Author Archive | majestic

The NSA school: How the intelligence community gets smarter, secretly

Have you heard of the National Cryptologic School? The Washington Post profiles the training school for NSA spies:

Leonard Reinsfelder’s wife found a note on her car as she was leaving a shopping center one day: “Have your husband give us a call. We think we could use him.”

There was a phone number, and nothing else.

So began Reinsfelder’s career at the National Cryptologic School, which functions as a sort of college for the National Security Agency and the intelligence community.


Reinsfelder, a high-school Spanish teacher with multiple graduate degrees, took the job not knowing what it would be; they couldn’t tell him until he got inside and got security clearance.

The National Cryptologic School is a school unlike any other. It’s extremely carefully guarded, for starters, with a series of checkpoints to get to class.

Some of the students’ identities are secret.

There’s no homework to take home.

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Tor Wars: The Signal Awakens

Amada44 (CC)

Amada44 (CC)

Total surveillance is pretty much a fait accompli, even if 007 put a spoke in SPECTRE’s dastardly plans this weekend. TechCrunch‘s Jon Evans thinks the only place you can actually have privacy may be online, in a contrarian piece:

The long arm of the law wants ever more eyes, if you’ll pardon the gruesome metaphor. The UK government recently unveiled an attempt to legalize “draconian state surveillance powers.” US voices keep calling for a mythical “secure golden key” for government access to encrypted messages. Canadian police describe encryption plus legal decisions favoring online privacy as “a deadly combination.”

Meanwhile, in meatspace, cameras are everywhere. An EFF report on the thousands of automated license place cameras out in the wild, “mounted on street poles to capture the plates of passing cars as part of ongoing law enforcement dragnet surveillance programs,” revealed that “more than a hundred ALPR cameras were exposed online, often with totally open Web pages accessible by anyone with a browser.” Another informs us that “mobile biometric technologies are now being deployed more widely and cheaply than ever before—and with less oversight”?

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Artificial intelligence: ‘Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods and the rest of us’

“The marriage of AI and robotics could replace so many jobs that the era of mass employment could come to an end,” according to a new report featured in the Observer:

If you wanted relief from stories about tyre factories and steel plants closing, you could try relaxing with a new 300-page report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch which looks at the likely effects of a robot revolution.

Even DJs can be replaced by robots. Photo: Brian Beaver (CC)

Even DJs can be replaced by robots. Photo: Brian Beaver (CC)


But you might not end up reassured. Though it promises robot carers for an ageing population, it also forecasts huge numbers of jobs being wiped out: up to 35% of all workers in the UK and 47% of those in the US, including white-collar jobs, seeing their livelihoods taken away by machines.

Haven’t we heard all this before, though? From the luddites of the 19th century to print unions protesting in the 1980s about computers, there have always been people fearful about the march of mechanisation.

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Meet the futurists: People who ‘live in the future’

Personally I’m not sure that sporting a New Romantic haircut and an antenna means you’re living in the future, but for what it’s worth, CNN invites you to meet people who “live in the future”:

You might call it a kind of social movement: They call themselves, futurists.

Neil Harbisson. Photo by Matt Sacramento (CC)

Neil Harrison, best known for being the first person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull. Photo by Matt Sacramento (CC)


Futurists say they look at life with a perspective that they consider to be 5 to 10 years ahead of the rest of us. Obviously they’re fascinated by the cutting edges of technology. But many of them are fascinated by the idea of bridging technology and the human body.

“I’m essentially living in the future,” says Anders Sandberg — a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. “I’m trying to think ahead. But prediction is really hard.

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Religious Children are Meaner

See, Sunday School just makes kids meaner! From the Guardian:

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Sunday school

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study.

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Books Are Dangerous

Contagion, poison and trigger. The idea that books are dangerous has a long history, and holds a kernel of truth, says Frank Furedi at Aeon:

At universities around the world, students are claiming that reading books can unsettle them to the point of becoming depressed, traumatised or even suicidal. Some contend that Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway (1925), in which a suicide has taken place, could trigger suicidal thoughts among those disposed to self-harm. Others insist that F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), with its undercurrent of spousal violence, might trigger painful memories of domestic abuse. Even ancient classical texts, students have argued, can be dangerous: at Columbia University in New York, student activists demanded that a warning be attached to Ovid’s Metamorphoses on grounds that its ‘vivid depictions of rape’ might trigger a feeling of insecurity and vulnerability among some undergraduates.

deviant lit

This LA bookstore decided to label disinformation books as “deviant” – we love that!

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The Pentagon’s Law of War Manual

The US Department of Defense published its “Law of War Manual” in June and now the World Socialist Web Site dissects some of the more controversial provisions:

The new US Department of Defense Law of War Manual is essentially a guidebook for violating international and domestic law and committing war crimes. The 1,165-page document, dated June 2015 and recently made available online, is not a statement of existing law as much as a compendium of what the Pentagon wishes the law to be.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 12.19.00 PM

According to the manual, the “law of war” (i.e., the law of war according to the Pentagon) supersedes international human rights treaties as well as the US Constitution.

The manual authorizes the killing of civilians during armed conflict and establishes a framework for mass military detentions . Journalists, according to the manual, can be censored and punished as spies on the say-so of military officials. The manual freely discusses the use of nuclear weapons, and it does not prohibit napalm, depleted uranium munitions, cluster bombs or other indiscriminate weapons.

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Willie Nelson’s Crusade Against ‘Big Pot’

Willie Nelson is dead set against agri-business farming and production methods ruining his supply of marijuana so he’s taking on “Big Pot,” as New York Magazine calls it:

…Nelson is gearing up for a different battle. He has been a vocal advocate of marijuana legalization for more than half a century, but he has watched the last few years unfold with a combination of joy and dread. Even as the country has softened its stance toward marijuana, a legion of large corporations has gathered to dominate the legal market. Nelson figures he has at least one good fight left. In what may be his last political act, he is declaring war on Big Pot.

Think Green

By way of first principles, let us pause to establish that legalization is here. That fight is over; legal weed has arrived; all that remains is for the last chips to fall. Some form of marijuana has already been approved in 23 states, and roughly 80 percent of the American public currently favors medicinal use.

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Ben Carson’s unusual theory about pyramids

Not that I think closed-minded Egyptologists of the Zahi Hawass ilk have it all right either, but US Presidential candidate Ben Carson’s Biblically-influenced Giza Pyramids theory isn’t exactly lodged in scientific study, as reported by CBS News:

Ben Carson stood by his long-held belief about ancient pyramids in Egypt, that they were used to store grain, rather than to inter pharaohs.

Dr. Ben Carson 1998 Graduation key note speaker (YouTube)

Dr. Ben Carson 1998 Graduation key note speaker (YouTube)


Asked about this Wednesday, Carson told CBS News, “It’s still my belief, yes.”

The subject came up when Buzzfeed published a 1998 commencement speech delivered by Carson at Andrews University, a college founded by Seventh-day Adventists.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it.

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Million mask march: How Guy Fawkes became the global face of modern protest

Remember, remember the Fifth of November, disinfonauts: This year Britain’s annual fireworks and bonfire celebration in the name of Guy Fawkes also marks the “Million Mask March.”

We Are Anonymous Sydney 2014

DW looks at how the Guy Fawkes mask has become the defining image of modern protest:

As night falls across the UK on November 5, thousands of families will be heading out to their nearest park to enjoy the local bonfire and fireworks display, whilst likely tucking into some bonfire specialities such as Parkin or toffee apples.

The British tradition marks the day in 1605 when Catholic would-be terrorist Guy Fawkes was arrested after attempting to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament in London.

On the same night, in cities both in the UK and around the world, thousands of people are also due to take to the streets for the global “Million Mask March” and don their “Guy Fawkes” masks – a pale bearded face, made famous by Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s 1980s graphic novel “V for Vendetta” and the 2006 Warner Bros.

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