January 1, 2015 archive

Happy New Year? From Democracy Now and Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi and “The $9 Billion Witness” Who Exposed How JPMorgan Chase Helped Wreck the Economy

Who Goes to Jail? Matt Taibbi on “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap”

READ: Matt Taibbi on “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap”


The Tournament of Roses Parade 2015

As is our customary start to the New Year, we give you coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade.

We start this year’s report with sadness and regret.  It seems the Mummer’s Parade, a Philadelphia institution celebrated since the mid 1600s and the oldest folk festival in the United States has fallen on hard times.

So what has happened to this tradition, honored by our first President George Washington himself during his 7 year tenure at President’s House (or did you forget that Philadelphia was our second capital under the Constitution after New York City, starting in 1790 and lasting until 1800 when somewhat prematurely John Adams occupied the District of Columbia in the hopes of winning enough Southern electoral votes to defeat Thomas Jefferson?)?

Well, it’s a phenomena I know all too thoroughly from my years as a community organizer.  Participation has become excessively expensive and potential new members are less interested in participating.

Being a Mummer is a commitment of both time and money.  The routines take all year to practice, at least once a week for about 5 or 6 hours for the casual groups that don’t care about winning prizes (yes, until recently there were cash prizes for each division, Comics, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades) and more for the elite “New Years Associations”.

And they are expensive with members being responsible for their own costumes which can weigh 100 pounds and cost 5 to 6 figures in addition to annual dues of the same magnitude.

It was not that long ago that the parade involved tens of thousands of participants and lasted 11 hours, making it the longest parade (in terms of time) in the United States.  In 2010 the City of Philadelphia (because of austerity) withdrew their annual $1 Million contribution ($750,000 of which was Police and Sanitation overtime pay) which parade organizers have been scrambling to replace.  Participants have become older and the parade route has been shortened from 3 miles to 1 with drill judging moved from the the end to the beginning.  Except for certain die hard units the parade will totally miss “Two Street” where most of the Associations are based.

Higher costs, fewer Mummers force parade changes

Associated Press

Sunday, December 28, 2014, 4:24 pm

Declining membership, soaring costs and more elaborate productions have forced big changes in the Mummers Parade, a colorful New Year’s celebration often called Philadelphia’s Mardi Gras.

Many clubs are having fundraising issues, leading some to become nonprofits and pursue grant money since the city stopped offering cash prizes at the parade. And the younger generation isn’t pursuing Mummery the way their older relatives did.

Overall, participation has declined from 12,000 performers in 2001 to about 8,000 this year, said Mummers Association president Bob Shannon.

Under the gaiety, Mummers are in grim fight to survive

By Maria Panaritis The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sunday, December 28, 2014, 10:08 pm

The Original Trilby String Band, a troupe that has strummed and strutted annually on New Year’s Day since 1898, will not march in this year’s Mummers Parade because of a shortage of cash, members and miracles.

“I don’t even have words,” said Kaminski, 48, who as club captain told members this month he was pulling the plug. There was no chance, he concluded, of mounting a show with unfinished music, no costumes, too few musicians, and but a few props.

“It was,” said Kaminski, his voice cracking, “the worst decision of my life.”

Trilby may be down on its luck, but the club is no outlier in Mummersland. The same pressures kicking Trilby to the curb are behind a much-shortened parade route this year that eliminates a 2-mile stretch through South Philadelphia, where the working-class parade was born.

Declining membership and soaring costs are building a story line of stress within Mummery that goes something like this: If only Dem Golden Slippers could be melted down and sold for cash, the feathered folk tradition might feel more secure.

“They are the oldest name in string bands,” Tom Loomis, president of the Philadelphia String Band Association, said of Trilby, whose disappearance on South Broad Street is, for now, only temporary.

“That name will not disappear,” Loomis vowed. “We will find a way to get them back onto the street next year.”

“We’ve gone from six fancy clubs down to one,” Shannon said. “We’ve gone from four or five big comic clubs to three. We went from [27] string bands, now we’re down to 16.”

In the words of 70-year-old comic division President Rick Porco, whose Good Timers, Murray and Landi comic clubs account for about a third of this year’s parade participants: “It’s challenging, trying to raise money to participate in this parade.”

In recent years, many neighborhoods long dominated by Mummery have gentrified as older families have moved to the suburbs. Membership is no sure thing.

Those who still march shell out more money than ever as costumes have become more expensive, musical arrangements are outsourced, and a pot of prize money historically given out by City Hall is no longer on the table.

“There’s some bands spending $80,000 to $100,000 on costumes alone,” Shannon said.

Also falling on hard times: the string bands’ annual fundraiser, the Show of Shows.

For years, the showcase of Mummery thrived at the Civic Center in University City, routinely selling out of tickets. It moved to the Spectrum when the Civic Center was demolished, and, later, to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. This year, it was canceled, Loomis said. Drawing crowds to the Shore in February was just too hard.

Now you may easily point out that the history of the Mummer’s Parade is, well, checkered.  Until the Civil Rights revolution in the 50s and 60s performances in Blackface were common and accepted.  Women could not participate until the 70s (even today most female roles are given to men in drag).  Associations are segregated by color and ethnicity and the whole festival is based on the concept of a riot of rowdy costumed gunfiring wassailers carousing drunkenly through the streets demanding drinks from hungover homeowners.

Sounds like good clean fun to me, but it was a simpler time.

And it’s not as if the West Coast Equestrian Equivalent doesn’t have it’s own, ahem, baggage.

A Reason to Watch the Sexist, Racist, Militarist, Corporate Rose Parade

By Sonali Kolhatkar, Truthdig

Posted on Dec 31, 2014

The Rose Parade has its origins in exclusivity and elitism. In 1890, when Pasadena was a magnet for wealthy East Coast Americans looking for temperate climates to vacation in during the winters, the Valley Hunt Club organized the first parade to show off the city. The hunting and fishing club, which continues to be featured in the parade for historical reasons, has had a problematic history of not admitting people of color.

Today the Rose Parade continues to remain ensconced within Pasadena’s well-to-do neighborhoods in the South of the city. Its annual route avoids by a wide berth poor and working-class communities of color, whose homes are concentrated in Northwest Pasadena.

One of the most nausea-inducing aspects of the annual Rose Parade is its homage to sexism (and royalty) as embodied in the tradition of the Rose Queen. Each year, thousands of young women apply to be the Rose Queen, putting themselves through the demeaning rigors standard to beauty pageants like the widely ridiculed Miss America contests. Requirements for the Rose Queen and the members of her absurdly named “Royal Court” are strict: She must be between the ages of 17 and 21, unmarried, childless, and enrolled in school. The usual promises of scholarship money are used to justify the sexist pageantry that culminates in a tawdry display of the chosen Rose Queen and Princesses dressed in ball gowns and tiaras, riding atop a float as the Parade’s ultimate pieces of live decoration.

Not only is the Parade’s Rose Queen a sexist abomination, it also has, unsurprisingly, a racist past. It was more than ninety years after the first parade that a non-white Rose Queen was first selected: Asian American Leslie Kawai. A few years later, in 1984, the first African-American Rose Queen was chosen. Since then, there have been only three others, including this year’s 17-year-old Madison Triplett. Only a handful of Latinas have ever been crowned Rose Queen, most in just the past decade.

For a good part of the Rose Parade’s existence, African-Americans were not even allowed to be part of it. In 1957, Joan Williams, a black city employee, was chosen to ride one of the floats, but she was disallowed at the last minute purely because of her race. Even though the Rose Parade has become a more racially diversified institution today, Williams, who will finally ride in the 2015 parade as a consolation prize 60 years later, has never received an official apology from the city of Pasadena.

If these are not reasons enough to disavow the parade, the annual New Year’s Day spectacle has also become a display of militarism. For years now, B-2 Stealth bombers pass over the city. We Americans may have the luxury of watching in awe and from positions of safety as the bomber jets flying over us, but the only context in which people outside the U.S. see them is when they are being bombed by our military, as the people of Afghanistan were during the Operation Enduring Freedom. Sadly, many parade attendees thrill in the display of U.S. military might. As this newspaper reader defended the flyover, he claimed to, “thank the lord for the protection and vigilance the U.S. military provides for our nation and its freedom.”

In 2014, a new display of F-16 fighter jets was added to the Parade. The U.S. Air Force’s participation in the Rose Parade was lauded by one online magazine as a tribute to, “the everyday, hard-working Airmen voluntarily serving America and defending freedom.” On the ground level of the parade, the U.S. Marines also regularly make an appearance, as part of the Equestrian contingent.

Two years ago, the Pentagon formally participated in the Rose Parade, even entering its float for the first time, smugly (and threateningly?) entitled, “Freedom is not Free.” The Defense Department spent $247,000 of taxpayer money to advertise itself in the name of Korean War veterans.

And finally, the Rose Parade has evolved into an institution by and for corporations. Some of the major corporations on the Parade’s list of sponsors include luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co, weapons manufacturer Parsons, automaker Honda, food giant Dole, Princess Cruises, one of the world’s largest cruise companies, and even Nike, Disneyland, Hallmark, Trader Joes, and Amazon’s Zappos.com.

For the past three years, the post-parade showcase of the floats has been sponsored by Miracle-Gro, a brand of the notorious Monsanto corporation. Disgustingly, this year’s theme is “urban revitalization,” which is meant to promote community gardens and green spaces. But of course Monsanto has been fighting small farmers and organic growers for decades, favoring industrial agriculture infused with pesticides and GMOs-values antithetical to community gardens.

While many of the parade’s floats are by non-profit entities (and sometimes cities that are battling bankruptcy), the majority of the parade is bought and paid for by corporate money. The corporate floats are simply branding for private companies whose greatest motive is profit. What better way to harvest eyeballs for corporate brands than to decorate giant versions of their logos with flowers, many of which are carefully applied by volunteer hands?

It is the unsanctioned political statements that make the Rose Parade slightly tolerable. A few groups have attempted to use the revered parade as a platform, with actions such as the China-themed float made by human rights activists, an Occupy Wall Street float, and animal rights activism against Sea World.

Promisingly, 2014’s biggest political issue-police violence against communities of color-is the inspiration for an organized disruption of the 2015 Rose Parade. Pasadena-based activist Jasmine Richards with #BlackLivesMatter said, “I used to go to the Rose Parade as a little kid, but then it became so whitewashed that it was clear we weren’t even wanted there. So now we’re taking the streets back. This is the way the year is going to start. This is the way the year is going to end.” With that, it appears as though I finally have a good reason to attend the Rose Parade.

Gee ek, it’s just a damn parade.

After 10 years you should know me better.  The class war is raging all around you, naked in tooth and claw.  Our elite overlords are just as corrupt, stupid, and evil as the Ancien Régime and deserve the same contempt.  Each year I make only one resolution-

To be even more obnoxious.

Happy New Year!

(The 126th Tournament of Roses Parade is on NBC and ABC from 11 am to 1 pm)

On This Day In History January 1

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Happy New Year 2014 photo AnimationPicturesHappyNew2011Year_zps855ffb36.gif

January 1 is the first day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 364 days remaining until the end of the year (365 in leap years).

During the Middle Ages under the influence of the Christian Church, many countries moved the start of the year to one of several important Christian festivals – December 25 (the Nativity of Jesus), March 1, March 25 (the Annunciation), or even Easter. Eastern European countries (most of them with populations showing allegiance to the Orthodox Church) began their numbered year on September 1 from about 988.

In England, January 1 was celebrated as the New Year festival, but from the 12th century to 1752 the year in England began on March 25 (Lady Day). So, for example, the Parliamentary record records the execution of Charles I occurring in 1648 (as the year did not end until March 24), although modern histories adjust the start of the year to January 1 and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

Most western European countries changed the start of the year to January 1 before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. For example, Scotland changed the start of the Scottish New Year to January 1 in 1600. England, Ireland and the British colonies changed the start of the year to January 1 in 1752. Later that year in September, the Gregorian calendar was introduced throughout Britain and the British colonies. These two reforms were implemented by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

New Year’s Day

Probably observed on March 1 in the old Roman Calendar, The World Book Encyclopedia of 1984, volume 14, page 237 states: “The Roman ruler Julius Caesar established January 1 as New Year’s Day in 46 BC. The Romans dedicated this day to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. The month of January was named after Janus, who had two faces – one looking forward and the other looking backward.” This suggests that New Year’s celebrations are founded on pagan traditions. Some have suggested this occurred in 153 BC, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls (after whose names the years were identified) entered into office on that day, though no consensus exists on the matter. Dates in March, coinciding with the spring equinox, or commemorating the Annunciation of Jesus, along with a variety of Christian feast dates were used throughout the Middle Ages, though calendars often continued to display the months in columns running from January to December.

Among the 7th century pagans of Flanders and the Netherlands, it was the custom to exchange gifts at the New Year. This was a pagan custom deplored by Saint Eligius (died 659 or 660), who warned the Flemings and Dutchmen, “(Do not) make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf, compare Puck] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” The quote is from the vita of Eligius written by his companion, Ouen.

Most countries in Western Europe officially adopted January 1 as New Year’s Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. In England, the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, was the first day of the new year until the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. The March 25 date was known as Annunciation Style; the January 1 date was known as Circumcision Style, because this was the date of the Feast of the Circumcision, being the eighth day counting from December 25 when Christ was believed to be born. This day was christened as the beginning of the New Year by Pope Gregory as he designed the Liturgical Calender.

As you can see there were a lot of events that happened on this day over the centuries. Some of them significant, even momentous, some not so much but interesting as a kind of trivia. I am not even going to attempt to edit that list today.

Thank you all so much for your work and contributions to this site. We at The Stars Hollow Gazette and Docudharma wish you and yours a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.  

The Breakfast Club (Pure Science)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgYep.  Once again too damn lazy and busy with family/holiday stuff to come up with a clever topic.  It has also been a slow news week unless you like “Ten of … 2014” stories (I only include one of them).  As always I invite the study of Eddington’s Observation-

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

NASA team hacks Opportunity to treat Mars rover’s amnesia

By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times


The episodes of amnesia stem from faulty flash memory – the kind of memory in your digital camera that allows your pictures to stay saved even after your device is turned off.

But flash memory doesn’t last forever – and the seventh, final bank in the flash memory appears to be malfunctioning.

“Flash memory has a limited lifetime,” Callas said. “It only allows so many read-write cycles before it starts to wear out some of the cells. And after 11 years of operation on Mars, we now suspect we’re seeing a wear-out of some of those cells.”

That’s an annoying, but manageable, issue, Callas said. The second snag is that the flash memory issue also causes the rover to reboot – and when it reboots, it stops the long-term activities the team had planned for the rover and simply waits for further instructions on the ground. On weekends and over the holiday season, when people are out of the office, these unexpected hang-ups can put the team days behind schedule, Callas said.

The researchers do have a clever little fix, Callas added. They plan on modifying the software so that the rover thinks it only has six banks’ worth of flash memory – which should make it skip faulty bank No. 7, since that’s at the very end.

Opportunity was never meant to last this long, and it’s picked up a number of scars along the way. It’s been described as arthritic, with a gimpy elbow and a somewhat disabled front wheel, but that hasn’t kept the robot from logging roughly 26 miles on the Red Planet.

NASA Spacecraft Approaching Dwarf Planet Ceres

by Mike Wall, Space.com

December 30, 2014 07:00am ET

Dawn should enter orbit around Ceres – the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – on March 6, 2015. When that happens, the spacecraft will become the first ever to orbit two different unexplored solar system bodies. (Dawn circled the protoplanet Vesta, the asteroid belt’s second-largest object, from July 2011 through September 2012.)

“Ceres is almost a complete mystery to us,” Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell, of UCLA, said in a statement. “Ceres, unlike Vesta, has no meteorites linked to it to help reveal its secrets. All we can predict with confidence is that we will be surprised.”

While Ceres and Vesta reside in the same general neighborhood, they appear to be quite different from each other. For example, the 325-mile-wide (525 km) Vesta is thought to be a dry body, while Ceres possesses an icy mantle and might even harbor a subsurface ocean of liquid water. (Indeed, Ceres might be capable of supporting life as we know it, some researchers say.)

This difference may result from slightly different formation times. Scientists think Vesta came together a bit earlier than Ceres did, when radioactive material was more abundant in the solar system. Vesta’s interior therefore likely incorporated more radioactive stuff, which generated more heat and drove away more water, NASA officials said.

The $466 million Dawn mission does not rely on tradititional chemical thrusters but rather employs a super-efficient ion propulsion system, in which ionized xenon gas is accelerated out the back of the spacecraft to generate thrust.

“Orbiting both Vesta and Ceres would be truly impossible with conventional propulsion. Thanks to ion propulsion, we’re about to make history as the first spaceship ever to orbit two unexplored alien worlds,” Dawn chief engineer and mission director Marc Rayman, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the same statement.

Venus May Have Once Been Awash With CO2 Oceans

by Charles Q. Choi, SPACE.com

Dec 29, 2014 05:20 PM ET

Venus is often described as Earth’s twin planet because it is the world closest to Earth in size, mass, distance and chemical makeup. However, whereas Earth is a haven for life, Venusis typically described as hellish, with a crushing atmosphere and clouds of corrosive sulfuric acid floating over a rocky desert surface hot enough to melt lead.

Although Venus is currently unbearably hot and dry, it might have once had oceans like Earth. Prior research suggested that Venus possessed enough water in its atmosphere in the past to cover the entire planet in an ocean about 80 feet deep (25 meters) – if all that water could somehow fall down as rain. But the planet was probably too warm for such water to cool down and precipitate, even if the planet did have enough moisture.

Instead of seas of water, then, scientists now suggest that Venus might have once possessed bizarre oceans of carbon dioxide fluid.

Most familiar on Earth as a greenhouse gas that traps heat, helping warm the planet, carbon dioxide is exhaled by animals and used by plants in photosynthesis. While the substance can exist as a solid, liquid and gas, past a critical point of combined temperature and pressure, carbon dioxide can enter a “supercritical” state. Such a supercritical fluid can have properties of both liquids and gases. For example, it can dissolve materials like a liquid, but flow like a gas.

The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is currently more than 90 times that of Earth, but in the early days of the planet, Venus’ surface pressure could have been dozens of times greater. This could have lasted over a relatively long time period of 100 million to 200 million years. Under such conditions, supercritical carbon dioxide with liquidlike behavior might have formed, Bolmatov said.

“This in turn makes it plausible that geological features on Venus like rift valleys, riverlike beds, and plains are the fingerprints of near-surface activity of liquidlike supercritical carbon dioxide,” Bolmatov told Space.com.

A Former Ground Zero Goes to Court Against the World’s Nuclear Arsenals


DEC. 27, 2014

Tony de Brum was 9 years old in 1954 when he saw the sky light up and heard the terrifying rumbles of “Castle Bravo.” It was the most powerful of 67 nuclear tests detonated by the United States in the Marshall Islands, the remote Pacific atolls he calls home.

Six decades later, with Mr. de Brum now his country’s foreign minister, the memory of those thundering skies has driven him to a near-Quixotic venture: His tiny country is hauling the world’s eight declared nuclear powers and Israel before the International Court of Justice. He wants the court to order the start of long-promised talks for a convention to ban atomic arsenals, much like the treaties that already prohibit chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. de Brum says the initiative is not about seeking redress for the enduring contamination and the waves of illness and birth defects attributed to radiation. Rather, by turning to the world’s highest tribunal, a civil court that addresses disputes between nations, he wants to use his own land’s painful history to rekindle global concern about the nuclear arms race.

One of the key questions that the court’s 15-judge bench is likely to consider is whether modernizing existing arsenals amounts to a new arms race forbidden under existing agreements. The United States and Russia, which control most of the world’s nuclear weapons, have cut old stockpiles and agreed to further reductions under a 2010 bilateral accord. But both countries, along with China, are now engaged in major upgrading of their missile systems. Pakistan and India have been in an arms race for more than 15 years.

The court is also being asked to establish a new disarmament calendar. The Marshall Islands’ suit asks that the nuclear powers begin negotiations on a disarmament treaty one year after the court’s ruling. But, as John Burroughs, director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, noted: “There have never even been any multilateral negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons since the 1968 nonproliferation treaty.”

Have A Private New Year

by: ek hornbeck, The Stars Hollow Gazette, DocuDharma

Wed Dec 31, 2014

One of the key components of a secure and private Internet connection is The Onion Relay Project, commonly known as Tor after its browser, a variation of the popular open source Firefox.

Recently the FBI announced that it had arrested 17 people and brought down over 400 sites including the infamous “Silk Road 2.0”.

Does that mean Tor is broken?  Not so much apparently.

Having used Tor on an experimental basis I’ll tell you the experience is very much like moving from 98 SE to XP 64 in that it’s mostly notable for the many things you used to do and programs that used to work that simply don’t anymore because they’re insecure.  Now this is either an insurmountable hardship for you or it isn’t.  I’ve found that as time progresses I have less and less use for my old stuff which I still have available anyway on my dusty machines that worked until I turned them off.

Nix That: 5 Top Retracted Science Papers of 2014

by Christopher Wanjek, Live Science

December 27, 2014 09:23am ET

A study published in 2013 in the journal PLOS ONE found that retractions are on the rise, although the researchers couldn’t determine why. The phenomenon may be due to a lower barrier to publishing; for example, so-called “predatory” online journals guarantee publication regardless of quality – for a price. But still, many recent retractions stem from fraudulent, rather than sloppy, science.

5. D’oh! The authors are cartoon characters

Alex Smolyanitsky of the National Institute of Standards and Technology was the one who actually penned the articles, and he did so to highlight the ease with which scientists can publish their research, for a fee, in predatory journals. These journals spam scientists and offer to publish their work, regardless of the quality, without legitimate peer review.

Smolyanitsky in fact wrote the paper with a random-text generator. The abstract, in its entirety, reads: “The Ethernet must work. In this paper, we confirm the improvement of e-commerce. WEKAU, our new methodology for forward-error correction, is the solution to all of these challenges.”

Earlier this year, the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology accepted a paper submitted by an Australian computer scientist that was far easier to understand, titled “Get Me Off Your F… Mailing List.” The paper comprised this seven-word sentence, without the “… ,” printed over and over for 10 pages), complete with a flowchart and graph with the same message.

The “mailing list” paper has since been pulled. But the Aperito Journal of Nanoscience Technology still lists the paper by Simpson et al. as being in press, as of December 2014.

4. Windpipe surgery nothing but wind?

In November 2014, The New York Times reported that Macchiarini’s paper about these surgeries in the medical journal The Lancet is also being investigated. The complaint is that Macchiarini didn’t divulge any major complications the patients experienced in the five months following the surgery, yet according to the investigation, one patient (who ultimately died) required a stent to be placed in the artificial windpipe to keep it open.

The investigation is expected to be complete in January 2015. Macchiarini, who hails from Italy, is now performing his surgery in Krasnodar, Russia, and insists that accusations of fraud and malpractice are unfounded.

3. Coffee bean weight-loss study a little too green

Dr. Mehmet Oz thought green coffee extract was miraculous. Indeed, the celebrity doctor had no qualms promoting the weight-loss potion as “magic” on his afternoon television show in 2012.

But here’s what Oz said on his show back in 2012: “You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight-loss cure for every body type. … This is very exciting, and it’s breaking news.”

Yes, breaking news, as in published by paid researchers in an obscure journal and announced on an afternoon talk show. Fortunately for Oz, he hasn’t been embarrassed by other retractions concerning the dubious information he relays about weight loss, anti-aging and miracle cures. Then again, most of that stuff hasn’t been published.

2. Vaccines still don’t cause autism

With these new revelations, the anti-vaccine crowd once again thought they had proof that vaccines cause autism. But by the end of August, Translational Neurodegeneration removed the paper from its Web site, citing “serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions.” By October the journal retracted the paper in full, citing “undeclared competing interests on the part of the author” and “concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis.”

In other words, the journal editors thought that whatever Thomson found wasn’t statistically valid and he may have had some kind of point to prove.

The incident may sound similar to the infamous article in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, which started the whole vaccines-causes-autism scare. But Wakefield’s paper, also now retracted, was found to be based on falsified data, not simply weak statistics.

1. The STAP that wouldn’t stop

But the highest-profile retraction in 2014 has been the dual studies published in January in Nature on a technique called STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency), which is a proposed method for creating multipurpose stem cells from ordinary cells. Although lead scientist Haruko Obokata claimed it was a simple technique – placing mouse blood cells in a mildly acidic solution – no one could reproduce the work … not even Obokata herself.

One by one, the co-authors began to question Obokata’s lead as allegations rose about data manipulation. Nature retracted the papers in July, and the fallout has been intense. The institute where Obokata works, the prestigious RIKEN in Japan, was internationally disgraced. RIKEN deputy director and Nature co-author Yoshiki Sasai committed suicide. Obokata, meanwhile, continues to believe her method works, although she has been found guilty of research misconduct.

New Study May Add to Skepticism Among Security Experts That North Korea Was Behind Sony Hack

By Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times

December 24, 2014 5:17 pm

Fueling their suspicions is the fact that the government based its findings, in large part, on evidence that it will not release, citing the “need to protect sensitive sources and methods.” The government has never publicly acknowledged doing so, but the National Security Agency has begun a major effort to penetrate North Korean computer networks.

“Essentially, we are being left in a position where we are expected to just take agency promises at face value,” Marc Rogers, a security researcher at CloudFlare, the cloud security company, wrote in a post Wednesday. “In the current climate, that is a big ask.”

The simpler explanation is that it was an angry “insider,” Mr. Rogers wrote. “Combine that with the details of several layoffs that Sony was planning, and you don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to consider that a disgruntled Sony employee might be at the heart of it all.”

But without more proof, skeptics are unlikely to simply demur to F.B.I. claims. “In the post-Watergate post-Snowden world, the USG can no longer simply say ‘trust us’,” Paul Rosenzweig, the Department of Homeland Security’s former deputy assistant secretary for policy, wrote on the Lawfare blog Wednesday. “Not with the U.S. public and not with other countries. Though the skepticism may not be warranted, it is real.”

Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches

John Vidal, The Guardian

Saturday 27 December 2014 16.06 EST

In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.

According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”

Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.

“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”

Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.

“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”

NSA has VPNs in Vulcan death grip-no, really, that’s what they call it

by Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica

Dec 30 2014, 12:45pm EST

The National Security Agency’s Office of Target Pursuit (OTP) maintains a team of engineers dedicated to cracking the encrypted traffic of virtual private networks (VPNs) and has developed tools that could potentially uncloak the traffic in the majority of VPNs used to secure traffic passing over the Internet today, according to documents published this week by the German news magazine Der Speigel.

While some VPN technologies-specifically, those based on the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPTP)-have previously been identified as being vulnerable because of the way they exchange keys at the beginning of a VPN session, others have generally been assumed to be safer from scrutiny. But in 2010, the NSA had already developed tools to attack the most commonly used VPN encryption schemes: Secure Shell (SSH), Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption.

But for those that aren’t successfully cracked, the VPN Exploit Team’s presentation noted, the team works to “turn that frown upside down” by doing more data collection-trying to capture IPSec Internet Key Exchange (IKE) and Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) traffic during VPN handshakes to help build better attacks. In cases where the keys just can’t be recovered, the VPN Exploit Team will “contact our friends for help”- gathering more information on the systems of interest from other data collection sites or doing an end-run by calling on Tailored Access Operations to “create access points” through exploits of one of the endpoints of the VPN connection.

Newly published NSA documents show agency could grab all Skype traffic

by Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica

Dec 30 2014, 11:38am EST

A National Security Agency document published this week by the German news magazine Der Spiegel from the trove provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shows that the agency had full access to voice, video, text messaging, and file sharing from targeted individuals over Microsoft’s Skype service. The access, mandated by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant, was part of the NSA’s PRISM program and allowed “sustained Skype collection” in real time from specific users identified by their Skype user names.

The NSA was then able to “task” any Skype traffic that passed over networks it monitored or by exploitation of a targeted user’s system. “NSA receives Skype collection via prism when one of the peers is a (FISA Amendments Act Section 702) tasked target,” the Skype collection guide stated. Because Skype has no central servers, the guide explained, for multiparty calls, “Skype creates a mesh-network, where users are connected together through multiple peer-to-peer links. Instant Messages sent to this group of meshed participants can be routed through any participant.” If any participant in a chat was monitored, the NSA could capture all of the IM traffic in the shared chat.

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Happy New Year from all of us at The Stars Hollow Gazette and Docudharma on the East Coast of the USA.

Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year from all of us at The Stars Hollow Gazette and Docudharma on the East Coast of the USA.