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US government orders UK carriers to extend no-fly list Brits travelling to non-US destinations, even on flights that don't pass through US airspace

The Independent's Simon Calder reports that the US Department of Homeland Security has ordered air carriers to hand over the personal information of British people travelling to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, even for flights that don't fly over US airspace. What's more, they demand the right to order passengers to be yanked from flights right up to boarding time, without explanation. Essentially, they're extraterritorializing the No-Fly list, a list of thousands and thousands of people who are deemed -- for secret reasons -- to be so dangerous that they're not allowed to fly, but not so dangerous that they can be arrested.

Given that this is April 1, I'm slightly suspicious, as this is so blatantly evil that it's hard to believe that UK carriers would capitulate to it. On the other hand, everyone capitulates to the undemocratic absurdities of the American security-industrial apparatus.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent: "The concern by the US for its own security is entirely understandable, but it seems to me it's a whole different issue that American wishes should determine the rights and choices of people travelling between two countries neither of which is the US."

...Any passenger who refuses to comply will be denied boarding. Those who do supply details may find their trip could be abruptly cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it will "take boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate ... If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list." In other words, travellers cannot find out whether they will be accepted on board until they reach the airport...

The US will have full details of all British visitors to Cuba, including business travellers, which could potentially be used to identify people suspected of breaking America's draconian sanctions against the Castro regime.

Neil Taylor, a tour operator who pioneered tourism to Cuba, said: "Imagine if the Chinese were to ask for such data on all passengers to Taiwan, and similarly if the Saudis were to ask about flights to Israel – would the US government understand?

"One also has to wonder how an American traveller in Europe would react if he were denied boarding on a flight from London to Rome because the German government had not received sufficient data from him."

Planning a trip to Canada or the Caribbean? US Immigration may have other ideas... (via /.)

(Image: Malleus Maleficarum (title page) by Heinrich Kramer, Wikimedia Commons)

Ride out the apocalypse with tinned sammiches

Why would you buy a Candwich-brand sandwich in a can? Helpfully, the site lists three value propositions: "Healthy fast food," "Great for vending," and, of course, "Disaster preparedness."

With an extended shelf-life, Candwich™ is ideal for emergency food storage needs in the event of a natural disaster. Candwich™ tastes great, and because of the special Army formulated recipe, the bread stays as soft and sweet after one-year in storage as it did the day it was made (If you can ever keep them around that long)!

It comes in 24-packs, too.

Candwich - The Go Anywhere Sandwich (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

The (horribly awesome) things that live on Ball's Pyramid

Ball's Pyramid looks like a place where nothing could survive. The remnants of a long-dead volcano, it sits alone in the South Pacific ... a narrow, rocky half-moon some 1800 feet high.

But Ball's Pyramid isn't devoid of life ...

for years this place had a secret. At 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.

What they found is horribly awesome and awesomely horrible and you need to read the whole story, written by NPR's Robert Krulwich.

Via Elizabeth Preston. If you want a hint, she described this as, "a really beautiful story about some really disgusting giant insects."

Fallout shelter ads


On the always-excellent How to Be a Retronaut site, a great collection of 1960s fallout shelter ads, a perfect capsule of upbeat, cheerful fear-selling.

Fallout Shelter Ads, 1960s

Canadian MP: if you oppose warrantless snooping, you "stand with child pornographers"

Vic Toews, the Canadian Tory MP pushing for the new spying bill says that people who oppose him are "standing with child pornographers." Mr Toews's bill will require ISPs to record all your online activity and give police access to those logs without a warrant. Ontario police recently busted a huge child-porn ring without needing any further spying power. In fact, no one can find any police investigation that has failed for lack of snooping powers. A leaked memo from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police shows that Canada's law enforcement has been scouring its records for evidence supporting the need for this bill, without luck. (Thanks, Wild Rumpus!) Cory

Texas schoolchildren get criminal citations for cussing in class, shouting within 500' of school

In The Guardian, Chris McGreal looks at the horrific state of policing in Texas schools. The age of criminal responsibility in Texas is 10, and many schools have uniformed police officers on site who ticket small children for throwing paper airplanes or flipping the teacher off. The tickets carry steep fines, and if you graduate with unpaid fines, you go to prison.

Among the more extreme cases documented by Appleseed is of a teacher who had a pupil arrested after the child responded to a question as to where a word could be found in a text by saying: "In your culo (arse)", making the other children laugh. Another pupil was arrested for throwing paper aeroplanes.

Students are also regularly fined for "disorderly behaviour", which includes playground scraps not serious enough to warrant an assault charge or for swearing or an offensive gesture. One teenage student was arrested and sent to court in Houston after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other after they broke up. Nearly one third of tickets involve drugs or alcohol. Although a relatively high number of tickets – up to 20% in some school districts – involve charges over the use of weapons, mostly the weapons used were fists.

The very young are not spared. According to Appleseed, Texas records show more than 1,000 tickets were issued to primary schoolchildren over the past six years (although these have no legal force at that age). Appleseed said that "several districts ticketed a six-year-old at least once in the last five years".

The US schools with their own police

Free/open spherical lollipop houses


A UK project called Ekinoid aims to produce free/open plans for spherical houses that perch on poles seven feet off the ground. The goal is a house that can be built in a week.

Ekinoid homes will be designed to be as easy as is pratically possible to fabricate (ideally using no expert knowledge or skills), house a family of three/four, and will take under one week to build. Ideally, the main structure should last over 100 years (and then be recycled). Build each town using unskilled labour.

All parts of an Ekinoid home will be designed to suit the local climate and terrain, and will be delivered on-site for fabrication. We think one crane (possibly two) and a team of approximately four people (one skilled, three unskilled) would be adequate for the one-week construction of each house; and after, these newly-skilled people (the new owners) might then help to build more Ekinoid homes, and train new owners. This training would, in principle, work exponentially and would therefore service the whole new community in a very short time.

All the land under the houses would remain useful and accessible.

The Ekinoid Project: 2012 (via IO9)

Hollywood locates barrel's bottom

Ogodogodogod, I can't even bring myself to embed this at full-size. Kickstopper where are you when we need you?

(Thanks, Fipilele. I guess.)

A brief history of the apocalypse

A good soul named Chris Nelson has taken the time to catalog some of history's greatest end-of-the-world predictions and arrange them in a handy timeline format. Use A Brief History of the Apocalypse as a fascinating way to explain why you are pretty certain the world won't end on x date. Or, use it to help plan your 2012 End of the World-themed parties. Maggie

And now, a few words about brain-eating amoebas

This summer, Naegleria fowleri is the new great white shark. A freshwater-dwelling amoeba that can invade the human nervous system and, on rare occasions, kill, N. fowleri (or, as they are more commonly known, "brain-eating amoebas") have apparently succeeded in making everybody a little more afraid to get in the water.

But is the fear justified?

Most of you can probably guess that the answer is, "No." But why, specifically? Julia Diebol at the Risk Science Blog does a nice job of clearly laying out why these amoeba are so attention-grabbing, and why they shouldn't keep you up at night.

Shorter version: Just being in amoeba-infested waters doesn't mean you'll get one up your nose. Or, at least, it doesn't mean that you'll die. The amoebas have only killed 129 Americans since 1937. That's more than I'd previously thought, but not remotely enough to justify a panic. Especially given that the risk of infection doesn't seem to be increasing.

Granted, there's a lot we don't know about N. fowleri. Key question: Why can hundreds of people swim safely in lake water that leads to amoeba infestation and death for one person? Nobody knows yet what factors make some people susceptible and others, apparently, not. But we do know this: On your list of things to worry about, brain-eating amoebas should be near the bottom.

Matt Taibbi: Senior SEC investigators order routine destruction of records, promote "self policing," take jobs with the companies they "investigate"

As always, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi is incandescent on the subject of high financial fraud and misdoings, and the government complicity in the vast criminal ripoffs engineered by the finance industry. In his latest feature, he looks at the way that the SEC, America's financial regulator, has combined "self-policing" of criminal finance firms with a policy of destroying all records of previous investigations to produce an world in which no one has been punished for the vast financial crimes that brought the world to its knees.
The circular nature of the case illustrates the revolving-door dynamic that has become pervasive at the SEC. A recent study by the Project on Government Oversight found that over the past five years, former SEC personnel filed 789 notices disclosing their intent to represent outside companies before the agency – sometimes within days of their having left the SEC. More than half of the disclosures came from the agency's enforcement division, who went to bat for the financial industry four times more often than ex-staffers from other wings of the SEC.

Even a cursory glance at a list of the agency's most recent enforcement directors makes it clear that the SEC's top policemen almost always wind up jumping straight to jobs representing the banks they were supposed to regulate. Lynch, who represented Deutsche in the Flynn case, served as the agency's enforcement chief from 1985 to 1989, before moving to the firm of Davis Polk, which boasts many top Wall Street clients. He was succeeded by William McLucas, who left the SEC in 1998 to work for WilmerHale, a Wall Street defense firm so notorious for snatching up top agency veterans that it is sometimes referred to as "SEC West." McLucas was followed by Dick Walker, who defected to Deutsche in 2001, and he was in turn followed by Stephen Cutler, who now serves as general counsel for JP Morgan Chase. Next came Linda Chatman Thomsen, who stepped down to join Davis Polk, only to be succeeded in 2009 by Khuzami, Walker's former protégé at Deutsche Bank.

This merry-go-round of current and former enforcement directors has repeatedly led to accusations of improprieties. In 2008, in a case cited by the SEC inspector general, Thomsen went out of her way to pass along valuable information to Cutler, the former enforcement director who had gone to work for JP Morgan. According to the inspector general, Thomsen signaled Cutler that the SEC was unlikely to take action that would hamper JP Morgan's move to buy up Bear Stearns. In another case, the inspector general found, an assistant director of enforcement was instrumental in slowing down an investigation into the $7 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly run by Texas con artist R. Allen Stanford – and then left the SEC to work for Stanford, despite explicitly being denied permission to do so by the agency's ethics office. "Every lawyer in Texas and beyond is going to get rich on this case, OK?" the official later explained. "I hated being on the sidelines."

...[E]ven if SEC officials manage to dodge criminal charges, it won't change what happened: The nation's top financial police destroyed more than a decade's worth of intelligence they had gathered on some of Wall Street's most egregious offenders. "The SEC not keeping the MUIs – you can see why this would be bad," says Markopolos, the fraud examiner famous for breaking the Madoff case. "The reason you would want to keep them is to build a pattern. That way, if you get five MUIs over a period of 20 years on something similar involving the same company, you should be able to connect five dots and say, 'You know, I've had five MUIs – they're probably doing something. Let's go tear the place apart.'" Destroy the MUIs, and Wall Street banks can commit the exact same crime over and over, without anyone ever knowing."

Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes? (via Tim O'Reilly)

(Image: Shredded Paper, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mistermoss's photostream)

Tasmanian Devils and contagious cancer

Tasmanian Devils, the real-life marsupial inspiration behind the cartoon beastie, were already an endangered species when nature added insult to injury. In 1996, researchers first formally described Devil Facial Tumor Disease, a cancer that would later turn out to be contagious, passed from devil to devil by biting, mating, and sharing food.

While you're probably familiar with the idea that viruses can cause cancer, that's not what's going on here. Instead, the cancer cells themselves are contagious. It's a rare phenomenon, but not (terrifyingly enough) completely unique. At Nature blogs, Anne-Marie Hodge writes about other cases of contagious cancers in mammals.

One prime example is canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT), a histiocytic tumor that is passed between dogs through sex as well as sniffing and licking of the genitals. At one point it was thought that a sexually transmitted virus, similar to HPV, caused this disease. It turns out, however, that it is the CTVT cells themselves that are infectious, not a virus that activates them. The cancerous cells themselves, which are essentially clonal, are what is passed from animal to animal.

For example, when an infected Dog A has genital contact with Dog B, what is transmitted is not some agent (such as a virus) that triggers Dog B's cells to start dividing and creating tumors. Instead it is the cancer cells themselves, which are genetically different from both Dog A and Dog B, which continue to clone themselves on their new victim. Thus it seems animal that receives CTVT from its mate is not so much infected as colonized, and that is why CTVT is sometimes referred to as a "parasitic cancer." The tumors most often appear on the external genitalia, but may also affect the nose and mouth.

There are few interesting aspects of CTVT cells. While normal dog and wolf cells contain 78 chromosomes, the tumor cells have fewer, usually between 57-64, and even those chromosomes bear some distinct morphological differences from those found in healthy dog tissue. The disease also infects coyotes (which also have 78 chromosomes) and red foxes (with only 34 chromosomes).

Image: Wikipedia user Wayne McLean via CC

Via Bora Zivkovic

The annotated apocalypse: Anthropologists tackle 2012


It’s August of 2011, do you know when your Apocalypse is?
There are 1000s of people who think that something important—if not the end or the world, then something—will happen on December 21, 2012.

Read the rest

Primer on GM crops

Check out this great primer on the science behind the safety of genetically engineered food crops.(Via Kate Clancy)

The Apocalypse repeats itself

“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” — From a translation of an inscription on an Assyrian clay tablet, circa 2800 B.C.E. I'm just sayin'. (Via Bart King.)