Category: Personal

The costs of NSA snooping are greater than just the loss of personal privacy

There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping has had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.

These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute…

The Foundation’s report, released today, outlines some of the collateral damage of NSA surveillance in several areas, including:

Economic losses to US businesses due to lost sales and declining customer trust.

Deterioration of Cybersecurity

Undermining U.S. Support for Internet Freedom

“As the birthplace for so many of these technologies, including the internet itself, we have a responsibility to see them used for good,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2010 speech launching a campaign in support of internet freedom. But while “the US government promotes free expression abroad and aims to prevent repressive governments from monitoring and censoring their citizens,” the New American report notes, it is “simultaneously supporting domestic laws that authorize surveillance and bulk data collection.” The widespread collection of data, which has a chilling effect on freedom of expression, is precisely the kind of activity for which the U.S. condemns other countries…

The report makes a number of recommendations to address the problems the NSA’s spying has created. These include strengthening privacy protections for Americans and non-Americans, developing clear policies about whether and under what legal standards it is permissible for the government to secretly install malware on a computer or network, and working to restore trust encryption systems and standards.

RTFA for the details, cause and effect, intelligent response to corruption.

All make good sense. All reflect standards advocated for generations by United States constitutionalists and progressives. All get lip-service from the two political parties we’re allowed – and secretly, privately, subverted by elected representatives from both.

Yes, there are degrees of difference. The truly fascist-minded generally gravitate to the Republican Party,.e.g., Dick Cheney or Ted Cruz. The language of liberty is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture they adopt the simple-minded convention that military security and secret police are defining characteristics of the liberties they blather about.

Leaving the rest of us the task of getting Big Brother off our backs by the few legitimate means we can access. Like voting for the lesser of two evils over and over again.

Thanks, Mike

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Be true to your school

Barrowford

A letter sent to pupils at a Lancashire primary school along with their key stage two test results has gone viral on social media sites.

The letter to pupils at Barrowford Primary School in Nelson told them the tests do not always assess what makes them “special and unique”…

Head teacher Rachel Tomlinson said she had been “absolutely astounded” by the reaction in social media and elsewhere.

Mrs Tomlinson said she found the letter on a blog from the US posted on the internet…

Letter to pupils:

Please find enclosed your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your very best during this tricky week.

However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you… the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do.

They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture.

They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.

They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school.

They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.

They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.

So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.

The head denied the letter was telling pupils that test scores did not matter.

“We never give pupils the message that academic attainment isn’t important – what we do is celebrate that we send really independent, confident, articulate learners on to the next stage of their school career.”

Right on, right on, right on!

Richard Dawkins & Neil deGrasse Tyson in a dialogue about alien life

I’ve been fortunate over a number of segments in my life to witness – even take a small part in – conversations like this. Not in front of an audience. Not as part of a public dialogue; but, in the context of what historically has been called a “salon”.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away. Well, New England, actually. Where the talent pool for discussions like this is more accessible than most of the country.

Thanks, Mike

1 in 4 Americans with diabetes don’t know they have it

Three million more people have been diagnosed with diabetes since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last took count in 2010. That brings the total number of Americans with diabetes to a whopping 29 million…Though large, the numbers aren’t all that surprising; the rates of diabetes 1 and 2 have been rising for several years now.

But the 29 million figure, featured in a CDC report published this week, is just the people who have been diagnosed. Many more likely have the disease but are unaware — and undiagnosed.

The CDC estimates that of the estimated 12.3 percent of the adult population with diabetes, one in four don’t know they have it. That’s not to mention some 86 million people who have prediabetes, 15 to 30 percent of whom the CDC says will develop type 2 diabetes within five years…

The resulting medical complications from diabetes and prediabetes total more than $245 billion in healthcare costs each year.

The CDC’s Ann Albright says one of the only ways Americans can chip away at these worrisome trends is to improve dietary habits. Even those with prediabetes can avoid the fate of an official diabetes diagnosis by making simple changes, like losing weight and eating healthier.

“Some of the strongest evidence suggests that small changes — like losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight if you’re overweight — can make the biggest difference,” Albright explained.

“Invest in foods that are nutritious,” Albright added, “like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

I probably qualify as prediabetic – though much less so than I used to. A couple of sedentary gigs last few years before retirement left me a lot heavier and getting less exercise than was customary most of my life. Fortunately, my better half does a serious job of encouraging not only sounder nutrition; but, more exercise. I grew new habits as simple as portion control, deriving self-satisfaction from managing a small and useful part of diet oversight.

Steadily, consistently, I lose about 6 pounds a year. Have been for about a decade.

I don’t understand people who whine that a healthy diet is twice as expensive as fast food. Yes, it’s difficult if you’re living on the road as I did for a number of years. But, if you’re home for breakfast and supper, you’re sensible enough to brown bag it for lunch – we ain’t all organic; but, we also spend less on food than we did even a few years ago. And, nowadays, I’m home at lunchtime which allows for a hot meal prepared by me.

Here’s a link to the CDC’s report [.pdf]. Graphic, simple, useful.

Americans say they go to church about 25% more often than they really do

The United States has long been unusually religious for an affluent, industrialized Western nation — in survey after survey, Americans report relatively high levels of belief in God, affiliation with religious institutions and participation in worship services.

But counting churchgoers has always been a bit tricky. Some congregations tend to over-report attendance, seeking to demonstrate vitality. Others are more scrupulous, especially in denominations where churches pay assessments based on size. And it’s been evident for years that Americans tend to overstate their own religiosity: There is a persistent gap between the number of people who claim to go to worship services and the number who can actually be counted in pews.

The gap grows more striking as America becomes more secular. In recent years, poll after poll has found more Americans who do not identify with a religious tradition, and many denominations show evidence of decline. And yet, Americans continue to report high levels of belief and participation — more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit, and nearly 40 percent report weekly attendance at a worship service, numbers that have remained relatively unchanged for decades.

What’s going on? A new study, released Saturday, suggests that the gradual secularization of the nation has not eliminated the perceived social desirability of going to church, and the result is that Americans exaggerate their religious behavior. That exaggeration is more pronounced among some groups — Catholics, mainline Protestants and, strikingly, the unaffiliated, meaning that even people willing to say they don’t belong to a religious tradition still feel compelled to exaggerate their attendance at worship services…

People appear especially unwilling to say that they “seldom or never” go to worship services. In the phone interviews, only 30 percent described themselves that way, whereas in the online survey 43 percent acknowledged rare attendance. The effect continues even with the unaffiliated: In interviews, 73 percent say they seldom or never attend religious services, but online that number is 91 percent.

Yup. Take me back to the 1950’s. The important description of the corruption of conformity – is what people feel required to be the standard of conformity. The consistent best example in American history alongside going to war.

Consider not only the advertising job inflicted on the populace in general by virtually all politicians and pundits. As far as they’re concerned you’re not capable of providing leadership unless you say “God bless the United States of America” at the end of every speech. Look around at every institution and which are tax-free? Even if they offer no special impetus to the progress of the whole nation?

Little wonder that folks generally are embarrassed to tell the truth about their own conclusions on science, reality and some invisible white guy in the clouds.

Make it to 100 years old and things don’t feel so bad

I’m not certain it’s the yogurt either

Many studies of very old people seem to boil down to this: trying to figure out what they ate, drank and did, so that other people can try to live that long, too. Daniela S. Jopp, an assistant psychology professor at Fordham University, is more interested in how people actually feel once they approach 100.

Younger people can derive lessons from her findings, but beyond that Professor Jopp hopes her research can help the very old lead fulfilling, socially connected lives until the very end…

There is a paradox in the desire to live longer, she said. Many people want to reach an advanced age, but they do not actually want to be that old, she said. Yes, it’s seen as better than the alternative. But over all, “We have a very negative view of very old age,” she said.

Her research gives cause for hope: It shows that once people approach 100, they tend to have a very positive attitude toward life. This is the case even though “they have on average between four and five illnesses, which are pretty disabling and hinder them from doing the things they want to do,” Professor Jopp said. They still have goals, she said, and they are not ready to die just yet. They want to see how the Yankees fare next season or attend the wedding of a grandchild.

This attitude holds true across the socioeconomic spectrum, although having enough money to pay for one’s medications is very important to well-being, she added.

In fact, people 95 and older report higher levels of satisfaction with life than those who are decades younger, Professor Jopp said. She speculates that people in their 60s and 70s have not yet fully adapted to their impairments, whereas the very old have reached a state of acceptance.

Professor Jopp’s observations are based on studies of people in Heidelberg, Germany, and a study she did of 119 very old New Yorkers chosen from voter registries and nursing homes.

She has found that in addition to being optimistic, the very old tend to be extroverted and to exhibit “self-efficacy,” meaning they report feeling in control of their lives. Most of the people in the New York study live within the community, many of them alone, and most greatly value retaining a sense of independence, she said…

Professor Jopp says she hopes her research will help uncover ways to offer better social services for the very old. And she hopes it will open up new avenues for the very old to pass along their insights and knowledge to others. As she puts it: “They have a lot to share — and to contribute to society.”

Yes, there are mornings when I feel like I already am 100. But, that hasn’t anything to do with Phyllis Korkki’s article does it? :)

RTFA for some of the interesting anecdotes. I certainly think her conclusions provide some guidance. Above all else I believe in keeping my curiosity about the whole world and science rolling right on through to the end of my life. I’m not likely to change that.

Neither am I to become less of a hermit. I access the world through the Web and any number of sources of communications – as I always have. My presence isn’t needed in a traditional round dance at a facility full of elders. Especially since they aren’t likely to be my peers. I don’t think the good doctor would consider that a contradiction.

I find most folks are a time capsule by the time they reach thirty. They stop learning. And if you stop learning, I don’t think you are well equipped to do a very good job of thinking for yourself either. Perhaps Dr. Jopp’s exceptional centenarians are an exception to that rule as well.

Nutballs attack memorials to victims of Sandy Hook shootings

grace-playground

A playground honoring a seven-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook School massacre in Connecticut was vandalized by a man who told the girl’s mother in a phone call just days before Mother’s Day that the shootings were a “hoax” and her daughter never existed…

Police are investigating the theft of a 50lb vinyl sign from a playground in Mystic, Connecticut, dedicated to first-grader Grace McDonnell, who was gunned down with her classmates in 2012.

“It’s sick that some people would do something this horrific to a family already so traumatized,” said Bill Lavin, who is organizing the effort to build 26 playgrounds to commemorate the 20 children and six adults killed in the shooting spree on 14 December 2012…

The theft in Mystic marked the second act of vandalism at Connecticut playgrounds honoring Sandy Hook victims. Just days earlier, vandals spray-painted graffiti on a sign at a playground in Hartford that is dedicated to first-grader Anna Grace Marquez-Greene.

The sign in the Mystic playground named to honor Grace McDonnell on 27 April included a peace symbol based on her artwork…

“We’ve been getting calls from people around the country who are outraged and have already sent enough in donations that we will put up more signs and billboards with the message to ‘Live Grace-Fully’ in honor of Grace,” Lavin said. Lavin said the vandalism was discovered after the man phoned Lynn McDonnell, Grace’s mother, early last week “to tell her he took the sign because it was all a hoax”.

OK, I agree. There are scumbags slinking around this country who should be locked up forever. Incommunicado.

After all, their brains have been closed for a long, long time.

Why Mohamed El-Erian left Pimco – to be a proper dad

Betty Liu, Mohamed El-Erian
Click for video [possibly after a commercial]

One of the leading political economists in the world staggered everyone when he walked away from PIMCO. Long accepted as next in line – ready to take over full countrol of the world’s largest bond investing firm when Bill Gross retires – people were shocked when Mohamed El-Erian left with no plans for his next career, no move to another investment firm.

His first interview in the four months since he departed PIMCO was this morning – with Betty Liu of Bloomberg TV. And while it’s all interesting to economics and politics geeks, the most memorable moment was him describing the interaction with his 11-year-old daughter that really provoked this change.