August 2014 Archives

When Whites Just Don't Get It

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It truly astonishes me how many Whites I know and meet cannot fathom the oppressive realities of White privilege and the systemic racism that engenders it. Fish and water.

After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less


Nicholas Kristof

Many white Americans say they are fed up with the coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A plurality of whites in a recent Pew survey said that the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News reflected that weariness, saying: "All you hear is grievance, grievance, grievance, money, money, money."

Indeed, a 2011 study by scholars at Harvard and Tufts found that whites, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

Yes, you read that right!

So let me push back at what I see as smug white delusion. Here are a few reasons race relations deserve more attention, not less:

• The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)

• The black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.

• A black boy born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white boy.

• Black students are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced math and science courses than white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.

• Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high school have been imprisoned.

All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.

Some straight people have gradually changed their attitudes toward gays after realizing that their friends -- or children -- were gay. Researchers have found that male judges are more sympathetic to women's rights when they have daughters. Yet because of the de facto segregation of America, whites are unlikely to have many black friends: A study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that in a network of 100 friends, a white person, on average, has one black friend.

That's unfortunate, because friends open our eyes. I was shaken after a well-known black woman told me about looking out her front window and seeing that police officers had her teenage son down on the ground after he had stepped out of their upscale house because they thought he was a prowler. "Thank God he didn't run," she said.

One black friend tells me that he freaked out when his white fiancée purchased an item in a store and promptly threw the receipt away. "What are you doing?" he protested to her. He is a highly successful and well-educated professional but would never dream of tossing a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting.

Some readers will protest that the stereotype is rooted in reality: Young black men are disproportionately likely to be criminals.

That's true -- and complicated. "There's nothing more painful to me," the Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, "than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery -- then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved."

All this should be part of the national conversation on race, as well, and prompt a drive to help young black men end up in jobs and stable families rather than in crime or jail. We have policies with a robust record of creating opportunity: home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership; early education initiatives like Educare and Head Start; programs for troubled adolescents like Youth Villages; anti-gang and anti-crime initiatives like Becoming a Man; efforts to prevent teen pregnancies like the Carrera curriculum; job training like Career Academies; and job incentives like the earned-income tax credit.

The best escalator to opportunity may be education, but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.

So a starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.

Why Fox News Needs to Be Dismantled

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Fox News is Tearing Us Apart

Race Baiting and Divisiveness Hits a Disgusting New Low

The continuing right-wing effort to make a hero out of Michael Brown's killer, Darren Wilson, may not turn out so well, if the past is any guide. Remember Cliven Bundy? Donald Sterling? George Zimmerman?

Just because liberals don't like someone doesn't mean he should automatically be a hero to conservatives. There was a point when even the National Review seemed to recognize this -- editor Rich Lowry once wrote a column titled " Al Sharpton Is Right," about the need for charges to be filed against George Zimmerman, when Florida officials were dragging their heels.

oreilly.pngBut that time is long gone, apparently. And as a result, the right seems well on its way to aligning with the reemergence of a 21st century form of lynching, even while furiously insisting that they are totally post-racial. Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling -- the more readily and thoroughly renounced -- didn't kill anyone, of course. But Zimmerman and Wilson both did, and both, to varying degrees, acted under color of law, which is precisely how plain old-fashioned lynching used to work, in a shadow realm that would not have allowed the killing of whites (except, of course, for "race traitors" who allied with blacks).

It didn't take long for people to start rallying to Darren Wilson's defense. In less than a week, several hundred thousand dollars had been raised on his behalf -- with a healthy smattering of hateful racist messages in support, such as "I would have donated double this amount, but you missed his accomplice" -- and Fox News had run a flood of false, unsourced stories, claiming that Wilson's eye socket had been broken, implicitly "proving" that he had been in a heroic struggle for his life.

It was the overnight creation of what Joan Walsh called "a thriving franchise of the nation's booming white grievance industry." In contrast, things moved more slowly when it came to making George Zimmerman a hero. Fox News and most of the rest of the right virtually ignored Trayvon Martin's killing for months, and even when they suddenly snapped to, it took a while for them to adopt Zimmerman as one of their own. Now, in contrast, it's all happening at warp speed.

Two decades ago, the acquittal of the officers who beat up Rodney King touched off the most widespread urban riot in a generation, but there was nothing similar in that coverage to the way that first Zimmerman, and now, apparently, Wilson are being treated as heroic figures. Given the role right-wing media plays in hero creation, it was only natural to turn to Media Matters for some perspective, and senior fellow Eric Boehlert made several points to Salon, to describe how we got here.

First, Boehlert reminded us, today's conservative media were unlike anything in existence in 1992; second, that it was Obama's relatively benign comments that led conservatives to politicize the killing of Trayvon Martin; and third, that conservative media's 16-month involvement in smearing Trayvon Martin and defending George Zimmerman had created a new narrative niche, which was now readily filled with similar attacks on Michael Brown and defense of Darren Wilson. (Though Boehlert was describing the broad sweep of developments, one Media Matters blog post highlighted Geraldo Rivera's virtually identical pattern of victim-blaming in both cases.)

Finally, more broadly, Boehlert noted that white victimization -- and thus rallying around victim/heroes -- is the cornerstone of Fox News' programming, even as it's embraced the ideology that racism has been eradicated ( never mind the actual facts), and concluded that the real racists are those who still talk about race.

Rest of article

What Really Matters in the End?

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Selfless Heart.

Sermonette #231 Sharing

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Age Old Question Answered

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How Do Lizards Regrow Their Tails?


Lizards, when confronted by hawks or sadistic children, have a neat trick for escaping: they can lose their tail and then regrow a new one. Scientists now think they have the "genetic recipe" for how lizards do this, a development that could one day help humans regrow things like muscle tissue and spinal cords
The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE, looked at the tail of the green anole lizard. While other animals, like salamanders, frog tadpoles and fish, have the ability to regrow their tails just at the tip, lizards can have satellite cells throughout their entire tails that can regrow into skeletal muscle.

Scientists removed the tails from five lizards, chopped them into sections, as they are wont to do, and identified 326 genes in each section committed to regrowing the tail. The hope is that by discovering the exact mixture and amount of the genetic ingredients in lizard tails, researchers can discover new treatments for a plethora of human diseases, injuries and birth defects.

Poem of Centuries

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A Century of Disaster: Riddles, Lies and Lives -- from Muhammad Ali to Barbie

by Eduardo Galeano



He learned to write in the language of Georgia, his homeland, but in the seminary the monks made him speak Russian.

Years later in Moscow, his south Caucasus accent still gave him away.

So he decided to become more Russian than the Russians. Was not Napoleon, who hailed from Corsica, more French than the French? And was not Catherine the Great, who was German, more Russian than the Russians?

The Georgian, Iosif Dzhugashvili, chose a Russian name. He called himself Stalin, which means "steel."

The man of steel expected his son to be made of steel too: from childhood, Stalin's son Yakov was tempered in fire and ice and shaped by hammer blows.

It did not work. He was his mother's child. At the age of 19, Yakov wanted no more of it, could bear no more.

He pulled the trigger.

The gunshot did not kill him.

He awoke in the hospital. At the foot of the bed, his father commented:

"You can't even get that right."

The Ages of Josephine

At nine years old, she works cleaning houses in St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi.

At 10, she starts dancing for coins in the street. At 13, she marries.

At 15, once again. Of the first husband she retains not even a bad memory. Of the second, his last name, because she likes how it sounds.

At 17, Josephine Baker dances the Charleston on Broadway. At 18, she crosses the Atlantic and conquers Paris. The "Bronze Venus" performs in the nude, with no more clothing than a belt of bananas.

At 21, her outlandish combination of clown and femme fatale makes her the most popular and highest-paid performer in Europe.

At 24, she is the most photographed woman on the planet. Pablo Picasso, on his knees, paints her. To look like her, the pallid young damsels of Paris rub themselves with walnut cream, which darkens the skin.

At 30, she has problems in some hotels because she travels with a chimpanzee, a snake, a goat, two parrots, several fish, three cats, seven dogs, a cheetah named Chiquita who wears a diamond-studded collar and a little pig named Albert, whom she bathes in Je Reviens perfume by Worth.

At 40, she receives the Legion of Honor for service to the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation.

At 41 and on her fourth husband, she adopts 12 children of many colors and many origins, whom she calls "my rainbow tribe."

At 45, she returns to the United States. She insists that everyone, whites and blacks, sit together at her shows. If not, she will not perform. At 57, she shares the stage with Martin Luther King and speaks against racial discrimination before an immense crowd at the March on Washington.

At 68, she recovers from a calamitous bankruptcy and at the Bobino Theater in Paris she celebrates a half-century on the stage.

And she departs.

Photograph: Saddest Eye in the World

Princeton, New Jersey, May 1947.

Photographer Philippe Halsman asks him: "Do you think there will be peace?"

And while the shutter clicks, Albert Einstein says, or rather mutters: "No."

People believe that Einstein got the Nobel Prize for his theory of relativity, that he was the originator of the saying "Everything is relative," and that he was the inventor of the atom bomb.

The truth is they did not give him a Nobel for his theory of relativity and he never uttered those words. Neither did he invent the bomb, although Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been possible if he had not discovered what he did.

He knew all too well that his findings, born of a celebration of life, had been used to annihilate it.

Father of the Computer

Alan Turing was sneered at for not being a tough guy, a he-man with hair on his chest.

He whined, croaked, stuttered. He used an old necktie for a belt. He rarely slept and went without shaving for days. And he raced from one end of the city to the other all the while concocting complicated mathematical formulas in his mind.

Working for British intelligence, he helped shorten the Second World War by inventing a machine that cracked the impenetrable military codes used by Germany's high command.

At that point he had already dreamed up a prototype for an electronic computer and had laid out the theoretical foundations of today's information systems. Later on, he led the team that built the first computer to operate with integrated programs. He played interminable chess games with it and asked it questions that drove it nuts. He insisted that it write him love letters. The machine responded by emitting messages that were rather incoherent.

But it was flesh-and-blood Manchester police who arrested him in 1952 for gross indecency.

At the trial, Turing pled guilty to being a homosexual.

To stay out of jail, he agreed to undergo medical treatment to cure him of the affliction. The bombardment of drugs left him impotent. He grew breasts. He stayed indoors, no longer went to the university. He heard whispers, felt stares drilling into his back.

He had the habit of eating an apple before going to bed.

One night, he injected the apple with cyanide.

Cat Trap

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So while you are loving the silly antics of cats on youtube, hackers are gaining access to your computer and personal information or just turning your computer into a robot to serve the hacker's ends no matter what they might be.

Watch This Cat Video (or Anything on YouTube) and Get Hacked

On an Internet in which large flows of traffic and information remain unencrypted, seemingly harmless activities like watching YouTube videos can allow security and intelligence agencies and well-funded private parties total access to a person's computer.

Morgan Marquis-Boire, a senior researcher and technical adviser at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs who published a new study on the topic, describes in an article in The Intercept on Friday how such hacking can happen:

Companies such as Hacking Team and FinFisher sell devices called "network injection appliances." These are racks of physical machines deployed inside internet service providers around the world, which allow for the simple exploitation of targets. In order to do this, they inject malicious content into people's everyday internet browsing traffic. One way that Hacking Team accomplishes this is by taking advantage of unencrypted YouTube video streams to compromise users. The Hacking Team device targets a user, waits for that user to watch a YouTube clip like the one above, and intercepts that traffic and replaces it with malicious code that gives the operator total control over the target's computer without his or her knowledge. The machine also exploits Microsoft's web site in the same manner.

Read more here.

A Plutocrat Dreams of Pitchforks

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Nick Hanauer is a rich guy, an unrepentant capitalist -- and he has something to say to his fellow plutocrats:

Wake up!

Growing inequality is about to push our societies into conditions resembling pre-revolutionary France. Hear his argument about why a dramatic increase in minimum wage could grow the middle class, deliver economic prosperity ... and prevent a revolution.

Questionable thinking

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A question:

So do you tell him.... or just stand back and watch what happens??


Oliver on Pay Day Loans

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Not Just Ferguson


by Alex Kane

The "war on terror" has come home -- and it's wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.

The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization -- complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades -- when President Reagan intensified the "war on drugs," the post-9/11 "war on terror" has added fuel to the fire.

Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, "police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft." The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what looks like an invading army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page report titled, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that this police militarization "unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion."

The information contained in the ACLU report -- and in other investigations into the phenomenon -- is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the almost complete lack of debate on these policies, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the "war on drugs," impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important -- and horrifying -- things you should know about the militarization of police.

1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary and try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying in these kinds of raids, and 46 people being injured. That's only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the true number is actually higher.

Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson's door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.

2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there's a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children can be caught in the crossfire -- with devastating consequences.

In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flash-bang grenade -- despite the presence of kids' toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father's nephew on drug charges. He wasn't there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was -- and the grenade landed in his crib.

Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.

Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones died in Detroit. The city's Special Response Team (Detroit's SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.

Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation's Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: "What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country...Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units."

Bou Bou and Jones aren't the only cases of children being impacted.

According to the ACLU, "of the 818 deployments studied, 14 percent involved the presence of children and 13 percent did not." It was impossible to determine whether children were present in the rest of the cases studied.

Snowden Still Wants to Come Home

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Edward Snowden may have recently received a three-year extension of his stay in Russia, but the former National Security Agency contractor says in a new interview with WIRED magazine that he still clings to hope of returning home to the United States, even if it means living behind bars.


Edward Snowden: 'I'd volunteer for prison' to return to US

"I told the government I'd volunteer for prison, as long as it served the right purpose," Snowden said the article released Wednesday. "I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can't allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I'm not going to be part of that."

Described by WIRED as "the most wanted man in the world," Snowden is being sought for leaking top-secret documents that unveiled widespread surveillance programs overseen by the federal government. He currently is hiding out in an undisclosed community in Russia, where he says he goes mostly unrecognized

Best Way to Die

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I don't why this struck me as so funny;;;


Robin Williams Sheds His Coil

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One of my favorite performers and human beings has succumbed to his latest bout with depression.

Right/Wrong Place & Time or What?

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Yunzhi Ziao Earns 'Calm Brother' Moniker as Knife Lodges in Head

BEIJING - A pedestrian's head was impaled with a knife that fell from an eighth-story balcony. Yunzhi Xiao, 57, was walking to a supermarket in Guangyuan, China, when he suddenly felt a "very heavy weight" on his head.

knife in head.jpg"It hurt a lot," Xiao told NBC News from his hospital bed. "I cried out, 'My head! My head hurts!' but I did not know what had happened." A street vendor shouted at Xiao, "There is a knife in your head!" He managed to walk another 100 yards before the pain became too much and he was forced to sit down at a phone booth. "Some warm-hearted people passing by saw me bleeding and called the police who took me to a traditional Chinese medicine hospital," Xiao added. "A few hours later doctors took the knife out of my head." According to local media reports and what Xiao was told by police, a knife that was being used on a balcony garden was knocked over the ledge by the wind on Thursday.

Racist Are Zombies

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Aim for the head.

Here's the problem in a nutshell:

from Bill Moyer's site

Watch "Bill Remembers LBJ's Road to War," in which Bill looks back on President Johnson's deliberations over America's role in Vietnam and his decision to escalate and send in more troops.

People Who Need To Eliminated

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We can start the list with the people at at Gamma Group International who author highly sophisticated and intrusive spyware and sell it to whoever can afford the $4M price tag.

Gamma International offers advanced spyware, which has repeatedly been discovered in countries who mistreat journalists, like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The Finfisher Technology sold by Gamma International is able to read encrypted files, emails and listen in to voice over IP calls. Among the targeted was Ala'a Shehabi, a journalist, university lecturer and activist from Bahrain, now living in London.

The company:

Country of origin: UK / Germany

Gamma International is part of the UK-based Gamma Group, which specializes in surveillance and monitoring equipment (both on- and offline) as well as training services. Gamma has offices and subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, including the Channel Islands, and Germany, but also in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.[1]

The Gamma Group of companies, established in 1990, provides advanced technical surveillance, monitoring solutions, and advanced government training, as well as international consultancy to national and state intelligence departments and law enforcement agencies.[2]

Gamma International is owned by Louthean John Alexander Nelson, son of Gamma Founder William Louthean Nelson, and Martin Johannes Münch (MJM). [3] Gamma is closely connected to German company Elaman ; the two companies are sharing an address and a phone number. Gamma has confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that Elaman is a retailer for its products.

Gamma International sells interception equipment to government and law enforcement agencies exclusively. Its FinFisher Suite (which includes Trojans to infect PCs, mobile phones, other consumer electronics and servers, as well as technical consulting) is regarded as one of the most advanced in today's market. A computer or smartphone is remotely infected by a Trojan, which is then controlled by government agencies through command and control servers. A computer can be infected via false update notifications of software, malicious emails or through physical access to a machine. Finfisher also offers technology to infect an entire Internet cafe in order to survey all possible users. When installed, it is almost impossible to safely remove the Trojan. Also, there are no safe ways to circumvent Finfisher on an infected machine.

The software is said to be able to bypass common methods and anti-virus detection. It can listen in to Skype talks, chats and encrypted emails and is even able to turn on a computer's microphone or webcam remotely. With FinFisher technology, it is even possible to gain access to encrypted files on a hard drive. Those Finfisher-features are promoted by the firm in different advertising videos

Leaked Docs Show Spyware Used to Snoop on U.S. Computers

By Jeff Larson and Mike Tigas, ProPublica

Software created by the controversial U.K. based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the U.K., Germany, Russia, Iran and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

It's not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer email addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer and the Qatari government.

The leaked files -- which were posted online by hackers -- are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma's software (html version of .pdf file at this link) to spy on dissidents, journalists and activist groups.

O Canada!

HitchBOT, the hitch-hiking robot, is now at the halfway point in its journey across Canada. For its 3,870-mile journey, the talking robot will rely solely on the kindness of human strangers, like those below.

The journey is part of a social experiment to see if it can arrive in one piece at an art gallery in Victoria, British Columbia.


ABOVE: HitchBOT waits for a ride on the Trans-Canada Highway on Aug. 5.(click to enlarge)


Belgian tourists Kim Van Aerde, left, and Seb Leeson pose with their hitchhiker, HitchBOT, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on Aug. 5. The two will drive the robot west along the Trans-Canada Highway.

American Gulag

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Is Obama speeding up deportations?

While many undocumented immigrants are still being held at isolated detention centers, new reports are indicating that the Obama Administration is trying to "speed up" deportations. Buzzfeed's John Stanton joins to shed light on the issue.

Ancients Meet

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80 Yr Old Croc Attacks Shark in Australian River, Wins

The incident occurred during a ride along the Adelaide River near the Kakadu National Park. The group had been watching crocodiles jump for a piece of buffalo meat on a stick. A reptile nicknamed "Brutus" was the most impressive. He is estimated to be 80-years-old and 18 feet long. As the boat returned to the jetty, he was spotted clasping the bull shark.

crocodile-shark.jpg [click pic to enlarge]

A truly spectacular feat of science and engineering.

Rosetta launched in 2004 and has arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August. It will be the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface. Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI.

rosetta comet.jpg

The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe made its historic rendezvous with a comet on Wednesday after a 10-year, 4 billion-mile journey.

"We're at the comet! Yeah!" spacecraft operations manager Sylvain Lodiot yelled when confirmation of the crucial engine burn was received at ESA's Mission Control in Darmstadt, Germany.

Rosetta thus became the first spacecraft to hang out with a comet. Earlier missions, including ESA's Giotto and NASA's Stardust, have gotten close to comets before -- but they didn't stay.

"After 10 years, five months and four days traveling towards our destination, looping around the sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometers, we are delighted to announce finally, 'We are here,'" ESA's director general, Jean-Jacques Dordain, said in a statement. "Europe's Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet, a major highlight in exploring our origins. Discoveries can start."

The car-sized Rosetta probe was launched in 2004, and woke up from hibernation in January for its final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a 2.5-mile-wide (4-kilometer-wide) conglomeration of ice and dust that's been compared to a rubber ducky.

Watch live streaming video from eurospaceagency at

Rosetta's orbit is an odd duck as well. Technically speaking, it's not so much an "orbit" as a triangular course that keeps up with the comet. The maneuvers will give ESA's mission managers a chance to determine the dynamics for a true orbit and up-close observations that should continue through the end of 2015.

Right now, Rosetta is in a holding pattern about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but eventually it's expected to close in to an altitude of 12 to 20 miles (20 to 30 kilometers).

In November, Rosetta is scheduled to send out a piggyback probe, named Philae, to descend to the comet's surface. Based on temperature readings made by Rosetta's instruments, scientists already have surmised that the comet has a porous, dusty crust with ice beneath. The surface is strewn with boulders the size of houses, and Churyumenko-Gerasimov's icy cliffs rise as high as 500 feet (150 meters).

ESA's science team will have to choose a suitable spot for Philae to drill into the surface, extract and analyze samples, and send pictures and data back to Earth. Meanwhile, the main Rosetta spacecraft will "escort" the comet as it makes its swing around the sun and heads back out toward Jupiter.

"Rosetta is the sexiest space mission that's ever been," Matt Taylor, the $1.75 billion (€1.3 billion) mission's project scientist, declared during Wednesday's webcast.

On the way to Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta made a series of flybys of Earth and Mars, and observed two asteroids called Steins and Lutetia. During the coming months, it will employ its OSIRIS camera as well as a spectrometer called VIRTIS, a miniature radio telescope called MIRO and other scientific instruments.

Rosetta gets its name from the Rosetta Stone, which archaeologists used in the 1800s to decipher the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs. In a similar way, astronomers plan to use the data from Rosetta to figure out the chemistry of comets, which are thought to preserve the primordial stuff of the solar system and potentially contain the building blocks of life.

Philae's name comes from an island in the River Nile where an obelisk was found with inscriptions that contributed to deciphering Egypt's ancient writing.

Conservative group accused of US troop aid scam

Kim Barker, reporter for the New York Times, talks with Steve Kornacki about her report on Move America Forward, a charity she says lied about its supposed mission to help deployed U.S. troops, enriching its founders instead.

The Dodd-Frank Thingy

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Obama's Other Success

Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Is Working

Paul Krugman

Although the enemies of health reform will never admit it, the Affordable Care Act is looking more and more like a big success. Costs are coming in below predictions, while the number of uninsured Americans is dropping fast, especially in states that haven't tried to sabotage the program. Obamacare is working.

But what about the administration's other big push, financial reform? The Dodd-Frank reform bill has, if anything, received even worse press than Obamacare, derided by the right as anti-business and by the left as hopelessly inadequate. And like Obamacare, it's certainly not the reform you would have devised in the absence of political constraints.

But also like Obamacare, financial reform is working a lot better than anyone listening to the news media would imagine. Let's talk, in particular, about two important pieces of Dodd-Frank: creation of an agency protecting consumers from misleading or fraudulent financial sales pitches, and efforts to end "too big to fail."

The decision to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shouldn't have been controversial, given what happened during the housing boom. As Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve official who warned prophetically of problems in subprime lending, asked, "Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?" He went on, "The question answers itself -- the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products." The need for more protection was obvious.

Of course, that obvious need didn't stop the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, financial industry lobbyists and conservative groups from going all out in an effort to prevent the bureau's creation or at least stop it from doing its job, spending more than $1.3 billion in the process. Republicans in Congress dutifully served the industry's interests, notably by trying to prevent President Obama from appointing a permanent director. And the question was whether all that opposition would hobble the new bureau and make it ineffective.

At this point, however, all accounts indicate that the bureau is in fact doing its job, and well -- well enough to inspire continuing fury among bankers and their political allies. A recent case in point: The bureau is cracking down on billions in excessive overdraft fees.

Better consumer protection means fewer bad loans, and therefore a reduced risk of financial crisis. But what happens if a crisis occurs anyway?

The answer is that, as in 2008, the government will step in to keep the financial system functioning; nobody wants to take the risk of repeating the Great Depression.

The President's approval rating stands at 41 per cent. Sixty-one percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Yet, twenty...

But how do you rescue the banking system without rewarding bad behavior? In particular, rescues in times of crisis can give large financial players an unfair advantage: They can borrow cheaply in normal times, because everyone knows that they are "too big to fail" and will be bailed out if things go wrong.

The answer is that the government should seize troubled institutions when it bails them out, so that they can be kept running without rewarding stockholders or bondholders who don't need rescue. In 2008 and 2009, however, it wasn't clear that the Treasury Department had the necessary legal authority to do that. So Dodd-Frank filled that gap, giving regulators Ordinary Liquidation Authority, also known as resolution authority, so that in the next crisis we can save "systemically important" banks and other institutions without bailing out the bankers.

Bankers, of course, hate this idea; and Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell tried to help their friends with the Orwellian claim that resolution authority was actually a gift to Wall Street, a form of corporate welfare, because it would grease the skids for future bailouts.

But Wall Street knew better. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute points out, if being labeled systemically important were actually corporate welfare, institutions would welcome the designation; in fact, they have fought it tooth and nail. And a new study from the Government Accountability Office shows that while large banks were able to borrow more cheaply than small banks before financial reform passed, that advantage has now essentially disappeared. To some extent this may reflect generally calmer markets, but the study nonetheless suggests that reform has done at least part of what it was supposed to do.

Did reform go far enough? No. In particular, while banks are being forced to hold more capital, a key force for stability, they really should be holding much more. But Wall Street and its allies wouldn't be screaming so loudly, and spending so much money in an effort to gut the law, if it weren't an important step in the right direction. For all its limitations, financial reform is a success story.

Free Lunch Space Travel

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Blowing ourselves off the planet has always struck me as a rather primitive and limited means of space travel. Barring use of (or perhaps in compliment with) quantum entaglement/teleportation schemes, this new idea of using a resonant cavity thruster design is interesting enough. I especially like it's refutation of the old conservative trope that you can't get something from nothing.

'Impossible' Space Engine Might Work, NASA Test Suggests

NASA researchers have reported fresh evidence that an "impossible" space propulsion technology might actually work.

A study from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston says a microwave thruster system that requires no propellant appears to generate a tiny amount of thrust. If the technology pans out, it could make spaceflight far cheaper and speedier, advocates say. They argue that the thruster harnesses subatomic particles that pop into and out of existence in accordance with quantum physics -- a hypothesis that's mentioned in the study.


"Test results indicate that the RF [radio frequency] resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and, therefore, is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma," the researchers wrote in their study, which they presented Wednesday at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland. [Images: Spacecraft Propulsion Concepts]

The technology's roots go back to British researcher Roger Shawyer, who claimed his "EmDrive" could generate thrust by rocketing microwaves around in a chamber. Solar power could be used to produce the microwaves, eliminating the neeed for propellant. Many scientists have dismissed or downplayed such claims, saying the system violates the law of conservation of momentum, Wired UK noted in its report on the technology.

In 2012, Chinese researchers said their version of the system could generate enough thrust to power a satellite. Then, an American scientist named Guido Fetta constructed his own device and persuaded the NASA team -- which included warp drive researcher Sonny White -- to try it out over the course of eight days in August 2013.

The NASA scientists said the device produced 30 to 50 micronewtons of thrust -- less than 0.1 percent of the thrust measured by the Chinese, but enough to justify further testing.

A Good Friday Night All-In

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Great summation segment by Chris Hayes et al of the recent stupidity and hysteria that is the American political Mightmare Theater starring teeny weeny fear TP-ers like Napoleon Cruz and his whipping boy Boehnerapart.

It's as painful as watching a palsied waltz The self-enforced ignorance and out right audacious stupidity of fevered conservative zealots has reached radioactive levels.
It strikes me that a dam will break and there will be blood.

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