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by msmolly

Over Easy: Chemical Weapons in the War on Protest

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Tear gas is banned in warfare.

Tear gas is technically banned for use in warfare as a chemical weapon. But as the Washington Post (and other publications) point out, Ferguson police shoot it at protesters rather freely.

From Wikipedia

Tear gas, formally known as a lachrymatory agent or lachrymator (from lacrima meaning ‘tear’ in Latin), is a chemical weapon that stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause tears, pain, vomiting, and even blindness. Common lachrymators include pepper spray (OC gas), CS gas, CR gas, CN gas (phenacyl chloride), nonivamide, bromoacetone, xylyl bromide, syn-propanethial-S-oxide (from onions), and Mace (a branded mixture).

Lachrymatory agents are commonly used for riot control. Their use as chemical warfare agents is prohibited by various international treaties. [My emphasis]

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention doesn’t apply to domestic law enforcement.

Because the U.S. was concerned that the C.W. Convention could be interpreted to prohibit lethal injection, we were a vocal supporter of this exemption (my emphasis below):

1. ‘Chemical Weapons’ means the following, together or separately:
(a) Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes;

9. ‘Purposes Not Prohibited Under this Convention’s if means:
[snip]
(d) Law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes.

The most common lacrimator used for riot control is a compound called 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, or CS, which is a powder that when mixed with smoke creates an airborne agent with frightening, although not usually lethal, results. But do notice the foregoing Wikipedia list of common lachrymators also includes pepper spray, which Lt. John Pike used as a chemical weapon against peaceful protestors at U. C. Davis in 2011.

Why Isn’t Tear Gas Illegal?

When deployed in open spaces, the effects of tear gas are indeed temporary. Victims may experience crying, uncontrollable blinking, burning in the throat, sneezing, coughing, retching, and sometimes temporary blindness—but all that should subside within hours. In enclosed spaces, however, the chemical agent can have much more serious effects.

According to Sven-Eric Jordt, a Duke University scientist who researches tear gas, speaking with Vox’s Sarah Kliff,

The way these gases work, and this is what we do research on, is that they activate pain receptors — the pain sensing nerves in our body. The cornea is densely covered with these receptors. When tear gas activates these pain receptors, that leads to body reflexes like profuse tear secretion and a muscle cramp in the eyelid that causes them to close. These are all protective responses that the body has to pain, and with the gas they become extremely exaggerated.

There are situations where this can be very dangerous or lethal. If somebody has asthma, for example, or a hypersensitivity or an airwave disease that can be very dangerous.

[snip]

Tear gas can also lead to profuse mucus production, and that can lead to the feeling of suffocation. That’s especially true if it’s used in closed environments, like what you saw in Cairo. That’s not the case here in Ferguson.

Jordt concludes,

I’m very concerned that, as use has increased, tear gas has been normalized. The attitude now is like, this is safe and we can use it as much as we want.

Regardless of the lengths to which law enforcement will go to justify it, the fact remains that police in the United States – in many cases with inadequate oversight or control – use a chemical banned for use in war, in a domestic “war” on protesters.

And courtesy of Vox, here’s a look at how we would cover events in Ferguson if they happened in another country (satire, maybe, but…). Read the rest of this entry →

by msmolly

Over Easy: Al Gore Is Still Fat (Part 2)

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Scientists are as sure man made climate change is real as they are that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. The statistical likelihood that climate change is not man made is miniscule, as low as 0.1%.

A recent survey of 1,860 climate scientists published in Environmental Science and Technology confirms that more than 90% of the scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that humans are causing it. Previous similar surveys of climate science publications have shown the agreement among scientists may be as high as 97%.

But climate change skepticism–or outright denial–persists among the public, and although it can seem that way sometimes, not all of the public is made up of Faux Nooze-viewing right wingers.

So then, where is the disconnect?

The published survey suggests that the public’s skepticism may be the media’s fault. The survey found that the very small number of climate scientists who are skeptical of climate change were contacted by the media much more often for comment on the subject than were the vast majority of those scientists who concur that human activities are causing this change. It is supposedly the media’s responsibility to report facts. When the media instead provides a pulpit from which climate change deniers can preach their peculiar religion, they aren’t meeting this responsibility.

What the media reports about climate change (or just about any other topic) becomes what people know about the subject. The general public is unlikely to read the latest complex and jargon-filled scientific paper on greenhouse gas emissions or the effect of methane released from Arctic ice.

Obviously there will be scientists who disagree about any scientific subject, but in this case their influence on the public beliefs is increased by lots of money from the fossil fuels industry, coupled with a well-oiled PR machine. Highlighting climate change deniers’ opinions, giving them a platform, is a dangerous game that both boosts business interests and obfuscates what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists regard as settled fact.

In their pursuit of “fair and balanced” reporting, some journalists instead are promoting a clearly untrue narrative. In media terms, this is known as false equivalency, and it’s a serious problem in climate science reporting. As Paul Krugman has commented sarcastically on this false equivalency, “Opinions differ on the shape of the planet.”

But climate change is not a matter of opinion. Some publications, for instance the L.A. Times, have recently adopted a policy of refusing to print climate change denial letters. Reddit’s science section has banned climate change deniers from its forum. But not all major publications are on board with the L.A. Times or Reddit. In other words, they think “opinions differ on the shape of the planet” after all.

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that climate change is a cold (or hot), hard fact. To create doubt, about something where there is no doubt, is a huge disservice to the public, and ultimately a huge detriment to our warming planet.

by msmolly

Over Easy: Al Gore Is Still Fat

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

I’m sitting in the host chair for Crane-Station this morning. Almost every day at Over Easy we’ve been discussing the summer weather, or in some cases the lack thereof. With stifling heat and drought in the west and south, rain and cool temps in the Midwest, it has been an unusual summer in much of the country. As I write this, it is 61º — on an August afternoon. How can the planet be warming when it is so cool outside?

Do look at the photos here:
27 Powerful Photos That Show The Reality Of Climate Change Today

We all know Al Gore is fat so that must mean his climate change predictions are a hoax.

Maybe Michael Mann, the climate scientist, is fat too?

[Mann] was a central figure in the trumped-up “climategate” scandal, accused with other scientists of fraud by conservative bloggers and pundits before being vindicated by eight separate independent investigations (my emphasis).

Michael Mann wants you to know 6 things about global warming.

And do read about Mann’s summer vacation! Fire and Ice: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

If you Google “Michael Mann climate change” a lot of the top hits are the deniers. While charges and counter-charges are flung, climate change marches inexorably onward. Small consolation that the deniers are going to cook right along with the rest of us.

by msmolly

Over Easy: The Monkey Selfie

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Self portrait taken by a Macaca Monkey

Now smile for the camera!

There’s a controversy brewing over a photo that made the rounds in 2011, one of several photos taken by a Macaque nigra (crested black Macaque) monkey. David Slater, an award-winning nature photographer, was in a national park in Indonesia, and left his camera unattended, and apparently a Macaque monkey wandered over and took this hilarious self-portrait. There were several different photos, mostly of grass or sky, and one has gotten a lot of attention. The photographer insists that he owns the copyright to this photo because it was taken with his camera — but in most cases whoever makes the actual art owns the copyright. For example, if you hand your camera to a stranger to take your photo (we’ve probably all done that), technically that stranger holds the copyright on the photo, even though it is a picture of you taken with your camera.

Slater has said that the monkeys were playing with the shiny objects and when one pushed the shutter, they became interested in the noise and kept pressing the button. It would be hard to make a case that Slater made any creative contribution that supports holding a copyright. The monkeys — who might have the best case for copyright on these photos, if there is one, obviously have not licensed the photos.

According to laws in the U.S., and in the UK where David Slater lives, and in Indonesia, where the Macaque took the picture, the image is almost certainly in the public domain. An animal cannot hold a copyright. Under all three countries’ laws, the work must done by a person, not a monkey. Slater, however, claims that because the camera is his, it’s his copyright. Although many people think that’s what copyright law says, it really doesn’t say any such thing.

Section 503.03 of the current Compendium of Copyright Office Practices (published by The U.S. Copyright Office) is very clear:

503.03 Works not capable of supporting a copyright claim.
Claims to copyright in the following works cannot be registered in the Copyright Office:

503.03(a) Works-not originated by a human author.
In order to be entitled to copyright registration, a work must be the product of human authorship. Works produced by mechanical processes or random selection without any contribution by a human author are not registrable. Thus, a linoleum floor covering featuring a multicolored pebble design which was produced by a mechanical process in unrepeatable, random patterns, is not registrable. Similarly, a work owing its form to the forces of nature and lacking human authorship is not registrable; thus, for example, a piece of driftwood even if polished and mounted is not registrable.

But now, three years later, things have gotten interesting again.

The latest is that Slater is apparently still considering legal action against Wikimedia for refusing to take down the image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained To Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button.

Mr Slater now faces an estimated £10,000 legal bill to take the matter to court.

The “monkey owned the copyright” statement is probably an error by the author of the Telegraph article linked above. The person who uploaded the photo to Wikimedia has stated that there was no copyright claim (i.e., it is in the public domain) because there was no human author.

Why is this an issue again at all? It is at least partly Wikimedia’s fault, because they just released a transparency report, which discusses the monkey photo in a case study, and refuse to take it down.

But for the laugh of the week, please read how Wikipedia’s monkey selfie ruling is a travesty for the world’s monkey artists.

The ‘monkey selfie’ in question is a diamond in the mud: a truly remarkable portrait, perfectly focused and strategically positioned to capture a mischievous yet vulnerable smile. If that macaque had an Instagram account she’d have, like, a million followers.

But she doesn’t, and the sorry state of our copyright law – as interpreted by the Copyright Office and exploited by Wikipedia – is to blame. Due to the backwards treatment of animal creators everywhere, monkey art (and monkey photography in particular) continues to languish. How is an aspiring monkey photographer supposed to make it if she can’t stop the rampant internet piracy of monkey works?

by msmolly

Over Easy: Watching You, Watching Me!

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Flickr - law keven - Watching you...watching me....

Watching you…watching me…

I’ve posted here at Over Easy about companies that track our travels on the Web to display ads customized to our interests. They often use cookies, so if you price out an upscale cruise or golf club on one site, ads for cruises or golf clubs follow you around the Web. There are other tracking tools, too, and it is a running battle to stay ahead of them. They’re getting even more intrusive and personal, and it is unsettling to comprehend their reach.

More and more online marketers attempt to track us offline too, by collecting data about our daily lives and habits. According to a fascinating Wall Street Journal investigation, one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. NOTE: To avoid the paywall to the WSJ article, Google “The Web’s New Gold Mine” and click on the link to the article, which should be the top hit. (Also see the note at the end of this post.) LATE DAY UPDATE: The article no longer can be accessed via Google as I described. It is now thoroughly locked down. Sorry!

Here’s but one way this works — there are many others as the technology gets more sophisticated.

  • A retailer collects the email addresses of its customers. It’s why stores keep asking for our email, and sometimes offer a small freebie to entice us to provide it. They especially like to get email addresses of their big spending customers.
  • A digital marketing firm locates customers online when they use their email address to log into a website that has a relationship with the marketing firm. This website allows the firm to put a tracker — a long string of letters and numbers — on the the customer’s computer.
  • When the customer goes online to the retailer’s website, they see a customized version of the site that shows offerings especially tailored for their (high-spending) interests.

Tracking people using their real names is known as “onboarding,” and it’s not used only for retail activity. (“Onboarding” is more commonly a term for integrating a newly hired employee into a work environment. In this context it is data onboarding.) According to LiveRamp, a major provider of data onboarding recently purchased by our old friend Acxiom (remember them??),

Our customers send us large ‘offline’ datasets of user records for us to deliver anonymized versions of these records to an ‘online’ destination, such as an ad network or data management platform. By ‘online,’ we mean that the data record is anonymized and associated with a browser or device, enabling the customer to run ad campaigns that retarget their audience, or to measure offline conversions in response to an online campaign.

In 2012, ProPublica documented how Microsoft and Yahoo sell politicians access to us. Back then, Google and Facebook told ProPublica they don’t offer these political matching services. But since then, Facebook and Twitter started offering onboarding services that allow advertisers (presumably including politicians) to find their customers online.

Another firm in the “onboarding” space is Lotame. According to the WSJ investigation, this is how it works:

Hidden inside Ashley Hayes-Beaty’s computer, a tiny file helps gather personal details about her, all to be put up for sale for a tenth of a penny.

The file consists of a single code— 4c812db292272995e5416a323e79bd37—that secretly identifies her as a 26-year-old female in Nashville, Tenn.

The code knows that her favorite movies include ‘The Princess Bride,’ ’50 First Dates’ and ’10 Things I Hate About You.’ It knows she enjoys the ‘Sex and the City’ series. It knows she browses entertainment news and likes to take quizzes. [snip] Lotame uses sophisticated software called a ‘beacon’ to capture what people are typing on a website—their comments on movies, say, or their interest in parenting and pregnancy. Lotame packages that data into profiles about individuals, without determining a person’s name, and sells the profiles to companies seeking customers.

The WSJ’s investigation revealed that:

Read the rest of this entry →

by msmolly

Over Easy: A Mental Health Break for Friday

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Calendar page date circled.

It’s Friday!

My train of thought derailed. There were no survivors.

This is the story of my week, when all of the news seemed to run the gamut from bad to awful to horrendous. Blown up Malaysia airplanes, bombed Gaza hospitals, botched Arizona executions, and then yesterday a 166-page secret government rulebook for labeling you a terrorist (proof not necessary).

The ‘March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,’ a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire ‘categories’ of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists.

I was feeling overloaded, and decided maybe you all are too. Here are a few interesting conversation starters, so grab a cup of coffee or tea and join in.

Thanks to Bill Moyers for pointing us to this nifty thing:

A self-taught 16-year-old coder from Seattle, Washington, has created a web browser plug-in that won’t let you forget the pervasive and corrupting influence of money in politics.

Called ‘Greenhouse,’ the plug-in picks out the names of any members of Congress on a given web page. Users can then mouse-over those members of Congress to see their top donors, and what percentage of their funding came from small-dollar donations.

Get it HERE.

Chattanooga, TN is about to stick it to Comcast and AT&T. Cue the howling!

Like a publicly traded corporation, the utility [EPB] issued bonds to raise resources to invest in the new broadband project. Similarly, just as many private corporations ended up receiving federal stimulus dollars, so did EPB, which put those monies into its new network.

The result is a system that now provides the nation’s fastest broadband speeds at prices often cheaper than the private competition. As the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted a few years back, ‘EPB offers faster Internet speeds for the money, and shows equal pep in both uploading and downloading content, with Comcast and AT&T trailing on quickness.’

This one is sorta funny. Another government website that doesn’t work.
Error: You Have No Payments from Pharma

Doctors checking a soon-to-be-unveiled federal website that will publicly list drug company payments are encountering error messages if they have not accepted industry money.

The error message: “There are no results that match the specified search criteria.”

OK, that’s all I’ve got. Come share kitteh stories and weather reports and family news. Maybe Starbuck will come by with more wonderful pictures and nonquixote will give us a crop (or Scott Walker) report. Ruth should be back with more from her travels. There might be a Christie sighting. Maybe some lurkers will delurk and put in their two cents. Let’s make it a cheery Friday despite the gloomy headlines! They’ll still be there tomorrow.

UPDATE: Aaaaand we DO have a Christie sighting!
Rob Astorino: Chris Christie should consider stepping down as RGA chairman if he can’t support me

Christie said the RGA doesn’t ‘pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes…’

Is it too early in the morning for popcorn?

by msmolly

Over Easy: They Aren’t Giving Up!

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Milou 02Apparently our elected representatives have learned little from the Snowden revelations except to try to go underground to avoid public scrutiny of what they’re up to. They’re still trying to hand over our private information to the government — but now they’re keeping it vewy, vewy quiet.

The Senate is giving more power to the NSA, in secret.

One of the most underrated benefits of Edward Snowden’s leaks was how they forced the US Congress to shelve the dangerous, privacy-destroying legislation– then known as Cispa – that so many politicians had been so eager to pass under the guise of ‘cybersecurity.’  Now a version of the bill is back, and apparently its authors want to keep you in the dark about it for as long as possible.

Now it’s called the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (Cisa), and it is a nightmare for civil liberties.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 was released to the public as a discussion draft on June 17, 2014. The full (39 page) discussion draft is below.

According to the Center for Democracy and Technology, which hosts an in-depth analysis at its website,

The bill seems to completely ignore Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance within the U.S., and does not contain any new protections for civil liberties to respond to those revelations. In fact, compared to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that the Senate considered in July 2012, CISA would dismantle many of the privacy protections that had improved the previous CISPA legislation as it moved to the Senate floor.

The Senate’s previous attempts to write its own cybersecurity bill were (supposedly) prompted by privacy concerns, but this new bill may make privacy the only thing irrelevant to national security, since it was written by Saxby Chambliss and Dianne Feinstein, who have been some of the most vocal cheerleaders for the NSA’s recently revealed activities.

The new, 39-page draft bill, written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the intelligence committee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the ranking Republican, states that no lawsuit may be brought against a company for sharing threat data with ‘any other entity or the federal government’ to prevent, investigate or mitigate a cyberattack.

From the Guardian article linked above:

Cisa is what Senator Dianne Feinstein, the bill’s chief backer and the chair of the committee, calls an ‘information-sharing’ law that’s supposed to help the government and tech and telecom companies better hand information back and forth to the government about ‘cyberthreat’ data, such as malware. But in reality, it is written so broadly it would allow companies to hand over huge swaths of your data – including emails and other communications records – to the government with no legal process whatsoever. It would hand intelligence agencies another legal authority to potentially secretly re-interpret and exploit in private to carry out even more surveillance on the American public and citizens around the world.

CISA is intended solely to give the NSA and some companies legal cover for helping the NSA’s surveillance efforts. Thanks to Edward Snowden’s revelations, many companies seem much less willing to help nowadays, but giving those companies blanket protection from liability is a very bad idea. Despite the support of Feinstein and Chambliss, it seems unlikely that the bill will have sufficient support in the overall Senate to pass.

This is only the discussion draft version, and there likely will be many revisions before it comes to the floor for a vote, but it appears that no one involved has learned anything from CISPA’s two failed trips through the House, nor from the new concerns prompted by Ed Snowden’s leaked NSA documents. They’ve just taken it all underground. Read the rest of this entry →

by msmolly

Over Easy: Aereo Quacks Like a Duck

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

Whistling duck quack

Quacks like a duck

We’ve been following the fortunes of tiny Aereo vs. the big broadcasters here at Over Easy. You may remember that Aereo doesn’t require rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna — customers rent (for about $8 – $12 per month) a dime-sized antenna in a vast array of TV antennas at an Aereo-owned location that pick up over-the-air broadcast signals and offer a very high speed Internet connection to a DVR-type device in the “cloud.” But on June 25 the Supreme Court effectively killed off Aereo with a 6 to 3 opinion [PDF] that is fairly summarized as a “looks like a duck” test.

When cable companies were first around, they started rebroadcasting network television to their cable subscribers, and the Supreme Court ruled that this was perfectly legal. So the broadcasters ran complaining to Congress, which changed the law to require cable companies to pay fees to retransmit broadcast TV. To avoid those fees, Aereo set up a very different system, carefully constructed to comply with the law.

But the majority decision in the Aereo case, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, kept returning to the fact that Aereo’s setup “looks just like” what cable companies used to do, so since Congress changed the law to outlaw the cable companies’ rebroadcasts, Congress must have meant that Aereo should be illegal as well. The majority seemed to think that since to end users and to networks it appears identical to the old cable systems (in other words, never mind what’s happening in that “black box”), therefore it is the same. As for the very careful steps that Aereo took to comply with the law? The majority just hand-waved that away.

Given Aereo’s overwhelming likeness to the cable companies targeted by the 1976 amendments, this sole technological difference between Aereo and traditional cable companies does not make a critical difference here. . . Indeed, as we explained in Fortnightly [v. United Artists Television], such a subscriber ‘could choose any of the . . . programs he wished to view by simply turning the knob on his own television set.’ … The same is true of an Aereo subscriber. Of course, in Fortnightly the television signals, in a sense, lurked behind the screen, ready to emerge when the subscriber turned the knob. Here the signals pursue their ordinary course of travel through the universe until today’s ‘turn of the knob’—a click on a website—activates machinery that intercepts and reroutes them to Aereo’s subscribers over the Internet. But this difference means nothing to the subscriber. It means nothing to the broadcaster. We do not see how this single difference, invisible to subscriber and broadcaster alike, could transform a system that is for all practical purposes a traditional cable system into ‘a copy shop that provides its patrons with a library card.’

Following the ruling, Aereo suspended service to its customers, but made it clear that it wasn’t done fighting. Fast forward to today. Aereo said, in effect, Okay, Fine, If You Say We Look Like A Duck, We’ll Quack Like A Duck.

Aereo has now decided that if the Supreme Court is going to call it a duck for looking like a duck, it’s damn well going to quack like a duck too. It has told the lower court that it intends to pay retransmission fees under Section 111 [of the Copyright Act], more or less claiming directly that the Supreme Court overruled the ivi ruling.

Here’s the Aereo Letter.

This is going to get even more interesting as it plays out. Get your popcorn ready, the show isn’t over just yet!

by msmolly

Over Easy: Monday Science

9:24 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

An elderly woman injects insulin into her leg

Scientists are teaching human guts to make insulin.

BoxTurtle seems to be MIA this morning, so here are a couple of scienc-y goodies to start the conversation. Coffee and tea are ready, the Diner is open for business. Starbuck is probably already at the hospital to have his cardiac procedure, so keep him in your thoughts.

Researchers have been able to alter a gene and get gastrointestinal cells to produce insulin!

Human Gut Cells Coaxed Into Producing Insulin

By switching off one single gene, researchers have turned human gastrointestinal cells into insulin producers. Retraining GI cells this way could help replace insulin-producing cells that are destroyed because of diabetes.

After a big outdoors picnic weekend for many people, I think we’re wondering Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People and Not Others.

Find a comfy spot and join the conversation.

Read the rest of this entry →

by msmolly

Over Easy: Independence Day

7:45 am in Uncategorized by msmolly

For your holiday amusement! This trailer is hilarious, and it’s not long! Do watch it!

Happy Friday, happy Independence Day, everyone!