10 classic ads from the sugar and cereal industries

10 reminders from the sugar industry to eat lots of healthful candy this Halloween!

Weaseling about surveillance, Australian Attorney General attains bullshit Singularity

Michael writes, "Watching Australia's Attorney-General try to explain why tracking Australians' web histories is not such a big deal resembles listening to a dirty joke told by a ten-year-old, i.e. it leaves one with the distinct impression the speaker is trying to seem like they understand something they've only heard about secondhand."

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Factbot: a bot that spouts viralish, truth-sounding lies


Shardcore, who gave us the programatically generated Hipsterbait tees, had advanced the art of autonomous, self-perpetuating Internet memes, with @factbot1, a bot that creates true-sounding, viral-ish lies ("Indonesians always turn left when exiting a cave", "In just one drop of Sesame seeds, 50 million bacteria can be present", "Morels were used as a Sesame seeds substitute during the Norwegian Civil War"). Here's an essay that explains the project:

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Email dead again

This time, it is Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz to declare that email is about to die. Technologists are such teases. [Wired]

Rob Ford police document: allegations of heroin use and more


Another tranche of police documents on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been released [474 page (!) PDF]. Despite the mayor's insistence that all of his secrets were now out in the open and he had nothing more to hide, the new materials contain several bombshells, including allegations of heroin use, bribing crooks with marijuana, and lying about the infamous crack video.

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NSA's talking points for friends and family -- rebutted


Firedoglake obtained a copy of a two-page memo [PDF] of talking points for family and friends that the NSA sent to employees on November 22, so that spooks could rebut skeptical relatives around the Thanksgiving table. It's full of misleading statistics and outright falsehoods. Thankfully, Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola took the time to comprehensively rebut every point in the document, with extensive links to primary sources, Congressional testimony, and other significant facts.

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More on the NSA's weird, deceptive, indefensible definition of "targeted surveillance"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mark Rumold has detailed analysis of yesterday's story about the bizarre, misleading way that the NSA uses the word "targeted" in discussions of "targeted surveillance." It comes down to this: the NSA and its defenders continue to claim that the organization only spies on foreigners when they're off US soil, and not on Americans or people in America (why this should comfort those of us who are neither Americans nor in America is a mystery to me).

But they harvest every word read and written on the Internet, including private communications, and scan it to see if it matches the name of someone they're looking at -- say, Vladimir Putin. Anyone whose communications contain the name or other details of the foreign target can also be spied upon, and the NSA says this doesn't constitute domestic spying. So they're not spying on all Americans, just every American who's ever mentioned the name of a foreigner -- and to accomplish this, they read every word everyone writes, but they're using a computer to do it, so it doesn't count.

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Six blatant lies about spying from the NSA up to Obama

ProPublica has produced a video showing, point-by-point all the ways that US government officials, all the way up to Obama, have told blatant lies about the details and extent of NSA spying.

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NSA: We lack the capability to search our own email

The NSA turned down a ProPublica Freedom of Information Act request because it says it lacks the ability to search all the email within its internal network, so it can't answer a question like "What conversations took place between the NSA and National Geographic in the lead-up to a positive story about the Agency?" It can only search one user's mail at a time, not all 30,000 NSA employees.

"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic," she added.

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails (via Reddit)

Obama promised to end warrantless wiretaps in 2008

"Under an Obama presidency, Americans will be able to leave behind the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and "wiretaps without warrants," he said. (He was referring to the lingering legal fallout over reports that the National Security Agency scooped up Americans' phone and Internet activities without court orders, ostensibly to monitor terrorist plots, in the years after the September 11 attacks.)" — Anne Broache at CNN.

Man's attempt to videotape ghosts proves something more shocking

A Tasmanian fellow set up a video camera in his kitchen to capture images of what he believed to be paranormal activity. When he later reviewed the video, he saw his common law wife making out with (drumroll) his 16-year-old son. The young man revealed that they had sex several times. From The Mercury:
The woman had been under the mistaken impression the age of consent was 16 and was ashamed and embarrassed at her conduct and was working on reconciling with her former partner.

"She accepts this is not a relationship which can or will continue," he told the court.

Justice David Porter remanded the woman in custody and will sentence her on Monday.

"Woman filmed with stepson"

Time magazine: the GOP is "full of it" and the press won't call them on it

A stirring editorial in Time by Michael Grunwald calls out the US press for failing to report on contradictions in the GOP's platforms (for example, condemning Obama for not cutting Medicare enough while also telling people to vote against him because he wants to cut Medicare). Grunwald cites many examples of this, and says that the press is so anxious to appear nonpartisan that they're simply unwilling to state the obvious: the party's strategy is based on saying whatever is convenient at the moment.

I’ve written a lot about the GOP’s defiance of reality–its denial of climate science, its simultaneous denunciations of Medicare cuts and government health care, its insistence that debt-exploding tax cuts will somehow reduce the debt—so I often get accused of partisanship. But it’s simply a fact that Republicans controlled Washington during the fiscally irresponsible era when President Clinton’s budget surpluses were transformed into the trillion-dollar deficit that President Bush bequeathed to President Obama. (The deficit is now shrinking.) It’s simply a fact that the fiscal cliff was created in response to GOP threats to force the U.S. government to default on its obligations. The press can’t figure out how to weave those facts into the current narrative without sounding like it’s taking sides, so it simply pretends that yesterday never happened.

The next fight is likely to involve the $200 billion worth of stimulus that Obama included in his recycled fiscal cliff plan that somehow didn’t exist before Election Day. I’ve taken a rather keen interest in the topic of stimulus, so I’ll be interested to see how this is covered. Keynesian stimulus used to be uncontroversial in Washington; every 2008 presidential candidate had a stimulus plan, and Mitt Romney’s was the largest. But in early 2009, when Obama began pushing his $787 billion stimulus plan, the GOP began describing stimulus as an assault on free enterprise—even though House Republicans (including Paul Ryan) voted for a $715 billion stimulus alternative that was virtually indistinguishable from Obama’s socialist version. The current Republican position seems to be that the fiscal cliff’s instant austerity would destroy the economy, which is odd after four years of Republican clamoring for austerity, and that the cliff’s military spending cuts in particular would kill jobs, which is even odder after four years of Republican insistence that government spending can’t create jobs...

Whatever. I realize that the GOP’s up-is-downism puts news reporters in an awkward position. It would seem tendentious to point out Republican hypocrisy on deficits and Medicare and stimulus every time it comes up, because these days it comes up almost every time a Republican leader opens his mouth. But we’re not supposed to be stenographers. As long as the media let an entire political party invent a new reality every day, it will keep on doing it. Every day.

I'm all for pointing out this sort of thing whenever it arises -- including pointing out that Obama's "most transparent administration in history" is the most secretive in history. It's the press's job to hold politicians to account for their public utterances and to point out contradictions. If the press committed to calling out BS whenever it arose, we could, in fact, produce a who-lies-most scorecard, without letting anyone off the hook for lying less than the other guy.

Fiscal Cliff Fictions: Let’s All Agree to Pretend the GOP Isn’t Full of It

Parody of anti-gay pamphlets offers detailed, behind-the-scenes view of how liars misuse real citations

The Box Turtle Bulletin has put together a great parody of anti-gay, fear-mongering pamphlets. Entitled, "The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths", it includes important revelations about the heterosexuals and their plans for your children and our country. Here's a quick excerpt from a section that documents some of the depraved behaviors that heterosexuals are known to engage in:

... unsafe behavior is often compounded by drug use, which is an integral part of the heterosexual lifestyle. College students who engage in heterosexuality are 30% more likely to use marijuana than gay students, and they are nearly 40% more likely to use other drugs. (71) Among Redbook readers, 90% of heterosexual women admitted to initiating sex while under the influence of alcohol, and 30% had sex after smoking marijuana. For women under twenty, marijuana use before sex skyrocketed to 63%, with 45% of them using it often. (72)

Those numbered citations are important. In fact, this slim booklet contains more than 100. And it's not just part of the parody. Instead, author Jim Burroway uses these ostensibly unbiased sources of information as a way showing how people can use real information to corroborate a lie. Follow up on his citations at the end of The Heterosexual Agenda, and you'll find a breakdown of how, exactly, he contorted the cited source to fit his own goals.

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Lies, damned lies, and flame-retardant furniture

All this week, The Chicago Tribune is posting a multi-part investigative report about the fire-retardant chemicals that turn up in everything from the foam in our couch cushions, to the plastic casings on our television sets. Turns out, research shows these chemicals don't actually prevent fire deaths and injuries. Worse, research does show that these chemicals are dangerous to human health—especially in the quantities to which we are exposed. Dose makes the poison, but we're not talking about small doses here. As the Tribune so succinctly puts it: This isn't something where we measure exposure in parts per million, it's measured in pounds.

The Tribune has also done a very good job of documenting both the existence and history of a pattern of corporate lies and manipulation that has made sure these chemicals remained a mandated part of our lives even as science shows they aren't helping us.

The lies are infuriating, but the history part is particularly fascinating. After all, it's easy to understand why chemical companies would lie and manipulate politics in order to maintain a lucrative market for their products. But why does that market exist, to begin with? Behind the scenes, our continued exposure to these chemicals comes down to two key issues: One poorly designed product safety test that encouraged heavy use of flame-retardants in foam instead of small doses of safer chemicals in fabric, and a 1970s-era attempt to deflect negative press away from cigarettes.

The problem facing cigarette manufacturers decades ago involved tragic deaths and bad publicity, but it had nothing to do with cancer. It had to do with house fires.

Smoldering cigarettes were sparking fires and killing people. And tobacco executives didn't care for one obvious solution: create a "fire-safe" cigarette, one less likely to start a blaze. The industry insisted it couldn't make a fire-safe cigarette that would still appeal to smokers and instead promoted flame retardant furniture — shifting attention to the couches and chairs that were going up in flames.

But executives realized they lacked credibility, especially when burn victims and firefighters were pushing for changes to cigarettes. So Big Tobacco launched an aggressive and cunning campaign to "neutralize" firefighting organizations and persuade these far more trusted groups to adopt tobacco's cause as their own. The industry poured millions of dollars into the effort, doling out grants to fire groups and hiring consultants to court them.

Playing With Fire: The entire four-part series updated all this week.

So far, parts 1 and 2 have been published.

Image:Image: ghost chair, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wwworks's photostream

The best set of infographics ever

At Bloomberg Business Week, Vali Chandrasekaran makes me incredibly happy by creating a series of six infographics demonstrating the ridiculous connections you can make when you start confusing correlation and causation. Did a conspiracy of baby Avas cause the U.S. housing market to implode? Was Michele Bachmann's candidacy doomed by the end of Staten Island Cakes? Are scientists raising the global average temperature in order to increase their own research funding? Find out here!