Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Ayn Rand Seduced Young Minds

rawstory |  The ‘Atlas Shrugged’ author made selfishness heroic and caring about others weakness.
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society….To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961
Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

But Rand’s impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.

Visualizing the Collapse of the American Middle Class

visualcapitalist |  The fact is many people have less money in their pockets – and understandably, this has motivated people to take action against the status quo.

And while the collapse of the middle class and income inequality are issues that receive a fair share of discussion, we thought that this particular animation from Metrocosm helped to put things in perspective. 

The following animation shows the change in income distribution in 20 major U.S. cities between 1970 and 2015:
Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities
The differences between 1970 and 2015 are intense. At first, each distribution is more bell-shaped, with the majority of people in a middle income bracket – and by 2015, those people are “pushed” out towards the extremes as they either get richer or poorer.

A Broader Look at Income Inequality

This phenomenon is not limited to major cities, either. 

Here’s another look at the change in income distribution using smaller brackets and the whole U.S. adult population:

Income distribution
Courtesy of: FT (h/t Metrocosm)

It’s a multi-faceted challenge, because while a significant portion of middle class households are being shifted into lower income territory, there are also many households that are doing the opposite. According to Pew Research, the percentage of households in the upper income bracket has grown from 14% to 21% between 1971 and 2015.

The end result? With people being pushed to both ends of the spectrum, the middle class has decreased considerably in size. In 1971, the middle class made up 61% of the adult population, and by 2014 it accounted for less than 50%. 

As this “core” of society shrinks, it aggravates the aforementioned problems. People and governments borrow more money to make up for a lack of middle class wealth, while backlashes against globalism, free trade, and open borders are fueled

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Secret Societies, Ancient Ciphers, Machine Translation

wired |  The master wears an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Before him, a candidate kneels in the candlelit room, surrounded by microscopes and surgical implements. The year is roughly 1746. The initiation has begun.

The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.

 The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles.

The master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another. This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the members say. Now you can see.

For more than 260 years, the contents of that page—and the details of this ritual—remained a secret. They were hidden in a coded manuscript, one of thousands produced by secret societies in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the peak of their power, these clandestine organizations, most notably the Freemasons, had hundreds of thousands of adherents, from colonial New York to imperial St. Petersburg. Dismissed today as fodder for conspiracy theorists and History Channel specials, they once served an important purpose: Their lodges were safe houses where freethinkers could explore everything from the laws of physics to the rights of man to the nature of God, all hidden from the oppressive, authoritarian eyes of church and state. But largely because they were so secretive, little is known about most of these organizations. Membership in all but the biggest died out over a century ago, and many of their encrypted texts have remained uncracked, dismissed by historians as impenetrable novelties.

It was actually an accident that brought to light the symbolic “sight-restoring” ritual. The decoding effort started as a sort of game between two friends that eventually engulfed a team of experts in disciplines ranging from machine translation to intellectual history. Its significance goes far beyond the contents of a single cipher. Hidden within coded manuscripts like these is a secret history of how esoteric, often radical notions of science, politics, and religion spread underground. At least that’s what experts believe. The only way to know for sure is to break the codes.

In this case, as it happens, the cracking began in a restaurant in Germany.

Thirteen years later, in January 2011, Schaefer attended an Uppsala conference on computational linguistics. Ordinarily talks like this gave her a headache. She preferred musty books to new technologies and didn’t even have an Internet connection at home. But this lecture was different. The featured speaker was Kevin Knight, a University of Southern California specialist in machine translation—the use of algorithms to automatically translate one language into another. With his stylish rectangular glasses, mop of prematurely white hair, and wiry surfer’s build, he didn’t look like a typical quant. Knight spoke in a near whisper yet with intensity and passion. His projects were endearingly quirky too. He built an algorithm that would translate Dante’s Inferno based on the user’s choice of meter and rhyme scheme. Soon he hoped to cook up software that could understand the meaning of poems and even generate verses of its own.

Knight was part of an extremely small group of machine-translation researchers who treated foreign languages like ciphers—as if Russian, for example, were just a series of cryptological symbols representing English words. In code-breaking, he explained, the central job is to figure out the set of rules for turning the cipher’s text into plain words: which letters should be swapped, when to turn a phrase on its head, when to ignore a word altogether. Establishing that type of rule set, or “key,” is the main goal of machine translators too. Except that the key for translating Russian into English is far more complex. Words have multiple meanings, depending on context. Grammar varies widely from language to language. And there are billions of possible word combinations.

Will Artificial Intelligence Be the Last Human Invention?

npr |   It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, ideas about a new industrial revolution.

JEREMY HOWARD: I mean, it's not just a new phase of the Industrial Revolution. It's a - it's an entirely new revolution.

RAZ: This is data scientist Jeremy Howard.

HOWARD: So we went through the process of replacing hunting and gathering with domestication. We went through the process of replacing animal energy with mechanical energy. We're now going through the process of replacing human intelligence with artificial intelligence.

RAZ: So for the past 25 years, Jeremy has been working on a technology called deep learning, and it's based on the way the human brain and nervous system work.

HOWARD: Deep learning relies on a particular kind of function called a neural network. It is heavily inspired by neuroscience and can actually compute anything.

RAZ: Anything because these machines can learn and perceive. They can see, hear, read, write. They can make decisions all while being able to process billions of data points.

HOWARD: It's creepy.

RAZ: Yeah.

HOWARD: And it's possibly about to get creepier.

RAZ: (Laughter) Oh, no. But before we get to the creepy part, we should point out we're already using these neural networks for a lot of pretty cool things.

HOWARD: So today, we have a thousand-layer neural networks doing things like Skype translation. I don't know if you've tried that.

RAZ: Yeah. We just actually tried it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Perturbational Complexity Index

nature |  Understanding the brain basis of consciousness remains one of the outstanding challenges in modern science. While rigorous definitions are still mainly lacking, consciousness can be defined rather broadly as that which “vanishes every night when we fall into dreamless sleep” and returns the next morning when we wake up1. Equally, when we are conscious, our conscious experiences are populated by a variety of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that collectively form an integrated conscious scene. These observations lead to an intuitive distinction between conscious level (how conscious one is) and conscious content (what one is conscious of, when one is conscious). The large majority of recent neuroscientific research into consciousness has treated these dimensions separately2,3,4,5. Investigations of conscious level typically contrast global changes in brain activity among different states including wakeful awareness, various sleep stages, and different forms of anaesthesia. Many of these studies attempt to isolate neural changes that accompany alterations of conscious level independently of changes in general physiological arousal. Studies of conscious content have focused primarily on uncovering differences in brain activity between closely matched conscious and unconscious perception, while conscious level is maintained constant6.

Recently, following early suggestions that increased conscious level may be related to an increased range of conscious contents3,7, there has been growing interest in characterising how conscious level and conscious content may relate2,5. One empirical approach to this question is to apply emerging measures of conscious level to experimental manipulations that primarily affect conscious content. Here, we capitalise on the profound effects on conscious phenomenology elicited by psychedelic compounds, specifically LSD, psilocybin, and subanesthetic doses of ketamine. These drugs normally have profound and widespread effects on conscious experiences of self and world. More specifically, they appear to “broaden” the scope of conscious contents, vivifying imagination8 and positively modulating the flexibility of cognition9,10. At the same time, the states they induce are not accompanied by a global loss of consciousness or the marked changes in physiological arousal as seen in sleep or anaesthesia. These observations raise the question of whether theoretically-grounded measures of conscious level would be changed in the psychedelic state.

Empirical measures of conscious level have reached a new benchmark with the development of the perturbational complexity index, PCI11. The PCI quantifies the diversity across channels and observations of the EEG response to a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulse and has been shown to robustly index levels of consciousness6, ranging from anaesthesia induced by various substances11,12, sleep stages11 and graded disorders of consciousness such as (emergence from) the minimally conscious state11,13. Notably, all these comparisons resulted in lower PCI values compared to a baseline state of wakeful awareness.  Fist tap Big Don.

Spiritual Reductionist Consciousness?  |  The Integrated Information Theory of consciousness derives a mathematical calculus and gives rise to something known as a consciousness meter, which a variety of clinical groups are now testing. If you have an anesthetized patient, or a patient who’s been in a really bad traffic accident, you don’t really know if this person is minimally conscious or in a vegetative state; you treat them as if they’re conscious, but they don’t respond in any meaningful way.

How can you be sure they’re conscious?
You’re never really sure. So you want a brain-based test that tells you if this person is capable of some experience. People have developed that based on this integrated information series. That’s big progress. The current state of my brain influences what happens in my brain the next second, and the past state of my brain influences what my brain does right now. Any system that has this cause-effect power upon itself is conscious. It derives from a mathematical measure. It could be a number that’s zero, which means a system with no cause-effect power upon itself. It’s not conscious. Or you have systems that are “Phi,” different from zero. The Phi measures, in some sense, the maximum capacity of the system to experience something. The higher the number, the more conscious the system.

So you could assign a number to everything that might have some degree of consciousness—whether it’s an ant, a lizard, bacteria, or a vegetative human being?
Yes, you or me, the Dalai Lama or Albert Einstein.

The higher the number, the more conscious?
The number by itself doesn’t tell you it’s now thinking, or is conscious of an image or a smell. But it tells you the capacity of the system to have a conscious experience. In some deep philosophical sense, the number tells you how much it exists. The higher the number, the more the system exists for itself. There isn’t a Turing Test for consciousness. You have to look at the way the system is built. You have to look at the circuitry, not its behavior, whether it’s a computer or a biological brain. This has now been tested and validated in many patients, including locked-in patients who are fully conscious, people under anesthesia who are not conscious, people in deep sleep, and those in vegetative states or minimal-conscious states. So the question now is whether this can be turned into something practical that can be used at every clinic in the country or the world to test patients who’ve just been in a bad traffic accident.

Obviously, there are huge implications. Do you turn off the life-support machines?
First, does the patient suffer or is nobody home anymore? In the famous case of Terri Schiavo, we could tell the brain stem was still functioning but there wasn’t anybody home. Her consciousness had disappeared 15 years earlier.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Does Anybody Really Need a Book to Explain Why Hillary Lost?

Review Hillary Clinton's 1969 Wellesley College thesis titled: “there is only the fight” published on line in pdf format, where the key insights can be found that Mrs. Clinton understood that Saul Alinsky’s “political faith” along with that of his fellow thinkers, MLK, Eugene Debs, Walt Whitman was simply “democracy”. 

In the last chapter of her thesis, she rejects the “ideal” of democracy for herself and points out that Alinksy’s solution of new deal style mass projects like the TVA to provide jobs might work in some other countries but not here in this country. She affirms that sentiment with the mocking cartoon appended to the end of her thesis. 

consortiumnews |  An early insider account of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, entitled Shattered, reveals a paranoid presidential candidate who couldn’t articulate why she wanted to be President and who oversaw an overconfident and dysfunctional operation that failed to project a positive message or appeal to key voting groups.

Okay, I realize that people who have been watching Rachel Maddow and other MSNBC programs – as well as reading The New York Times and The Washington Post for the past four months – “know” that Clinton ran a brilliant campaign that was only derailed because of “Russian meddling.” But this insider account from reporters Jonathan Allen and Annie Parnes describes something else.

As The Wall Street Journal review notes, the book “narrates the petty bickering, foolish reasoning and sheer arrogance of a campaign that was never the sure thing that its leader and top staffers assumed. … Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes stress two essential failures of the campaign, the first structural, the second political. The campaign’s structure, the authors write, was an ‘unholy mess, fraught with tangled lines of authority, petty jealousies, and no sense of greater purpose.’”

The book portrays Hillary Clinton as distant from her campaign staff, accessible primarily through her close aide, Huma Abedin, and thus creating warring factions within her bloated operation.

According to the Journal’s review by Barton Swaim, the book’s authors suggest that this chaos resulted from “the fact that Mrs. Clinton didn’t know why she wanted to be president. At one point no fewer than 10 senior aides were working on her campaign announcement speech, not one had a clear understanding of why Americans should cast their vote for Mrs. Clinton and not someone else. The speech, when she finally delivered it, was a flop – aimless, boring, devoid of much beyond bromides.”

The book cites a second reason for Clinton’s dismal performance – her team’s reliance on analytics rather than on reaching out to real voters and their concerns.

There is also an interesting tidbit regarding Clinton’s attitude toward the privacy of her staff’s emails. “After losing to Mr. Obama in the protracted 2008 primary,” the Journal’s review says, Clinton “was convinced that she had lost because some staffers – she wasn’t sure who – had been disloyal. So she ‘instructed a trusted aide to access the campaign’s server and download the [email] messages sent and received by top staffers.’”

America Cannot Be Great Until the Military and Police Uphold Their Oaths

washingtonsblog |  People around the world view the US as the greatest threat to peace; voted three times more dangerous than any other country. The data confirm this conclusion:
Rather than “drain the swamp” and focus US resources on US upgrades, President Trump joins our opponents with violating war law from two US treaties that armed attack is only lawful if, and only if, the US is under attack by another nation’s government.

Waiting for military honor
The ordinary US military are the used/abused pawns of the .01% psychopathic class. They enlist from economic need, desire to serve ideals within our Declaration of Independence and US Constitution, or from attraction to ideals within this profession. Although they’re trained to recognize unlawful orders within military duty, they are not trained to recognize unlawful Wars of Aggression. Of course, there are no lawful orders for unlawful war. Their Oaths of Enlistment swear them to protect and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There is no greater domestic enemy than .01% “leaders” who lie them into unlawful Wars of Aggression.

Because US military are the ones applying War Crimes onto the world, with all risk and suffering at their immediate experience, one would imagine growing factions refusing to obey lying “leaders” and dishonorable illegal armed attacks.

One would imagine, except We the People see no evidence.

NYTimes Says Assad Used Chemical Weapon Because RUSSIA!

consortiumnews |  the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.

Any other interpretation of a set of facts gets dismissed as “fringe” or “fake news” even if there are obvious holes in the official story and a lack of verifiable proof to support the mainstream groupthink. Very quickly, alternative explanations are cast aside while ridicule is heaped on those who disagree.

So, for instance, The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.

A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. The attack killed several soldiers and nine civilians including four children, according to Syrian press reports.

Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.

To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.

Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Shadow Brokers Hit NSA a Devastating Lick

Don't forget I told you cats about the NSA creep-tip two years ago, and gave you a concrete specific recommendation for shoring up your end-point game to protect at least a little something...,

FP |  Weaver believes that when the Shadow Brokers published a broad list of the tools in their possession in January, hoping to auction them off, the NSA moved quickly.

The NSA “did clearly, quietly tell Microsoft,” Weaver said, allowing the company to repair the holes before script kiddies and criminal hackers started figuring out the specifics of the exploits.
Microsoft published a massive patch exactly a month before the Shadow Brokers unleashed its trove.
Neither Microsoft nor the NSA immediately responded to a request for comment.

Before Microsoft revealed it had patched most of the holes, the Shadow Brokers’ release reignited the debate about when government agencies should be required to disclose vulnerabilities it finds in such major products as devices and browsers.

The White House’s Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which determines whether those flaws should be shared with the company in order to be repaired, or taken advantage of by intelligence agencies, was reinvigorated in 2014. The process involves several major agencies, which consider the likelihood that other nation states or criminal actors would come across the same flaws.

It’s unclear, however, which agencies are involved in the process and how those decisions are made. The agencies are not required to disclose vulnerabilities purchased or researched through government sponsorship. If the NSA told Microsoft about the tools, it was because the agency knew or suspected the vulnerabilities had been compromised.

Intelligence officials see the latest Shadow Brokers release as part of a larger erosion of capabilities that has been going on since 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden gave journalists internal NSA documents. Snowden’s leak kicked off a chain of damaging exposures that, while sparking an important worldwide debate about privacy, severely damaged U.S. intelligence capabilities, the former intelligence official argued.

One former TAO employee who spoke with Foreign Policy believes the release is “a bit dated,” because hacking tools to access more current Windows projects and other browsers weren’t included.
“It is a significant leak. … It gets harder to develop tools as defenses improve,” the former TAO employee said. “But it’s still entirely possible. There are many bugs to be found.”

But the intelligence community’s ability to keep those bugs secret for any amount of time continues to be questioned. In this latest leak, detailed NSA notes and work product were included in addition to technical details about the hacking tools — likely indicating deep-level access to TAO troves. “This should be on an NSA computer only,” Weaver told Foreign Policy.

The details the Shadow Brokers revealed are “scary,” the former cyberintelligence employee said, details that must be from internal emails, chat logs, or insider knowledge.

Only a handful of countries could have pilfered such sensitive material from the NSA remotely, the former TAO employee wrote, Russia and Israel the mostly likely among them.

“If it was an inside job like an operator [typically military] walking out with a thumb drive, then who knows,” the former TAO source wrote.

In recent years, the intelligence community has largely failed to detect insider threats and stem leaks from contractors. Thousands of private companies and their employees make up a massive percentage of the intelligence community’s workforce. As of a decade ago, about 70 percent of the intelligence community’s budget was spent on contracts, according to the Congressional Research Service.

New Evidence Syrian Gas Story Fabricated by the White House

nakedcapitalism  |  It is now clear from video evidence that the WHR report was fabricated without input from the professional intelligence community [emphasis mine (GP)].

The press reported on April 4 that a nerve agent attack had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria during the early morning hours locally on that day. On April 7, The United States carried out a cruise missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump. It now appears that the president ordered this cruise missile attack without any valid intelligence to support it [emphasis mine (GP)].

In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report on April 11 four days later [emphasis mine (GP)]. The individual responsible for this report was Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor. The McMaster report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot be explained as a simple error.

The National Security Council Intelligence Report clearly refers to evidence that it claims was obtained from commercial and open sources shortly after the alleged nerve agent attack (on April 5 and April 6). If such a collection of commercial evidence was done, it would have surely found the videos contained herein.

This unambiguously indicates a dedicated attempt to manufacture a false claim that intelligence actually supported the president’s decision to attack Syria, and of far more importance, to accuse Russia of being either complicit or a participant in an alleged atrocity [emphasis mine (GP)].
The attack on the Syrian government threatened to undermine the relationship between Russia and the United States. Cooperation between Russia and the United States is critical to the defeat of the Islamic State. In addition, the false accusation that Russia knowingly engaged in an atrocity raises the most serious questions about a willful attempt to do damage relations with Russia for domestic political purposes.
We repeat here a quote from the WHR:
An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun[Emphasis Added]. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.
The data provided in these videos make it clear that the WHR made no good-faith attempt to collect data that could have supported its “confident assessment.” that the Syrian government executed a sarin attack as indicated by the location and characteristics of the crater.

This very disturbing event is not a unique situation. President George W. Bush argued that he was misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq was hiding a substantial store of weapons of mass destruction. This false intelligence led to a US attack on Iraq that started a process that ultimately led to the political disintegration in the Middle East, which through a series of unpredicted events then led to the rise of the Islamic State [emphasis mine (GP)].

On August 30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 in Damascus [emphasis mine (GP)]. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. An interview with President Obama published in The Atlantic in April 2016 indicates that Obama was initially told that there was solid intelligence that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve agent attack of August 21, 2013 in Ghouta, Syria. Obama reported that he was later told that the intelligence was not solid by the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Equally serious questions are raised about the abuse of intelligence findings by the incident in 2013. Questions that have not been answered about that incident is how the White House produced a false intelligence report with false claims that could obviously be identified by experts outside the White House and without access to classified information. There also needs to be an explanation of why this 2013 false report was not corrected. Secretary of State John Kerry emphatically testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee repeating information in this so-called un-equivocating report.
On August 30, 2013 Secretary of State Kerry made the following statement from the Treaty Room in the State Department:
Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack [Emphasis added], and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves.
It is now obvious that this incident produced by the WHR, while just as serious in terms of the dangers it created for US security, was a clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that was certainly not supported by the intelligence community [emphasis mine (GP)].

In this case, the president, supported by his staff, made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. This action was accompanied by serious risks of creating a confrontation with Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts to win the war against the Islamic State.

I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people to protect themselves from domestic political criticisms for uninformed and ill-considered actions.

Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science,
Technology, and National Security Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

BBC News Massively Hypes North Korean ‘Threat’ To The United States

medialens |  One of the longstanding functions of the 'mainstream' media is to channel government ideology about who are 'the Good Guys' - that's 'us' and our allies - and who are the 'Bad Guys' – 'Putin's Russia', 'Saddam's Iraq', 'Chavez's Venezuela', 'Gaddafi's Libya' (until rehabilitated for a while by Blair) and North Korea.

Of course, 'we' often help 'Bad Guys' into power, even give them poison gas, sell them arms, and support them through thick and thin. But let's put all that to one side.
Consider a recent BBC News at Ten segment on the US, China and North Korea that began with presenter Huw Edwards saying:
'President Trump has said the United States will "solve" the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme. In an interview with the Financial Times, the president said the US would act alone if China would not intervene. He made his comments ahead of a visit to the US by the Chinese president later this week. Our North America editor, Jon Sopel, is at the White House.
'And, Jon, what does this tell us then about President Trump's approach to this upcoming visit?'
Jon Sopel: 'Well, Huw, for all the talk of surveillance and phone tapping and wire taps and Russia, this is the major strategic national security issue, at least as far as this White House is concerned. What to do about North Korea and their growing ability, it seems, to launch a nuclear missile that could hit the west coast of America.' (April 3, 2017; kindly captured and uploaded to YouTube for us by Steve Ennever)
As we will see, far from being responsible, 'impartial' journalism, this was blatant propaganda, depicting North Korea as a serious threat to the United States, capable of hitting California with a nuclear missile.

Consider, by contrast, a careful analysis by the US writer Adam Johnson in a piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting last month. 
Johnson noted that:
'Tensions between the United States and North Korea are making their way back into the news after a series of missile tests and presidential Twitter threats. Meanwhile, a conservative think tank—previously thought all but dead—has seen a resurgence in relevancy, thanks to its alignment with Donald Trump. The result is that the Heritage Foundation has provided much of the narrative backbone for North Korean/US relations in the age of Trump, making the rounds in dozens of media articles and television appearances.'
Johnson continued:
'One key feature of reports on North Korea's nuclear weapons program is the Hypothetical Scary Nuke Map that shows an entirely hypothetical, not-yet-proven-to-have-been-built intercontinental ballistic missile hitting the US mainland.'
Two types of missile, known as KN-14 and KN-08, are depicted in media reports as capable of reaching the United States.
Johnson highlighted the crucial fact that:
'These missiles have not been tested by North Korea'.
In other words, the media have been publishing 'misleading' maps that 'buried the fact that the range indicating the US could be nuked had not, in fact, been demonstrated.'

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Essence of Black Politics vs Essence Magazine's Headfake Politricks

essence |  For the first time ever, ESSENCE honors the women who are blazing trails for equal rights and inclusion for Black people in America.

The cover features a host of dynamic women, such as writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, veteran journalist Joy-Ann Reid, Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez. Plus, appearances from Women’s March organizer Janaye Ingram, political commentator Angela Rye, Circle of Mothers founder Sybrina Fulton, author/blogger Luvvie Ajayi and social activist April Reign.  #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Opal Tometi and educator/activist Brittany Packnett are also featured.

When we say Black women will save the world, we’re being literal.

On the ­following pages, ESSENCE recognizes 88 more socially conscious change makers. By their example they ­empower all of us to take action.

Fake Virtue-Signalling By The Corporatocracy

oftwominds |  The Left is morally and fiscally bankrupt, devoid of coherent solutions, and corrupted by its embrace of the Corporatocracy.

History often surprises us with unexpected ironies. For the past century, the slide to fascism could be found on the Right (conservative, populist, nationalist political parties). 

But now it's the Left that's descending into fascism, and few seem to even notice this remarkable development. By Left I mean socialist-leaning, progressive, internationalist/globalist political parties. 

What is fascism? There is no one tidy definition, but it has three essential elements:
1) State and corporate elites govern society and the economy as one unified class.
2) This status quo (i.e. The Establishment) seeks to impose a conformity of values and opinion that support the dominant narratives of the status quo via the mass (corporate) media and the state-controlled educational system.
3) Dissent from any quarter is suppressed via mass-media ridicule, the judicial crushing and silencing of whistleblowers, and all the other powers of the central state: rendition, extra-legal imprisonment, political gulags (in our era, disguised as drug-war gulags), character assassination, murder by drone, impoverishing dissenters via firings and blacklists, and on and on. 

The Left is now the political wing of the corporatocracy. As Phillipe Poutou, a Ford factory mechanic from Bordeaux who is the sole working-class candidate in France's presidential election, so deliciously pointed out, the Left and Right status quo candidates are indistinguishable in terms of their self-serving corruption and elitism: Mechanic-Candidate Bursts French Political Elite's Bubble (NY Times) 

Here in the U.S., the self-serving Democratic Party elites operate within the Corporatocracy structure, in which the state protects and funds private-sector cartels; the two intertwined and self-reinforcing elites manifest and enforce state policies.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Syria Sarin Gas Attack Staged

IBTimes |  Theodore Postol, a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), issued a series of three reports in response to the White House's finding that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad perpetrated the attack on 4 April.

He concluded that the US government's report does not provide any "concrete" evidence that Assad was responsible, adding it was more likely that the attack was perpetrated by players on the ground.

Postol said: "I have reviewed the [White House's] document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria at roughly 6am to 7am on 4 April, 2017.

"In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document point to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of 4 April.

"This conclusion is based on an assumption made by the White House when it cited the source of the sarin release and the photographs of that source. My own assessment is that the source was very likely tampered with or staged, so no serious conclusion could be made from the photographs cited by the White House."

The image Postol refers to is that of a crater containing a shell inside, which is said to have contained the sarin gas.

His analysis of the shell suggests that it could not have been dropped from an airplane as the damage of the casing is inconsistent from an aerial explosion. Instead, Postol said it was more likely that an explosive charge was laid upon the shell containing sarin, before being detonated.

Trump Has Received and Will Obey his Marching Orders

strategic culture |  Donald Trump has reversed his national-security policies 180 degrees, and is now focusing it around conquering Russia, instead of around reducing the threat from jihadists. The reason for this drastic change is in order for him to be able to win the support of the U.S. aristocracy, who had overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton during the Presidential contest, and who (and whose ‘news’media) have been trying to portray Trump as «Putin’s fool» or even as «Putin’s Manchurian candidate» and thus as an illegitimate President or even traitor who is beholden to 'America’s enemy’ (which to them is Russia) for Trump’s having won the U.S. Presidency — which they had tried to block from happening.

Actually, even Republican billionaires generally preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump — and almost all of them hate Putin, who insists upon Russia’s independence, which the U.S. aristocracy call by all sorts of bad names, so that any American who even so much as merely questions the characterization of Russia as being an ‘enemy’ nation, is considered to be ‘unAmerican’, like in the days of communism and Joseph R. McCarthy, as if communism and the U.S.S.R. and its Warsaw Pact that mirrored America’s NATO military alliance, even existed today, which they obviously don’t. So: the U.S. Establishment’s portrayal of current international reality is so bizarre, it can be believed only by fools, but enough such fools exist so as to enable that Establishment to do horrific things, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 2011 invasion of Libya, just to name two examples, which got rid of two national leaders who were friendly toward Russia.) 

After Trump ditched his National Security Advisor Mike Flynn (whom Obama had fired for not being sufficiently anti-Russian, but Trump then hired) and replaced him with the rabidly anti-Russian H.R. McMaster (whom the aristocracy’s people were recommending to Trump), Trump was expecting to be relieved from the aristocracy’s intensifying campaign to impeach him or otherwise replace him and make the President his clearly pro-aristocratic Vice President Mike Pence, but the overthrow-Trump campaign continued even after McMaster became installed replacing Flynn. Then, perhaps because the replacement of Flynn by McMaster failed to satisfy the aristocracy, Trump additionally ousted Stephen Bannon and simultaneously bombed Syrian government forces, and now the campaign to overthrow Trump seems finally to have subsided, at least a bit, at least for now.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Six Main Arcs in Human Storytelling Identified by Artificial Intelligence

theatlantic |  “My prettiest contribution to my culture,” the writer Kurt Vonnegut mused in his 1981 autobiography Palm Sunday, “was a master’s thesis in anthropology which was rejected by the University of Chicago a long time ago.”

By then, he said, the thesis had long since vanished. (“It was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun,” Vonnegut explained.) But he continued to carry the idea with him for many years after that, and spoke publicly about it more than once. It was, essentially, this: “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers. They are beautiful shapes.”

That explanation comes from a lecture he gave, and which you can still watch on YouTube, that involves Vonnegut mapping the narrative arc of popular storylines along a simple graph. The X-axis represents the chronology of the story, from beginning to end, while the Y-axis represents the experience of the protagonist, on a spectrum of ill fortune to good fortune. “This is an exercise in relativity, really,” Vonnegut explains. “The shape of the curve is what matters.”
The most interesting shape to him, it turned out, was the one that reflected the tale of Cinderella, of all stories. Vonnegut visualizes its arc as a staircase-like climb in good fortune representing the arrival of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, leading all the way to a high point at the ball, followed by a sudden plummet back to ill fortune at the stroke of midnight. Before too long, though, the Cinderella graph is marked by a sharp leap back to good fortune, what with the whole business of (spoiler alert) the glass slipper fitting and the happily ever after.

This may not seem like anything special, Vonnegut says—his actual words are, “it certainly looks like trash”—until he notices another well known story that shares this shape. “Those steps at the beginning look like the creation myth of virtually every society on earth. And then I saw that the stroke of midnight looked exactly like the unique creation myth in the Old Testament.” Cinderella’s curfew was, if you look at it on Vonnegut’s chart, a mirror-image downfall to Adam and Eve’s ejection from the Garden of Eden. “And then I saw the rise to bliss at the end was identical with the expectation of redemption as expressed in primitive Christianity. The tales were identical.”

Artificial Intelligence Will Disclose Cetacean Souls

Scientists have struggled to understand dolphin vocalizations, but new computer tools to both track dolphins and decode their complex vocalizations are now emerging. Dr. Denise Herzing has been studying Atlantic spotted dolphins, Stenella frontalis, in the Bahamas for over three decades. Her video and acoustic database encompasses a myriad of complex vocalizations and dolphin behavior. Dr. Thad Starner works on mining this dataset and decoding dolphin sounds, and has created a wearable underwater computer, CHAT (Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry), to help establish a bridge for communication between humans and dolphins. Starner and Herzing will present this cutting-edge work and recent results, including perspectives on the challenges of studying this aquatic society, and decoding their communication signals using the latest technology.

qz |  The possibility of talking to animals has tickled popular imaginations for years, and with good reason. Who wouldn’t want to live in a Dr. Dolittle world where we could understand what our pets and animal neighbors are saying?

Animal cognition researchers have also been fascinated by the topic. Their work typically focuses on isolating animal communication to see if language is uniquely human, or if it could have evolved in other species as well. One of their top candidates is an animal known to communicate with particularly high intelligence: dolphins.

Dolphins—like many animals including monkeys, birds, cats, and dogs—clearly do relay messages to one another. They emit sounds (paywall) in three broad categories: clicks, whistles, and more complex chirps used for echolocation (paywall), a technique they use to track prey and other objects by interpreting ricocheting sound waves. Researchers believe these sounds can help dolphins communicate: Whistles can serve as unique identifiers, similar to names, and can alert the pod to sources of food or danger.

Communication is most certainly a part of what helps these animals live in social pods. But proving that dolphins use language—the way that you’re reading this article, or how you might talk to your friends about it later—is a whole different kettle of fish.

Physical Basis for Morphogenesis: On Growth and Form

nature |  Still in print, On Growth and Form was more than a decade in the planning. Thompson would regularly tell colleagues and students — he taught at what is now the University of Dundee, hence the local media interest — about his big idea before he wrote it all down. In part, he was reacting against one of the biggest ideas in scientific history. Thompson used his book to argue that Charles Darwin’s natural selection was not the only major influence on the origin and development of species and their unique forms: “In general no organic forms exist save such as are in conformity with physical and mathematical laws.”

Biological response to physical forces remains a live topic for research. In a research paper, for example, researchers report how physical stresses generated at defects in the structures of epithelial cell layers cause excess cells to be extruded.

In a separate online publication (K. Kawaguchi et al. Nature; 2017), other scientists show that topological defects have a role in cell dynamics, as a result of the balance of forces. In high-density cultures of neural progenitor cells, the direction in which cells travel around defects affects whether cells become more densely packed (leading to pile-ups) or spread out (leading to a cellular fast-lane where travel speeds up).

A Technology Feature investigates in depth the innovative methods developed to detect and measure forces generated by cells and proteins. Such techniques help researchers to understand how force is translated into biological function.

Thompson’s influence also flourishes in other active areas of interdisciplinary research. A research paper offers a mathematical explanation for the colour changes that appear in the scales of ocellated lizards (Timon lepidus) during development (also featured on this week’s cover). It suggests that the patterns are generated by a system called a hexagonal cellular automaton, and that such a discrete system can emerge from the continuous reaction-diffusion framework developed by mathematician Alan Turing to explain the distinctive patterning on animals, such as spots and stripes. (Some of the research findings are explored in detail in the News and Views section.) To complete the link to Thompson, Turing cited On Growth and Form in his original work on reaction-diffusion theory in living systems.

Finally, we have also prepared an online collection of research and comment from Nature and the Nature research journals in support of the centenary, some of which we have made freely available to view for one month.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

2017 Website@Most Important Lab at Harvard and Arguably the World?!?!


Hacking and Reprogramming Cells Like Computers

wired |  Cells are basically tiny computers: They send and receive inputs and output accordingly. If you chug a Frappuccino, your blood sugar spikes, and your pancreatic cells get the message. Output: more insulin.

But cellular computing is more than just a convenient metaphor. In the last couple of decades, biologists have been working to hack the cells’ algorithm in an effort to control their processes. They’ve upended nature’s role as life’s software engineer, incrementally editing a cell’s algorithm—its DNA—over generations. In a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers programmed human cells to obey 109 different sets of logical instructions. With further development, this could lead to cells capable of responding to specific directions or environmental cues in order to fight disease or manufacture important chemicals.

Their cells execute these instructions by using proteins called DNA recombinases, which cut, reshuffle, or fuse segments of DNA. These proteins recognize and target specific positions on a DNA strand—and the researchers figured out how to trigger their activity. Depending on whether the recombinase gets triggered, the cell may or may not produce the protein encoded in the DNA segment.

A cell could be programmed, for example, with a so-called NOT logic gate. This is one of the simplest logic instructions: Do NOT do something whenever you receive the trigger. This study’s authors used this function to create cells that light up on command. Biologist Wilson Wong of Boston University, who led the research, refers to these engineered cells as “genetic circuits.”

A Programming Language For Living Cells?

MIT |  MIT biological engineers have created a programming language that allows them to rapidly design complex, DNA-encoded circuits that give new functions to living cells.
Using this language, anyone can write a program for the function they want, such as detecting and responding to certain environmental conditions. They can then generate a DNA sequence that will achieve it.
“It is literally a programming language for bacteria,” says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. “You use a text-based language, just like you’re programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell.”
Voigt and colleagues at Boston University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have used this language, which they describe in the April 1 issue of Science, to build circuits that can detect up to three inputs and respond in different ways. Future applications for this kind of programming include designing bacterial cells that can produce a cancer drug when they detect a tumor, or creating yeast cells that can halt their own fermentation process if too many toxic byproducts build up.
The researchers plan to make the user design interface available on the Web.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Open Thread: More Human Than Human

Brain item -- AI processing problem...??
would require AI to have the listener's entire life history stored in its memory to determine proper context....??
Your brain fills gaps in your hearing without you realising
No BD. Not an AI processing problem, just an illustration of the mechanical and necessarily error-prone nature of both language and auditory language processing. It's not a Voight-Kampff test and "Context doesn't require a life history".  In fact, with the benefit of big data, and centralized cloud storage and processing of hundreds of thousands of utterances and their associated meanings, the probability of an AI making either the sensory or grammatical error is greatly reduced.  

...Here's a no-nonsense AI item: Turns out AI is not sufficiently stupid to allow PC liberals to shove ridiculous egalitarian concepts down its throat. AI just looks at the *FACTS* and calls it like it sees it....
Machine learning algorithms are picking up deeply ingrained race and gender prejudices concealed within the patterns of language use, scientists say
No BD. Unfortunately, you are still trapped in the realm of language and language constructs your reality. Your language reflects your tendencies - which are racist - and so what FRANK is reflecting back at you is not the truth, merely the truth about you.  Fist tap Big Don.