Privatization of American intelligence

I was digging around the internet (primarily wikipedia) for some dirt on the big management consulting firms, like McKinsey, and Booz.

I learned that McKinsey was on a project with the Minneapolis public school board where they tried to “coerce the district into cutting “high costs,” such as teacher health care, and recommended converting the 25 percent of schools that scored the lowest on standardized tests to privatized charter-school status”. That among much other failed advice.

And then I learned (here, and here), that the American intelligence is privatized to a large degree and is on contract with companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, (a part of Booz & Co. which was recently sold to the Carlyle group, another company that does private sleuthing for the US abroad). Under the Bush administration, the wire-tapping program was apparently given to Booz. Here is an interview with an independent journalist about this on Democracy Now. Cut to about 11:00 for this story.

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The most isolated man on the planet

From Slate, via a post on fb.

The most isolated man on the planet will spend tonight inside a leafy palm-thatch hut in the Brazilian Amazon. As always, insects will darn the air. Spider monkeys will patrol the treetops. Wild pigs will root in the undergrowth. And the man will remain a quietly anonymous fixture of the landscape, camouflaged to the point of near invisibility.
That description relies on a few unknowable assumptions, obviously, but they’re relatively safe. The man’s isolation has been so well-established—and is so mind-bendingly extreme—that portraying him silently enduring another moment of utter solitude is a practical guarantee of reportorial accuracy.

The rest of it here.

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A Fistful of Teeth – Do the Qesem Cave Fossils Really Change Our Understanding of Human Evolution?

From Wired.

A handful of fossil teeth found in Israel’s Qesem Cave, described in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and attributed to 400,000 year old members of our own species in multiple news reports, are said to rewrite the story of human evolution. This discovery doubles the antiquity of Homo sapiens, the articles say, and identify a new point of origin for our species. “Find in Israeli cave may change evolution story” proclaims The Australian, while the Daily Mail asks and answers “Did first humans come out of Middle East and not Africa? Israeli discovery forces scientists to re-examine evolution of modern man.” (The Jerusalem Post, by comparison, went with the tamer “Homo sapiens lived in Eretz Yisrael 400,000 years ago.”) As is often the case, though, the hype surrounding this find far outstrips its actual significance.

more here.

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Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part

This is an interesting article in NYTimes about why parents in Afghanistan sometimes dress their daughters as boys till a certain age. It brings together lots of social and gender issues

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Overseas drug testing

Pharmaceutical companies are conducting drug trials in poorer countries with lax regulation, and sometimes, with almost absent government. This is about Pfizer’s trials in Nigeria.

Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general to pressure him to drop a $6 billion lawsuit over fraudulent drug tests on Nigerian children. Researchers did not obtain signed consent forms, and medical personnel said Pfizer did not tell parents their children were getting the experimental drug. Eleven children died..
This is the next interview which talks more about the process of overseas testing. In the last 10-15 years, drug-testing has increasingly become privatized – pharmaceutical companies pay private companies to do clinical trials. In the past these were often conducted by academic institutions. These private companies move the testing to poorer areas to cut costs –
“In places like China and India, the appeal in those countries is—frankly, it’s jobs. If you’re a doctor in one of those places, the money you may make from signing up people to take these tests may will exceed your annual income from the rest of your practice, so that it’s a tremendous economic incentive in these countries to engage in these tests and to profit from them.”
And only the good trials are reported to the FDA, say, when a drug comes up for approval. The bad trials can be forgotten.

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Working Lego Replica of a Computer from 100 BCE

This is quite incredible. I’m amazed at how advanced technology was in Greece back then. Also an awesome use of Lego!

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How to always have a clean(er) pair of underwear while working in the field

Words of wisdom

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Entrapped ?

Don’t know if you guys have been following these series of recent cases, where, apparently the FBI is arresting “homegrown terrorists” employing questionable “sting operations”. If you go through some of the links below you can see a pattern emerging – Intelligence agents going into poor communities (most often Muslims), targetting vulnerable individuals with a petty-criminal history or perhaps a failing business, planting “informants” who are then inducing the targetted individual into becoming chief accomplice in a ” fictional terror plan” and often urging him on monetarily and supplying him with fake bombs and such devices. Once the “planted terror plot” is about to hatch, they are catching the “homegrown terrorist” red-handed. The argument given is that they have caught a potentially dangerous terrorist, who would have done it, given a chance!! I find this tactic pretty Orwellian, and very disturbing, to say the least.

Here is a review of the thirty-five minute report “Entrapped” by Democracy Now’s Anjali Kamat. The film is embedded in the post itself.

And here are some news links, reporting some of the recent “stories” behind the “catches”.

December 10, Color Lines : The Feds Are Cultivating Their Own “Homegrown Terrorists”

November 30, New York Times : In U.S. Sting Operations, Questions of Entrapment

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Wild Talk – Radiolab

Another really interesting podcast from radiolab about the ‘language’ of the wild.

“Reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro tells us about Klaus Zuberbuhler’s work in the Tai Forest of West Africa. When Klaus first came to the forest, he hit a wall of sound. But he slowly started making sense of that sonic chaos by scaring a particular monkey called the Diana Monkey. Turns out, the Diana Monkey is making more than just noise. Then we jump from the jungle to the prairie, where Con Slobodchikoff has discovered what he calls a grammar of color, shapes, and sizes embedded in prairie dog chirps. His discovery leaves Jad and Robert wondering whether we could ever understand the language of a different species. Back in the jungle, Klaus is wondering the same thing, and tells us about one day when the cacophony of monkey calls distilled into a life-saving warning.”

check out their podcast here.

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Lucchetti D’Amore

In the mood for some randomness today.

I had often wondered, while walking on the bridge over the Raritan, why anybody would put locks on a bridge fence. There weren’t enough locks on the fence to have piqued my curiosity enough to find out more about it. After all, people do amusing things without much reason all the time. Came across a picture today which reminded me of it and turns out that the practice of hanging love-padlocks, on fences and such, is a more global phenomenon. Couples profess their ‘undying’ love through a ‘love-lock’ and then toss the key into the river. Did I mention that people do amusing things all the time!


This is a picture of the Hohenzollern bridge in Cologne (from Wikipedia)

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