An Engineer’s Guide to Cats 2.0 – The Sequel

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America is still a deeply racist country

From The Guardian UK:

Gone is the overt, violent, and legal racism of my childhood in the 1960s. It’s been replaced by a subtler, still ugly version, Sunday 12 January 2014

A week after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, I walked into my old hometown bar in central Florida to hear, “Well if a nigger can be president, then I can have another drink. Give me a whiskey straight up.”

Only one day in the town and I thought, “Damn the south.”

I had returned home to bury my father, who had spent much of the 1950s and ’60s fighting for civil rights in the south. Consequently, my childhood was defined by race. It was why our car was shot at, why threats were made to burn our house down, why some neighbors forbid me to play on their lawn, why I was taunted at school as a “nigger lover”.

It was nothing compared to what the blacks in town had to endure. I was just residing in the seam of something much uglier.

It is also why I left as soon as I could, exercising an option few others had. I eventually moved to New York City to work on Wall Street.

In the next 15 years I thought less about race. It is possible to live in the northeast as a white liberal and think little about it, to convince yourself that most of the crude past is behind. Outward signs suggest things are different now: I live in an integrated neighborhood, my kids have friends of all colors, and my old office is diverse compared to what I grew up with. As many point out, America even has a black man (technically bi-racial) as president.

Soon after my father passed away, I started to venture beyond my Wall Street life, to explore parts of New York that I had only previously passed through on the way to airports. I did this with my camera, initially as a hobby. I ended up spending three years documenting addiction in the New York’s Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point. There I was slapped in the face by the past.

In my Florida hometown, there is a train track that splits the town into two colors. When we passed into the black section of town, even if I were lying in the back of the station wagon, I knew it. The gravel roads would wake me, and I could basically smell poverty through the windows.

Crossing into Hunts Point in New York is the same, complete with a train track. The roads are paved, but feel unpaved. The stench of poverty has not changed much (industrial waste rather than uncollected garbage), nor has its clamor or its destructive power.

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The racism at the heart of the Reagan presidency

From Salon:

How Ronald Reagan used coded racial appeals to galvanize white voters and gut the middle class

Saturday, Jan 11, 2014

The rocket-quick rise of racial politics leveled off briefly in the 1970s, before shooting upward again. In good part because of racial appeals, the Republican Party had transformed the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater into the overwhelming re-election of Richard Nixon. Then, in the 1976 presidential race, the defection toward the Republicans temporarily decelerated. Revulsion over corruption in the Nixon White House, revealed in the Watergate scandal, played a role. In addition, in an effort to distance himself from Nixon’s dirty tricks, the Republican candidate and former Nixon vice president, Gerald Ford, refused to exploit coded racial appeals in his campaign. Not that this marked the disappearance of race-baiting; instead, it merely shifted to Ford’s opponent, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. Carter was a racial moderate, and today he deservedly enjoys a reputation as a great humanitarian. Nevertheless, in the mid-1970s he knew that his political fortunes turned on his ability to attract Wallace voters in the South and the North as well. Campaigning in Indiana in April 1976, Carter forcefully opposed neighborhood integration:

I have nothing against a community that’s made up of people who are Polish or Czechoslovakian or French-Canadian, or who are blacks trying to maintain the ethnic purity of their neighborhoods. This is a natural inclination on the part of the people. I don’t think government ought to deliberately try to break down an ethnically oriented neighborhood by artificially injecting into it someone from another ethnic group just to create some form of integration.

Carter adopted an emerging technique in the 1970s, hiding references to whites behind talk of ethnic subpopulations, and he also presented blacks as trying to preserve their own segregated neighborhoods. Notwithstanding these dissimulations, few could fail to understand that Carter was defending white efforts to oppose racial integration, and many liberals criticized Carter for doing so. Nixon, who had been loudly berated by Democrats when he announced that neighborhood integration was not in the national interest, surely appreciated the spectacle. As Carter, too, came under attack, he apologized for using the term “ethnic purity,” but made a point of reiterating on national news that “the government shouldn’t actively try to force changes in neighborhoods with their own ethnic character.”

Carter won the presidency in 1976 with 48 percent of the white vote, sharply better than the Democratic presidential candidate four years earlier who had pulled support from only 30 percent of white voters. But even with widespread revulsion at Nixon as well as Carter’s own Southern strategy, Carter did not manage to carry the white vote nationally. It was his 90 percent support among African Americans, many still furious at Nixon’s dog whistling, that put Carter over the top. In the mid-1970s, racial realignment in party affiliation had been temporarily slowed, not knocked down. Moreover, Carter’s racial pandering— and Ford’s principled failure—seemed to cement the political logic of racebaiting. In the 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan would come out firing on racial issues, and would blast past Carter. Just 36 percent of whites, only slightly better than one in three, voted for Carter in 1980.

Ronald Reagan

Why did Ronald Reagan do so well among white voters? Certainly elements beyond race contributed, including the faltering economy, foreign events (especially in Iran), the nation’s mood, and the candidates’ temperaments. But one indisputable factor was the return of aggressive race-baiting. A year after Reagan’s victory, a key operative gave what was then an anonymous interview, and perhaps lulled by the anonymity, he offered an unusually candid response to a question about Reagan, the Southern strategy, and the drive to attract the “Wallace voter”:

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Antarctic Glacier’s ‘Irreversible’ Melting Threatens ‘Considerable Increase’ to Sea Level Rise

From Common Dreams:

New study on Pine Island Glacier shows ‘striking vision of the near future,’ says co-author

Andrea Germanos

An Antarctic glacier is melting “irreversibly,” offering “a striking vision of the near future,” a new study shows.

The study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at Pine Island Glacier, the largest single contributor to sea-level rise in the Antarctic.

The team of scientists used three ice flow models to look at the glacier’s grounding line, which separates the grounded ice sheet from the floating ice shelf.

The grounding line, which has already retreated by about 10 kilometers in the last decade, “is probably engaged in an unstable 40 kilometer retreat,” the study finds.

The glacier “has started a phase of self-sustained retreat and will irreversibly continue its decline,” said Gael Durand, a glaciologist with France’s Grenoble Alps University and study co-author.

Durand says the findings show “a striking vision of the near future. All the models suggest that [the glacier’s] recession will not stop, cannot be reversed and that more ice will be transferred into the ocean.”

Agence France-Presse adds:

A massive river of ice, the glacier by itself is responsible for 20 per cent of total ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet today.

On average, it shed 20 billion tonnes of ice annually from 1992-2011, a loss that is likely to increase up to and above 100 billion tonnes each year, said the study.

“The Pine Island Glacier shows the biggest changes in this area at the moment, but if it is unstable it may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet,” Planet Earth Online reports study co-author G. Hilmar Gudmundsson from the National Environment Research Council’s British Antarctic Survey as saying.

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Bid to repeal transgender-student law falling short

From SF Gate:

Carla Marinucci
Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Opponents of a new state law that expands transgender students’ rights appear to have fallen just short of qualifying a repeal initiative for the November ballot, the secretary of state’s office said Wednesday.

A random sampling indicated that the law’s opponents failed to gather the 504,760 valid signatures of registered voters that they needed to put their measure on the ballot, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said. Her office will now begin a full signature-by-signature count that could take 30 working days, or until Feb. 24.

Opponents of the law, AB1266, turned in 619,244 signatures in November. But the random count showed that just 482,582, or about 78 percent, were likely to be valid, Bowen’s office said.

The signature-gathering drive was mounted by a coalition of church and conservative groups called Privacy for All Students. It was led by Frank Schubert, a Republican political strategist who also headed the 2008 campaign for Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage in California. That measure passed, but federal courts ruled it unconstitutional.

The law opposed by Privacy for All Students was sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

It mandates that schools let transgender students use facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify. It also requires that such students be given access to activities such as sports teams that are in line with their gender orientation.

The law took effect Jan. 1, according to Bowen’s office, but would be put on hold if the repeal initiative qualifies.

Although Bowen’s announcement Wednesday signals that may not happen, the initiative’s proponents said they aren’t giving up.

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Merely an “Inconvenience”: Judge OKs Border Search of Private Electronics

From Common Dreams:

ACLU calls decision total defeat for personal privacy of innocent people crossing border

Jon Queally

In a decision the ACLU says has “no silver lining,” a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the U.S. government has the right to search the private electronic devices of individuals crossing its international border—even those of U.S. citizens—calling the possibility of having ones computer or phone taken and searched by authorities “simply among the many inconveniences associated with international travel.”

Though the judge who made the ruling, Edward R. Korman of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York, contended such searches are rare. He also indicated that traveling abroad with electronically stored data was not necessary and that ways to “mitigate” the possibility of a search were possible.

“While it is true that laptops may make overseas work more convenient,” he wrote, “the precautions plaintiffs may choose to take to ‘mitigate’ the alleged harm associated with the remote possibility of a border search are simply among the many inconveniences associated with international travel.”

According to the ACLU, however, the government itself has records showing that thousands of innocent American citizens have been searched as they return from trips abroad.

Cases of ethnic minorities, political activists, and working journalists being specifically targeted are also well-documented in the post-9/11 era.

“We’re disappointed in today’s decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing,” said Catherine Crump, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case in July 2011. “Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight.”

As the New York Times reports:

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by Pascal Abidor, a graduate student in Islamic studies, who sued the government after American border agents removed him from an Amtrak train crossing from Canada to New York. He was handcuffed, placed in a cell and questioned for several hours, then his laptop was seized and kept for 11 days.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Press Photographers Association were also plaintiffs in the case, arguing that their members travel with confidential information that should be protected from government scrutiny.

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Fukushima Update: The Nuclear Disaster That Won’t Go Away

From Truth Out:

By Beth Buczynski
Sunday, 12 January 2014

When was the last time you heard an update about the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the evening news? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You might take the silence to mean that everything’s fine, but it’s not. In fact, if the little blips and pieces of news coming out of Japan are any indication, things are far from fine, and are getting worse by the second. Those of us in other countries, even on the other side of the world, may soon get our own taste of nuclear fallout.

Imminent Meltdown?

On New Year’s Day (nearly three years after the initial incident) operators of the Fukushima plant reported that “plumes of most probably radioactive steam” had been seen rising from the reactor 3 building. According to, “the Reactor 3 fuel storage pond still houses an estimated 89 tons of the plutonium-based MOX nuclear fuel composed of 514 fuel rods.” Unfortunately, high levels of radiation inside the building make it nearly impossible to determine the source of the mystery steam. Although TEPCO, the plant’s operator, claims there’s no increased danger (small comfort from the people who admitted to the world that they have no control over the situation), most agree that the plant is just seconds away from another disaster.

Farmland Contamination

ust a year after the nuclear disaster, Japanese farmers were allowed to return to their fields near the plant. This despite government estimates that it could take as long as 40 years to clean up the farmland around the Fukushima plant. Despite claims that the area has been cleaned up, the farmers themselves know that they’re simply growing food stuffs in contaminated soil. Although all farm produce must be checked for the cesium level prior to shipping (below 100 becquerel is considered “safe”), the farmers refuse to eat it themselves and are stricken with guilt over selling it to their countrymen.

Seafood Industry Threatened

Toward the end of last year, U.S. scientists and wildlife specialists officially became worried about Fukushima’s impact on the fishing industry. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s all one big ocean. If a massive amount of contamination is dumped into the ocean on one side of the world, rest assured it will eventually make it’s way to the other. We saw this with physical rubble from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and the same currents are bringing the invisible contaminants as well. Fish, especially salmon, must migrate through the radioactive plumes coming off Fukushima before being harvested on North American coasts. Some believe this represents an eventual health crisis, and that it’s no longer safe to eat fish from the Pacific Ocean.

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