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Monthly Archives: February 2016

The N**gerfication of Barack Obama

by the  –

There’s a joke I heard long ago, and it’s stuck with me.

Q: What do you call a black doctor?

A: A N**ger.

There’s a bitter truth in that joke, a truth only dark humor can ferret out. No matter what achievements an African American attains, he will, in the end, be only a N**ger. Generations of poor whites have consoled themselves with the thought that, however dire their straits, at least they were better than them, even if they lived in Beverly Hills. Their white skin made them a superior race. And, hell, that black doctor probably got his degree due to affirmative action. I could be a doctor too if I was getting all that free cash.

I left New York City in 1986, before David Dinkins was elected its first black mayor. Observing from afar in Los Angeles, I was saddened but not shocked that Mayor Dinkins was similarly assailed as an “affirmative action hire”. His mayoralty was erased from the record, much like a hated pharaoh in ancient Egypt.

My greatest fear when Barack Obama was elected president was that he would be Dinkinized. That he would be denigrated (pun intended) as another feckless black man who attained an office which he didn’t deserve.

Of course, the past 7 years have been a record of Pres. Obama filleting his naysayers with a smile and a list of accomplishments.

But if you thought that his opposition wouldn’t try one last time to put him in his place, you hadn’t been paying attention.

News came out this week that Senate Republicans won’t so much as interview any nominee the president puts forth to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. (Indeed, according to reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, if he in fact remains majority leader in the next Congress, might extend that boycott should either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the presidency in November.)

Oh, LL, area centrists will say, this is just power politics. It has nothing to do with race.

Again, if you think that, you haven’t been paying attention.

Barack Obama is on track to leave office as the most consequential president since Pres. Roosevelt in the 1940s. Love him or hate him, he has refashioned the idea of what America is. And those who hate him do so with a passion for doing just that. Merely by his presence he has shoved white America’s demographic decline in its face. And many in white America are desperate for someone, anyone, to show him who he really is: nothing but a N**ger.

If you think that the Senate GOP would have done this to a President Hillary Clinton had she won in 2008, you’re sorely mistaken. Even though a woman—and a Clinton—her whiteness would have won her at least a hearing. Only because Barack Obama is black can Sen. McConnell and his pranksters attempt this gambit. This is nothing other than an attempt to finally, in some way, erase Barack Obama’s presidency. To deny him the legitimacy and prerogatives which the 43 previous presidents were afforded.

I’m backing Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I’m no great fan of Bernie Sanders. But I’ve for the most part stayed out of the Hillary / Bernie fights, partly because they’re tiring, but mostly because of this: No Republican can be allowed to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. after Barack Obama leaves it. The stakes are too high. Sen. Sanders would be a problematic candidate for me. But if he wins the nomination, I will both contribute to him and work for him. In this election I’m not voting out of hope, as I did in 2008 and 2012. I’m voting out of sheer desperation. This country is on a precipice not seen since 1860. This election will decide whether or not there’s a second Civil War. The GOP has spent 40 years othering half of America. Those chickens are coming home to roost.

One thing I will not do is allow the GOP to turn Barack Obama into David Dinkins. Not that they can; but even the attempt is galling. For Obamacrats, that’s what 2016 means. A vote for either Democrat is to vote to keep Barack Obama’s flame alive. Staying home out of pique or purity is to condemn yourself and your country to a horror.

If you don’t think this is true, well, say it with me: You haven’t been paying attention.

 

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The Madness of Airline Élite Status

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BY GARY SERNOVITZ –

Frequent fliers sometimes go to great lengths to keep their airline élite status, and those efforts are often completely out of proportion to the perks.CREDITPHOTOGRAPH BY KENT NISHIMURA / THE DENVER POST VIA GETTY

When you fly a lot for work, as I do, you check your frequent-flier mile balance often, to provide data for competitive commiseration. “Eighteen flights this year already, fourteen hotel nights in eleven different hotels,” a friend e-mailed me, in victory, earlier this month. You also compulsively track your frequent-flier “status” levels, to mark your progress toward becoming a trusty in the prison of weekly air travel. And so, last month, when my United Airlines app told me that my status—as a customer, as a flier, as a man—had changed, I did a delighted double take. United had made me a member of Global Services, its apotheosis of a frequent flier. But even as I tried to remember the advertised perks (free tickets? free back rubs?), I was beginning to sense some symptoms.

My status was good only for 2016, which meant that I would be relegated to a lower level if I didn’t keep up the pace of ticket purchases. So, not twenty minutes after achieving my new status, I found myself calling the Global Services help desk and asking how much it would cost to change a frequent-flier award ticket to a bought one. (Global Services veterans had warned me never to lose the chance to “earn” miles, and instead to use frequent-flier points for other people’s flights.) I then asked my wife for permission to spend five hundred and sixty dollars for a flight that I already had a free ticket for. She told me I was insane. But I wasn’t insane. I knew others similarly afflicted. I had Global Services Maintenance Anxiety Disorder.

GS-MAD afflicts only a small sliver of the frequent-flying élite. As a precondition, you have to be extremely loyal to United, either because you have a soft spot for incessantly played “Rhapsody in Blue” (and I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?) or, more probably, because the airline has a hub near your home. You also have to fly a lot. Global Services is a level above another status tier, Premier 1K, that requires you to fly an annual cumulative distance equal, more or less, to four times the circumference of the earth. With Premier 1K and the Platinum, Gold, and Silver MileagePlus status levels, you can track your progress with each flight. It’s a logical system of inputs and outputs, like dieting, except instead of being rewarded for skipping a fudge nut sundae, you’re credited for flying to Peru. But the diabolical marketing genius of Global Services is that, as St. Paul said of grace, it cannot be earned by works. It is a gift. And God, in this case, is an algorithm of United Airlines.

Absent posted guidelines, road-warrior message boards are filled with speculation about why certain travellers receive Global Services. Is it a measure of dollars spent? Segments flown? Behavior? Maybe United is watching us all, and you weren’t elevated because someone noticed you wiping Doritos dust off your fingers on the armrest in 17C. Maybe United is reading this essay. Maybe by writing this I am committing an unpardonable sin, akin to a Scientologist mafia underboss penning a memoir. Or maybe United will be pleased by the publicity and invite me to an even more secretive status level—Solar System Services, here I come.

The benefits of Global Services start with the straightforward: special entrances, at certain airports, that let you skip the line at security; dedicated phone numbers to lively, responsive, competent United agents; first called to board the plane (“Out of my way, Premier Silver peons”); upgrade priority if a first-class seat is available. (On my first flight with Global Services, I still flew Economy Plus, just in time to take advantage of the free stroopwafels that United has started serving, which was convenient because I’ve always hated paying for my own stroopwafel.)

Other perks seem to be from a different era, like the Mercedes-Benz GL at the Newark Airport that will drive you, if your connection is tight, from one plane to the next, as though you’re the French ambassador or an especially violent supercriminal. And then there are perks that might be myths: one Global Services member told me that if you want a seat, United will kick another passenger off the plane. As I listened, I had visions of a grandmother tossed to the tarmac because a McKinsey consultant had to attend to an emergency case of corporate inefficiency.

Urban legends notwithstanding, the benefits are real enough. Everyone, I assume, would rather sit in first class than coach. The seats are wider. Alcoholism is nourished. First-class United passengers even get a dedicated literary-ish magazine, in case they can’t find other opportunities to read Joyce Carol Oates. But I’ve observed that the manifestations of GS-MAD are completely out of proportion to the perks.

One friend of mine always seemed to be dedicating two per cent of his mind to strategies to maintain his Global Services status. When, as a peer, I finally mentioned this to him, he corrected me: ninety-eight per cent of his mind was occupied with Global Services, with only two per cent left for everything else. Every November, he and a band of fellow-GS-MAD sufferers compare dollars spent and miles flown, speculating, like hard cases leaning on the rail of a horse track, on whose status will be renewed the following year. Another acquaintance, in danger of losing her status, appealed to United for mercy, writing to the airline that she deserved a break because she had had a baby mid-year. United granted her an exception. Three years later, she asked again, for the same reason. But perhaps to protect America from being overrun by MileagePlus anchor babies, the company replied that it gives only one exception every five years.

The costliest manifestations of GS-MAD are unnecessary year-end trips, called “mileage runs” in the frequent-flier community, which are cousins to the flights Walter Kirn’s protagonist in “Up in the Air” takes to meet his goal of a million lifetime miles. I asked around to find the highest amount anyone had heard of being spent on mileage runs: the winner was fifteen thousand dollars, by a friend of a friend, in a month. Another friend told me about his own bottoming out, in the pre-Global Services era, when, in an attempt to achieve the highest status level at Continental before it merged with United, he took advantage of a temporary quirk. At the time, Continental, engaged in a route war with Southwest, was flying connecting flights between Houston’s two airports. Just shy of the requisite number of flight segments, my friend flew three round trips in one day without ever leaving town. The planes were filled with others doing the same, like some mile-oholic version of “The Iceman Cometh.”

We live in an era of behavioral psychology, and our contemporary conclusion is that human beings, most of the time, are absurd, but predictable machines. As such, best-seller lists are filled with psychological explanations for conduct like GS-MAD. The endowment effect—we hate to lose what we already have—seems particularly apropos. There is also, of course, status anxiety, the inextinguishable desire for higher and more. Flying a lot on a commercial airline can’t help but remind the most “successful” customers of their position in the vertiginous hyperbolic tail of American income inequality: comfortably positioned across the gap between the one per cent and ten per cent; less so across the one between the one per cent and the 0.001 per cent (the type of people who own their own planes).

But for most of us, I suspect, GS-MAD arises because there is something of the consolation prize in being part of Global Services. While very-frequent-flier status may raise romantic visions of someone breakfasting in Buenos Aires and supping in St. Moritz, most Global Services members are probably like me: business travellers who visit Chicago or Houston a lot. Spending large amounts of time in a metal tube for work isn’t fun, but if you have achieved recognized excellence at it, it may distract you from the time you spend doing that rather than summiting the Rockies or learning how to flamenco.

So I’ve decided to fight GS-MAD before it becomes incurable. I sent Mr. Ninety-Eight Per Cent the Global Services luggage tags that United had sent me, telling him I wouldn’t be needing them where I was going. (“You killing yourself, man?” he asked. “No, just going back to the stroopwafel seats.”) I began reminiscing fondly of Delta’s terminal at LaGuardia, which has more outlets than an Apple store and really good snacks. I told myself that we are all obligated to prove that sometimes human beings are more than absurd, predictable machines. I resolved to fly because I needed to go somewhere, not to earn.

Still, it’s possible that, come December, you’ll find me curled up in 4B, in self-loathing, on a round-trip mileage run to Ulaanbaatar.

 

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A Tipping Guide for the Sharing Economy

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Should I tip my Uber driver? (And other questions Miss Manners never answered)

Plenty of guidelines govern tipping etiquette for the usual suspects: waiters, hotel housekeeping, taxis, etc. (The simplest and most exhaustive among recent lists would be this one at Uncommon Courtesy.) But what about for the dude who’s delivering your laundry as a contractor with a third-party app? Or the “driver partner” who’s paid through an app that explicitly prevents you from tipping him (e.g., anyone working for Uber)?

The “on-demand economy” of Instacart and TaskRabbit doesn’t just blur the lines between employee and contractor; it confuses the functionality of tipping for consumers. Some apps let you tip; others don’t. Some apps offer alternatives to services that we usually tip for; other apps create services we never previously used (or never knew how to tip for in the first place).

Meanwhile, the rise of the sharing economy is altering the politics of tipping beyond the confines of cabs. This fall, Danny Meyer — the New York restaurateur behind Union Square Cafe and a dozen other eateries — announced that his restaurants would do away with tipping in order to make service work fairer, crediting Uber’s no-tip policy as an inspiration. Restaurants around the country are already following suit in an attempt to distribute income more equitably and transparently between the front-of-house and the kitchen. While restaurant-goers once tipped because it was assumed waiters wouldn’t survive without it, increasingly they don’t have to, in a move that’s been framed as progress for workers’ rights.

But does that mean that in the sharing economy — where workers are starting to file class-action lawsuits pursuing better treatment — the general lack of tipping is a good thing? Or does it mean that workers in the sharing economy aren’t getting their fair share of revenue to do their jobs? And do we as consumers have a responsibility to pony up a bit extra?

These are just some of the questions we took into consideration as we prepared this guide to what’s clearly a psychologically fraught exercise — not to mention a confusing one with unclear aims. Studies on the psychology of tipping show that less than 2 percent of good tipping correlates with good service. In other words, people usually know what they’re going to tip before they even order. But increasingly, we have absolutely no idea. Here’s our best guess.

Rides

According to the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the typical taxi tipping rate is 20 percent. But what about the independent contractors who shuttle us around at the touch of a button? There’s no single policy, yet, in part because the different apps offer different options for tipping.

Uber: Uber says there’s no need to tip. In fact, you’re unable to leave a tip through the app. Drivers also are told not to take cash tips. By leaving it out of their system, Uber might lead you to think that they add gratuity to the fare automatically, but that’s untrue.

Laundry

In the AskNYC Reddit, someone specifically asked about tipping for laundry (regardless of the service), and the answer depended on whether the apartment had a doorman or an elevator. But when I contacted two laundry-service apps, Rinse and Washio, Rinse explained that their valets were instructed not to accept tips, though they didn’t say why. (No one from Washio was available to chat.)

What should you do?

Ten to 15 percent, depending on the difficulty of getting your clothes to your door. If it’s the dead of winter or you live on the fifth floor of a walk-up, aim toward the higher end of the range.

Food

Prepared Food: With GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24 and UberEats it makes sense to tip about 15 percent, the same as regular takeout (and included when you checkout using the old-fashioned method) because the deliverers tend to be hired by the restaurants. During inclement weather, it’s worth adding another 5 percent.

Like with Uber proper, UberEats doesn’t have a tipping option (they say a 5-star rating is the “best way to thank their driver”), which means you’ll want to keep cash on hand if you order your takeout from them.

Groceries: For ways to get food that aren’t streamlining an already existing delivery service, we looked at Postmates, Instacart, Munchery and FreshDirect, and their individual tipping processes. Again, even though the person bringing you the food isn’t the one who prepared it or even working at the restaurant or store, there’s still work involved. For instance, Postmates couriers often have to wait in line to pick up your order, while the person delivering your Instacart order is different from the person who shopped for it. For Instacart, that delivery in New York City means long walks, while in other cities it means expensive car trips.

Postmates asks for tips after the service, while Instacart provides a percentage counter (where you also can enter your own amount). According to Instacart delivery guy Derek Brayton, a standard tip is usually 10 percent, regardless of the proximity to the grocery store or how much the whole trip cost. The tips are directly deposited into his account, via his weekly paycheck. “They count it toward my hourly, so I get taxed on it,” he says. On the Instacart website, it says not to tip in cash. “I don’t know the exact reason [why],” Brayton says. “But I know it’s not for the employee.”

FreshDirect’s official policy about tipping is indifferent, while Munchery — a service with specialized daily meals — allows for you to add a tip at checkout. They are also the most open about the fraught anxieties of tipping, making sure to reassure the customer that your service won’t be affected by the tip — but also that they won’t have to worry about the deliverer judging them, that the deliverer is being paid fairly, etc. But ultimately, your feelings are the most highly prioritized in this case.

What should you do?

Grocery shopping is more tedious than the other food delivery servicesbecause of the hustle and labor involved, plus the fact that the delivery men and women are often taxed on tips and accrue work expenses. So you’re gonna want to tip more than the suggested 10 to 15 percent for Munchery, GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24 and UberEats.

Postmates: Postmates delivery people have to wait in line and have to bike to you! They make 80 percent of the delivery fee you’re charged and are independent contractors, so they’re sometimes paid less than minimum wage. Which bumps up our suggested tip to 20–25 percent, seeing as they get paid very little and do extra labor (relatively speaking).

Instacart and FreshDirect: Twenty to 25 percent seeing as they get paid minimum wage and do extra labor compared to delivery services.

Labor, Generally

TaskRabbit didn’t respond with an official comment in regards to tipping, but people who’ve used them have found that the company discourages tips. We say tip a few dollars or 10 percent of the hourly wage you’ve paid.

Home-sharing

At VRBO, renters tend to employ cleaners after people visit. You can tip them when you leave, akin to leaving a few dollars for hotel cleaning staff. Pretty much no one I know of tips while staying at an AirBnB — and why should they? These services include cleaning fees baked into the price.

What should you do?

A touch of class is an important new currency in this brave new economy. A nice review, a handwritten thank-you note, a replenished pantry and removing the sheets from the bed can count even more than a tip.


Sulagna Misra is contributing editor at HelloGiggles and a freelance writer in Los Angeles. She writes for Vanity Fair, The Toast, Vulture, The Hairpin, The Billfold, Vice: MOTHERBOARD, and Teen Vogue.

 

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These 6 women got written out of tech history. They’re finally being recognized.

FEBRUARY 22, 2016
The dawn of the Digital Revolution was ushered in by 6 women in Philadelphia in the mid-1900s.

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By Jared Jones –

70 years ago, six Philadelphia women were recruited by the United States Army for a very special project.
In 1942, Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, Frances Bilas Spence, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, and Betty Snyder Holberton were chosen to work on a classified government project known as the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC.

Considered to be the world’s first “general-purpose” computer, the ENIAC was built with the goal of more quickly calculating the ballistics trajectories of missiles during wartime.

Even though the women all hailed from mathematical backgrounds, they’d never operated such a massive computer before.

In fact, almost no one in the U.S. had.

So they started out with a three-month crash course in Aberdeen, Pennsylvania, where they learned the many different computing systems necessary to run the ENIAC.
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Photo of “the world’s first computer” via International Communications Agency/Wikimedia Commons.

Upon their return to the Moore School of Engineering in Philadelphia, the six women were thrust headfirst into the ENIAC program and given little more than a stack of wiring diagrams for the computer’s many panels as their guide.

The ENIAC was equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, and 5 million hand-soldered joints.

Weighing a few dozen tons and filling a 1,500-square-foot room, it was a monstrosity that was as physically demanding to operate as it was mentally tasking.

Working double and triple shifts six days a week, this ragtag crew of six female “computers” (which was a job title back then) lugged cables and trays between panels on the massive machine. Occasionally they even had to crawl inside it to fix faulty tubes.

“Betty [Holberton] and I were the workhorses and finishers, tying up loose ends,” said Jean Bartik in a 2011 interview, echoing Holberton’s notorious motto, “Look like a girl, act like a lady, and work like a dog.”
It was exhausting, backbreaking work, but these six women helped to usher in the dawn of the Digital Revolution.

They were essentially the first computer programmers in the U.S.

Meanwhile, I still can’t figure out how to hook up an HDMI cable to my TV. GIF via Computer History Archives, used with permission.

When the ENIAC was unveiled on Feb. 15, 1946, it was lauded by the press as a “Giant Brain” because of its otherworldly speed. It could compute complex mathematical equations up to 10,000 times faster than any other electro-mechanical machines in existence.

Of course, being that this was the 1940s, the revolutionary work of these women specifically was almost completely overlooked.

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Despite debugging every last issue that the ENIAC faced and teaching the technology to their male replacements when they returned home from World War II, the women were treated as little more than models to show off the machine. In fact, they weren’t even invited to the celebratory dinner that was held after the unveiling ceremony.

“We thought that was terrible,” said Bartik in an interview with CNN. “It was not a secret. The only problem was nobody was interested. They didn’t know anything about it.”
Thankfully, these technological trailblazers are finally receiving their due credit … more than 50 years later.
In 1997, all six women were inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. That same year, Holberton received the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, the highest award given by the Association of Women in Computing.

In 2011, the Philadelphia City Council officially declared Feb. 15 as ENIAC Day in honor of the group’s extraordinary work, and just last year, the Holberton School, a project-based school for software engineers, was founded in San Francisco.

The long-unexplored story of the team’s groundbreaking work was also brought to light in the 2014 documentary, “The Computers,” thanks to the efforts of The ENIAC Programmers Project.

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Another batch of female computer engineers. Photo from U.S. Army.
Anyone who owns a smartphone or computer owes a huge debt of gratitude to the work of these pioneering women.

But let’s not forget that there’s still progress to be made for women who work in technology, even now.
To this day, women still only account for a fraction of technology-based jobs, due in part to the ridiculous stereotype that they “just aren’t cut out for it.” Sadly, Google’s 30% female employment rate represents one of the highest percentages in the tech industry — this despite a recent gender-blind study of GitHub coding suggesting that women measure up as slightly better coders than men.

To put it simply, diversity in business is good for business (duh).

A more diverse talent pool means a broader range of perspectives when it comes to problem-solving and innovation. Statistically speaking, women have also risen to become one of the most important demographic in the technology industry and users of a far wider variety of technology than their male counterparts.

A lack of diversity in tech can actually hurt businesses, according to a study published in McKinsey: “Businesses in the top quartile in terms of racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more like to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

We should already know this. Holberton, Antonelli, and four other women proved it over 70 years ago. Thousands of women are still proving it today.

And since this whole “technology” thing ain’t slowing down any time soon, we’re left with two simple options: We start giving women the recognition (and employment) they deserve in the tech industry, or we get used to “reprogramming” our smartphones the only way that most of us know how:

 

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Donald Trump’s call for an Apple boycott

Donald Trump, Justice Department launch fresh attack on Apple over iPhone contents

by Jennifer Elias –
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Apple’s refusal to create a “back door” into an iPhone used by a terrorist in the recent San Bernardino mass shooting has drawn a boycott call from presidential candidate Donald Trump and a fresh rebuke from the Department of Justice.
According to CNN coverage of a campaign event in South Carolina, Trump told supporters that “Apple ought to give the security for that phone, OK. What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such a time as they give that security number. How do you like that? I just thought of it. Boycott Apple.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is calling for a boycott of Apple over the company’s refusal to build a “back door” into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

“The phone’s not even owned by this young thug that killed all these people. The phone’s owned by the government, OK, it’s not even his phone,” Trump continued. “But (Apple CEO) Tim Cook is looking to do a big number, probably to show how liberal he is. But Apple should give up, they should get the security or find other people.”

Trump’s comments are the latest escalation in a showdown between Apple and the FBI over access to an iPhone used by a shooter in the December attacks that left 14 dead.
Earlier this week, the FBI sought Apple’s assistance in building a so-called back door into the iPhone. In response, Tim Cook wrote an open letter noting that Apple complies with law-enforcement requests to provide customer data, but this situation is different..

“Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system,” Cook’s letter states, “circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”
In contrast to Trump, Cook’s stance drew praise from several tech leaders.

Also on Friday, the FBI said in a court filing Apple’s refusal “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy” and not a legal rationale. “Rather than assist the effort to fully investigate a deadly terrorist attack by obeying this court’s order of February 16, 2016, Apple has responded by publicly repudiating that order.”
On Thursday, Apple had been given an additional three days to respond to the order, with a Feb. 26 deadline. The Justice Department now wants an immediate decision from the court.
The Cupertino company has hired legal heavyweights Theodore Olson and Theodore Boutrous from the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP, which is also working on a separate Apple case involving e-books, according to The Wall Street Journal.

 

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Apple won’t help the FBI, and here’s why you should care

It’s a defining moment for CEO Tim Cook, who is fighting to keep iPhones locked, even in the face of terrorism.

by LLOYD ALTER –

Tim Cook

A steadfast Tim Cook of Apple. (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for RFK Human Rights)

Last Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, 14 people were killed by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who subsequently were killed by police. They had an Apple iPhone 5C, and the FBI wants to know what’s on that phone.

The phone is locked by a passcode, and if you enter the wrong code 10 times, the phone will be wiped. The FBI asked Apple for help — it’s not just an encryption problem but a design problem; the security is baked into the design of the hardware and the software. The company refused to help, so the FBI is using a 1789 law called the All Writs Act, which basically lets a judge issue “all writs necessary” to do something that might not be covered by existing laws, to force Apple to help the agency bust the passcode on the phone.

Apple is having none of it. The company designed the software on the phone to make it impossible for anyone — even Apple itself — to get inside a phone without the passcode. This design sets the company apart from competitors who want to know everything and mine everybody’s data. Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at a conference last fall and is quoted in Fast Company:

Privacy is a key value of our company. We think it will become increasingly important to more and more people over time as they realize that intimate parts of their lives are in the open and being used for all kinds of things… What we’ve said is that one of the key tenets that we feel very strongly about is that you can’t have a backdoor in the software, Because you can’t have a backdoor that’s only for the good guys. Any backdoor is something the bad guys can exploit.

Now that the FBI has called in the judge, Cook has taken a loud and public stance in fighting the writs. In a long public letter, he writes about the government demands:

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

He calls it a dangerous precedent:

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge. Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

anti-apple

Apple may well lose some business over this. Many people are claiming that the company is “building phones for terrorists.”

mims

Others, like Chris Mims of the Wall Street Journal, see a strong, principled position that takes real guts.

richie

And others note that Apple is an international company and that if this backdoor was built in for the FBI, where does it stop? If the security is baked into the hardware and the software, it’s very difficult for anyone in any country to get into it without Apple’s assistance — and the company is very loudly refusing to give that help.

Opinions about this are all over the map. Donald Trump wonders “To think that Apple won’t allow us to get into her cellphone? Who do they think they are?” Yet the American Enterprise Institute, not exactly a hotbed of left-wingers, says Apple is right to fight encryption court order as Congress dithers.

It will be interesting to see whether Apple loses customers because of this or gains them. Some are calling this Cook’s defining moment, while others are accusing him of supporting terrorists. But it’s such an important issue and one has to ask, what’s reasonable and right?

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

This is indeed a defining moment, not just for Americans but for people around the world. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, “Once this master key is created, governments around the world will surely demand that Apple undermine the security of their citizens as well.” Indeed, this is much bigger than the question of what’s on the phone belonging to two dead terrorists; it’s about the right to privacy of people everywhere, in democracies and dictatorships alike.

And right now the technology doesn’t exist to do it. Apple would have to write a new operating system. It will be interesting to see if the company can be forced to do that. There are people all over the world, with fewer protections and rights than Americans have, who are probably praying that won’t happen.

 

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Man Skipped Work For 6 Years And No One Noticed Until He Won An Award

“I wondered whether he was still working there, had he retired, had he died? But the payroll showed he was still receiving a salary.”

DARRIN KLIMEK VIA GETTY IMAGES

For six years, a building supervisor in Spain quietly collected a $41,500 salary from his local government without showing up for work.

And he would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for him getting an award for his 20 years of loyal service.

Joaquín García, 69, was recently fined $30,000 for the extended paid vacation from a water treatment plant in Cádiz — the maximum penalty government officials could deliver, the BBC reported.

According to deputy mayor Jorge Blas, it wasn’t until Garcia was due to be recognized for his hard work in 2010 that authorities realized his office was sitting vacant.

“I wondered whether he was still working there, had he retired, had he died? But the payroll showed he was still receiving a salary,” Blas told Spanish newspaper El Mundo, according to The Local.

“I called him up and asked him, ‘What did you do yesterday? The month before, the month before that?’ He didn’t know what to say,” Blas said.

Garcia’s water company coworkers thought the plant was being overseen by local authorities because they hadn’t seen Garcia in so long.

Garcia’s attorney, speaking on his behalf, reportedly blamed bullying at his workplace for his absence. He also said there was no work to do.

People close to Garcia told El Mundo that he dedicated himself to reading philosophy instead and that he did not report the bullying out of fear that he could be fired.

Garcia retired after the allegations came to light, though he denies wrongdoing.

In the end, a court sided with the government, recently ordering him to pay the five-digit fine.

Garcia has since petitioned to the deputy mayor not to pay the fine and to have the judgment reviewed, The Local reported.

 

 

 

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Kids don’t spend enough time in nature, study shows

by Katherine Martinko

A two-year study by the English government has found that some kids haven’t set foot in a park, forest, or beach for over a year. The lack of connection to nature is staggering and very tragic.

Imagine not setting foot in a park, forest, beach, or other natural environment for at least 12 months. What may seem impossible to TreeHugger’s nature-loving readers is, unfortunately, a reality for many children in England. A new two-year study by the government has discovered that more than 10 percent of children haven’t spent time in any natural setting for at least one year.

The study found that children from black, Hispanic, Asian, and other visible minority families were the least likely to venture out of urban settings into nature, with just 56 percent of kids aged under-16 from these households going into nature at least once a week. For white children and those from higher income households, that number was 74 percent.

What is going on?

There are a number of reasons why kids struggle to spend time in nature. First and foremost, their parents need to enable their access to nature by taking them there. Parents’ attitude toward nature has a big effect on their children. The Guardian reports:

“The enthusiasm of parents for green spaces strongly influenced whether children visited natural environments. In households where adults were frequent visitors, 82% of children followed their lead. In households where the adults rarely or never visited the natural environment, the proportion of children visiting fell to 39%.”

While low-income, inner city kids have to deal with gang problems, and country-dwelling children have to look out for busy highways, middle-class kids in suburbia have to deal with parents obsessed with extracurricular activities, leaving no time for free outdoor play, and homes full of captivating screens with few limitations.

The Guardian quotes Natalie Johnson of The Wild Network, a group that’s on a noble mission to “rewild” childhood:

“In middle class suburbia, [the biggest barrier] is the parents – how do you tell parents that the time children play freely outside is as important as their French lesson, their ballet lesson and their Mandarin lesson?”

Birder David Lindo says another problem is the lack of role models from ethnic minorities, both on wildlife TV shows and out in the field, which makes many children from those backgrounds feel uncomfortable. He says, “Once they see someone else of their ethnicity they think, ‘Oh, it’s okay now’.”

Environmental groups are notorious for not showing diversity in their advertising. OneAmerican study found them to be worse than the business and sports sectors at integrating visible minorities into photos, which could be part of the reason why nature tends to be viewed as a white person’s pastime.

Why does it matter?

Kids need to spend time outdoors. Free play fosters creativity, calms them and keeps them rooted, creates a bond with the outdoors and other playmates, provides exercise and fresh air, improves their balance and strength, teaches them about risk assessment and problem solving, and helps them become confident in navigating their own neighborhood and beyond.

There are countless benefits to spending time outdoors, as many parents should know, since ours was the last generation to spend any significant amount of time outdoors and likely have many wonderful memories of that playtime. While a few schools have stepped up their act and commitment to getting kids outside, much of that responsibility still falls to parents – to establish those habits that will last throughout their kids’ lives. So take your kids outside today, or send them to play on their own in the yard, if possible. And keep doing that, every single day, until it becomes part of your regular routine.

Tags: Education | England | Kids | Nature

 

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Former Niner blasts front office, says rebuild will go into next decade

Randy Cross believes the rebuild time needed for 49ers owner Jed York to field a winner once again will stretch into the next decade as the franchise continues to reel from the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh following the 2014 season.

San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York faces an uphill battle to make the team respectable again, according to a former player.010416-NFL-49ers-Jed-York-pi-ssm.vadapt.664.high.17

San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York faces an uphill battle to make the team respectable again, according to a former player.

Have patience, San Francisco 49ers fans?

One of the franchise’s most storied offensive linemen turned NFL analyst thinks you’ll need it — and then some.

Randy Cross believes the rebuild time needed for 49ers owner Jed York to field a winner once again will stretch into the next decade as the franchise continues to reel from the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh following the 2014 season.

“The drain out of the building is something — from a talent standpoint, mentality standpoint, football knowledge standpoint — that’s gonna take them, best-case scenario, at least five or six years to replace,” Cross told co-host Zig Fracassi and me Saturday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Line of scrimmage, quarterback, head coach, everything about it.

“I wish (York) the best of luck. I think the league’s a lot better when the California and Bay Area teams are relevant. But I look at that place right now as being in pretty dire straits when it comes to what’s going to happen.”

Cross points directly at the inability of York and general manager Trent Baalke to co-exist with Harbaugh, who was allowed to leave for the University of Michigan after their working relationship became untenable. Following eight straight seasons without a playoff appearance (2003 to 2010), Harbaugh had taken San Francisco to two NFC Championship games and an appearance in Super Bowl 47 before dipping to 8-8 in 2014 as the behind-the-scenes drama became an on-field detriment.

Even so, that .500 record was worth popping champagne corks for compared to how the club fared under his replacement. Jim Tomsula was such a disaster that he was fired after the 2015 49ers posted a 5-11 mark.

In his defense, not everything was Tomsula’s fault; the roster was decimated last offseason by retirements and free-agent losses in the wake of Harbaugh’s departure.

Said Cross, who won three Super Bowl rings during his time with the 49ers (1976-1988): “I’m gonna be honest with you — I’m not sure if they can recover from that decision to get rid of Harbaugh, which brought on the wave of talent going away, some guys just walking away, others choosing to go somewhere else in free agency.”

Chip Kelly, who was fired in Philadelphia before the 2015 season even ended, is San Francisco’s new head coach. Critics have ample fodder to question whether the concepts Kelly brought from college football can translate to sustained NFL success.

Cross, though, thinks San Francisco’s problems run much deeper than Xs and Os. He points to the national embarrassment the 49ers experienced the week of Super Bowl 50 before the game was played at their home stadium in Santa Clara.

The franchise was skewered for canceling a mass Girl Scout sleepover scheduled for May in favor of a concert that would have generated more revenue for the franchise. The public outcry from the money-grab caused the 49ers to reverse course and reschedule the Girl Scouts event (and pick up the tab for it, too).

“For right now, (the 49ers) just gotta learn how to get out of their own damn way,” Cross said. “A great example is that thing with the Girl Scouts. During the Super Bowl week — really? That does not scream to me that we know what we’re doing.”

Unlike when Cross was playing for the 49ers and York’s uncle Eddie DeBartolo Jr. — who was recently elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — ran the show as team owner.

 

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Gravitational waves detected, providing the final piece of the puzzle for general relativity

by Two black holes colliding far out in space have produced gravity waves that have been detected ...

Two black holes colliding far out in space have produced gravity waves that have been detected by super-sensitive equipment on Earth for the very first time (Credit: Caltech)

 

An international team of scientists today announced what could be the biggest breakthrough in physics in a hundred years. Specifically, they claim to have at last detected gravitational waves, the enigmatic and elusive ripples in the fabric of spacetime that Albert Einstein first predicted in 1916, in his theory of general relativity.

Reported today by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Advanced LIGO) team, astronomers say the detection of gravitational waves reveals an entirely new way to observe the universe, revealing distant events that aren’t able to be observed using optical telescopes, but whose faint tremors can be felt across the cosmos.

“This detection is the beginning of a new era: The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality,” said Gabriela González, LSC spokesperson and professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University.

First detected on September 14, 2015 at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (09:51 UTC), the gravitational waves were recorded by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington.

The event detected was the arrival of gravitational waves on Earth produced by two massive black holes colliding around 1.3 billion years ago. In the collision, some three times the mass of our sun was turned into gravitational waves in microseconds creating a power output at the height of the collision about 50 times that of the entire visible universe.

The LIGO device reflected laser beams repeatedly along two L-shaped detectors in its 4-km (2.5-mile)-long arms onto mirrors equipped with exceptionally sensitive movement sensors, to search for coincident expansions and contractions caused by gravitational waves as they passed by the Earth. As a result of the black holes colliding, the scientists measured minuscule changes in the length of the arms, as tiny as one thousandth the width of a proton.

A previously impossibly small perturbation to measure, LIGO has finally achieved its purpose some 50 years after it was originally proposed as a possible means of detecting gravitational waves by scientists from Caltech and MIT.

“Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set out over five decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe, and, fittingly, fulfills Einstein’s legacy on the 100th anniversary of his general theory of relativity,” said Caltech’s David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory.

When Einstein’s theory of general relativity turned Newton’s understanding of gravity on its head by showing that matter and time were inextricably linked, the theory of space-time was born and the four-dimensional structure of the universe in which matter, energy and gravity are all interlinked elements of that structure, gravitational waves became an inevitable conclusion from this theory.

Undetectable in Einstein’s time, these tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time are so weak that it took the eventual production of the most sensitive detectors ever made and the incredible force of two black holes crashing into each other to make their presence known.

“The description of this observation is beautifully described in the Einstein theory of general relativity formulated 100 years ago and comprises the first test of the theory in strong gravitation,” said Rainer Weiss, Emeritus Professor at MIT, and one of the original proponents of gravitational wave detection. “It would have been wonderful to watch Einstein’s face had we been able to tell him.”

LIGO research is performed by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a collective of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data, and around 250 students are contributing members to the collaboration.

Source: Caltech

 

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