From The Atlantic
A private company has captured 2.2 billion photos of license plates in cities throughout America. It stores them in a database, tagged with the location where they were taken. And it is selling that data.
The company counts 3,000 law-enforcement agencies among its clients. Thirty thousand police officers have access to its database. Do your local cops participate?
If you’re not sure, that’s typical. To install a GPS tracking device on your car, your local police department must present a judge with a rationale that meets a Fourth Amendment test and obtain a warrant. But if it wants to query a database to see years of data on where your car was photographed at specific times, it doesn’t need a warrant––just a willingness to send some of your tax dollars to Vigilant Solutions, which insists that license plate readers are “unlike GPS devices, RFID, or other technologies that may be used to track.” Its website states that “LPR is not ubiquitous, and only captures point in time information. And the point in time information is on a vehicle, not an individual.”
But thanks to Vigilant, its competitors, and license-plate readers used by police departments themselves, the technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous over time. And Supreme Court jurisprudence on GPS tracking suggests that repeatedly collecting data “at a moment in time” until you’ve built a police database of 2.2 billion such moments is akin to building a mosaic of information so complete and intrusive that it may violate the Constitutional rights of those subject to it.
The company dismisses the notion that advancing technology changes the privacy calculus in kind, not just degree. An executive told The Washington Post that its approach “basically replaces an old analog function—your eyeballs,” adding, “It’s the same thing as a guy holding his head out the window, looking down the block, and writing license-plate numbers down and comparing them against a list. The technology just makes things better and more productive.” By this logic, Big Brother’s network of cameras and listening devices in 1984 was merely replacing the old analog technologies of eyes and ears in a more efficient manner, and was really no different from sending around a team of alert humans.
The vast scale of Vigilant’s operations is detailed in documents obtained through public-records laws by the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Last year, we learnedthat the NYPD was hoping to enter into a multi-year contract that would give it access to the nationwide database of license plate reader data,” the civil-liberties group announced Monday in a blog post linking to the document. “Now, through a Freedom of Information Law request, the NYCLU has obtained the final versionof the $442,500 contract and the scope-of-work proposal that gives a peek into the ever-widening world of surveillance made possible by Vigilant.”
As cities search for solutions to homelessness, Portland’s Dignity Village offers 60 men and women community and safety.
On a frigid January morning, a tour through Portland’s Dignity Village follows the same path its residents are required to travel. All were, or are, homeless.
Newcomers to this homeless refuge huddle in the warming station, a small portable with photos of smiling former residents and where they are required to stay during a 60-day probationary period.
They hope to graduate to a small makeshift home like Karen, a three-month resident whose boisterous laugh carries through the village.
Should it become a permanent home, they may find themselves in the position of Rick Proudfoot, a longtime resident who works in the site’s main office, keeping track of finances.
If they’re really lucky, they may end up like Lisa Larson, Dignity Village’s CEO.
“There’s a real sense of pride here, a real sense of community that you don’t find elsewhere.”
A peppy forty-something, she’s lived at Dignity Village the last six years after falling into homelessness to escape an abusive husband. She initially thought she’d stay no more than a few months. Today, Larson, who has been in her position for a year, can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“There’s a real sense of pride here, a real sense of community that you don’t find elsewhere,” she says.
From The Guardian
They write their own tax laws; they buy their own politicians. No wonder the wealth of the very richest people on the planet is ballooning
As metaphors go, this one takes some beating. This week, some of the richest people on Earth will gather high up a snowy mountain in the world’s biggest tax haven. Most will have paid big money to attend the three-day meeting in Davos: the most exclusive memberships cost somewhere in the region of £100,000 each. From there, they will relay thoughts on global risks and opportunities to the ski-jacketed press corps. They will talk about gender inequality and technological innovation. The message will go out: however turbulent the global economy, it is being capably stewarded.
These are our economic elites as they want the rest of us stuck on the flatlands below to see them: big-thinking, well-intentioned, hard-working – and thoroughly meritocratic. This is also how they justify the mammoth rewards they enjoy: we sweat for it; we’re worth it. The follow-up is usually only implied, but it is the one that underpins the entire system: put in enough hours and this could be you.
Ponder those numbers for a moment because they make up possibly the most grotesque ratio in the world economy today. Go through the 62 richest people and plenty of names jump out to show that any notions of meritocracy are a big fat lie. None of those 3.5 billion men, women, boys or girls will be born into a fortune such as that enjoyed by the Waltons of Walmart fame, in which just six people own $149bn. Nor will they ever get to be a Saudi royal such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, worth $26bn.
From Thom Hartmann
After 7 years in the White House, President Obama still hasn’t learned his lesson about Republicans.
Case in point: his conclusion to his State of the Union address.
Looking back on his time as commander-in-chief, the president regretted that he had not done more to change our country’s broken political system.
Someone with the political “gifts” of Lincoln or FDR might have been able to do so, he said, but not him.
The idea here is that Lincoln and FDR were great presidents because they brought people together and forced them to make compromises.
In other words, President Obama thinks that Lincoln and FDR were great presidents because they were “bipartisan.”
This is just flat-out wrong.
What made Lincoln and FDR great wasn’t the fact that they made compromises with their enemies; what made them great was fact that they fought their enemies and supported policies that were right, even if they made people on the other side of the aisle really, really angry.
From Andy Gill
The question is valid, “How much more do we have to take from the church until we have had enough?” The odd part of this question is that many of those asking this are Christian’s. It seems they’re tired of distorted images defining who and what they are, and deciding how the world views them.
Too many Christian’s are becoming fed up with Fox News or Pat Robertson and his 700 Club being the face of Christianity.
This age of information has informed it’s constituents that evangelicalism, as we know it, is no longer thriving, but is in fact dying (I’ve listed statistics else where to show this numerically, you can read those here and here). With the ability to share, and transfer information to anyone, anywhere, at any point in time, freely and without restriction, it’s exposed secrets in which the Church was formerly able to hide with ease.
It’s unmasked the lie of biblical inerrancy, deeply questioned Christianity’s historicity, and its won the war on homosexuality. As if this supposed war has not been enough to provoke outrage against the church, there’s the pervasive issue of hobby lobby, there’s “whistleblowers” reporting abuses by christian leadership, and there’s the unrelenting dehumanization of undocumented immigrants.
It seems as if the church has won many battles, but all at the cost of losing a war and their very own people.
From John Michael Greer
The new year now upon us has brought out the usual quota of predictions about what 2016 has in store, and I propose as usual to make my own contribution to that theme. I’ve noted more than once in the past that people who make predictions about the future really ought to glance back at those predictions from time to time and check how well they’re doing. With that in mind, before we go on to 2016, I’d like to take a moment to look back over the predictions I made last year. My post on the subject covered a lot of territory in the course of offering those predictions, and I’ve trimmed down the discussion a bit here for the sake of readability; those who want to read the whole thing as originally published will find it here. In summarized form, though, this is what I predicted:
“The first and most obvious [thing to expect] is the headlong collapse of the fracking bubble […] Wall Street has been using the fracking industry in all the same ways it used the real estate industry in the runup to the 2008 crash, churning out what we still laughably call “securities” on the back of a rapidly inflating speculative bubble. As the slumping price of oil kicks the props out from under the fracking boom, the vast majority of that paper—the junk bonds issued by fracking-industry firms, the securitized loans those same firms used to make up for the fact that they lost money every single quarter, the chopped and packaged shale leases, the volumetric production agreements, and all the rest of it—will revert to its actual value, which in most cases approximates pretty closely to zero.
From The New Yorker
The Trip Treatment
On an April Monday in 2010, Patrick Mettes, a fifty-four-year-old television news director being treated for a cancer of the bile ducts, read an article on the front page of the Times that would change his death. His diagnosis had come three years earlier, shortly after his wife, Lisa, noticed that the whites of his eyes had turned yellow. By 2010, the cancer had spread to Patrick’s lungs and he was buckling under the weight of a debilitating chemotherapy regimen and the growing fear that he might not survive. The article, headlined “HALLUCINOGENS HAVE DOCTORS TUNING IN AGAIN,” mentioned clinical trials at several universities, including N.Y.U., in which psilocybin—the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms—was being administered to cancer patients in an effort to relieve their anxiety and “existential distress.” One of the researchers was quoted as saying that, under the influence of the hallucinogen, “individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states . . . and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance.” Patrick had never taken a psychedelic drug, but he immediately wanted to volunteer. Lisa was against the idea. “I didn’t want there to be an easy way out,” she recently told me. “I wanted him to fight.”
Patrick made the call anyway and, after filling out some forms and answering a long list of questions, was accepted into the trial. Since hallucinogens can sometimes bring to the surface latent psychological problems, researchers try to weed out volunteers at high risk by asking questions about drug use and whether there is a family history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. After the screening, Mettes was assigned to a therapist named Anthony Bossis, a bearded, bearish psychologist in his mid-fifties, with a specialty in palliative care. Bossis is a co-principal investigator for the N.Y.U. trial.
From Brain Pickings
In 1957, Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) became the second youngest laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded to him for work that “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” (It was with this earnestness that, days after receiving the coveted accolade, he sent his childhood teacher a beautiful letter of gratitude.)
More than half a century later, his lucid and luminous insight renders Camus a timeless seer of truth, one who ennobles and enlarges the human spirit in the very act of seeing it — the kind of attentiveness that calls to mind his compatriot Simone Weil, whom he admired more than he did any other thinker and who memorably asserted that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Nowhere does Camus’s generous attention to the human spirit emanate more brilliantly than in a 1940 essay titled “The Almond Trees” (after the arboreal species that blooms in winter), found in his Lyrical and Critical Essays (public library) — the superb volume that gave us Camus on happiness, despair, and how to amplify our love of life. Penned at the peak of WWII, to the shrill crescendo of humanity’s collective cry for justice and mercy, Camus’s clarion call for reawakening our noblest nature reverberates with newfound poignancy today, amid our present age of shootings and senseless violence.
At only twenty-seven, Camus writes:
From WILLIAM EDELEN (2002)
The Contrary Minister
We live in an exciting and stimulating period of history. One age is dying… and the new age is not quite born.
We see radical changes in sexual patterns, lifestyles, marriage styles, women’s roles, family structures, education, energy, religion, the Christian church and in almost every conceivable aspect of life. We can withdraw in anxiety, or we can become negative and pessimistic. If we choose either of these paths, we forfeit our chance to participate in the creation of the future.
To live in this age, or any age, requires an enormous amount of courage, faith and willingness to take risks. But to participate in the forming of a future is to create. And courage, risk-taking, creativity and faith are the attributes that have continually reformed the structure of civilization.
What is creative courage? It is the willingness to pursue new forms, new symbols and new patterns of truth. The alternative is stagnation.
So imagine the joy that must have leapt into meat-eaters’ hearts when Tuesday, media outlets from around the world ran a story claiming that the environmental villain lurking in your refrigerator is not that salty slab of bacon, but that crisp head of lettuce hiding innocently in the salad drawer.
“Bacon lovers of the world, rejoice!” cried one article in Climatewire.
That celebration, however, should be short-lived. Sorry to break it to you, meat enthusiasts, but bacon isn’t necessarily better for the environment than lettuce.
The issue is that the original Carnegie Mellon study on which the claim was based looked at energy, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions on a per calorie basis. Comparing lettuce to bacon is taking a high-calorie meat and comparing it with a low-calorie vegetable — it’s an unfair comparison. In order to equal the calories in two and a half strips of bacon, you would have to eat an entire head of lettuce. Since you have to eat more lettuce to equal the calories of bacon, you have to first grow more lettuce — and that lettuce is going to use more resources like water and energy.
Organized opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schools in the United States began in the 1920s, leading to the famous Scopes Monkey trial. It continues today, but has evolved significantly from the outright bans.
In a new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), the evolutionary history of antievolution efforts in state legislatures is statistically reconstructed in a phylogenetic tree to reveal the genealogical relationships among lawmaking efforts over the past decade.
The study sheds light on the strategies used by creationists to influence the way biology is taught in the classroom.
While US courts have consistently ruled that teaching explicitly religious alternatives to evolution, such as creation science or intelligent design, violates the US Constitution, creationists have continued to fight legal and political battles to undermine the teaching of evolution.
From Capital Bay News
For Ron and Terry
Sticking to a vegetarian diet may not be as beneficial to the environment as you think — in fact, it might be helping to destroy it.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University has found that many common vegetables require more resources per calorie, and produce higher greenhouse gas emissions than some types of meat.
While lowering the weight of the general population has been shown to positively affect the environment, the researchers found that healthy eating leads to a higher environmental impact.
Sticking to a vegetarian diet may not be as beneficial to the environment as you think — in fact, it might be helping to destroy it. A study from Carnegie Mellon University has found that many common vegetables require more resources per calorie, and produce higher greenhouse gas emissions than some types of meat.
From Global Post
Thanks to Ron
White Americans are the biggest terror threat in the United States, according to a study by the New America Foundation. The Washington-based research organization did a review of “terror” attacks on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001 and found that most of them were carried out by radical anti-government groups or white supremacists.
Almost twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups in America than have died in attacks by Muslim extremists. Of the 26 attacks since 9/11 that the group defined as terror, 19 were carried out by non-Muslims. Yet there are no white Americans languishing inside the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. And there are no drones dropping bombs on gatherings of military-age males in the country’s lawless border regions.
Attacks by right-wing groups get comparatively little coverage in the news media. Most people will struggle to remember the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six people in 2012. A man who associated with neo-Nazi groups carried out that shooting. There was also the married couple in Las Vegas who walked into a pizza shop and murdered two police officers. They left a swastika on one of the bodies before killing a third person in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Such attacks are not limited to one part of the country. In 2011, two white supremacists went on a shooting spree in the Pacific Northwest, killing four people.
Terrorism is hard to define. But here is its basic meaning: ideological violence. In its study, the New America Foundation took a narrow view of what could be considered a terror attack. Most mass shootings, for instance, like Sandy Hook or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting — both in 2012 — weren’t included. Also not included was the killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina earlier this year. The shooter was a neighbor and had strong opinions about religion. But he also had strong opinions about parking spaces and a history of anger issues. So that shooting was left off the list.
The killing of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina was included. The shooter made it clear that his motivation was an ideological belief that white people are superior to black people. The shooting has cast new light on the issue of right-wing terrorism in the United States. But since it can’t really use Special Forces or Predator drones on US soil, it remains unclear how the government will respond.
His declaration that he would close the United States to all Muslim immigrants, including tourists and Muslim American citizens abroad trying to return home, confirmed both his fascistic tendencies and his undisguised bigotry, and made something else clear in the process: that he is simply a bad person.
As much as anything, this is the undercurrent that runs throughout the stories that have defined Trump since the beginning of his campaign: He mocked Vietnam POW John McCain for being captured during the war; he lobbed sexist jibes at Fox News host Megyn Kelly for daring to confront him about his history of misogyny; he mocked a disabled reporter, then falsely claimed he’d never met the man; he smeared immigrants as rapists; he’s Tweeted snide remarks about the wife of one of his competitors; when the crowd attacked a Black Lives Matter protestor at Trump campaign event last month, Trump sided with the crowd, saying he “should have been roughed up”; he insisted, contrary to all evidence, that thousands of Muslims celebrated the terror attack of 9/11 on camera; he lies constantly, flagrantly, and without shame.
The connecting tissue here is that, given practically any opportunity, Donald Trump will act in the most obnoxious and unpleasant way possible.