Trump resolves his ignorance of security, intelligence, by firing folks trying to educate him

❝ United States Secret Service director Randolph “Tex” Alles is being removed from his position, multiple administration officials tell CNN.

President Donald Trump instructed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to fire Alles. Alles remains in his position as of now but has been asked to leave…

❝ Secret Service officials have been caught by surprise with the news and are only finding out through CNN…

❝ United States Citizenship and Immigration Services director Francis Cissna and Office of the General Counsel’s John Mitnick are expected to be gone soon, and the White House is eyeing others to be removed.

If American voters recover enough common sense to toss this dolt out onto the scrap heap of stupid in 2020 – at least there will be lots of job openings for folks intersting in rebuilding a somewhat modern administration. Best time for fixing stuff is after a disaster and the Fake President surely has made that point.

In 1960, ~half-million teens took a test that, now, may predict their risk of Alzheimer’s

❝ In 1960, Joan Levin, 15, took a test that turned out to be the largest survey of American teenagers ever conducted. It took two-and-a-half days to administer and included 440,000 students from 1,353 public, private and parochial high schools across the country — including Parkville Senior High School in Parkville, Md., where she was a student.

“We knew at the time that they were going to follow up for a long time,” Levin said — but she thought that meant about 20 years.

Fifty-eight years later, the answers she and her peers gave are still being used by researchers — most recently in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. A study released this month found that subjects who did well on test questions as teenagers had a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s and related dementias in their 60s and 70s than those who scored poorly.

A worthwhile read. I have my own opinions. They probably fit in here somewhere with the work and analysis of these researchers. Like Jeff Bezos, my concern goes all the way into pre-school education.

Ex-Spy Chief Says Putting Trump in Office is a Russian Success “Beyond Their Wildest Expectations”


Trump? Sheesh!

❝ Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.

❝ James Clapper, a crusty ex-cargo pilot who rose through the Air Force ranks and retired as director of national intelligence in January, only to emerge publicly as one of President Donald Trump’s foremost critics, wants you to know that no matter how much Trump rants about the “Russia hoax,” the 2016 hacking was not only real and aimed at electing Trump but constituted a major victory for a dangerous foreign adversary. “The Russians,” he said, have “succeeded beyond their wildest expectations…”

❝ Clapper is sticking with his view that the allegations are “worse than Watergate,” given that the Russiagate investigation involves “a foreign adversary actively and aggressively and directly engaging in our political processes to interfere with them and to undermine our system, whereas in Watergate you were dealing with a two-bit petty burglary, domestic only…”

❝ “…the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”

“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”

RTFA for a bit more detail from the interview in POLITICO. Clapper covers the range of doofus American politics from Trump’s brigade of chumps who believe the sun shines out his rank butt – to sincere critics of systemic electoral failures which feed perfectly into the plot.

Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for

Dog lovers have been saying it for years: dogs are smarter than many people give them credit for.

Now, scientists are joining in. Over the past decade, research into canine behavior and intelligence has been blossoming, and a range of experiments have suggested that dogs are capable of surprisingly complex feats of social intelligence and emotional sensitivity. On the whole, psychologist and dog researcher Stanley Coren estimates, the average dog’s intelligence is roughly as sophisticated as a 2.5-year-old baby’s.

So far, research has suggested that dogs can read our cues, show emotional connection to their owners, and even display jealousy. Studies have found that the brightest dogs appear to be capable of learning hundreds of words. It’s likely that these abilities have been shaped by evolution — over thousands of years, we’ve selected those dogs best adapted to live with humans.

The field is still new, however, and researchers keep finding out a surprising amount. “Most labs have historically been invested in rodent and monkey models,” says Gregory Berns, an Emory neuroscientist who conducts MRI research with dogs. “But dogs are unique animals, and I think in many ways they’re one of the best animals for understanding social behaviors.”

Using newer technologies such as MRI as well as carefully designed behavioral experiments, a handful of labs around the world have dug into the dog psyche — and found that they’re much smarter than many people assume.

Dogs can learn hundreds of words…Dogs pay attention to the words of our speech — not just our tone…

Dogs love humans, are good at reading us, and are eager to please us. But that doesn’t mean they know right from wrong. Instead, they simply feel sad when they let us down.

And just like person-to-person interaction, sometimes that’s our fault for presuming what should be an appropriate response – and we’re the ones who are wrong.

Thanks, Helen [and Sheila the dog]

Will we find life — “not as we know it” — on Saturn’s moon Titan


Click to enlargeAzotosome, the theorized cell membrane on Titan

Liquid water is a requirement for life on Earth. But in other, much colder worlds, life might exist beyond the bounds of water-based chemistry.

Taking a simultaneously imaginative and rigidly scientific view, Cornell chemical engineers and astronomers offer a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world – specifically Titan, the giant moon of Saturn. A planetary body awash with seas not of water, but of liquid methane, Titan could harbor methane-based, oxygen-free cells that metabolize, reproduce and do everything life on Earth does.

Their theorized cell membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero, is published in Science Advances…The work is led by chemical molecular dynamics expert Paulette Clancy…with first author James Stevenson, a graduate student in chemical engineering. The paper’s co-author is Jonathan Lunine…the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Astronomy…

On Earth, life is based on the phospholipid bilayer membrane, the strong, permeable, water-based vesicle that houses the organic matter of every cell. A vesicle made from such a membrane is called a liposome. Thus, many astronomers seek extraterrestrial life in what’s called the circumstellar habitable zone, the narrow band around the sun in which liquid water can exist. But what if cells weren’t based on water, but on methane, which has a much lower freezing point?

The engineers named their theorized cell membrane an “azotosome,” “azote” being the French word for nitrogen. “Liposome” comes from the Greek “lipos” and “soma” to mean “lipid body;” by analogy, “azotosome” means “nitrogen body.”

The azotosome is made from nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen molecules known to exist in the cryogenic seas of Titan, but shows the same stability and flexibility that Earth’s analogous liposome does. This came as a surprise to chemists like Clancy and Stevenson, who had never thought about the mechanics of cell stability before; they usually study semiconductors, not cells.

The engineers employed a molecular dynamics method that screened for candidate compounds from methane for self-assembly into membrane-like structures. The most promising compound they found is an acrylonitrile azotosome, which showed good stability, a strong barrier to decomposition, and a flexibility similar to that of phospholipid membranes on Earth. Acrylonitrile – a colorless, poisonous, liquid organic compound used in the manufacture of acrylic fibers, resins and thermoplastics – is present in Titan’s atmosphere.

Excited by the initial proof of concept, Clancy said the next step is to try and demonstrate how these cells would behave in the methane environment – what might be the analogue to reproduction and metabolism in oxygen-free, methane-based cells.

In part, Stevenson said he was inspired by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote about the concept of non-water-based life in his 1962 essay, “Not as We Know It.” I think we can conclude as Asimov would – intelligence formed of life “not as we know it” – but with science grounded in material reality, will develop an understanding of science identical in premises as any of our own species’ physical scientists. Leading or trailing one another the results must be the same since material reality remains the same.

Perceptions can vary widely. An intelligent lifeform evolved through differing chemistry wouldn’t be likely to have the same senses or senses arrayed in the same hierarchy. The possibilities are intriguing.

Truly, a worthwhile adventure. I wish them well.

The brave new world of three-parent IVF

In August 1996, at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., a 39-year-old mechanical engineer from Pittsburgh named Maureen Ott became pregnant. Ott had been trying for almost seven years to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization. Unwilling to give up, she submitted to an experimental procedure in which doctors extracted her eggs, slid a needle through their shiny coat and injected not only her husband’s sperm but also a small amount of cytoplasm from another woman’s egg. When the embryo was implanted in Ott’s womb, she became the first woman on record to be successfully impregnated using this procedure, which some say is the root of an exciting medical advance and others say is the beginning of the end of the human species.

The fresh cytoplasm that entered Ott’s eggs (researchers thought it might help promote proper fertilization and development) contained mitochondria: bean-shaped organelles that power our cells like batteries. But mitochondria also contain their own DNA, which meant that her child could possess the genetic material of three people. In fact, the 37 genes in mitochondrial DNA pass directly from a woman’s egg into every cell of her offspring, including his or her germ cells, the sperm or eggs that eventually produce the next generation — so if Ott had a girl and the donor mitochondria injected into Ott’s egg made it into the eggs of her daughter, they could be passed along to her children. This is known as crossing the germ line…In May 1997, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl…

Two months later, her doctors published her case in the journal Lancet; soon, at least seven other U.S. clinics were doing the injection. Because the amount of donor mitochondria added to Ott’s egg was small, it was unclear how much third-party DNA would be present in the cells of her daughter. Ott says her doctors ran tests and did not find any, but it has been found in two other children born from the procedure. Although IVF drugs and devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, IVF procedures (like all medical procedures) are generally not. But what media outlets came to call “three-parent babies” compelled the agency to take action. In 2001, the FDA informed IVF clinics that using a third person’s cytoplasm — and the mtDNA therein — would require an Investigational New Drug application…

Now, more than a decade later, two research groups in the United States and one in Britain each believes it has nearly enough data to begin clinical trials for a new technique based on the transfer of mitochondria — only in this case, researchers want to pair the nuclear DNA of one egg with all the mitochondria of another. Their aim is not to cure infertility. Rather, they hope to prevent a variety of devastating diseases caused by mutations in mtDNA. The new technique, which they call mitochondrial-replacement therapy, is far more advanced than the cytoplasm injection — and the researchers have studied the procedure’s impact on animals and human cells up to a pivotal point: They have created what appear to be viable three-parent embryos. They have yet to implant one in a woman, though…

Is our fear of crossing the germ line causing us to block a technology that could improve people’s lives, and if so, is the fear itself a thing we should also be afraid of?

RTFA. I’ve barely introduced the topic. You can presume my personal opinion would not be acceptable to any flavor of the FDA. Crass politics aside – unlikely in the USA – science moves ahead in tiny conservative steps. Bodies like the FDA are more conservative than that.

I think consenting adults have the right and freedom to participate in an unlimited range of experiments excepting those designed to destroy humans, individually and as a species. Our government and military already have that market cornered, anyway.

Like I said. RTFA. Think about what you think.

“Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke. I should know, I’m in Congress”

Alan Grayson really pisses off the whole range of useless politicians – from corrupt to cowardly.

In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called “intelligence community” – the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:

It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.

I’m tired of the spies telling lies, too.

Pike’s investigation initiated one of the first congressional oversight debates for the vast and hidden collective of espionage agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Before the Pike Commission, Congress was kept in the dark about them – a tactic designed to thwart congressional deterrence of the sometimes illegal and often shocking activities carried out by the “intelligence community”. Today, we are seeing a repeat of this professional voyeurism by our nation’s spies, on an unprecedented and pervasive scale.

Recently, the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment – offered by Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers – that would have curbed the NSA’s omnipresent and inescapable tactics. Despite furious lobbying by the intelligence industrial complex and its allies, and four hours of frantic and overwrought briefings by the NSA’s General Keith Alexander, 205 of 422 Representatives voted for the amendment.

Though the amendment barely failed, the vote signaled a clear message to the NSA: we do not trust you. The vote also conveyed another, more subtle message: members of Congress do not trust that the House Intelligence Committee is providing the necessary oversight. On the contrary, “oversight” has become “overlook“…

Many of us worry that Congressional Intelligence Committees are more loyal to the “intelligence community” that they are tasked with policing, than to the Constitution. And the House Intelligence Committee isn’t doing anything to assuage our concerns.

RTFA for details. If you pay attention to politics on any reasonable scale, you will not be surprised. But, Grayson’s op-ed piece is useful in the battle against subservience and collaboration in Congress.

Colin Powell should have paid attention to the smell – instead of the words from George W. Bush


Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Colin Powell says his erroneous address to the United Nations about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction provides a lesson to business leaders on the importance of staying skeptical and following their intuition.

“Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation,” the former U.S. secretary of state writes in a new book of leadership parables that draws frequently on his Iraq war experience. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

Powell, 75, laments that no intelligence officials had the “courage” to warn that he was given false information that Iraq had such weapons during preparations for his February 2003 speech before the U.S. invasion the following month. Regrets are sprinkled through “It Worked For Me,” along with lessons gleaned from a career that carried him from foxholes in Vietnam to senior positions at the Pentagon and the State Department…

“So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?” Powell writes. “Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence.”

Powell, who has quarreled over policy for years with former Vice President Dick Cheney, writes that Cheney had his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, make the case for Iraq having weapons of mass destruction “as a lawyer’s brief and not as an intelligence estimate.”

Because Libby’s material was “unusable,” Powell writes, he enlisted the help of the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare for his UN speech. Powell didn’t know that “much of the evidence was wrong,” he says.

While Powell returns to Iraq repeatedly in the book, he advises leaders to “try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.”

Bush wanted to keep lower-level officials and workers in Iraq who had the education, skills and training needed to run the nation even though he wanted the U.S. to dissolve the ruling Baath party after Saddam Hussein’s fall, Powell writes.

“The plan that the president had approved was not implemented,” Powell says. Instead, he writes, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, eliminated all the officials and institutions “we should have been building on, and left thousands of the most highly skilled people in the country jobless and angry — prime recruits for insurgency.”

Powell says that violated the leadership lesson that has become known as his “Pottery Barn Rule.”

“If you break it, you own it,” Powell said in cautioning Bush about the consequences of invading Iraq and its aftermath.

Nowadays, the Republican Party is so accustomed to telling a “lie du jour” that this advice will mean nothing. They will continue backwards, making it up as they proceed on their strategy of blocking any programs offered by Barack Obama – even if they are identical to proposals they have previously offered themselves.

Witness Obamacare identical to Romneycare. Any number of tax proposals previously offered by Congressional Republicans. They even vote against bills they sponsor – if they can make it appear to be a defeat or an impediment to the White House.

The smell gets worse!

Worrying is good for you and reflects higher IQ — WTF?


Some people have a cure-all for both worry and intelligence

Worrying is good for the brain and is vital for human survival, according to new research. It evolved in humans along with intelligence to make them more adept at avoiding danger.

A study of 42 people found the worst sufferers of a common anxiety disorder had a higher IQ than those whose symptoms were less severe. Scientists say their findings published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, suggest worrying has developed as a beneficial trait…

Jeremy Coplan said: “While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.

“In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species…” Even if it limits achievements?

Previous studies have indicated excessive worry tends to exist both in people with higher and lower intelligence, and less so in people of moderate intelligence.

It has been suggested people with lower intelligence suffer more anxiety because they achieve less success in life.

Phew! I was beginning to feel worried about all this. 🙂

Dingoes show unbelievable intelligence devising feats


Sterling

Dingoes have been filmed performing a series of feats described by scientists as evidence of “unbelievable intelligence”.

In experiments performed by researchers in Melbourne, one dingo was filmed moving a table to use as a step-ladder to reach food. Another opened a gate latch with his nose to reach a female partner.

Dingoes, which are native to Australia, are regarded as smarter than domestic dogs and have been described as “the most intelligent animal in Australia apart from man”…

“If indeed these examples can be considered cases of tool-use, they may represent the first documented evidence of such behaviour in a canid, particularly as this behaviour occurred spontaneously,” says the paper, authored by Bradley Smith, Robert Appleby and Carla Litchfield.

“After several unsuccessful attempts at jumping for the envelope, Sterling ‘solved’ the task by first moving and then jumping up onto a trestle table.

Importantly, Sterling was never purposely trained or encouraged to exhibit this (or similar) behaviour.”

In the gate-opening exercise, a dog named Teddy pushed up a latch with his nose after being separated from his partner, named Ayjay. “Sanctuary staff maintain that Teddy only opens the gate when Ayjay is removed from the same enclosure as Teddy,” the paper says.

A behavioural ecologist, Darryl Jones, Griffith University, said the feats were a “remarkable” example of tool use and involved “manipulating a completely external object to the animal to do something that requires foresight”.

Which justifies an Oz version of one one of my favorite local bumper stickers: “My dog is smarter than your 6th-grader”