the individual becoming overwhelmed and confused. What we did not test is whether the high creative achievers in our studies exhibited phasic changes in latent inhibition, or whether their reduced inhibition was more trait-like, as is seen in persons at risk for psychosis. Because latent inhibition tasks are compatible with neuroimaging, the study of controlled cognitive disinhibition is one area of potential study for the neuroscience of creativity.
Additional areas of study are suggested by the shared vulnerability model of creativity and psychopathology (Carson, 2011, 2013). The shared vulnerability model suggests that creativity and psychopathology may share genetically-influenced factors that are expressed as either pathology or creativity depending upon the presence or absence of other moderating factors (see Figure 1). The shared vulnerability components that have been identified, in addition to cognitive disinhibition, include novelty salience, neural hyperconnectivity, and emotional lability.
radiolab | Bob Milne is one of the best ragtime piano players in the world, and a preternaturally talented musician -- he can play technically challenging pieces of music on demand while carrying on a conversation and cracking jokes. But according to Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Betterman, our brains just aren't wired to do that. So she decided to investigate Bob's brain, and when she did, she discovered that Bob has an even more amazing ability... one that we can hardly believe, and science can't explain. Reporter Jessica Benko helps us get inside Bob's remarkably musical mind.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
thelancet | A substantial scale-up in public health response is needed to control the unprecedented Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic in west Africa. Current international commitments seek to expand intervention capacity in three areas: new EVD treatment centres, case ascertainment through contact tracing, and household protective kit allocation. We aimed to assess how these interventions could be applied individually and in combination to avert future EVD cases and deaths.
Methods - We developed a transmission model of Ebola virus that we fitted to reported EVD cases and deaths in Montserrado County, Liberia. We used this model to assess the effectiveness of expanding EVD treatment centres, increasing case ascertainment, and allocating protective kits for controlling the outbreak in Montserrado. We varied the efficacy of protective kits from 10% to 50%. We compared intervention initiation on Oct 15, 2014, Oct 31, 2014, and Nov 15, 2014. The status quo intervention was defined in terms of case ascertainment and capacity of EVD treatment centres on Sept 23, 2014, and all behaviour and contact patterns relevant to transmission as they were occurring at that time. The primary outcome measure was the expected number of cases averted by Dec 15, 2014.
Findings - We estimated the basic reproductive number for EVD in Montserrado to be 2·49 (95% CI 2·38—2·60). We expect that allocating 4800 additional beds at EVD treatment centres and increasing case ascertainment five-fold in November, 2014, can avert 77 312 (95% CI 68 400—85 870) cases of EVD relative to the status quo by Dec 15, 2014. Complementing these measures with protective kit allocation raises the expectation as high as 97 940 (90 096—105 606) EVD cases. If deployed by Oct 15, 2014, equivalent interventions would have been expected to avert 137 432 (129 736—145 874) cases of EVD. If delayed to Nov 15, 2014, we expect the interventions will at best avert 53 957 (46 963—60 490) EVD cases.
Interpretation - The number of beds at EVD treatment centres needed to effectively control EVD in Montserrado substantially exceeds the 1700 pledged by the USA to west Africa. Accelerated case ascertainment is needed to maximise effectiveness of expanding the capacity of EVD treatment centres. Distributing protective kits can further augment prevention of EVD, but it is not an adequate stand-alone measure for controlling the outbreak. Our findings highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of EVD cases and deaths.
Funding - US National Institutes of Health.