Category: Culture

Apple and Google invited to debate a confidential summit for spies


Click to enlargeDownton Abbey for spies

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security…

According to an event program obtained by The Intercept, questions on the agenda included: “Are we being misled by the term ‘mass surveillance’?” “Is spying on allies/friends/potential adversaries inevitable if there is a perceived national security interest?” “Who should authorize intrusive intelligence operations such as interception?” “What should be the nature of the security relationship between intelligence agencies and private sector providers, especially when they may in any case be cooperating against cyber threats in general?” And, “How much should the press disclose about intelligence activity?”

The list of participants included:

Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director for law enforcement and information security; Verity Harding, Google’s U.K. public policy manager and head of security and privacy policy; Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy; Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s product security and privacy manager; Matthew Kirk, Vodafone Group’s external affairs director; and Phillipa McCrostie, global vice chair of transaction advisory services, Ernst & Young…

From the U.S.:

John McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director and deputy director; Jami Miscik, the CIA’s former director of intelligence; Mona Sutphen, member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and former White House deputy chief of staff; Rachel Brand, member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; George Newcombe, board of visitors, Columbia Law School; David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor; and Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books contributor…

The event was chaired by the former British MI6 spy chief Sir John Scarlett and organized by the Ditchley Foundation, which holds several behind-closed-doors conferences every year at its mansion in Oxfordshire in an effort to address “complex issues of international concern.” The discussions are held under what is called the Chatham House Rule, meaning what is said by each attendee during the meetings cannot be publicly revealed, a setup intended to encourage open and frank discussion. The program outlining the conference on surveillance told participants they could “draw afterwards on the substance of what has been said” but warned them “not under any circumstances to reveal to any person not present at the conference” details exposing what particular named individuals talked about…

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who attended the event, told The Intercept that it was a “remarkable” gathering that “would have been inconceivable without Snowden,” the National Security Agency whistleblower.

“Away from the fetid heat of political posturing and populist headlines, I heard some unexpected and surprising comments from senior intelligence voices, including that ‘cold winds of transparency’ had arrived and were here to stay,” said Campbell, who has been reporting on British spy agencies over a career spanning four decades.

He added: “Perhaps to many participants’ surprise, there was general agreement across broad divides of opinion that Snowden – love him or hate him – had changed the landscape; and that change towards transparency, or at least ‘translucency’ and providing more information about intelligence activities affecting privacy, was both overdue and necessary.”

Since none of us were invited to the discussion we’ll have to rely upon “interpretations” leaked over coming weeks. Certainly, some of those attending were on the side of privacy and transparency. Not governed by government-level paranoia or bound by class-dependent arrogance.

Same-sex marriage wins in Ireland referendum 62% to 38%

This would have been “Pic of the day” except that I wanted to make the point this beautiful mural was an effort in support of the YES vote in Ireland for same-sex marriage. Good news all round.

Joe-Caslin-Girl-Mural
Click to enlarge

Artist Joe Caslin completed the 45ft tall installation over the weekend after stirring debate in Dublin with a similar work showing a gay couple hugging.

Dogs have been man’s best friend longer than we thought

The bond between humans and dogs can feel very strong, deep and profound. It may also be much older than we once thought.

A group of researchers discovered an ancient wolf bone and say its DNA suggests dogs diverged from wolves 27,000 to 40,000 years ago — not 11,000 to 16,000 years ago, as previous research has suggested. The researchers published their findings Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

In this latest study, researchers radiocarbon-dated a Taimyr wolf bone they found in Siberia and concluded it to be about 35,000 years old. Researchers point to the ancient wolf as possibly the most recent common relative of modern wolves and dogs.

That means two things could have happened about 40,000 years ago, with the simplest scenario being that dogs became domesticated.

“The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves,” study co-author Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History said in a release.

Under that theory, the second wolf population would had to have gone extinct…

“The difference between the earlier genetic studies and ours is that we can calibrate the rate of evolutionary change in dog and wolf genomes directly, and we find that the first separation of dog ancestors must have been in the older range,” Skoglund told Reuters.

Another implication of this study: re-imagining how dogs became an important part of human society. As the BBC notes, a prevalent theory is that dogs became domestic creatures once humans settled into agricultural-based communities.

Humans could have also “caught wolf cubs and kept them as pets and this gradually led to these wild wolves being domesticated,” Dalen told BBC. “If this model is correct, then dogs were domesticated by hunter gatherers that led a fairly nomadic lifestyle.”

Being a longterm dog family, we’ve always felt that some extra smart dogs figured out we were a soft touch and moved in.

Om Malik on changing old behaviors


Taking a picture of Om taking a picture

When I was a kid, my grandma told me the story of a hard headed man who decided that he didn’t like that his dog had a curved tale. He took the tail and encased it in a tube and left it like that for over a decade, confident that the tail would come out straight. A decade later, when he removed the tube, the tail was still crooked. It is a weird thing to remember especially since I am contemplating my own behavior modifications.

Or perhaps it is a realization that one of the hardest things to do in life is changing and modifying deeply ingrained behaviors. The longer you live, the harder it becomes to make the requisite adjustments. Sure, mortality, or more appropriately the fear of death, forced me to give up smoking (after chain smoking for nearly 25 years) and most of other bad behaviors — I am finding that there are some behaviors that are proving to be pretty hard to modify…

Blogging for me in the early aughts meant writing, short bursts, multiple times a day. That meant being hot wired into the news cycles and constantly monitoring what was happening in the industry. Unknowingly, my mind was being programmed to react and write to the flow of the news. As I have said before, this is a narcotic. My awareness of this problem is because I continue to struggle — that is react to the “news cycle” and often find myself writing blog posts that are well, news-focused blog posts that were the hallmark of the post-investment phase of Gigaom. I am acutely aware of this, because I am trying to turn back the clock to an older time when my blogging was decoupled from the happenings on the front page (or in my case business page) of the daily newspapers.

RTFA. Om sets the stage for a brief – and sharply focused – essay on changing our communication habits, skills. If we were seated in a small group – no matter where – taking the time to reflect upon his analysis and questions raised, I think the discussion would be as varied, interesting and fruitful as the number of individuals involved.

Om Malik is someone I listen to most often through his writing, occasionally via an appearance on TV or a video podcast. He provokes thought. Dangerous habit, I know.

Bacon, bacon, bacon Is back!


Fatburger’s Hypocrite Burger

Andy Wiederhorn wants to sell bacon to vegetarians.

That’s the idea, anyway, behind the Hypocrite Burger — a veggie patty topped by two strips of bacon. Wiederhorn, chief executive officer of Beverly Hills, California-based Fatburger Corp., is pushing sales of the sandwich in his 200 fast-food restaurants to take advantage of wholesale prices that dropped about two-thirds from a year ago.

“We want to add bacon to everything we sell,” he said. “People like it.”

Do they ever. At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed buddy Bubba, eateries are offering bacon milkshakes, bacon sauerkraut, bacon kale salad, bacon martinis and bacon peanut brittle. Last year, 68 percent of U.S. restaurants had bacon on the menu, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to market researcher Datassential. And that was when prices were a lot higher than they are today.

Bacon is having its moment. It’s always been popular, but now, driven by reduced cost, innovative concoctions, the protein-rich Paleo Diet and a worldly younger generation willing to try anything once, twice if they like it, that popularity has exploded. Last year, a piglet-killing virus shrank U.S. hog herds, sending futures prices to all-time highs, and farmers scrambled to capture those profits. Record U.S. pork production will surpass beef output for the first time as overseas demand slows, creating today’s glut and sending both retail and wholesale prices to deliciously low levels.

Even though retail prices are down, consumers paid more than seven times the wholesale price for bacon last month, a record spread. Milwaukee-based supermarket chain Roundy’s Inc. expects prices to continue to tumble throughout 2015 as costs such as feed decline…

Part of the reason for the retail-wholesale mismatch is some higher-priced pork bellies from last year’s slaughter were frozen, and those inventories take time to work through…By now, cheaper bellies have worked their way to slicers, yet the higher store prices persist.

“It’s highway robbery,” said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services in Chicago. “Talk about a huge markup. They don’t lower prices because bacon demand is just that good…”

As beef costs reach all-time highs, restaurants are adding bacon to more dishes because it raises the flavor profile of an otherwise cheaper piece of meat….

Yes, we’ve reached the point where you should switch on your brain. Economics should be a determinant in your cuisine unless you have an excess of disposable income and little concern for nutrition. After all, bacon offers two of America’s most popular food groups: fat and salt.

In our household, we eat beef about a dozen times a year, tops – almost exclusively during our extended outdoors grilling season. That’s it. Even living in a beef-producing state, even though I have easy access to essentially organic critters without the overhead of certification, etc., pork and chicken are our primary sources of air-breathing protein.

Tobacco users increase their own marginalization in society

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows a new dimension to the marginalization of smokers: people who smoke are less likely to vote than their non-smoking peers.

“On one hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions,” says Karen Albright, PhD…Colorado School of Public Health…

The data comes from the Colorado Tobacco Attitudes and Behaviors Study (C-TABS), a questionnaire administered by Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center, director of the University Health Smoking Cessation Program, and the paper’s senior author.

Through random digit dialing, the study reached 11,626 people who completed a telephone survey querying a range of demographic, social, and behavioral factors. Questions included smoking behaviors and whether the respondent had voted in a recent election. Overall, 17 percent of respondents were smokers. Holding all other variables constant (included variables of socioeconomic status that were strongly associated with smoking), daily smokers were 60 percent less likely to vote than nonsmokers.

The study is the first to link a health-risk behavior with electoral participation, building on the work of a previous Swedish study that found an association between smoking and political mistrust. Voting is a direct behavioral measure of civic and political engagement that at least partly reflects trust in formal political institutions.

Albright points out that, like many studies that use statistics to describe the behaviors of a population, the current study creates as many questions as it answers, most notably why smokers are less likely to vote. One possibility is that smokers may view political institutions as oppressors, given widespread enactment of tobacco taxes and clean indoor air laws. Somewhat similarly, the stigma associated with smoking may create social withdrawal or feelings of depression or fatalism among smokers, which could decrease voting.

Or…given the key social question asked most often at this blog, “are they ignorant or stupid?” – the pretty generalized understanding of the dangers of smoking seems to indicate these people are stupid.

Luxembourg’s prime minister marries his same-sex partner


Gauthier Destenay and Prime Minister Xavier Bettel

Luxembourg’s prime minister is to become the first European Union leader – and only the second worldwide leader – to marry someone of the same sex.

Xavier Bettel, 42, and his partner, Gauthier Destenay, an architect from Belgium, are among the first gay men to wed in the mostly Catholic Grand Duchy since it became the latest EU state to extend full rights to same-sex couples.

Their union comes five years after Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the then prime minister of Iceland, became the first serving leader in the world to marry a same-sex partner.

Bettel and Destenay, who have been civil partners since 2010, were expected to say their vows in a quiet civil ceremony with friends and family, away from the glare of publicity…

Few details have emerged about the wedding, which Bettel had aimed to keep private. Press photographers have been banned…

Bettel, who is leader of Luxembourg’s centre-right Democratic party, came out publicly as gay in 2008. But since taking power 18 months ago he has played down the significance of his sexuality, insisting “what happens at home remains private”.

His party won its leading place in a coalition government after promising to be a modernising force for Luxembourg, with plans to replace religious education in schools with general ethics classes, and to lower the voting age to 16.

Same-sex marriage was another key pledge. It was previously knocked down in 2007 by the then ruling Christian People’s party, but a poll in 2013 found 83% of Luxembourgers supported a change in the law.

No doubt he didn’t invite Jeb Bush, any of the purportedly modern Republicans, or the rest of that mob of professional bigots and hate-mongers. Constitutional equality may be all right for some furriners; but, not “real Americans”.

Bon chance, mes amis. Have a wonderful journey in love.