Posts Tagged “news from the stupid”

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As a colleague said earlier today, now is a good time to find a nice country with no extradition treaty with the US. Interestingly, both Russia and Qatar qualify, as do several African countries. Just sayin…

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It costs 50$ for a 750ml bottle.  The frosted, corked bottles are emblazoned with hand-applied, Swarovski crystals. It’s the talk of the fashionistas and the glitterati. The drink has shown up at the Grammy’s, Emmy’s and MTV Video Music Awards in the hands of celebrities.

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Bling H2O is the creation of a Hollywood writer-producer who knows the importance of image and what your choice in bottled water conveys to the public. In Hollywood it seems the bottled water one carries has become an important prop.

MoS2 Template Master

According to researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, the card system developed by VISA for use in the United Kingdom fails to recognize transactions made in non-UK foreign currencies and can therefore be tricked into approving any transaction up to 999,999.99.

What’s more, because the cards allow for contactless transactions, wherein consumers need only to have the card in the vicinity of a reader without swiping it, a thief carrying a card reader designed to read a card that’s stored in a wallet or purse could conduct fraudulent transactions without the victim ever removing their card.

Since the transaction is done offline without going through a retailer’s point-of-sale system, no other security checks are done.

“With just a mobile phone we created a POS terminal that could read a card through a wallet,” Martin Emms, lead researcher of the project that uncovered the flaw, noted in a statement about the findings. “All the checks are carried out on the card rather than the terminal so at the point of transaction, there is nothing to raise suspicions. By pre-setting the amount you want to transfer, you can bump your mobile against someone’s pocket or swipe your phone over a wallet left on a table and approve a transaction.”

In tests the researchers conducted, transactions took less than a second to be approved. In the UK, contactless payments are limited to a maximum value of £20, requiring a PIN for anything more than this. But the researchers found that the system doesn’t recognize foreign currency transactions and therefore doesn’t require a PIN for these.

“This lends itself to multiple attackers across the world collecting small transactions of perhaps €200 at a time for a central rogue merchant who could be located anywhere in the world,” Emms notes. “This previously undocumented flaw around foreign currency, combined with the lack of POS terminal authentication and the ease of skimming contactless credit cards, makes the system more vulnerable to high-value attacks.

It is not clear from reading the payment protocol how banks would deal with the inconsistencies we have found through our research, hence we believe the vulnerability poses a potential threat,” he said. “The fact that we can by-pass the £20 limit makes this new hack potentially very scalable and lucrative. All a criminal would need to do is set up somewhere like an airport or the London underground where the use of different currencies would appear legitimate.”

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Anti-vaxxers, u mad!

A sense of disbelief and distress is quickly rippling through the U.S. artisan cheese community, as the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week announced it will not permit American cheesemakers to age cheese on wooden boards.

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Recently, the FDA inspected several New York state cheesemakers and cited them for using wooden surfaces to age their cheeses. The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets’ Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services, which (like most every state in the U.S., including Wisconsin), has allowed this practice, reached out to FDA for clarification on the issue. A response was provided by Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s (CFSAN) Dairy and Egg Branch.

In the response, Metz stated that the use of wood for cheese ripening or aging is considered an unsanitary practice by FDA, and a violation of FDA’s current Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations. Here’s an excerpt:

“Microbial pathogens can be controlled if food facilities engage in good manufacturing practice. Proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that pathogens do not find niches to reside and proliferate. Adequate cleaning and sanitation procedures are particularly important in facilities where persistent strains of pathogenic microorganisms like Listeria monocytogenes could be found. The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that “all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.” 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.”

In an email to industry professionals, Rob Ralyea, in the Department of Food Science and the Pilot Plant Manager at Cornell University in New York, says: “According to the FDA this is merely proper enforcement of the policy that was already in place. While the FDA has had jurisdiction in all food plants, it deferred cheese inspections almost exclusively to the states. This has all obviously changed under FSMA.”

Ah, FSMA. For those of you not in the know, the Food Safety Modernization Act is the most sweeping reform of American food safety laws in generations. It was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011 and aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

While most cheesemakers have, perhaps, begrudgingly accepted most of what has been coming down the FSMA pike, no one expected this giant regulation behemoth to virtually put a stop to innovation in the American artisanal cheese movement.

Many of the most awarded and well-respected American artisan cheeses are currently aged on wooden boards. American Cheese Society triple Best in Show winner Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin is cured on wooden boards. Likewise for award-winners Cabot Clothbound in Vermont, current U.S. Champion cheese Marieke Feonegreek, and 2013 Best in Show Runner-Up Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar.

Wisconsin cheesemaker Chris Roelli says the FDA’s “clarified” stance on using wooden boards is a “potentially devastating development” for American cheesemakers. He and his family have spent the past eight years re-building Roelli Cheese into a next-generation American artisanal cheese factory. Just last year, he built what most would consider to be a state-of-the-art aging facility into the hillside behind his cheese plant. And Roelli, like hundreds of American artisanal cheesemaekrs, has developed his cheese recipes specifically to be aged on wooden boards.

“The very pillar that we built our niche business on is the ability to age our cheese on wood planks, an art that has been practiced in Europe for thousands of years,” Roelli says. Not allowing American cheesemakers to use this practice puts them “at a global disadvantage because the flavor produced by aging on wood can not be duplicated. This is a major game changer for the dairy industry in Wisconsin, and many other states.”

As if this weren’t all bad enough, the FDA has also “clarified” – I’m really beginning to dislike that word – that in accordance with FSMA, a cheesemaker importing cheese to the United States is subject to the same rules and inspection procedures as American cheesemakers.

Therefore, Cornell University’s Ralyea says, “It stands to reason that if an importer is using wood boards, the FDA would keep these cheeses from reaching our borders until the cheese maker is in compliance. The European Union authorizes and allows the use of wood boards. Further, the great majority of cheeses imported to this country are in fact aged on wooden boards and some are required to be aged on wood by their standard of identity (Comte, Beaufort and Reblochon, to name a few). Therefore, it will be interesting to see how these specific cheeses will be dealt with when it comes to importation into the United States.”

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‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

NEWS IN BRIEF • Guns • Violence • News • ISSUE 50•21 • May 27, 2014

ISLA VISTA, CA—In the days following a violent rampage in southern California in which a lone attacker killed seven individuals, including himself, and seriously injured over a dozen others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said North Carolina resident Samuel Wipper, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this guy from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what he really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

Emplasis mine. Good quote about the NRA: “If the NRA ran the tobacco industry, the solution to lung cancer would be more cigarettes!”

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Emphasis, mine.

Historically, lethal injection has been plagued with problems just like those that occurred in Lockett’s case, and they are due in large part to the incompetence of the people charged with administering the deadly drugs. Physicians have mostly left the field of capital punishment; the American Medical Association and other professional groups consider it highly unethical for doctors to assist with executions. As a result, the people willing to do the dirty work aren’t always at the top of their fields, or even specifically trained in the jobs they’re supposed to do. As Dr. Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma coroner who essentially created the modern lethal injection protocol, observed in the New York Times in 2007, “It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs.” Dr. Jay Chapman said that were he to do it once more, he would not recommend the three-drug concoction now in widespread use.

An injection of chemicals used to execute death row inmates can cause such excruciating pain that veterinarians are banned from using them to put down animals, according to one of the most thorough reviews ever undertaken of the administration of the death penalty.

The report, endorsed by a range of criminal justice experts, urges states have the death penalty to kill an inmate with a single chemical overdose, rather than the “three drug cocktail” used in a series of botched deaths, including Oklahoma’s disturbing execution of Clayton Lockett last week.

Lockett’s attempted execution, which took one hour and 44 minutes from the moment he was first restrained on the gurney, prompted outrage across the world. He was administered a drug cocktail in dosages never before tried in American executions, and complications arose after officials were unable to locate a suitable vein. Witnesses saw him writhing and groaning on the gurney, and it was a full 43 minutes after the drugs were administered before he died.

A spokesman for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights said Lockett’s experience in the death chamber may have constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. President Barack Obama described the case as “deeply troubling” and ordered a review into the wider use of the death penalty by the US Department of Justice, which is hampered by the fact it has no jurisdiction over state-administered executions and still in the process of determining the remit of its inquiry.

The 200-page report published on Wednesday by the Constitution Project, a Washington-based thinktank, carries particular clout because it is endorsed by a bipartisan panel of experts who both oppose and favour the death penalty. They include former judges, police chiefs, attorneys general and governors who have signed execution warrants.

The panel argues that the so-called “three-drug method”, in which death row inmates are administered a drug combination which, by turn induces unconsciousness, causes muscle paralysis and stops an individual’s heart, “poses a risk of avoidable inmate pain and suffering”.

A concern with such cocktails is that if the first, anaesthetising drug fails, as has been known to occur, a patient is at risk of feeling the agonisingly painful effects of the follow-up drugs.

Instead, the report urges states to adopt a “one drug-protocol” that kills an inmate with a single, high dose of an anaesthetic or barbiturate. “The one-drug method is also preferred over the three-drug method by veterinarians for euthanising animals because the one-drug method is more humane and less prone to error,” the report states.

“It is quite true we have executed humans in the United States with drugs that have been prohibited in the euthanising of animals, not just in Tennessee but in a number of states,” said Sarah Turberville, a senior counsel at the Constitution Project.

States have felt vindicated in their use of a three drug cocktail since 2007, when the supreme court ruled that the technique was not unconstitutional. But the Constitution Project’s report argues the ruling is moot, as states have since begun experimenting using different combinations to overcome a Europe-led moratorium on the supply of drugs used in executions.

Arkansas, Georgia, South Dakota, Texas and Tennessee have all passed laws to keep secret their execution recipes in efforts to preserve their relationship with suppliers. “Such secrecy undermines the public’s faith in the integrity of the justice system as it conceals from the public, lawyers, and those facing execution critical information about the lawfulness and reality of states’ execution procedures,” Wednesday’s report states.

Of the 32 states that have the death penalty, only eight have single-drug protocols for executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Others, such as California, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee, have indicated their intention to move toward a system of one-drug executions. However experts say some of those states are under pressure to use chemical cocktails because of the difficulty in procuring the drugs necessary for single-dose executions.

The Constitution Project is considered a moderate thinktank that strives to bridge political divides. In order to achieve support from across the political spectrum, the panel shelved the question over whether the death penalty is right or wrong.

Its report highlights other weaknesses in the administration of the death penalty, including confusion over the law relating to death row inmates with intellectual disabilities, the poor standards in forensics used to obtain convictions and what the author’s say is a flawed clemency process.

“Without substantial revisions – not only to lethal injection, but across the board – the administration of capital punishment in America is unjust, disproportionate and very likely unconstitutional,” said committee member Mark Earley, a former Republican attorney general in Virginia. During his tenure, Virginia carried out 36 executions.

Other death penalty groups counter that while a single-dose execution may be safe and less likely to result in a botched execution, reforming the method of killing death row inmates misses the point. “At the end of the day, there is no right way to kill,” said Thenjiwe McHarris, a senior campaigner against the death penalty for Amnesty International.

“This report is asking for scientifically-reliable methods to minimise pain and suffering,” she added. “But the death penalty is cruel in and of itself; it violates the right to life. Giving someone a death warrant with the day and time that their life is going to be taken, taking them into a death chamber, administering a drug that takes their life – there is cruelty in that.”

A pheasant shot in a field

A few days after it was revealed that an NHS group is considering charging patients for the crutches, walking sticks and neck braces it issues, we discovered that David Cameron has intervened to keep the cost of gun licences frozen at £50: a price that hasn’t changed since 2001. The police are furious: it costs them £196 to conduct the background checks required to ensure shotguns are issued only to the kind of dangerous lunatics who use them for mowing down pheasants, rather than to the common or garden variety. As a result they – sorry, we – lose £17m a year, by subsidising the pursuits of the exceedingly rich.

The Country Land and Business Association – the armed wing of the Conservative party – complains that it’s simply not fair to pass on the full cost of the licence to the owners of shotguns; unlike, say, the owners of passports or driving licences, who are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.

Three days later the government announced it would raise the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30 per hectare to £56. Yes, you read that right: the British government subsidises grouse moors, which are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich.

While the poor are being forced out of their homes through government cuts, it is raising the payments – across hundreds of thousands of hectares – that some owners use to burn and cut the land (helping to cause floods downstream), shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators, and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts.

While the rest of us can go to the devil, the interests of the very rich are ringfenced.

Before examining the wider picture, let’s stick with the shooting theme for a moment, and take a look at the remarkable shape-shifting properties of that emblem of Downton Abbey Britain: the pheasant. Through a series of magnificent legal manoeuvres it can become whatever the nation’s wealthy want it to be.

When pheasants are reared, they are classed as livestock: that means the people who raise them are exempt from some payments of value added tax and certain forms of planning control, on the grounds that they are producing food.

But as soon as they’re released they are classed as wild animals. Otherwise you wouldn’t be allowed to shoot them. But if you want to re-capture the survivors at the end of the shooting season to use as breeding stock, they cease to be wild and become livestock again, because you aren’t allowed to catch wild birds with nets.

If, however, pheasants cause damage to neighbouring gardens, or to cars, or to the people travelling in those cars, the person who released them bears no liability, because for this purpose they are classed as wild animals – even if, at the time, they are being rounded up as legal livestock.

The pheasant’s properties of metamorphosis should be a rich field of study for biologists: even the Greek myths mentioned no animal that mutated so often. In the treatment of pheasant and grouse shoots we see in microcosm what is happening in the country as a whole. Legally, fiscally and politically, the very rich are protected from the forces afflicting everyone else.

But to call on the government to make rational and progressive fiscal decisions, as many of us do, is to misunderstand what it is attempting. It is not seeking to save the country from fiscal ruin – there are many ways of doing that without cutting essential services. It is re-engineering the United Kingdom as a plutocrats’ paradise, in which the rich are scarcely troubled by laws or taxes, while the poor are plunged into a brutal world of casual labour, insecurity and legal restraint. It is creating a world in which the rich may live by their own rules.

So back we go to the hazy days of Edwardian England: a society dominated by rentiers, in which the city centres are set aside for those with tremendous wealth and the countryside is reserved for their bloodsports. As the queues lengthen at the foodbanks, our money is used to subsidise grouse and shotguns. That is all you need to know about how and by whom we are governed.

British workers have suffered the longest fall in living standards since the 1870s, and the Tory offer is making pints of beer 1p cheaper and cutting bingo tax. Oh, and the Bingo Association has pointed out that reducing duty of bingo hall profits from 20% to 10% will have “no money-in-the-pocket effect for customers”, so let’s park that in the “patronising and irrelevant” box.

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According to the polls, over half of the population believe that the Tories only represent the interests of the rich. The cabinet is dominated by white, privately educated men, the sort of government that would not look out of place in 19th century Britain.