Musings and Mirth

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Wanted Dead or Alive: Measuring the FBI’s Role in the Boston Bombing Witch Hunt

Wanted Dead or Alive: Measuring the FBI’s Role in the Boston Bombing Witch Hunt

The night the Boston bombers were hunted down by the police in an unprecedented show of force unfolding on live television there was another drama unfolding online. Several of us were following a police scanner just as they were on the trail of the suspects. What pointed to their guilt, of course, were the pipe bombs they threw at police and the testimony of one witness whose car they had stolen. His life was spared and he lived to tell the tail of who the two brothers were.

At the same time, several threads on Reddit were tracking someone they thought to be one of the Boston bombers. He was misidentified as a young man from India who had disappeared from Brown University one day, leaving behind his cell phone and identification. That news began to seep out into the mainstream and unfortunately I was one of those responsible for using my own credibility as an internet source to pass on this information. Although hours after my own tweets pointed suspicion at Sunil Tripathi, the FBI released the names of bombers, names they probably had for a lot longer than the public had any knowledge of. Moreover, the FBI would have also known that it was not, nor could not be, Sunil Tripathi. They are the FBI, the internet is, well, not.

When the FBI held up the photos of the Boston bombers and asked the public for help, they were expecting people who knew the bombers to come forward. But what they could not have anticipated, what they have never taken responsibility for, what no one has really discussed at all is whether or the FBI is culpable in helping to whip a potential witch hunt by scared and concerned citizens who were using the powerful tool of the internet to track down anyone they thought might be the bombers.

True, they specifically ordered the public to stand down, to do nothing but report information.  They instructed people not to act on the public’s behalf.  But was that enough? Have we now crossed into a different era where the FBI should be more mindful of what the public might do with such a powerful information tool as the internet at its fingertips?

The FBI released blurry photos of the Boston bombing suspects, which triggered a flurry of activity online by concerned citizens who truly believed they were helping the FBI find their men. When all was said and done, those who went on the various witch hunts were nailed to the wall but no one said anything about the FBI’s role that night. It comes down to this: in the post-911 internet age the FBI – and any government body for that matter – ought to be fully prepared for this kind of thing to happen with regularity should they once again ask for the public’s help. It is a dangerous game where the word “terrorist” is involved. If you’re talking about a bank robbery or a kidnapping – these Amber alerts we all get on our cell phones – we can cull our resources to help law enforcement find the perps. But when you’re talking terrorists we have been conditioned both by the acts of the terrorists themselves (they are willing to die in order to kill their enemy) and by our own government that when it comes to terrorists and us it is truly a matter of life or death.

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Tom Wheeler’s Personal Bullshit Note to Me

Tom Wheeler’s Personal Bullshit Note to Me

So, most of the country with their heads not firmly stuck up their own asses or locked onto their television screens worrying about who is going to win Dancing with the Stars, or spending their limited time on this planet fretting and steaming over the latest thing Gwyneth Paltrow said (really?) now knows that Obama put Tom Wheeler at the the head of the FCC. Who is Tom Wheeler you might ask? He’s a former lobbyist for the cable companies whose agenda has included, for a long time now and fully known to our dear President Obama, to rid the internet of Neutrality. You know, that thing that makes the internet one of the last avenues for free and open speech? You know, the internet where someone like me can build a business with nothing more than a modem (1200 baud baby), an internet service provider and a computer hookup. With those three things I could launch not just a business but an entire industry as I helped do in 1999 when the (insert positive or negative adjective here) Oscar Watching industry was born. I could go toe to toe with the giant corporate media congloms. Yeah, me. Single mother living in a guest house in Van Nuys with an infant on my hip starting my own business. Those days are shrinking fast, thanks to the corrupt 1% and their almost total domination of our democracy. Hoo haw.

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How Apple Finally Lost Me as a Customer

How Apple Finally Lost Me as a Customer

There is a new game in town over at Apple. I’ve been a customer of theirs since the 1980s. A loyal customer. I advised everyone I knew, in fact, to buy Apple. I bought or buy a new Macbook every other year or so. I have an iMac, two Macbook pros and one for my daughter. But they have lost me as a customer and I’ll tell you why.

1. They used to care more about customer service and loyalty.

When I went into the Apple store to complain about how Macbook Pro retina display had been damaged — while doing nothing more than sitting in my backpack in an overhead container on the airplane, not having been dropped nor kicked nor had water spilled on it, bought just three weeks ago – their comment to me was “this is accidental damage and we don’t cover it.” It would cost around $500 to repair it. This was THEIR fault, not mine. I’ll explain in the next part.

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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has died at the age of 87.  Here is one of my favorite pieces of writing by him:
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Tale For Children

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench. The world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish. The light was so weak at noon that when Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the crabs, it was hard for him to see what it was that was moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings.

Frightened by that nightmare, Pelayo ran to get Elisenda, his wife, who was putting compresses on the sick child, and he took her to the rear of the courtyard. They both looked at the fallen body with a mute stupor. He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away and sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked were forever entangled in the mud. They looked at him so long and so closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end found him familiar. Then they dared speak to him, and he answered in an incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor’s voice. That was how they skipped over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently concluded that he was a lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm. And yet, they called in a neighbor woman who knew everything about life and death to see him, and all she needed was one look to show them their mistake.
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Urge Obama Administration to Give a Damn About Chickens

Urge Obama Administration to Give a Damn About Chickens

Ugh, this country. UGH. It’s enough to make you want to exile yourself from society. We are so blind, so foolish, so cruel, so disgusting. In many ways, we deserve the terrible fate that’s coming to us.  Honestly.  If the Noah movie does anything right, it’s pointing out how repugnant mankind has been to nature.

This story in the Washington Post points to a horrifying practice of dropping live chickens into “the scalder.”  I can think of many politicians I’d like to do that to but innocent chickens? No.

Two animal welfare groups and dozens of lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to improve humane treatment of poultry at slaughterhouses, citing statistics that show hundreds of thousands of chickens being accidentally dropped alive into scalding tanks every year.

The Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary have petitioned the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service to strengthen humane treatment regulations, by, among other things, banning live birds from the scalding tanks. When things go according to plan, birds are already dead by the time they’re dropped into the tank, but a small percentage miss the automatic knife that is supposed to slit their necks and wind up dying in the tank.

And more:

Birds that die by means other than slaughter are called “cadavers” and not allowed to enter the food supply. Last year, FSIS records show, there were roughly 680,000 cadavers, down from around 730,000 the year before. FSIS officials say the majority of cadavers are birds that have been dropped into scalding tanks alive.

“Dying other than by slaughter causes tremendous suffering to how ever many birds are subjected to this treatment,” said Dena M. Jones, the Animal Welfare Institute’s farm animal program manager.

Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, said there’s an economic — as well as ethical — incentive to reduce the number of cadavers. He said that when birds miss the automatic knife, an employee is used as backup to keep live birds out of the scalder.

Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, said he thought the number of chickens “boiled alive” in the U.S. was significant.

“You either feel for other living species, or you don’t,” said Moran, who signed the letter to Vilsack. “And a lot of people simply don’t.”

Virginia is 12th in the nation, according to the National Chicken Council.

The animal welfare groups’ petition also says that birds aren’t always properly stunned, which is supposed to make them insensible to pain before slaughter; and that many birds suffer broken or dislocated bones when they are shackled for slaughter.

Super said that his group issued new guidelines last month requiring stunning to be more effective, with a goal of at least 99 percent of birds effectively stunned and insensible to pain, and corrective action required when it falls below 98 percent. And he said companies must have a monitoring program for wing and leg injuries, and retraining of employees when standards are exceeded.

Derfler, of the FSIS, said the agency works under existing law to ensure humane treatment of chickens, relying on the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which condemns adulterated products, including birds that die by means other than slaughter.

“Under our regulations, right now, if live birds go into the scald tank, we do think that’s a prohibited act, under the Poultry Products Inspection Act,” Derfler said. “And we’d take action, because the animals would be dying other than by slaughter — they’d be drowning, and not slaughtered in a humane way.”

Temple Grandin, a noted professor with autism whose life’s work understanding livestock was the subject of an HBO movie, said birds entering the scalder alive used to be a bigger problem than it is today.

“You shouldn’t have live birds going in the scalder,” she said. “You’ve got really good system — you’re not going to have live birds going in the scalder.”

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