Author Archives: richardbrenneman

And we’re officially on hiatus for a week. . .


Or maybe more.

We’re moving this weekend, and there’s lots to be done.

From Berkeley to Gardena, what a move.

We’ve made some good friends here in Berkeley, and we’ll miss them, but in Southern California we’ll have a two kids and a granddaughter close by.

Once we’ve got a new Internet connection, we’ll be back up and running, though posting will be slow as we get settled in.

Oh. We may add an occasional posts during the remainder of the week as we pause for a breather, but don’t count on it.

Meanwhile, enjoy the show!

Well make the rest of our signoff graphic:

First, from the Sacramento Bee:

Jack Ohman: Give him a small hand. . .

BLOG B Ohman
Next, from the Arizona Republic:

Steve Benson: Donald Trump’s teapology

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We give equal time, first with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Steve Sack: The Hillary Clinton stash

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And from the Indianapolis Star:

Gary Varvel: Clinton Foundation money

BLOG B VarvelAnd finally, the show must go on, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Mike Luckovich: Faux

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John Oliver tackles, destroys charter schools


Charter schools, those private institutions so beloved by Republicans, have been judged and the results are mixed.

One recent study [open source] concluded:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.. . .Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.  In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects throughout the distribution of school quality.

More on the study from Education Week:

Texas charter schools on average have a negative effect on students’ future earnings, according to a new working paper by two economists.

Although attending a “no excuse” charter school, which the study describes as having stricter rules, uniforms, and longer school days and years, leads to higher test scores and four-year college enrollment, it has no meaningful effect on earnings.

Other types of charter schools, however, stumble on all three measures: hurting test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings.

These findings are almost the opposite of another study of Florida charter school students released in April from Mathematica Policy Research. It found that attending a charter school had little impact on test scores, but students went on to earn higher salaries than their peers in district schools.

Enough with the prefacing, and one with the show.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Charter Schools: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Program notes:

Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded, and irregularly regulated. John Oliver explores why they aren’t at all like pizzerias.

Political thuggery on the right, U.S. & Greece


Trump blows his horn again

We begin in the U.S., with two of the usual suspects, starting with this from the Guardian:

Donald Trump veered off the teleprompter on Monday night to claim that “inner cities run by the Democrats” were more dangerous than countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Republican nominee was meant to be delivering a scripted speech calling for Hillary Clinton be investigated by a special prosecutor. However, once again he veered off message in an attempt to appeal to minority voters in apocalyptic terms.

“You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it is safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats,” Trump said. The Republican nominee also promised if elected, “we’ll get rid of the crime. You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Now, you walk down the street, you get shot.”

A ZioCon Joe McCarthy brandishes a list

Sen Joe McCarthy became infamous for his self-aggrandizing Red Hunts during the early 1950’s, most famous brandishing a list with the names of 57 alleged secret communists in the State Department

From the Guardian again, the second of the usual U.S. suspects, this time deploying that nasty little trick of publishing a list, this time affixing the antisemite label on anyone who opposes Israeli government actions [a label that’s been attached to esnl for the same reason]:

Sheldon Adelson, the Nevada casino mogul and conservative mega-donor, is leading a campaign against pro-Palestine groups on US college campuses and has funded posters that accuse individual students of supporting terrorism and promoting “Jew Hatred”.

The multimillion-dollar effort, which has launched at six campuses in California, is targeting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that has become increasingly popular among American university students protesting the Israeli government.

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), recent Adelson-funded posters named 16 students and professors, saying they “have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetuate BDS and Jew Hatred on this campus”. It further claimed BDS was a “Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel”.

Robert Gardner, a 25-year-old UCLA senior, saw his name on one of the posters outside a grocery market. “I was really shocked and felt really disturbed,” he said.

“They are trying to cast us as antisemitic, that we are somehow a discriminatory group,” said the political science student, who is a member of the college’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization. “That is a completely spurious accusation. One of our core principles is anti-oppression and anti-racism.”

And a thuggish Greek legislator steps it up

And on to Greece, with a neo-Nazi national legislator joining the fray [literally], via eKathimerini:

Golden Dawn deputy Constantinos Barbarousis has been implicated, along with a relative and at least three other men, in a violent beating of a police officer at a coffee shop in the village of Fiteies in the region of Aetoloacarnania in central Greece Monday.

According to reports, the incident followed an altercation between one of the extreme-right lawmaker’s relatives and the officer over a traffic violation earlier in the day.

The policeman was off duty when he was attacked by his assailants, who, according to witnesses, pulled up outside the cafe in two cars, with Barbarousis and four other men inside. All five barged into the shop and attacked the victim using clubs, brass knuckles and bats.

The officer suffered head injuries and required stitches, while his brother and a friend, who were also present during the incident, suffered light injuries.

Gut microbes, antibiotics linked to diabetes


Graph of the relationships between groups of bacterial species called OTUs found to occur together in mice either treated with antibiotics or not. Antibiotic-treated mice (red) have a very different, and less diverse, set of OTUs than the control mice (blue). Image courtesy of Nature Microbiology.

Graph of the relationships between groups of bacterial species called OTUs found to occur together in mice either treated with antibiotics or not. Antibiotic-treated mice (red) have a very different, and less diverse, set of OTUs than the control mice (blue). Image courtesy of Nature Microbiology.

Most of the cells in our bodies don’t belong to use; instead, they represent the host of micorganisms in our digestive tracts and play a critical role in extracting the nutrients from the foods we eat.

Yet until recently, scientists have paid little attention to the role these critters may play in our health, other than to ensure we get the nourishment we need to keep our own cells alive and well.

But as regular readers know, studies are revealing that they may play roles in the onset of a wide range of illnesses, ranging from multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis [our own affliction] to anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.

We also know that antibiotics, the drugs we’ve invented to treat once-fatal bacterial infections, can have a lethal impact on those same internally resident creatures, as we’ve sometimes experienced in the diarrhea often accompanying a heavy dose of antibiotics.

By killing off much of our internal alien population, could we actually be contributing to the rise of other dangerous conditions?

Specially, in this case, diabetes?

The answer may well be yes.

From the New York University Langone Medical Center:

In doses equivalent to those used regularly in human children, antibiotics changed the mix of gut microbes in young mice to dramatically increase their risk for type 1 diabetes. That is the finding of a study led by researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center with support from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and published August 22 in Nature Microbiology [$32 to download].

The study results center on the microbiome, the bacterial species in our guts that co-evolved with humans to play roles in digestion, metabolism, and immunity. As children’s exposure to microbe-killing antibiotics has increased in recent decades, the incidence of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes has more than doubled. The average American child currently receives 10 courses of antibiotics by age 10.

Specifically, the new study found that short pulses of antibiotics cause mice that are susceptible to type 1 diabetes to develop the disease more quickly and more often than mice not treated with antibiotics.

“Our study begins to clarify the mechanisms by which antibiotic-driven changes in gut microbiomes may increase risk for type 1 diabetes,” says Martin Blaser, MD, the Muriel G. and George W. Singer Professor of Translational Medicine at NYU School of Medicine, and the study’s senior author. “This work uses NOD mice, the best model of type 1 diabetes to date, and doses of antibiotics like those received by most children to treat common infections.”

“This latest study result is compelling, linking the effects of use of antibiotics in mice to type 1 diabetes,” says Jessica Dunne, director of discovery research at JDRF. “This is the first study of its kind suggesting that antibiotic use can alter the microbiota and have lasting effects on immunological and metabolic development, resulting in autoimmunity. We’re eager to see how these findings may impact the discovery of type 1 diabetes preventive treatments in the future and continued research in the area of vaccines.”

More after the jump. . .
Continue reading

Quote of the day: Was NSA ‘hack’ an inside job?


The posting of a catalog offering the supersecret National Security Agency’s hacking tools has been blamed on Russia by the Obama administration, but America’s most respected journalist covering the NSA beat writes that rather than a Russia hack, the raid on the NSA’s family jewels was more likely an inside job.

From James Bamford, writing for Reuters:

Like a bank robber’s tool kit for breaking into a vault, cyber exploitation tools, with codenames like EPICBANANA and BUZZDIRECTION, are designed to break into computer systems and networks. Just as the bank robber hopes to find a crack in the vault that has never been discovered, hackers search for digital cracks, or “exploits,” in computer programs like Windows.

The most valuable are “zero day” exploits, meaning there have been zero days since Windows has discovered the “crack” in their programs. Through this crack, the hacker would be able to get into a system and exploit it, by stealing information, until the breach is eventually discovered and patched. According to the former NSA officials who viewed the Shadow Broker files, they contained a number of exploits, including zero-day exploits that the NSA often pays thousands of dollars for to private hacking groups.

The reasons given for laying the blame on Russia appear less convincing, however. “This is probably some Russian mind game, down to the bogus accent,” James A. Lewis, a computer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told the New York Times. Why the Russians would engage in such a mind game, he never explained.

Rather than the NSA hacking tools being snatched as a result of a sophisticated cyber operation by Russia or some other nation, it seems more likely that an employee stole them. Experts who have analyzed the files suspect that they date to October 2013, five months after Edward Snowden left his contractor position with the NSA and fled to Hong Kong carrying flash drives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of NSA documents.

So, if Snowden could not have stolen the hacking tools, there are indications that after he departed in May 2013, someone else did, possibly someone assigned to the agency’s highly sensitive Tailored Access Operations.

>snip<

[W]e now have entered a period many have warned about, when NSA’s cyber weapons could be stolen like loose nukes and used against us. It opens the door to criminal hackers, cyber anarchists and hostile foreign governments that can use the tools to gain access to thousands of computers in order to steal data, plant malware and cause chaos.

It’s one more reason why NSA may prove to be one of Washington’s greatest liabilities rather than assets.

Japan focuses on saving your privacy on the IoT


And what, pray tell, is the IoT?

It’s the Internet of Things, all those devices in your home with wireless connections to the Internet.

And to protect your privacy, only a Trumpian solution seems to work.

In other words, you’ll have to build a wall.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

BLOG Wall

More from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

In preparation for the spread of the internet of things [IoT], the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry will develop a “protective wall” to safeguard home electronics connected to the internet from cyber-attacks, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

There has been an increasing number of cases in which IoT devices at home are hacked and used as a base for cyber-attacks. The ministry plans to build a system, or protective wall, on the internet to prevent unauthorized operation of devices and stop them being infected with viruses, according to sources.

Development expenses totaling several hundred million yen will be incorporated in the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2016. In cooperation with electronics makers and telecommunications carriers, the ministry aims to put the system into practical use within a year or two.

It is difficult to improve the security of home electronics such as televisions, security cameras and routers by upgrading their software. While industrial IoT devices and personal computers are guarded with a protective wall or software, many consumer IoT devices are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

The ministry plans to build a system on the internet in which access to all consumer IoT devices via the internet must go through a protective wall. Any unauthorized communication will be blocked. If there is a security problem with a consumer IoT device, a warning will be issued. The ministry aims to have the system protect existing IoT products as well.

Headline of the day: Pay to play with Hillary


From the Washington Post:

Emails reveal how foundation donors got access to Clinton and her close aides at State Dept.

  • A sports executive who was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and whose firm paid Bill Clinton millions of dollars in consulting fees wanted help getting a visa for a British soccer player with a criminal past.
  • The crown prince of Bahrain, whose government gave more than $50,000 to the Clintons’ charity and who participated in its glitzy annual conference, wanted a last-minute meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • U2 rocker and philanthropist Bono, also a regular at foundation events, wanted high-level help broadcasting a live link to the International Space Station during concerts.