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On the Prospect of Blackmail by the NSA

Posted on January 4th, 2014 at 16:19 by John Sinteur in category: News


Sometimes when I hear public officials speaking out in defense of NSA spying, I can’t help thinking, even if just for a moment, “what if the NSA has something on that person and that’s why he or she is saying this?”

Of course it’s natural, when people disagree with you, to at least briefly think, “they couldn’t possibly really believe that, there must be some outside power forcing them to take that position.” Mostly I do not believe that anything like that is now going on.

But I cannot be 100% sure, and therein lies the problem. The breadth of the NSA’s newly revealed capabilities makes the emergence of such suspicions in our society inevitable. Especially given that we are far, far away from having the kinds of oversight mechanisms in place that would provide ironclad assurance that these vast powers won’t be abused. And that highlights the highly corrosive nature of allowing the NSA such powers. Everyone has dark suspicions about their political opponents from time to time, and Americans are highly distrustful of government in general. When there is any opening at all for members of the public to suspect that officials from the legislative and judicial branches could be vulnerable to leverage from secretive agencies within the executive branch—and when those officials can even suspect they might be subject to leverage—that is a serious problem for our democracy.

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  1. John, unless law requires it, it would be good to remove the requirement to provide an email address.

    That said, I have been suspicious about the compromise of politicians ever since Obama, while still a US Senator from Illinois, reversed his pointed stand against FISA and voted for it anyway. To say that his answer to me why he so radically changed his stance (I was a constituent) was a serious prevarication, is an understatement. I voted for him as POTUS twice, but only because the alternatives were, in my mind at the time, were worse… Now, I’m not so sure.

  2. And yes, I think “prevarication” is the correct term – I think he was lying through his teeth. 🙁

  3. took out the email requirement for posting – let’s see if the anti-spam is string enough without it

  4. Re. email requirement

    Thanks. I wasn’t sure if it was a legal requirement in your domain, or an anti-spam thing.


  5. Ok. Testing no mail address now. No further messages in this thread from me about this should be considered as “it works”.

  6. Ok. I lied… It works! Thanks.

  7. It always worked with a bogus email address.

The Most Mind-Blowing Space Photos of 2013

Posted on January 4th, 2014 at 14:38 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture


Another year has gone by and left us with a stack of incredible, mind-blowing pictures of space. We’ve gathered the best of 2013’s images of stars, galaxies, planets, and nebulas into our second WIRED Space Photo of the Day collection.

We’re celebrating with a gallery of our favorites from among the 365 we hand-picked every day this year. Highlights include young stars being born in the Large Magellanic Cloud, new views of both the Andromeda Galaxy and Horsehead Nebula, and the achingly beautiful picture of Saturn above. Here’s to another amazing year of space photos and the never-ending wonder of the universe.


It’s not everyday you get to see a familiar face in a new light. The Horsehead Nebula, one of the most famous celestial objects, is known for its black color. But here we get to see it in infrared wavelengths, making visible many typically invisible features. As NASA wrote:

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths.

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Qaeda-Aligned Militants Threaten Key Iraqi Cities

Posted on January 4th, 2014 at 12:27 by John Sinteur in category: News


Radical Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda threatened Thursday to seize control of Falluja and Ramadi, two of the most important cities in Iraq, setting fire to police stations, freeing prisoners from jail and occupying mosques, as the government rushed troop reinforcements to the areas.

Dressed in black and waving the flag of Al Qaeda, the militants commandeered mosque loudspeakers to call for supporters to join their struggle in both cities in the western province of Anbar, which have increasingly become centers of Sunni extremism since American forces withdrew from the country at the end of 2011.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 12.27.26

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  1. lol, since the mission of the USA was to get Saddam Hussein removed from Iraq government, it was accomplished. As for the state of Iraq, well that is the responsibility of the Iraqi people, after all they are free now. It would be wrong to think that a western country could solve the problems of an ancient culture like Iraq. The Sunni/Shia fighting has been going on for 1400 years, ever since the Prophet died.

  2. No, the mission was, at least officially, disarmament:


    At a press conference on 31 January 2003, Bush again reiterated that the single trigger for the invasion would be Iraq’s failure to disarm, “Saddam Hussein must understand that if he does not disarm, for the sake of peace, we, along with others, will go disarm Saddam Hussein.” As late as 25 February 2003, it was still the official line that the only cause of invasion would be a failure to disarm. As Blair made clear in a statement to the House of Commons, “I detest his regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.”

  3. lol, well as we all know Iraq didn’t have any “weapons of mass destruction” so I would say that that goal was accomplished also, if vacuously. The real goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein, even if the government would never really admit it, GW Bush had a personal hate for Saddam and he used his position as President to accomplish his goal for revenge.

  4. And to think I predicted the country would have split into two, possibly three, separate countries by now. While the US in its continued presence has staved that off, it’s definitely heading that way.

  5. Was the photographer being ironic, applying a halo to Mr. Bush?

Fired? Speak No Evil

Posted on January 4th, 2014 at 11:35 by John Sinteur in category: News


Around the same time, a termination agreement pinged into my inbox. Much of it set forth standard-issue language resolving such matters as date of termination, the vesting of options, the release of all claims against the company, and the return of company property. I think I get to keep last year’s Christmas gift of an iPad, and the previous year’s bottle of wine has long been drunk, but I must send back any company files in my possession. So far, so good.

What brings me up short is clause No. 12: No Disparagement. “You agree,” it reads, “that you will never make any negative or disparaging statements (orally or in writing) about the Company or its stockholders, directors, officers, employees, products, services or business practices, except as required by law.” If I don’t agree to this nondisparagement clause, I will not receive my severance — in this case, the equivalent of two weeks of pay. Two weeks? Must be hard times out in San Francisco, or otherwise why the dirt parachute — and by the way, is that the sort of remark I won’t be allowed to make if I sign clause No. 12?

So, Dear Byliner, finding out that two weeks of pay is less than the costs of the Streisand Effect?

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At 14, Pa. girl is published in a medical journal

Posted on January 4th, 2014 at 10:48 by John Sinteur in category: News


It all started at the dinner table in February, when Joseph Bernstein told his daughter (then in eighth grade!) about a study of how difficult it was for consumers to find out the cost of a hip replacement.

She was intrigued, and not just by the topic. The lead author of that study was a college undergraduate.

So the Bernsteins wondered: Could the research be followed up by someone just a tad younger?

Dad and daughter set to work.

Joseph Bernstein, a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told his daughter that, in fairness to hospitals, it might be hard for them to quote the price of a hip replacement because the cost varies depending on the patient.

They decided that, instead, she should try asking 20 area hospitals for the price of an electrocardiogram (EKG), a generic procedure that should cost about the same regardless of the patient’s age and condition. Then, as a point of comparison, she would call them all again to ask for their parking rates.

Care to guess which phone calls went better?

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