John Hodgman's old New York Times advice column -- which transmogrified into a brilliant podcast -- has been restored to its original home, where it provides much-needed color in the Grey Lady's pages. Read the rest
We've known for years that the FBI spied on Martin Luther King's personal life and sent him an anonymous letter in 1964 threatening to out him for his sexual indiscretions unless he killed himself in 34 days. Now we have an unredacted version of the notorious letter. Read the rest
A newly released set of slides from the Snowden leaks reveals that the NSA is harvesting millions of facial images from the Web for use in facial recognition algorithms through a program called "Identity Intelligence." James Risen and Laura Poitras's NYT piece shows that the NSA is linking these facial images with other biometrics, identity data, and "behavioral" data including "travel, financial, behaviors, social network."
The NSA's goal -- in which it has been moderately successful -- is to match images from disparate databases, including databases of intercepted videoconferences (in February 2014, another Snowden publication revealed that NSA partner GCHQ had intercepted millions of Yahoo video chat stills), images captured by airports of fliers, and hacked national identity card databases from other countries. According to the article, the NSA is trying to hack the national ID card databases of "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran."
This news is likely to be rhetorically useful to campaigners against national ID cards in countries like the UK, where the issue has been hotly debated for years (my own Member of Parliament, Meg Hillier, was the architect of one such programme, and she, along with other advocates for national ID cards, dismissed fears of this sort of use as paranoid ravings).
The development of the's NSA facial recognition technology has been accompanied by a mounting imperative to hack into, or otherwise gain access to, other databases of facial images. For example, the NSA buys facial images from Google's Pittpatt division, while another program scours mass email interceptions for images that appear to be passport photos. Read the rest
Mostly lost in the past week's media gossip around NYT executive editor Jill Abramson's ouster, and Dean Baquet's promotion to her role: Baquet is the former LA Times editor who killed the biggest NSA leak pre-Edward Snowden.
The New York Times has endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership; a trade deal negotiated in utmost secrecy, without public participation, whose text is still not public. From leaks, we know that TPP wasn't just anti-democratic in its process -- it also contains numerous anti-democratic provisions that allow private offshore companies to overturn domestic law, especially laws that allow for free speech and privacy online. TPP is slated for fast-tracking through Congress, minimizing any scrutiny of a deal negotiated behind closed doors before it is turned into law. From what we've seen of TPP, it recapitulates all the worst elements of ACTA and then some. The Electronic Frontier Foundation needs you to write to your lawmaker demanding full and public debate on TPP. Read the rest
The NYT's "Room for Debate" section asked a variety of people for positions on the UK's Great Firewall of Cameron -- a new rule whereby ISPs must slap an "adult content" filter on every Internet connection in the land, which is meant to stop everything from porn to gambling sites to "esoteric material" (whatever that is). I wrote one of the pieces, as did many others. Read the rest
In a stirring NYT op-ed, author Catherine Newman talks about the kind of girl her daughter has become and who she may yet be. Her daughter, Birdy, is intensely moral, unconcerned with being "pretty," indifferent or hostile to strangers who want to strike up conversations about her appearance. She is polite about things like second helpings of food or asking for assistance in locating her rain-boots, but doesn't care if you know that she thinks gendered toy-aisles are stupid. It's a delicate balance, but an important one. Read the rest
America's 11-judge Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has made more than a dozen classified rulings that vastly expanded the powers of America's spy agencies, operating under an obscure legal doctrine called "special needs." Under this doctrine, established in 1989 in a Supreme Court case over drug testing railway workers, a "minimal intrusion on privacy" is allowed in order to help the state mitigate "overriding public danger." FISC's rulings have widened this ruling to allow for wholesale spying in the name of preventing "nuclear proliferation," as well as terrorism. The NYT calls this a "shadow Supreme Court" but notes that FISC proceedings only hear from the government -- no one presents alternatives to the government's arguments. Much of the expansion of surveillance turns on whether metadata collection is intrusive (I think it is):
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The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.
This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”
Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.
A long, investigative feature on junk food, health and the processed food industry in yesterday's NYT consists primarily of interviews with tortured and semi-tortured junk food scientists and execs who have perfected the art of getting you to eat food that makes you sick. It's quite a read:
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Eventually, a line of the trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day’s recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the max for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar.
When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. “One article said something like, ‘If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.’ ”
Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. “You bet,” he said. “Plus cookies.”
The prevailing attitude among the company’s food managers — through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern — was one of supply and demand. “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market.
Andrew Rasiej sez, "If you're disappointed in the speed, quality, and cost of broadband service in the US you should learn about Susan Crawford who is the greatest US expert on the state of broadband and how the Federal Communications Commission has failed to properly regulate and spur competition or innovation in the marketplace. She has just published an OpEd in the New York Times which could easily be titled 'If I were Chairwoman of the FCC' and she published a book called Captive Audience which details the way various incumbent broadband related companies have gamed the political process and behaved unfairly in protecting their turf. Those who would like to see her actually named should sign this White House petition and send the same to their friends and colleagues. She is like the Elizabeth Warren of telecom and would fundamentally change the status quo."
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To get there, the federal government needs to pursue three goals. First, it must remove barriers to investment in local fiber networks. Republican and Democratic mayors around the country are rightly jealous of the new, Google-built fiber network in Kansas City, Mo., which is luring start-ups from across the country. And yet in nearly 20 states, laws sponsored by incumbent network operators have raised barriers for cities wanting to foster competitive networks.
In response, Congress must act to restore local communities’ right to self-determination by pre-empting these unfair and anticompetitive state laws. We must also create infrastructure banks that provide long-term, low-interest financing to support the initial costs of building these networks.
The New York Times's Brooks Barnes has some tantalizing details on "Escape From Tomorrow," the art-house movie I blogged about yesterday, which was shot in part at Walt Disney World and Disneyland:
His cast and crew spent about 10 days filming at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and two weeks at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., he said. The end credits cite the involvement of over 200 cast and crew members, although only small groups entered the Disney parks at one time to avoid drawing attention.
Still, there were moments during filming that Disney clearly knew something was up, Mr. Moore said. “I think they probably just thought we were crazy fans making a YouTube video, which is something that happens a fair amount,” he said. He added, “Look, I have amazing memories as a kid from going to the parks. I think Walt Disney was a genius. I just wish his vision hadn’t grown into something quite so corporate.”
Barnes (and the headline writer) focus on whether this infringes Disney's copyright. Judging from what I've read about the film, this sounds like fair use to me. Film insurers routinely require that filmmakers go far beyond what copyright demands and act as though fair use doesn't exist, but the Stanford Fair Use Center has an insurer that will extend coverage to any film that complies with its broad, sensible fair use guidelines.
A 2011 piece from the NYT's David W. Dunlap tells the story of the recovery of a long-lost wallet that was stolen from a Times art director in 1970, and which was recovered from "a void between an old unused window on the second floor and the masonry seal behind it" in fall of 2010. The wallet is a miniature time-capsule of iconic and odd items from the era, collected in this Retronaut set.
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Mr. Rodriguez happened to be on duty at the security desk and seized his opportunity. He showed the wallet to Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson called this reporter, who's something of a Times historian. This reporter called Mr. Resta, who retired in 1999 but still lives in New York. Mr. Resta, laying aside his understandable suspicions, agreed to meet all of us at 229 West 43rd Street, share some memories and get his wallet back.
When Mr. Cisneros handed the wallet to him, Mr. Resta opened it gingerly and turned away for a moment, overcome by the tide of memory. After composing himself, he gave Mr. Cisneros a grateful kiss. And he didn't lose a moment showing off the glamor-puss shot of Mrs. Resta from 1963. ''She still is glamorous,'' he said, with evident pride and pleasure.
Before coming into Manhattan on the morning of our meeting in November, Mr. Resta told his wife that he knew he'd find a clipping in the wallet from 1968 - Senator Edward M. Kennedy's eulogy for his brother, Senator Robert F.
A Hungarian neo-Nazi leader has had to retire from professional antisemitism because he discovered he was Jewish. Csanad Szegedi, who had decried "Jewishness" in Hungary's political class, and referred to Jews as "lice-infested, dirty murderers," was outed by a rival within the neo-Nazi movement, who revealed that Szegedi's maternal grandmother was a Jewish Auschwitz survivor, making him Jewish as well. From an AP story in the NYT:
The fallout of Szegedi's ancestry saga has extended to his business interests. Jobbik executive director Gabor Szabo is pulling out of an Internet site selling nationalist Hungarian merchandise that he owns with Szegedi. Szabo said his sister has resigned as Szegedi's personal assistant.
In the 2010 tape, former convict Zoltan Ambrus is heard telling Szegedi that he has documents proving Szegedi is Jewish. The right-wing politician seems genuinely surprised by the news — and offers EU funds and a possible EU job to Ambrus to hush it up.
Ambrus, who served time in prison on a weapons and explosives conviction, apparently rejected the bribes. He said he secretly taped the conversation as part of an internal Jobbik power struggle aimed at ousting Szegedi from a local party leadership post. The party's reaction was swift.