Update(August 13, 4:12 p.m. ET): Anonymous has obtained and posted St. Louis police dispatch tapes from the day of the shooting.
Update 2 (August 14, 12:07 p.m. ET): @theanonmessage, A Twitter account affiliated with Operation Ferguson has released the name of a police officer who it claims shot Michael Brown. Although the main Twitter account for Operation Ferguson retweeted the announcement, it later said that the name does not match the one provided by its source.
The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, says he is withholding the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, out of concern for the safety of the officer and his family. But that might be easier said than done. Just a few hours later, the hacktivist group Anonymous announced on Twitter that it was now "making a final confirmation on the name of Mike Brown's murderer," adding: "It will be released the moment we receive it."
"Our source is very close personally to the officer who killed Mike Brown…and terrified to be our source."
I traded emails last night with one of the half-dozen core Anonymous members working on Operation Ferguson, as the group's effort to pressure and shame the local police department is known. They were still working to verify the identity of the shooter. "I can only tell you that our source is very close personally to the officer who killed Mike Brown, and that this person is terrified to be our source," said the anon, whom I will call Fawkes. He added that the source "reached out to us, we did not seek out this person."
The claim to have outed the Ferguson shooter comes only two days after Anonymous announced the launch of Operation Ferguson in this video:
The computer-generated voice, graphics, and hacking threats are trademark Anonymous, but one aspect is unusual: a demand for federal legislation "that will set strict national standards for police misconduct and misbehavior." Though Anonymous has a strong anarchist strain that disdains politics, Fawkes told me that the idea wasn't controversial within the group. "We have done a few of these 'justice ops' and it seems there needs to be a larger solution to the problem on a nationwide level," he told me. "There was no debate—everyone on the team embraced the idea."
It has been a busy few days for Operation Ferguson. The hackers shut down the city's website for a few hours on Sunday night and Tuesday morning, posted the home address and number of St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, and dropped an email bomb that crammed city and police inboxes with junk messages. The goal was "to get journalists like you to do interviews with us, and incidentally maybe talk about the issue at hand in the process," Fawkes told me. "Looks like it worked."
In previous "justice ops," Anonymous hackers have targeted the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to protest the Charles Hill and Oscar Grant shootings and the transit system's attempt to dampen protests by shutting down cellphone signals. Other Anonymous ops have uncovered criminal evidence or the names of suspects. "It's actually back to the classics," said McGill University cultural anthropologist Gabriella Coleman, author of the forthcoming book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, whom I met last night in a chatroom where hackers were plotting their next moves. She added that "a lot of old-school folks came back for this," though they've been careful to avoid the attention of law enforcement and other anons by using fresh pseudonyms.
The police "can look after themselves," Fawkes says. "This is psychological and information warfare, not a love fest."
But the veterans' participation hasn't stopped Op Ferguson from seeming unhinged at times. On Tuesday afternoon, one Anonymous Twitter account threatened to release information about the police chief's daughter unless he disclosed the name of the officer who'd killed Brown. (The threat was later withdrawn.) And the op's Twitter account repeated a bogus internet rumor attributing a screenshot of a racist Facebook tirade to Belmar's wife—the tweet has since been deleted.
"We are not exactly known for being 'responsible,' nor for worrying overly much about the safety of cops," Fawkes told me. "After all, they have vests and assault weapons. I think they can look after themselves. This is psychological and information warfare, not a love fest."
Half outlaw, half idealist, Anonymous has always operated at the margins of legitimacy, its tactics ranging from gumshoe detective work to illegal hacking and shameless PR stunts. It's hard to know whether its current claim to have ID'd Brown's killer will be borne out. "I don't think they have it," Coleman told me. But, she added: "I would not be surprised if they do soon."
Should you automatically go to jail for leaving your kid alone in the car? That question has gained new attention since the arrest of Shanesha Taylor, an unemployed single mom who left her two young children in her vehicle during a 45-minute job interview in Scottsdale, Arizona. After her arrest, Taylor's tearful mugshot elicited broad sympathy. Yet the temperature inside Taylor's car that afternoon had risen above 100 degrees and her kids were crying and profusely sweating. (The prosecutor agreed to dismiss the child abuse charges against Taylor.)
While Taylor's case may have been unusual, what parent hasn't contemplated the pros and cons of extracting a napping baby from a car seat just to dash into a convenience store? Leaving a kid in a locked, parked vehicle in the shade is usually pretty safe. However, it's definitely a bad idea to leave your kid unattended in a car for more than a few minutes on a hot day. Last year, at least 39 children died from heatstroke in vehicles; 21 have died so far this year. The interior of a car left in 80-degree heat with the windows rolled up can reach 120 degrees in less than an hour. Cracking the windows doesn't always cool the car down. Small kids more easily succumb to heatstroke, which can kick in when the body's internal temperature reaches just 104 degrees.
Whether leaving a child unattended in a car is a crime largely depends on where you live. Twenty states have laws addressing the issue. Only Louisiana, Maryland, and Nebraska outright ban the practice, though they differ on the definition of a child and a suitable guardian to stay in the car. Kids can remain in unattended vehicles for no more than five minutes in Hawaii, Texas, and Utah; you get 10 minutes in Illinois and 15 minutes in Florida. Laws in several other states, including California, specify that children can't be left in a vehicle in dangerous conditions such as hot weather.
Here's a map of all the current kids-in-cars laws:
Where is It Illegal to Leave Your Kid in the Car?
20 states have laws about leaving children alone in a car. Click any state for details.
No existing law
Illegal or unlawful under certain conditions; click state for details
States without kids-in-cars laws still may prosecute parents under child endangerment statutes, which can be interpreted in wildly different ways. A New Jersey appellate court recently found a woman who'd left her 19-month-old in her car for less than 10 minutes (with the windows cracked) guilty of child abuse. "A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent's sight, no matter how briefly," wrote a three-judge panel. The ruling, which was mocked in a Newark Star-Ledger op-ed as an embodiment of the "Busybody State," will be reviewed by the state supreme court.
"The assumption is that any time a child is unsupervised, they are going to die, and that goes 20 times for a kid in a car."
Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free-Range Kids, argues that public concern for the safety of unattended kids has escalated to the point of hysteria. She has heard dozens of stories of parents chastised by onlookers for, say, stepping away from a car full of kids to drop off a letter, return a shopping cart, or grab a cup of coffee. "The assumption is that any time a child is unsupervised, they are going to die," Skenazy says, "and that goes 20 times for a kid in a car."
Ideally, police would arrest parents in such situations only if their kids are clearly in serious danger. But that's not always what happens. It's not clear how many parents are arrested for leaving their kids unsupervised in cars, but a search for stories published in the past two years turned up dozens of cases like these:
Bastrop, Louisiana/February 2013: A teenager left an infant in a car on a "cool day" for approximately two minutes while shopping at a clothing store, according to the Bastrop Daily Enterprise. He was arrested and charged with child desertion.
Bettendorf, Iowa/June 2013: A mother left an infant in a car during an early morning exercise class. According to the police report, the woman repeatedly stepped out of the hourlong class to check on the child. She was arrested and charged with child endangerment.
Yorktown, New York/October 2013: A father left a two-year-old boy in a car at a CVS parking lot for "several minutes," according to the Daily Somers Voice. He was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
Columbus, Indiana/June 2014: A father left a one-year-old and seven-year-old in a car with the windows cracked and the sunroof open for about 10 minutes while shopping at Kroger. He told an officer that he'd left the kids behind because the seven-year-old wasn't wearing shoes. He was arrested and charged with child neglect.
Jacksonville, Florida/July 2014: A father left a seven-year-old boy in a car parked in the shade with the windows down outside a furniture store where he was a janitor. He was arrested and charged with child neglect. (Florida's kids-in-cars law only applies to children younger than six).
While some of these news stories might have omitted important details, a pattern clearly emerges of parents arrested for behavior that falls far short of what's usually considered child abuse. The risk of a child succumbing to heatstroke when left in a car under normal conditions for 10 or 15 minutes is vanishingly small. "I could not find any instance of any person dying in the car in the course of a short errand," says Skenazy, who has scrutinized kids-in-cars arrests for years. And adults who intentionally leave their kids in their vehicles for longer periods are not even the biggest problem: 80 percent of kids who die in parked cars were forgotten by their parents or entered the car without their parents' knowledge.
A child has a much greater chance of getting struck by lightning than being snatched from a parked car.
Adults who park their kids in the shade and roll the windows down or leave the air conditioner running with the keys in the ignition may be accused of leaving tempting targets for kidnappers. But arresting a parent for ignoring the hypothetical risk of a child predator, as happened in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, makes about as much sense as jailing her for feeding a kid solid food, letting him ride a bicycle, or allowing him to walk down a flight of stairs. In 1999, the last year for which comprehensive statistics are available, 115 of America's 72 million children were kidnapped by strangers. (That's all kidnappings, not just from cars.) That puts the risk of a child getting kidnapped in any given year at 0.0002 percent. A child has a much greater chance of getting struck by lightning at some point in his lifetime.
These arrests seem doubly unfair when they involve parents struggling to make ends meet with no better child care options. Is the seven-year-old son of the janitor in Jacksonville better off now that his dad is in jail? How about the baby left in a car at 8 a.m., shielded from the sun, with the windows cracked and sunroof open, while her mom took a final exam for cosmetology school? Or the mother who left her two kids in the car while she donated blood plasma to get gas money? Arguably, these arrests represent the criminalization of the working poor—though more affluent parents aren't immune to getting cuffed in the course of buying lattes or picking up the dry cleaning.
Skenazy sees many kids-in-cars laws as counterproductive. "The risk is so tiny that to start legislating on the basis of it would mean that you have to start legislating on everything," she says. "We focus on the danger of the kid in the parked car, and nobody ever goes through the same paroxysms of fear and hand-wringing and anger when the mom or dad puts the child in the car to drive somewhere, even though that is the No. 1 way children die. It's in moving cars while they are being driven somewhere by the parents who love them. Why don't we say to parents: 'Why did you take them with you? Couldn't you have found a babysitter and then gone to the grocery? Couldn't you have had your groceries delivered by a neighbor?'"
"We're not really concerned about the real ways kids die," she adds. "We're concerned about being mad at parents who don't believe they have to be with their kids every single second of the day."
So what is a reasonable onlooker supposed to do when confronted with an unattended kid inside a parked car? Consider the context, Skenazy says. Is it a grocery store parking lot where the parent will probably soon return, or an office park where everybody goes to work for the day? Is there another option short of calling the cops? "A Good Samaritan is looking out for the child. But they are also looking out for the mom," Skenazy says. "They are not the KGB."
The chlorination of municipal tap water is considered one of the 20th century's best public health ideas. The American Water Works Association credits the practice with increasing life expectancy by 50 percent over the past century by virtually eliminating water-borne diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera. But chlorine in drinking water can cause health risks of its own. And while some of the of those risks, such as reactions with organic compounds that can yield toxic byproducts, are relatively well understood and managed, at least one has been largely overlooked: the effect of chlorinated drinking water on the beneficial bacteria in our guts.
We simply don't know enough about the microbial ecosystem in the human gut to identify every type of bacteria that's important, much less how well those bacteria survive when we guzzle mildly chlorinated tap water.
The notion that our bodies' 100 trillion bacteria act as a crucial internal ecosystem, a sort of sixth human organ, has only recently gained currency among mainstream scientists. Researchers now believe a lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut can trigger certain autoimmune diseases, among them diabetes, asthma, and even neurological conditions such as autism. Those conditions have spread in step with Western society's war on germs, which has scorched our good bacteria along with the bad, throwing our bodies' microbiomes off balance in the same way that a slashed and burned rainforest becomes susceptible to invasive weeds.
Jeff Leach is a leading microbiome researcher and founder of the American Gut Project, which aims to sequence the microbiomes of tens of thousands of Americans. Leach suspects that several factors may impede bacterial diversity in Americans, among them the profligate use of antibiotics, overconsumption of processed foods, and, at least to some extent, consumption of chlorine in tap water. "It's something I've discussed with a number of other microbiologists," he replied when I asked about the possibility. "In short, nobody has done the research, but we are certain that there is an impact."
Based on studies of chlorine's effects on human cells, the Environmental Protection Agency sets the safe level in drinking water at no more than four parts per million. Even that dilute level can wipe out lots other life forms, however, as anyone knows who has filled a goldfish bowl from the tap.
There's no debate that chlorinating our water kills off a wide array of malignant bacteria—just try drinking the tap water in countries that don't fully disinfect it. Much less is known, however, about chlorine's effect on good bacteria that help preserve healthy digestive systems. We simply don't know enough about the microbial ecosystem in the human gut to identify every type of bacteria that's important, much less how well those bacteria survive when we guzzle mildly chlorinated tap water.
Still, some tangential research suggests cause for concern. A 1987 Toxicology study found that consumption of water with even fairly low levels of monochloramine, a commonly used disinfectant that persists in drinking water longer than chlorine, disrupted the immune systems of rats—a finding that's notable given the strong link between the human immune system and gut microbes.
Chlorine in tap water is also known to kill microbes in soil—watch out, home gardeners!—though it doesn't penetrate deep into the ground, and microbial populations typically bounce back quickly after watering.
Though the risks of chlorine in tap water might justify purchasing a low-cost home water filter that can remove it, it's definitely premature to back off of requirements to chlorinate or otherwise disinfect municipal drinking water, as some Wisconsin state legislators proposed a few years ago.
"Chlorination has done tremendous good, so the default is to continue as is," Martin Blaser, the director of the Human Microbiome Project, told me, "but whether or not there are subtler effects needs to be studied."
The domestic fracking boom has been widely celebrated as a godsend in the fight against climate change. In 2007, cheap natural gas began replacing dirtier coal as the fuel of choice in US power plants. By 2012, the switchover was annually saving an estimated 86 million tons of CO2, the carbon equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road. That's obviously a huge accomplishment, but it comes with a lesser known catch: All of that coal we're no longer using is still getting dug up, sold off, and spewed into the atmosphere.
The carbon pollution savings from our switch from coal to gas has been more than canceled out by an increase in our coal exports, according to a recent study by Shakeb Afsah of the group CO2 Scorecard. After the domestic market for coal dried up in 2007, US exports of steam coal increased by 83 million tons, resulting in the release of an additional 149 million metric tons of CO2. That's 73 percent more CO2 than Americans have saved so far by ditching the black stuff.
The study is mentioned today in a great story by AP's Dina Cappiello, who looks at whether the coal exports will ultimately increase carbon emissions. Coal companies point to studies suggesting international demand for coal is fairly inelastic, meaning that if US coal exports suddenly disappeared, they would simply be replaced by coal from somewhere else. Yet other studies conclude that the US exports depress prices, driving up demand and delaying a switch to cleaner options.
As I've previously noted, huge new coal export terminals proposed on the West Coast have become the latest flash points in the climate wars. Cappiello points out that a single ship full of Appalachian coal, exported from Virginia to South America, contains enough greenhouse gas to match the annual emissions of a small American power plant.
UPDATE: Cappiello's story has spawned new debate over whether coal exports increase emissions. Andrew Revkin weighs in, and CO2 Scorecard responds.
Twitter today followed in the footsteps of Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook by releasing statistics on the race and gender of its workforce. The company certainly deserves credit for voluntarily making its diversity stats public, unlike, say, Apple. "Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do," Janet Van Huysse, its VP of diversity and inclusion, admits on the company blog. But perhaps that's an understatement; Twitter actually lags far behind its peers on some key measures. For instance, only 1 out of every 10 Twitter tech employees is a woman:
In case you're wondering, other large tech companies have significantly better gender diversity (though it's still abysmal compared to professions such as law or medicine). At Facebook and Yahoo, 15 percent of tech workers are women. At Google and LinkedIn, it's 17 percent. In 2010, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury Newsfound that women held 24 percent of computer and mathematics jobs in Silicon Valley and 27 percent of those jobs nationally (though those categories may be broader than how they're defined by leading tech companies, as Tasneem Raja explores in this great piece on America's growing gap in tech literacy).
Unlike its peers, Twitter can't entirely blame its dearth of female coders on the talent pipeline: About 18 percent of computer science graduates are women. Instead, Van Huysse points to a slew of efforts to "move the needle" at Twitter, such as supporting the groups Girls Who Code and sf.girls and hosting "Girl Geek Dinners."
As other reporters have noted, major tech firms started releasing their workforce data shortly after I obtained a batch of Silicon Valley diversity figures from the Labor Department and began asking them for comment. But pressure to release the stats has also come from a campaign by Color of Change and Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, which have demanded the stats during a string of private meetings with Valley execs, and last week launched a Twitter-based campaign to urge Twitter to make its diversity numbers public. Strikingly, only 1 percent of Twitter's tech workforce and 2 percent of its overall workforce is African-American:
Jackson argues that improving Twitter's diversity isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a good business decision. It turns out that "Black Twitter" isn't just a meme. According to a recent Pew survey, 22 percent of African-American internet users are on Twitter, while only 16 percent of White internet users tweet. Meanwhile, usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ is roughly the same between Blacks and Whites.
In short, Twitter might make more money by hiring more people who reflect its audience. "There is no talent deficit, there's an opportunity deficit," Jackson said in a press release responding to Twitter's data. "When everyone is 'in,' everyone wins."