UK Home Secretary auditions for a Python sketch: "UK does not undertake mass surveillance"

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UK Home Secretary Theresa May stood before Parliament on Wednesday, and, with a straight face, said: "The UK does not undertake mass surveillance. We have not, and we do not, undertake mass surveillance, and that is not what the Investigatory Powers Bill is about." Read the rest

How to spot a liar

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The supposed "tells"—looking off to the right, body language, nervousness, "microexpressions"—fall apart under scrutiny. Read the rest

Teenager faked pregnancy with FakeABaby.com products

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FakeABaby.com deals in faked ultrasound images, pregnant belly prosthetics, and other materials. One customer was a Wyandotte, Michigan 16-year-old who managed to trick her relatives, charitable folks, and her boyfriend, also 16, who thought he was about to be a father of triplets and says he "started looking for jobs the best I could." Read the rest

Bilbo Baggins' Hobbit hole would cost $14m if it were in the Shires of England

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A U.K. realtor valued the subterranean residence at £8.5m (~$14m), on the assumption that it is situated in Worcestershire, the county J.R.R. Tolkien supposedly had in mind when creating the homeland for his doughty, half-height, very well-to-do hero.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

The Metro's experts value Winterfell at $200m, though. It's a stark reminder of the wealth of the aristocracy. Read the rest

Reporters easily fooled into writing that chocolate helps you lose weight

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John Bohannon conducted a deliberately worthless "study"—15 people eating a chocolate bar a day for three weeks—then set out to see who would publish the paper and who would report whatever he told them to about it. Read the rest

World full of useless placebo buttons

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Everyone suspects that buttons on pedestrian crossings, elevators, train doors, etc., do nothing. They are right. The BBC's Chris Baraniuk reports on the buttons that lie—and the power of the illusion of control.

Langer demonstrated this phenomenon experimentally by asking subjects to play a lottery. Some participants were able to choose their tickets and some of those tickets had symbols on them which were more or less familiar to them. The type of ticket had no effect whatsoever on their chance of winning, but they appeared to believe this was the case. Those who had chosen tickets with recognisable symbols were much less willing to part with them in an exchange than those who hadn’t. But instead of framing this as an irrational delusion, Langer described the effect as a positive thing. “Feeling you have control over your world is a desirable state,” she explains. When it comes to those deceptive traffic light buttons, Langer says there could be a whole host of reasons why the placebo effect might be counted as a good thing. “Doing something is better than doing nothing, so people believe,” she says. “And when you go to press the button your attention is on the activity at hand. If I’m just standing at the corner I may not even see the light change, or I might only catch the last part of the change, in which case I could put myself in danger.”
Read the rest

Gov Walker caught lying about his rewrite of the U Wisc mission

Since 1904, the State of Wisconsin and its university system have been governed by the public service mandate of the "Wisconsin Idea" -- until Governor Scott Walker's office leaned on the university to change the Idea to be all about providing workers for the state's businesses, and then lied about it. Read the rest

10 classic ads from the sugar and cereal industries

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

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." Read the rest

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.

Email dead again

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

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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) Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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