April 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


White House whistleblower says 25 security clearance denials were reversed during Trump administration  (Rachael Bade April 1, 2019, Washington Post)

A White House whistleblower told lawmakers that more than two dozen denials for security clearances have been overturned during the Trump administration, calling Congress her "last hope" for addressing what she considers improper conduct that has left the nation's secrets exposed.

Tricia Newbold, a longtime White House security adviser, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that she and her colleagues issued "dozens" of denials for security clearance applications that were later approved despite their concerns about blackmail, foreign influence or other red flags, according to panel documents released Monday.

Newbold, an 18-year veteran of the security clearance process who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, said she warned her superiors that clearances "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security" -- and was retaliated against for doing so.

The problem is not that everyone in Donald's orbit serves foreign governments, it's that the American people don't get to see the information too.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fall in February (Reuters, 4/01/19) 

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in February, the latest sign economic growth has shifted into low gear as stimulus from $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and increased government spending fades.

The GOP has warned for decades that taxes and regulations suppress growth, but Donald isn't a Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


The unlikely similarities between the far right and IS (Frank Gardner, 3/30/19, BBC)

Since the middle of last year, MI5, the security service, has been tasked with helping the police tackle the growing threat from British far-right extremists.

Counter-terrorism officers have been using a range of methods, including phone taps, to gather intelligence on what the most violent individuals have been planning or aspiring to do.

In some cases, arrests have been made after suspects have been caught downloading child pornography. But officials say that neo-Nazis and other extremists have also been accessing material to plan attacks published by their ideological enemies, Islamic State.

This may seem strange, but it should not come as a surprise.

Their ideologies may be diametrically opposed to each other but there are some disturbing similarities between them, some of which are obvious, others less so.

Hateful ideologies are all numbingly similar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Need a new ear? Technion opens 3D tissue printer for researchers (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, 4/01/19, Times of Israel)

A 3D center for the printing of cells, tissues and organs has been set up in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa to enable researchers to print complex tissues and improve their integration into human organs, the university said.

The 3-D Bio-Printing Center for Cell and Biomaterials, part of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, is open to all Technion researchers and "will lead the Technion's tissue engineering research into new areas," said faculty dean Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, who heads the center, in a statement.

Tissue engineering has made "dizzying progress in recent decades," the Technion said. It is the field in which a combination of cells, engineering and materials are joined with biochemical and physiochemical factors to create biological tissue that can improve or replace real tissue.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


This Is Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them (Robert Sapolsky, March/April 2019, Foreign Affairs)

He never stood a chance. His first mistake was looking for food alone; perhaps things would have turned out differently if he'd been with someone else. The second, bigger mistake was wandering too far up the valley into a dangerous wooded area. This was where he risked running into the Others, the ones from the ridge above the valley. At first, there were two of them, and he tried to fight, but another four crept up behind him and he was surrounded. They left him there to bleed to death and later returned to mutilate his body. Eventually, nearly 20 such killings took place, until there was no one left, and the Others took over the whole valley.

The protagonists in this tale of blood and conquest, first told by the primatologist John Mitani, are not people; they are chimpanzees in a national park in Uganda. Over the course of a decade, the male chimps in one group systematically killed every neighboring male, kidnapped the surviving females, and expanded their territory. Similar attacks occur in chimp populations elsewhere; a 2014 study found that chimps are about 30 times as likely to kill a chimp from a neighboring group as to kill one of their own. On average, eight males gang up on the victim.

If such is the violent reality of life as an ape, is it at all surprising that humans, who share more than 98 percent of their DNA with chimps, also divide the world into "us" and "them" and go to war over these categories? Reductive comparisons are, of course, dangerous; humans share just as much of their DNA with bonobos, among whom such brutal behavior is unheard of. And although humans kill not just over access to a valley but also over abstractions such as ideology, religion, and economic power, they are unrivaled in their ability to change their behavior. (The Swedes spent the seventeenth century rampaging through Europe; today they are, well, the Swedes.) Still, humankind's best and worst moments arise from a system that incorporates everything from the previous second's neuronal activity to the last million years of evolution (along with a complex set of social factors). To understand the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism--that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias--requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them.

Such an analysis offers little grounds for optimism. Our brains distinguish between in-group members and outsiders in a fraction of a second, and they encourage us to be kind to the former but hostile to the latter. These biases are automatic and unconscious and emerge at astonishingly young ages. They are, of course, arbitrary and often fluid. Today's "them" can become tomorrow's "us." But this is only poor consolation. Humans can rein in their instincts and build societies that divert group competition to arenas less destructive than warfare, yet the psychological bases for tribalism persist, even when people understand that their loyalty to their nation, skin color, god, or sports team is as random as the toss of a coin. At the level of the human mind, little prevents new teammates from once again becoming tomorrow's enemies.

The human mind's propensity for us-versus-them thinking runs deep. Numerous careful studies have shown that the brain makes such distinctions automatically and with mind-boggling speed. Stick a volunteer in a brain scanner and quickly flash pictures of faces. Among typical white subjects in the scanner, the sight of a black man's face activates the amygdala, a brain region central to emotions of fear and aggression, in under one-tenth of a second. In most cases, the prefrontal cortex, a region crucial for impulse control and emotional regulation, springs into action a second or two later and silences the amygdala: "Don't think that way, that's not who I am." Still, the initial reaction is usually one of fear, even among those who know better.

This finding is no outlier. Looking at the face of someone of the same race activates a specialized part of the primate brain called the fusiform cortex, which recognizes faces, but it is activated less so when the face in question is that of someone of another race. Watching the hand of someone of the same race being poked with a needle activates the anterior cingulate cortex, a region implicated in feelings of empathy; being shown the same with the hand of a person of another race produces less activation. Not everyone's face or pain counts equally.

The Right eagerly dons the chains.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Erdoğan's party loses Ankara in Turkish local elections blow (Bethan McKernan,  1 Apr 2019, The Guardian)

What should have been routine municipality elections morphed into a referendum on Erdoğan's decade and a half in office as economic woes began to bite into his support.

Erdoğan's leadership has been marked by consistently strong economic growth, but last year's currency crisis triggered an official recession last month. Inflation is hovering at about 20%, sending the cost of living soaring for working-class AKP voters.

Opposition hope that dissatisfaction at inflation and rising unemployment would be enough to dissuade working-class AKP voters from turning up to vote appeared to be well-founded.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Training A Computer To Read Mammograms As Well As A Doctor (Richard Harris, 4/01/18, NPR)

"These are the sorts of things that we can also teach a model, but more importantly we allow the model to teach itself," she says. That's the power of artificial intelligence -- it's not simply automating rules that the researchers provide but also creating its own rules.

"The optimist in me says in three years we can train this tool to read mammograms as well as an average radiologist," she says. "So we'll see. That's what we're working on."

This is an area that's evolving rapidly. For example, researchers at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands spun off a company, ScreenPoint Medical, that can read mammograms as well as the average radiologist now, says Ioannis Sechopoulos, a radiologist at the university who ran a study to evaluate the software.

When machines replace them it's efficiency.  When they replace us it's time for UBI.