Boing Boing 

Silicon Valley wage fixing: Disney, Lucas, Dreamworks and Pixar implicated

It's not just tech companies that participated in the massive, illegal "no-poaching" cartel.

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New film about Kurt Cobain death conspiracy

Last week was the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Soaked In Bleach is a new film mixing historical footage and interviews with dramatizations that dredges up the tired old conspiracy theory that Cobain didn't kill himself, but was murdered by a hit man. Hired by who? One guess. Of course one of stars, at least of the trailer, is the detective Tom Grant who was retained by Love and later claimed that she had paid a hitman to off her hubby. If all this sounds familiar, you must have seen Nick Broomfield's 1998 documentary "Kurt & Courtney."

US government sends itself a takedown notice over JFK documentary: you decide what to do!

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

One agency of the federal government has issued a takedown notice to another agency of the federal government, which in turn demanded that we remove a film from the Internet. Not knowing what to do, I have appealed for your help.

I hereby bring this plea before the Court of Appeals for Wonderful Things, appealing to a jury of my peers, all happy mutants, for their verdict. Here are the facts of my case:

    * After the assassination of of John F. Kennedy on December 23, 1963, the United States Information Agency (USIA), with the assistance of citizen Gregory Peck, produced a 90-minute film called John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums.

    * The film was shown overseas to rave reviews. The Daily Mirror of Manila described it as a "work of art." The Times of India said "Each and every shot of this one and a half hour long film is so effective and heart touching that the spectators remain spellbound to the last minute." The Star of Johannesburg said "This film makes one want to be an American."

    * The USIA was prohibited by law from distributing films in the United States as it was then illegal for the government to propagate domestic propaganda.

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Girl's Kickstarter to go to RPG camp brings out the horrible, horrible trolls

For the past several days, I've been seeing an obviously silly conspiracy theory rocket around the usual online places. It concerns Susan Wilson, whose nine-year-old daughter Mackenzie was challenged by her older brothers when she expressed an aspiration to make games, Mackenzie and her mom posted a Kickstarter to raise $800 for an RPG camp where she could hone her game-development skills.

And out came the trolls. One group was convinced that this was a scam by a "millionaire" (Wilson once attended a fundraiser where she was photographed with Warren Buffet); the other was convinced that this was a radical feminist man-hatin' exercise determined to raise funds by pitting little boys against little girls.

Both theories were silly on their face, but lots of credulous guys found something they liked in it -- specifically, evidence of a vast shadowy conspiracy of emasculating millionaire women who want to relegate men to the scrapheap of history -- and repeated it, and it refused to die. Worse, the campaign whipped up the kind of men who respond to their feelings of discomfort with death and rape threats. Keep it classy, guys.

Thankfully, CNet's Eric Mack took on the unenviable task of rebutting the rumors. And as he points out, the fundraiser has cleared $20K, and Wilson's going to use the excess money to fund girls-in-STEM causes. Victory.

Wilson also responded to other conclusions drawn by the trolls, dispelling the notion of the size of her bank account ("I don't have a million dollars in the bank, I'm not rolling in cash and I'm not a highly paid business woman. Frankly, I'm unemployed at this very moment!"); her status as a Warren Buffet buddy (it was a photo op from an awards ceremony); and those pricey shoes ( a splurge after a long-shot bet at the roulette wheel paid off years ago). She added:

"Kickstarter is about the power of the crowd and though you might not always like what the crowd says, you can't push the "It's not Fair" button when you disagree. Though I'm not in the 1% club, I do find it sad many think Kickstarter should only be used for the downtrodden and the poor because it has the power to extend far beyond. "

Wilson also took the bold move of outing the two people who made threats against her and her family, and she told me in an email that she is actively searching for a worthy cause to direct all the extra money that the crowdfunding campaign raises beyond the original modest goal.

"It's clear this campaign resonated for a reason that's much bigger than Mackenzie and ALL OF THE extra money should go to that bigger movement," Wilson writes. "I can't say I know what that is right now (it's been a whirlwind and certainly wasn't planned) but smart people are working on it with Brenda Romero (gamer in residence at University of California at Santa Cruz who's husband created Doom and Quake) being among my personal favorites."

Trolls take on 9-year-old girl's Kickstarter project...and lose

Tinfoil hats actually amplify mind-control beams

A group of MIT students decided to test the performance of different tinfoil beanies to see how various designs (the "classical," "fez" and "centurion") interacted with commonly used industrial radio applications. They found that all three designs actually amplified these mind control rays radio waves, suggesting that the tinfoil hat meme might be a false-flag operation engineered to trick the wily and suspicious into making it easier to beam messages into their skulls.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

... We evaluated the performance of three different helmet designs, commonly referred to as the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion. These designs are portrayed in Figure 1. The helmets were made of Reynolds aluminium foil. As per best practices, all three designs were constructed with the double layering technique described elsewhere [2].

A radio-frequency test signal sweeping the ranges from 10 Khz to 3 Ghz was generated using an omnidirectional antenna attached to the Agilent 8714ET's signal generator.

On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: (via The Atlantic)

Coordinated multinational ATM fraud nets $13M in one night

Crooks who compromised Fidelity National Information Services's prepaid debit card database were able to draw out $13 million in one night, working with co-conspirators in several countries in one weekend night, after the banks had closed:
Apparently, the crooks were able to drastically increase or eliminate the withdrawal limits for 22 prepaid cards that they had obtained. The fraudsters then cloned the prepaid cards, and distributed them to co-conspirators in several major cities across Europe, Russia and Ukraine.

Sources say the thieves waited until the close of business in the United States on Saturday, March 5, 2011, to launch their attack. Working into Sunday evening, conspirators in Greece, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom used the cloned cards to withdraw cash from dozens of ATMs. Armed with unauthorized access to FIS’s card platform, the crooks were able to reload the cards remotely when the cash withdrawals brought their balances close to zero.

Coordinated ATM Heist Nets Thieves $13M

(Image: ATM in a cage, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from yuval_y's photostream)

NASA to conspiracy theory: Drop Dead

NASA to the Internet: Comet Elenin will not kill us all. (Via Louie Baur)

FBI releases files on controversial booksellers Paladin and Loompanics

catalogsforbookspaladinloompanics.jpg The FBI has released its files on two famously controversial publishers, Paladin Press and Loompanics Unlimited, following a FOIA request filed by Government Attic. The files suggest that the booksellers' huge libraries of books on drugs, guns and other ultra-libertarian issues only rarely drew the FBI's attention.

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China: artist, poet, activist Ai Weiwei released on bail


Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei speaks to members of the media in the doorway to his studio after being released on bail in Beijing June 23, 2011. Ai, detained since April, was released on bail on Wednesday, state media said, citing Beijing police. The agency, in a late evening announcement, said the artist had been freed "because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from". Ai was detained at Beijing airport on April 3, igniting an outcry about China's tightening grip on dissent, which has triggered the detention and arrest of dozens of rights activists and dissidents. [REUTERS/David Gray].

China's news agency reports that the Chinese poet, artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been released on bail. He pled guilty to charges of tax evasion. He is now home. From China Daily:

The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.

The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded, police said.

The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said.

More, from US-based news outlets: WP, AJ, NYT NPR.

As an aside, and not directly related to the news of his release: in New York City, the Asia Society is planning an exhibit of his work.

Tapes show Italian priest lured teenage boys for sex, paid them with cocaine


Investigators examining tapped cellphone conversations between a Moroccan drug dealer and 51-year-old Father Riccardo Seppia (shown at left, in the red robe) found evidence of arranged sexual encounters with young boys, some of whom were paid for sex with cocaine.

"I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger," Seppia is accused of having said on the tapes. "Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues."

Seppia is a priest in a the archdiocese of one of the top advisers working with Pope Benedict XVI "on reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests." He is said to have boasted in the recorded cellphone conversations that local shopping malls were the best place to pick up boys for sex.

Investigators are also examining three confiscated computers: the priest allegedly looked for partners via chat as well.

More in TIME magazine.

(via New Civil Rights Movement, via Christopher Hayes)

Why Texas tried to hide drinking water radiation from the EPA


The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been caught helping some state water systems to falsely lower their reported radiation levels*. The Commission was, apparently, trying to make sure the systems didn't have to report a federal violation, which would have required those systems to inform people who drank the water about the radiation levels they were being exposed to. So, to recap: The TCEQ helped water systems lie to the feds and withhold information from local water consumers.

Why do that? Here's where things get interesting. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, we've talked a bit about the fact that assessing radiation dose and risk isn't necessarily a clear-cut thing. Dose might be relatively easy to measure in an individual, but there is debate about what that dose means. Especially on an individual basis. This is why the World Health Organization, Greenpeace, the TORCH report commissioned by the European Green Party, and a group of Russian doctors all report very different estimates for how many people were killed as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Those differences don't necessarily mean that one group is lying or trying to cover something up. Instead, they reflect different ways of assessing risk, and it really is not clear who is right. You can't just assume the lowest estimates are the correct ones, and likewise, you can't make the same assumption about the highest estimates. There's space for reasonable people to disagree.

This matters in Texas, because the TCEQ decided they didn't agree with the way the federal Environmental Protection Agency assessed risk. Here's what Kathleen Hartnett White, who was chair of the Commission when the decisions were made, told Texas TV station KHOU:

White says she and the scientists with the Texas Radiation Advisory Board disagreed with the science that the EPA based its new rules on. She says the new rules were too protective and would end up costing small communities tens of millions of dollars to comply.

"We did not believe the science of health effects justified EPA setting the standard where they did," said White. She added, "I have far more trust in the vigor of the science that TCEQ assess, than I do EPA."

In response to questions about why the TCEQ did not simply file a lawsuit against the EPA and challenge the federal rules openly in court, White said that in federal court, "Legal challenges, because of law and not because of science, are almost impossible to win."

In this specific case, I honestly have no idea whether TCEQ's position is a reasonable one. I don't know enough about EPA water radiation level standards, or how TCEQ evaluated dose and risk. This very well could be a case of putting budgetary considerations before public health. But, it could also very well be a case of reasonable people disagreeing on how to evaluate radiation dose and risk. Either way, the tactic the TCEQ chose to take was pretty underhanded, and it shows you how complicated science can become when you have to start applying data to real-life public health concerns.

Read the full report on this case — includes links to emails and Commission meeting minutes that document the conspiracy.

*The KHOU article doesn't specifically say, but I'm getting the impression that the radiation in the drinking water wasn't coming from a power plant or any man-made source. Rather, we're likely talking about places in Texas that just naturally have high levels of uranium and radium in the ground, and the radiation from those sources is getting into local water supplies. Just FYI.

Thanks to MrHarley for Submitterating!

Image: Water, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from traftery's photostream

An explanation for Roswell that's crazier than aliens

Annie Jacobsen, an editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine, has written a book purporting to tell the real history of Area 51 and the Roswell Incident. Her book, which is based largely on interviews with people who lived and worked at Area 51, manages to simultaneously explain why the site would be so highly classified, while also trading in kind of mundane Cold War shenanigans—in other words, it's fairly believable. That is, except for the explanation one source gave her for Roswell, which is possibly the most insane story I have ever heard about that supposed alien crash landing. (And I watched the WB teen drama.) Scroll down to the section on "Interview Highlights" to read it.

Why yes, you may ask about the stealth helicopters

RTR2LZQ11.jpegThe wreckage of a downed chopper, blown to smithereens by Navy Seals unwilling to leave it in foreign hands, was the last remnant of their mission left inside Osama Bin Laden's compound. It left under wraps, on the back of a truck laden with Pakistani soldiers. At Wired, David Axe offers a thorough guide to the high-tech mystery copter, and what aviation experts know about it.
Aviation specialists are picking apart pixel-by-pixel the dozen-or-so photos of the copter that have appeared online. They're assembling digital mock-ups of the aircraft and comparing them to lost stealth designs of the 1980s and '90s. Speculation abounds, and so far no one from the government is commenting. But depending on what the copter turns out to be, it could shed new light on everything from the abilities of U.S. commandos to the relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
Spoiler! Best guess is that it's an upgraded, stealth-optimized MH-60. Aviation Geeks Scramble to ID bin Laden Raid's Mystery Copter [Danger Room]

FBI releases files on Biggie Smalls murder; still no killer named


Fourteen years after his death, the FBI has released a set of heavily redacted documents on the murder of Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace, (1972-1997), the rapper known as "Notorious B.I.G." The FBI closed the case in 2005 without determining who killed him. More at Time Magazine.

Can Jared Loughner help us get beyond good and evil?

ongchewpeng-devil-jesus.jpg Sarah Palin was on Sean Hannity's Fox show this week, and between breaths joined the many commenters who've labeled the Tucson shootings suspect with the "E" word: she mused on ", um, evil a person would have to be to kill an innocent." Since prime suspect Jared Loughner cited Nietzsche's Will To Power as a favorite, this seems like a good moment to bring up the problems with "good vs. evil" ideology. It has a peculiar geek resonance because of the ideology's heavy use in comic books and roleplaying: superheroes, arch-villains, chaotic good, lawful evil, and what-not. It's also infused in our political discourse, with someone like Palin or Obama being good or evil depending on your point of view.

Nietzsche is frequently a fave of angry young men who might qualify as what Pesco called confident dumb people. Nietzsche works well for the modern kook with web-induced attention deficits: The fourth chapter of Beyond Good and Evil is a series of 122 Twitter-length aphorisms, and his work is snarky and occasionally humorous. Nietzsche wrote Beyond Good and Evil to criticize earlier philosophers who made assumptions about morality based on pre-Christian and Christian beliefs about "evil." Below I discuss why we need to steal Nietzsche back from these people, and I look at a couple of other writers who have examined what gets called "evil" and have attempted to explain it in more nuanced and rational terms.

(Image: Devil vs Jesus (2008) by ongchewpeng at Deviant Art. Print available. Used with permission.)

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The anti-government grammar of :David-Wynn: Miller

OK, I just spent about three hours cleaning up the Wikipedia article on David Wynn Miller, the anti-government activist whose Time Cube-like views on grammar may have caught the fancy of Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner (see previous Boing Boing pieces on Loughner's social media presence by Sean and produced videos by Xeni). Miller travels the country advising people in the Sovereign Citizen anti-tax movement that they can fight in court by using a special grammar he created in 1988. It basically comes down to a belief that how one renders one's name with punctuation and how one uses grammar can alter one's legal status as a person. In other words, DAVID WYNN MILLER (as on his birth certificate) can be taxed, but :David-Wynn: Miller cannot, because that is not legally a person. In addition to unsuccessfully assisting people accused of tax evasion, Miller has also unsuccessfully assisted people convicted of abusing children, including a woman in Hawaii who broke the teeth out of her nieces' and nephews' mouths with a hammer. She claimed her conviction was invalid because her sovereignty group, Hawaiian Kingdom Government, said she did nothing wrong. Miller was spokesperson for the group and has claimed he is King of Hawaii. Miller says people don't need to pay taxes if they can "prove that money is a verb," and he offers seminars around the country on how to use his language to defend against criminal charges. Regardless of any connection with Loughner, these anti-government grammar people are, just... wow. I need to go lie down now.

British politicians remain superfluously witty

Via Dangerous Minds.

Pundit calls for development of magical anti-Wikileaks computer virus

It's hard to even begin to summarize coverage on Wikileaks-related stuff today. But if you read one thing, read Marc Thiessen's fresh item at the Washington Post. It's not the fact that he's vigorously opposed to Wikileaks that's interesting, but rather his understanding of the technology at the heart of this entire saga:
Some say attacking WikiLeaks would be fruitless. Really? In the past year, the Iranian nuclear system has been crippled by a computer worm called "Stuxnet," which has attacked Iran's industrial systems and the personal computers of Iranian nuclear scientists. To this day, no one has traced the origin of the worm. Imagine the impact on WikiLeaks's ability to distribute additional classified information if its systems were suddenly and mysteriously infected by a worm that would fry the computer of anyone who downloaded the documents. WikiLeaks would probably have very few future visitors to its Web site.
It all gives me this vision of Thiessen dreaming about single-handedly stopping Wikileaks by typing "OVERRIDE PASSWORD" into Julian Assange's laptop, then hitting the delete button after a stern British female voice declares "ACCESS GRANTED." Then there is a tense moment as a glowing neon blue progress bar slowly deletes Wikileaks, but will it finish before Julian returns from the virtual reality cyber conference with George Soros where they are laughing about having just gotten an oblivious Julian Sands thrown in jail?

More Cooks Source treachery revealed!


In addition to a massive list of other articles and images stolen outright by Cooks Source Magazine, intrepid Facebook users* have been posting other awful revelations about Cooks Source, including the magazine's responsibility for MySpace, the recent Qantas engine malfunction, the withering of crops in Farmville, the Kennedy assassination, Windows Vista, the loss of the original Twinkie filling, and a keyboard containing only 3 buttons: C, V, and Ctrl. In fact, one user even blames Cooks Source for his crack-like addiction to uncovering their misdeeds. (via)

* I have only included nefarious discoveries by users who stole Cooks Source's profile image.

U.S. record on cybercrime weak, lacks vodka

Moscow restaurant.jpgMy post on real evil by a Russian mob got me called a CIA propagandist, which is kind of a stretch, given my previous reporting and attempted reporting on U.S. intelligence. Still, that gives me an opportunity to fault the spotty efforts by my home country to put a significant brake on cybercrime, which in my view is one of the gravest threats we're facing.

Among the greatest U.S. government screw-ups are the failures to invest sufficiently in developing a more secure Internet protocol, to call out other governments who are harboring the worst of the worst, and to warn the public that nothing they do online is secure. I could go on at length, but I have elsewhere.

Instead, let's talk about the arrogance of U.S. law enforcement abroad and about Viggo Mortensen naked. In the movie "Eastern Promises," which features Viggo Mortensen nude [Hey, when your book comes out in paperback, I'll be happy to discuss SEO ethics], there's a bit after he has been initiated into the most central Russian gang with a tattoo. "I am through the door," he tells an associate.

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Emergency Unicorn Delivery


Crazy jihad troll who threatened Matt & Trey from South Park is so totally busted

A 20-year old guy named Zachary Adam Chesser pled guilty on Wednesday to three federal charges: communicating threats against South Park's writers, soliciting violent jihadists to desensitize law enforcement, and attempting to provide material support to Al-Shabaab, an organization designated by the US as a terrorist group.

Chesser is so busted. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison when sentenced on February 25, 2011. He was born Jewish, and converted in his teens to an extremist strain of Islam, adopting the name Abu Talhah al-Amrikee.

Above, from left to right, his high school yearbook photo; a pic in the school paper about his mad breakdancing skills, and Chesser transformed into Abu Talhah al-Amrikee: a violent fundamentalist who will likely spend the next three decades in prison.

Chesser also admitted that in May 2010, he posted to a jihadist website the personal contact information of individuals who had joined the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" group on Facebook, with the prompting that this is, "Just a place to start."

Chesser also pleaded guilty to soliciting others to desensitize law enforcement by placing suspicious-looking but innocent packages in public places. Chesser explained through a posting online that once law enforcement was desensitized, a real explosive could be used. Chesser ended the posting with the words, "Boom! No more kuffar." According to court documents, "kuffar" means unbeliever, or disbeliever.

(...) Chesser admitted that he promoted online what he called "Open Source Jihad," where he would direct jihadists through his online forums to information on the Internet that they could use to elude capture and death while maintaining relevance and striking capability. This included linking to the entire security screening manual used by the Transportation Security Administration and hundreds of books that contained information on the construction of antiaircraft missiles, and tactics, techniques and weapons for targeting aircraft such as jet airplanes and helicopters.

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The last mystery of the blues: were Robert Johnson's recordings sped up?

Last time I was here, I speculated on how country blues genius Charley Patton held his guitar. Indeed, I'm a huge fan of pre-war country blues and that led me into an interesting (but failed) project a little while month back. I don't do much magazine work these days (except for the one that pays my mortgage, of course), but I had an idea for a magazine article that wasn't right for HBR. It went a little like this: Robert Johnson Complete Box Set Robert Johnson isn't merely the best-known and most popular blues singer ever; he's the performer through whom millions of people have been introduced to the form. For most people who hear Robert Johnson the first time, it's the voice that grabs them. High-pitched, on the edge, filled with authority, lust, and fear, that voice inspired everyone from Eric Clapton and Keith Richards to generations of lesser performers and enthusiasts. There's only one problem: that voice might be a fraud.

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