Archives for March 2018

Our children are acting like leaders because our leaders act like children

Ann Hulbert writes:

Anyone used to worrying about coddled young people, their backbone eroded by oversolicitous elders and smartphone addiction, was in for a surprisingly mature show of spine at last weekend’s March for Our Lives. The Parkland, Florida, survivors-turned-prodigy-activists and their followers—along with Dreamers and other youthful protesters lately—couldn’t possibly be denounced as out-of-control “bums,” President Nixon’s epithet for (older) student protesters half a century ago.

Quite the contrary. These young people do grit and gumption with star-pupil poise and politeness. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” read one teenager’s sign at the Washington, D.C., rally. “We’re trying to change the world.” Nearby, a kid proudly waved a neon-orange poster that proclaimed, in big letters, “GPA > NRA.” The call-and-response chant that carried the day, under the direction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 9-year-old granddaughter, conveyed the same overachiever zeal: “Spread the word all across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.” The Parkland student Emma González’s feat of silence at the podium, as the writer Nathan Heller tweeted, defied category: “the fact that it was conceived—and dared—by a high-schooler is breathtaking.” The adults on hand didn’t presume to boss off-the-charts performers like these around. “If you don’t listen to them now,” read one woman’s poster, ”they won’t listen to you later.”

Last weekend’s march was not the first evidence of super-upstarts, aggrieved youths totally on top of their game in a way that few grown-ups in political life are these days. Two months ago, more than 100 sports-prodigies-turned-public-survivors made national headlines as they delivered their stunning version of the same call—protect us, and listen to us. At the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar, convicted of serially abusing athletes under his care, his victims powerfully yoked personal trauma to a systemic indictment. “Adult after adult, many in positions of authority, protected you,” said the former captain of the phenomenal U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, Aly Raisman, staring straight at Nassar. “How do you sleep at night?… You are the person [the USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee] had ‘take the lead on athlete care.’… I cringe to think your influence remains in the policies that are supposed to keep athletes safe.” [Continue reading…]

How new data is transforming our understanding of place cells — the brain’s GPS


Adithya Rajagopalan writes:

The first pieces of the brain’s “inner GPS” started coming to light in 1970. In the laboratories of University College London, John O’Keefe and his student Jonathan Dostrovsky recorded the electrical activity of neurons in the hippocampus of freely moving rats. They found a group of neurons that increased their activity only when a rat found itself in a particular location. They called them “place cells.”

Building on these early findings, O’Keefe and his colleague Lynn Nadel proposed that the hippocampus contains an invariant representation of space that does not depend on mood or desire. They called this representation the “cognitive map.” In their view, all of the brain’s place cells together represent the entirety of an animal’s environment, and whichever place cell is active indicates its current location. In other words, the hippocampus is like a GPS. It tells you where you are on a map and that map remains the same whether you are hungry and looking for food or sleepy and looking for a bed. O’Keefe and Nadel suggested that the absolute position represented in the hippocampal place cells provides a mental framework that can be used by an animal to find its way in any situation—be that to find food or a bed.

Over the next 40 years, other researchers—including the husband and wife duo of Edvard and May-Britt Moser—produced support for the idea that the brain’s hippocampal circuitry acts like an inner GPS. In recognition of their pioneering work, O’Keefe and the Mosers were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. You’d think that this would mean that the role of the hippocampus in guiding an animal through space was solved.

But studying the brain is never that straightforward. Like a match lighting a fuse, the 2014 Nobel Prize set off an explosion of experiments and ideas, some of which have pushed back against O’Keefe and Nadel’s early interpretation. This new work has suggested that when it comes to spatial navigation, the hippocampal circuit represents location information that is relative and malleable by experience rather than absolute. The study of the hippocampus seems to have stumbled into an age-old philosophical argument. [Continue reading…]

More immigrants = less crime

The New York Times reports:

The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities.

“Every day, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities,” he said last week. “They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.”

As of 2017, according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But is it true that immigration drives crime? Many studies have shown that it does not.

Immigrant populations in the United States have been growing fast for decades now. Crime in the same period, however, has moved in the opposite direction, with the national rate of violent crime today well below what it was in 1980.

In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Adelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country.

According to data from the study, a large majority of the areas have many more immigrants today than they did in 1980 and fewer violent crimes. The Marshall Project extended the study’s data up to 2016, showing that crime fell more often than it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board. [Continue reading…]

There is indeed a witch hunt. It’s led by Fox News against Robert Mueller

Former Fox News strategic analyst, Ralph Peters writes:

I was the one person on the Fox payroll who, trained in Russian studies and the Russian language, had been face to face with Russian intelligence officers in the Kremlin and in far-flung provinces. I have traveled widely in and written extensively about the region. Yet I could only rarely and briefly comment on the paramount security question of our time: whether Putin and his security services ensnared the man who would become our president. Trump’s behavior patterns and evident weaknesses (financial entanglements, lack of self-control and sense of sexual entitlement) would have made him an ideal blackmail target — and the Russian security apparatus plays a long game.

As indictments piled up, though, I could not even discuss the mechanics of how the Russians work on either Fox News or Fox Business. (Asked by a Washington Post editor for a comment, Fox’s public relations department sent this statement: “There is no truth to the notion that Ralph Peters was ‘blocked’ from appearing on the network to talk about the major headlines, including discussing Russia, North Korea and even gun control recently. In fact, he appeared across both networks multiple times in just the past three weeks.”)

All Americans, whatever their politics, should want to know, with certainty, whether a hostile power has our president and those close to him in thrall. This isn’t about party but about our security at the most profound level. Every so often, I could work in a comment on the air, but even the best-disposed hosts were wary of transgressing the party line.

Fox never tried to put words in my mouth, nor was I told explicitly that I was taboo on Trump-Putin matters. I simply was no longer called on for topics central to my expertise. I was relegated to Groundhog Day analysis of North Korea and the Middle East, or to Russia-related news that didn’t touch the administration. Listening to political hacks with no knowledge of things Russian tell the vast Fox audience that the special counsel’s investigation was a “witch hunt,” while I could not respond, became too much to bear. There is indeed a witch hunt, and it’s led by Fox against Robert Mueller.

The cascade of revelations about the Russia-related crimes of Trump associates was dismissed, adamantly, as “fake news” by prime-time hosts who themselves generate fake news blithely. [Continue reading…]

Trump calls on all victims of sexual assault perpetrated by him to hold him accountable

Donald J Trump declares:

We must respond to sexual assault by identifying and holding perpetrators accountable. Too often, however, the victims of assault remain silent. They may fear retribution from their offender, lack faith in the justice system, or have difficulty confronting the pain associated with the traumatic experience. My Administration is committed to raising awareness about sexual assault and to empowering victims to identify perpetrators so that they can be held accountable. We must make it as easy as possible for those who have suffered from sexual assault to alert the authorities and to speak about the experience with their family and friends…

Together, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we recommit ourselves to doing our part to help stop sexual violence. We must not be afraid to talk about sexual assualt and sexual assult prevention with our loved ones, in our communities, and with those who have experienced these tragedies. We must encourage victims to report sexual assault and law enforcement to hold offenders accountable, and we must support victims and survivors unremmittingly. Through a concerted effort to better educate ourselves, empower victims, and punish criminals, our Nation will move closer to ending the grief, fear, and suffering caused by sexual assult. The prevention of sexual violence is everyone’s concern.

Trump walks away from his vow to ‘utterly destroy ISIS’

ABC News reports:

President Donald Trump surprised even the most senior members of his Cabinet when he announced Thursday during a speech in Ohio that the U.S. military would be “coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” according to a senior administration official and a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

The president has expressed to top members of his national security team that he would like to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, but none of them expected he’d say it publicly, these officials said.

“By the way, we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said during a speech on infrastructure spending. “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now, very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out.” [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports:

In the past month, U.S.-led airstrikes in support of local forces on the ground have dropped significantly. The U.S.-led coalition said it has conducted just seven strikes in Syria in the past week. Islamic State hasn’t lost any significant territory in months, U.S. military officials have said.

U.S. officials warned Friday that Islamic State is already taking advantage of the battlefield pause to regroup, raising the prospect of its reemergence as a serious threat to the U.S. and its allies.

“If we leave sooner rather than later, then there is a good chance that this could be all for naught and they could come back,” said one U.S. official. [Continue reading…]

It’s time to go after Vladimir Putin’s money in the West

Anders Aslund writes:

Putin controls the Russian state institutions, its secret police and its big state companies. Together with a few old friends from St. Petersburg, the president is tapping the big state companies through overpriced no-bid procurement, transfer pricing, asset stripping and stock manipulation. They are also making money by extorting old oligarchs and taking loans from state banks, not to be returned.

Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered outside of the Kremlin, and still-active opposition politician Vladimir Milov exposed this kleptocracy in their booklet “Putin and Gazprom” in 2008. A more extensive account in English is Karen Dawisha’s book “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?” The Panama Papers, a series of leaked documents on offshore accounts released in April 2016, offered plenty of evidence of Putin’s secret wealth.

Overall assessments indicate a personal enrichment of Putin and his closest cronies of some $20 billion to $25 billion a year since 2006. Nemtsov and Milov documented pilfering from Gazprom of $60 billion from 2004 to 2007, and this was probably just over half of their enrichment, which has only increased. By now, this group would have accumulated $240 billion to $300 billion. Businessman Bill Browder estimates that Putin is the richest man in the world, with a personal wealth of $200 billion. Total private Russian holdings abroad are assessed in the range of $800 billion to $1.3 trillion, according to Global Financial Integrity and a National Bureau of Economic Research study. [Continue reading…]

FBI questions Ted Malloch, a Trump defender who opposes the ‘globalist Luciferian agenda’

When Ted Malloch was interrogated by the FBI at Boston’s Logan airport on Wednesday, it’s unclear whether he contacted a lawyer but he did reach out to the head of the Washington D.C. news bureau for InfoWars, Jerome Corsi.

Malloch became a source of controversy in 2016 when he was floated in media reports as a possible US ambassador to the EU, following an aggressive campaign in which, according to several reports at the time, he promoted himself as a strong candidate. European officials, alarmed by the possible pick and his lack of diplomatic credentials, openly criticised Malloch, particularly after he compared the EU to the Soviet Union.

Malloch’s campaign for the diplomatic post came to an end after a report in the Financial Times detailed several apparently misleading claims made in Malloch’s autobiography, including that he was a fellow at Wolfson and Pembroke colleges at Oxford, that he had once been called a “genius” by Margaret Thatcher, and that he was the “first” to coin the phrase “thought leadership”.

Mueller’s probe into whether or not the Trump campaign received assistance from Russia during the 2016 election campaign is examining various issues, including Donald Trump’s business empire and its possible ties to Russia.

The special counsel is also examining the 2016 release by Wikileaks of damaging emails that were stolen – allegedly by Russian hackers – from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Roger Stone, a strong champion of Trump, appeared to have some advance warning that Wikileaks had the emails before they were published, according to tweets he sent at the time.

Stone, who has known Trump since the late 1980s, acknowledged having communications with Assange through an intermediary. He later claimed the middleman was a journalist named Randy Credico, but Credico vigorously denied the allegation.

Malloch is ideologically close to Farage, the former Ukip leader who is also close to Trump and his former White House strategist Steve Bannon. Malloch has appeared on Farage’s radio show and the pair have been seen together in Brussels.

News of Malloch’s detention by the FBI and subpoena was first reported by the far-right conspiracy theory website InfoWars after the controversial contributor Jerome Corsi said an alarmed Malloch had called him during the FBI interview. [Continue reading…]

Author of Facebook’s ‘ugly truth’ memo says he didn’t agree with what he wrote — employees call for stronger vetting for potential whistle-blowers

The New York Times reports:

Late Thursday, [Andrew Bosworth] said he did not agree with what he wrote in the memo “and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it.” He added that “the purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company.”

After BuzzFeed published the memo, Mr. Bosworth deleted it from an internal message board where it had originally been posted. In a statement to BuzzFeed, Mr. Zuckerberg praised Mr. Bosworth as “a talented leader who says many provocative things” and said he and most people at Facebook did not agree with the memo and that the company had realized that it could not just be about connecting people.

Facebook employees said on Friday that discussions were raging across the company regarding the merits of the post. Some called for executives to aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media, said two Facebook employees, as well as for the company to do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process.

At least one former Facebook employee, Alec Muffett, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Bosworth’s memo was responsible for his decision to leave the company.

“Between overwork and leadership direction evidenced thusly, I could never stay,” wrote Mr. Muffett, who formerly worked as a Facebook engineer. [Continue reading…]

How Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook targeting model really worked – according to the person who built it

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How accurately can you be profiled online?
Andrew Krasovitckii/Shutterstock.com

By Matthew Hindman, George Washington University

The researcher whose work is at the center of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data analysis and political advertising uproar has revealed that his method worked much like the one Netflix uses to recommend movies.

In an email to me, Cambridge University scholar Aleksandr Kogan explained how his statistical model processed Facebook data for Cambridge Analytica. The accuracy he claims suggests it works about as well as established voter-targeting methods based on demographics like race, age and gender.

If confirmed, Kogan’s account would mean the digital modeling Cambridge Analytica used was hardly the virtual crystal ball a few have claimed. Yet the numbers Kogan provides also show what is – and isn’t – actually possible by combining personal data with machine learning for political ends.

Regarding one key public concern, though, Kogan’s numbers suggest that information on users’ personalities or “psychographics” was just a modest part of how the model targeted citizens. It was not a personality model strictly speaking, but rather one that boiled down demographics, social influences, personality and everything else into a big correlated lump. This soak-up-all-the-correlation-and-call-it-personality approach seems to have created a valuable campaign tool, even if the product being sold wasn’t quite as it was billed.

[Read more…]