America's legacy of post-slavery racism and the case for reparations


Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Case for Reparations is an important, compelling history of the post-slavery debate over reparations, running alongside the post-slavery history of US governmental and private-sector violence and theft from the descendants of slaves in America. Coates's thesis -- compellingly argued -- is that any "achievement gap" or "wealth gap" in American blacks is best understood as an artifact of centuries of racial violence and criminal misappropriations of black people, particularly visited upon any black person who expressed ambition or attained any measure of economic success.

As Coates demonstrates, a series of deliberate government policies, continuing to this day, ensured that unscrupulous American businesses could raid the savings and loot the accumulated wealth of black people. From the millions who were terrorized into indentured servitude in the south to the millions who were victimized by redlining and had every penny they could earn stolen by real-estate scammers in the north, the case for reparations is not about merely making good on the centuries-old evil of slavery. It's about the criminal physical and economic violence against black people in living memory and continuing to today.

This is a long and important read, and the "reporter's notebook" sidebars cast further light on the subject from unexpected angles. Coates makes a compelling case that the racist violence against black people in America is of a different character than other class war and other racist oppression, and deserves unique consideration.

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Bangalore's garbage crisis and America's invisible trash


Noah Sachs uses the years-long Bangalore garbage crisis to ask some pointed questions about America's secretive waste-disposal industry, which treats the treatment of American waste as a military-grade secret, protected by barbed wire and vicious lawyers.

Bangalore's drowning in rubbish, it's contaminating the water and poisoning the Earth, tens of thousands labor in filthy, unsafe conditions to sort and recover it -- and the average Bangalorean is only generating about one pound of trash per day. Americans throw away seven times that amount, and the fact that it's whisked away doesn't mean it's not a problem. In Sachs's view, the Bangalore situation just makes visible the lurking consequences of America's own profligacy.

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Public opinion of Congress reaches a new low

A new Gallup poll on Americans' attitudes towards their institutions finds the nation in a massive crisis of confidence, with low levels of confidence in many institutions. Congress's public perception continues to fall, reaching an all-time low of 7%.

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Atheism remains least-trusted characteristic in American politics


A Pew Study from last month found that atheism remain the most untrusted attribute in American politicians, although the degree of animosity has declined from 63% in 2007 to 53% in 2014.

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Kim Dotcom offering $5M bounty for information on how his case was rigged

Kim Dotcom, proprietor of the defunct Megaupload, is convinced that the raid on his company was crooked, and he's put up a $5M bounty on information that will help him prove misdeeds on the part of the US or New Zealand authorities:

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Let the People Draw the Lines Act: longshot bill to fight gerrymandering

Let the People Draw the Lines Act, a bill introduced by Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), would appoint panels of independent experts to adjust electoral district boundaries in an attempt to remove the "safe seats" created through gerrymandering, by which electoral districts are torturously redrawn to include as many voters likely to keep the incumbent in and to exclude everyone else. As Wonkblog explains, the bill is a long-shot, but it's also a shining example of the kind of legislation that fights corruption and creates a climate of real representative democracy. The fact that this bill is wildly unlikely to pass doesn't make it laughable: it makes Congress irredeemable.

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NSA facial recognition: combining national ID cards, Internet intercepts, and commercial facial databases for millions of people

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.

An interesting coda to the piece is that the NSA has developed the capability to infer location by comparing scenery in terrestrial photos to satellite images, which sounds like a pretty gnarly computer-vision problem.

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Majority of Americans think Snowden was right to leak


A forthcoming Yougov survey found that 55 percent of Americans believe Edward Snowden was right to leak the details of Prism (it's not clear whether they were surveyed on other leaks).

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Warrantless spying makes spying-with-a-warrant impossible

Tim Bray's taxonomy of privacy levels makes a compact and compelling argument that the existence of warrantless spying and security sabotage is what drives people to adopt cryptographic techniques that can't be broken even with a warrant. Cory 1

Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino: a $55 Starbucks drink


The Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino now holds the record for most expensive on-menu Starbucks beverage, coming in at a whopping $54; the 128 oz drink had 55 shots of espresso, with an estimated caffeine dose of 4.5g. Its owner, Andrew Chifari, spent about five days consuming it. He ordered it as his free bonus drink on the Starbucks loyalty card scheme, which gets him one free drink for every 12 (my own joke about this, worn as thin as onion-paper, goes like this: every tenth drink, I ask the folks at Giddy Up to give me "one of everything in a bucket with a piece of banana bread stuck in the top"). Andrew set out to break previous most-expensive-Starbucks-beverage record by enlisting the assistance of the baristas, as he explained to Consumerist:

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Ottawa Public Library and US Embassy open makerspace

Mark Shainblum writes, "The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa have collaborated to open Ottawa's first public makerspace, entitled Imagine Space -- an American corner." Cory 2

Visual gags in comedies: US vs UK

Tony Zhou created this fantastic, 7-minute critique of the visual style of comedy in US films, as compared with UK films (especially the films of Edgar "Shaun of the Dead" Wright). Zhou makes a compelling case for the superiority of British sight-gags and visual comedy -- and the fundamental laziness of US directors in their use of visuals to get a laugh.

For further reading, Zhou recommends David Bordwell's Funny Framings as well as the hilarious Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal video.

(via Kottke)

How to request your US Border file (and what you're likely to get)


Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency for his own travel records, including the notoriously comprehensive "Passenger Name Record" -- what he got was '72 pages of shit,' a redacted jumble of arbitrarily collected and retained nonsense. He didn't get his PNR. If you want to give it a try, he's signposted the procedure.

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The Internet With a Human Face: Maciej Cegłowski on the things we need to fix


Maciej Cegłowski's latest talk, The Internet With A Human Face, is a perfect companion to both his Our Comrade the Electron and Peter Watts's Scorched Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy: a narrative that explains how the Internet of liberation became the Internet of inhuman and total surveillance. Increasingly, I'm heartened by the people who understand that the right debate to have is "How do we make the Internet a better place for human habitation?" and not "Is the Internet good or bad for us?" I'm also heartened to see the growth of the view that aggregated personal data is a kind of immortal toxic waste and that the best way to prevent spills is to not collect it in the first place.

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Pornoscanners head to prisons

Normally technology migrates from prisons to schools to airports -- think CCTVs and Pre-Check -- but for the late and unlamented radioactive pornoscanners that the TSA had to give up on, the technology path went the other way -- if you're lucky enough to be incarcerated in the USA (which incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth), you may be treated to one or more TSA-surplus pornoscans.