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President Obama’s Preferred Non-Pipeline Delivery Method Derails, Crude Oil Now Burning

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

Thank God we don’t have to endure the environmentally dangerous Keystone XL pipeline!

A train carrying crude oil derailed Thursday in Illinois, and smoke from the burning crude could be seen for miles.

A BNSF Railway train carrying 103 cars of crude oil and 2 “buffer cars” loaded with sand derailed at 1:20 p.m. Thursday just south of Galena, Illinois, according to a statement from BNSF.

No injuries were reported, according to BNSF.

Firefighters on scene reported crude oil burning at the site, according to TH Media. Grant County, Wisconsin, hazardous materials responders were at the scene, as were fire departments from Galena, East Dubuque and Menominee-Dunleith, Illinois, according to the TH.

Here is the tweet of the day on the subject:

Free health care. Safety from environmental hazards. Victory in Iraq.

How much more of this pampering can we endure?

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Amazing: Quadriplegic Pilots DARPA Fighter Jet Flight Simulator with Her Mind

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

Technology is cool and stuff.

In an amazing project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a quadriplegic flew a fighter jet simulator by way of signals from her brain.

Jan Scheuermann, 55, lost the use of her body in 2003 due to a rare hereditary disease, according to the Washington Post.

In 2012, the mother of two had two tiny electrodes put into her brain so she could operate a robotic arm in a series of experiments conducted by DARPA and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But after mastering both right- and left-handed versions of the arm, Scheuermann wished to test herself even further.

At the first annual Future of War conference last week, DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar announced the woman had asked to fly simulators of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a single-engine Cessna.

That’s a pretty good story right there, but Scheuermann wanted to push the boundaries and go beyond controlling the joystick:

“Instead of thinking about controlling a joystick, which is what our ace pilots do when they’re driving this thing, Jan’s thinking about controlling the airplane directly,” Prabhakar said. “For someone who’s never flown — she’s not a pilot in real life — she’s flying that simulator directly from her neural signaling.”

Every hint of a major technological advance brings a host of questions and nightmare scenarios along with it, but the initial sense of wonder should be savored before worrying about what could go wrong.

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Don’t Despair About ‘Net Neutrality’ Yet

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Michael Walsh
FDR, making use of the very latest communications technology

FDR, making use of the very latest communications technology

It ain’t over ’til it’s over:

Despite the Federal Communications Commission’s historic vote Thursday in favor of net neutrality, the fate of the Internet is far from settled. The FCC’s action triggered jubilation among open Internet enthusiasts, but the powerful telecom industry is poised for a legal challenge to the new rules. And Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation that would supersede the FCC’s approach.

In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC acted to implement net neutrality rules designed to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all legal content equally, eliciting howls of protest from the ISPs.

Responding to the outcome with mockery and defiance, Verizon dismissed the new guidelines, which are based on a 1934 law, as a set of rules “written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph.” And in a clever PR gambit that was shared widely on social media, the company issued statements opposing the FCC action written with a typewriter in Morse code.

Remember that the FCC is a creature of Congress and Congress could abolish it tomorrow should it wish to. Of course, it won’t. Because what is more permanent than the legacy of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration? For Democrats, the New Deal is far more important than the Mosaic Law.

AT&T raised the prospect of court challenges that would block the FCC from enforcing the rules. “We once again face the uncertainty of litigation, and the very real potential of having to start over — again — in the future,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president external and legislative affairs, in a statement.The FCC’s previous net neutrality rules were thrown out by a federal court last year.

That won’t stop these devils from trying until they get what they want, however.

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How The Government Is About to Make a Big Power Grab For the Internet on Thursday

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - by Seton Motley

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 7.49.03 AM

Thursday is for freedom a very bad day. That is the day the free speech-free market Xanadu that is the Internet will be unilaterally seized by the Barack Obama Administration.

Per the President’s demand, the allegedly independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pretending to be Congress – and writing new Web-regulating law for themselves. And on Thursday they will vote on it – and thereby grab expansive, broad and deep overlording powers.

The President influencing the FCC is at the very least problematic – if not illegal.

House to Probe White House Role in FCC’s ‘Net Neutrality’ Proposal

Senate Investigating Whether Obama Meddled with the FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan

In defense of the Commission’s apparent lackey-esque capitulation, Special Counsel for External Affairs Gigi Sohn “reassured” us:

“There are…places where our proposal is actually stronger than President Obama’s proposal.”

“Our power grab is even worse than President Obama’s” isn’t very reassuring:

Obama’s One-Man Rule Amounts To A ‘Gradual, Quiet Coup’

President Obama’s Immigration Plan: Rewriting the Law

Obama Rewrites The Law Again, IRS Waives Obamacare Subsidy Clawback Penalties

Obama Rewrites ‘No Child’ Law

Obama Proposes Massive Gun Ban by Regulation Fiat

The FCC is allegedly an “expert agency“- and they will apply this expertise to their command-and-control of the Web.

Government Agency That Wants To Commandeer The Internet Just Had Their Website Crash – Twice

Oops. Well, perhaps the combined technological expertise of the entire $4-trillion-a-year federal government will help.

Technology Failures Grow All Too Common in Government Projects

High-Risk List: Government IT Projects Fail ‘Too Frequently’

Traffic Didn’t Crash the Obamacare Site Alone. Bad Coding Did Too

Three Months Later, State Department Hasn’t Rooted Out Hackers

Not so much. Well at least they’re experts at other things – maybe it will rub off.

Why Does Government Fail So Often?

A Fatal Wait: Veterans Languish and Die on Veterans Administration Secret List

Why Are We Not Talking About the Federal Government’s $123 Trillion In Unfunded Liabilities?

Not so much. Well they don’t wield well their massive power – but at least they don’t abuse it.

Constitutional Experts Call Obama’s Abuse of Power Historic

New IRS Scandal Revives Past Allegations Against Agency

Gov’t Obtains Wide AP Phone Records in Probe

Obama’s ‘Abuse of Power’ Argument on Recess Appointments

Not so much. Is our data safe in government hands?

‘Thousands of NSA Analysts Can Listen to Domestic Phone Calls,’ Read Emails, Texts, IMs

Think NSA Spying Is Bad? Here Comes ObamaCare Hub

Confirmed: US Counterterrorism Agency Can Amass Data On Any Citizen

Not so much. Are they at least honest and transparent with us?

Obama’s “Keep Your Plan” Promise Labeled “Lie of the Year”

Obama’s ‘Blame the Video’ Fraud Started in Cairo, Not Benghazi

EPA Chief’s Secret ‘Alias’ Email Account Revealed

Jon Stewart Accuses Kathleen Sebelius of Lying to Him About Obamacare

Not so much. Do they at least want to correct things – and admire and appreciate those inside government who point out this endless stream of abuses and failures?

The Obama Administration’s War on Whistleblowers

Obama has Prosecuted More Whistleblowers than All Other Presidents Combined

Obama Has Sentenced Whistleblowers to 25 Times the Jail Time of All Prior U.S. Presidents Combined

Not so much. Do they at least want to work with the media – you know, “The most transparent administration in history?”

President Obama Promised Transparency and Open Government. He Failed Miserably

Obama Administration Has Gone To Unprecedented Lengths To Thwart Journalists

New York Times Reporter: Obama Admin “Most Closed, Control-Freak Administration I’ve Ever Covered”

Not so much.

Does the FCC behave any differently than any other tentacle of the Leviathan?

FCC: Lifeline Program Fraud and Abuse Surpasses Two Million Subscribers

FCC Admits CableCARD a Failure

FCC Votes Itself 17.2% USF E-Rate Tax Increase

The FCC’s Plan To Steamroll State Laws Against Government Broadband

Not so much. And what of the FCC’s looming Net Neutrality power grab? Can we get a peek – in the interest of transparency?

(Obama-Campaign-Cash-Bundler FCC) Chairman Wheeler Won’t Release Net Neutrality Draft

Not so much. Why not?

“What you have suggested in terms of releasing the preliminary discussion draft of the Order runs contrary to Commission procedure followed over the years….”

Their defense of their anti-transparency – is years and years of precedent anti-transparency.

Speaking of anti-transparency – and abuse of power, and silencing critics, and…:

Top Pai Aide Says Press Release Was Blocked

Matthew Berry, chief of staff to FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, took to Twitter earlier this week to suggest “FCC leadership” was attempting to prevent the commissioner from posting a press release excerpting critics of network neutrality regulation.

Pai has been extremely outspoken in his criticism of chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan—he calls it the President’s plan—to reclassify ISPs under some Title II regs as a way to support new network neutrality rules.

Asked what Berry meant by a Feb. 18 tweet saying “FCC leadership now trying to block Commissioner Pai’s press releases from FCC website. So much for Open Internet!,” Berry said that the FCC’s Office of Media Relations “told us that the Office of General Counsel had directed that our statement be removed from the website.”

So the FCC is just like every other federal Department, Agency, Commission and Board – hopelessly incompetent, abusive, dishonest and anti-transparent.

And they’re about to commandeer control of the Internet.

Well, the web was fun while it lasted.

Next up: The conga line to the courthouse – to sue to undo this egregious overreach.

AT&T Ready to Sue FCC Over Net Neutrality

NCTA Will Probably Sue FCC Over Title II Regulation

Smaller Cable Companies Hint They’ll Sue the FCC on Net Neutrality, Too

What we can do: Call our respective Congressmen and Senators and tell them to do everything in their power (there’s quite a bit, actually) to rein in the rogue FCC: (202) 224-3121.

*****

image illustration via shutterstock /  

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Ted Cruz Trolls Obama’s Planned Internet Takeover in the Most Brilliant Way Possible

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard
YouTube Preview Image

You can’t demonstrate the dangers of President Obama’s plan to regulate the internet and reclassify broadband as a Title II common carrier more clearly than this video, courtesy of Sen. Ted Cruz.

Cruz said on his website that the Obama administration is trying to impose 1934 rules on the Internet, which will stifle innovation. “The FCC’s net neutrality plan will drive up the cost of consumer Internet plans, impose billions of new taxes on the Internet, and allow a panel of five unelected bureaucrats to regulate and control every aspect of the Internet,” Cruz said.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the unelected board, held a press conference earlier this week to warn about the dangers of the 332-page plan that will not be released to the public until after the FCC’s vote on February 26.

“The American people are being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet,” Pai said. “Last week’s carefully managed rollout was designed to downplay the plans of a massive intrusion in the Internet economy.”

“I have now read the 332 page plan. It is worse than I had imagined,” said Pai.

He warned that reclassifying broadband would open the door to new internet taxes and intrusive regulations and would give the FCC “broad and unprecedented discretion to micro-manage the internet.”

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Oops-White House Forgot To Tell Intelligence Committee About New Cyber Intelligence Center

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

Awkward.

Members of the House Intelligence Committee were not briefed on the plans the White House announced today for a new cyber integration center modeled on the National Counterterrorism Center, a source with knowledge of the discussions told POLITICO.

And they’re not happy about it.

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, projected to have a staff of 50 when it is fully operational next year, is funded by a $35 million line item in the “black budget” request for intelligence funding.

Representatives from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence briefed committee members on the budget last week, the source said, but did not provide any details about the new line item.

“When they were specifically asked for details on their cyber plans, they said there was nothing else they could share at this time,” the source said, adding they were told more information would be made available in more detailed budget documents that have not yet been sent to the committee.

That was the last committee members heard of the issue before today’s announcement was trailed with an official leak to The Washington Post, the source said.

What a comfort it is to know that President Hope and Change has made things in Washington so toxic that the branches of government can’t communicate on matters of terrorism-related national security. This isn’t really surprising given that this president treats the Legislative branch with almost blatant contempt these days.

Here is hoping that his petulance doesn’t lead to something catastrophic happening, it’s already doing enough damage to the budget.

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White House Makes Obama’s “Random Shooting” Statement a Million Times Worse

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The reaction on Twitter deserves to be duly noted:

And we wonder why Netanyahu views speaking with Congress as an “imperative”.

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LensCrafters Offers Nine Marital Status Choices

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

# LensCrafters offers 9 marital status choices. Interlocutors rejoice! #marriage

A photo posted by Paula Bolyard (@pjbolyard) on

 

If you list your marital status as “Interlocutory,” LensCrafters wants you to feel included. Polygamists, too.

Today at LensCrafters I was handed an iPad and instructed to “update my medical history” prior to my eye exam. Purportedly for the sake of greater efficiency and accuracy, I was confronted with screen after screen of repetitive requests for information, most of which should have already been in their database. I had to type in my home address no fewer than three times. (Can we all agree that any computer programmer who creates such an illogical and repetitive form should be banished to the computer-programmer equivalent of Gitmo — perhaps an endless loop of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride with only a dial-up modem?)

In addition to the repetitive requests for my address and phone number(s!!) were more intrusive demographic questions, including an inquisition about my race and ethnic background.

And right there on the very first screen was a mini-interrogation about the intimate details of my marital status.  Am I married? Divorced? Widowed? Never Married? Interlocutory?

Inter…what?

We’ve all become accustomed to intrusive questions about our personal lives when we’re accosted by the endless forms, without which, we’re told, life as we know it will come to a grinding halt. Years ago doctors asked about your marital status so they’d know where to send the bill and they asked about your race and ethnic background solely because there were certain diseases and disorders endemic to some ethnicities.

Is LensCrafters making a grand statement about the definition of marriage? Perhaps. Or maybe the form is just a reflection of where we are as a culture. Either way, when a company recognizes “Polygamy” as a marital status, it cannot escape making a powerful cultural statement at this historical moment of marital revolution.

But these days, it’s much more likely that a company is asking you “demographic” questions — and even questions about your “health” — because they are data mining. The more they know about your personal life, the better they can “serve” you, they would say. There is a gold mine of data for marketers who learn that you list your marital status as “Interlocutory” (which is apparently some sort of legal purgatory between marriage and divorce) because it will influence your buying habits. Likewise, if you’re a 50-year-old man who claims to have multiple wives, your purchasing decisions will be different than those of a never-married female in her 20s.

I suspect that LensCrafters won’t turn away customers who refuse to reveal their marital status or other purely demographic data, and hopefully, they won’t give me the wrong glasses if I accidentally checked “Interlocutory” instead of “Married.” After all, it’s not my fault those checkboxes were so tiny, so there’s an outside chance that I registered as a 16-year-old polygamous, African American male of Serbian ethnicity with questionable near vision.

 

 

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‘No Safe Place for You Online’: Anonymous Taking Down ISIS Social Media Accounts

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

Hacking collective Anonymous announced its progress in taking down sites associated with ISIS, listing dozens of Twitter accounts used for recruiting and terrorist PR that are now in the hands of the hackers.

Anonymous released a video Sunday stating that the group of “hackers, crackers, hacktivists, phishers, agents, spies, or just the guy next door” working to bring down the ISIS online operation represented all religions, young and old, students and workers, from a range of countries.

Vowed the group:

We will hunt you, take down your sites, accounts, emails, and expose you…
From now on, no safe place for you online…
You will be treated like a virus, and we are the cure…
We own the Internet…
We are Anonymous; we are Legion; we do not forgive, we do not forget, Expect us.

Anonymous has also put many Facebook accounts on a watch list, suspecting the users of communicating with ISIS.

They warned it’s “just the beginning,” and more accounts were being hijacked even as they were posting the announcement.

A month ago, Anonymous declared war on ISIS following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. That was followed a few days later by an ISIS hacker taking over CENTCOM’s social media accounts. After Anonymous tracked down the hacker, the ISIS hacker briefly took control of one of their accounts. This enabled Anonymous to exactly pinpoint him.

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Lies and Redemption Fuel a Grammys Bent on Sex

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Oh for the days when music was about music. Perhaps that hasn’t truly existed since the pioneers strummed banjos on their front porches, but hey we can dream. Anything is better than the farce dished out at this year’s Grammy Awards by the likes of sinner-turned-saints Katy Perry and Queen Bey and the Grand Poobah of Liars Barack Obama. Kanye was still Kanye, terrorizing the stage with his unwanted opinions, but at least he’s being true to his Messiah complex. The rest of them cracked open the Eau de Hypocrisie in their SWAG bags way too early.

On the Sunday night preceding the release of Fifty Shades of Grey in movie theaters nation-wide, the music industry famous for turning women into greased-up, slimmed-down sex objects suddenly decided it gave a damn about sexual assault. Not because they really do, but because sexual assault sells. Just ask Lena Dunham and that chick who lugs a mattress around Columbia U. Autism replaced AIDS and now that we’ve decided vaccines aren’t an assault on our children we’ve turned our collective head and trumped up statistics towards sexual assault.

Big Brother Barry broke into the awards show to lacquer us with the false 1 in 5 narrative before commanding us to hashtag our support for the White House’s campaign against sexual assault on campus. Cue “domestic violence activist” testimony neatly leading into a performance of “By the Grace of God” by Katy Perry sans beach-ball bikini and shark dancers.  Beyonce, far from the wet, lap-dancing prostitute of last year, appeared in angelic white garb to sing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” for the show’s holiest of finales. Pop-meets-penance, it was a spectacle worthy of a holy institution. The only thing missing was Steve Martin in his sparkling jacket promising to heal us all, at least the straight men, of their demon sexuality.

Prior to this tent revival escapade, Madonna touched on the music industry’s pagan affair with lusty sexuality in her trademark style. Clad as a matador, men dressed as faceless bulls with Satanic horns danced around her while she declared her ability to rise up (via harness, apparently) and “live for love” despite being “knocked down” by previous lovers. Lyrically she hasn’t generated anything unique since the ’80s and the techno-pop beat was more worthy of Cher or Kylie Minogue than Madonna at her most innovative. But her visual style paid homage to the reality of a Hollywood soaked in bizarre, painful sex and enjoying it thoroughly.

Were honest statistics and less theatrics used in addressing the real issue of sexual violence, the Grammys would have seemed more authentic and less like damage control following Rolling Stone‘s massive faux pas when it came to reporting on the campus rape epidemic that isn’t. When Perry and Bey quit getting naked on their knees, call me. Until then, regardless of how many layers of white they wear they’re just dancing in the shadow of Madonna, the music industry’s reigning pagan priestess.

Also read: 

1%ers: Take a Look at the $25,000 Swag Bag at the Grammy Awards

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Uh-Oh: FCC Chairman Wants To Regulate Broadband Like A Utility

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

A bad idea made worse…

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed Wednesday he’s seeking strong net neutrality rules that regulate broadband service like a utility, matching a vision laid out by President Barack Obama and setting up a high-stakes standoff with the telecom industry and congressional Republicans.

The move, which Wheeler announced in an online op-ed in Wired magazine, is expected to meet heavy resistance from the GOP Congress and Internet-service providers, which warn it will lead to burdensome regulation and hinder investment. AT&T has already said it will challenge such rules in court.

Wheeler’s plan would prevent broadband providers from engaging in pay-for-play deals with companies for faster delivery of their content to consumers. It would also extend net neutrality rules to mobile devices. The full five-member commission is slated to vote on Wheeler’s plan on Feb. 26.

“I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” the chairman wrote. “These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.”

We can only hope that the anticipated standoff with Republicans will actually happen. If there is a line in the sand to be drawn by this majority I can’t think of a better one than keeping the un-elected regulatory agencies in check. I would obviously prefer that they have their powers stripped but let’s take this one step at a time.

The Idiot King knows that he isn’t going to get any assists from Congress in the next couple of years so he is going to let the EPA and FCC run crazy, unleashing a regulatory zombie apocalypse on the American people. This battle in particular should be an easy fight for even the Republicans to get the messaging right. Not too many regular people have warm and fuzzy feelings about dealing with utilities. I waited ten days for the gas company to turn my gas on when I moved into my current home. I’ve got nothing nice to say about them.

Also, if you have been exasperated at any time with your mobile provider, imagine how much worse it will be with our heavy-handed overlords upping their regulatory stake in the process.

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Of These 25 ‘Most Dangerous’ Jobs, Only 8 Are Morally Defensible in the 21st Century

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

#trollface jajaja

A photo posted by Vale Acosta Barreto (@vale.cota_barreto) on

So as the number of comments and some of my twitter replies revealed, it seems that even when I warn right up front that I’m trolling, some people will still take me seriously. (See my Super Bowl piece yesterday, which some had a hard time grasping.) I suppose a significant chunk of people just can’t understand how to read something other than in an earnest, straight-forward, literalist way. So from now on, when I’m trolling, I’ll be sure to have an overt picture indicating as such. How about the one above as a default? Or do you like the one below more, a Wario variation of the infamous meme?

#TrollFace

A photo posted by {|}W•I•L•L•I•A•M{|} (@william_eliassen) on

But somebody who did take me a little too literally did share an interesting article in response:

It’s an entertaining list. By my count, only 8 of the jobs are defensible as worth dedicating one’s life to in the 21st century. Some of the deadly jobs may have been respectable as careers in 19th century America (making steel, chopping down trees, mining coal, etc.) but they really aren’t at all anymore, unless you plan on doing it with a robot instead of risking your own body. (And I’m skeptical of a few of the list’s claims — the microchip manufacturer entry seems to rely on facts from the 1980s.)

But these jobs from the list where one risks life and limb for a higher purpose are still worthy of respect in my estimation:

25. Smokejumper [firefighter who leaps out of planes in forests]

21. Bounty Hunter

20. War Correspondent

18. Maximum Security Prison Guard

16. U. S. President

14. Urban Cop

10. Urban Firefighter

5. Soldier In Battle

There are a number of other occupations more honorable and moral than a professional athlete sacrificing their body for sport. Which others do you think were neglected from the list?

(And have I made my point obvious enough yet for all the slow people? That “real men” don’t dedicate their lives to playing and obsessing over sports. They put their lives on the line to fight evil barbarians, bring down slave states, and crush criminal death cults.)

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Saudi Arabia Rules American Defense Subcontractor’s Mysterious Death a Suicide

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

cramertext

The Jewish Press reports:

Saudi Arabia has yet to release the body of a U.S. defense subcontractor who was working for Israel’s Elbit Systems when he died under mysterious circumstances after being sent to the country to help complete a weapons deal.

Christopher Cramer was working for Kollsman Inc., a firm that subcontracted for the Israeli defense electronics company, when he was found dead last month on the ground outside his third-floor hotel room in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia.

“We received a message from Kollsman Inc., Elbit Systems’ subcontractor in America, saying its employee Chris Cramer passed away during a work trip,” said a spokesperson for Elbit Systems.

“The circumstances of his death are being investigated by the American State Department. We have no further details at this stage and we are waiting for the State Department to update our American subcontractor. Cramer worked for the company for 12 years. We cannot provide details on the project he was working on, but this is a Kollsman product, an American product with no Israeli technologies involved in its production.”

According to the family attorney, Noah Mandell, the Saudi Arabian company that bought the equipment claimed it wasn’t working correctly. Cramer’s job was to investigate in order to make sure the Saudis were operating the equipment correctly and not trying to pull a fast one on Kollsman:

Mandell and a nephew of Cramer’s, Christopher Arsenault, suspect that Cramer was killed because his presence threatened to reveal the fact that Global Defense Systems, a Saudi company involved in the deal, was intent on sabotaging equipment that Cramer was sent to fix.

Cramer sent footage to his superiors showing that the equipment was working correctly. Shortly afterward, he sent text messages to his attorney begging him to get in touch with the State Department, explaining, “I think something bad is going to happen to me tonight. Please contact State Dept. ASAP. Bad things were said.”

The Saudis are holding Cramer’s body pending an investigation seemingly designed to prove their foregone conclusion that the American committed suicide. Despite protests from doubtful family and friends who anxiously await an autopsy on American soil the State Department is backing the Saudis, referring inquiries to the local police department in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia.

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A Five Story Building From A 3-D Printer? That Just Happened

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

Welcome to incredible.

Not satisfied with its recent feat of 3D-printing 10 small houses in a day, Chinese construction firm WinSun Decoration Design Engineering has just topped itself by 3D-printing a five-story apartment building and a 11,840-square-foot Neoclassical mansion. Just like the batch of single-story buildings unveiled last year, these new structures are also made of recycled construction waste, assembled by one massive 3D printer.

As WinSun CEO Ma Yi He explained in a press conference earlier this month, this technology can save between 30 and 60 percent of building materials, shorten production times by 50 to 70 percent, and cut down labor costs by 50 to 80 percent. And it appears there’s already a lot of interest. CityLab reports that the Egyptian government has ordered 20,000 of WinSun’s single-story houses and a Taiwanese real estate has pre-ordered ten of these newly unveiled mansions.

This is pretty incredible stuff (that’s high-level technology speak). 3-D printing has gone from an interesting curiosity to “Whoa, the future just got here!” in a few short years. Those cost reduction numbers are so staggering they could make housing here in Southern California affordable.

Until Jerry Brown taxes 3-D printers to pay for a bullet train, of course. 4e32199880d1572c401fd93b5a7d688f

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Drone Operators to Obama After White House Crash: ‘More Regulation Isn’t the Answer’

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Hobby drone operators are fighting back against President Obama’s call for more regulations after a drone crashed on the White House lawn this week.

The drone operator reported himself to the Secret Service, saying he lost control of the craft.

In an interview with CNN while visiting India, Obama noted that “the drone that landed in the White House you buy in Radio Shack.”

“You know that there are companies like Amazon that are talking about using small drones to deliver packages… There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife.” Obama said. “But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.”

Stressing that “these technologies that we’re developing have the capacity to empower individuals in ways that we couldn’t even imagine 10-15 years ago,” Obama said said he’d work with stakeholders to craft a regulatory framework that “ensures that we get the good and minimize the bad.”

The Academy of Model Aeronautics responded with a statement that “more regulation isn’t the answer.”

“The Washington, DC, airspace is some of the most heavily regulated airspace in the world, and all aircraft operations are currently prohibited in the vicinity of the White House. Despite the existing regulations, a quadcopter still made its way onto the White House lawn this week,” said AMA President Bob Brown.

“Community-based programming is the key to safe and responsible flying, as our organization’s 78-year history has shown. AMA has safety guidelines, best practices and operating principles that have allowed enthusiasts to operate their aircraft and safely use this technology for more than seven decades. When an incident occurs, it’s a rare day when one of AMA’s 175,000 members is involved,” Brown added.

Those members are spread throughout 2,400 clubs in the United States, the group said.

“AMA has always believed that the best, and perhaps the only, way to successfully manage the recreational community is through a community-based set of safety guidelines and the combined efforts of the FAA and AMA,” Brown said. “The FAA’s recent interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft has complicated our working relationship, but it is our hope that the agency will work with us to forge a path forward for the recreational community that finds common ground on the Interpretive Rule and leverages AMA’s deep expertise when it comes to safe and responsible flying.”

The AMA sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta last week asking for a meeting “to again offer our expertise and knowledge in support of the FAA’s effort to create guidance for the operation of recreational sUAS in the NAS.”

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Obama Administration Cancels Helicopter Sale, Lending Tacit Support to Boko Haram Terrorists

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry paid a lip-service visit to Nigeria on Sunday. The country best known as Ground Zero in the fight against radical Islamists Boko Haram (remember #BringBackOurGirls of 2014?) will be holding elections in February that stand to determine whether the government will continue to be led by a Christian, or if the government will turn into a Muslim regime. If it were up to the Obama administration, the latter would be preferable, at least based off of their latest decision to cut off military aid in the form of much-needed helicopters to Christian forces:

Kerry promised more US support in the fight against Boko Haram if the elections take place peacefully and democratically. However, the United States apparently stopped a planned sale of retired American-made Cobra helicopters by Israel to Nigeria, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Monday.

Haaretz has learned that the Defense Ministry had already made plans for the sale to Nigeria and the transfer of the helicopters – but the United States prevented the sale, due to fears that civilians would be harmed during the use of the helicopters in Nigeria.

The New York Times reported at the end of December that the US had blocked the sale “amid concerns in Washington about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain that type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram, and continuing worries about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.”

Radical Islamists are more than aware of the usefulness of civilians in waging operations against trained armies. The Obama administration’s rather clever excuse regarding civilians isn’t all that clever when one realizes Hamas uses the same argument in press releases involving their latest round of human shields.

But this administration has bigger goals on its plate than saving persecuted Christians in Nigeria. They have plenty of battles in their own self-titled “War on Muslims” to wage, which is most likely why, when speaking to the Nigerian audience on Sunday, Kerry “…referenced his Davos speech in which he said linking Islam to terrorist activities is ‘the biggest error we could make.’”

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Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress is ‘Moral Imperative’

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Hat tip: Grabien

In an address to the Israeli Bonds gala in Florida this past weekend, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer explained the reasoning behind Netanyahu’s willingness to accept John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat:

The prime minister’s visit is also not intended to wade into your political debate… Rather, the prime minister’s visit to Washington is intended for one purpose — and one purpose only. To speak up while there is still time to speak up. To speak up when there is still time to make a difference.

…Now there may be some people who believe that the prime minister of Israel should have declined an invitation to speak before the most powerful parliament in the world on an issue that concerns the future and survival of Israel. But we have learned from history that the world becomes a more dangerous place for the Jewish people when the Jewish people are silent.

That is why the prime minister feels the deepest moral obligation to appear before Congress to speak about an existential issue facing the one and only Jewish state. This is not just the right of the prime minister of Israel. It is his most sacred duty — to do whatever he can to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons that can be aimed at Israel.

The question for both politicians and pundits to answer is, then, when do political relationships and foreign policy strategy take a back seat to moral imperative? Better yet, when do policy wonks and analysts begin to take moral imperative seriously? Or is “moral imperative” becoming yet another buzz word in the verbal parlay that belies a greater and deadlier battle?

In any case, history proves Dermer correct in his observation that the world is a better place when the Jewish people use their voice to speak out. And in an environment that is far too heavily governed by opinion and fear instead of fact and faith, the person – any person – who is willing to speak out against evil better be armed by a strong moral imperative and the confidence to go along with it.

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Bill O’Reilly Compares Internet Climate to Nazi Propaganda

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

The topic of Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News Talking Points Memo on Friday was “How the Internet is Deceiving You.” Using an attack on the film American Sniper by Vox’s Amanda Taub as an example, O’Reilly said, “The far left is going nuts launching hateful attacks on the film and on Mr. Kyle and most of the libel is found on the net.”

O’Reilly said that Taub may even be a terrorist sympathizer, citing an article she wrote trying to explain the actions of the terrorists who blew up a school in Pakistan.

“Here we have Taub providing the rationale for the slaughtering of innocent school children,” O’Reilly said. “Does it get much worse?”

He complained that her article about American Sniper was posted “on a number of sites including Yahoo.”

“But those providers did not tell you, the reader, who Amanda Taub is, or the quality of the organization for whom she works. They just post her disgusting stuff without any context,” O’Reilly continued.

“The chief danger here is not from a propagandist here like Amanda Taub. It’s the entire internet climate,” he said. “Americans are often presented with information that’s false, libelous, and distorted in the extreme. There are no journalistic standards on the net. Few websites even have editors looking at it. They just post this stuff and walk away.”

It’s a fair-enough criticism. Anyone can create a blog or put up a website that has the look and feel of a legitimate news site. Fact-checking is sometimes an afterthought.

O’Reilly thinks this free flow of information (and misinformation) poses a great danger to our republic:

“Unfortunately, many Americans believe what they read and therefore there is a danger to the republic,” he said. “If you know anything about history you know that dictators, both on the left and on the right, first control the press. The Nazis and the communists put out a steady stream of garbage brainwashing their population. To some extent, that is happening now in free societies with the elevation of the net. And it’s flat-out dangerous.”

Has Bill O’Reilly been to N. Korea lately? Or to China (that allegedly burgeoning bastion of capitalism and freedom)? A friend recently returned from a business trip to China and said both Facebook and Google were blocked there. He had to use Microsoft Outlook to send and receive email. “That pesky free exchange of ideas thing,” he said sarcastically.

Nomiki Konst, a political strategist and former Huffington Post blogger, joined Bill O’Reilly after his Talking Points Memo and reminded him that the Nazis had very limited vehicles with which to release their propaganda. Today, she said, there are “literally millions of ways to communicate different messages to different echo chambers.”

She asked him if he wanted to regulate the internet.

O’Reilly, who clearly doesn’t understand how the interwebs and news aggregator sites work, said he doesn’t want to regulate small sites like Vox but said, “When it gets over into the big ones like Google and Yahoo and all of these things and they just post it with no context, that’s propaganda, it’s wrong, and it’s happening all over the place. ”

O’Reilly said he thinks readers ought to know what a writer’s “worldview” is and that it should be clear where writers are coming from.

“If you write an op-ed in a newspaper, it tells at the bottom who you are and what agency you’re coming from. It doesn’t do it on the net.”

Well, except for that whole charade of the unsigned newspaper editorials that we are led to believe are right-down-the-middle pieces, written by trained journalists who have no biases whatsoever. And if we were to use O’Reilly’s truth-in-journalism standards, a large percentage of op-eds over the last 50 years should have been carrying labels that read: WARNING: LIBERAL BIAS. Also, where were the warnings about the danger to our republic when the “Big 3″ networks had far-left “real journalists” like Dan Rather feeding Americans their news on a nightly basis?

Konti told O’Reilly that the best way to rebut opinions that he didn’t like was by having more opinions. “We’re in a free society where we have freedom of speech and you just rebutted hers. That’s the best way to do it.”

In a later segment of the show, O’Reilly discussed the problem with Geraldo Rivera and they both worried about the proliferation of opinions floating around the internet without the guiding hand of “trained journalists.” It’s clear that O’Reilly is nostalgic for the days when just a handful of powerful individuals controlled the media and the flow of information.

The democratization of information is at once powerful and terrifying and liberating, but the technology can’t be undone — the information revolution is here to stay. More speech (and more excellent speech) is what is needed, not regulation.

 

 

 

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Door Opened on Drone Reporting as Media Companies Start Testing

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Ten media companies have aligned to test drone newsgathering with Virginia Tech, shortly after CNN announced it would be developing drone reporting with Georgia Tech.

They’re wandering into new territory as regulations currently don’t allow media organizations to use the unmanned aircraft.

Advance Publications Inc., A.H. Belo Corp., The Associated Press, Gannet Co. Inc., Getty Images (U.S.) Inc., NBC Universal, The New York Times Co., The E.W. Scripps Co., Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and The Washington Post have partnered to test drone newsgathering at the FAA-approved site in Virginia.

At the testing site, one of six approved by Congress as a first step to forging domestic drone regulations, the news agencies will “conduct controlled safety testing of a series of real-life scenarios where the news media could use small UAS technology to gather the news,” according to law firm Holland & Knight.

The firm has been working with the media companies since the middle of last year to come to an agreement on testing.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently entered into a research and development agreement with CNN.

“Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high-quality video journalism using various types of UAVs and camera setups,” said CNN Senior Vice President David Vigilante. “Our hope is that these efforts contribute to the development of a vibrant ecosystem where operators of various types and sizes can safely operate in the U.S. airspace.”

While the FAA has granted exemptions for the use of drones in other industries including agriculture and film, no media organization has yet been granted permission to use drones for newsgathering.

“Unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “We hope this agreement with CNN and the work we are doing with other news organizations and associations will help safely integrate unmanned newsgathering technology and operating procedures into the National Airspace System.”

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Feminist Mag Complains American Sniper Unfair …to Babies?

Monday, January 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Get ready for a good laugh. If you aren’t ready, file this story for when you need one. I did, and it hit the spot.

Online feminist mag Jezebel, which spends more time discussing Lena Dunham’s haircuts than anything actually relevant to feminism, featured a story on “human-baby activist” Alice Vincent’s complaint that Clint Eastwood used dolls instead of live babies for his latest box office smash American Sniper.

Yep. “Human-baby activist.” It gets better:

The film notoriously forewent actual child actors in favor of plastic baby dolls, presumably to avoid traumatizing real babies from the terror of being in the same room as director Clint Eastwood. A sagacious decision, but one that poised yet another dilemma: the plastic babies are milkfed and symmetrical, glowing in their perfection and delicately rosy cheeks, sweet and subdued, and will never encounter colic. The babies’ noses are flawlessly buttony, their cheeks absolutely round, their tiny lips distended in an unachievable bow. The babies’ tans are even, and a perfect shade of sunkissed white skin. Their very existence, the upholding of these babies as somehow the way all babies should look, exerts undue pressure on actual live babies to live up to this type of unachievable ideal, and ultimately sends the message to American Sniperviewers that if their babies are not as perfect as the babies onscreen, then they are not as worthy. It says that in order to be considered beautiful, a baby must be a doll.

Babies, beware. Even though you don’t yet have the cognitive ability to watch a film, Hollywood is out to harass and intimidate you with their impossible beauty standards. Jezebel ends their compelling coverage of this hot-button issue with a “plea” to the American Sniper gang:

We make a collective plea to Clint Eastwood and the cast of American Sniper for the liberation and visibility for all babies, not just ones constructed of plastic and rubber: of human babies, and of babies who are flawed, and babies whose shit and piss and puke is tangible, not just the kind scrawled out into a diaper with yellow and brown magic markers. We demand the depiction of normal, oxygen-breathing babies on our screens, in a show of solidarity that babies come in all shapes and sizes, all religions and nationalities, and do not have to be in possession of perfect diction or enthusiastic participants in nightlife to be good enough to be included in the cast of a film.

Clint, Bradley, next time you’re about to make an Oscar-nominated movie about a war hero, think about the babies!

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Anti-Israel CNN Reporter Jim Clancy Resigns

Friday, January 16th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Hasbara

Last week we covered the story of CNN’s Jim Clancy, who embarrassed himself with a feeble Twitter attempt to tie the radical Islamists behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre to Hasbara (Israeli PR). Today, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

Veteran CNN anchor Jim Clancy stepped down on Friday, one week after a series of Twitter posts in which he mocked pro-Israel tweeters on a thread discussing the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Neither CNN nor Jim Clancy gave a reason for his departure, which was reported by AdWeek. Clancy had worked at CNN for 34 years.

Although Clancy’s Twitter account no longer existed as of Thursday, the tweets have been preserved on a number of websites, including Twitchy and Mediaite, and by Tablet journalist Yair Rosenberg.

Apparently, at one point the Twitter backlash got so bad that Clancy took mouthing off to a whole new disgusting level:

Clancy later told the Twitter account for Human Rights News, “You and the Hasbara team need to pick on some cripple at the edge of the herd.”

Jay Ruderman, head of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which is dedicated to advocacy and inclusion for the disabled, demanded an apology from Clancy and CNN. Ruderman said the use of the term “cripple” was insensitive.

Whether it was a long-overdue retirement or a simple parting of the ways, Clancy’s exit from CNN is one thing for which we can fully thank some serious Twitter hasbara.

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Uh-Oh: GOP Crafting Its Own Net Neutrality Legislation

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

More government “help” is on the way.

Republicans in Congress are doing a 180 on net neutrality as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to issue new rules within weeks.

For years, GOP lawmakers have adamantly opposed any rules requiring Internet service providers to treat all Web traffic equally, calling them unnecessary and an example of Washington overreach.

But now that the FCC is moving toward issuing a tough net neutrality order that would subject broadband to utility-style regulation — an approach endorsed by President Barack Obama — top Republicans in both chambers are making plans to legislate their own rules to ensure the agency doesn’t go too far.

There are enough bad ideas here to write five posts about but I’ll limit it to a couple of broader ideas.

First, net neutrality is a bad idea. That is, of course, unless you are a big fan of government regulation.

I am not.

Secondly, this approach by the Republicans is, quite frankly, idiotic.

If a regulatory agency is going to run amok and circumvent the legislative process, giving said agency a modified legislated version of its overreach isn’t the best way to deal with it. Legislating the opposite, or trying to trim back the power of the agency would be more along the lines of what the country definitely needs at this time.

Most disturbing about this is seeing the new majority Republicans caving on an issue they were adamantly opposed to when they were in the minority. They can spin it however they want, but their reasons for originally being against it were sound and nothing has changed to warrant an about-face.

As I have been saying since November: the reason I am not excited about the new Republican majority is that I remember the last one.

The White House, by the way, believes that the FCC has all of the power it needs to make their version happen anyway.

That is the real problem.

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RadioShack Prepares to File for Bankruptcy

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - by Stephen Kruiser

Welcome to the new tech world order.

Electronics retailer RadioShack Corp (RSH.N) might prepare to file for bankruptcy protection by next month, the Wall Street Journal reported citing people familiar with the matter.

Texas-based Radioshack is in talks with a private-equity firm that could buy its assets out of bankruptcy, the Journal reported, citing sources.

The talks may not produce a deal, and RadioShack may opt for other debt-restructuring options that do not include a sale, the Journal said.

RadioShack has reached out to potential lenders that could provide a loan to fund its operations during the bankruptcy case, the Journal added.

RadioShack was not immediately available for comment.

The retailer, which reported a bigger-than-expected third-quarter loss last month, warned in September that a bankruptcy filing was a possibility.

Just the other day I was explaining to my sixteen-year-old daughter how many brands that seemed like they would last forever are going by the wayside. Blockbuster is the prime example for her because she remembers going there when she was little and now its brick and mortar stores have vanished.

RadioShack was a frequent go-to for us road comics and our various electronic needs as we spent weeks away from home.

Every time I think about these dying brands (and the malls) I get a little nostalgic.

Then I order something from Amazon to make me feel better.

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What Did Back to the Future 2 Get Right About 2015?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by Kathy Shaidle

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A delightful video from the always-entertaining guys at Dark Corners breaks it down:

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Anonymous Launches #OpCharlieHebdo to Take Revenge on Terrorist Groups

Friday, January 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Anonymous has declared war on jihadists over the Charlie Hebdo attack.

In a French-language video labeled as “a message for al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorists,” the hackers vow to shut down jihadist websites and social media accounts. “We are declaring war against you, the terrorists.”

It follows up on a Wednesday threat to stick it to the jihadists:

Freedom of speech has suffered an inhuman assault. Terrorists broke into the premises of the “Charlie Hebdo” newspaper and shot in cold blood several satirical cartoon artists, journalists and two policemen. The killers are still at large. Disgusted and also shocked, we can not fall to our knees. It is our responsibility to react.

First, we wish to express our condolences to the families of the victims of this cowardly and despicable act. We are all affected by the death of Cabu, Charb, Tignous and Wolinski, great artists that marked their talent throughout the history of the press and died for freedom. We do not forget the other victims killed and injured in the attack that were the targets of these murderers.

It is clear that some people do not want, in a free world, this inviolable and sacred right to express in any way one’s opinions. Anonymous will never leave this right violated by obscurantism and mysticism. We will fight always and  everywhere the enemies of freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo, historical figure of satirical journalism has now been targeted. Anonymous must remind every citizen that the freedom of the press is a fundamental principle of democratic countries. Freedom of opinion, speech and to publish articles without any threat, and stress is a right “inalienable.” Anonymous has always fought the slayers of these rights and will never allow a person to be shot down radically for publishing an article, a drawing, an opinion …

Freedom of speech and opinion is a non-negotiable thing, to tackle it is to attack democracy. Expect a massive frontal reaction from us because the struggle for the defense of those freedoms is the foundation of our movement.

    We are Legion.
    We do not forgive.
    We do not forget.
    Expect us!

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Takes Questions During Reddit AMA

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard
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SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk participated in a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Monday night ahead of his company’s planned rocket launch from Florida on Tuesday. SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry supplies to the International Space Station, at 6:20 a.m. ET. If all goes as planned, the rocket will complete a soft vertical landing on a drone “spaceport ship” in the Atlantic with the goal of creating a “fully and rapidly reusable rocket.”

 

 

Asked by one reddit fan how he was able to estimate a 50% probability of success for Tuesday’s landing, Musk answered, “I pretty much made that up. I have no idea.” He added a smiley face and explained, “The grid fins are super important for landing with precision. The aerodynamic forces are way too strong for the nitrogen thrusters. In particular, achieving pitch trim is hopeless. Our atmosphere is like molasses at Mach 4!”

A group of fans from the reddit SpaceX community asked about a planned SpaceX mission to Mars. They wanted to know what the Mars Colonial Transporter actually is? Is it a crew module like Dragon (a partially reusable spacecraft developed by SpaceX), a launch vehicle like Falcon, or a mix of both?

“The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture,” Musk said. “Am hoping to present that towards the end of this year.” He added that it was a good thing they didn’t do it sooner because they have learned a “huge amount” from Falcon and Dragon.

He said the goal is to send 100 metric tons of useful payload to the surface of Mars. “This obviously requires a very big spaceship and booster system,” he said. “At first, I was thinking we would just scale up Falcon Heavy, but it looks like it probably makes more sense just to have a single monster boost stage.”

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Should Kids Still Have to Say Thank You?

Monday, January 5th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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UK Guardian writer Peter Ormerod

tells NPR’s Arun Rath that he’s not at all against gratitude. His argument has more to do with the spirit of the thing. “It’s really because gratitude is so important to me. I don’t, however, think that forcing children to write what’s often quite formulaic letters — I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way of helping children develop gratitude.”

Instead, he thinks the emphasis should be on getting kids to feel and experience gratitude, rather than just make a show of it. And once they feel it, he says, they can express it in fun or creative ways, “ways that feel much less like a chore.” That could involve drawing pictures, taking photos or baking. Ormerod says he’s even written songs for people.

Ormerod tags thank you letter-writting as an “anachronism” and an “exercise in lying” designed to “maintain respectability” among parents because no one wants to have a child who is an “ingrate.” So, would you dear parents of America choose to let your child feel gratitude by baking cookies or Instagramming their gift? In this social media age, where we share photographs of our meals and ruminations on our work lives, would expressing thanks through a written message add much needed veracity to an otherwise seemingly meaningless milieu? Would a handwritten note express deeper, longer lasting emotion than a public message? Or is it better to follow Ormerod’s advice and simply have the kid do nothing at all?

If “nothing at all” is the answer, take a look at the statistics. Not saying “thank you” in a written note may cost you big time down the line. According to a recent survey conducted by the Royal Mail:

New research by Royal Mail has revealed the true cost of not saying thank you for Christmas presents. Of those people expecting thank you letters, over half (52 per cent) say they would reduce the cost of their gift by up to £10 next year if they did not receive a thank you letter.

A further 10 per cent said they would cut their budget from £25 to £21 if they were not thanked properly in writing.

The survey also found that 20 per cent would be so offended that they would not bother buying their loved one a gift again.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those surveyed said it was important for children to say thanks via a note, while over half of adults (53 per cent) think thank you letters are important too.

Note that for all of his heavy-handed philosophizing about parenting, Ormerod is childless and bases his theory in having to arduously write out thank you notes as a child. If you’re looking to exemplify “petulant” to your child, have them read his screed. They’ll thank you, if not now then definitely later.

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The Case Against Buying New

Monday, December 29th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Michael Walsh linked to an excellent article on the inability of many millennials to fix the simplest of household devices. Walsh was joined by many of my Boomer/Gen-X friends in his comment that it’s usually cheaper to throw out and buy new, but speaking as one of those Gen-X/millennial crossovers, going shopping isn’t always the cheapest thing to do. Especially when you’re caught up in a lousy economy.

Here’s where I praise my incredibly handy husband who grew up learning fractions via wrench set before he ever encountered them in school. When he lost his job shortly after the recession hit, we newlyweds risked becoming a statistic, joining the millions of college graduates like us who were out of work at a time when no jobs could be found. Thankfully, along with raising us with a fabulously humble work ethic, our parents also trained us to make the most out of nothing. My husband saved us thousands of dollars by repairing cars, plumbing, even our household heater himself when times were lean.

Fixing things doesn’t always mean owning crap, either. How did my husband manage to drive a Mercedes in college? He found a wreck in a salvage yard and spent one summer fixing it up with his dad after work. That car lasted him over 10 years and remained a great investment because he took the time to learn how to maintain and repair it when necessary.

His Mr. Fix-It habit is far from over now that he’s back in the work force. Do you know how much it costs the average young homeowner to re-do a bathroom in their first fixer-upper? Enough to make them not bother, or mortgage more for a home that’s already been upgraded. Every project we’ve done in our home we’ve done ourselves with little to no outside help. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it’s hard work. But when you’re young and newly married in a depression marketed as a recession, knowing how to be handy around the house is a lifesaver for your budget and your marriage.

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Comcast: Crappy Service for You, Priority Service for Politicians

Monday, December 29th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard
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An article in The Washingtonian about the downfall of David Gregory at Meet the Press details how Comcast has become a major political player in Washington ahead of their proposed merger with Time Warner. The company hired legendary political fixer David L. Cohen, who previously worked as chief of staff to Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell. Cohen tripled the company’s Washington lobbying team and increased its lobbying spending more than five-fold between 2002 and 2009 when the merger was announced. And then there was this little gem:

Comcast also had an even more personal way of sucking up to Washington. Its government-affairs team carried around “We’ll make it right” cards stamped with “priority assistance” codes for fast-tracking help and handed them out to congressional staffers, journalists, and other influential Washingtonians who complained about their service.

A Comcast spokeswoman says this practice isn’t exclusive to DC; every Comcast employee receives the cards, which they can distribute to any customer with cable or internet trouble. Nevertheless, efforts like this one have surely helped Comcast boost its standing inside the Beltway and improve its chances of winning regulatory approval for its next big conquest: merging with the second-largest cable provider in the country, Time Warner Cable.

Since we have a representative democracy in the United States, let me suggest how this is perhaps supposed to work: Comcast is obviously acknowledging with these cards that their customer service is often really lousy (there’s a reason it’s one of the most hated companies in the country, after all). So when — not if — when you receive crappy customer service from the company, you’re supposed to call your congressman, who can then refer to the special code on his magic VIP “We’ll make it right” card. He can immediately call the “No-Wait Hotline” and  lobby Comcast directly on your behalf to implore them to give you something resembling adequate customer service. Maybe even get a premium channel or two thrown in for your trouble. He should at least have enough clout to get you out of their hellish customer service maze.

Or maybe Comcast could work on improving customer service company-wide instead of only for those with the lucky VIP cards.

 

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The Helpless Generation?

Sunday, December 28th, 2014 - by Michael Walsh

That’s what one professor in Britain is calling the Millennials:

Young people in Britain have become a lost generation who can no longer mend gadgets and appliances because they have grown up in a disposable world, the professor giving this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lectures has warned.

Danielle George, Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering, at the University of Manchester, claims that the under 40s expect everything to ‘just work’ and have no idea what to do when things go wrong. Unlike previous generations who would ‘make do and mend’ now young people will just chuck out their faulty appliances and buy new ones.

In fairness to the youth of the world, the transition from analog to digital technology has a lot to do with it. It really is faster and cheaper to throw out some deceased solid-state piece of junk and buy a new one from the sweatshops of China than to try and fix it.

“Radio Frequency Engineering” — what the heck is that?

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Anonymous Leaks Enormous Cache of Online Passwords, Usernames, Credit Card Info

Saturday, December 27th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

 

A hacker group said to be associated with “Anonymous” followed through on a threat they made to leak information about “accounts of various companies around the world” by leaking passwords and usernames of 13,000 accounts at Amazon,  PlayStation, XBox Live, Hulu Plus, Walmart, and other online retailers and entertainment services.

The group announced the leak, which included credit card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes, in a tweet the day after Christmas:

 

 

“For the lulz” is a phrase used on social media and in online forums to explain that an individual did something to be humourous or for personal enjoyment.

The data was released as a text file on the file-sharing site Ghostbin. The file has since been taken down, but the personal information of thousands of online customers was exposed to the public for a period of time. DailyDot has a list of all the companies affected by the data breach.

The group also linked to a site where a pirated copy of Sony’s The Interview could be downloaded.

Earlier in the week a self-described hacker group called Lizard Squad attacked the gaming networks of Sony and Microsoft, knocking the online gaming sites for XBox and Playstation Network offline for most of Christmas Day. The group also claimed responsibility for attacking Tor’s anonymous network system.

“Anonymous,” the loosely affiliated group of hackers that claims to be leaderless and without any organizational structure, fired back at Lizard Squad on Twitter, telling the group to “stand down. “Anonymous” said, ”People need that service because of corrupt governments.”

It appears the attack on Tor was unsuccessful.

 

 

These groups are working overtime to exert their dominance in the cyber universe and a lot of it is “for the lulz” — just for kicks, regardless of the collateral damage. Whether or not this mini-hacktivist war continues, it’s a good reminder to think about updating your online security because consumers will likely be caught in the crossfire if these groups continue to face off. If you have an account at one of the breached online sites, it would be a good idea to change your password and log in to minimize the risk of identity theft. You should also monitor your bank account and credit card accounts for unauthorized charges and consider how you can make your accounts more secure going forward.

Also read: 

Huntsman: No ‘Digital Pearl Harbor’ Yet, But Intellectual Property Theft a Big Threat

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Sony PlayStation Gaming Network Crippled by Christmas Day Cyber Attacks

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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Update: It appears that Lizard Squad has suspended the DDoS attacks after file sharing service Mega’s founder Kim Dotcom offered the group 3000 premium accounts to leave the gaming sites alone. Lizard Squad announced on Twitter that they’ve accepted the offer and have ended the attacks. Reports of service disruptions have dropped significantly since the announcement.

 

Gamers who tried to log onto their Sony PlayStation Network or Microsoft XBox Live accounts to play their new systems on Christmas Day were greeted by error messages saying the networks were offline. Reportedly, both companies have been hit with distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks in which botnets flood networks with tens of thousands of requests for service, creating more traffic than networks can handle. The attacks come on a day that networks are typically already strained and traffic is high.

Sony began reporting problems in the afternoon on Christmas Eve:

 

 

A group of malicious programmers calling itself Lizard Squad claimed responsibility for the attacks (which technically are not considered hacking) on Twitter. The anonymous group said they are the “next generation Grinch.” They promised to end the attacks in return for new Twitter followers and retweets.

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On Tuesday,  Polygon reported on a rivalry between two groups involved in a planned Christmas “hacking war”:

The turmoil started in August when Lizard Squad made a bit of a name for itself by claiming responsibility for Blizzard and PlayStation Network outages and a tweeted bomb threat which diverted the flight of Sony Online Entertainment head John Smedley.

The group returned in September, claiming responsibility for attacks on the servers for a slew of games including Call of Duty: Advanced WarfareDestiny and Grand Theft Auto Online. Then on Dec. 1, the group said it once more took the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live offline.

The group tweeted that it was preparing for a larger attack at Christmas and that the Dec. 1 attack was just a “small dose of what’s to come.”

No one has verified exactly who is responsible for what in these outages.

On Dec. 2, a new hacker group surfaced. The Finest Squad said it would prevent the promised attack by Lizard Squad and dismantle the group by outing its members and turning them in to police.

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FAA Warns Holiday Drone Recipients to ‘Stay Off the Naughty List!’

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Just in time for the holiday drone season, industry groups and the Federal Aviation Administration have teamed up for a program teaching good drone manners.

“Getting a new unmanned aircraft for the holidays? Stay off the naughty list!” tweeted the FAA as it released the “Know Before You Fly” video.

“Many will be excited when they unwrap the box and find an unmanned aircraft!” the video says with jingling Christmas music. “How do you make sure you stay off the naughty list? We want you to know before you fly. It’s time to have fun with your new unmanned aircraft. But to protect people and other aircraft in the sky, you need to learn to fly safely.”

The video tells amateur drone operators to fly below 400 feet, posting an illustration of the 455-foot Great Pyramid of Giza as a reference.

The FAA adds that drones should be flown within sight, preferably with a local club, and not near airports or stadiums. “Don’t fly for payment or commercial purposes,” the video warns.

The “Know Before You Fly” campaign is sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the Small UAV Coalition.

“There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around UAS, and the technology is becoming the must-have holiday gift,” AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano said in a statement. “The ‘Know Before You Fly’ campaign fills a critical education gap just in time for the holiday season. We want to ensure that all prospective operators have the tools they need to fly safely and responsibly.”

“Our 175,000 members are intimately familiar with our safety code, which we take very seriously, but not everyone who buys an unmanned aircraft knows what he or she should and should not do,” said AMA President Bob Brown.

The campaign includes a Know Before You Fly instructional website and a social media campaign with the hashtag #KnowB4UFly.

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North Korea: U.S. ‘Should Reflect on Its Evil Doings That Put Itself in Trouble’

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Policy Department of North Korea’s National Defence Commission said in an official statement that Sony Pictures ”got into a serious trouble and paid a due price” for making The Interview.

“Strange thing that happened in the heart of the U.S., the ill-famed cesspool of injustice, is now afloat in the world as shocking news,” began the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency:

The Sony Pictures Entertainment, the biggest movie producer in the U.S., which produced the undesirable reactionary film “The Interview” daring hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and agitating even terrorism and had a plan to distribute it, was exposed to surprisingly sophisticated, destructive and threatening cyber warfare and has been thrown into a bottomless quagmire after suffering property losses worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The NDC of the DPRK highly estimates the righteous action taken by the “guardians of peace,” though it is not aware of their residence.

It, at the same time, considers as fortunate the step taken by the Sony Pictures Entertainment to give up the overall distribution of the above-said movie due to the decision and strong pressure of the movie and drama distributors for stopping the screening of the reactionary movie, though belatedly.

This is an official stand of the army and the people of the DPRK on what happened in the heart of the U.S.

This stand is taken by the DPRK because the movie “The Interview” is an undesirable and reactionary one justifying and inciting terrorism which should not be allowed in any country and any region.

Another reason is that the movie is run through with a story agitating a vicious and dastardly method of assassinating a head of a legitimate sovereign state.

No wonder, even political and social circles of the U.S. commented that it is quite wrong to defame the head of the state for the mere reason that his politics is different from that of the U.S. and it is in the hostile relationship with the latter and, therefore, the Sony Pictures Entertainment got into a serious trouble and paid a due price.

For these reasons, the DPRK is more highly praising the “guardians of peace” for their righteous deed which prevented in advance the evil cycle of retaliation– terrorism sparks terrorism.

Despite North Korea’s official protestations that they don’t know the “Guardians of Peace,” the FBI said Friday that it has “enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions.”

“Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” the FBI statement said. “The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

“Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.”

Pyongyang’s response to the FBI findings?

“No matter how big and disgraceful the loss may be, the U.S. should not pull up others for no reason,” continued the NDC statements on KCNA.

“…The grounds cited by the FBI in its announcement were all based on obscure sci-tech data and false story and, accordingly, the announcement itself is another fabrication. This is the DPRK’s stand on the U.S. gangster-like behavior against it.”

They called out President Obama for “recklessly making the rumor about ‘DPRK’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures’ a fait accompli while crying out for symmetric counteraction, strict calculation and additionally retaliatory sanctions.”

“This is like beating air after being hit hard. A saying goes every sin brings its punishment with it. It is best for the guilty to repent of its evil doings and draw a lesson when forced to pay dearly for them… The U.S. should reflect on its evil doings that put itself in such a trouble, apologize to the Koreans and other people of the world and should not dare pull up others.”

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Feinstein: In Past 6 Years, ‘No Real Policy’ to Handle Sony-Style Attacks

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the hacking attack against Sony is part of a longer-running plot — and the administration has had “no real policy” to face such attacks.

“This is part of a much bigger picture. It really began in 2008 with robberies by cyber of both the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citibank, to the tune of about $8 million and $10 million, respectively. It has gone on and graduated to the point where most companies have been attacked one way or another. In the last two years, we have JPMorgan Chase, we have Home Depot, we have eBay and we have Target,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told CNN today.

“What’s different to me about this attack is the monumental size of it, and secondly, there is extortion involved with it. In other words, the North Koreans are saying, unless you do this, we will do that. And this is where it becomes extraordinarily dangerous.”

She added that “in the six years that have gone by, we have no real policy to handle this.”

“Now, right now, you can look at North Korea, taken off the terrorist list, you can see this attack is in a sense a terrorist attack. You could put them back on. You can levy financial sanctions against them,” Feinstein continued.

The State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism only includes four countries by this point — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — and the Obama administration is considering taking Cuba off the list. President George W. Bush took North Korea off the list in 2008.

“But the big problem is developing an international agreement with teeth to stop this kind of behavior because we’re going toward bloodshed, I believe, if we don’t solve it. We have tried to pass a cyber information-sharing bill,” the senator said. “…We’re getting into the arena of major attacks. Right now, it has to do a great deal with private industry. But the cost for private industry is now in the trillions of dollars. And it has to be stopped.”

President Obama said he wished Sony had consulted him before yanking the film from theaters, but Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton told CNN he did consult with the White House after the threats.

“This is a complicated matter. And there is the question of liability. If something were to happen, who is liable for the loss of life?” Feinstein said.

“Now, this attack took place almost a month ago. So, we’re 3 1/2 weeks into it and still going back and forth as to what might be done or who should have done what. And this can’t continue to happen, in my view. This is a problem that’s going to be with us for a very long time. And so, we have to get certain structures in place and the ability to handle it.”

Whatever the administration decides to do, the senator stressed, “I would hope that we can convince the North Koreans that this carries a very heavy price.”

“Certainly, we have attacks from China. We have attacks from Russia. We have attacks from Iran and we have attacks from within our own country. So, it has become a very sad way of life. And at some point, we face a disastrous attack. And this is what we must prevent.”

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