Friday Reads: Dog Days of Summer Edition

The ancient Greeks thought of the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare. The star Sirius is the dog’s nose; the Greeks called it the “dog star.”  (National Geographic)

The ancient Greeks thought of the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare. The star Sirius is the dog’s nose; the Greeks called it the “dog star.” (National Geographic)

Good Morning!!

We are in the midst of the dog days of summer–traditionally the hottest days of the year, which extend from about July 2 to August 11. I has been very hot all over the country for the past few weeks. Here in Boston, we have had a couple of weeks of temperatures around or above 90 degrees.

Why do we call them the “dog days?” It dates back to the Greeks and Romans and their beliefs about Sirius, the “dog star.” At National Geographic, Becky Little explains:

To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” occurred around the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe.

“If you go back even as far as Homer, The Iliad, it’s referring to Sirius as Orion’s dog rising, and it describes the star as being associated with war and disaster,” said Jay B. Holberg, author of Sirius: Brightest Diamond in the Night Sky and senior research scientist at the University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory. “All throughout Greek and Roman literature, you found these things.”

The phrase “dog days” was translated from Latin to English about 500 years ago. Since then, it has taken on new meanings.

“Now people come up with other explanations for why they’re called the ‘dog days’ of summer, [like] this is when dogs can go crazy,” said Anne Curzan, an English professor at the University of Michigan.

At the end, dogs like summer, they get to play with the kids, and maybe take some baths, and depending on your breed, you could get some pretty good food, we like to give special kind of food to our pitbull, you could get to know more about it in this pitbull meal info.

“This is a very human tendency,” she said. When we don’t know the origin of a phrase, we come up with a plausible explanation.

“The meaning has been lost,” said Holberg, “but the phrase has lived on.”

Read more at the link.

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About the heat wave, from The Weather Channel: West Coast Heat Wave Threatens All-Time Records; Northeast Hot, But Not Historic.

Summer heat is gripping opposite sides of the country into this weekend, including parts of the West and the Northeast.

The heat will help clinch one of the hottest Julys on record for some Northwest cities, and a few locations may challenge their all-time or monthly record highs on Friday. It’s also helped set a record for the most 90-degree days in a year in Seattle and has given Portland its hottest temperatures since 2009.

The Northeast heat will not be as extreme, but it will stick around into next week for some cities….

A strong ridge of high pressure is building over the Northwest as the jet stream bulges northward to the Canadian border. This is allowing temperatures 5 to 20 degrees above average to take hold across parts of northern California, Oregon and Washington into the weekend, while also spreading to portions of Idaho and Montana.

It’s a fitting end to what will be one of the hottest Julys on record in parts of the Northwest. Seattle, Washington, and Astoria, Oregon, were both seeing their hottest July on record as of July 29, according to data from the Southeast Regional Climate Center. For Seattle, July 2015 could beat out August 1967 for the hottest month on record if the final average temperature for July exceeds 71.1 degrees.

July was the third warmest on record through July 29 in Portland, Oregon, and fourth warmest on record for Yakima, Washington.

High temperatures at or above 100 degrees are forecast for the Portland, Oregon, area through Friday, with middle to upper 90s expected this weekend. Portland hit 103 degrees on Thursday, which is the hottest temperature there since July 29, 2009. Even hotter temperatures are expected for the rest of the Willamette River Valley of western Oregon on Friday, which is under an excessive heat warning issued by the National Weather Service.

dog_days_summer

Wow! 100 degrees in Seattle? And on the East coast:

Wednesday was the hottest day so far in 2015 in New York City (96 degrees) and Albany, New York (95 degrees). Concord, New Hampshire, set a daily record high of 96 degrees, beating the old record for July 29 of 95 degrees set in 1949.

Highs will stay a handful of degrees above average for mainly eastern sections of the region into early next week.

For the most part, this heat in the Northeast will not be record breaking. However, the longevity of it will likely be greater than we’ve seen so far this summer in some cities. By early next week, some locations could meet the definition for a heat wave in the Northeast, which is generally defined in that region as three or more days in a row with temperatures at or above 90 degrees.

Temperatures in New England are beginning to moderate, and it will be only around 89-90 for the next few days. That will give some relief. I really feel for Luna out in Washington and Fannie in Idaho.

Speaking of Seattle, I came across this wonderful video of the city in 1955, posted on youtube by Jeff Alman, whose grandfather made it when on vacation in the city. The first part, which shows city streets and buildings, is the coolest, IMO. The rest is gorgeous views taken from a small plane.

Altman also posted his grandfather’s video of San Francisco in 1958.

My grandfather made color films many years ago, and they were of such high quality that my brother was able to edit them into a wonderful video that he shared with all of our relatives who appeared in them. Every time I watch it, the old images bring me to tears. What a treasure!

Seeing the scenes of Seattle made me think about how different my life might have been if my Dad had decided to take a job at a different university back in about 1958. He had offers from Seattle, Miami, and a couple of other places, but ultimately he chose the offer from Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. I’m not sure if my folks wanted to live in a smaller college town or if the money was better at Ball State.

Now for some news.

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There’s a big health story this morning: a new vaccine for the Ebola virus could make a huge difference, based on the results of a study that will appear in The Lancet. BBC News reports: Ebola vaccine is ‘potential game-changer.’

A vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus has led to 100% protection and could transform the way Ebola is tackled, preliminary results suggest….

Experts said the results were “remarkable”.

This trial centred on the VSV-EBOV vaccine, which was started by the Public Health Agency of Canada and then developed by the pharmaceutical company Merck.

It combined a fragment of the Ebola virus with another safer virus in order to train the immune system to beat Ebola.

A unique clinical trial took place in Guinea. When a patient was discovered, their friends, neighbours and family were vaccinated to create a “protective ring” of immunity.

This could be the breakthrough the world has been waiting for.

There is caution as the results are still preliminary, with more data coming in.

But officials at the WHO believe the effectiveness of the vaccine will end up being between 75% and 100%.

According to the BBC, other vaccines are also being tested. This could be very good news!

DogDays-wIcedCoffee

I’m sure you’ve heard about the agonizing death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe at the hands of Walter Palmer, a Minnesota Dentist who likes to kill big game with a bow and arrow.

The AP reports, via USA Today: Minn. dentist accused of poaching legendary lion.

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwean police said Tuesday they are searching for an American who allegedly shot a well-known, protected lion with a crossbow in a killing that has outraged conservationists and others.

The American allegedly paid $50,000 to kill the lion named Cecil, Zimbabwean conservationists said. Authorities on Tuesday said two Zimbabwean men will appear in court for allegedly helping with the hunt. The American faces poaching charges, according to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba.

Walter James Palmer of Minnesota was identified on Tuesday by both the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe as the American hunter, a name that police then confirmed.

“We arrested two people and now we are looking for Palmer in connection with the same case,” said Charamba.

dog-days-of-summer

Zimbabwe is seeking Palmer’s extradition, and the outrage on social media has been so extreme that Palmer was forced to close his dental practice. He has “apologized,” but that’s apparently not going to be enough to save his skin, and I say “Good!” Still you have to wonder why stories of human deaths don’t get as much attention. More recent headlines on this story:

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones: For a Week, Walter Palmer Is the Worst Human Being Ever in History.

Time: Cecil the Lion, Walter Palmer and the Psychology of Online Shaming.

Mediaite: The Hill Reports Lion Killer Donated to Romney; Twitter Asks Why That’s Relevant.

Boston Herald: Zimbabwean baffled by foreign concern for killed lion.

GossipCop: Betty White On Cecil The Lion Killer: “You Don’t Want To Hear The Things I Want To Do” Walter James Palmer.

Slate: Why Cecil Was Such an Important Lion.

Slate: How America Can Prosecute More Poachers Like the Alleged Lion Killer.

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Obviously, as a New England Patriots fan, I’ve been following the Tom Brady/Deflategate story for a long time, and this morning I came across this in Wired: Even if Tom Brady Did Smash His Phone, It’d Make Zero Sense. It turns out that the NFL and Roger Goodell could easily get Brady’s text messages if they wanted to.

JUST HOW EASY is it to destroy your text messages? In the eyes of the NFL, it’s as simple as destroying your cellphone. But as anyone who has ever had their phone stolen can tell you, that’s not even remotely true.

This week, the NFL upheld the suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games in the wake of accusations he was “generally aware” of the team’s deflation of footballs. The decision, authored by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, largely hinged on the revelation that Brady destroyed his cellphone shortly before meeting with league investigators. The league suggests this was to suppress evidence and obstruct the investigation. Brady insists he was just replacing a “broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6.”

It was a fun story for a few minutes and there was some mild hoopla surrounding the idea of a frenzied Brady destroying his cellphone. Problem is, even if he had … so what? This isn’t The Wire, and snapping a cellphone in half and tossing it in the gutter wouldn’t be enough to erase Brady’s history anyway. The digital trail our phones leave behind long outlive the physical device itself, and the league could have potentially tracked down the information in a number of ways—which is why the whole story was utterly ridiculous. Regardless, here is exactly why it wouldn’t matter if Tom Brady smashed his cellphone….

Once upon a time, it was hard to recover text messages without actually having the phone they were sent to. However, Google and Apple’s efforts to sync data across multiple devices has made text message retrieval significantly easier.

As Brady was on a Samsung during the “deflategate” scandal, he was most likely using an Android device. Not only do most modern Android devices use Google Hangouts as their primary text messaging app, Google makes the process of deleting those messages inconvenient and difficult. Android’s Hangouts has a setting to delete old text messages, but the feature only does so as disk space fills up. Unlike the iPhone, which can automatically delete messages that are older than a set period of time, Android gives the user no control over how long to preserve messages.

Roger Goodell is such a pathetic liar!

More News, links only

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Newsweek: Exclusive: Inside the Mysterious ‘Death’ of Taliban Leader Mullah Omar.

CNN is still obsessed with the missing plane story: Increasing confidence plane wreckage is from MH370, Australian official says.

Hillary Clinton.com: Letter to the New York Times’ Dean Baquet.

Washington Post: Clinton knocks Bush’s ‘Right to Rise’ pitch in National Urban League speech.

Get an adorable dog now: http://blackgermanshepherd.co/

The Hill: Sanders vows no third-party run in 2016.

New York Times: Jewish Arsonists Suspected in Arson Attack that Killed Palestinian Toddler.

Newsweek: Indiana Clears Planned Parenthood in Fetal Tissue Investigation.

KGNS TV: Primordial soup of compounds found on comet.

Treehugger: New wolf species discovered in Africa.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a wonderful weekend! 


Thursday Reads

Subway Riders, Francis Louis Mora, 1914

Subway Riders, Francis Louis Mora, 1914

 Good Morning!!

 

I suppose I have to cover the war news, although I’d much prefer to ignore it. So here goes.

First, the good news. According to The Washington Post, more than 60 countries have signed on with the “Anti-Islamic State Coalition.”

In his speech to the United Nations on Wednesday morning, President Obama said, “Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition.”

But on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said more than 50 nations have agreed to join the coalition. And in a document released by the State Department on Tuesday, 62 nations (including the European Union and the Arab League) are listed as providing support to the U.S.-led coalition.

The strongest allies in the coalition are those providing air support to the United States, while others are offering delivery services and some are providing humanitarian aid.

Click on the link above to read the list of countries providing air support, military equipment, and humanitarian aid. You can follow the latest developments in the fight against ISIL at The Guardian’s live blog.

Now the not-so-good news: a couple of op-eds that suggest the air war against the Islamic State militants is ineffective and/or counterproductive.

Reuters, Air strikes won’t disrupt Islamic State’s real safe haven: social media.

President Barack Obama has pledged to destroy Islamic State and ensure fighters “find no safe haven.” But even as U.S.-led airstrikes are underway in Iraq and Syria, it is clear that bombs alone will not do the job. For Islamic State hides out in the most perfect haven: the World Wide Web.

In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.

The Internet has largely sustained the jihadist movement since 9/11. With this powerful tool, jihadists coordinate actions, share information, recruit new members and propagate their ideology.

Until the rise of Islamic State, extremist activity and exchanges online usually took place inside restricted, password-protected jihadist forums. But Islamic State brought online jihadism out of the shadows and into the mainstream, using social media — especially Twitter – to issue rapid updates on its successes to a theoretically unlimited audience.

In the same way that Islamic State’s land grab proved stunning, the group’s actions online have been deeply troubling. Up until a recent crackdown by Twitter, Islamic State’s presence on the site had grown tremendously — from a small one to a well-organized network with dozens of accounts.

Click the link to read all about it at Reuters’ “The Great Debate” page.

Reading the Newspaper. War News, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Reading the Newspaper. War News, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Jamie Dettmer at The Daily Beast argues that Obama’s Arab Backers May Draw the U.S. Deep Into the Mideast Quagmire. Detmer also discusses ISIL’s social media operation.

The backing from Gulf countries for the military intervention against militants of the so-called Islamic State in northern Syria, far from helping the United States in the battle for hearts and minds, may actually be hurting Washington in the region. And the reasons for that suggest just how densely complicated the Mideast quagmire has become.

While the participation of the super-rich Gulf monarchies in a coalition against the group widely known as ISIS or ISIL may help with some moderate Muslims, and may reassure European leaders, among those Islamists inside and outside Syria who are at the core of the opposition to President Bashar al Assad this development is viewed with deep suspicion.

“This has been labeled as a war against ISIS but it is a war against Islamic groups,” Tauqir Sharif, a British Islamist activist based in Idlib, Syria, told British Channel Four news Wednesday.

Already ISIS activists and jihadists sympathizers in the Gulf are leveraging their social media skills to fuel suspicions that the Americans are ready to give Assad a free pass and that the Sunni Muslims of Syria will be sacrificed with the connivance of the Gulf monarchies.

Much more at the Daily Beast link.

Suspect in Alleged Abduction of UVA Student Captured in Texas

I’ve been following the case of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham since Janicen posted about it about a week ago. The last person to be seen with Graham on surveillance footage was Jesse Matthew, 32, who worked as a nurses’ aid at the university. After police searched his car and apartment, Matthew came to the police station and asked for an attorney. He then drove away at a high speed and apparently disappeared. Police issued a warrant for his arrest for a traffic violation, but could not locate him. After more searches of his apartment, police upgraded the charge to abduction of Graham.

Last night, news broke that Matthew had been located in Galveston, Texas, and he is currently being held by police there. From the Associated Press, via ABC News, Suspect Captured but UVa Student Still Missing.

Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. was arrested on a beach in the Texas community of Gilchrist by Galveston County Sheriff’s authorities, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo announced Wednesday night.

The capture came less than a full day after police announced they had probable cause to arrest Matthew on charges of abduction with intent to defile Hannah Graham, an 18-year-old sophomore who went missing on Sept. 13 in Charlottesville.

Longo said an intense search for Graham continues.

“This case is nowhere near over,” he told a news conference late Wednesday. “We have a person in custody but there’s a long road ahead of us and that long road includes finding Hannah Graham.”

Longo said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show that the search is focusing on rural and wooded areas around Charlottesville.

Matthew was captured at a beach in the sparsely populated community of Gilchrist around 3:30 p.m. after police received a call reporting a suspicious person, the Galveston County Daily News reported. The newspaper quoted Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset as saying a deputy responding to the call found a man who had pitched a tent on the beach with his car parked nearby. Trochesset said a check of the car’s plates revealed it was the vehicle sought in connection to the case. Authorities were trying to get a warrant to search the car, he added.

Reading the Morning Newspaper, Harry Herman Roseland

Reading the Morning Newspaper, Harry Herman Roseland

ABC News has more on how police located Jesse Matthew, Suspect in UVA Case Seen on Video Buying Bug Spray Before Capture.

Detectives investigating the case of a missing University of Virginia student were headed to Texas today after a man suspected in her disappearance was arrested after being caught on surveillance video there buying mosquito repellent a day before his capture….

The surveillance video from a convenience store in Galveston showed Matthew buying Off!, said the store’s owner, Dave Paresh.

“He asked me the question if it’s safe to stay on the beach, so I told him yeah, it’s good there,” Paresh, told ABC News station KTRK in Houston.

I guess there must be lots of mosquitoes on Galveston beaches right now.

Matthew appeared in court this morning, and was denied bail.

For anyone who thinks I shouldn’t write about “missing white girl” stories, violence against women is endemic in this country. It’s a bloodbath out there, with women being beaten (see the NFL scandal), raped, and/or murdered daily in this country; and I think it should be talked about. There truly is a war against women. Admittedly, the use of violence against women for entertainment should be discussed. Think about how many movies and TV shows center around the rape, torture, and murder of women. It’s important that real-life cases be seen as horrible crimes that involve agonizing suffering for victims, their families and friends.

Police Misconduct in the News

Speaking of violence against women, even police get into the act. Thank goodness they are often caught on video these days.

From The Christian Science Monitor, NYPD under fire for video of pregnant woman hitting ground.

New York City police officers are under investigation this week after a bystander used a smartphone to capture a particularly rough arrest of a Brooklyn woman five months pregnant.

The video shows the arrest of Sandra Amezquita, a Colombian immigrant and mother of four, who fell belly first onto the pavement as officers wrestled her to the ground and cuffed her hands behind her back. The incident occurred during an early morning melee Saturday in Sunset Park – a neighborhood sometimes called Brooklyn’s “Little Latin America,” since more than half its residents are Latino.

The video also shows another officer violently shoving an unidentified woman to the pavement as she stands near the arrest. Police simply issued Ms. Amezquita a summons for disorderly conduct, but the other woman, reported to be a friend, was neither arrested or accused of a crime.

Amezquita suffered vaginal bleeding after the incident. She was arrested for trying to interfere with police who were beating her son after they stopped and frisked him.

“It’s appalling,” said Sanford Rubenstein, Amezquita’s attorney. “It’s clear to me when an incident like this occurs you understand why police-community relations are at an all-time low,” he told The Associated Press.

The scuffle occurred after Amezquita and her husband, Ronel Lemos, attempted to intervene as police arrested and allegedly began to beat their 17-year-old son, Jhohan Lemos, who was accused of carrying a knife and resisting arrest around 2:15 a.m. on Saturday.

The elder Mr. Lemos was also arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during the arrest of his son. Photos show the younger Mr. Lemos with his eye swollen shut and lacerations to his cheek and forehead following his arrest.

Reading the News at the Weavers' Cottage, 1673, Adriaen van Ostade

Reading the News at the Weavers’ Cottage, 1673, Adriaen van Ostade

In California, a 51-year-old woman won a lawsuit against the Highway Patrol after an officer beat her and it was caught on tape. Fox News reports:

A woman who was punched repeatedly by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer in an incident caught on film earlier this year will receive $1.5M as part of a settlement reached Wednesday.

CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow announced the settlement in an emailed statement and an attorney for 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock confirmed the deal to the Associated Press. The agreement was reached after nine hours of mediation in Los Angeles.

As part of the agreement, the officer who struck Pinnock, Daniel Andrew, will resign.  Andrew, who joined the CHP in 2012 and had been on paid administrative leave, could still be charged criminally in the case. The CHP forwarded the results of its investigation of the incident to Los Angeles County prosecutors last month, saying he could face serious charges but none have been filed yet.

There was another demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri on Tuesday Night after someone burned a memorial to Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9. The Christian Science Monitor asks,  Who burned Michael Brown memorial? Questions spark new Ferguson unrest.

Fresh unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Tuesday night shows that the embers of the month-old unrest surrounding Michael Brown’s death can be kindled by even tiny sparks.

Detectives are investigating how a makeshift memorial to Mr. Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9., burned early Tuesday morning. The memorial, which is one of two near where Brown died on Canfield Drive, included mementos and small candles that may have caused the fire.

But some in the area suggested that it’s “naïve” to think the fire was accidental, and about 200 protesters rallied to West Florissant Avenue again Tuesday, squaring off with police and looting for the third time a store called Beauty Town. There were media reports of looters yelling “Burn it down!” and of gun shots in the area near Canfield Drive. Police made five arrests.

Meanwhile, the DOJ is investigating the Ferguson Police Department.

Finally, there will apparently be no charges in the shooting of John Crawford III, who was shot by police while holding a toy gun in a Walmart. From Fox News, Grand jury issues no indictments in man’s fatal shooting at Ohio Wal-Mart.

Officers’ actions were justified in the fatal shooting of a man holding an air rifle inside an Ohio Wal-Mart store, a grand jury determined Wednesday —  using surveillance video the slain man’s family said shows the shooting was completely unjustified.

The Greene County grand jury opted not to issue any indictments in the Aug. 5 death of 22-year-old John Crawford III inside a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said.

A 911 caller reported Crawford was waving what appeared to be a rifle in the store. Police said he was killed after failing to obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf.

Since the shooting, Crawford’s family had demanded public release of the surveillance footage, a request denied until Wednesday by the state attorney general, who said releasing it earlier could taint the investigation and potential jury pool.

Video presented at a news conference by Piepmeier in Xenia shows Crawford walking the aisles, apparently on his cellphone, and picking up an air rifle that had been left, unboxed, on a shelf.

Crawford carries the air rifle around the store — sometimes over his shoulder, sometimes pointed at the ground — before police arrive and shoot him twice.

Would a customer have called 911 if Crawford hadn’t been a black man?

At the Miliners, by Edgar Degas, 1882

At the Miliners, by Edgar Degas, 1882

In Other News . . .

I’m running out of space, so I’ll end with some links to other stories that may pique your interest.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, FBI report shows mass shootings on the rise since 2000. We already knew this, but now there’s hard evidence.

Beta News.com, Five things to hate about the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. It bends!

And the new Apple IOS is messed up. From ComputerWorld, Apple yanks iOS 8 update after crippling iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Massachusetts GOP candidate for Governor is not endearing himself to women voters. Two op-ed pieces from The Boston Globe:

Charlie Baker needs an intervention on women, by Joan Vennochi

Charlie Baker’s ‘sweetheart’ problem, by Yvonne Abraham

Women, let’s all get out and vote for Martha Coakley. It’s high time Massachusetts had a woman as Governor!

So . . . what else is happening in the world? I’ll see you in the comments! Have a great day!


Tuesday Reads

renoir-young-girl-reading

 

Good Morning!!

Today is the 40th anniversary of an amazing athletic accomplishment.

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke Babe Ruth’s “unbreakable” record of 714.

Sadly, on August 7, 2007, steroid popping cheater Barry Bonds supposedly “broke” Aaron’s record. But in the minds of many, Aaron’s amazing achievement still stands as the one that counts.

The NY Daily News has a wonderful article about Aaron’s record and the hell he went through to reach it. Even if you don’t like baseball, I hope you’ll read it.

Remembering 715: Forty years ago, Hank Aaron rocked bias and hatred with one mighty blow.

Tom House, an Atlanta Braves reliever at the time, tells about recovering the historic ball and giving it to Aaron after he touched home plate:

The game was stopped and, as fireworks flashed in the sky and Atlanta Stadium erupted into cheers, House made a jubilant dash toward home plate, where a relieved Aaron was being congratulated. “As fast as my legs would carry me,” House recalls. He held out the ball, which Sammy Davis Jr. had offered $25,000 for, and said, “Here it is, Hammer.”

Aaron, generally a portrait of quiet dignity and grace, was crying and holding his mother, Estella. “I had not seen much emotion out of Henry. That was cool,” House says now. “They both had tears in their eyes. She kept hugging him and hugging him.

“I heard later that she wouldn’t let go because she was afraid he was going to get shot. Some of the death threats had said he’d be shot at the plate.”

Hank Aaron hits No. 715 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974 (NY Daily News)

Hank Aaron hits No. 715 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974 (NY Daily News)

When Roger Maris broke the Babe’s single season home run record in 1961, it was a hellish experience for Maris. The abuse he endured forever changed his life and affected his outlook; but at least Maris was white. Aaron was a black man in an era of racial turmoil.

It remains an important moment in the game’s history not just because the quiet, dignified Aaron toppled Ruth’s 714, which was probably the most famous single number in sports. But because of what Aaron endured to get there — death threats, vulgar hate mail rife with the worst kind of racism imaginable.

All these years later, the home run is significant in another way, too — it reverberates in today’s game, among today’s statistics. Plenty of people believe Aaron is still the true home run king, not the Steroid Era Barry Bonds, who topped Aaron’s career mark of 755 by seven homers.

As he approached the record Aaron was getting daily hate mail.

In a UPI story that ran in the Los Angeles Times on May 17, 1973, Aaron said he got letters filled with invective every day.

“If I were a white man, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron was quoted as saying. “But I’m black. You have to be black in America to know how sick some people are. I’ve always thought racism a problem, even with as much progress as America has made.”

Aaron said he read the mail anyway. It wasn’t going to stop him.

There’s much more in the Daily News article, and I do hope you’ll go read it.

At Time, John Friedman argues that “Hank Aaron Would Have Faced Worse Racism Today.”

Henry Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run off Al Downing on April 8, 1974 still stands today as one of the greatest milestones in Major League Baseball history. By breaking the four-decade mark of the great Babe Ruth, Aaron strode out of the shadows – and stepped into a cauldron.

This accomplishment transcended sports. By his own accounts over the years, we can recognize that Aaron went through hell during that time. It was tough enough when reporters and camera crews chronicled his every at-bat and invaded his privacy. But that was the least of it. Here, a black man stood poised—while playing in the Deep South, to boot—to claim one of the sports world’s most storied marks. Bigots hounded Aaron and made his life miserable, at a time when he should have basked in the glow of both his historic achievement and the recognition that had eluded him for decades.

Still, you know what? We might conclude that Aaron got off easy four decades ago, long before social media dominated every facet of our lives and removed any shred of privacy.

Just try to imagine how much more intense and challenging his predicament would have been. Can you picture the potential for incessant racist taunts on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the blogosphere? In the 1970s, the haters reached Aaron by what we call “snail mail.” Today, in our sped-up-world of modern communications, Aaron would have had no escape.

Is Friedman right? I hate to think so, but after what we’ve seen after Americans elected a black president, I have to wonder.

The situation in Ukraine continues to escalate. 

Pro-Russia protesters burn tires near a regional administration building in Kharkiv in a back-and-forth clash with riot police for control of the building. (Oleg Shishkov, EPA / April 7, 2014)

Pro-Russia protesters burn tires near a regional administration building in Kharkiv in a back-and-forth clash with riot police for control of the building. (Oleg Shishkov, EPA / April 7, 2014)

The LA Times reports, Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning.

Ukrainian riot police cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters Tuesday morning, detaining scores in the process, officials said.

“Seventy criminals were taken into custody during the operation,” Ukraine acting President Olexandr Turchinov told the parliament in televised remarks Tuesday morning.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts.

“According to our information, Ukraine Interior Ministry and National Guard troops including militants of the illegal armed group the Right Sectort are being brought to the southeast regions of Ukraine,” read a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website Tuesday. “A special concern is connected with the fact that abot 150 U.S. experts from the private military organization Greystone dressed in the uniforms of [Ukraine] special unit Sokol are involved in the operation.”

“The organizers and participants in the operation are assuming huge responsibility for the creation of threats to rights, freedoms and lives of peaceful residents of Ukraine,” the statement said.

It really doesn’t look like Russian president Vladimir Putin is going to stop with absorbing Crimea into Russia. From the Wall Street Journal this morning: Ukraine Could Be Plunged into Civil War, Warns Russia — Update.

Ukrainian police on Tuesday regained control of a government building occupied by pro-Kremlin separatists in one volatile eastern city as pro-Russian protesters in another appeared to be slipping into disarray.

As Ukraine’s new government pushed to show its authority in the region, Russia warned that the use of force to dislodge demonstrators who had taken over government offices could plunge the country into civil war.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of instigating the protests that began Sunday in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, suggesting that their powerful neighbor is trying to orchestrate a takeover similar to its incursion and annexation of Crimea. They have vowed to subdue the secessionists.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday morning that an “antiterrorist” operation had been launched in Kharkiv and around 70 separatists who had control of the regional administration building had been arrested.

He said roughly 200 pro-Russian agitators had barricaded themselves inside overnight and threw stun grenades and fired pellet guns at police and national guard officers who had surrounded the building. He said the protesters then set fire to a wing of the building and smashed windows. After the fire was contained, Mr. Avakov said special forces units stormed the building, made the arrests and seized a cache of weapons.

“The night in Kharkiv was endlessly long,” he said. “The boorish, brutal, ordered and generously paid pro-Russian aggression of the ‘protesters’ was off the charts.”

Mr. Avakov said that the Interior Ministry was moving more forces to the east of Ukraine to protect against further separatist activity.

But Russia’s foreign ministry threatened that any heavy-handed action by Ukrainian authorities could set off further violence.

If you’d like to read an in-depth analysis of the situation, check out this blog post by Prof. John Schindler of the Naval War College, Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition.

Cornelius Gurlitt

Cornelius Gurlitt

Awhile back I wrote about the discovery of a huge collection of art works

that had been found in Germany, many of which had likely been stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Now even more stolen art works have come to light, according to this article at Raw Story: German recluse’s ‘Nazi art trove’ much bigger than first thought.

Around another 60 artworks, including pieces by Monet and Renoir, have come to light at the Austrian home of an elderly German recluse whose earlier discovered art hoard is suspected to contain Nazi-looted works.

The latest pieces were found at the property in Salzburg belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, his spokesman said Tuesday, just months after the art world was rocked by news of a spectacular trove of more than 1,400 works unearthed at his German home in 2012.

A first inspection indicates there is no Nazi loot — artwork that the fascist regime stole from Jewish owners or bought from them cheaply under duress — in the latest discovery, spokesman Stephan Holzinger said.

“More works were located in Cornelius Gurlitt’s house in Salzburg,” he said in a statement….

The Gurlitt case first made headlines late last year when it emerged that investigators had found more than 1,400 artworks in his Munich flat, including long-lost works by masters including Matisse and Chagall.

Gurlitt is now cooperating with authorities and has agreed to return any stolen pieces. From the Times of Israel:

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis who died in 1956 in an accident; his son inherited the collection. In 2012, customs agents investigating Cornelius Gurlitt for tax evasion confiscated his Munich stash of some 1,400 works.

The existence of the collection — which includes works by artists such as Picasso, Dürer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse – was kept under wraps until Focus magazine broke the story last fall.

Spurred by art provenance researchers and restitution advocates around the world, Germany established a task force to deal specifically with the Gurlitt case. It includes experts recommended by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, among others.

In the meantime, works collected by the elder Gurlitt also were found to be stashed in his son’s home in Salzburg, Austria, as well as in other locations in Austria and Switzerland.

Gurlitt, 81, has maintained that his collection is legitimate. Earlier this year, his attorneys publicized a new website where possible heirs could contact him.

Yesterday The Smoking Gun broke a surprising story about activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton.

Rev. Al Sharpton with President Obama

Rev. Al Sharpton with President Obama

Al Sharpton’s Secret Work As FBI Informant: Untold story of how activist once aided probes of NYC wiseguys

Beginning in the mid-1980s and spanning several years, Sharpton’s cooperation was fraught with danger since the FBI’s principal targets were leaders of the Genovese crime family, the country’s largest and most feared Mafia outfit. In addition to aiding the FBI/NYPD task force, which was known as the “Genovese squad,” Sharpton’s cooperation extended to several other investigative agencies.

TSG’s account of Sharpton’s secret life as “CI-7” is based on hundreds of pages of confidential FBI affidavits, documents released by the bureau in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, court records, and extensive interviews with six members of the Genovese squad, as well as other law enforcement officials to whom the activist provided assistance.

Like almost every other FBI informant, Sharpton was solely an information source. The parameters of his cooperation did not include Sharpton ever surfacing publicly or testifying on a witness stand.

Genovese squad investigators–representing both the FBI and NYPD–recalled how Sharpton, now 59, deftly extracted information from wiseguys. In fact, one Gambino crime family figure became so comfortable with the protest leader that he spoke openly–during ten wired face-to-face meetings–about a wide range of mob business, from shylocking and extortions to death threats and the sanity of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the Genovese boss who long feigned mental illness in a bid to deflect law enforcement scrutiny. As the mafioso expounded on these topics, Sharpton’s briefcase–a specially customized Hartmann model–recorded his every word.

Sharpton told Politico that he wasn’t technically an informant. He had turned to authorities for help because of threats against him.

“I was never told I was an informant or I had a number or none of that,” the MSNBC host told the New York Daily News. “Whether or not they used some of the other information they got during that period for other purposes, I don’t know.”

The paper reported that Sharpton said he contacted authorities after receiving death threats.

“If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant — you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton also noted that this isn’t breaking news; it has been reported more than once in the past.

“I don’t see this as news,” Sharpton told FoxNews.com. “This has been brought up three or four times now. I don’t understand. It’s crazy.”

The New York Daily News also has a lengthy write-up of the story if you want more details.

Those are the stories that caught my eye today. What are you reading and hearing? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!


Saturday Reads: World-Wide Rape Culture and Other News

Newspaper, coffee and bagel at table

Good Morning!!

For the past two days I’ve been reading about the gang rape that took place in Steubenville, Ohio last August. This horrendous story got almost no national publicity until The New York Times published a long investigative piece on it on December 16. I’m sure you’ve probably heard about it by now too.

Sadly, it’s a familiar story. High school athletes sexually assault young girl, town closes ranks to protect boys and blame the victim. We’ve seen similar events again and again over the past few years and probably the only difference in these recent attacks on women from those in previous times–going by centuries–is that they get more publicity now and some people are outraged about them. But it doesn’t stop.

There was the Richmond High gang rape in California, the Pitt Meadows gang rape in British Columbia, the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas, and most recently the death of a woman who was viciously gang raped in India.

Go here to watch a very good video of Amanda Marcotte and a Canadian blogger discussing our world-wide rape culture, focusing on the cases in India, Steubenville, and Pitt Meadows.

Another difference in these incidents from those in earlier times is that participants often take photos and videos of these horrendous events and either send them to each other or post them on-line. In the Steubenville case, participants even tweeted about what was happening as they watched! This creates more nightmarish problems for victims and for law enforcement, but may also lead to perpetrators getting caught even when there is a local cover-up. In Steubenville, an “Anonymous” group has been involved–hacking into computers to retrieve data that has been erased.

Shockingly, this week, as the Steubenville story broke nationally, we witnessed the shameful spectacle of House Republicans finally refusing–after months of stalling–refusing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I should write about the Steubenville story today. It’s so disgusting that I haven’t even been able to bring myself to watch the video of students joking about the gang rape that the Anonymous group released. I didn’t want to subject all of you to something that I can barely stand to read about.

What I decided to do is give you a brief summary of what I’ve learned so far and post some links so you can read more if you are interested. I’m not going to name names, but you’ll see them if you go to the links.

Steubenville is a small town of about 17,000 people in southeastern Ohio just a short distance from the West Virginia border. Steubenville is crazy about their high school football team (nicknamed “Big Red”) and the team brings in a great deal of money to the community–through increased legal and illegal (gambling) business. There has apparently been a culture of protecting the football players and allowing them to run wild, and the perpetrators in this case are football players.

What I’ve gathered, based on the most recent stories and rumors, is that the victim (age 16) lived in West Virginia but had recently broken up with her boyfriend who was from Steubenville. The boyfriend was enraged about the breakup, and tweeted about the victim, saying she should be punished. He apparently encouraged at least one member of the football team to call the girl, befriend her, and urge her to attend a massive end of the summer party that took place in multiple locations. One of the locations was the home of the local prosecuting attorney whose son is on the football team.

The Anonymous hackers claim the girl was drugged immediately after she was picked up in a car by three football players. That can’t be confirmed because the girl didn’t get to the hospital in time for a date rape drug to be detected. It makes sense though, because the girl was unconscious throughout the night and doesn’t remember anything after she got in the car with the two perpetrators who have been arrested so far.

These two boys (both 16) carried the girl around like an object from house to house (there are photos), and she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by multiple attackers. This apparently happened during parties as the girl lay on the floor or in a chair, unresponsive. One onlooker even “joked” that she was dead. The NYT reports that at one point she vomited in the street and “she remained there alone for several minutes with her top off.” At one point a former football player who was a student at Ohio State University this year called for her to be urinated on. It’s not clear if that happened, but several people reported it.

The girl reportedly slept on a couch in one of the houses and was taken home early in the morning and left on her parents’ doorstep. She had no knowledge of what had happened to her until she started seeing the comments and photos on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The fact that she has no memory of the night at all certainly suggests that she could have been given a date rape drug. You’ll find a lot more information on Atlantic Wire if you go to that link.

When the girl’s mother realized what had happened, she took her daughter to the hospital and to the police, but it was too late to recover any evidence. The local prosecutor reportedly discouraged the victim and her family from pressing charges, warning that the community would turn against them and the media would never leave them alone.

Eventually two boys were arrested and charged as adults with rape and kidnapping, but many character witnesses testified for them, including the football coach (who is close friends with the Sheriff and who didn’t bench any of the other team members involved) and the kidnapping charge was dropped and the boys are now charged as juveniles. Their trial is scheduled for February. No one else as been charged, but after the story went national this week authorities said there could be more arrests. The case is now being investigated by special prosecutors and the local prosecutor and judge have recused themselves (BTW, the state attorney general is former Republican Senator Mike DeWine–remember him? In addition, the Atlantic reported yesterday that the football coach may be forced to resign. Today Anonymous plans to hold a public protest in Steubenville.

A few more links:

Prinniefied.com, the home of a crime blogger who kept the Steubenville story alive for months when there was little media coverage.

An early (September 2) story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: Rape charges against high school players divide football town of Steubenville, Ohio

WTOV News 9 in Jefferson County Ohio: New developments revealed in Steubenville teen rape investigation

DailyKos: The Steubenville Rape – A Timeline

American Prospect: Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

The Atlantic: As a Girl in India, I Learned to Be Afraid of Men

The Atlantic: India’s Gender-Equity Problem

In Other News

Some interesting reads on other topics

A fascinating article at The Atlantic about the phenomenon of waking up under anesthesia: Awakening

Linda Campbell was not quite 4 years old when her appendix burst, spilling its bacteria-rich contents throughout her abdomen. She was in severe pain, had a high fever, and wouldn’t stop crying. Her parents, in a state of panic, brought her to the emergency room in Atlanta, where they lived. Knowing that Campbell’s organs were beginning to fail and her heart was on the brink of shutting down, doctors rushed her into surgery.

Today, removing an appendix leaves only a few droplet-size scars. But back then, in the 1960s, the procedure was much more involved. As Campbell recalls, an anesthesiologist told her to count backward from 10 while he flooded her lungs with anesthetic ether gas, allowing a surgeon to slice into her torso, cut out her earthworm-size appendix, and drain her abdomen of infectious slop, leaving behind a lengthy, longitudinal scar.

The operation was successful, but not long after Campbell returned home, her mother sensed that something was wrong. The calm, precocious girl who went into the surgery was not the same one who emerged. Campbell began flinging food from her high chair. She suffered random episodes of uncontrollable vomiting. She threw violent temper tantrums during the day and had disturbing dreams at night. “They were about people being cut open, lots of blood, lots of violence,” Campbell remembers. She refused to be alone, but avoided anyone outside her immediate circle. Her parents took her to physicians and therapists. None could determine the cause of her distress. When she was in eighth grade, her parents pulled her from school for rehabilitation.

Over time, Campbell’s most severe symptoms subsided, and she learned how to cope with those that remained. She managed to move on, become an accountant, and start a family of her own, but she wasn’t cured. Her nightmares continued, and nearly anything could trigger a panic attack: car horns, sudden bright lights, wearing tight-fitting pants or snug collars, even lying flat in a bed. She explored the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder with her therapists, but could not identify a triggering event. One clue that did eventually surface, though, hinted at a possibly traumatic experience. During a session with a hypnotherapist, Campbell remembered an image, accompanied by an acute feeling of fear, of a man looming over her.

An article at The Atlantic on How Obama Decides Your Fate if He Thinks You’re a Terrorist

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has begun to formalize a so-called “disposition matrix” for suspected terrorists abroad: a continuously evolving database that spells out the intelligence on targets and various strategies, including contingencies, for handling them. Although the government has not spelled out the steps involved in deciding how to treat various terrorists, a look at U.S. actions in the past makes evident a rough decision tree.

Understanding these procedures is particularly important for one of the most vexing, and potentially most dangerous, categories of terrorists: U.S. citizens. Over the years, U.S. authorities have responded with astonishing variety to American nationals suspected of terrorism, from ignoring their activities to conducting lethal drone strikes. All U.S. terrorists are not created equal. And the U.S. response depends heavily on the role of allies, the degree of threat the suspect poses, and the imminence of that threat — along with other factors.

See the flow chart and read detailed explanations {shudder} at the link.

NYT: F.D.A. Offers Broad New Rules to Fight Food Contamination

The proposed rules represent a sea change in the way the agency polices food, a process that currently involves taking action after contamination has been identified. It is a long-awaited step toward codifying the food safety law that Congress passed two years ago.

Changes include requirements for better record keeping, contingency plans for handling outbreaks and measures that would prevent the spread of contaminants in the first place. While food producers would have latitude in determining how to execute the rules, farmers would have to ensure that water used in irrigation met certain standards and food processors would need to find ways to keep fresh food that may contain bacteria from coming into contact with food that has been cooked.

New safety measures might include requiring that farm workers wash their hands, installing portable toilets in fields and ensuring that foods are cooked at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria.

Whether consumers will ultimately bear some of the expense of the new rules was unclear, but the agency estimated that the proposals would cost food producers tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Mother Jones: Powerful Tea Party Group’s Internal Docs Leak—Read Them Here

FreedomWorks, the national conservative group that helped launch the tea party movement, sells itself as a genuine grassroots operation, and for years it has battled accusations of “astroturfing”—posing as a populist organization while doing the bidding of big-money donors. Yet internal documents obtained by Mother Jones show that FreedomWorks has indeed become dependent on wealthy individual donors to finance its growing operation.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that Richard Stephenson, a reclusive millionaire banker and FreedomWorks board member, and members of his family funneled $12 million in October through two newly created Tennessee corporations to FreedomWorks’ super-PAC, which used these funds to support tea party candidates in November’s elections. The revelation that a corporate bigwig like Stephenson, who founded the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and chairs its board, was responsible for more than half of the FreedomWorks super-PAC’s haul in 2012 undercuts the group’s grassroots image and hands ammunition to critics who say FreedomWorks does the bidding of rich conservative donors.

Big donations like Stephenson’s are business as usual for FreedomWorks. According to a 52-page report prepared by FreedomWorks’ top brass for a board of directors meeting held in mid-December at the Virginia office of Sands Capital Management, an investment firm run by FreedomWorks board member Frank Sands, the entire FreedomWorks organization—its 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofit arms and its super-PAC—raised nearly $41 million through mid-December. Of that total, $33 million—or 81 percent of its 2012 fundraising—came in the form of “major gifts,” the type of big donations coveted by nonprofits and super-PACs. (FreedomWorks’ nonprofit components do not have to disclose their funders.)

Well-heeled individual contributors ponied up $31 million—or 94 percent—of those major gifts, according to the FreedomWorks board book. Eight donors gave a half-million dollars or more; 22 donated between $100,000 and $499,999; 17 cut checks between $50,000 and $99,999; and 95 gave between $10,000 and $49,999. Foundations contributed $1.6 million in major gifts, and corporations donated $330,000.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today? I look forward to clicking on your links.


High Tech Stalking

It seems there’s an ap for that.  It’s called Girls All Around Me and the details as explained by the site Cult of Mac are chilling reminders of the dark side of social media.  The functionality of the ap depends on how open your settings are on Foursquare and Facebook.

“So let’s say I’m a bro, looking to go out for a night on the town and pick someone up. Let’s say I’m going to the Independent around the corner, and checking it out ahead of time, I really like the look of this girl Zoe — she looks like a girl I might want to try to get with tonight — so I tap her picture for more information, see what I can find out about here.”

I tapped on Zoe. Girls Around Me quickly loaded up a fullscreen render of her Facebook profile picture. The app then told me where Zoe had last been seen (The Independent) and when (15 minutes ago). A big green button at the bottom reading “Photos & Messaging” just begged to be tapped, and when I did, I was whisked away to Zoe’s Facebook profile.

“Okay, so here’s Zoe. Most of her information is visible, so I now know her full name. I can see at a glance that she’s single, that she is 24, that she went to Stoneham High School and Bunker Hill Community College, that she likes to travel, that her favorite book is Gone With The Wind and her favorite musician is Tori Amos, and that she’s a liberal. I can see the names of her family and friends. I can see her birthday.”

“All of that is visible on Facebook?” one of the other girls in our group asked.

“More, depending on how your privacy settings are configured! For example, I can also look at Zoe’s pictures.”

I tapped on the photo album, and a collection of hundreds of publicly visible photos loaded up. I quickly browsed them.

“Okay, so it looks like Zoe is my kind of girl. From her photo albums, I can see that she likes to party, and given the number of guys she takes photos with at bars and clubs at night, I can deduce that she’s frisky when she’s drunk, and her favorite drink is a frosty margarita. She appears to have recently been in Rome. Also, since her photo album contains pictures she took at the beach, I now know what Zoe looks like in a bikini… which, as it happens, is pretty damn good.”

My girlfriend scowled at me. I assured her Zoe in a bikini was no comparison, and moved on.

“So now I know everything to know about Zoe. I know where she is. I know what she looks like, both clothed and mostly disrobed. I know her full name, her parents’ full names, her brother’s full name. I know what she likes to drink. I know where she went to school. I know what she likes and dislikes. All I need to do now is go down to the Independent, ask her if she remembers me from Stoneham High, ask her how her brother Mike is doing, buy her a frosty margarita, and start waxing eloquently about that beautiful summer I spent in Roma.”

Author John Brownlee calls this a “creepy ap”.  I’d say it’s dangerous.  I think about all that information out there on youngest daughter’s Facebook and then consider she’s smack dab in the middle of a university campus and its student slums 24-7.   My mother’s radar is off the scale.

Girls Around Me is a standard geolocation based maps app, similar to any other app that attempts to alert you to things of interest in your immediate vicinity: whether it be parties, clubs, deals, or what have you. When you load it up, the first thing Girls Around Me does is figure out where you are and load up a Google Map centered around your location. The rest of the interface is very simple: in the top left corner, there’s a button that looks like a radar display, at the right corner, there’s a fuel meter (used to fund the app’s freemium model), and on the bottom left is a button that allows you to specify between whether you’re interested in women, men or both.

It’s when you push the radar button that Girls Around Me does what it says on the tin. I pressed the button for my friends. Immediately, Girls Around Me went into radar mode, and after just a few seconds, the map around us was filled with pictures of girls who were in the neighborhood. Since I was showing off the app on a Saturday night, there were dozens of girls out on the town in our local area.

Fortunately, an update to this piece shows that FourSquare actually read it and stopped the access to the ap.  However, it should serve as a cautionary tale about checking exactly what your social media sites are sharing with other vendors.  As the mother of daughters,  I’m going to go wicked crazy making sure their privacy settings are set to kill.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! I’m going to start out with some interesting poll results that came out yesterday.

According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a lot of ordinary Republicans are unhappy with their GOP representatives in Washington, DC. From the WaPo:

While Republicans in Congress have remained united in their opposition to any tax increases, the poll finds GOP majorities favoring some of the specific changes advocated by the president, including higher income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

There is also broad dissatisfaction with Obama’s unwillingness to reach across the aisle: Nearly six in 10 of those polled say the president has not been open enough to compromise. Among independents, 79 percent say Republicans aren’t willing enough to make a deal, while 62 percent say the same of Obama.

Republicans may also be losing the war of perception about who stands with whom in the debates over the deficit and the economy. A majority view the president as more committed to protecting the interests of the middle class and small businesses, while large majorities see Republicans as defending the economic interests of big corporations and Wall Street financial institutions.

ABC’s The Note reports that based on the same poll,

Against a backdrop of broad concern about the impact of default, 80 percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’re dissatisfied or even angry with the way the federal government is working, up 11 points in a single month. It last was this high in 1992, during the economic downturn that cost the first President Bush a second term.

The times today are nearly as tough: The ABC News Frustration Index has risen to 72 on its scale of 0 to 100, its highest since just before the 2010 midterm elections and well into the political danger zone. The index combines dissatisfaction with the government, anti-incumbent sentiment and ratings of the president and the economy alike.

But unlike 1992 – or 2010 – the opposition party’s taking even more heat than the president. While President Obama for the first time has fallen under 40 percent approval for handling the economy, the Republicans in Congress do even worse, 28 percent approval. On handling the deficit, it’s a weak 38 percent approval for Obama, but a weaker 27 percent for the GOP. And on handling taxes, Obama has 45 percent approval, the GOP, 31 percent.

It’s good to know that some Americans are getting angry. I wish they’d get out the pitchforks and make some noise about it in the streets.

A couple of GOP governors are dropping in the polls too. Media star Chris Christie is turning off his NJ constituents.

Gov. Chris Christie’s popularity has declined significantly over the first half of 2011 and he would have a very difficult time winning reelection if voters in New Jersey went to the polls today, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling.

While Republican activists outside New Jersey want Christie to seek the party’s 2012 presidential nomination, only 43 percent of Garden State voters approve of the job the governor is doing to 53 percent who disapprove.

The figures represent a 13 point decline from when Public Policy Polling last surveyed voters in January, when Christie’s standing was 48 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval.

Christie’s numbers are steady with Republicans but independents have really turned on him, going from approving by a 55 percent to 39 percent margin to disapproving by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin. And his crossover popularity with Democrats is on the decline as well. Where 23 percent approved of him in January, now only 16 percent do.

Christie has been making huge cuts in government services. I guess austerity isn’t as popular with the grass roots as it is with the power elites.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio is even more unpopular than Christie.

The latest poll released Wednesday by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University showed that only 35 percent of registered voters approve of the job the Republican governor has done in his first six months. Exactly half say they disapprove, up 1 percentage point since May, with the remainder undecided.

“Even after the state budget has been approved as he promised without raising taxes, and even though the Quinnipiac University poll finds that 63 percent say they favor such an approach, Gov. Kasich’s name remains mud in the eyes of the Ohio electorate,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The same poll shows that even some of those who approve of the governor’s performance are prepared to reject his signature law restricting the collective bargaining power of government employees at the ballot on Nov. 8. Fifty-six percent of voters say it should be repealed, up 2 percentage points since May.

Republicans always overreach, don’t they? It looks like the 2010 win may have been just a flash in the pan.

Michele Bachmann is surging in the polls against Mitt Romney.

The Minnesota congresswoman returned to Iowa early Wednesday morning as polls show her gaining ground nationally as a top alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the early front-runner for the GOP nomination. Since formally entering the race last month, she has eclipsed other Republicans in the field, including fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty, who has been actively campaigning all year.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll offered a statistical glimpse at their diverging fortunes. In the poll, 16% of the registered Republicans picked Ms. Bachmann as their top choice, putting her second behind Mr. Romney, who remains the first choice of 30% of the Republicans polled. In the same survey, 2% of registered Republicans chose the former Minnesota governor as their top pick, down from 6% in April.

Meanwhile, Bachmann is still being hassled about her migraine headaches. Karl Rove is calling for her to release her medical records. Boy those Republican power brokers are really scared of Bachmann, aren’t they?

A doctor who has examined Bachmann says the headaches aren’t a big deal.

A letter dated Wednesday from a congressional doctor whose office has examined Republican Michele Bachmann described the presidential candidate’s migraines as occurring “infrequently” and controlled by prescription medication.

Bachmann’s campaign distributed the letter from Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician in Congress. Bachmann has been evaluated by that office during her three terms in Washington.

Former NH Senator Judd Gregg thinks the Republicans in the House will push the debt limit battle to the brink. In fact, he thinks it will take Social Security checks not going out to get them to agree to raising the debt ceiling.

“My gut tells me that we’ll need a weekend of drama — maybe a weekend of the government not paying its bills — politicians need drama to make something happen. As soon as social security checks don’t go out, the politics will change. I suspect it’ll take artificial drama to get closure past the House.”

“Boehner understands that a shutdown is bad for his caucus and that there’s something viable short of a shutdown but right now… it’s a 50-50 chance that we go into a few days of disruption.”

Gregg said lawmakers don’t really care about the nation’s credit rating:

“Policy-makers only worry about a ratings downgrade at the margins. They don’t really care. The ratings agencies put themselves in a corner that’s foolish. I’ve always found them to be incredibly naive about the political process. To be so definitive is foolish.”

“For the ratings agencies to make this drop-dead date, it’s stupid and naive because we’ll straighten it out, but our process doesn’t allow it to do it overnight.”

Gregg says all this will means the Republicans get most of the blame for the mess. They didn’t learn anything from what happened to Gingrich, did they?

Gregg is probably right about the gang of six plan, since that is basically what the Republicans already rejected. And Brian Beutler reports that they are rejecting it again.

As time goes on, and conservative interest groups and members of Congress rip into it, support among Republicans for the Gang of Six plan to reduce deficits will begin to wane. In fact, that’s already happening.

In a publicly released memo meant to undermine support for the Gang of Six plan in its current form, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) laments, “it increases revenues while failing to seriously address exploding federal spending on health care, which is the primary driver of our debt. There are also serious concerns that the proposal’s substance on spending falls far short of what is needed to achieve the savings it claims.”

And check this out from Politico:

A few wealthy donors have called Cantor to tell him they wouldn’t mind if their taxes are raised. During two closed meetings this week — one with vote-counting lawmakers, and another with the entire conference — Cantor told colleagues that some well-heeled givers have told them they’re willing to pay more taxes. Cantor, according to an aide, has responded that House Republicans aren’t standing up for the wealthy, but rather for the middle class, who want to see their taxes stay low.

Yeah sure, Eric. You’re standing up for the middle class. ROFLOL!

With unemployment so high, all we need is more impediments to getting hired. According to the NYT, even obscure blog comments could come into play as companies evaluate job candidates.

A year-old start-up, Social Intelligence, scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years.

Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.

[….]

Less than a third of the data surfaced by Mr. Drucker’s firm comes from such major social platforms as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. He said much of the negative information about job candidates comes from deep Web searches that find comments on blogs and posts on smaller social sites, like Tumblr, the blogging site, as well as Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and even Craigslist.

….it is photos and videos that seem to get most people in trouble. “Sexually explicit photos and videos are beyond comprehension,” Mr. Drucker said. “We also see flagrant displays of weapons. And we see a lot of illegal activity. Lots and lots of pictures of drug use.”

I’ll end with this nightmarish story from the LA Times: Witness tells of horror as 3 swept over Vernal Fall in Yosemite

Bibee, a 28-year-old carpenter who grew up in Angels Camp, northwest of the park, had brought Amanda Lee, a visitor from Missouri, to the top of Vernal Fall on Tuesday — her first visit to Yosemite, but the latest of many for him.

They were standing behind a metal barricade, peering at the cascade….Bibee saw a man cross over the barricade. He was leaning over the 317-foot waterfall, holding a young girl, who was screaming in terror. People begged them to get back. “I’m yelling at him, ‘You SOB, get over here!'” Bibee said. Eventually, the two returned to safety.

But then Bibee noticed that three other people had also crossed over, and were “taking pictures and being stupid.”

The three people, members of a church group, fell into the water and went over the falls. All are presumed dead. Why would people go past a barricade and warning signs to stand on the edge of a raging waterfall? But it’s not the first time. The article says twelve people have gone over the falls previously–all were killed.

That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Total Information Awareness* is Here

Yesterday Joseph Cannon put up a disturbing post about the American company that made it possible for Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian government to shut down the internet in Egypt, making it much more difficult for Egyptians to communicate over social media like Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to read Cannon’s post and watch the Democracy Now video that he included.

The company is Narus, located in Sunnyvale, CA. The company was purchased by Boeing last summer.

I was intrigued enough to do a little more reading about Narus, and thought I’d add a bit to what Cannon had to say.

According to Wikipedia, Narus (emphasis added)

is notable for being the creator of NarusInsight, a supercomputer system which is allegedly used by the NSA and other bodies to perform mass surveillance and monitoring of citizens’ and corporations’ Internet communications in real-time, and whose installation in AT&T’s San Francisco Internet backbone gave rise to a 2006 class action lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T, Hepting v. AT&T.

That’s the NSA spying program that supposedly targeted only foreign communications, but actually spied on all of us.

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, I found this report by Brian Reid, who is described as a “telecommunications expert.” He is also a former electrical engineer professor at Stanford and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University West. Reid was asked by the EFF to examine the technology used by AT&T in the spying program. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, MD

This infrastructure is capable of monitoring all traffic passing through the AT&T facility (some of it not even from AT&T customers), whether voice or data or fax, international or domestic. The most likely use of this infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA. NSA involvement undermines arguments that the facility is intended for use by AT&T in protecting its own network operations.

This infrastructure is not limited to, nor would it be especially efficient for, targeted surveillance, or even untargeted surveillance aimed at communications where one of the ends is located outside the United States. It is also not reasonably aimed at supporting AT&T operations and security procedures.

Reid explains that the equipment he examined “is far more powerful and expensive than that needed to do targeted surveillance or surveillance aimed only at international or one-end foreign communications.” Furthermore:

The documents describe a secret, private backbone network separate from the public network where normal AT&T customer traffic is carried transmitted. A separate backbone network would not be required for transmission of the smaller amounts of data captured via targeted surveillance. You don’t need that magnitude of transport capacity if you are doing targeted surveillance.

The bottom line is that the equipment used to provide data to the NSA for Bush’s spying program was designed to spy on ordinary American citizens–not foreign terrorists.

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