Filmmakers Sue to Shield Visitors to U.S. From Social Media Vetting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/12/2019 - 3:08am in

A filmmaker working on a documentary that’s critical of U.S. policies. A writer who operates a pseudonymous Twitter account to evade an authoritarian regime in their home country. An activist who uses Facebook to organize protests at the U.S.-Mexico border.

These are the kinds of people who might not want U.S. immigration agents poring over their social media profiles before deciding whether they should be allowed into the country. Yet that’s exactly what the State Department now requires as part of the Trump administration’s “extreme vetting” of millions of visa applicants. As of May, people who need a visa to enter the U.S. have to disclose any social media handles they’ve used over the past five years on 20 platforms, from Instagram and Twitter to YouTube and Weibo (the Chinese microblogging service). If they don’t, their visas could be denied.

Two U.S.-based documentary film organizations filed suit on Thursday in federal court in Washington, D.C. to challenge the policy, arguing that it will have a chilling effect on the filmmakers they work with. Along with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, the International Documentary Association and Doc Society are suing the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security because their international members are “concerned that their political views will be used against them during the visa process.”

“They self-censor to avoid being associated with controversial ideas or sensitive topics,” the complaint states. The nonprofit groups surveyed over 100 international filmmakers and found that “a significant majority said it would chill their speech online.” Some reported that they were reconsidering travel to the U.S. or trying to scrub online postings in light of the new requirements. Those coming from countries with repressive governments or from war zones were especially concerned, since some of them operate anonymously online to more freely share information and opinions. Once these people disclose their true identity to U.S. officials, they fear, that information could end up in hands of hostile governments or groups.

People who need a visa to enter the U.S. have to disclose any social media handles they’ve used over the past five years on 20 platforms.

Oliver Rivers, managing director of Doc Society, described two distinct harms created by the Trump administration’s policies on social media and visa applications. “One is the impact on non-U.S. citizens, non-U.S. filmmakers,” he told The Intercept. The other is on U.S.-based individuals and organizations like Doc Society and IDA that are “wanting to engage with those non-U.S. citizens.”

Those who live and work abroad using anonymous social media accounts are left with a difficult set of questions, Rivers said: “Do I disclose my identity? Do I lie about my identity? Or do I not come to the United States?” The situation is also challenging for those who use their real name online, Rivers added, and are left to question how their posts might read to the “hostile bureaucratic eye” of an American border official.

The State Department and DHS could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the complaint, one IDA member, who lives in the Midwest, said they “reviewed three years of social media activity and deleted posts criticizing the current U.S. administration in order to avoid any delays on future visa applications.” Another said that she would no longer post original content online due to similar concerns (most of the filmmakers surveyed did not want to be named, fearing reprisals).

The groups called the requirement “the cornerstone of a far-reaching digital surveillance regime.”

Such self-censorship could play out on a massive scale, the groups fear; the State Department estimates that 14.7 million people each year will have to disclose their social media accounts. In their suit, the groups called the requirement “the cornerstone of a far-reaching digital surveillance regime that enables the U.S. government to monitor visa applicants’ constitutionally protected speech and associations not just at the time they apply for visas, but even after they enter the United States.” Carrie DeCell, a staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, said that the government could access that data and monitor speech online “years into the future.”

The U.S. security state has long been interested in online activities of travelers. In 2016, during the Obama administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection started asking for social media handles from travelers who fall under the visa waiver program, including citizens of many European countries. (At one point, CBP even contemplated requesting travelers’ account passwords.) That information was voluntary, but it still raised free speech concerns. DHS has also sought social media information for automated threat screening, contracting with firms that slurp up online postings. All of this, the new complaint points out, is despite the fact that even many in government have questioned the effectiveness of programs scrutinizing social media to identify national security threats.

The complaint underlines “the difficulties of interpreting social media information across different languages, customs, and cultural norms.” Indeed, ProPublica reported recently that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sometimes relied on Google Translate to evaluate refugee applications. Under the new State Department rules, a mistranslation or misunderstanding of an offhand social media comment could ruin someone’s chance for a visa.

This summer, a Palestinian teenager on his way to begin classes at Harvard was turned back at Boston Logan International Airport and deported, he told the Harvard Crimson, after a confrontation with border officials over political views expressed by friends on social media. There have also been many reports of U.S. citizens who have had their phones searched by CBP or been pressured to give up account information.

Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the IDA, said that his organization was aware of several incidents in which filmmakers have had trouble obtaining U.S. visas apparently because of the nature of their work. Blocking those voices doesn’t just hurt the filmmakers, the lawsuit argues, but also deprives U.S. audiences of diverse, enlightening perspectives. “We’ve seen this boom in documentary filmmaking, and it’s become a way for people to engage with the world and the issues it’s facing. Whether it’s war and peace or climate change or immigration, these stories have a real value in enriching the dialogue,” said Kilmurry. “And to not hear from those filmmakers directly is very troubling, to say the least.”

Rivers, the Doc Society managing director, said the average citizen might reasonably ask, “What does feature documentary filmmaking got to do with me?” But at its heart, he said, the case was about “bureaucratic intervention in freedom of speech — and it’s being done in a particularly insidious way.”

“It’s not just a small requirement on a visa form,” he added. “It’s very, very clear encroaching bureaucratic oppression, and I think you have to make a stand when you see something like this.”

The post Filmmakers Sue to Shield Visitors to U.S. From Social Media Vetting appeared first on The Intercept.

Astronomer Vladimir Firsoff’s Argument for Space Exploration as a Positive Alternative to War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/12/2019 - 11:58pm in

Vladimir Firsoff was a British astronomer and the author of a series of books, not just on space and spaceflight, but also on skiing and travel. He was a staunch advocate of space exploration. At the end of his 1964 book, Exploring the Planets (London: Sidgwick & Jackson) he presents a rather unusual argument for it. He criticises the scepticism of leading astronomers of his time towards space exploration. This was after the Astronomer Royal of the time had declared that the possibility of building a vehicle that could leave the Earth’s atmosphere and enter space was ‘utter bilge’. He points out that the technology involved presented few problems, but that ordinary people had been influenced by the astronomers’ scepticism, and that there are more pressing problems on Earth. Against this he argued that humanity needed danger, excitement and sacrifice, the emotional stimulation that came from war. Space exploration could provide this and so serve as a positive alternative, a beneficial channel for these deep psychological needs. Firsoff wrote

The traditional planetary astronomy has exhausted its resources. No significant advance is possible without escape beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The orbital observatories to come will reveal much that is now hidden about the other planets. Space travel is a short historical step ahead. The basic technical problems have been solved, and the consummation of this ancient dream is only a matter of a little effort, experiment and technical refinement. When Bleriot flew the Channel the Atlantic had already been spanned by air lines. And so today we have already landed on Mars – even Triton and Pluto have been reached.

But do we really like to have our dreams come true?

Possibly that happy extrovert the technologist has no misgivings. He sees the Solar System as an enlargement of his scope of action, and has even suggested preceding a descent on Mars by dropping a few bombs, “to study the surface” (this suggestion was widely reported in the press). Yet the astronomer does not relish the prospect of leaving his ivory tower to become a man of action. He is troubled by this unfamiliar part, and a small voice at the back of his mind whispers insidiously that his cherished theories and predictions may, after all, be false. The dislike of space travel is psychologically complex, but there is no mistaking its intensity among the profession.

The general public shares these enthusiasms  and apprehensions, more often than not without any clear reasons why. The Press (with a very capital P) feeds them with predigested mental pulp about what those ‘wonderful people’ the scientists have said or done (and not all scientists are 12 feet tall). At the same time the scientist is a ‘clever man’, and the ‘clever man’ is traditionally either a crank or a scoundrel, and why not both? Whatever we do not understand we must hate.

Of such promptings the fabric of public opinion is woven into varied patterns.

“Space flight is too expensive. We can’t afford it”… “What is the point of putting a man on the Moon? It is only a lifeless desert.”… “We must feed the backward nations, finance cancer research” (= in practice “buy a new TV set and a new care”)…

Wars are even more expensive and hugely destructive, and cars kill more people than cancer and famine put together.

And yet before 1939 Britain ruled half the world, her coffers were stuffed with gold, she also had 5 million on the dole, slums, an inadequate system of education, poverty and dejection. Came a long and terrible war, a fearful squandering of resources, the Empire was lost, and in the end of it it all the people “had never had it so good”, which for all the facility of such catch-phrases is basically true. Not in Britain alone either-look at West Germany, look at the U.S.S.R.! One half of the country devastated, cities razed to the ground, 30 million dead. BHut in Russia, too, the “people had never had it so good”.

In terms of ‘sound economics’ this does not make any sense. 

The reason is simply: ‘sound economics’ is a fraud, because Man is not an economic animal, or is so only to an extent. He needs danger, struggle, sacrifice, fear, loss, even death, to release his dormant energies, to find true companionship, and-oddly-to attain the transient condition of happiness … among or after the storm.

That German soldier who had scribbled on the wall of his hut: “Nie wieder Krieg heisst nie wieder Sieg, heisst nie wieder frei, heisst Sklaverie” (No more war means no more victory, means never free, means slavery) was a simple soul and he may have survived long enough to regret his enthusiasms among the horrors that followed. Yet the idea, distorted as it was, contained a germ of truth. For heroic endeavour, which the past enshrined as martial valour, is as much a necessity as food and drink. We must have something great to live for.

Hitler’s ‘endeavour’ was diabolical in conception and in final count idiotic, but it cannot be denied that it released prodigious energies both in Germany and among her opponents, and we are still living on the proceeds of this psychological capital.

What we need is a noble uplifting endeavour, and even if we cannot all take direct part in it, we can yet share in it through the newspapers, radio and television, as we did, say, in the epic rescue operation during the Langede mining disaster. It became a presence, everybody’s business-and I doubt if it paid in terms of £ s.d…

You will have guessed what I am going to say.

Mankind needs space flight. Let us have space ships instead of bombers, orbital stations instead of ‘nuclear devices’. The glory of this great venture could do away with war, juvenile delinquency and bank raids. It could be cheap at the price.

It is a fallacy to imagine that money spend on developing spaceflight is lost to the nation; it is only redistributed within it, and it is much better to redistribute it in the form of real wages than in unemployment relief. Besides, real wealth is not in a ledger; it is the work and the willingness to do it.

Yet if we go into space, let us do so humbly, in the spirit of cosmic piety. We know very little. We are face to face with the great unknown and gave no right to assume that we are alone in the Solar System.

No bombs on Mars, please.

For all that they are well meant and were probably true at the time, his arguments are now very dated. I think now that the majority of astronomers are probably enthusiasts for space flight and space exploration, although not all of them by any means are advocates for crewed space exploration. The Hubble Space Telescope and its successors have opened up vast and exciting new vistas and new discoveries on the universe. But astronomers are still using and building conventional observatories on Earth. Despite the vast sums given to the space programme during the ‘Space Race’, it did not solve the problems of crime or juvenile delinquency. And it was resented because of the exclusion of women and people of colour. Martin Luther King led a march of his Poor Peoples’ Party to the NASA launch site to protest against the way money was being wasted, as he saw it, on sending White men to the Moon instead of lifting the poor – mainly Black, but certainly including Whites – out of poverty. And as well as being enthused and inspired by the Moon landings, people also grew bored. Hence the early cancellation of the programme.

And people also have a right to better healthcare, an end to famine and a cure for cancer. Just as it’s also not wrong for them to want better TVs and cars.

But this isn’t an either/or situation. Some of the technology used in the development of space travel and research has also led to breakthroughs in other areas of science and medicine. Satellites, for example, are now used so much in weather forecasting that they’re simply accepted as part of the meteorologists’ tools.

But I agree with Firsoff in that space is an arena for positive adventure, struggle and heroism, and that it should be humanity’s proper outlet for these urges, rather than war and aggression. I think the problem is that space travel has yet to take off really, and involve the larger numbers of people in the exploration and colonisation space needed to make it have an obvious, conspicuous impact on everyone’s lives. There is massive public interest in space and space exploration, as shown by Prof. Brian Cox’s TV series and touring show, but I think that to have the impact Virsoff wanted people would have to feel that space was being opened up to ordinary people, or at least a wider section of the population than the elite scientists and engineers that now enjoy the privilege of ascending into Low Earth Orbit. And that means bases on the Moon, Mars and elsewhere, and the industrialisation of space.

But I think with the interest shown in the commercial exploitation of space by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, that might be coming. And I certainly hope, with Firsoff, that this does provide a proper avenue for the human need for danger and adventure, rather than more war and violence.

How Amazon’s On-Site Emergency Care Endangers the Warehouse Workers It’s Supposed to Protect

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/12/2019 - 10:30pm in



Earlier this year, a falling object struck a worker’s head at an Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey. The worker visited Amcare, the company’s on-site medical unit, and told the emergency medical technicians on staff there that they had a headache and blurred vision — classic symptoms of a concussion. According to company protocol, Amazon’s medical staff should have sent the worker to a hospital or doctor’s office for further evaluation, or at least called a physician for advice. They did neither.

This was one of six instances at the Robbinsville fulfillment center between February and May in which staff at the Amcare clinic failed to provide adequate medical care to injured employees, according to a warning letter issued in August by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency responsible for workplace safety. In another incident, a worker came to the clinic with a possibly fractured finger, but Amcare medical staff failed to send them to an outside clinic for a professional opinion. A worker with an eye injury repeatedly asked to be sent to the hospital, but Amcare staff denied the requests. The next week, another worker came to the clinic four days in a row complaining of intense finger pain. According to company protocol, the clinic should have been checking on the employee every two hours. Instead, Amcare evaluated them once per day for three days without recommending outside care.

In various instances, OSHA investigators found that Amcare medical staff decided to treat the employees in-house, rather than referring them to doctors or hospitals — decisions that potentially violated New Jersey state law and federal regulations, such as OSHA’s “general duty” clause requiring employers to maintain workplaces free of hazards that put workers in danger.

This wasn’t the first time OSHA had investigated Amcare, nor was it the first time the agency alerted Amazon to problems at the clinics. “The current OSHA inspection again revealed instances indicating that the EMTs and Athletic Trainers (ATs) at AMCARE are working outside their scope of practice, without proper supervision,” regulators wrote in a warning letter to Amazon, reported here for the first time. “New Jersey state laws do not allow EMTs and ATs to practice medicine independently; a physician must supervise their work.”

An investigation by The Intercept and Type Investigations — drawing on previously unreported documents, an interview with a former OSHA medical expert, and interviews with 15 current and former Amcare employees — found multiple instances in which clinic staffers violated Amazon’s own rules as well as government regulations. The investigation found that Amcare employees nationwide were pressured to sweep injuries and medical issues under the rug at the expense of employee health.

Amazon, a company that is now worth $800 billion and has reshaped the global retail landscape, will handle nearly 40 percent of all online shopping in the U.S. this year. The company’s warehouses are especially busy around Black Friday and Cyber Monday; last year, Amazon received orders for 180 million items during the holiday weekend — a company record. To handle the rising demand, Amazon has added fulfillment centers around the country and hired an army of workers to pick items off warehouse shelves and prepare packages for delivery. Since 2014, the company’s workforce has increased nearly fivefold, from 154,000 to around 750,000 — a figure that includes Amazon-owned Whole Foods, but does not take into account the thousands of additional contractors and temporary workers who are brought in to help fulfill orders in Amazon’s warehouses during the busy holiday shopping season.

The strenuous nature of the work at Amazon’s warehouses can take its toll on the human body: As Reveal and The Atlantic reported last week, the rates of serious injury at 23 fulfillment centers from which data could be obtained were more than double the industry average in 2018. The company’s Amcare clinics are intended to address the many minor aches and pains workers experience on the job. The company claims that this care falls under the category of “first aid,” which, according to an OSHA letter to Amazon, is defined as “emergency care provided for injury or sudden illness before emergency medical treatment is available.” These clinics operate in most, if not all, of the company’s warehouses, and they are staffed by EMTs and supervised by safety managers. According to a former OSHA medical officer and multiple former Amazon employees interviewed for this story, safety managers are not required to have extensive medical training. (Amazon declined to answer specific questions about its safety managers’ training as well as other details reported in this story.)

The clinics’ care protocols were approved by a contracted physician in Seattle, but this doctor does not appear to supervise their day-to-day operations. EMTs are available to administer very basic care, like providing ice packs and Advil, and refer workers with more serious injuries to doctors or hospitals. Given this limited scope of care, the clinics are not required by some states’ laws to register with health care authorities, nor are they required to employ doctors and nurses on site to supervise the EMTs.

At Amcare clinics across the country, however, staff members have made medical decisions that go beyond basic first aid, the investigation by The Intercept and Type Investigations uncovered.

Since 2015, Amazon workers have filed at least 10 complaints about problems at Amcare — all of which OSHA deemed “valid” — according to previously unreported documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. These 10 complaints represent a small fraction of the hundreds of general health and safety complaints filed by Amazon workers in the last seven years. The complaints alleged that employees were being sent back to work with no medical care after requesting treatment, that injured employees were being told they must wait two weeks to see if their conditions worsened before being seen by doctors, and that Amcare staffers were not adequately trained. One complaint, made by phone in December 2017 from Tracy, California, alleged that Amcare simply refused to treat an injury. Though the complaints were determined to be valid, the agency did not follow up with an inspection in every case; OSHA is a small agency that employs about one inspector for every 59,000 U.S. workers.

Still, in response to these complaints and others, OSHA has investigated Amcare clinics at least three times: beginning from summer 2015 at an Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey; from fall 2017 to spring 2018 at a fulfillment center in Florence, New Jersey; and again at the Robbinsville warehouse in an investigation that concluded in September 2019. Each time, the federal agency found that EMTs were providing care beyond first aid. Twice, OSHA recommended that they be supervised by on-site physicians. Twice, in Florence and during the first Robbinsville investigation, the agency also found evidence that Amazon was underreporting injuries on federally mandated logs. The results of the Florence investigation and the 2019 Robbinsville investigation are being reported here for the first time.

Ten EMTs said their bosses pressured them to send injured employees back to the warehouse floor.

Accounts from Amcare employees across the country reveal that problems identified by OSHA are likely not confined to the warehouses it inspected. In interviews with The Intercept and Type Investigations, 15 current and former on-site medical representatives — Amazon’s term for the EMTs who staff Amcare — from fulfillment centers in 11 states bolster OSHA’s findings. Ten of the medical technicians said their bosses pressured them to send injured employees back to the warehouse floor when they likely needed additional medical attention. Eight felt like there was a conflict of interest between their manager’s priorities and their duties as medical professionals. Four said they were pressured to underreport or misclassify injuries. Some Amcare staff members described a positive experience with Amazon; even so, they expressed concerns about tensions between the company’s bottom line and injured employees’ best interests.

“As a person who prides himself on being a medical professional, and caring about people who I’m expected to evaluate,” said David Troutman, an EMT who formerly worked at Amazon, “I felt like I was given the wrong deal.” Troutman believes he was fired from Amcare for sending an injured employee to the hospital. (Amazon declined to comment on the circumstances of Troutman’s dismissal.) He takes a dour view of Amazon’s medical practices: “There are probably several other people who would say the exact same thing, that Amazon cares more about numbers than they do about their employees.”

In response to a detailed inquiry, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Safety is our top priority. Amcare, amongst a variety of other programs, ensures that employees are taken care of while in our building by offering first aid to injured or ill associates. Our Onsite Medical Representatives follow clear, established company guidelines for first aid treatment in accordance with local, state, and federal regulations. At any point associates can choose to visit a doctor, no associate should ever be discouraged from seeking care, and all full-time employees receive comprehensive health benefits starting on day one of employment.”

 Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Employees organize bins for orders at the Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J., on Nov. 27, 2017.

Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

“Medical Mismanagement”

The EMTs at Amcare clinics are supposed to operate under a strict set of protocols, according to Amazon policy. They’re supposed to send workers for outside treatment immediately if they report pain levels of 10 out of 10. They’re supposed to send anyone with a possible concussion or fracture to a hospital or doctor’s office. If an employee asks to see a doctor, the EMTs are supposed to refer them immediately. If there’s any question about whether a worker might require more than first aid, the EMTs are supposed to call a physician hotline for advice.

In practice, however, the protocols were not always followed. The OSHA investigations found that Amcare staffers sometimes disregarded internal criteria when making decisions about who went to the emergency room and who was sent back to work. According to federal regulators, that meant the medical technicians crossed the line from administering basic first aid into providing more serious medical care.

At Amcare, “they refuse to send injured employees immediately to dr,” one worker at the Robbinsville fulfillment center wrote in a complaint forwarded to OSHA’s area office in Marlton, New Jersey, in September 2015. The person went on to complain that managers ignored doctors’ orders that injured employees be put on light duty. “There are many more things I could report,” the complainant added.

“They had the EMTs making decisions about when a worker should go see a doctor,” said Kathleen Fagan, a former medical officer with OSHA, who helped lead investigations into Amazon’s medical practices in New Jersey. “The EMTs are doing this without any medical supervision, and this is really a violation of state law. Every single state, including New Jersey, requires that EMTs practice under the supervision of a physician.”

OSHA had already launched an inspection of the Robbinsville warehouse in July 2015, and it was ongoing when this complaint was received. Fagan was part of a team that was called in to provide medical expertise; she worked at OSHA for a decade prior to her retirement earlier this summer. This is her first time speaking publicly about investigating Amazon.

As part of her investigations, Fagan’s team reviewed an Amcare manual that said on-site medical representatives were allowed to treat injured employees repeatedly for up to 14 days before referring them for outside treatment. As first responders, however, EMTs aren’t trained to provide ongoing medical care — and even if they were, they aren’t allowed to practice independently. According to New Jersey law, EMTs are not allowed to make important decisions like whether or not to refer patients for further treatment without supervision from physicians. Additionally, repeat visits over a long period of time can constitute medical care beyond “first aid,” according to OSHA’s 2016 hazard alert letter. That means the clinic was potentially operating outside its legal boundaries.

During that first Robbinsville investigation, Fagan found that EMTs’ decisions were not being supervised by medical professionals. The medical staff was reporting directly to safety managers, who are responsible for a wide range of building operations but not required to undergo extensive medical training. Amazon has argued that since its clinics are providing only first aid, the EMTs are not practicing under their full licenses and therefore do not require direct clinical supervision. Fagan’s investigation found that clinic operations went far beyond first aid and therefore require additional supervision.

“Medical (or health) care, consisting of a clinical history, physical examination, assessment and management plan, is being performed by the Onsite Medical Representatives (OMRs) in AMCARE,” OSHA wrote in a “hazard alert” letter to Amazon following the 2015 Robbinsville investigation. “Medical care must be provided or supervised by a healthcare provider licensed to practice independently, per New Jersey State law.” (The doctor who approved Amazon’s care protocols is not licensed to practice in New Jersey. The doctor did not respond to requests for comment, and Amazon declined to answer questions on the arrangement.)

“This just is, to me, an egregious lack of care for the health and safety of their workers.”

Fagan said that many large corporations employ corporate medical departments staffed with doctors and nurses who oversee internal clinics — people on hand who could intervene in incidents like the ones uncovered in Robbinsville. When Fagan conducted a similar investigation into the poultry processing industry, several slaughterhouses responded by hiring nurses to evaluate worker injuries on site. “None of this seems to be going on” at Amazon, she said, based on her investigations in New Jersey. “They have one part-time consultant, a medical director in Seattle, who does no oversight. This just is, to me, an egregious lack of care for the health and safety of their workers.”

OSHA has limited regulatory authority over health care providers. That responsibility generally falls to local health care authorities. In at least some states, Amazon’s clinics fall into a regulatory gray area: The company claims they provide only first aid, so they aren’t registered with health authorities and therefore aren’t supervised by those entities. OSHA’s only option for demanding accountability for Amcare was to cite the company under its general duty clause, which says that “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” OSHA can also refer cases to state health care authorities for further investigation.

In the case of Amcare in the Robbinsville fulfillment center, Fagan said the agency issued a hazard alert letter instead of a citation because the company was still relatively new.(Both OSHA and Amazon declined to produce copies of Amazon’s responses to the agency’s hazard alert letters.) The letter also recommended that Amazon voluntarily take certain steps to address the issues it identified, including bringing on a local doctor to oversee the clinic’s operations. Fagan said Amazon largely dismissed their concerns in its response letter. “They say they’re not actually working under that license,” Fagan said of the EMTs. “They don’t think they need any kind of medical supervision, so they blew off our suggestions.”

-- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE APRIL 16, 2017. -- Commuters use a shuttle bus at the Amazon Center in Robbinsville, N.J., April 12, 2017. For all the attention and urgency that online shopping attracts, the vast majority of purchases are still made in-person, in places like Kmart, before a checkout counter, purse or wallet in hand. (John Taggart/The New York Times)

Commuters use a shuttle bus at the Amazon fulfillment cnter in Robbinsville, N.J., on April 12, 2017.

Photo: John Taggart/The New York Times/Redux

Off the Books

During the 2015 inspection of the Robbinsville fulfillment center, Fagan’s team also identified 26 injuries over four months that were left out of official recordkeeping logs. Her interviews with employees confirmed that supervisors were discouraging workers from reporting injuries.

Federal regulations require that companies record all work-related injuries that involve days away from work, transfer to light duty, a significant diagnosis from a doctor, or any medical treatment beyond first aid. The reports inform the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ industry injury rates and are meant to function as an internal corporate metric for improving safety standards.

Accusations of faulty recordkeeping at Amazon are not confined to Robbinsville. An OSHA inspection of an Amazon facility in Kenosha, Wisconsin, found that the warehouse failed to record 15 injuries in a 28-day period in October 2015. At least three anonymous complaints to OSHA between January 2016 and August 2018 in Carlsbad, California; Lebanon, Tennessee; and Phoenix, Arizona, explicitly referenced management’s failure to keep accurate injury logs.

Four current and former EMTs interviewed as part of Type and The Intercept’s investigation also said colleagues or supervisors pressured them to keep injuries off the books, though some said they refused to do so. An Amcare staffer in Ohio described recommending that an employee with a shoulder injury be referred to an outside specialist. His boss tried to convince him to wait longer and continue treating the pain before sending her out for treatment. “How can someone with zero medical credentials argue that? That’s negligence,” said another on-site medical representative who was involved in the incident. An EMT in Pennsylvania said she saw a colleague tell a patient with a suspected concussion to go sit in a dark room instead of going to the doctor.

 Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Employees at the Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J., on Nov. 27, 2017.

Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The “Justification Process”

Interviews with Amazon employees in medical and safety manager roles suggest that the company managers discouraged both on-site medical representatives from seeking outside medical care for warehouse workers and safety managers from recording legitimate injuries in compliance with federal law.

Around the time that OSHA was investigating the fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, David Troutman, the on-site medical representative in Phoenix, Arizona, got a call to assist an employee who had turned cold and clammy. He said he remembered maneuvering the man into a wheelchair and checking his blood sugar. It was dangerously low, he recalled. Troutman asked the man if he was diabetic. The man, who by that point had lost his ability to speak, nodded and groaned.

Troutman said he wanted to call an ambulance, but another Amcare staffer worried their manager would question their decision to send the man to the hospital. Troutman and his colleague argued, then eventually administered oral glucose and allowed the man to sit in the Amcare clinic for two and a half hours until he regained the ability to speak. “In a typical situation, 911 gets called,” Troutman said. “They’re going to start an IV.”

In early 2016, another employee came to the clinic with chemical burns on their hands, Troutman recalled. This time, Troutman sent them to the county hospital — the nearest medical center that could treat chemical burns. The next time he saw his boss, Troutman said, he was questioned about the burn victim. His supervisor claimed that since the hospital had ultimately deemed the burns “superficial,” Troutman had made the wrong call by sending the employee to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Troutman was placed on a job improvement plan, and he was let go at the conclusion of the exercise. The whole thing was “a way to throw you under the bus legally,” Troutman said.

Former Amazon employees have alleged instances of inadequate medical care similar to the incidents Troutman describes in disability discrimination, harassment, and retaliation complaints filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. An employee at a fulfillment center in Eastvale, California, who sustained a back injury in July 2018 filed a complaint alleging that he was treated with ice for two weeks at Amcare and then told that he must return to his regular duties, despite the fact that he had not yet seen a doctor. He missed work because of the pain and was fired. Another injured employee requested to go to the emergency room in 2016 and was denied, in apparent violation of the company’s safety protocols. A third employee claimed they were treated for a back injury with Icy Hot and terminated for requesting medical care. In all three cases, the employees were issued right-to-sue letters by the DFEH.

“Some safety managers would say, ‘We need to write one on every one, and if it gets through, it gets through.’”

One safety manager who oversaw an Amcare clinic in southern California from 2016 to 2017 said that managers face immense internal scrutiny from their own supervisors if their fulfillment centers report too many injuries to federal authorities. He said his boss pressured him to participate in a system in which managers reviewed each other’s injury reports to justify classifying some incidents in a way that wouldn’t require official documentation. (Reveal and The Atlantic reported on this policy in November, citing the accounts of three former safety managers; Amazon denied the allegation.)

“When a doctor states that the employee needs a prescription, time off from work to heal, or restricted duty in their job, then under the OSHA guidelines the incident becomes a recordable incident,” said the safety manager, who requested anonymity because he signed a nondisclosure agreement when he left the company. “In Amazon’s case, they” — safety staffers in his region — “would often override the doctor’s decision that it was a workplace incident based on this justification process.” Amazon put the safety manager on notice that he was at risk of being fired. He described this process as “brutal, painful.” He left the company after one year.

An on-site medical representative who worked at an Amcare clinic around the same time described the system: Safety staff would write out “non-recordable justifications,” or NRJs, to accompany injury reports and make the case for keeping the incidents off the official logs. Two regional managers would then have to approve the decision not to record an injury. “Every incident where there was recordable-level criteria, it would be reviewed to see if it could possibly be written up as an NRJ,” the medical technician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order not to jeopardize their continuing work as an EMT, said. “Some safety managers would say, ‘We need to write one on every one, and if it gets through, it gets through.’”

The Intercept and Type reviewed a copy of a non-recordable justification form and showed it to Kathleen Fagan, the former OSHA medical officer. She said it’s not unusual for companies to review potentially recordable injuries and strike irrelevant incidents from the logs. But, she added, no one is allowed to pressure supervisors or managers to try and find a reason not to record injuries. “OSHA encourages workers (including supervisors/managers) to report this type of harassment to them. That’s a cite-able offense,” she wrote in an email. Both the former safety manager and former OMR said they believe the non-recordable justification process has since been discontinued.

Amazon denied that the company actively works to keep injury rates low. “We take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small, which results in elevated recordable rates and makes comparisons misleading,” a spokesperson wrote. “It’s incorrect to assert that we provide Amcare on site in order to discourage associates from seeking care or attempting to keep fewer records—we offer this service to our employees so that they can receive the care they need right away.”

Amazon did not respond to Type and The Intercept’s questions about its process of reviewing injury reports to determine if they are recordable, but, in response to questions from Reveal about injury reports, a spokesperson told the reporters that Amazon changed its policies in 2016 to promote greater transparency.

Amazon robotic shelves move to various sorting stations at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne - RC1872CB8460

Robotic shelves at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore on April 30, 2019.

Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

“Amazon Could Be a Leader”

After its 2015 investigation into the Robbinsville fulfillment center, OSHA issued Amazon a $7,000 fine for the record-keeping violations Fagan’s team uncovered. The fine was paltry compared with Amazon’s billions in profits, but it sent a message. A follow-up investigation in 2017 revealed that the number of injuries recorded at the Robbinsville fulfillment center increased nearly fourfold the following year.

A regional safety manager told OSHA the increase in injury rates was a result of over-recording. By the next year, the number of recorded injuries had fallen back to 2015 levels.

There’s reason to suspect that the problem of undercounting injuries continues at Amazon fulfillment centers around the country. In the fall of 2017, OSHA launched an inspection of a fulfillment center in Florence, New Jersey, Fagan said, after it received a formal whistleblower complaint expressing concern about multiple incidents at Amcare. The most serious allegation, according to Fagan, involved a temporary worker who suffered a cut to the head while a corporate audit team was inspecting the building. Instead of taking the injured worker to Amcare, managers attempted to hide the person from the auditors. By the time this person was treated, blood had collected into a golf ball-sized protrusion on the worker’s head. (Amazon declined to respond to questions about this incident and others reported in this story.)

Instead of taking an injured worker to Amcare, managers attempted to hide the person from corporate auditors.

Fagan said the whistleblower, whose identity and exact job are not publicly known, also reported several instances where management discouraged workers from reporting injuries and complained that on-site medical representatives were operating with no medical oversight.

Over the course of their investigation, Fagan and her team identified 131 unique employee injuries between September 20, 2017, and October 31, 2017. They couldn’t fully evaluate many of the incidents because much of the documentation they received from Amazon was incomplete. In spite of this, Fagan’s team identified four instances of medical mismanagement — broadly, anything that compromises worker health — and nine additional instances of suspected mismanagement within the six-week period.

Once, a piece of dust or wood lodged itself in an employee’s eye. “That’s an acute medical problem that needs to be referred right away to either an emergency room, eye doctor, or clinic,” Fagan said. But Amcare did not send the employee for further medical treatment. The worker waited two days before seeking medical care on their own, and the injury ultimately forced them to miss multiple days of work.

Fagan said Amcare’s inaction probably made the injury worse. Had the employee received immediate help, the particle may not have had a chance to pierce the cornea. “The sooner you get a foreign body out of the eye, the faster they recover,” she said. “Now you have a scratch on the eye that takes longer to heal, and you might get infected. You might have inflammation that lasts a long time,” Fagan said. “And it hurts like crazy.”

The three other instances of medical mismanagement uncovered during OSHA’s investigation involved failure to follow protocol and failure to refer employees to the doctor for musculoskeletal injuries like strains and sprains.

Fagan also found two cases that should have been recorded and an additional six potential record-keeping violations during this six-week period — though the actual numbers may have been higher because the records were incomplete. Despite Fagan’s findings, no hazard alert letter or citations were issued as a result of this investigation.

In September 2019, OSHA completed a third investigation of Amcare operations in New Jersey, this time back in the Robbinsville fulfillment center. Not much had changed, the inspectors found — leading to the letter sent to Amazon referencing the six incidents between February and May at the plant, including the concussion, where Amazon failed to provide adequate medical care to injured employees. “Amazon had not adequately addressed the issues that OSHA identified during the previous inspection,” OSHA wrote, summarizing its findings. The agency uncovered six instances of medical mismanagement. EMTs were still working outside their scope of practice with no on-site medical supervision. Amcare was still providing treatment beyond first aid. “The current inspection revealed similar issues,” the agency wrote in the hazard alert letter, referencing its previous 2015 missive.

Again, the agency did not issue a citation. Instead, it warned the company it would refer the matter to state agencies with jurisdiction over medical units. “These referrals will allow the state agencies to conduct their own investigations,” the letter read.

One little thing was different this time, OSHA found. The Amcare manual had been updated as of October 2018. Instead of allowing on-site medical representatives to treat workers for 14 days before referring them to an outside doctor, the time limit had been extended to 21 days.

“Amazon could be a leader, and they have the resources,” Fagan said. “They could be a leader in providing good occupational health care to their employees. And they are not doing that.”

The post How Amazon’s On-Site Emergency Care Endangers the Warehouse Workers It’s Supposed to Protect appeared first on The Intercept.

Video of British Scientist Eric Laithwaite Explaining Principle of Magnetic Levitation (Maglev)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/11/2019 - 6:58am in

This is a fascinating film from Imperial College London. Shot in 1975, it shows great British scientist/engineer Eric Laithwaite explaining how a maglev train would work. He begins with first principles, simply showing how magnets act upon each other with bar magnets. Magnets with the same poles facing each other repel, and he demonstrates how this can be used to suspend one magnet above another. This can be done with ring magnets, but usually something has to hold them in place, like the solid glass tube in this video. But ordinary magnets don’t generated enough lift to raise heavy objects off the ground. He then moves on to electromagnets and how these can also be made to move aluminium objects along them when using AC current. The electromagnets can be flattened out to produce a kind of river – the ‘Magnetic River’ of the film’s title – along which an aluminium sheet can be propelled at great speed. He then shows how the same principle could be used to drive a train by placing a model on the maglev track.

Laithwaite was working on making maglev trains a reality when the project was cancelled due to the budget cuts of the late 70s. The idea has since been taken up by German and other, foreign engineers. It has been seen by visionary scientists and SF writers like Arthur C. Clarke as the solution to current transport problems through the great speed that these trains could in theory attain without friction from wheels touching the tracks. They would also be clean and green through being powered by electricity, preferably solar power, rather than the burning of coal or other hydrocarbons. See the discussion about them in Clarke’s Profiles of the Future.

Laithwaite is one of the great scientists most people have never heard of. In the 1990s he got caught up in developing anti-gravity based on his experiments with gyroscopes. His claim that he had discovered a new principle of anti-gravity propulsion was not accepted by the scientific community. I’ve got the impression that the furor that aroused has caused his earlier, solid work to be unfairly overlooked.

I realise the video’s long at just over 18 minutes, but it’s worth persevering with if you’re interested in the subject. Before computer graphics came in, this is pretty much what science broadcasting was like when I was a schoolboy. It was simply the scientist, engineer or presenter standing in front of the camera talking with the machine or other object in front of them, and using simple diagrams or illustrations. And I’m really impressed with the way Laithwaite is able to explain a sophisticated piece of engineering in ordinary, non-technical language. As one of the commenters says on the YouTube page for this, he would have been a great science teacher.

He isn’t quite on his own here. Helping him with the equipment is his mysterious assistant, Barry, who helps set the apparatus up and loads the sheets of aluminium and then the model train on the maglev tracks, but who never speaks.

It’s a very basic presentation compared to some of the films on today’s popular science television, and it’s not clear if it was intended for broadcast. But it was experts like Dr. Laithwaite who brought science to ordinary people and inspired a new generation witih its wonder when I was young.

Today the government is concerned about the lack of young people choosing to study STEM subjects. Perhaps if broadcasters were able to find a few more experts with ability to explain science with the simplicity of some of those, who graced our TVs then, people able to convey real enthusiasm for the subject, and weren’t afraid of putting more popular science programmes on TV, there would be more school and university students taking up these subjects.



Video of DIY Atmospheric Water Generators

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/11/2019 - 6:26am in

Atmospheric Water Generators are machines that work on the same principle as dehumidifiers. They produce water from atmospheric moisture. The difference between them and the dehumidifiers is that the water they produce should be safe to drink.

In this video from desertsun 02’s channel on YouTube, a man shows off a simple AWG that’s he’s built himself. The explanatory paragraph for it runs

DIY Atmospheric Water Generator. Unit pulls Pure ‘distilled water’ straight out of the air! works best in hot humid conditions. this simple design pumps near freezing water thru a long section of copper coil. coil becomes very cold and dew (condensate) forms on the coil. the dew is then caught by a drip-pan located beneath the coil. *note that this unit has the added benefit of dehumidifying the air. *an AWG is essentially just a “Food Safe” dehumidifier. (my previous video shows this unit being operated primarily as a dehumidifier… the difference being that that design has plastic parts that come in contact with the water). to keep the water as ‘pure’ as possible, i used only aluminum and copper in this version. main thing with these is to keep the coils clean. if coils are cleaned after each use, the water generated is ‘distilled water’.

Of course, it raises the question that if he’s using cold water to condense the water in the atmosphere, why doesn’t he simply drink the water rather than go to all the bother of cooling and pumping it around just to get a few ounces from the atmosphere. But it’s a brilliant piece of home engineering, and scientists and engineers are building machines like these to give people in deprived, parched areas potable water. And we may need more of these machines very soon if the planet continues to warm up and desertification increases.

Amazon’s Ring Planned Neighborhood “Watch Lists” Built on Facial Recognition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/11/2019 - 6:53am in



Ring, Amazon’s crimefighting surveillance camera division, has crafted plans to use facial recognition software and its ever-expanding network of home security cameras to create AI-enabled neighborhood “watch lists,” according to internal documents reviewed by The Intercept.

The planning materials envision a seamless system whereby a Ring owner would be automatically alerted when an individual deemed “suspicious” was captured in their camera’s frame, something described as a “suspicious activity prompt.”

It’s unclear who would have access to these neighborhood watch lists, if implemented, or how exactly they would be compiled, but the documents refer repeatedly to law enforcement, and Ring has forged partnerships with police departments throughout the U.S., raising the possibility that the lists could be used to aid local authorities. The documents indicate that the lists would be available in Ring’s Neighbors app, through which Ring camera owners discuss potential porch and garage security threats with others nearby.

Ring spokesperson Yassi Shahmiri told The Intercept that “the features described are not in development or in use and Ring does not use facial recognition technology,” but would not answer further questions.

This month, in response to continued pressure from news reports and a list of questions sent by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, Amazon conceded that facial recognition has been a “contemplated but unreleased feature” for Ring, but would only be added with “thoughtful design including privacy, security and user control.” Now, we know what at least some of that contemplation looked like.

Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, expressed concern over Ring’s willingness to plan the use of facial recognition watch lists, fearing that “giving police departments and consumers access to ‘watch listing’ capabilities on Ring devices encourages the creation of a digital redline in local neighborhoods, where cops in tandem with skeptical homeowners let machines create lists of undesirables unworthy of entrance into well-to-do areas.”

Legal scholars have long criticized the use of governmental watch lists in the United States for their potential to ensnare innocent people without due process. “When corporations create them,” said Tajsar, “the dangers are even more stark.” As difficult as it can be to obtain answers on the how and why behind a federal blacklist, American tech firms can work with even greater opacity: “Corporations often operate in an environment free from even the most basic regulation, without any transparency, with little oversight into how their products are built and used, and with no regulated mechanism to correct errors,” Tajsar said.

Mounting Concern About Ring

Once known only for its line of internet-connected doorbell cameras marketed to the geekily cautious, Ring has quickly turned into an icon of unsettling privatized surveillance. The Los Angeles company, now owned by Amazon, has been buffeted this year by reports of lax internal security, problematic law enforcement partnerships, and an overall blurring of the boundaries between public policing and private-sector engineering. Earlier this year, The Intercept published video of a special online portal Ring built so that police could access customer footage, as well as internal company emails about what Ring’s CEO described as the company’s war on “dirtbag criminals that steal our packages and rob our houses.”

Previous reporting by The Intercept and The Information revealed that Ring has at times struggled to make facial recognition work, instead relying on remote workers from Ring’s Ukraine office to manually “tag” people and objects found in customer video feeds. The automated approach to watch-listing described in the documents reviewed by The Intercept may seem less unsettling than that human-based approach, but it potentially allows for a litany of its own problems, like false positives and other forms of algorithmic bias.

Anyone moving past a home equipped with Ring cameras is unavoidably sucked into a tech company dragnet, potential fodder for overeager chatter among the suburban xenophobe set.

In its public-relations efforts, Ring has maintained that only thieves and would-be criminals need to worry about the company’s surveillance network and the Neighbors app. From the way Ring’s products are designed to the way they’re marketed, the notion of “suspicion” remains front and center; Ring promises a future in which “suspicious” people up to “suspicious” things can be safely monitored and deterred from afar.

But “suspicious” is an entirely squishy concept with some very potentially dangerous interpretations, a byword of dog-whistling neighborhood racists who hope to drape garden-variety prejudice beneath the mantle of public safety. The fact remains that anyone moving past a home equipped with Ring cameras is unavoidably sucked into a tech company dragnet, potential fodder for overeager chatter among the suburban xenophobe set. To civil libertarians, privacy scholars, and anyone generally nervous about the prospect of their neighbors forming a collective, artificially intelligent video panopticon maintained by Amazon for unregulated use by police, Ring’s potential consequences for a community are clear.

Earlier this fall, Motherboard reported on a push by Ring to encourage camera owners to seek out, identify, and report to police anything and anyone they considered “unusual” in exchange for product discounts. According to the story, Ring “encouraged people to report all ‘suspicious activity,’ including loitering, ‘strange vans and cars,’ ‘people posing as utility workers,’ and people walking down the street and looking into car windows.”

Documents Show “Proactive Suspect Matching”

According to the Ring documents reviewed by The Intercept, which have not been previously reported, the company planned a string of potentially invasive new surveillance features for its product line, of which the facial recognition-based watch-list system is one part.

In addition to the facial watch lists, Ring has also worked on a so-called suspicious activity prompt feature that would alert users via in-app phone notification when a “suspicious” individual appears near their property’s video feeds. In one document, this feature is illustrated with a mockup of a screen in the Neighbors app, showing a shabbily dressed man walking past a Ring owner’s garage-mounted camera. “Suspicious Activity Suspected,” warns the app. “This person appears to be acting suspicious. We suggest alerting your neighbors.” The app then offers a large “Notify Neighbors” button. The document leaves how exactly “suspicious” is defined a mystery.

A third potentially invasive feature referenced in the Ring documents is the addition of a “proactive suspect matching” feature, described in a manner that strongly suggests the ability to automatically identify people suspected of criminal behavior — again, whether by police, Ring customers, or both is unclear — based on algorithmically monitored home surveillance footage. Ring is already very much in the business of providing — with a degree of customer consent — valuable, extrajudicial information to police through its police portal. A “proactive” approach to information sharing could mean flagging someone who happens to cross into a Ring video camera’s frame based on some cross-referenced list of “suspects,” however defined. Paired with the reference to a facial recognition watch list and Ring’s generally cozy relationship with local police departments across the country, it’s easy to imagine a system in which individuals are arbitrarily profiled, tracked, and silently reported upon based on a system owned and operated solely by Amazon, without legal recourse or any semblance of due process. Here, says Tajsar, “Ring appears to be contemplating a future where police departments can commandeer the technology of private consumers to match ‘suspect’ profiles of individuals captured by private cameras with those cops have identified as suspect — in fact, exponentially expanding their surveillance capabilities without spending a dime.”

Researchers and legal scholars have for years warned that facial recognition and self-teaching machine learning technologies are susceptible to racial biases, and in many cases, can amplify and propagate such biases further — of particular concern in a law enforcement or security context, where racial prejudice is already systemic. A February review of the Neighbors app by Motherboard found that out of “100 user-submitted posts in the Neighbors app between December 6 and February 5, the majority of people reported as ‘suspicious’ were people of color.”

In an interview with The Intercept, Liz O’Sullivan, a privacy policy advocate and technology director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, described Ring’s planned “proactive suspect matching” feature as “the most dangerous implementation of the word ‘proactive’ I’ve ever heard,” and questioned the underlying science behind any such feature. “All the AI attempts I’ve seen that try to detect suspicious behavior with video surveillance are absolute snake oil,” said O’Sullivan, who earlier this year publicly resigned from Clarifai, an AI image-analysis firm, over its work for the Department of Defense.

O’Sullivan explained that “there’s no scientific consensus on a definition of visibly suspicious behavior in biometrics. The important question to ask is, Who gets to decide what suspicious looks like? And the way I’ve seen it attempted in industry, it’s just an approximation.” Any attempt to hybridize humankind’s talents for prejudice with a computer’s knack for superhuman pattern recognition is going to result in superhuman prejudice, O’Sullivan fears. “In order for society to function well, police have to be impartial; we have to get to a place where they treat people equally under the law, not differently according to whatever way an algorithm ‘thinks’ we look.”

“All the AI attempts I’ve seen that try to detect suspicious behavior with video surveillance are absolute snake oil.”

For better or for worse, the potential to amplify the prejudices of its makers and customers is one that some members of the company’s staff have already grappled with, according to a Ring source who spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss company matters. This source recounted concerned conversations with colleagues about the possible social consequences of their company’s technology. “We were talking about Neighborhood” — Ring’s residential surveillance social network and police resource — “about how all it is is people reporting people in hoodies. We talked about the culture of fear that we’re perpetuating,” they said. Like O’Sullivan, the source was particularly concerned over the “proactive suspect matching” feature, which they said was “designed to basically aggregate videos and create a profile of a suspect who’s hit up multiple homes in a neighborhood,” and that the source believed would end up prone to racial bias. It would, this person said, “maybe catch porch pirates, but more realistically fuck over an innocent person of color.”

Ring’s spokesperson declined to answer a list of specific questions about the planned features, including what the company’s institutional definition of “suspicious” is, whether someone on a Ring “watch list” would ever be informed of this fact, or what someone would have to be “suspected” of in order to be labeled a “suspect” in Ring’s systems. “Any features we do develop,” Shahmiri said, “will include strong privacy protections and put our customers in control.”

Do you have a tip to share about Ring, its use of facial recognition, its relationship with police, or other information in the public interest? You can contact Sam Biddle via Signal at +1 (978) 261-7389, by email at, or via The Intercept’s encrypted SecureDrop system.

The post Amazon’s Ring Planned Neighborhood “Watch Lists” Built on Facial Recognition appeared first on The Intercept.

Video Summary of BBC Horizon Programme ‘The Hunt for Gravity Control’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 5:03am in

And now for something a little different. Trev, one of the great commenters on this blog, asked me a little while ago about anti-gravity in a comment on a piece I’d put up about UFOs. Way back in 2016 the BBC’s Horizon science programme had an edition, ‘The Hunt for Gravity Control’, which dealt with the hunt by British, American and Russian scientists to create an anti-gravity device. This began in Britain with the aerospace scientist Ron Evans at BAE, who started Project Greenglow. At the same time the Americans had a similar project, NASA’s Advanced Propulsion physics Programme, under the direction of Marc Millis. This aimed to discover alternative methods of space propulsion to rockets. A Russian scientist, Eugene Podkletnov, believed he had also discovered a method of creating anti-gravity through the use of superconductors and a spinning disc. However, this has not been replicated, and one of the scientists interviewed on the programme dismisses Podkletnov’s claims as ‘crap’. A Black physicist, who I don’t think is named in the clip, explains why scientists believe anti-gravity is impossible: it would need an object with negative mass, which instead of creating a kind of hole in spacetime would produce a type of mound around it instead.

There has, however, been a breakthrough of sorts. At the end, Dr. Evans is shown a device which uses quantum physics to detect bodies as small as that of a human through the tiny gravitational attraction they cause, at a distance of a meter. This gives Evans hope that one day, humans may be able to master gravity.

The full documentary’s about 50 minutes or so long. It was repeated a few months ago on BBC 4, and I think it might be available on BBC iplayer. The narrator’s Peter Capaldi, who was the last Dr. Who before Jodie Whitaker took over.

Texas Man Invents Machine that Creates Drinking Water from Air

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 2:17am in

This is pure Dune technology. This short video of just over 2 minutes long from RepsUp 100 channel on YouTube is a news report about a former ranger, Moses West, from Texas, who has invented a device that creates drinking water from the air. He invented his Atmospheric Water Generator back in 2015. West says of his machine that they’re at the point where they can talk about creating 50,000 – 1,000,000 gallons of water. The energy consumption is incredibly low. According to West, it’s far cheaper than groundwater and desalination. He has so far made eight of these machines. They’re in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan.

According to West, the machines are federally approved and the water quality is tested by the Colorado Water Authority. Most of West’s devices were manufactured in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The news broadcast says that the townspeople should be proud, as one unit provides the town with hundreds of gallons of clean water. It also appears that it doesn’t cost the residents anything, as West works with organisations like the Water Rescue Foundation to cover costs. He also says that people were very happy that somebody actually cared enough to jump over the bureaucracy and do this on a private piece of land. His concern now is to plant these in Flint, Michigan, to help the people there.

I don’t think West’s idea is particularly new. It seems to be a variant on the domestic dehumidifiers that are used to clean the moisture out of people’s homes. Some of these, like the one in the video below from Unbox Therapy on YouTube, manufactured by Ecoloblue, create drinking water from the moisture collected. West seems to have just created a larger, industrial scale version.

It’s a great device, and West is right when he says that there’s a water crisis coming. Back in the 1990s the Financial Times ran an article about how climate change and increasing demands for water are creating conflict. It predicted that in the 21st Century, most wars would be over water. When I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D., I also went to a seminar by a visiting professor, who had researched the effect climate change had through the human past on civilisation. He too was concerned about a coming water shortage. Machines like this could help solve some of those problems.

However, the use of these machines also demonstrates glaring iniquities in the American water supply system. Flint, Michigan, became notorious a few years ago because the local council had allowed companies to pollute the town’s drinking water to truly disgusting levels. People in a superpower like America, the world’s richest country, should not have to rely on charities for their drinking water.

It is, however, very much like something from Science Fiction. I’m reminded of the technology in books and films like Dune and Star Wars to bring water to the desert planets there. Like the system of underground cisterns and windcatchers in Dune to irrigate Arakis, and the moisture vaporators on Tattooine.

Now if only someone would invent something else from Dune – the stillsuit. A suit that collects water from the wearer’s own sweat and urine, and purifies it, turning it into drinking water so that they can survive weeks, even in the deepest desert. And in the 1980s David Lynch film, looked really cool too.

Here’s a brief video from Dune Codex on YouTube explaining how these fictional suits work.


No! Boris Has No Intention of Reforming The Tories Murderous Benefits System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 8:53pm in

The Tories have published their manifesto, and Mike yesterday put up a piece spelling out precisely what it means for people on benefits – the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and the working poor: too bad! It’s all going to carry on as normal. Universal Credit, which is pushing people into even more grinding poverty, is not going to be abolished. Rather there’s a vague promise to do something to make sure it works. And we know how good the Tories are at honouring promises. In short, they will do absolutely nothing about a cruel, murderous benefits system that killed tens of thousands of disabled people. One man with a heart condition died a few days ago while queuing at his local jobcentre because – you guessed it – they’d found him ‘fit for work’. A quarter of million people have to use food banks. As Mike points out, the Tories just love them, except when they blame Labour for their rise. And something like 14 million people are now in poverty. And Mike points out that their promise to do something about Universal Credit is almost the same as the song they sing every time some poor soul dies from their policies: ‘we promise to learn lessons’. Except they don’t. Mike concludes that they have no intention of reforming or repealing UC. And he spells out in very clear detail what else the Tories aren’t going to do for people on benefits.

The Conservatives with NOT end the cruelty of the Bedroom Tax, nor do they have any intention of increasing the Local Housing Allowance to protect people against the threat of eviction.

The Conservatives will NOT end the so-called “digital barrier” that obstructs people who have trouble coping with computers and the internet from claiming benefits. They like putting obstacles before the poor.

The Conservatives will NOT end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments.

The Conservatives will NOT end Work Capability Assessments, or PIP assessments.

The Conservatives will NOT end their cruel sanction regime.

The Conservatives will NOT scrap the benefit cap.

The Conservatives will NOT end the two-child limit on benefits and scrap the so-called ‘rape clause’. They like humiliating women who have already been violated.

The Conservatives will NOT try to ensure that women are no longer forced to stay in abusive relationships by the system by paying the child element of benefits to the primary carer.

Mike goes also goes on to attack the Lib Dems empty promises as well.

But Labour can be trusted to carry out their welfare reforms.

Labour is going to end Universal Credit and replace it with a system that works for ordinary people. And he’s going to reform the DWP, replacing it with a Department of Social Security, which won’t have the suspicion and hostility to claimants that Iain Duncan Smith introduced as an integral element.

Mike’s article concludes

Boris Johnson’s manifesto shows an intention to continue the cruel Conservatism we’ve endured for nearly 10 years.

Let’s take this opportunity to tell him where he can stuff it.


If you have any doubt what the Tories intend for people on benefits, go and read this article, and then read all the others by Mike, Zelo Street, The Void, Another Angry Voice, and so on describing the hardship, misery, starvation and death they have caused and mean to continue.

And then vote Labour.

Advocating for Tech Firms to Hire Philosophers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 6:30pm in

I have spent the better half of the last two years trying to convince companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, DeepMind, and OpenAI that they need to hire philosophers.

That’s Tobias Rees, Reid Hoffman Professor of Humanities at The New School and director of “The Transformations of the Human” program at The Berggruen Institute.

In an essay at Quartz, Rees writes that tech companies “have helped create realities that we can no longer navigate with the old understanding of what it means to be human”:

We need new ones—for ourselves, so that we are able to navigate and regulate the new worlds we live in, but also for the engineers who create tech products, tools, and platforms, so that they can live up to the philosophical stakes of their work. To make that possible, we need philosophers and artists working alongside computer and software engineers.

Rees has in mind developments in artificial intelligence and related areas. He says:

The vast majority of cutting-edge AI research is carried out in companies. The problem is that most of the people who lead these companies don’t know that they are radically reinventing our definition of what it means to be human. They think of themselves as just people who work at tech companies. One of the major ambitions of my work is to change this. I want these labs and companies to understand their enormous philosophical responsibility: the self-aware design of new possibilities of being human and of living together.

His article reports that his effort to place philosophers in contact with major tech innovators has had some successes:

We have philosophy and art teams at Element AI, Facebook, and Google, and also at AI labs at MIT, Berkeley, and Stanford. Our researchers are in regular conversation with DeepMind, OpenAI, and Microsoft.

You can read the whole article here.

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