North Korea threatens to nuke America

Still-Communist North Korea says that it will not only continue to develop its nuclear weapons program, but it will also develop long-range rockets and target its nuclear missiles at the United States.  “Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words,” the North Korean government says. [Read more...]

Having a Neanderthal baby

A Harvard geneticist is seeking a woman to be the surrogate mother of a Neanderthal baby.  From the London Daily Mail:

They’re usually thought of as a brutish, primitive species.

So what woman would want to give birth to a Neanderthal baby?

Yet this incredible scenario is the plan of one of the world’s leading geneticists, who is seeking a volunteer to help bring man’s long-extinct close relative back to life.

Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and resurrect the species which became extinct 33,000 years ago. [Read more...]

Relationships with virtual human beings

You have probably heard about Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy candidate, whose dying girlfriend turned out to involve an on-line relationship with a woman who didn’t exist.  Now he is being accused of knowingly participating in the hoax to take advantage of the sob-story to give him publicity.  Some people are saying this is going to hurt him in the draft, with NFL teams not wanting to take him with this humiliating  baggage.  Finally Te’o has told his side of the story to ESPN.

I have no problem believing that the young man started an online relationship with someone he thought was sick and calling her his girlfriend, even though he never met her in person.  And that it turned out to be a prank by an acquaintance of his–well, this is the virtual world that many people live in. [Read more...]

Suing negative reviewers

You know those user reviews on online sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo, and all those restaurant and travel sites?  Some businesses are striking back at negative reviews by suing the reviewers.

A Fairfax County woman being sued for defamation over negative reviews she wrote on Yelp and Angie’s List must delete certain accusations and is barred from repeating them in new posts, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The preliminary injunction was hailed as a victory by a D.C. contractor, who took the woman to court claiming that her online reviews of the work he did on her home were false and cost him $300,000 in business. He is suing her for $750,000.

“It’s a win on morality, integrity and truthfulness,” contractor Christopher Dietz said after the hearing in Fairfax County Circuit Court. “This is permanent damage. I can’t undo what she did.”

Jane Perez hired Dietz to perform cosmetic improvements in June 2011 on her newly purchased townhouse, but she quickly soured on Dietz and gave him a scathing one-star review on Yelp and a similar treatment on Angie’s List.

The list of accusations over the job were long, but included damage to her home, an invoice for work Dietz did not perform and jewelry that went missing when Dietz was the only other person with a key to her home. Dietz denies those claims. . . .

In Virginia, someone can be found liable for defamation if he states or implies a false factual statement about a person or business that causes harm to the subject’s reputation. Opinions are generally protected by the First Amendment. . . .

Lawyers say legal actions over reviews on Web sites such as Yelp are on the rise, as the sites have grown in popularity and online reputations have become more important for doctors, dentists and a host of other professionals.

Some reviewers and free speech advocates view such suits as attempts to stifle freedom of speech, while business owners say they are being forced to fight back because a false post online can cause serious damage to their businesses.

via Judge says homeowner must delete some accusations on Yelp, Angie’s List – The Washington Post.

Should consumer reviewers have the freedom to say whatever they want?  Or do businesses need some recourse against exaggerating individuals who can ruin their reputation?

The Iron Dome

Hamas has been firing rockets and missiles into Israel, sparking Israeli retaliation.  The two sides have agreed to a cease fire.   Israel managed to shoot down virtually all of rockets thanks to a new anti-missile system called “Iron Dome.”  Based on American technology, this is the most successful technology to defend against missiles ever devised.  From Slate’s Sarah Tory:

The debut of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense shield has added a new element to the conflict, one that military officials are calling a “game-changer.” Why is Iron Dome such a significant addition to Israel’s military arsenal?

Iron Dome actually works. Israeli officials are claiming that the shield is destroying 90 percent of missiles and rockets it aims at that have been fired into southern Israel by Hamas. This level of success is unprecedented compared with older missile defense systems such as the American-made Patriot model used during the 1991 Gulf War. Israelis have almost always suffered far fewer casualties than Palestinians have, but Iron Dome has made that disparity even larger. As of Monday, Israel has reported three casualties, all of which occurred during a temporary malfunction in the missile-defense system.

The missile-defense system can detect rocket launches and then determine the projectiles’ flight paths. Iron Dome intercepts rocket or artillery shells only if they are headed for populated areas or sensitive targets; the others it allows to land. After pinpointing a rocket for destruction, Iron Dome fires a warhead that destroys the rocket within seconds. Currently, five Iron Dome systems are deployed in Israel. Most are located in the south, near Gaza, and each operates with a 45-mile radius.

Israeli officials point out that Iron Dome saves money despite the fact that the interceptors cost up to $100,000 each. The cost of rebuilding a neighborhood destroyed by a rocket attack—not to mention people wounded and lives lost—would be far greater than the cost of the interceptor. In addition, the system buys Israel time, allowing it to plan out an appropriate response without the political pressure that would be generated by hundreds of potential deaths. Experts have called Iron Dome’s success a crucial factor in deterring Israel from launching a ground assault on Gaza.

via Israel Iron Dome defense: How has missile defense changed battle in Gaza – Slate Magazine.

Democrats have a file on you

One of the reasons President Obama was re-elected, according to observers, is the way his campaign made use of data-mining and other on-line resources.  This article by Craig Timberg and Amy Gardner in the Washington Post details what the campaign did and says how other Democrats are trying to get their hands on the database that was compiled.

But when you read the article, do red flags about privacy keep coming up?  I wonder if people who are worried about the information Google collects on each one of us has a similar concern about the information the Democratic party collects on each one of us.  And if the commercial use of this kind of information is problematic, isn’t the political use even worse?

If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you. His vast campaign database includes information on voters’ magazine subscriptions, car registrations, housing values and hunting licenses, along with scores estimating how likely they were to cast ballots for his reelection.

And although the election is over, Obama’s database is just getting started. . . .

The database consists of voting records and political donation histories bolstered by vast amounts of personal but publicly available consumer data, say campaign officials and others familiar with the operation. It could record hundreds of pieces of information for each voter.

Campaign workers added far more detail through a broad range of voter contacts — in person, on the phone, via e-mail or through visits to the campaign’s Web site. Those who used its Facebook app, for example, had their files updated with lists of their Facebook friends, along with scores measuring the intensity of those relationships and whether they lived in swing states. If their last names sounded Hispanic, a key target group for the campaign, the database recorded that, too. . . .

All Democratic candidates have access to the party’s lists, which include voting and donation histories along with some consumer data. What Obama’s database adds are the more fine-grained analyses of what issues matter most to voters and how best to motivate them to donate, volunteer and vote. . . .

The database powered nearly everything about Obama’s campaign, including fundraising, identifying likely supporters and urging them to vote. This resulted in an operational edge that helped a candidate with a slim margin in the overall national vote to trounce Romney in the state-by-state electoral college contests.

Obama was able to collect and use personal data largely free of the restrictions that govern similar efforts by private companies. Neither the Federal Trade Commission, which has investigated the handling of personal data by Google, Facebook and other companies, nor the Federal Election Commission has jurisdiction over how campaigns use such information, officials at those agencies say.

Privacy advocates say the opportunity for abuse — by Obama, Romney or any other politician’s campaign — is serious, as is the danger of hackers stealing the data. Voters who willingly gave campaigns such information may not have understood that it would be passed on to the party or other candidates, even though disclosures on Web sites and Facebook apps warn of that possibility.

Chris Soghoian, an analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FTC technologist, said voters should worry that the interests of politicians and commercial data brokers have aligned, making legal restrictions of data collection less likely.

“They’re going to be loath to regulate those companies if they are relying on them to target voters,” he said.

via Democrats push to redeploy Obama’s voter database – The Washington Post.


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