What Isaac Asimov Taught Us About Predicting the Future

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

What Isaac Asimov Taught Us About Predicting the Future
By Alec Nevala-Lee
Oct 31 2018

In February, the spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk conducted a test launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which successfully sent its payload into orbit around the sun. Its cargo included a Tesla Roadster — which now looks like a sign of Musk’s midlife crisis — and a digital copy of the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. Two months later, Apple announced that it was developing a television version of the classic science-fiction saga for its new streaming service. Previous attempts to adapt the series have failed, which might not have surprised Asimov, who, after rereading it, confessed, “I couldn’t help noticing, of course, that there was not very much action in it.”

If the Foundation trilogy still appeals to a wide audience — as well as to corporations hoping to associate themselves with its vision of tomorrow — this has less to do with the plots or characters than with the books’ fictional science of psychohistory, a system for predicting future events even thousands of years from the present. The notion captivated fans like the economist Paul Krugman, who recalled of the mathematician and psychologist portrayed by Asimov as the creator of psychohistory: “I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon.” The books made an equally profound impression on a teenage Newt Gingrich, who later wrote, “For a high school student who loved history, Asimov’s most exhilarating invention was the ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon.”

The historical moment that inspired Asimov has striking parallels to our own. On Aug. 1, 1941, Asimov, then a 21-year-old writer and graduate student at Columbia University, was riding the subway in New York. He was headed to his monthly meeting with John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction, whom Asimov later praised as an intellectual mentor and “the most powerful force in science fiction ever.” On the train, Asimov came up with the premise for a story about the decline of a galactic empire, and when he described it in the meeting that afternoon, he remembered, “Campbell blazed up as I had never seen him do.”

Yet Campbell was drawn less to the story line than to the opportunity it suggested for exploring the idea of forecasting the future, which doesn’t seem to have been part of Asimov’s initial pitch. The year before, shortly after German troops marched into Paris, Campbell had published an article by the writer L. Sprague de Camp on the theories of historians like Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee, who conceived of civilization as a series of recurring cycles. As the world entered an era of frightening instability, Campbell urged his writers to expand on a theme later expressed by a character in a story he printed by Jack Williamson: “It remained for me to reduce the laws of the rise and fall of human cultures to the exact science that I call destiny.”

At the office, the two men hashed out the rules of psychohistory, and Asimov returned the following month with the first story of the series, which was published in the May 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The details of psychohistory were vague, but Asimov left no doubt about its effectiveness: “A great psychologist such as Seldon could unravel human emotions and human reactions sufficiently to be able to predict broadly the historical sweep of the future.” As Hitler rewrote the map of Europe, Asimov’s story implied that such events could be foreseen, even altered before they occurred, and the idea resonated with readers who were justifiably afraid of what the future might bring.

Asimov later acknowledged that psychohistory amounted to a kind of emotional reassurance: “Hitler kept winning victories, and the only way that I could possibly find life bearable at the time was to convince myself that no matter what he did, he was doomed to defeat in the end.” The notion was framed as a science that could predict events centuries in advance, but it was driven by a desire to know what would happen in the war over the next few months — a form of wishful thinking that is all but inevitable at times of profound uncertainty. Before the last presidential election, this impulse manifested itself in a widespread obsession with poll numbers and data journalism, as captured by a headline in Wired: “I Just Want Nate Silver to Tell Me It’s All Going to Be Fine.”


Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming

Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming
The findings mean the world might have less time to curb carbon emissions.
By Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis
Oct 31 2018

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere — the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption.

In the scientific realm, the new findings help resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007, when reliable measurements from devices called “Argo floats” were put to use worldwide. Before that, differing types of temperature records — and an overall lack of them — contributed to murkiness about how quickly the oceans were heating up.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming is more advanced than scientists thought.

“We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted,” said Resplandy, who published the work with experts from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and several other institutions in the United States, China, France and Germany. “But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”

Wednesday’s study also could have important policy implications. If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, in the hope of limiting global warming to the ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by the end of this century.

The world already has warmed one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century. Scientists backed by the United Nations reported this month that with warming projected to steadily increase, the world faces a daunting challenge in trying to limit that warming to only another half-degree Celsius. The group found that it would take “unprecedented” action by leaders across the globe over the coming decade to even have a shot at that goal.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to roll back regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from vehicles, coal plants and other sources and has said it intends to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In one instance, the administration relied on an assumption that the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, by the end of the century in arguing that a proposal to ease vehicle fuel-efficiency standards would have only minor climate impacts.

The new research underscores the potential consequences of global inaction. Rapidly warming oceans mean that seas will rise faster and that more heat will be delivered to critical locations that already are facing the effects of a warming climate, such as coral reefs in the tropics and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

“In case the larger estimate of ocean heat uptake turns out to be true, adaptation to — and mitigation of — our changing climate would become more urgent,” said Pieter Tans, who is the leader of the Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was not involved in the study.

The oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped within the world’s atmosphere.


What billionaires want: the secret influence of America’s 100 richest

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

What billionaires want: the secret influence of America’s 100 richest
A new study reveals how the wealthy engage in ‘stealth politics’: quietly advancing unpopular, inequality-exacerbating, highly conservative policies
By Benjamin I Page, Jason Seawright, Matthew J Lacombe
Oct 31 2018

If we judge US billionaires by their most prominent fellows, they may seem to be a rather attractive bunch: ideologically diverse (perhaps even tending center-left), frank in speaking out about their political views, and generous in philanthropic giving for the common good – not to mention useful for the goods and jobs they have helped produce.

The very top titans – Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates – have all taken left-of-center stands on various issues, and Buffett and Gates are paragons of philanthropy. The former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is known for his advocacy of gun control, gay rights, and environmental protection. George Soros (protector of human rights around the world) and Tom Steyer (focused on young people and environmental issues) have been major donors to the Democrats. In recent years, investigative journalists have also brought to public attention Charles and David Koch, mega-donors to ultra-conservative causes. But given the great prominence of several left-of-center billionaires, this may merely seem to right the balance, filling out a picture of a sort of Madisonian pluralism among billionaires.

Unfortunately, this picture is quite misleading. Our new, systematic study of the 100 wealthiest Americans indicates that Buffett, Gates, Bloomberg et al are not at all typical. Most of the wealthiest US billionaires – who are much less visible and less reported on – more closely resemble Charles Koch. They are extremely conservative on economic issues. Obsessed with cutting taxes, especially estate taxes (which apply only to the wealthiest Americans). Opposed to government regulation of the environment or big banks. Unenthusiastic about government programs to help with jobs, incomes, healthcare, or retirement pensions – programs supported by large majorities of Americans. Tempted to cut deficits and shrink government by cutting or privatizing guaranteed social security benefits.

How can this be so? If it is true, why aren’t voters aware and angry about it?

The answer is simple: billionaires who favor unpopular, ultraconservative economic policies, and work actively to advance them (that is, most politically active billionaires) stay almost entirely silent about those issues in public. This is a deliberate choice. Billionaires have plenty of media access, but most of them choose not to say anything at all about the policy issues of the day. They deliberately pursue a strategy of what we call “stealth politics”.

We have come to this conclusion based on an exhaustive, web-based study of everything that the 100 wealthiest US billionaires have said or done, over a 10-year period, concerning several major issues of public policy. For each billionaire we used several dozen carefully selected keywords to find all publicly available information about their specific talk or actions related to any aspect of social security, any type of taxation, or anything related to abortion, same-sex marriage, or immigration policy.

Consider social security, the largest and most popular domestic program in the United States. Social security has been the subject of spirited debates for decades. Is it going “bankrupt”? (No.) Should its benefits be expanded, to keep all retirees’ incomes well above the poverty line? Or – as advocated by the billionaire Pete Peterson (co-founder of the Blackstone private equity firm) and wealthy allies who fear that high government spending and deficits would erode bond values – should guaranteed benefits be cut, perhaps through less generous cost-of-living adjustments, or by ending guaranteed benefits entirely and leaving retirees with private accounts subject to stock-market fluctuations?

Most of the wealthiest US billionaires have made substantial financial contributions – amounting to hundreds of thousands of reported dollars annually, in addition to any undisclosed “dark money” contributions – to conservative Republican candidates and officials who favor the very unpopular step of cutting rather than expanding social security benefits. Yet, over the 10-year period we have studied, 97% of the wealthiest billionaires have said nothing at all about social security policy. Nothing about benefit levels, cost-of-living adjustments, or privatization. (Also nothing about the popular idea of shoring up social security finances by removing the low “cap” on income subject to payroll taxes and making the wealthy pay more.) How can voters know that most billionaires are working to cut their social security benefits?


Nirvana Unplugged: Why Aren’t More Americans Buying Electric Vehicles?

Nirvana Unplugged: Why Aren’t More Americans Buying Electric Vehicles?
“What’s the future market for EVs? I wish I knew.”
Oct 16 2018

According to a new report from the United Nations’ scientific panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity has about 12 years to avoid the most dire consequences of climate change. To avert catastrophic sea level rise, food shortages, and widespread drought and wildfire, emissions must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels, and by 100 percent by 2050.

To accomplish this daunting feat, the global transportation sector will need a major overhaul. In the US, the world’s second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, transportation makes up the largest share of emissions. In cities, passenger vehicles and public transit fleets will have to move from fuel-burning engines to electrification, a “powerful measure to decarbonize short-distance vehicles,” according to the IPCC report.

Advocates for electric vehicles have been saying this for decades. Where do US cities stand in 2018 on electric vehicle adoption?

So far, progress has been wildly insufficient: In the US, close to 200,000 electric vehicles—both plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) like the Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius Prime and battery-electric vehicles (BEV) like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S—were sold in 2017, out of 17,340,700 vehicles. That’s only 1.15 percent of all cars sold in 2017. But, to put that in perspective, that’s a 26 percent increase from 2016, and the trend is expected to continue, according to environmental advocates and EV industry experts.

If we want a survivable world, it’ll have to. Here’s a look at the range of initiatives, regulations, and incentives that states and cities around the country are taking to embrace this future-critical technology. 

The leader of the pack

California remains the state leading the electrification charge. There, plug-in and battery electric vehicles made up 4.8 percent of total car sales in the first quarter of 2017. Earlier this year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order setting a goal of five million electric vehicles on the state’s roads by 2030. This $2.5 billion initiative will also help to bring 250,000 vehicle charging stations and 200 hydrogen fueling stations to the state by 2025. California also offers the most rebates and incentives of any state, including granting drivers of alternative-fuel cars HOV lane exemption and a Clean Vehicle Rebate Project that provides $1,500 to $2,500 to consumers who purchase light-duty zero emission vehicles and PHEVs.

Public infrastructure build-outs are in the works around the state. Los Angeles currently has a total of 1,800 EV charging stations, and hopes that this number will reach 25,000 by 2018, according to Lauren Faber O’Connor, the city’s chief sustainability officer.

California’s work has been influential beyond its borders. Its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program has been successful in introducing EVs to the market by requiring automakers within the state to sell a certain percentage of electric cars and trucks. The same goes for the nine others that have adopted it: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Those states represent about a third of the US auto market, which should pressure automakers to expand their affordable EV offerings. “Collectively, they have a lot of purchasing power, and a lot of political power,” said Max Baumhefner, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Local efforts, nationwide

Cities from Sacramento to Austin to Burlington are undertaking efforts large and small, from electrifying bus fleets to increasing public accessibility to EVs through car-sharing programs. Last year, Atlanta passed a landmark ordinance that requires all new residential homes and public parking facilities to accommodate EVs and 20 percent of the spaces in all new commercial and multi-family parking structures to be plug-in ready. Similarly, Vermont’s energy building code requires commercial and residential projects over a certain size to include a percentage of EV supply equipment or EV-ready parking spaces.

In 2016, Columbus, Ohio won the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Fueled partly by $50 million in grant winnings, the city’s Smart Columbus public-private partnership aims to reinvent local mobility systems. According to Brendan Kelley of Drive Electric Ohio, an initiative of the statewide nonprofit Clean Fuels Ohio dedicated to improving air quality, Smart Columbus has a goal of increasing EV market penetration in the city by 500 percent by early 2020. To help the city meet this goal, Drive Electric Ohio offers a program where residents and local businesses can meet up to learn about and test drive EVs. “We’ve found that the most effective tactic for overcoming people’s misconceptions about EVs and opening them up to the possibility of buying one is to get them behind the wheel of an EV,” said Kelley.


Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds
The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also threatens the survival of civilisation, say the world’s leading scientists
By Damian Carrington
Oct 29 2018

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

“We are rapidly running out of time,” said Prof Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.”

Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover.

The Living Planet Index, produced for WWF by the Zoological Society of London, uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.

Wildlife and the ecosystems are vital to human life, said Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said in March that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.

“Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods,” he said. “The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”

The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Killing for food is the next biggest cause – 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction – while the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished.

Chemical pollution is also significant: half the world’s killer whale populations are now doomed to die from PCB contamination. Global trade introduces invasive species and disease, with amphibians decimated by a fungal disease thought to be spread by the pet trade.

The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. In the tropical savannah called cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months, said Barrett.


Apple News’s Radical Approach: Humans Over Machines

Apple News’s Radical Approach: Humans Over Machines
By Jack Nicas
Oct 25 2018

Many of Apple’s employees moved into a glistening new $5 billion glass headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., this year. A mile west, at Apple’s old campus on 1 Infinite Loop, a project antithetical to Silicon Valley’s ethos is now underway.

In a quiet corner of the third floor, Apple is building a newsroom of sorts. About a dozen former journalists have filled a few nondescript offices to do what many other tech companies have for years left to software: selecting the news that tens of millions of people will read.

One morning in late August, Apple News’s editor in chief, Lauren Kern, huddled with a deputy to discuss the five stories to feature atop the company’s three-year-old news app, which comes preinstalled on every iPhone in the United States, Britain and Australia.

National news sites were leading that day with stories that the Justice Department had backed an affirmative-action lawsuit against Harvard University — a good proxy that the story mattered, said Ms. Kern’s deputy, a former editor for The New York Times whom Apple requested not be named for privacy reasons. He and Ms. Kern quickly agreed that it was the day’s top news, and after reading through a few versions, selected The Washington Post’s report because, they said, it provided the most context and explanation on why the news mattered.

Another story drawing wide coverage: racial barbs on the first day of the Florida’s governor race. Ms. Kern and her deputy said they wanted a piece that covered the topic thoughtfully because race is a sensitive subject. They selected a nuanced Miami Herald piece that examined the comments, their context and the debate about them.

They also later picked a CBS News video of John McCain’s memorial service, an SB Nation story on Serena and Venus Williams facing off in the United States Open, and a Bloomberg feature on 20-hour flights. Ms. Kern said her team aimed to mix the day’s top stories with lighter features and sometimes longer investigations, much like the front page of a newspaper. They largely chose from a list of contenders compiled that morning by three editors in New York who pored over the home pages and mobile alerts of national news sites, as well as dozens of pitches from publications.

“We put so much care and thought into our curation,” said Ms. Kern, 43, a former executive editor of New York Magazine. “It’s seen by a lot of people and we take that responsibility really seriously.”

Apple has waded into the messy world of news with a service that is read regularly by roughly 90 million people. But while Google, Facebook and Twitter have come under intense scrutiny for their disproportionate — and sometimes harmful — influence over the spread of information, Apple has so far avoided controversy. One big reason is that while its Silicon Valley peers rely on machines and algorithms to pick headlines, Apple uses humans like Ms. Kern.

The former journalist has quietly become one of the most powerful figures in English-language media. The stories she and her deputies select for Apple News regularly receive more than a million visits each.

Their work has complicated the debate about whether Silicon Valley giants are media or technology companies. Google, Facebook and Twitter have long insisted they are tech entities and not arbiters of the truth. The chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and others have bet heavily on artificial intelligence to help them sort through false news and fact-based information. Yet Apple has unabashedly gone the other direction with its human-led approach, showing that a more media-like sensibility may be able to coexist within a technology company.

Apple’s strategy is risky. While the company has long used people to curate its App Store, the news is far more contentious. The famously secretive company has also provided little transparency on who is picking the stories for Apple News and how those people avoid bias.

For the first time recently — and after extensive negotiations on the terms of the interviews — Apple agreed to let a Times reporter in on how it operates Apple News.

There are ambitious plans for the product. Apple lets publishers run ads in its app and it helps some sign up new subscribers, taking a 30 percent cut of the revenue. Soon, the company aims to bundle access to dozens of magazines in its app for a flat monthly fee, sort of like Netflix for news, according to people familiar with the plans, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Apple also hopes to package access to a few daily-news publications, like The Times, The Post and The Wall Street Journal, into the app, the people said.


How ‘Gardening While Black’ Almost Landed This Detroit Man in Jail

How ‘Gardening While Black’ Almost Landed This Detroit Man in Jail
A black man started an urban farm in his old neighborhood. Three white women called the police repeatedly, accusing him of threatening them. The case went to court.
By Audra D. S. Burch
Oct 26 2018

DETROIT — For nearly two years, a man tilled an overgrown park in a half-abandoned Detroit neighborhood into a tiny urban farm, filling the earth with the seeds of kale and spinach and radishes. He was black.

For half of that time, the man, Marc Peeples, 32, was the subject of dozens of calls to the police — the allegations growing more serious with each call — by three women who lived on a street facing the park. They were white.

Mr. Peeples said he returned to the neighborhood where he grew up to create a garden that could help feed residents, chip away at food deserts and teach children about urban horticulture — a personal redemptive mission after three years in prison on drug charges.

What happened next was something else: gardening while black, as his lawyer described it, another example of white people calling the police on a black person for everyday activities.

In many of these cases, the caller is mocked with whimsical, alliterative nicknames like BBQ Becky, Cornerstore Caroline and Permit Patty. A cellphone video of the caller goes viral. Sometimes they lose their jobs.

[For more coverage of race, sign up here to have our Race/Related newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox.]

This time was different. Mr. Peeples was arrested and went to trial. But a judge intervened and last week dismissed the case against him.

The women who complained said Mr. Peeples had terrorized the neighborhood, about 20 minutes north of downtown, by repeatedly threatening to burn down their houses and ordering them to leave because they were white.

They accused him of illegally painting trees and vandalizing houses. And in the most serious allegation, one neighbor falsely accused him of sexual misconduct.

The multiple police calls and reports made by the three women — Deborah Nash, Martha Callahan and her granddaughter, Jennifer Morris — eventually led to three stalking charges against Mr. Peeples and a trial. In a case first reported by The Detroit Metro Times, State District Judge E. Lynise Bryant threw the charges out at the trial, calling them fabricated and rooted in racism.

“At the heart of this case is a kind of inseparable mix of race and power,” Mr. Peeples’s lawyer, Robert Burton-Harris, said adding that the women had their own plans for the park, which fed their hostility. “They knew they could use the police as their own personal henchman to get him removed from this area just based on their allegations.”

In some ways, the story hints at the unsteady, culture-clashing path of gentrification, the ubiquitous lens of race and the social role of law enforcement. Absent race, the women insisted, this is a dispute between residents about rebuilding a neighborhood that had largely been written off.

“You see people giving these nicknames. That is letting them off the hook,” Mr. Peeples said. “These are serious allegations. They tried to have me go down for a hate crime.”

Days after the verdict, Ms. Nash sat outside in her car, giving her first interview about the case.

“I am not a racist. I was all for the garden and even helped with supplies at first, but he threatened me several times, in person to my face, that I needed to leave my neighborhood or I would be put out one way or another,” said Ms. Nash, 49, a part-time art teacher who moved to the neighborhood in 2014. “I called the police because he was destroying property in the neighborhood and painting graffiti. No one had the right to paint park trees.”


Re: Suspicious packages spotlight vast postal surveillance system

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Tim Pozar.  DLH]

From: Tim Pozar <pozar@lns.com>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] Suspicious packages spotlight vast postal surveillance system
Date: October 27, 2018 at 4:17:26 PM EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

BTW… You can sign up for the “Informed Delivery” service at:


The USPS is offering this as a free service to send you the front face
of the mail you will be getting in the next day or so.

It has been handy in seeing what mail is coming in and having an
approximate date stamp of delivery.  I can also see this as useful if
you are missing mail (eg stolen) and need to take some action

Just as a comparison regarding the privacy aspects… Do we expect
privacy for encrypted traffic on the Internet?  The consensuses is we
don’t so we use SSL/TLS for encrypting HTTP, SMTP, etc delivery of
packets.  This still exposes source and destination endpoints and
content can be inferred by the protocol and who owns the endpoints.  To
that you can use a VPN with encryption using IPsec or protocols like TOR.

Many ISPs will “sniff” traffic through methods like netflow or sflow as
a statistical sampling to be able to gather data for network
engineering.  (eg. Is routing broken?  Are we seeing packet errors?
Should an ISP set up peering with Akamai or Cloudflare?)  Data is
aggregated and normally personal data is not normally exposed unless
there is some large outlier like one source/destination IP address
pushing terabytes of traffic.

At least for the Internet, the infrastructure to sniff traffic and hand
it over to third parties is required by Communications Assistance for
Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).   This may be pen register or full-content

So the USPS is “sniffing” traffic on the “pen register” level not just
for internal monitoring of quality but reporting it to third parties.
This is definitly concerning and the article rightly points out that
there should be some regulatory framework surrounding it.

I expect with this fear-based political climate right now, it would be
an uphill battle to push through regulations.



Suspicious packages spotlight vast postal surveillance system 
The Postal Service photographs the outside of every piece of mail, and frequently shares images and metadata from mail with law enforcement.
Oct 25 2018 

Suspicious packages spotlight vast postal surveillance system

Suspicious packages spotlight vast postal surveillance system
The Postal Service photographs the outside of every piece of mail, and frequently shares images and metadata from mail with law enforcement.
Oct 25 2018

As law enforcement investigates possible mail bombs sent to prominent Democratic Party figures and liberal activists, the tools available at their disposal include digital images and delivery metadata commonly associated with mail sent in the United States.

The U.S. Postal Service regularly photographs the front and back of every piece of U.S. mail, or about 150 billion parcels, envelopes, and postcards every year. A longstanding practice known as the “mail cover” program enables law enforcement to obtain address information and images of the outsides of mail as part of an investigation without the need for a warrant through the Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Postal Service’s policing arm.

According to a report from CBS News, authorities are currently using “data analytics” to spot similar packages to those identified as containing bombs. Images of packages shared with the press show a common return address, using the misspelled name of Representative and former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Postal Inspection Service doesn’t generally comment on its investigative techniques. The agency referred questions from Fast Company to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the lead agency on the case, which declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

“Insufficient controls”

As part of the mail cover program, mail is routinely digitally photographed as part of the sorting process and even available for recipients to digitally preview in some areas. Apart from threats like bombs, the department says its main focus is on mail theft, fraud, and narcotics cases.

Because a mail cover involves reading only information on the outside of the envelope or package, courts have not ruled it a violation of the Fourth Amendment. But that hasn’t stilled concerns about privacy and abuse.

For decades, the relatively obscure program has come under criticism for its lack of protections, for allowing data to be shared in broader cases than postal regulations allow, and for operating largely outside of public view. Critics have also warned that extensive surveillance of someone’s mail, especially combined with other surveillance, could create privacy violations.

After an audit, the Postal Service inspector general determined in 2014 that the Inspection Service did not have “sufficient controls” in place to ensure that its employees followed the agency’s policies in handling national security mail covers.

“Insufficient controls over the mail covers program could hinder the Postal Inspection Service’s ability to conduct effective investigations, lead to public concerns over privacy of mail, and harm the Postal Service’s brand,” it warned in a report.

Mail covers drew fire in the 1970s as part of government surveillance of groups deemed subversive, after a 15-year-old girl was apparently put under surveillance for writing a letter to a radical group. She had reportedly actually intended to contact a similarly named organization as part of a homework assignment.

But in the ongoing mail bomb case, use of mail covers is probably justified and in line with regulations, says Steven Morrison, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota, who was the author of a 2015 report from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers calling for greater oversight of the program.

“This is going to have no difficulty in satisfying any regulation,” he says. “Clearly this is a good use of the mail cover program.”


Democrats Are Killing It on Prestige TV

Democrats Are Killing It on Prestige TV
But conservatives have reality TV — and reality itself — on lock
By Douglas Rushkoff
Oct 26 2018

I was channel surfing the other night and came upon a shot of Hillary Clinton in some sort of conversation with Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. They were talking about the dangers of nationalism — how it’s like a virus that destroys the bonds that keep the world safe. Diversity was the key to security. And I remember wondering: What sort of TV program is actually letting this sort of lofty, idealistic conversation take place?

Then the camera cut to Téa Leoni, and I realized what was going on. This was the CBS series Madame Secretary — not the news at all, but television drama, perhaps the only place left where we can witness discussions of this depth and sense of purpose. And the scene wasn’t simply cut together from existing news footage. The former secretaries of state were on the show, in character, reading scripted lines about the inclusive nature of real democracy and the danger of letting our vigilance wane.

This kind of entertainment may be satisfying at a time when our president reflexively defends tyrants and makes up facts. But it’s a dangerous place to safeguard our true hopes for democracy.

We have relegated our best selves and highest ambitions to the fictional worlds of prestige TV. Meanwhile, the rowdy insults and degenerate behavior of reality TV have moved into the real White House. How did this happen?

It all started with Dan Quayle. Back in 1991, shortly after the L.A. riots, the vice president blamed the uprising on “a poverty of values.” He criticized prime-time TV for having “Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice. He used terms like “family values” and decried Hollywood’s “cultural elite” and the decline in morals on America’s wicked coasts.

It was a brilliant if shortsighted move: Attack the press (Brown was a newscaster) without actually attacking the press. Additionally, as voters knew at the time, Bill Clinton had been raised by a single mother and Quayle was implying that this would make for a leader with questionable morality.

But impugning a fictional television character proved disastrous. That year’s Emmy Awards turned into an all-out assault on Quayle for attacking the industry’s values, women’s rights, and one of their beloved creations. Then it was the fictional character’s turn to respond. The much-anticipated 1992 season premiere of Murphy Brown aired in the same weeks as the presidential debates. In it, the fictional newswoman tries to soothe her fictional crying infant as the the real Dan Quayle disparages her by name on her own TV. “What planet is he on?” she yells at the screen. “I agonized over this decision!”

She goes on to respond directly to Quayle from her fictional news desk in a heartfelt speech written for her by the show’s real producers, who were already high-level Clinton supporters. “In searching for the causes of our social ills, we could choose to blame the media or the Congress or an administration that’s been in power for 12 years, or we could blame me… Perhaps it’s time for the vice president to… recognize that whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes.”

As I analyzed the situation at the time, Quayle was doomed — no matter his politics — because he was fighting a fictional character. More than one paper cited Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as the closest cultural reference to Quayle’s willing self-immersion into a fictional world. He even sent a stuffed animal to Murphy Brown’s fictional baby, as if to apologize. The producers thanked him and said they would be sending it to a homeless shelter “for a real child to enjoy.”

Fictional television became the safe haven for progressive ideals. During the disastrous George W. Bush era, The West Wing provided progressive elites — and even intellectual conservatives — with the sustained fantasy of a thoughtful, college-educated administration that stayed up at all hours of the night to wrestle with the moral complexities of geopolitics.