Monday, September 26, 2016

Austin Briggs

Native Soil

Natasha Boteilho lives in Oahu’s arid Waianae Valley on a jot of land held in trust for native Hawaiians. Here on Hawaii’s most densely populated island—where the highest per-capita homeless population in the United States continues to swell and the average price of a single-family home is three-quarters of a million dollars—that’s no small thing. The turquoise waters that lap against golden beaches lie next to jammed highways. Even the wildlife is exploding: A cacophonous feral-chicken epidemic provides the background noise to islanders’ daily lives.

Boteilho’s property was originally awarded to her grandfather by virtue of a federal law enacted in 1920 to stabilize a Hawaiian race left withering and landless after a century of colonization. Boteilho’s mother took over the land lease next, and then, in 2011, the homestead was passed on to her. A stay-at-home mother of three girls, the 39-year-old Boteilho resides with her husband and children in the three-bedroom house her grandfather built at the base of an eroded shield volcano.

But this is where Boteilho’s familial succession will end. None of Boteilho’s daughters—ages 2, 5, and 10—are eligible to inherit the land their great-grandfather settled in 1951. Simply put: They don’t have enough Hawaiian blood. “If I passed away tomorrow, my children would not be able to get my house,” Boteilho said. “That scares me.”

When Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, the native Hawaiian race was quickly vanishing. The legislation was a reaction to the large numbers of Hawaiians who had been forced off their lands when white businessmen moved to the islands during the early 1800s. The foreigners built sprawling pineapple and sugarcane plantations and imported a new working class to tend to them. The Hawaiians, meanwhile, receded to crowded urban zones where extrinsic diseases, for which they had no immunity, hacked away at their numbers. In 1778, when white men first set foot on the Hawaiian Islands, there were an estimated 683,000 full-blooded Hawaiians living there, according to the Pew Research Center. By 1919, that population was just 22,600. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act attempted to combat the decline by creating a 200,000-acre land trust to serve as neighborhoods, farms, and ranches for those who could prove at least 50 percent Hawaiian ancestry.

“The Hawaiian race is passing,” testified Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole before the U.S. House of Representatives in 1920. “And if conditions continue to exist as they do today, this splendid race of people, my people, will pass from the face of the Earth.” A born royal and a delegate to Congress, Kuhio was the visionary sponsor of the law that established Hawaiian homesteading. Despite his fight for a lower blood quantum, the law specifies that Hawaiians are eligible to apply for 99-year land leases at $1 per year on the condition that they prove they are at least half-blooded Hawaiians. The law further stipulates that a homestead lease can be passed on to a leaseholder’s child or grandchild—so long as that heir can prove at least 25 percent Hawaiian ancestry.Families are finding that a dilution of the Hawaiian blood pool means they must face the forfeiture of land they have called home for decades.

But that was nearly 100 years ago. Today, incentivizing a race of people to preserve bloodlines by offering them free property seems, well, anachronistic. It is also likely in part why, on Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a pathway for the Native Hawaiian community to create its own unified government, one that could initiate a discrete relationship with the U.S. federal government. “The United States has a long-standing policy of supporting self-governance for native peoples,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Yet, the benefits of the government-to-government relationship have long been denied to native Hawaiians, one of our nation’s largest indigenous communities.” The native Hawaiian population is in fact on the upswing, nearing 300,000. But that figure includes mixed-race residents, which makes it all the more unclear as to how—or when—any sovereign Hawaiian leadership that does arise would affect the land-trusts issue.

In the meantime, as the homestead communities age, the land leases are passing into the hands of the third and fourth generations, and some families are finding that a slow dilution of the Hawaiian blood pool means they must face the impending forfeiture of the land they have called home for decades. Fewer and fewer homesteading descendants have the minimum 25 percent Hawaiian-blood requirement to keep the land within their family lineages. Those folks have just two options: They can sell any improvements made to the property, such as a house, to the state agency that manages the trust lands, or they can sell them to any half-blooded Hawaiian. In either case, thousands of would-be homesteaders in the post-millennial generation will have to move.

“My grandson will have to go look for where to live,” said Robin Danner, a homestead leaseholder and the chairwoman of the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly. “That is not what Kuhio intended.” The assembly, whose membership includes more than 30 homestead neighborhood associations, is campaigning for a policy change that would reduce the blood-quantum requirement for succession to one-32nd, the same percentage that Kuhio originally championed. Easing the qualifications, proponents say, would ensure that future generations of Hawaiians aren’t cut off from one of their people’s most valuable benefits: land. Not to mention, an all-but-free place to live in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.

“When you take the land back, you haven’t just done a disservice to that one person who now has to move and find another place to live; you’ve done a disservice to the entire lineage,” Danner said. “You have wiped out an entire line. For thousands of indigenous people, this is their place on the planet and now they’re getting unhooked.” (...)

Of course, not all Hawaiians are in favor of reducing the metrics for successive homesteading—even among indigenous Hawaiians. There are 10,000 homestead leaseholders across the state, but there are 29,000 frustrated Hawaiians on a waiting list. Worse: There are thousands of acres of trust lands sitting vacant. The state won’t issue leases in these areas because there are no roads, no water infrastructure, and no electricity hookups—for which the government says, there is no money. What’s more, in addition to waiting indefinitely for idle land, all of the waitlisted have an at least 50 percent blood quantum. They, unsurprisingly, argue that they should retain priority over the descendants of leaseholders whose bloodlines have thinned to the point of disqualification. In February, Hawaiian lawmakers did consider a bill to reduce the blood requirement for homesteaders. But the bill failed. (Such a policy change would have also required congressional approval—and no one has any real idea of what mainland politicians would make of the whole situation.)

by Brittany Lyte, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: Chris Wattie / Reuters

Bill Nunn Was More Than Radio Raheem

[ed. Oct, 1952 - Sept, 2016]

"I’m minding my business,” Eric Garner says. “Please just leave me alone.”

Images can shatter us. A minute-long YouTube video from two years ago, “Radio Raheem and the Gentle Giant,” tries to teach us this. The video intercuts footage of Garner, the “gentle giant” of the title, constrained in a chokehold by the Staten Island police, with a fictional rendition of the same thing: the death of Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece, Do the Right Thing. In the YouTube video, the two moments bleed into one. As Garner is shoved, Radio Raheem is shoved; as Garner falls to the ground with an officer’s arm crooked tight around his neck, Radio Raheem is pulled skyward by the police baton crushing his. The video was edited and posted online by Spike Lee himself, just four days after Garner’s death. It has an unambiguous point: History will seem to repeat itself so long as violence does.

I was but one of many people to immediately think of Radio Raheem in the summer of 2014, as the uncannily familiar footage of Garner’s death made my own nightmare, as a black man, come to life every day, everywhere I looked. That’s in part thanks to Lee and his vision of police violence, which, he predicted, would keep coming back to bite us in the collective ass. But most of the thanks is owed to the man who acted the part: Bill Nunn, whose performance made Radio Raheem come alive incisively, compassionately.

Nunn died of cancer Saturday, at 62, in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Lee announced his passing on Instagram. “My Dear Friend,” Lee wrote, posting an image of Radio Raheem mid-monologue, that iconic flattop haircut and those fist-spanning words, LOVE and HATE, emblazoned on his knuckles in brass. “My Dear Morehouse Brother.” The post is as mournful as it is exuberant. “RADIO RAHEEM WILL ALWAYS BE FIGHTING DA POWERS DAT BE.”

On Facebook, Lee posted a picture of Radio Raheem’s kicks, that fated pair of white, red, and gray–accented Nike Air Revolutions we see trembling above the concrete as he dies. An odd way for Lee to commemorate the occasion, perhaps, but then, Radio Raheem’s style was his substance. His look was his politics. And his look was Bill Nunn. Nunn, the 6-foot-3 son of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers scout of the same name, knew his body. He knew his size, his face. He worked his precisely contoured jaw and severe brow, his large frame and ample baritone, like his supporting players. If Lee’s language was the thesis, Nunn’s body and manner were the supporting evidence, masterfully wielded to manifest Radio Raheem’s most radical ideas. You cannot imagine Radio Raheem without a sense of his size and heft and skin tone, his Ali-esque footwork during a lesson on LOVE and HATE, backed by all the luscious browns and reds of Bed-Stuy on an impossibly hot day. It’s to the point that I can’t imagine black cinema — thus American cinema, thus world cinema — without that body. And that’s on the basis of a performance composed almost entirely of a philosophy lesson (“Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand …”), a fight in a pizzeria, and a death scene. (...)

Still, none of the other characters he played lived, or died, as spectacularly or vitally as Radio Raheem. There was his style, that “BED-STUY DO OR DIE” shirt on his back, those Public Enemy vibes blasting from his shoulders, his whole body offering up a fresh catalogue of black pride for the hip-hop era — the kind of pride unafraid to mark the blocks of Brooklyn with eardrum-busting fits of black expression, confident enough to demand a white pizzeria owner in a black neighborhood hang a few black faces on his wall.

by K. Austin Collins, The Ringer |  Read more:
Image: Do The Right Thing

Hell on Earth

Thinking about future punishment.

Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment. That story has always seemed like an intellectual relic to me, a holdover from barbarism, or worse, a myth meant to coerce belief. But stripped of the religious particulars, I can see the appeal of hell as an instrument of justice, a way of righting wrongs beyond the grave. Especially in unusual circumstances.

Take the case of Adolf Hitler. On the afternoon of 29 April 1945, Hitler was stashed deep in his Berlin bunker, watching his Third Reich collapse, when he received word that Benito Mussolini was dead. Hitler was aghast at the news, not because he’d lost yet another ally, but because of the way Mussolini had died. The Italian dictator had been trying to slink into Switzerland when he was caught, shot, and dragged to a public square in Milan, where a furious mob kicked and spat on his body, before hanging it upside down on a meat hook.

Worried that he might meet a similar fate, Hitler decided to test the strength of his cyanide capsules by feeding a few of them to his dog, Blondie. By midafternoon on the following day, 30 April, the Red Army was rampaging through Berlin, and the Fuhrer’s empire had shrunk to a small island of land in the city centre. Rather than fight to the end and risk capture, Hitler bit into one of his cyanide pills, and fired a bullet into his head for good measure. When the Soviets reached the bunker two days later, his body had been burned and his ashes buried, in a shallow bomb crater just above ground.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Hitler got off easy, given the scope and viciousness of his crimes. We might have moved beyond the Code of Hammurabi and ‘an eye for an eye’, but most of us still feel that a killer of millions deserves something sterner than a quick and painless suicide. But does anyone ever deserve hell?

That used to be a question for theologians, but in the age of human enhancement, a new set of thinkers is taking it up. As biotech companies pour billions into life extension technologies, some have suggested that our cruelest criminals could be kept alive indefinitely, to serve sentences spanning millennia or longer. Even without life extension, private prison firms could one day develop drugs that make time pass more slowly, so that an inmate’s 10-year sentence feels like an eternity. One way or another, humans could soon be in a position to create an artificial hell.

At the University of Oxford, a team of scholars led by the philosopher Rebecca Roache has begun thinking about the ways futuristic technologies might transform punishment. In January, I spoke with Roache and her colleagues Anders Sandberg and Hannah Maslen about emotional enhancement, ‘supercrimes’, and the ethics of eternal damnation. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.

Suppose we develop the ability to radically expand the human lifespan, so that people are regularly living for more than 500 years. Would that allow judges to fit punishments to crimes more precisely?

Roache: When I began researching this topic, I was thinking a lot about Daniel Pelka, a four-year-old boy who was starved and beaten to death [in 2012] by his mother and stepfather here in the UK. I had wondered whether the best way to achieve justice in cases like that was to prolong death as long as possible. Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?

But I soon realised it’s not that simple. In the US, for instance, the vast majority of people on death row appeal to have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment. That suggests that a quick stint in prison followed by death is seen as a worse fate than a long prison sentence. And so, if you extend the life of a prisoner to give them a longer sentence, you might end up giving them a more lenient punishment.

The life-extension scenario may sound futuristic, but if you look closely you can already see it in action, as people begin to live longer lives than before. If you look at the enormous prison population in the US, you find an astronomical number of elderly prisoners, including quite a few with pacemakers. When I went digging around in medical journals, I found all these interesting papers about the treatment of pacemaker patients in prison.

Suppose prisons become more humane in the future, so that they resemble Norwegian prisons instead of those you see in America or North Korea. Is it possible that correctional facilities could become truly correctional in the age of long lifespans, by taking a more sustained approach to rehabilitation?

Roache: If people could live for centuries or millennia, you would obviously have more time to reform them, but you would also run into a tricky philosophical issue having to do with personal identity. A lot of philosophers who have written about personal identity wonder whether identity can be sustained over an extremely long lifespan. Even if your body makes it to 1,000 years, the thinking goes, that body is actually inhabited by a succession of persons over time rather than a single continuous person. And so, if you put someone in prison for a crime they committed at 40, they might, strictly speaking, be an entirely different person at 940. And that means you are effectively punishing one person for a crime committed by someone else. Most of us would think that unjust.

Let’s say that life expansion therapies become a normal part of the human condition, so that it’s not just elites who have access to them, it’s everyone. At what point would it become unethical to withhold these therapies from prisoners?

Roache: In that situation it would probably be inappropriate to view them as an enhancement, or something extra. If these therapies were truly universal, it’s more likely that people would come to think of them as life-saving technologies. And if you withheld them from prisoners in that scenario, you would effectively be denying them medical treatment, and today we consider that inhumane. My personal suspicion is that once life extension becomes more or less universal, people will begin to see it as a positive right, like health care in most industrialised nations today. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that in the US, prisoners sometimes receive better health care than uninsured people. You have to wonder about the incentives a system like that creates. (...)

Is mental suffering a necessary component of imprisonment?

Roache: There is a long-standing philosophical question as to how bad the prison experience should be. Retributivists, those who think the point of prisons is to punish, tend to think that it should be quite unpleasant, whereas consequentialists tend to be more concerned with a prison’s reformative effects, and its larger social costs. There are a number of prisons that offer prisoners constructive activities to participate in, including sports leagues, art classes, and even yoga. That practice seems to reflect the view that confinement, or the deprivation of liberty, is itself enough of a punishment. Of course, even for consequentialists, there has to be some level of suffering involved in punishment, because consequentialists are very concerned about deterrence.

by Ross Andersen, Aeon |  Read more:
Image: Martin Barraud/Gallery Stock

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Arnold Palmer (Sept., 1929 - Sept., 2016)

The End of Farc

In their 52-year fight against the Colombian state, Farc rebels used assault rifles, shrapnel-filled gas canisters, homemade landmines and mortar shells.

Those weapons are now set to be silenced forever as part of a historic peace deal with the government, to be signed on Monday. Once the demobilisation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is complete, their arsenal will be melted down into three monuments that will mark the end of Latin America’s longest-running conflict – and decades of armed uprisings in the region.

“This is an agreement with the last of the great guerrilla movements that emerged in the context of the cold war,” said Gonzalo Sánchez, director of the National Centre of Historical Memory in Bogotá. “There might be other episodes, but strategically the armed project, the armed utopia, is closing its cycle with Farc.”

Like many other Marxist and Maoist followers of the “armed struggle”, the Farc were inspired by the audacious exploits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who set out to Cuba on the rickety fishing vessel Granma with just 80 men in 1956, and went on to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista three years later.

It was certainly not the first armed rebellion in Latin America, which had witnessed numerous bloody independence campaigns against Spain in the 19th century and a smattering of communist militias in the 1940s. But the Cuban rebels’ success ignited a fresh blaze of revolutionary fervour across the continent that was fuelled by cold war politics, military coups, US backing for rightwing dictators and the murderous suppression of more moderate leftwing activists.

In the 1960s and 70s, guerrilla groups sprang up in every country in the region except Costa Rica: the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua, the 8th October Revolutionary Movement (MR*8) in Brazil, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) in Venezuela, the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and Montoneros in Argentina, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in Chile. These and many others carried out assassinations, hijacks, kidnappings, bank robberies and attacks on military and political targets.

In Central America, they were among the factors that led to bloody civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where the Cuban-trained Sandinista guerrilla Daniel Ortega – who was once arrested for robbing a bank with a machine gun – secured power through revolution in 1979 and was then elected president of Nicaragua.

In South America, however, the communist militants made little headway. After Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia, Cuba and the Soviet Union cooled their enthusiasm to export armed struggle. Funding and weapons supplies – never very great in the first place – were cut. Splintered, outgunned and rarely able to secure popular support outside of remote strongholds, the guerrillas never came close to seizing power through military force.

Instead, many turned to the ballot box after the restoration of democracy in much of Latin America in the 1980s took away much of their raison d’etre. Some reached the highest office.Dilma Rousseff, a member of a clandestine Marxist group who was arrested and tortured after a gun was found in her handbag, became president of Brazil. José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, a Tupamaro who was shot and imprisoned in the 1970s, became president of Uruguay. Dozens of other former guerrillas became senators and congressmen.

Elsewhere, armed groups were sporadically active in countries that were slow to move towards democracy – such as Mexico, which had to wait until 2000 for its first change of government in more than 70 years.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation staged high-profile military campaigns in 1994, but is now committed to peaceful means. “They are 21st-century guerrillas, shooting off more press bulletins than bullets,” said Eduardo Pizarro, a Colombian sociologist and conflict expert. The Guerrero-based Popular Revolutionary Army, however, staged attacks on oil facilities as recently as 2007 and has since been blamed for kidnappings and violent demonstrations.

The longest-enduring groups, however, are in Peru, Paraguay and Colombia – all countries that are not coincidentally centres of drug production and smuggling, which is a source of funds and guns.

by Jonathan Watts and Sibylla Brodzinsky, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

The Democratization of Censorship: When Anyone Can Kill a Site as Effectively as a Government Can

On the eve of the Stuxnet attacks, half a decade ago, I found myself discussing what it all meant with William Gibson (I'd just interviewed him on stage in London), and I said, "I think the most significant thing about any of these sophisticated, government-backed attacks is that they will eventually turn into a cheap and easy weapon that technically unskilled people can deploy for petty grievances." We haven't quite got there yet with Stuxnet, but there's a whole class of "advanced persistent threat" techniques that are now in the hands of fringey criminals who deploy them at the smallest provocation.

Exhibit A is Brian Krebs (previously), a tireless and fearless cybercrime reporter who has outed spammers, scammers, carders, black pharmacy proprietors, pornographers, skimmers, and, significantly, DDoSers. Distributed Denial of Service attacks harness lots of hijacked or compromised computers to flood the target's site with so many malformed, computationally intensive request that it just shuts down -- sometimes taking its ISP with it. Boing Boing has been hit by some doozies in the past, but nothing like what Krebs has had to contend with.

Krebs gets hit often, seemingly in retaliation for his reporting. Naturally, the DDoS creeps he outs are most apt to use DDoS to attack his site. For years, he's relied on pro bono help from Akamai, a company that runs a huge content distribution network that is legendarily hardened against DDoS attacks.

But last week, Krebs went offline altogether, and Akamai let him know that this time, they couldn't shield him. The amount of traffic that was coming in was going to cost Akamai millions -- it was more than even they could absorb.

There's DDoSes and then there's DDoSes. In Krebs's case, the attack hit 620 Gbps, the kind of flood that you'd normally find in a state sponsored attack. In this case, the attacker was able to leverage Internet of Things devices with poor security to build the biggest-yet IoT botnet (a growth industry with no end in sight) that slammed Krebs's network without mercy.

Krebs's attack exists at the intersection of so many of the internet's dumpster-fires. It hit the same week that HP deployed DRM on its printers, making them off-limits to security researchers -- this is the same manufacturer that was outed as having 100,000,000 hijackable printers in the field that could be harnessed for botnets.

Then there's the crimeware industry, which works with scummy ISPs that secretly participate in DDoS attacks for their own financial benefit. Finally, there's the disturbing news that someone (cough China cough) is building an internet-killing weapon that relies on DDoS as its battering ram.

It looks like Krebs's attack was in retaliation for outing a couple of petty Israeli criminals who'd run a DDoS-for-hire service (the attack included the string "freeapplej4ck" in its payloads, a reference to one of the crooks' aliases). These two puny creeps, or their aggrieved dimwit pals, were able to muster the firepower of a government to attack a journalist.

Meanwhile, Krebs was eventually bailed out by Google's Project Shield, one of Jigsaw's anti-"surveillance, extremist indoctrination, and censorship" tools. That right there is another sign of the times: the attacks launched by state-level actors and those who can muster comparable firepower are no match for Google -- so far.
Most of the time, ne’er-do-wells like Applej4ck and others are content to use their huge DDoS armies to attack gaming sites and services. But the crooks maintaining these large crime machines haven’t just been targeting gaming sites. OVH, a major Web hosting provider based in France, said in a post on Twitter this week that it was recently the victim of an even more massive attack than hit my site. According to a Tweet from OVH founder Octave Klaba, that attack was launched by a botnet consisting of more than 145,000 compromised IP cameras and DVRs. 
I don’t know what it will take to wake the larger Internet community out of its slumber to address this growing threat to free speech and ecommerce. My guess is it will take an attack that endangers human lives, shuts down critical national infrastructure systems, or disrupts national elections. 
But what we’re allowing by our inaction is for individual actors to build the instrumentality of tyranny. And to be clear, these weapons can be wielded by anyone — with any motivation — who’s willing to expend a modicum of time and effort to learn the most basic principles of its operation. 
The sad truth these days is that it’s a lot easier to censor the digital media on the Internet than it is to censor printed books and newspapers in the physical world. On the Internet, anyone with an axe to grind and the willingness to learn a bit about the technology can become an instant, self-appointed global censor.
The Democratization of Censorship [Brian Krebs/Krebs on Security]

by Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing |  Read more:
Image: Teton Dam Flood - Newdale,

Hallucinogen Therapy Is Coming

Three years later Daniel Kreitman still chokes up when he talks about what he saw, and how it changed him. Kreitman, an upholsterer by trade, had taken psilocybin, a hallucinogen derived from mushrooms, in a trial at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for nicotine addiction. He was 52, and he’d smoked between one and two packs a day for nearly 40 years. After his first psilocybin session, his urge to smoke was gone. During his third and final session, he had the vision that helped him quit for good.

He saw lakes, roads, and mountains, and a broad-shouldered man at the helm of a ship, lassoing birds. Was it his dead father? He wasn’t sure. But he remembers giggling and feeling good. Music was playing in his headphones. During Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring he had the sensation of physically touching the music, which was smooth and bright yellow in his mind’s eye. As the music progressed, he traveled, flowing outward toward an immense space that never ended. He may have wept for joy—he’s not sure—but the beauty of the vision overwhelmed him. “I was seeing forever,” he told me.

Kreitman was brought up Jewish, but doesn’t consider himself to be particularly religious. Yet he falls back on religious language to explain the experience. “I think I saw God at one point,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. The day after the session, in his journal, he wrote: “The question is, if I saw God and infinity, what’s next? How does that change me and my life?”

When I spoke with him this August, Kreitman had an answer: he hadn’t had a cigarette for three years. He’d previously tried nicotine gum and patches, to no avail. He always returned to the habit, falling into the easy rhythms of smoking on the way to work and on the way home. It was taking a toll on his health, though. He was chronically short of breath and although they didn’t nag, his wife and children were concerned for his health. Since that session three years ago, however, cravings have barely registered. “It’s kind of crazy,” he told me. “I don’t feel like I’m fighting this addiction. It’s like it’s not even me.”

The trial was small, just 15 people, but it’s on the vanguard of resurgent research into the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens—a “psychedelic renaissance,” as one researcher described it. Work from the mid-20th century suggested that psychedelics held therapeutic promise. But those studies didn’t generally hew to modern scientific design.

Now, after decades of neglect, scientists are beginning to rigorously test hallucinogens as medicine. They’re trying to treat some of our most vexing afflictions, including addiction, depression, and the existential anxiety of having a terminal disease. The small studies so far conducted have yielded striking results. In one ten-person pilot study on alcoholics, participants more than halved their alcohol intake six months after taking psilocybin. In Kreitman’s study, 60 percent of smokers who took psilocybin hadn’t smoked two-and-a-half years later.

If hallucinogens prove effective in treating substance abuse, they would address a massive unmet need. They’d also possibly force a change in how we think about the dysfunction that underlies these conditions.

In the past, addiction was cast as a moral failing. Today it’s variously seen as a psychiatric condition, a learning disorder, or a disorder of the brain. Given that dependency on one’s drug of choice eventually emerges, a common treatment approach is to wean addicts off their drugs by, in the case of smoking, giving ever smaller quantities of nicotine in patches or gum.

Hallucinogen therapy dispenses with this gradualist approach, instead seeking a more sudden transformation. That’s in part because many studies, including the Johns Hopkins trial Kreitman participated in, suggest those who have mystical experiences while on psilocybin have the best outcome. This kind of sudden, divine-seeming insight, what William James termed a “conversion,” is central to many religious and meditative traditions. It can also occur in more prosaic contexts—a phenomenon one psychologist has dubbed “quantum change.” People can quickly and inexplicably, often after a profound epiphany, change.

The question of how, precisely, hallucinogens trigger these transformations has sent neuroscientists down an intriguing rabbit hole. They have observed similarities between what happens in meditators’ brains and people on hallucinogens. Neural networks that serve as control centers—the neural correlates of the old Freudian ego—may loosen their grip, freeing other regions of the brain.

Researchers often use an unusual language to talk about this transformation, one that emphasizes meaning and subjective experience over molecular pathways and neurotransmitters. Hallucinogen therapy seems to recast addiction not only as a disorder of the brain, but as a disorder of meaning—of framing and how we see ourselves.

Ultimately, hallucinogen researchers are addressing a mystery that’s central to psychology and psychiatry, not to mention the self-help section of the bookstore: the question of how people change, of how they escape limiting and often self-destructive behavioral patterns. Their early research suggests that hallucinogen therapy offers a radically new perspective on the self, showing people that they’re not slaves to their compulsions or fears, and providing them with a sense of connection to something ineffable, something greater than themselves.

by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, Nautilus |  Read more:
Image: Amanda Baeza

Clawing Back Bankers’ Pay Is Harder Than It Looks

[ed. I'd imagine they'd also be concerned with what the 'claw-ee' might have to say if such actions were taken.]

Members of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee are demanding that Wells Fargo & Co. claw back pay from Carrie Tolstedt, the executive whose community banking unit created 2 million unauthorized customer accounts. They’re not likely to get as much as they want.

At a hearing in Washington on Tuesday, senators cited figures eclipsing $100 million. During her three-decade career at Wells Fargo and its predecessors, Tolstedt received about $44 million in shares, $34 million in vested options and still more from cash bonuses and stock sales. But the bank’s clawback policy, like that of most U.S. companies, doesn’t allow Wells Fargo to go after those assets unless there’s a financial restatement. When the damage is reputational harm, only unvested stock awards can be recouped -- in the case of Tolstedt, 56, whose retirement was announced in July, that’s about $19 million. (...)

Malus Awards

While clawback policies have exploded in popularity -- 76 percent of the biggest banks around the world have them, up from 44 percent in 2010, according to Mercer, a compensation-consulting firm -- they’re rarely used. During the past two years, only 10 percent of companies polled by Mercer in April used such policies to reclaim compensation that had already been paid.

“Clawbacks are easier said than done,” said Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware’s John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance. “Once it’s out the door, it’s hard to get back.”

More common, and easier to pull off, is the cancellation of compensation a company has promised to pay executives and other employees in the future. Even more firms have this type of malus policy -- think opposite of bonus, both words from Latin. In Mercer’s survey, 90 percent of big banks had some clause to rescind unvested incentives for reasons ranging from misconduct to poor performance. Half the banks polled applied their malus policies in the past two years. (...)

Businesses end up reserving clawbacks for the most extreme circumstances. JPMorgan Chase & Co. went after the traders who lost $6.2 billion during the London Whale scandal. In addition to canceling unvested bonuses, the firm asked them to return some cash they already had been paid. All but one agreed to do so, and JPMorgan sued holdout Javier Martin-Artajo in a case settled three months later. While the bank didn’t reveal how much it managed to recoup from him, the total recovered from those involved exceeded $100 million in cash and unvested stock, according to its 2012 annual report. The figure was equal to two years’ compensation for the four former employees.

“Malus is applied frequently, but clawbacks are very rare,” said Vicki Elliott, head of global financial-services talent at Mercer. “It has to be a big, transparent blowout for a firm to attempt clawing back money already paid out.”

In many European countries, labor laws prevent clawbacks, while in the U.S. the legal process can drag on for years and be costly, Elliott said.

by Caleb Melby and Yalman Onaran, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Bloomberg 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ray Gun

Who Speaks for the Trees?

On the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Georgia, the small college town where I grew up, there is a tall white oak, and a small weathered stone plaque that reads:

For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection, for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides.

—William H. Jackson

The Tree That Owns Itself is a beloved local landmark, one I visited many times as a child. Standing under its branches provoked a subtle awe, a respect not usually granted to mere plants. The Tree was imbued with rights, not an object but a subject, animate, existing with a kind of inviolability and autonomy. It had also achieved that elusive quality that so many self-possessing humans desire: fame.

The Tree got its first taste of notoriety in a front-page Athens Weekly Banner article published on August 12, 1890, under the headline “Deeded to Itself,” although in truth, the Tree had been in self-possession for more than half a century by that time. Another half-century after the Banner article was published, the original oak, so beloved by Mr. Jackson, fell after an unusually strong storm. The community rallied to plant a seedling cultivated from one of the Tree’s acorns; the new oak has thrived in the same plot since 1946. Thus, as noted on another small plaque, the Tree That Owns Itself is technically “the scion” of the Tree That Owns Itself. Nevertheless, the Scion of the Tree inherited its parent’s unusual claim to independence. This claim is not necessarily binding, because Georgia common law, like that of all other states, does not recognize the capacity of trees to hold property, since plants, like nonhuman animals, have the legal status of things and thus lack the right to have rights. Yet the Tree’s self-possession is an accepted part of local identity and lore and has never been challenged in court. In the minds of Athenians, the Tree owns itself and its plot.

Perhaps in the near or distant future, the Tree That Owns Itself will not be regarded as a charming curiosity but as a political pioneer, the embodiment of an imaginary and ethical leap that foreshadowed what will seem, from the future’s transformed vantage point, the inevitable and necessary expansion of rights to the natural world. In 1972, law professor Christopher Stone provided a sketch of what such a future might look like in a groundbreaking scholarly essay, written on a whim after he found himself arguing “the unthinkable” in a class lecture. Still widely read more than forty years later, Should Trees Have Standing? doesn’t go so far as to contend that all flora should be given a deed to the soil in which they are planted—like our arboreal outlier in Athens—but it does systematically and dispassionately make the case for granting baseline “legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers, and other so-called ‘natural objects’ in the environment—indeed, to the natural environment as a whole.”

It’s not as strange as it may sound, for the uncanny entity that is the nonhuman “person” is already omnipresent. “The world of the lawyer is peopled with inanimate rights-holders: trusts, corporations, joint ventures, municipalities, Subchapter R partnerships, and nation-states, to mention just a few,” Stone reminds us. Corporations were granted legal personhood in 1886—and oddly, it happened in an almost backhanded way. The Supreme Court did not directly rule on the matter. In a headnote that wasn’t part of the formal opinion in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., the court reporter (who had sympathies with the railroads) noted that chief justice Morrison Waite affirmed the personhood of corporations under the Fourteenth Amendment in a passing comment as proceedings began. Of course, railroad attorneys and business interests had been opportunistically demanding for years that the “equal protection” clause of the amendment designed to secure equal rights for former slaves be twisted to apply to corporations. The Santa Clara trial affirmed their Gilded Age aspirations as fact, even though the suit was decided on other grounds: “defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the . . . Fourteenth Amendment.” Later cases built on that thin precedent. Today, corporations are entitled to an ever-expanding array of constitutional protections, from the Fourth Amendment ban on warrantless search and seizure to the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

“Convincing a court that an endangered river is ‘a person,’” Stone acknowledges, “will call for lawyers as bold and imaginative” as Southern Pacific Railroad’s counsel—and, one might add, considerably less mercenary. That’s because extending rights to other forms of nonhuman life entails fighting to counteract the rights of corporations and the remarkable power personhood allows profit-seeking ventures. The intrepid lawyers and citizens who have taken up this gauntlet challenge our legal and economic systems, while chipping away at the moral framework of human separateness and superiority that has evolved and solidified over millennia.

by Astra Taylor, The Baffler |  Read more:
Image: Kathy Boake

Ever Had a Yahoo Account? Do This Now

[ed. See also: A Hack to Yahoo's Shrunken Reputation and The Privacy War's About to Get a Whole Lot Worse.]

If you’ve read the news in the past 36 hours you already know that at least a half billion Yahoo accounts were jeopardized by hackers. Names, email addresses, passwords, telephone numbers, dates of birth, security questions and answers, and more were “scraped” from Yahoo accounts. So if you’re a former or current Yahoo account holder, what does that mean to you and what can you do about it?

Well first off, take a breath. If nothing horrible has happened to your email or other password protected accounts so far, chances are you’re actually okay, for the moment anyway. But just because nothing has happened yet, that doesn’t mean you’re safe. Sometimes hackers themselves or people who buy hacked account info hoard the data for years before taking action.

So, if you had a Yahoo account anytime before the beginning of 2015, there are several steps you should take to be prudent, whether or not you use your Yahoo account now.

A general warning: Before you start to change passwords or anything else with your accounts, be very careful with any email you receive about the Yahoo security issue. Nothing Yahoo sends will ask you to click links or download attachments. Yahoo will not ask you to supply personal information via email. Even if you receive an email that looks like it’s from Yahoo, if you are asked to click a link, download an attachment, or provide personal information, the email was not actually sent by Yahoo and may be from someone trying to steal your personal information.

Change your password

Now let’s start with the different actions levels to take, from immediate to very soon.

If you have a Yahoo account, change your password and disable your security questions today. How do you do that? To start, be sure you know your current password – you’ll need it to make changes in any security settings.

In the upper right-hand corner of the Yahoo screen click on the little gear icon. If you see a menu item for “Settings,” that’s not it. Look for “Account Info,” which will probably be at the bottom of the menu. Next, click “Account Security.” At this point you will likely be required to enter your current password.

In the Account Security screen that comes up next, you will see “Change password” and “Disable security questions” in blue type while the other options are in black type. Yahoo has highlighted those two with blue letters because both were potentially compromised. Passwords were taken from all hacked accounts and unencrypted security questions and answers were stolen from many accounts.

When you click Change Password, you’ll see a new screen on which to enter a new password twice. Be sure to make up a brand new password, not one you use on any other account. More on that below.

Also remember you will need to reset your password on other devices where your old password — which will no longer work — may be stored. For example, you may check your email on a smartphone, tablet, or an e-reader – if so you’ll need to reset each one.

Disable security questions

After changing your password, click “Disable security questions” on the Account Security screen. You’ll see what your questions were, and you’ll be prompted to disable them to protect your account. You can reset your security questions later.

The next screen after disabling your security questions will present any currently listed account recovery email addresses and phone numbers. If you don’t have either, it’s a good idea to set at least one of each so you won’t be locked out of your account.

When you’ve changed your password and disabled your security settings, your Yahoo account is protected. But there’s more to do.

by Bruce Brown, Digital Trends |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Please Stop Calling Us ‘The Media.’ There Is No Such Thing.

Folks, I know a lot of you don’t like the people who work in my chosen profession, the news business. I’m aware you think we’re lazy and unfair (yes, I got your emails and tweets on this topic — a few thousand of them). Of course, I disagree with you. I know a lot of fine people in the newsgathering arts and sciences. But that’s not why I’m writing.

I’m writing because I have a request: Please stop calling us “the media.”

Yes, in some sense, we are the media. But not in the blunt way you use the phrase. It’s so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning. It’s — how would you put this? — lazy and unfair.

As I understand your use of this term, “the media” is essentially shorthand for anything you read, saw or heard today that you disagreed with or didn’t like. At any given moment, “the media” is biased against your candidate, your issue, your very way of life.

But, you know, the media isn’t really doing that. Some article, some news report, some guy spouting off on a CNN panel or at might be. But none of those things singularly are really the media.

Fact is, there really is no such thing as “the media.” It’s an invention, a tool, an all-purpose smear by people who can’t be bothered to make distinctions.

Consider: There are hundreds of broadcast and cable TV networks, a thousand or so local TV stations, a few thousand magazines and newspapers, several thousand radio stations and roughly a gazillion websites, blogs, newsletters and podcasts. There’s also Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and who knows what new digital thing.

All of these, collectively, now constitute the media.

But this vast array of news and information sources — from the New York Times to Rubber and Plastics News — helps define what’s wrong with referring to “the media.” With so many sources, one-size-fits-all reporting is impossible. Those who work in the media don’t gather in our huddle rooms each morning and light up the teleconference lines with plots to nettle and unsettle you. There is no media in the sense of a conspiracy to tilt perception.

Instead, we are tens of thousands of people making millions of individual decisions about how we perceive the world and how to characterize it. We all don’t agree on how to frame a candidate, an issue or last night’s ballgame.

So even if something on Fox News alarmed or infuriated you, Fox isn’t “the media.” Nor is NBC or MSNBC. Nor The Washington Post, the New York Post, the Denver Post or the Saturday Evening Post.

Lumping these disparate entities under the same single bland label is like describing the denizens of the ocean as “the fish.” It’s true, but effectively meaningless.

by Paul Farhi, WP |  Read more:
Image: Princess Bride