Monthly Archives: July 2014

Russia steps into North Korea/China split

Discord between China and North Korea has provided fertile ground for Moscow, itself increasingly isolated over Ukraine, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe in a new column, Jilted Putin courts Kim Jong-un for comfort. Excerpt:

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Kim Jong-un visits a North Korean school in June. Photo by Prachatai, Flickr, Creative Commons

The ripples set in motion by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s ever more blatant involvement in fighting in eastern Ukraine have reached the other side of the world, and are lapping on the shores of the hermit kingdom of North Korea.

As the European Union and the United States impose increasingly onerous sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his court, and a long term chill in relations with the West appears likely, Moscow can’t be too choosy about the new friends it makes.

In this frigid climate, even the unpredictable, spoiled brat North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the Justin Beiber of dictators, can seem warm and charming.

And as the smiling men with gleaming teeth from Moscow have come to call, it so happens that Kim also is feeling desperately unloved.

China has been Pyongyang’s indispensable patron since the Korean War in the early 1950s, propping up North Korea’s hopelessly dysfunctional economy and providing diplomatic cover at the United Nations for its ideological sibling. But North Korea’s insistence, against all reason, on pursuing a nuclear weapons development program, and Beijing’s growing preference for pragmatic foreign relations over ideological ones are coming close to severing the old ties … continue reading  Jilted Putin courts Kim Jong-un for comfort (subscription*).

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America’s Race-relations Agony

The cemetery of the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church is allegedly the final resting place of famed blues musician Robert Johnson. Hannah-Joneses’ great grandparents are buried there. Photo by Edmund D. Fountain, special to ProPublica. © 2014

The cemetery of the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church is allegedly the final resting place of famed blues musician Robert Johnson. Hannah-Joneses’ great grandparents are buried there. Photo by Edmund D. Fountain, special to ProPublica. © 2014

Six decades ago this year, the United States Supreme Court outlawed “separate but equal” schools. Fifty years ago this summer, hundreds of black and white volunteers converged on Mississippi in an effort to — as they put it — make Mississippi a part of America. And still, even with the country led by a president with dark skin, whose father hails from Africa and whose mother is of caucasian ancestry, the United States is torn by racial tension.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones of ProPublica has spent much of this year documenting the the civil rights movement on these historic anniversaries. Facts and Opinions highlights two pieces from her series on America’s Freedom Summer which, she wrote, “spanned 10 bloody weeks, helped transform the South and aided in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that helped ensure black Southerners their constitutional right to vote.”

Ghosts of Greenwood is the tale of Hannah Jones’s own family. It begins:

In 1947, my father, along with his mother and older brother, boarded a northbound train in the American city of Greenwood, Miss. They carried with them nothing but a suitcase stuffed with clothes, a bag of cold chicken, and my grandmother’s determination that her children, my father was just 2 years old, would not be doomed to a life of picking cotton in the feudal society that was the Mississippi Delta … read more.

Brutal Loss, Enduring Conviction is an interview with the widow of a civil rights worker who paid the ultimate price for his convictions:

On June 21, 1964, at the launch of Freedom Summer, three civil rights workers went missing in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Forty-four days later, United States federal agents searching an earthen dam confirmed what many had already suspected: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner had been murdered, and in time the Klan would be found responsible. While her husband and his fellow civil rights workers became martyrs, Rita Schwerner, then 22, became a widow … read more.

In the spring Hannah-Jones went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to investigate the resegregation of Southern schools; you can find our blog post, with videos, about her work here: Racial resegregation in the American south.

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

 

 

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Libya’s potential new dictator, with CIA links

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BENGHAZI, Libya. Photo by Dennixo, Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Libya, already rife with  political, tribal and religious divisions, is threatened by yet another coup, warns International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. Excerpt of today’s column:

A renegade Libyan general, reputedly with links to Washington’s Central Intelligence Agency, is well on his way to filling the political vacuum left by the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

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Khalifa Haftar

Since late May, Khalifa Haftar has formed a loose alliance of elements of the national military and tribal militias with the aim, he says, of destroying militant Islamist groups that had taken control of much of the country.

In a series of running battles with the Islamists, Haftar says his forces have taken control of almost all of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and hub of the country’s eastern region. His allies also continue to hold the international airport in Tripoli after days of attacks by Islamists linked to Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Haftar’s rapid emergence as a potential new dictator comes as a fresh House of Representatives is due to meet in Benghazi on August 4. This is the latest attempt, in a so-far failed series of efforts, to produce a functioning administration after the uprising against Qaddafi and his killing in October, 2011 read more (subscription*).

Log in on the top right of each page (or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass) to read:

Libya finds its new Qaddafi

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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Man Booker Longlist goes Global

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The reading room of the British Museum in London. Photo by David Iliff, Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Organizers of  the Man Booker Prize released their first long list in a competition open to the wide world — or at least to titles written originally in English, and published in the United Kingdom.

Read the column Judging the Man Booker Prize by literature professor and 2012 judge Dinah Birch, in F&O’s Ex Libris section.

The list includes four independent publishers and one publisher, Unbound, that is crowd-funded. Four Americans made the list for a prize previously restricted to the United Kingdom, Commonwealth countries, the Republic of Ireland, and Zimbabwe. The titles were winn owed to 13 from 154 original entries. They are:

  • Joshua Ferris (American) — To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)
  • Richard Flanagan (Australian) — The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)
  • Karen Joy Fowler (American) — We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Siri Hustvedt (American) — The Blazing World (Sceptre)
  • Howard Jacobson (British) — J (Jonathan Cape)
  • Paul Kingsnorth (British) — The Wake (Unbound)
  • David Mitchell (British) — The Bone Clocks (Sceptre)
  • Neel Mukherjee (British) — The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)
  • David Nicholls (British) — Us (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Joseph O’Neill (Irish/American) — The Dog (Fourth Estate)
  • Richard Powers (American) — Orfeo  (Atlantic Books)
  • Ali Smith (British) — How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Niall Williams (Irish) — History of the Rain (Bloomsbury)

Organizers said the shortlist will released September 9 at Man Group, the British investment firm that sponsors the prize, with the winner announced at a black tie event on October 14. For those who find value in competitions that judge literature  — I am dubious, though I see the need to spotlight books deemed worthy in the annual flood of words —  The Man Booker is, arguably, the world’s most prestigious literary prize after the Nobel.

Shortlisted authors receive £2,500 and a specially-bound edition of their book, said the organization in a press release. The winner receives £50,000 “and can expect overnight fame and international recognition, not to mention a significant increase in book sales.”

The Man Booker press release quoted 2013 winner Eleanor Catton on the benefits: “I’ve been given opportunities to travel and to see my book read by such an astonishingly wide readership all over the world.”
— Deborah Jones
 
*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 
Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , |

Jon Stewart Learns What Happens When You Criticize Israel

Article 19, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

That is all.

— Deborah Jones

 

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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Online Tracking That’s Virtually Impossible to Block

 

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

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Computers create digital “fingerprints” as unique as the whorls on each human finger. Photo NIST via Wikimedia, Public Domain

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it.

Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit 2014 profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them.

But fingerprints are unusually hard to block: They can’t be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus.

The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use AddThis’ social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. (A list of all the websites on which researchers found the code is here).

Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace “cookies,” the traditional way that users are tracked, via text files installed on their computers.

“We’re looking for a cookie alternative,” Harris said in an interview.

Harris said the company considered the privacy implications of canvas fingerprinting before launching the test, but decided “this is well within the rules and regulations and laws and policies that we have.”

He added that the company has only used the data collected from canvas fingerprints for internal research and development. The company won’t use the data for ad targeting or personalization if users install the AddThis opt-out cookie on their computers, he said.

Arvind Narayanan, the computer science professor who led the Princeton research team, countered that forcing users to take AddThis at its word about how their data will be used, is “not the best privacy assurance.”

Device fingerprints rely on the fact that every computer is slightly different: Each contains different fonts, different software, different clock settings and other distinctive features. Computers automatically broadcast some of their attributes when they connect to another computer over the Internet.

Tracking companies have long sought to use those differences to uniquely identify devices for online advertising purposes, particularly as Web users are increasingly using ad-blocking software and deleting cookies.

In May 2012, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, noticed that a Web programming feature called “canvas” could allow for a new type of fingerprint — by pulling in different attributes than a typical device fingerprint.

In June, the Tor Project added a feature to its privacy-protecting Web browser to notify users when a website attempts to use the canvas feature and sends a blank canvas image. But other Web browsers did not add notifications for canvas fingerprinting.

A year later, Russian programmer Valentin Vasilyev noticed the study and added a canvas feature to freely available fingerprint code that he had posted on the Internet. The code was immediately popular.

But Vasilyev said that the company he was working for at the time decided against using the fingerprint technology. “We collected several million fingerprints but we decided against using them because accuracy was 90 percent,” he said, “and many of our customers were on mobile and the fingerprinting doesn’t work well on mobile.”

Vasilyev added that he wasn’t worried about the privacy concerns of fingerprinting. “The fingerprint itself is a number which in no way is related to a personality,” he said.

AddThis improved upon Vasilyev’s code by adding new tests and using the canvas to draw a pangram “Cwm fjordbank glyphs vext quiz” 2014 a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. This allows the company to capture slight variations in how each letter is displayed.

AddThis said it rolled out the feature to a small portion of the 13 million websites on which its technology appears, but is considering ending its test soon. “It’s not uniquely identifying enough,” Harris said.

AddThis did not notify the websites on which the code was placed because “we conduct R&D projects in live environments to get the best results from testing,” according to a spokeswoman.

She added that the company does not use any of the data it collects — whether from canvas fingerprints or traditional cookie-based tracking — from government websites including WhiteHouse.gov for ad targeting or personalization.

The company offered no such assurances about data it routinely collects from visitors to other sites, such as YouPorn.com. YouPorn.com did not respond to inquiries from ProPublica about whether it was aware of AddThis’ test of canvas fingerprinting on its website.

Read our recent coverage about how online tracking is getting creepier, how Facebook has been tracking you, and what tools to use to protect yourself.

Creative Commons

Update: A YouPorn.com spokesperson said that the website was “completely unaware that AddThis contained a tracking software that had the potential to jeopardize the privacy of our users.” After this article was published on ProPublica’s site, YouPorn removed AddThis technology from its website. 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 


Posted in Current Affairs

Environmental Assessments Include Climate

By Chris Wood,  Natural Security columnist

West Elk Mountains, Colorado, Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr, Creative Commons

West Elk Mountains, Colorado. Photo: Ken Lund via Flickr, Creative Commons

How wide to cast the net when examining the environmental damage a proposed industrial development might do, is a contested issue. In Canada, panels weighing the impacts of proposed oil pipelines from Alberta to the Pacific Coast have repeatedly refused to consider the damage that may occur from climate change as a result of the transported oil being burned. A similar tension has bedeviled hearings into proposals to expand coal exports through Vancouver. 

In January, separate suits by environmental groups and First Nations challenged, in Canada’s Federal Court, a license issued to Enbridge Inc. to build its proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline. They argued that the project’s environmental impact assessment was flawed in not considering its downstream climate impact. (The cases are still pending.)

The Canadian argument received some moral support from across the border. In June, a United States federal judge in Colorado invalidated a U.S. federal license for a coal mine on similar ground: because its proponents and the permitting agency (the Bureau of Land Management) had failed to adequately consider the mine’s climate impacts — including the impact of burning the coal it produced.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson found that while the mine’s proponents had been able to calculate its anticipated economic benefits “down to the job and the nearest $100,000,” they had failed to address the potential economic costs associated with the climate impacts of methane released during production, and of other greenhouse gas released when the mine’s product was consumed. 

Ignoring “the social cost of coal,’’ Jackson said, the Bureau and Arch Coal, developers of the West Elk Mine, had produced, “half of a cost-benefit analysis.”

Copyright Chris Wood 2014

Further reading:
A Canary for Coal Mines, by Brian Calvert in High Country News: http://www.hcn.org/articles/new-coal-and-climate-policy

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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Summertime … and the fans are jumping

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VANCOUVER, Canada — Henry Wagons performs with his Australian band Wagons — self described as “neo-rockabilly” and “a Lynyrd Skynrd tribute show in an Alice Springs bar.” Photo by Gavin Kennedy © 2014

The weather can be capricious, but entertainment expands and lightens up in the long summer days of the Northern Hemisphere, with a music or theatre festival most weekends.

The most unusual is perhaps the arctic Great Northern Arts Festival each July in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, with pop musicians performing alongside Inuit fashion shows and throat-singers. One of the largest occurs annually in central Europe – this year rain failed to deter some 145,000 Europeans from Hungary’s annual electronic music festival, Balaton Sound, in mid-July. In August Edinburgh’s annual Festival Fringe will draw creators from around the world. And in America’s Pacific Northwest this weekend, tens of thousands sat on the ground under overcast skies to hear traditional and eclectic tunes at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, on the shore of the city’s English Bay.

 

Posted in Gyroscope Tagged , |

Americans ride broomsticks to gold in Quidditch games

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VANCOUVER, Canada — Team USA rode their brooms to beat Australia for the gold in the final match of the Quidditch Global Games July 19 in Burnaby, a suburb of this Western Canadian city. Quidditch, a game invented by author J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series of books and films, requires players to hold broomsticks between their legs. Matches are played with three types of balls all at once: one golden snitch, three bludgers and one quaffle. As well as the United States (1st) and Australia (2nd), the games involved Canada (bronze), the United Kingdom (4th), Mexico (5th), France (6th) and Belgium (7th). No wizards revealed their presence, although one child was dressed in a black robe that would not have been out of place at Hogwarts.The Global Games were one of several international Quidditch events held this year.  Quidditch has grown in popularity worldwide, starting mostly on university campuses and recently evolving into an internationally organized sport. Photo copyright Deborah Jones © 2014

Posted in Gyroscope

Ukraine and Palestine as Nature’s Harbingers

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Carcass of a farm animal in Kenya’s drought. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT), Creative Commons

Even amid shocking news events, we ignore at our peril the larger reality of what is happening to our world, warns Chris Wood in his Natural Security column. Excerpt:

More than on most days, the handcart in which we are all riding toward a very unpleasant destination feels like we’re maybe in sight of the station. Even for a hardened student of the headlines, the human tragedies in the Ukraine and Palestine are sorrowful to contemplate.

And yet necessary, too. They confront us not only with the human reality of the moment but also, stripped of their context and backstories, the end that awaits millions more of us across much of the world. 

That is because it is no longer possible to imagine a future that is consistent with the observed declines of such critical natural supplies as safe water, fertile soil and a living ocean, that does not also imply vast and widespread mortality — either from the direct effects of drought and flood and storm, or from military violence as peoples compete for the dwindling essentials of life.

In fact, we are already surrounded by the deaths we have unleashed, both literal ones and the figurative irrecoverable loss of what it takes to live a tolerable existence: homes, families, livelihoods. By one estimate, three times as many human lives were lost to the consequences of climate change on July 17, as to the attack on Malaysia’s ill-fated jet … read more (subscription*).

Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Wood’s column:

A few words about an old friend

Click here for Chris Wood’s’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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