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Alabama tornadoes: How you can help

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Over the weekend, I read several beautifully written, deeply moving essays about the deadly line of tornadoes that swept through Alabama last week. I wanted to share a few of those essays here, as well as let people know where you can donate to help the many, many people left homeless by this disaster.

First, my old Alabama buddy Kyle Whitmire wrote a piece for CNN called "When a Monster Came to Alabama".

There is no getting accustomed to natural disasters, but in Alabama tornado emergencies are seasonal part of life. I was in first grade the first time our teachers took us into the hall and taught us to line up against the walls and curl in the fetal position with our hands covering our necks. I can't remember how old I was when my mom made me climb into an empty bathtub, but I do remember her lugging a mattress into the bathroom to throw over me in case things got bad ...

You look for the "debris ball" that means a twister is on the ground. And when they get close, you hide in a windowless room, closet or hallway. If you're on the road, you're supposed to pull off and hide in a ditch, although I'm not sure many folks actually do. Then you wait. Maybe it kills you. Probably it doesn't. When it's over, you call your family to say you're safe and ask them if they're safe. And then you look around outside to see if it's all still there. The experience is terrifying, but it comes with the exhilaration Winston Churchill attributed to being shot at and missed. Of course, nature doesn't always miss.

The other essay comes from writer Brian Oliu. It's something he pieced together at the Tuscaloosa public library, not quite sure whether he'd have the Internet access to post it.

[Tuscaloosa] is where I have lived, worked, and wrote for the past six years, made art, made friends, made mistakes, always making. At some point, the town was called "Tuscalooska", but there was an executive decision at some point to drop the "K", perhaps it made the town sound too stammering, too unsure of itself. There are some old buildings in Alberta City that still had signs that had the "K" still in the name. Those buildings are gone now ...

Commonly, I hear "You live in Alabama? Why?" from folks up north. The effort that has been put forward during these past few days is why. Tuscaloosa has given me more than I can ever repay it for, and now that it needs my help, I am trying the best that I can. One of the jokes I heard a lot when I first moved to Alabama is "You're studying writing in Alabama? Do they even know how to write?" The short answer is yes: they do know how to write. They know how to do a lot of things. They know how to come together. They know how to love. They know how to rebuild.

But as they clean up and rebuild, the people of Alabama do need help. Thousands of people lost their homes. They need basic necessities. The organizations supporting them need money.

• If you'd like to donate supplies, check out this list of needed items. At the bottom of the list is an address to donate supplies by mail, and a list of places in Alabama where supplies can be dropped off.

• There's a long list of places you can donate money, ranging from the Red Cross and United Way, to the Alabama Governor's Relief Fund, religious charities, and Habitat for Humanity.

• If you're in the area and want to donate your time and labor, you can do that, too. Hands on Birmingham is a great organization that's coordinating volunteer efforts within that city. Serve Alabama is a government initiative that's registering volunteers for the whole state.

Image: Tami Chappell / Reuters

Badger attack!

badger-attack.jpg Lucky for him they aren't honey badgers. (Via Subtropic Bob)

Police medic wields magic wellness stick

Police_Medic_-_Hell_Beat_You_Well_With_His_Magic_Wellness_Stick.jpg "Primum non nocere." Unless you have a cool-looking baton and you just can't help yourself.

Nasty political pinbacks

Buttonnnsnsnsnsns Meanbuttons
Collector's Weekly looks at the history of attack-pinbacks in politics. As a little kid, I remember finding an "Impeach the Cox Sacker" pinback in my big brother's desk. I had no idea what it meant at the time, but it was fun to say aloud. Wish I still had it!
Today, President Obama finally produced his long-form birth certificate, rendering this button (above, left), and a central complaint of presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, obsolete. In 1968, candidate Richard Nixon promised to bring the troops home from Viet Nam. Two years later, as the war escalated, anti-Nixon forces accused the president of hypocrisy (above, right) in light of his religious background–Quakers are pacifists...

In 1980, Ted Kennedy’s lost his bid for the White House due in no small part to his actions more than two decades earlier, when he drove his car off a road in Martha’s Vineyard and left it underwater, with the body of a 28-year-old woman inside.

"Vicious Vintage Campaign Buttons"

Ken Robinson on reforming education: ADHD is a "fictitious epidemic."


[Video Link] Ken Robinson's presentation about reforming education is beautifully enhanced with RSA Animate's incredible illustrations.

He believes ADHD is a "fictitious epidemic." RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

BP Oil Spill: Scientists question seafood safety

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service says seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat. And they aren't just making that up—there's test results that back up the decision. But a story at Scientific American explains that there's a lot of nuance and unanswered questions lingering. What unfolds is a great example of how the same data can look very different, depending on your perspective, and what you know about research methodology.

In the Sci Am story, several scientists outside NOAA explain why they continue to be skeptical of the safety of Gulf seafood. Some of their reasons are fairly obvious—there's still oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf waters, so a toxicology test from last month doesn't necessarily tell you anything about the shrimp you eat two months from now. But other problems are less apparent to the average American. Chief among these are the complications of interpreting safety of oil-exposed seafood. There's a lot in common here with the dose-to-risk comparisons that have people tied up in mental knots over nuclear energy. Worse, though, with oil exposure, it seems that there have been a lot of recent changes to the way we calculate acceptable risk—changes that tend to make us underestimate the threat.

To assess the risk posed by seafood containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known carcinogens, most seafood risk assessments conducted after oil spills in the United States have followed an approach used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The acceptable risk level of cancer from seafood consumption is determined by the quantity of seafood the average individual consumes, the body weight of the average consumer, the average human lifespan, the length of exposure, and the concentration of the PAH benzopyrene. Using this approach, the lifetime cancer risk should be no greater than 1 in 1,000,000.

However, the FDA is now using a less rigorous standard than it did in 1990 - one that tends to underestimate how much seafood Gulf residents actually eat.

"For the Exxon Valdez, there was more awareness of high levels of seafood consumption in local populations," says Solomon. "They used local fish consumption rates to estimate what levels of contaminants were safe or would be excessive. In contrast, with the Gulf oil spill, FDA used national seafood consumption rates that don't reflect what people on the Gulf Coast are eating."

"The assumption that they're using [...] is not as protective of human health as the one that they used for the Exxon Valdez," says Solomon.

The current FDA risk assessment protocol is based on a 176-pound man eating four shrimp a week. That doesn't account for women or children, whose body weights are lower, let alone local seafood consumption along the Gulf Coast. "Nobody in the Gulf really eats four shrimp a week, so it's unrealistic the way they are assessing risk of consumption," says Shaw.

God Hates Verizon

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Sara Rogness doesn't care for the Westboro Baptist Church, but she had a little fun by embedding herself into one of their boring homophobic protests.

After a customer service call gone wrong, I was very angry and couldn't seem to get a grip on it. I called Katherine and the plan was born. Most anyone who has lived in Topeka awhile knows about the angry corner: 17th & Gage. That's where (or across the street at 15th & Gage) Westboro Baptist Church holds their week-day 15 minute protests. You've seen the signs. God hates this and God hates that. I decided that it would be cathartic and funny if I could join in with a God Hates Verizon sign. So I did (I got about 10 minutes of protest in before the cold got to me).
God Hates Verizon

(Thanks, Bill!)

A cool way to use the web to improve the world

One surgeon's suggestion: YouTube and Facebook should be places where doctors and surgeons can go to learn new techniques and get visual instruction to improve their skills. (Via Steve Silberman)

EUROPEANS! Write to your MEP NOW to oppose copyright term extension for sound recordings

Peter from the Open Rights Group sez, "In 2009 a Directive aimed at extending the term of copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years, which flies in the face of all the credible evidence, passed the European Parliament. This week, the plans are back in front of the European Council and may soon become law. But there's a chance we can stop this if we make enough noise. We need people to write to their MEPs and ask them to oppose these plans and make sure the Directive gets properly debated."

I've just written to my MEPs and I'll be calling them tomorrow. We need people from across Europe to do the same if we're going to stop this. There's no credible reason to extend the copyright on works that have already been made; historically this has not enriched artists (there are vanishingly few recordings that are still commercially viable after 50 years), but it has stopped preservationists, fans, and remixers from re-issuing or re-using all those recordings, often to the point where all known copies of the works degrade and disappear.

But isn't making sure artists continue to be paid a good thing?

Yes. But this won't help the majority of artists and comes at the expense of consumers and our cultural realm. The economic evidence is stacked against the proposal. Leading IP professors, the UK government's 'Gowers Review' of IP, and independent economic analysts have all said that extending the copyright term is unwise. The Financial Times labelled the proposal 'disgraceful' in an editorial in 2009. It will likely result in higher prices for consumers. It will benefit only a small number of artists and businesses - according to a joint academic statement, signed by 80 eminent academics, including several Nobel Laureates, 96% of the economic returns will go to the major record labels and top 20% of performers. Four leading IP professors this week argued that 'If there was a policy designed to suppress social and commercial innovation, retrospective term extension would be your choice.' Large chunks of our cultural history will be locked up.

Looking at the impact on the UK, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge argued that extending the term of protection will 'likely to have a significant, negative effect, on balance of trade' and that 'it would be particularly inadvisable, given our present state of knowledge, for a rational policy-maker to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings.'

Copyright term extension - you can help stop it (Thanks, Peter!)

Why fear and risk are hard problems

In honor of the International Year of Chemistry, a nice analysis of why people fear "chemicals" out of proportion to actual risk, and why no amount of haughty rationalization is likely to change that. (Via Deborah Blum)

Sweden exports sweatshops: Ikea's first American factory

World-beating tax-cheats Ikea have a reputation for being a great employer in Sweden; but in America, their first factory is a model sweatshop, with rock-bottom wages, mandatory overtime, abusive vacation policies, and forced reeducation meetings for employees who support forming a union:
Some of the Virginia plant's 335 workers are trying to form a union. The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said a majority of eligible employees had signed cards expressing interest.

In response, the factory -- part of Ikea's manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood -- hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership...

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days -- eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Ikea's U.S. factory churns out unhappy workers (via Reddit)

(Image: Midnight at the Glassworks: Lewis Wickes Hine/Wikimedia/Library of Congress [Public Domain])

Wisco county clerk whose homemade voting software found 14K votes for Tea Party judge is an old hand at illegal campaigning

The plot thickens for Kathy Nickolaus, the Waukesha, Wisconsin county clerk who used her own home-brewed voting software to miraculously discover 14,000 votes for her former boss, Tea Party-favored Supreme Court Justice David Prosser. Yes, former boss -- Nickolaus worked under Prosser at the disgraced Assembly Republican Caucus, who were exposed while illegally conducting secret campaigns for Republican legislative candidates. What's more, Nickolaus is something of an old hand when it comes to voting irregularities:
In 2006, Nickolaus, who was elected Waukesha County clerk in 2002, was criticized for posting election returns that temporarily skewed results of a Republican primary for the 97th Assembly District. At the time, Nickolaus told reporters some returns from the city of Waukesha were entered in the wrong column.

And last summer, the Waukesha County Board ordered an internal audit of her office, citing concerns Nickolaus was secretive and refusing to cooperate with the county's technical staff in a security review of the computerized election system.

Some officials also were critical of Nickolaus' decision to stop posting municipal results to save time. Auditors who looked at the Waukesha County system found 26 of 62 counties surveyed also did not post local results -- a step that might have revealed the missing Brookfield numbers.

Waukesha County clerk has drawn criticisms in the past

Canada's New Democratic Party promises national broadband and net neutrality

Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party have unveiled their Internet campaign promises for this election; they're a stark contrast to the Tories, who've vowed to re-engineer Canada's network to make it easier to spy on Canadians without a court order. Instead, the NDP promises to extend broadband (wired and wireless) across the nation, to force the CRTC (the national telcoms regulator) to be more responsive to consumer interests, and to enshrine net neutrality (a term coined by Canadian Tim Wu!) into law.
* We will apply the proceeds from the advanced wireless spectrum auction to ensure all Canadians, no matter where they live, will have quality high-speed broadband internet access;
* We will expect the major internet carriers to contribute financially to this goal;
* We will rescind the 2006 Conservative industry-oriented directive to the CRTC and direct the regulator to stand up for the public interest, not just the major telecommunications companies;
* We will enshrine "net neutrality" in law, end price gouging and "net throttling," with clear rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), enforced by the CRTC;
* We will prohibit all forms of usage-based billing (UBB) by Internet Service Providers (ISPs);
* We will introduce a bill on copyright reform to ensure that Canada complies with its international treaty obligations, while balancing consumers' and creators' rights.
NDP Unveils Its Digital Economy Strategy: Reshaping Internet Access in Canada

(Image: Rainbows, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jaqian's photostream)

Canadian Tories' campaign pledge: We will spy on the Internet

Michael Geist has timely analysis of the Canadian Conservative party's campaign promise to pass a massive "crime and justice" bill within 100 days, if re-elected. The bill -- which has never been debated or had hearings or public consultation -- includes massive, extrajudicial bulk surveillance over Canadians' use of the Internet.
More important than process is the substance of the proposals that have the potential to fundamentally reshape the Internet in Canada. The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers.

The first prong mandates the disclosure of Internet provider customer information without court oversight.

The second prong requires Internet providers to dramatically re-work their networks to allow for real-time surveillance. The bill sets out detailed capability requirements that will eventually apply to all Canadian Internet providers. These include the power to intercept communications, to isolate the communications to a particular individual, and to engage in multiple simultaneous interceptions.

Having obtained customer information without court oversight and mandated Internet surveillance capabilities, the third prong creates a several new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data.

The Conservatives Commitment to Internet Surveillance

(Image: big brother, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 59744536@N00's photostream)

Gender stereotypes woven into language of toy ads


Crystal transcribed a number of "boys'" and "girls'" toy commercials and made word-clouds out of the result. The difference is stark and immediately visible.

Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes (Thanks, Alice!)

English school principal announces zero tolerance for mismatched socks

The City of Ely Community College in Cambridgeshire, England has decided to restore discipline to its student body by nonsensically conflating genuinely disruptive behavior (talking in class) with mere individualism (wearing mismatched socks or brightly colored hair-bobbles). School principal Catherine Jenkinson-Dix is hell bent on producing a generation of young Britons who can't tell the difference between cooperating with your peers and blind conformity -- just what the future needs (assuming that the future won't require any original thought).
Nonetheless, some shocked parents are attacking the new rules and accusing Ms. Jenkinson-Dix of turning the school into a "prison."

"I'm absolutely appalled. They are wrecking pupils' education and turning it into a prison," Amanda King, 34, who pulled her 12-year-old son Ben and daughter Shannon, 14, out of classes, told the Cambridge News.

"Staff are nit-picking for everything -for behaviour, for what they wear. Apparently they are not allowed to wear any accessories or even coats in school now."

Another mother, who asked not to be named, said, "Yes, children should be taught to respect their teachers but to punish them for wearing bright hair bobbles or having their mobile phones is petty. I'm not happy about the new rules at all."

U.K. school cracks down on bad manners (Thanks, Bytefire, via Submitterator!)

(Image: Day 6 / 365 - Thinking in the corner, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from restlessglobetrotter's photostream)

CWA: Population isn't the problem, consumption is the problem

"As we get women access to education and birth control, as there's a focus on human rights, the birth rate is leveling out. It's a great success story, actually. Sustainability is about consumption, not population. Indonesia has a high birth rate, but Indonesia is not going to push the world into runaway global warming. Not unless they all start consuming the way we do."Ted Nace, author and environmental activist, during a Conference on World Affairs panel that asked, "Can Science Feed the Growing Global Population?"

Franken wants a balanced war budget

Senator Al Franken has proposed a "Pay for War" resolution that would require Congress to raise taxes and/or cut spending before authorizing new acts of war, so that American foreign adventures can't contribute to the national debt.

"We have to ensure that Iraq and Afghanistan remain anomalies in American history," Franken said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "And that's what my resolution seeks to do. It will ensure that future wars don't make our deficit and debt problem worse. It will ensure that Congress and American citizens must face the financial sacrifice of going to war. And it will force us to decide whether a war is worth that sacrifice."

"In the last ten years our wars have been paid for by borrowing," Franken said. "The Iraq War was accompanied by a massive tax cut. That failed fiscal experiment created the impression that war requires no financial sacrifice. We know that is just not true. The question is who will bear the financial sacrifice, the generation that has decided to go to war or its children and grandchildren?"

Franken wants wars to be paid for (via Reddit)

Homebrew vote-counting software from Clerk in conservative Wisconsin county gives Supreme Court win to Tea Party darling

Saljake sez, "The Waukesha, WI County Clerk is allowed to design her own vote-counting-software(!) plus it lives off the network on a desktop computer in her office and has zero IT support after 5pm. Today, she found thousands of state Supreme Court votes for Tea Party darling Prosser that she somehow *forgot* to report to the AP yesterday."

If these newly discovered votes are allowed to stand, it will reverse the upset in the state Supreme Court election that saw the judgeship go to a candidate who attracted a large anti-Walker protest vote.

Today's announcement by Nickolaus drew immediate suspicions from Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a liberal activist group.

"Wisconsin deserves elections that are fair, clean and transparent," Ross said. "There is a history of secrecy and partisanship surrounding the Waukesha County Clerk and there remain unanswered questions."

Nickolaus, a former staffer for the Assembly Republican Caucus, has been criticized in recent months for her handling of recent elections. The Waukesha County Board sharply condemned Nickolaus after past elections, demanding an audit of her practices last year.

The auditors criticized Nickolaus for moving some sensitive files, such as election results, onto her personal computer.

Newly discovered Waukesha County votes would give win to Prosser (Thanks, Saljake, via Submitterator!)

Marketplace for hijacked computers


Brian Krebs went browsing in an underground proxy marketplace, where criminals rent time on hijacked computers to other criminals who want to use the compromised machines as launching-grounds for untraceable networked attacks. Krebs traced down some of the people whose computers were up for rent and let them know that they were being bought and sold on the underground.
Michelle Trammell, associate director of Kirby Pines and president of TSG, said she was unaware that her computer systems were being sold to cyber crooks when I first contacted her this week. I later heard from Steve Cunningham from ProTech Talent & Technology, an IT services firm in Memphis that was recently called in to help secure the network.

Cunningham said an anti-virus scan of the TSG and retirement community machines showed that one of the machines was hijacked by a spam bot that was removed about two weeks before I contacted him, but he said he had no idea the network was still being exploited by cyber crooks. "Some malware was found that was sending out spam," Cunningham said, "It looks like they didn't have a very comprehensive security system in place, but we're going to be updating [PCs] and installing some anti-virus software on all of the servers over the next week or so."

Is Your Computer Listed "For Rent"?

Fake-make: counterfeit handmade objects from big manufacturers

Make Magazine has started to publish my old "Make Free" columns online; today, they've posted "Untouched By Human Hands," in which I speculate about whether (and when) big manufacturing companies will start to produce fake "hand-made" objects, and what makers might do in response.
Will the 21st-century equivalent of an offshore call-center worker who insists he is "Bob from Des Moines" be the Guangzhou assembly-line worker who carefully "hand-wraps" a cellphone sleeve and inserts a homespun anti-corporate manifesto (produced by Markov chains fed on angry blog posts from online maker forums) into the envelope?

I wouldn't be surprised. Our species' capacity to commodify everything -- even the anti-commodification movement -- has yet to meet its match. I'm sure we'll adapt, though.

We could start a magazine for hobbyists who want to set up nostalgic mass-production assembly lines that use old-fashioned injection molders to stamp out stubbornly identical objects in reaction to the corporate machine's insistence on individualized, 3D-printed, fake artisanship.

Untouched By Human Hands

(Image: Weaving by the Pool, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 87739302@N00's photostream)

Worldreader: ebooks for kids in the developing world

I've recently lent my support to Worldreader, an innovative nonprofit program that distributes ebook readers to children in the developing world and then exposes them to a large library of donated texts from writers from across the world, as well as newspapers and other materials. I was delighted to give them access to all my books (of course), and put them in touch with a large group of other kids' and young adult writers who were happy to do the same (including my hero Daniel Pinkwater, who travelled in and wrote about Kenya and has a real love of Africa).

WR: What advice do you have for kids in developing countries who are just beginning to read and only have recently gotten access to books because of technology advancements?

Cory: I have a couple of pieces of advice about reading. One is that the most dangerous thing in the world is someone who has only read one book. The great thing about reading is that you can triangulate your ideas among lots of different authors, different times, or different place. When you read widely and broadly it shows you that everything is relative. It shows that there is a lot of ways of looking at things, and often times, problems can become solutions if looked at creatively.

The other piece of advice I would give them about reading electronically is to not allow their collections to be tied to one device or platform. Devices come and go, but data can live forever. The only way you can maintain access to them is if you insist on the ability and the right to move the books into any format or any platform you want to.

Writers Changing Lives: A Chat With Cory Doctorow

Chinese censors ban time travel TV shows

The Chinese General Bureau of Radio, Film and Television has prohibited new science fiction TV dramas, following a vogue for shows where modern Chinese people travel to ancient China and discover that it's not a bad place to be (this having some counter-revolutionary subtext). They've also prohibited production of "the Four Great Classical Novels", ("the four novels commonly counted by scholars to be the greatest and most influential of classical Chinese fiction"), on the grounds that the widespread adaptations of them take too many liberties with the original texts.
From the end of last year, the time-travel themed drama is becoming more and more popular. Most of these time-travel dramas are based on real historical stories but with many newly added, and usually exaggerated elements to make it funny and more attractive. Nothing is off limits in this television genre. While some find it hilarious, others think the exaggeration and even ridiculous elements added into the story is a real source of annoyance and is a disrespectful for history.

The authority's decision was made on the Television Director Committee Meeting on April 1st. - but obviously it's not a prank to fans of the drama genre. The authority has a good reason to go against the genre. "The time-travel drama is becoming a hot theme for TV and films. But its content and the exaggerated performance style are questionable. Many stories are totally made-up and are made to strain for an effect of novelty. The producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore."

"No more time-travel drama", authority says it disrespects history

广电总局叫停四大名著翻拍 批穿越剧不尊重历史

(via Making Light)

Behavioral psychology and security blindspots

A Bruce Schneier essay from IEEE Security & Privacy describes a series of experiments in logical thinking, through which some of our security blindspots come to light:
Consider the Wason selection task. Subjects are presented with four cards next to each other on a table. Each card represents a person, with each side listing some statement about that person. The subject is then given a general rule and asked which cards he would have to turn over to ensure that the four people satisfied that rule. For example, the general rule might be, "If a person travels to Boston, then he or she takes a plane." The four cards might correspond to travelers and have a destination on one side and a mode of transport on the other. On the side facing the subject, they read: "went to Boston," "went to New York," "took a plane," and "took a car." Formal logic states that the rule is violated if someone goes to Boston without taking a plane. Translating into propositional calculus, there's the general rule: if P, then Q. The four cards are "P," "not P," "Q," and "not Q." To verify that "if P, then Q" is a valid rule, you have to verify modus ponens by turning over the "P" card and making sure that the reverse says "Q." To verify modus tollens, you turn over the "not Q" card and make sure that the reverse doesn't say "P."

Shifting back to the example, you need to turn over the "went to Boston" card to make sure that person took a plane, and you need to turn over the "took a car" card to make sure that person didn't go to Boston. You don't -- as many people think -- need to turn over the "took a plane" card to see if it says "went to Boston" because you don't care. The person might have been flying to Boston, New York, San Francisco, or London. The rule only says that people going to Boston fly; it doesn't break the rule if someone flies elsewhere.

Detecting Cheaters

(Image: Theory of Boundaries, 1969-1970, chalk on dry pigment on wall by Mel Bochner, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nostri-imago's photostream)

Colombian Justice Minister ramming through extremist copyright legislation without public consultation

German Vargas Lleras, the Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice, has proposed a new fast-track copyright bill that will require ISPs to spy on, disconnect and censor their users in the name of protecting copyright. The bill was introduced without any public consultation or debate -- rather, it is to be rammed through Congress without meaningful scrutiny from Colombians. Fundación Karisma has launched a campaign to get the government to conduct public inquiries into the proposal:
Since amending Copyright law was part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) agenda between Colombia and the U.S., it should come as no surprise that the bill is similar in many ways to the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act introduced in Title II of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Also France's anti-privacy/liberty law named HADOPI or Mexicos 'Three Strikes" approach, where controversy surrounds their adoption under domestic law. At first glance however the bill appears to implement its own features following the rules of both a take down and counter notice and domestic judicial procedure.

Concern is raised on topics such as abuse by copyright owners, ISP's indiscriminate removal of material, supression of freedom of speech, false claims of copyright infringement, amongst others. Worryngly though, Colombia's citizens were denied the right to study, discuss and generate public debate regarding the bill before it was put forth to Congress, although the Copyright authority had discussed the idea that there would be a space for public debate prior to the passing of the bill.

Colombia's Bill to deter copyright infringement on the Internet must undergo public scrutiny (Thanks, Carolina!)

Glenn Beck's brain


Mother Jones and Steve Brodner bring us a MAD-Magazine-style exploded diagram of the contents of Glenn Beck's brain, just in time for the news that the weeping millionaire goldbug conspiracy nut is going off the air (if life were a Warren Ellis comic, he'd reappear as a presidential candidate).

What's Inside Glenn Beck's Brain?

World Bank: gold farming (etc) paid poor countries $3B in 2009

A research arm of the World Bank has produced a comprehensive report on the size of the grey-market virtual world economy in developing countries -- gold farming, power-levelling, object making and so on -- and arrived at a staggering $3 billion turnover in 2009. They go on to recommend that poor countries be provided with network access and computers so this economy can be built up -- a slightly weird idea, given how hostile most game companies are to this sort of thing.

Add in a global union drive among the gold farmers, and you've got the plot of my last young adult novel. Funny old world.

Jobs in the virtual economy include micro-tasks like categorizing products in online shops, moderating content posted to social media sites, or even playing online games on behalf of wealthier players who are too busy to tend to their characters themselves. The study estimates that the market for such gaming-for-hire services was worth $3 billion in 2009, and it suggests that with suitable mobile technologies even the least-developed countries could benefit from this emerging virtual economy.

"Developing countries' roles in the digital world have been mostly limited to users and consumers, not producers. But today, a growing mesh of digital services is giving rise to a new layer of entrepreneurial opportunities with very low entry barriers," said Valerie D'Costa, Program Manager of info Dev.

Tim Kelly, info Dev's Lead ICT Policy Specialist, said, "Some of the poorest people in the world are already connected to digital networks through their mobile phones. The study shows that there are real earning opportunities in the virtual economy that will become accessible as mobile technology develops. This could significantly boost local economies and support further development of digital infrastructure in regions such as Africa and southeast Asia."

While the virtual economy unlocks a plethora of business opportunities, it should be noted that not all these activities are viewed positively. According to the info Dev study, certain business ventures and services offered may actually detract from the experience of other Internet users. For example, harvesting and selling online gaming currencies or mass clicking "Like" on corporate Facebook pages can create an unfair environment where legitimate game play and user opinion loses value and is represented inaccurately.

Converting the Virtual Economy into Development Potential (Thanks, Tim!)

EFF student activist internships open to applicants

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's student summer activism internships are now open to applicants; you've got until April 22 to apply. Start your engines!
Are you an undergraduate or graduate student who is interested in protecting civil liberties online and fighting for a free and open Internet? Do you have strong writing and research skills? Do you love delving into the latest issues in technology, privacy, intellectual property, and transparency? Apply for EFF's Summer Activism Internship!

The Activism Intern will work closely with EFF's activism team to create new campaigns, action alerts, and issue pages, research new issues in digital civil liberties, and update existing web pages on EFF's sprawling website.

Work for EFF's Activism Team This Summer

Class war comics: Scrap Iron Man versus international capital

China Mieville's posted his rejected pitch for a six-issue comic called "Scrap Iron Man," a class-war response to Iron Man in which workers come together in the spirit of international solidarity to build mecha suits that are used to right economic injustice. I hope someone picks this up and China writes it, because I want to read it.
Dan smashes up a crack house, but while most of those within run, one stays and jeers at him, calls him a bully. Dan knows her: Louise was the union rep at his factory. He's ashamed: he always liked her. They get talking. 'You really want to do right by Flinton?' Louise says eventually. 'By all the other Flintons? Then quit messing with symptoms. It's time to take down the real villain.'

Louise has contacts. They gather together a group of laid-off workers, from all the fields and departments of the now-dead industry, who with their combined expertise add weapons, flight capability, computers to the armour. Over Dan's initial resistance, Louise even insists they contact some of the overseas workers where the plants have been relocated, to get up-to-date information, technology, and help, because, Louise insists, they're on the same side. They make the suit vastly more powerful.

Rejected pitch

CWA: Three things I learned from a World Bank transportation expert

CWA is the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Now in it's 63rd year, the conference brings together scientists, politicians, activists, journalists, artists, and more for a week of fascinating conversations.

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