Saturday, June 6, 2009

In defense of distraction

From Sam Anderson's article in New York Magazine:

Over the last several years, the problem of attention has migrated right into the center of our cultural attention. We hunt it in neurology labs, lament its decline on op-ed pages, fetishize it in grassroots quality-of-life movements, diagnose its absence in more and more of our children every year, cultivate it in yoga class twice a week, harness it as the engine of self-help empires, and pump it up to superhuman levels with drugs originally intended to treat Alzheimer's and narcolepsy. Everyone still pays some form of attention all the time, of course—it's basically impossible for humans not to—but the currency in which we pay it, and the goods we get in exchange, have changed dramatically.

Back in 1971, when the web was still twenty years off and the smallest computers were the size of delivery vans, before the founders of Google had even managed to get themselves born, the polymath economist Herbert A. Simon wrote maybe the most concise possible description of our modern struggle: “What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” As beneficiaries of the greatest information boom in the history of the world, we are suffering, by Simon's logic, a correspondingly serious poverty of attention.

If the pundits clogging my RSS reader can be trusted (the ones I check up on occasionally when I don't have any new e-mail), our attention crisis is already chewing its hyperactive way through the very foundations of Western civilization. Google is making us stupid, multitasking is draining our souls, and the “dumbest generation” is leading us into a “dark age” of bookless “power browsing.” Adopting the Internet as the hub of our work, play, and commerce has been the intellectual equivalent of adopting corn syrup as the center of our national diet, and we've all become mentally obese. Formerly well-rounded adults are forced to MacGyver worldviews out of telegraphic blog posts, bits of YouTube videos, and the first nine words of Times editorials. Schoolkids spread their attention across 30 different programs at once and interact with each other mainly as sweatless avatars. (One recent study found that American teenagers spend an average of 6.5 hours a day focused on the electronic world, which strikes me as a little low; in South Korea, the most wired nation on earth, young adults have actually died from exhaustion after multiday online-gaming marathons.) We are, in short, terminally distracted. And distracted, the alarmists will remind you, was once a synonym for insane. (Shakespeare: “poverty hath distracted her.”)

~ more... ~

2008 Human Rights Report: Greece

From the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor:

2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
February 25, 2009

Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy with an estimated population of 11 million. In September 2007 the New Democracy Party won a slim majority of seats in the unicameral Vouli (parliament) in free and fair elections, and Konstantinos Karamanlis remained the prime minister. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in several areas. Human rights abuses reported during the year included: reports of abuse by security forces, particularly of undocumented immigrants and Roma; overcrowding and harsh conditions in some prisons; detention of undocumented migrants in squalid conditions; some legal restrictions on freedom of speech (although not enforced in practice); restrictions and administrative obstacles faced by members of non‑Orthodox religions, including serious delays in receiving permits; detention and deportation of unaccompanied or separated immigrant minors, including asylum seekers; failure to provide adequate protection to victims of domestic violence; discrimination against Romani children in education; exploitation of Romani children through begging and forced labor; trafficking in persons; limits on the ability of ethnic minority groups to self‑identify; and discrimination against and social exclusion of ethnic minorities, particularly Roma. A large number of Roma lacked access to adequate housing, basic medical care, public services, and employment opportunities.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed any politically motivated killings during the year; however, a police officer killed one person.

On December 6, a police officer killed 15‑year‑old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in the Exarchia district in Athens, as Grigoropoulos and other youths reportedly were throwing rocks at a police vehicle. Authorities arrested the officer and his partner in connection with the shooting. The officer claimed that he fired warning shots and did not aim at Grigoropoulos. Autopsy and ballistics reports, requested by the victim's family, indicated that Grigoropoulos was killed by a ricochet bullet. The official investigation into the circumstances of the shooting was still pending at year's end. The shooting touched off more than a month of riots and demonstrations by youths and self‑styled anarchists in cities across the country that resulted in injuries to dozens of civilians and police as well as an estimated 1 billion euros (approximately $1.4 billion) in property damage. Both policemen were in custody at year's end on as yet undetermined charges.

[ ... ]

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, during the year there was an increase in nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports of abuse by police forces and the Coast Guard, particularly of undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and Roma.

On December 11, Amnesty International (AI) reported that police used unlawful and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators protesting the December 6 police shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos. AI alleged that two of its members were beaten with police batons and criticized police for not discriminating between peaceful protesters and violent anarchists.

On February 8, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report on the visit by a CPT delegation to the country in February 2007. The report noted that there had been no improvement since the previous CPT visit in 2005 in the treatment of persons detained by law enforcement agencies and that the delegation received many allegations of mistreatment of detainees by law enforcement officials. Most of the allegations consisted of slaps, punches, kicks, and blows with batons, inflicted upon arrest or during police questioning. In one example, a detainee alleged that he was punched in the head and body by officers at the Alexandroupoli police station and that officers had threatened to sever his right forefinger with pliers. The detainee further stated that, while being held over a table by two officers, his trousers were pulled down and he was threatened with rape by a third officer. In several cases, CPT medical experts examined detainees' wounds and found their allegations to be credible and consistent with injuries from slaps, kicks, and baton blows.

NGOs regularly reported that police beat and mistreated immigrants, including minors. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in November that asylum seekers and migrants were regularly beaten during arrest and while in detention. The NGO, Network of Social Support to Refugees and Immigrants, alleged that incidents of police abuse against foreign street vendors occurred almost daily.

[ ... ]

The ombudsman asserted in his annual report that the number of complaints from citizens about violations of personal freedoms in the course of police action remained high. These violations included: taking citizens to detention centers for arbitrary identity checks, using insulting language and threats of force, and conducting bodily searches in public. The ombudsman noted an increase in the number of complaints that police conducted investigations without soliciting testimony from victims. Police reportedly targeted persons based on their race, color, nationality, or presence in high‑crime areas.

The 2006 case concerning the alleged abduction of 14 Pakistani permanent residents was still pending at year's end.

[ ... ]

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank's worldwide governance indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem.

NGOs and media reported that the government insufficiently prioritized anticorruption efforts. Mutual accusations of corruption between political parties were a daily staple of political life. Prime Minister Karamanlis made anticorruption a key element of his party's program, and the government pursued an in‑depth investigation into judicial corruption and took steps to trace and apprehend corrupt tax collectors and law enforcement officers. Despite these efforts, major corruption cases continued to surface throughout the year.

In September a former minister and personal aide of the prime minister was convicted and given a one‑year suspended prison sentence for interceding with judicial authorities on behalf of one of his constituents, who was illegally growing hashish. The former minister appealed his sentence. In December an appeals court gave him a five‑month sentence, suspended for three years.

Two cabinet ministers resigned during the year amid allegations of involvement in a controversial property swap between Vatopedi, a Mount Athos monastery, and the Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation.

In 2005 the former general director/acting consul at the Greek Consulate in Kyiv, the consulate's messenger, three foreign employees, and a policeman in Thessaloniki were criminally charged for allegedly cooperating in issuing approximately 2,500 illegal tourist visas to Ukrainian citizens for $200,000. The case was tried in Thessaloniki in April 2007. The diplomat was sentenced to 21 years in prison. A consular employee received a sentence of 19 years, and a female Russian accomplice based in Greece received nine years. The diplomat's partner and a policeman were also tried but acquitted on all counts. The convicted parties appealed the decision but remained in prison at year's end. The date of the appeals trial had not yet been determined at year's end.

There are income disclosure laws for high‑ranking public officials and members of parliament.

The constitution provides for the right of access to government‑held information, and in practice the government granted access to citizens and noncitizens alike, including foreign media.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative with some NGOs. However, the ombudsman for human rights and the GHM characterized the government‑NGO relationship as poor. The ombudsman charged that the government avoided cooperating with NGOs, who "could remedy the shortcomings of the administration."

Despite calls from the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography for the government to appoint a lead person on children's issues, the government failed to do so. There were no improvements to the institutional capacity for protecting unaccompanied minors or street children.

GHM and other NGOs called for the government to improve the living conditions of Roma and give Romani children alternatives to street work and prostitution. However, the problem remained largely unaddressed except in Thrace and in Athens, where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local NGOs implemented measures to increase school attendance by Romani children. The government has not taken steps to create an advisory board to coordinate children's policies or to create a joint Greek‑Albanian commission to investigate "disappearances" from a children's institution between 1998 and 2003.

~ Read full report here ~

The truth about bird flu, H5N1, vaccines and AIDS

"For almost one year we have been asking authorities, politicians and medical institutes for the scientific evidence for the existence of such viruses that are said to cause disease and therefore require "immunization". After almost one year we have not received even one concrete answer which provides evidence for the existence of those "vaccination viruses".... Dr. Stefan Lanka, Sept. 2001 interview

Pictures of "Isolated Viruses" Debunked

What all of these photos have in common is that they, according to authors Stefan Lanka and Karl Krafeld, can´t claim that they present a virus, as long as they do not also provide the original publications which describe how and from what the virus has been isolated. Such original publications have been cited nowhere.

Indeed, in the entire scientific literature, there´s not even one publication where Koch´s First Postulate is even claimed for "viruses in medicine" . That means, that there is no proof that from humans with certain diseases that the viruses - which are held responsible for these diseases - have been isolated. Nevertheless, this is precisely what is publicly claimed.

[ ... ]

Dr. Stefan Lanka, virologist and molecular biologist, is internationally mostly known as an "AIDS dissident" (and maybe "gentechnology dissident") who has been questioning the very existence of "HIV" since 1994. In the past years, however, he stumbled over a breathtaking fact: Not even ONE of the (medically relevant) viruses has ever been isolated; there is no proof of their existence. Actually, Dr. Lanka has already stated three years ago, in the almost "legendary"  Zenger´s interview: "So for a long time I studied virology, from the end to the beginning, from the beginning to the end, to be absolutely sure that there was no such thing as HIV. And it was easy for me to be sure about this because I realized that the whole group of viruses to which HIV is said to belong, the retroviruses -- as well as other viruses which are claimed to be very dangerous -- in fact do not exist at all."

So he was thoroughly reading the literature on those "other viruses" again, and after he could still not find any paper which would provide the evidence, he encouraged people not to BELIEVE him but to ask the institutes and authorities themselves. This has actually taken place, mostly initiated by mothers. The responses were revealing. In September 2001 the German book "Impfen - Völkermord im dritten Jahrtausend?" (Vaccination - Genocide in the third millennium?) by Stefan Lanka and Karl Krafeld was published in which they state that there is still no proof of any (medically relevant) virus.

~ more... ~

A tune for the Euro-elections

Fleetwood Mac - 'Oh Well' (BBC TV 1969)

The Secrecy Court of Last Resort

National Security Archive Update, June 5, 2009

New Declassification Releases by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP)

Recent Actions by Declassification Panel Show Pattern of CIA Overclassification and Tight Grip on Early Cold War History

Documents Released Offer New Revelations on October War Intelligence and the Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program

Washington, DC, June 5, 2009 - During the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research was one of the few U.S. intelligence organizations to dissent from the Bush administration's allegations of a revved-up Iraqi nuclear program. Secretary of State Colin Powell ignored his own experts, but INR's prescience raised its prestige.

INR also got it right in its forecast of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, according to a recently declassified post-mortem on the U.S. intelligence failure during the October War, published today by the National Security Archive. In the spring of 1973, INR analysts wrote that, absent diplomatic progress in the Middle East, "the resumption of hostilities will become a better than even bet." INR analysts argued that Egyptian president Anwar Sadat would go to war not for specific military objectives, but to take "military action which can be sustained long enough" to get the United States and the Soviet Union strongly involved in the Middle East peace process.

The authors of the October War post-mortem saw the INR estimate as a "case of wisdom lost," because as the signs of conflict unfolded in the fall of 1973, the intelligence establishment forgot those warnings. The post-mortem, which reviewed failures to take into account communications intelligence (COMINT) and human intelligence (HUMINT), quickly became a secret "best seller" in the intelligence establishment after it was published.

When the Archive filed a mandatory review request for the post-mortem, the CIA denied much of the document, and it took a decision by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) in response to the Archive's appeal to reverse the CIA decision and declassify much more of the withheld information. Acting as the court of last resort for mandatory declassification review requests, ISCAP recently reversed other CIA initial denials of documents from the 1960s and 1970s. While it exempted material it regards as sensitive, ISCAP nevertheless found that much of the information denied by the CIA could be declassified without harm to national security.

Among the ISCAP releases are:

* The U.S. government's first intelligence estimate--a Special National Intelligence Estimate from December 1960--on the purposes of Israeli nuclear activities at a nuclear reactor complex near Beersheba: "We believe that plutonium production for weapons is at least one major purpose of this effort."

* Biographical sketches of members of the Soviet delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks in 1969. For years, the CIA routinely refused to declassify its biographical reporting.

* A top secret report from November 1973 on the possibility that Moscow shipped nuclear weapons into Soviet bases in Egypt during the 1973 Middle East war.

* A National Intelligence Estimate from April 1986 on "The Likelihood of Nuclear Acts by Terrorist Groups" which found that the "prospects that terrorists will attempt high-level nuclear terrorism" was "low to very low." While the CIA analysts speculated that even the terrorist groups of the 1980s may have had inhibitions against actions that produced civilian mass casualties, they suggested that the inhibitions could erode and that groups "with a different state of mind" could emerge.

ISCAP's decision to declassify these documents is commendable, but the CIA's initial denials suggest that the Agency is following overly restrictive declassification review standards. Just as troubling, the Agency used the CIA Information Act to prevent ISCAP from making a decision on the classification status of a history of early covert operations, "Office of Policy Coordination, 1948-1952."

These CIA examples suggest that the rules and regulations that support the U.S. government secrecy system enable government agencies to follow unreasonably narrow standards. Moreover, as the CIA's action on the covert operations history suggests, laws on the books give the Agency inordinate power to keep the veil of secrecy over important parts of its history. Indeed, President George W. Bush's executive order on secrecy policy, still in force, gives the CIA veto power over ISCAP decisions on intelligence records. These problems point out the need for significant change in the U.S. government's secrecy policy.

U.S. could let detainees plead guilty, be executed without trials

From Citizens For Legitimate Government

Breaking: U.S. Could Let Detainees Plead Guilty, Be Executed Without Trials

06 Jun 2009 - The Obama administration is considering a change in the law
for the military tribunals at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that would
clear the way for prisoners facing the death penalty to plead guilty without
a full trial. The provision could permit military prosecutors to avoid
airing the details of brutal interrogation techniques torture. The proposal,
in a draft of legislation that would be submitted to Congress, has not been
publicly disclosed. It was circulated to officials under restrictions
requiring secrecy. [*Note: The New York Times has already changed its
original headline.*]


image from

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