The FBI and the War On Us: Racial profiling on an "industrial scale"

Justin Elliott in Salon: "New documents obtained by the ACLU show that the FBI has for years been using Census data to “map” ethnic and religious groups suspected of being likely to commit certain types of crimes." Read the rest

Rome Burns

Photo: La Repubblica, Italy

That is the graffiti in one of the destroyed streets in this Saturday's "indignati" demonstration. It ended in violence against the police, city security, and last but not least the pacifist organizers of the manifestation, in tune with the world wide movements OCCUPY.

The graffiti sounds like some epic motto of ancient Rome when power struggles burned palaces, libraries, and streets.

Roman life may not be too different after all, except that 2000 years later, we somehow believe that those conflicts should be resolved without arson. Maybe we are wrong. Maybe the fact that people are organized using web networks does not free them from timeless forms of treachery and palace intrigue, or the manipulation and destruction of good political intent.

Anyway, after the mayhem, the search was on for the hooded arsonists, organized through the Internet and through private video shots by participants.

Italy remembers very well the violent "Years of Lead" (late 60's to early 80's), when red and black terrorists planted bombs in public places, blasting innocent citizens in the name of their distorted concept of supreme justice. For years they rampaged beyond the reach of police, courts and other institutions.

Even today, after many years, some cases of public terrorism have not been resolved. Books have been written by important authors to explain the supposedly important difference between a red and a black bomb detonated in public. The Nobel prize authors Dario Fo wrote a play where he showed how easily the police could frame anarchists for terrorism, killing them by legal means. Read the rest

Occupy Wall Street takes over Times Square (updated)

Watch live streaming video from occupynyc at

445pm ET: Happening as I post this. Watch live video here. More on the New York City protesters' longer-term plans back at Zucotti Park, including a map, at Mother Jones. (via @antderosa)

Update, 715pm ET: I've been following live reports on Twitter from various sources, and the situation in Times Square sounds intense. By various estimates, 15-20,000 demonstrators have occupied the Square. NYPD are out in full force, including the Counter-Terrorism unit (photo below).

At least a dozen (maybe more) officers on horseback, and buses and paddywagons ready for mass arrests. Multiple sources on the scene describe police tactics aimed at, more or less, "kettling" people into a defined zone, surrounding them with nets, officers on horseback, and police with batons.

Here's a video uploaded a while ago that shows protesters near the "Toys-R-Us" at Times Square. And here's another, that gives a sense of the crowd density a couple hours ago. And here is another, showing mounted officers entering the area filled with demonstrators.

And below, via AntDeRosa at Reuters (a good one to follow today):

Occupy Wall Street protesters shout slogans against banks and economic system while they take part in a protest at Times Square in New York October 15, 2011 REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

There are various reports floating around on Twitter now that NYPD has been "authorized to use tear gas" against protesters. Some on the scene are tweeting that NYPD is ordering crowds: "Leave now and you won't get hurt."

The situation sounds volatile, and like a very large number of people (including families with children, and disabled persons who have limited mobility) are packed into an ever-shrinking space. Read the rest

Interactive map of Occupy Wall Street protests

Mother Jones is maintaining an interactive map of "Occupy" protests around the US, and beyond. That little lonely red dot in the Pacific is a demonstration in Hilo, Hawaii! If you know of others, tell them: "Send a link to a news article or blog posts to traja [at] motherjones [dot] com or @tasneemraja."

You can find more information about demonstration gatherings at the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together websites, the "official" sites for this movement. The latter shows more than 300 Occupy meetups in cities around the world.

(thanks, Michael Mechanic) Read the rest

Senator Franken shames homophobic imbecile

Think Progress: "During this morning’s Senate DOMA hearings, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) destroyed Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery’s argument that children are better off with opposite-sex parents by demonstrating how Minnery misrepresented an HHS study. The study — which Minnery cited to oppose marriage equality — actually found that children do best in two-parent households, regardless of the parents’ gender."

Senator Franken shames homophobic imbecile Read the rest

Balancing safety with a child's need for risk-taking

A new study suggests that playgrounds that focus too much on protecting kids' safety, can inadvertently stunt their emotional and psychological development. It certainly hits some buttons for this nostalgic merry-go-round enthusiast. Of course, as the article at The New York Times points out, there's a line that must be walked between too safe and not safe enough. For example: Jungle gyms are one thing, going back to having concrete pads under the jungle gyms is entirely another. Read the rest

Soda bottles become electricity-less "light bulbs" for the poor

In many of the world's poor neighborhoods, homes are built out of whatever materials people can get their hands on, often without windows or electricity. That means the buildings are awfully dark during the day, reducing quality of life, safety, and productivity.

But the situation can be improved with only a used soda bottle, some water, and some bleach. Check out this clever solution, developed by MIT and distributed by the Liter of Light project.

Via Grist

Video Link Read the rest

Ethan Nadelmann responds to DEA claim that marijuana has no accepted medical use

[Video Link] Tony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance says: "Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, responds to the recent decree by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that marijuana has no accepted medical use. The decision by the DEA comes almost nine years after medical marijuana supporters asked the government to reclassify cannabis to take into account a growing body of research that shows its effectiveness in treating certain diseases. For more on this subject please go the July 14 LA Times piece titled 'Medical marijuana: A science-free zone at the White House' by DPA's Bill Piper and Stephen Gutwillig.

LA Times: Medical marijuana: A science-free zone at the White House Read the rest

TED2012 Fellowship Applications

"The search is on for the next class of TED Fellows. The Fellows program is looking for 20 outstanding multidisciplinary innovators from around the world – techies, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, bloggers, filmmakers, musicians, activists,  and more. "

I've met a lot of TED fellows from around the world, and they are always doing incredibly interesting work.

Apply for the TED Fellows Program through July 25, 2011 Read the rest

The Majesty of the Great Sword

[Video link]

Thanks Brian! Read the rest

AP: US nuclear power plant safety isn't being tightly regulated

As you may have noticed, I'm not against nuclear power. I'm not aggressively pro-nuclear power, either. It's just that I recognize that energy is complicated and I think that the very real risks of nuclear power have to be considered in tandem with the risks of other energy sources, and the risks of not having enough energy. From that perspective, we can't just immediately shut down all the nuclear power we currently have, and nuclear power still does some things that no other energy source can currently do—namely, provide a reliable, low-carbon, high-capacity factor source of electricity that can be located anywhere and doesn't vary its output with the seasons, the time of day, or the weather. That doesn't mean we must use nuclear. And it definitely doesn't mean we should go all nuclear. But it does mean that we have to make our choices about nuclear as part of a bigger picture.

Of course, all of this comes with a big caveat. From my perspective, the benefits of nuclear power can outweigh the risks, as long as there's competent safety regulation in place that's being monitored by somebody independent of the people who are being regulated. There's two things you should have learned from the ongoing flood watch at Nebraska's Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant. First, regulation protects us. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hadn't done its job here, the Fort Calhoun plant would not have been prepared for floods of the level that it has experienced this summer. Read the rest

CIA used a fake vaccination campaign in hunt for Bin Laden

In the course of trying to prove that it was actually Osama Bin Laden living in that compound outside Abbottabad, the CIA apparently set up a fake Hepatitis B vaccination campaign, which was actually aimed at collecting DNA samples from Bin Laden's children. Working with a Pakistani doctor, they started giving out the first dose of the three-dose vaccine in poor neighborhoods, as a cover, and then, instead of going back to administer the necessary follow-up doses (without which, children are still susceptible to the disease) they moved on to the area where Bin Laden lived and tried to get the doctor inside his compound.

This is bad. Very bad, from a public health perspective. The New York Times story linked above doesn't really get into the implications the CIA's (failed) venture will have for real vaccination campaigns, but Maryn McKenna does a great job of explaining the issues at her Wired blog:

It plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm.

That is not speculation. The polio campaign has already seen this happen, based on just those kind of suspicions -- not in a single poor slum in New Delhi, but across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

In the fall of 2003, a group of imams in the northern Nigerian state of Kano -- the area that happened to have the highest rate of ongoing polio transmission -- began preaching against polio vaccination, contending that what purported to be a protective act was actually a covert campaign by Western powers to sterilize and kill Muslim children.

Read the rest

Woman Faces Jail Time For Growing Veggies In Front Yard

Here's a story to stimulate the "rules are rules" crowd -- "A Michigan woman is looking at the prospect of 93 days in jail because she planted vegetables in planters in her front yard and refused to abide by the town elders' interpretation of the planning code."

Consumerist: Woman Faces Jail Time For Growing Veggies In Front Yard Read the rest

Cory Maye Freed After 10 Years In Prison: The Back Story

Radley Balko says: "I have a longish piece up at Huffington Post today telling the story behind last week's plea bargain in the Cory Maye case. Maye was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2004 for killing a police officer during a botched drug raid on his home.

"It's a story I've been reporting on for about five years. After doing time on death row, then in a notoriously violent wing of Parchman Penitentiary, Maye will soon be going home to his family."

Cory Maye, now 30, was convicted in 2004 of shooting and killing Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr. during a botched drug raid on Maye's home on the day after Christmas in 2001. Maye says he was asleep as the raid began at 12:30 a.m. and had no idea the men breaking into his home were police. The police say they announced themselves. Maye had no prior criminal record, and police found all of a marijuana roach in his apartment, which under other circumstances would garner a $100 fine.

In fact, the man who lived next door to Maye in that bright yellow duplex, Jamie Smith, already had drug charges pending against him and appears to have been the actual target of the police action that night. The police found a significant supply of drugs in Smith's apartment, though Smith has never been tried.

The story behind Cory Maye's release Read the rest

Funding to research antibiotic resistant bacteria not a priority

MRSA—aka, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—kills more Americans every year than HIV. But, writes Maryn McKenna, "For every death from AIDS, the US federal research establishment awards approximately $69,000 in grant funds. And for every death from MRSA, it awards $570." Read the rest

Climate change affects the fossil fuel industry, too

Great moments in irony: How the oil and gas industries are preparing for climate change. (Via Brendan Slotterback) Read the rest

What not to do in a public health slideshow presentation

I'm normally all for humor in science communication, but this has me a little bothered.

Mother Jones has a story up about a neurological disorder that affected several line workers at a Hormel factory in Minnesota. That story's focus is on the connection between the waning power of unions, increasingly bad conditions for workers, and the way the people who developed this disorder have been treated by Hormel. And the disorder itself is pretty depressing, even without all of that.

Known as PIN, Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy, the disorder has been linked to slaughterhouse workers inhaling particles of pig brain material. When their bodies launch an immune system attack against that material, they end up attacking their own nerve cells as well as the pigs'. Victims end up experiencing everything from numbness and pain to temporary paralysis. PIN doesn't kill people. And in most cases, the symptoms improve over time, after the person stops being exposed to atomized pig brains. But, as the Mother Jones piece makes clear, this disorder has had a large, negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people who contracted it.

Which is why I have a hard time understanding the logic behind the image above, which is the last slide from a Minnesota Department of Health presentation on PIN. Given the context, this odd attempt at levity looks pretty damned insensitive, at best. Read the rest

More posts