2011 - %3, October

Week in Pictures: Must-See Occupy Oakland Photos

| Sat Oct. 29, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

From the West Coast's answer to #hipstercop to an intense photog-police showdown, here are the must-see images from this week's #occupyoakland crackdown.

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A World Of Sonic Wonder

| Sat Oct. 29, 2011 2:33 AM EDT

This post courtesy BBC Earth. For more wildlife news, find BBC Earth on Facebook and Posterous.

From a mighty clap of thunder to the subtle rustling of leaves, everywhere we go it feels as though we are immersed in sound. We decided to hunt down some of the planet’s lesser known sonic wonders.

Speaking sands

For nearly a century, man has been baffled by the sound of singing sand dunes. The songs they emit are almost as diverse as the countless theories about how they occur.

The sound is produced when the sand on the surface of dunes avalanches. It was once thought that these sounds were produced by the friction between the grains. More recent studies have revealed that the sound continues after the sand has stopped moving and the song that the dunes sing varies depending on the time of year. Some researchers now theorise that the sound is caused by the reverberation between dry sand at the surface and a band of wet sand within the dune, hence it changes seasonally.

There are approximately thirty locations around the world where these booming dunes can be heard; the earliest records seem to date to Marco Polo’s time in the Gobi Desert. However you don’t need to adventure among the dunes to hear them sing; the strange sound, said to be like the drone of a low flying propeller plane, has reportedly been heard up to ten kilometres away from its source.

Stirring ice

The ferocious noise made by popping or cracking ice maybe a worrying sound to the lay ear—particularly if you are stood on top of it at the time. However to researchers working in the field of climate science the groaning of the polar landscapes is music to their ears.

Scientists have started to record the sound that the ice makes as it recedes, using hydrophones to measure the amount of glacial melting. Mapping the sea floor using sonar is not a new phenomenon but in this new application instead of sending pulses of sound to the sea floor and timing their return, glaciologists just simply listen. Looking at the interface between ice, ocean, and bedrock it may be possible to use acoustics to measure the glacial melt.

You can almost hear the glaciers heave a sigh of relief.

Mysterious seas

The familiar sounds of the sea are captured in the incredible soundtracks of natural history documentaries as well as inside seashells when they are held up to our ears. The sound transports us to the blue planet that covers over 70 percent of the Earth's surface.

In the summer of 1997, a number of hydrophones in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean picked up a bizarre new sound phenomenon. The underwater microphones picked up a signal that rose rapidly in frequency for about a minute before disappearing. The sound was picked up repeatedly by US government microphones for the duration of that summer but has not been heard since. It became known as 'The Bloop' and was detected by sensors over a range of 5,000 kilometers.

Initial tracking suggested that the sound profile of 'The Bloop' was comparable to that of a living animal. However it was far louder than any whale song ever recorded.

The mystery remains just a drop in the ocean of the hundreds of mysterious sounds that make our planet a sonic wonder.

The Case of the Missing Red Snapper

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 5:48 PM EDT

I call myself a pescatarian, though when I do choose to layer lox on my bagel or slurp the occasional oyster, I prefer responsibly sourced seafood, or at least to know exactly what I'm eating. And sometimes when sitting down to a sushi dinner, that's not exactly clear. To everyone but the most discerning epicure, pink fish can be pretty easily mistaken for other types of pink fish. So it came as no comfort to read Consumer Reports' new investigation, "Mystery Fish," which found that more than 20 percent of seafood purchased at restaurants and stores in three US states was improperly labeled or identified. Among the most mysterious meats was red snapper, which, after going through DNA matching during this particular investigation, could never be positively identified as such.

Consumer Reports sent 22 samples of "red snapper" to an outside lab for DNA testing, where along with other seafood samples, their genetic sequences were compared with standardized gene fragments. Eight red snappers were deemed as possible DNA matches, but the rest were unidentifiable or simply mislabeled.

Justin Bieber Lashes Out At Senate's New Copyright Bill

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 5:12 PM EDT
It's gonna be mad awkward if Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has Bieber Fever.

It seems tweeny-bop sensation Justin Bieber wants to be taken seriously as a policy wonk. During an radio interview on Friday morning, Bieber came out against the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, or S.978, a bill that three senators proposed in May that would make unauthorized online streaming of copyrighted material a felony, punishable by up to five years behind bars.

This law could also affect anybody who covers or remixes a popular song and uploads their work to YouTube. On DC's Hot 99.5 FM, Bieber singled out Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a co-sponsor of the measure and a member of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. "Whoever she is," said Bieber, "she needs to know that I'm saying she needs to be locked up—put away in cuffs."

"People need to have the freedom," the pop star continued. "People need to be able to sing songs. I just think that's ridiculous... I check YouTube all the time and watch people singing my songs. I think it's awesome. (Here's an audio clip of the interview.)

Responding to Ben Smith on Lebanon's Civil War

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 3:00 PM EDT

Lebanon Flag with BloodThe Boy from Cerrado/Flickr

On Thursday, Politico's Ben Smith responded to my profile of Mitt Romney's Middle East Adviser Walid Phares, and made an important observation: 

This isn't the sort of thing people on the other side of that conflict will ever forgive. It's also not a conflict from which a lot of people emerged with clean hands, or one that has caused the U.S. to cast people implicated in atrocities beyond the pale. Ariel Sharon, for instance, was forced to resign as Israel's Defense Minister after an Israeli commission found him negligent in allowing a massacre of civilians. And as Serwer notes, Phares was a quite young man at the time.

It's not totally fair to use Sharon as an example here, because Sharon was not "beyond the pale" mostly because Israel is an ally of the US, not because his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre wasn't serious enough to warrant an expulsion from Israeli politics. It also wasn't the US' choice that Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel, and it's not like the U.S. was going to cut ties with Israel because Israelis chose someone who was involved in a war crime as their leader. But again, that has more to do with the US relationship with Israel than it does the level of Sharon's involvement or the gravity of the incident. Because of an amnesty law, Phares' former associate, Lebanese Forces militia leader Samir Geagea, was one of the few people actually to face prison time before the Cedar Revolution in 2005 thrust the Syrians out. Even then, Geagea was in trouble for being anti-Syrian, not for any crimes he might have committed during the war. The post-war "accountability" sought by Syrian-occupied Lebanon was, to put it mildly, extremely selective.

Smith's right, though, about the complexity of the situation in Lebanon. I spoke to one very well placed source for the piece whose attribution requirements were such that the quote would have been useless in the body of the piece, but I'll use it here because I think it helps flesh out what Smith was getting at:

The war was such that I think a lot of otherwise reasonable men, they thought they were fighting for the survival of a whole people, and men do crazy things in that kind of situation, and only when it's over do they realize what they've done.

I can't pretend to know what that must have been like, it's the nature of sectarian warfare that you become a target not because of what you've done but because of who you are. Your simply existing makes you fair game. And what that meant was that a lot of good people on all sides got swept up in a conflict because of the fear that they were about to be wiped off the face of the Earth. Many of those people came to the United States, and went on to live perfectly normal lives as Americans.

One of them was former Hillary Clinton adviser and digital media consultant Peter Daou, who was conscripted into the Lebanese Forces when he was 15 years old and remained for three years. "From the perspective of the Christian community, the Lebanese Forces were the last line of defense against Syria, Iran and related forces that vastly outnumbered them and wanted to eradicate them," Daou wrote me in an email this morning. "That said, the massacres and targeting of civilians by all sides was beyond despicable."

I don't think it's rationalizing to acknowledge that what happened in Lebanon was extremely complex. It should go without saying, though, that people in leadership positions should be held to a different standard. And I suspect most of us wouldn't be quite as understanding of those who fought on the other side of the civil war.

Important Moments in History With Oakland's Kitty Cop

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 2:10 PM EDT

On the morning after a violent crackdown that left a protester—and Navy Marine vet—in critical condition after being hit by a bean bag projectile, the Washington Post chose to illustrate their story about Occupy Oakland with a photo of an Oakland police officer petting a kitten. Was it a metaphor? A somber reflection on human decency? A flickering, 120-watt incandescent light bulb of hope amid the encroaching shadows of oligarchy?

It was none of these, actually. As the Post's photo editor Carol McKay explained, "The photograph was chosen because it was a visual 'moment' in time showing a police officer doing something interesting—not just walking through tents and trash." Plus there was the whole time zone thing. Fair enough; a deadline's a deadline, and as Shani Hilton notes, the Post's online coverage of the demonstration was characteristically strong.

But about that photo. It looked so, so—so familiar. Where had we seen it before?

And then it hit us:Vancouver Riot KittyRich Lam/Getty Images; photo illustration by Tim MurphyBut of course! Kitty Cop is everywhere:

 

Selma KittyAP; photo illustration by Tim MurphyAnd in Libya, too:

Libya KittyAris Messinis/AFP; photo illustration by Tim MurphyAnd New York City:

V-Day KittyAlfred Eisenstaedt; photo illustration by Dave GilsonAnd here:

Abbey Road KittyPhoto illustration by Dave GilsonOkay, I'll stop.

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Sorry Guys, Mitt Has Always Been Squishy on Climate

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 1:34 PM EDT

As recently as a few months ago, Mitt Romney was saying sort of reasonable things about climate change, like that it was real and that humans were contributing to it. But here he is at a fundraiser Thursday night:

My view is that we don’t know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

The remarks, which Think Progress posted on Friday morning, were made at a fundraiser at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. (Yes, it's named after Consol, the coal company.) They have touched off the latest round of "Mitt is a big ol' flip-flopper" on the interwebs.

Here's the thing though: Romney's been squishy on climate for a long time. Even when he said reasonable things about it in June (and was lambasted by the right for doing so), he was sure to include wiggle words like, "may":

"I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.
"It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors."

Anonymous: Unequivocally the Worst Movie of the Year

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 1:25 PM EDT
No. No, he was not.

Anonymous

COLUMBIA PICTURES

130 minutes

Did you know that lionized playwright William Shakespeare was a humongous pansy of a fraud? How about that he was illiterate? Or that he didn't write even a single letter of any of the comedies, tragedies, or sonnets commonly attributed to his name? No need to sweat your ignorance. These are facts of which I was not aware, either. I also wasn't aware of the fact that such tiresome theories could be distilled into a movie as drab, half-baked, and scandalously bad as Anonymous.

You might've heard about the film by now: It takes place during the sanguinary twilight of England's Elizabethan era, in an underworld where staged drama is just another tool for protest and social upheaval. The script posits that Shakespeare was a crass, opportunistic phony; in Anonymous, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the plays, and Shakespeare contemporary Ben Jonson was de Vere's inept middleman. The earl uses his plays to make political statements to the low-born masses ("Words will prevail…not swords," de Vere proclaims mightily) but, fearing reprisal, opts out of taking credit.

Needless to say, Anonymous—which managed to generate Oscar buzz that lasted for about eight seconds—has difficulty accepting widely corroborated historical facts. But let's pretend for a moment that none of that matters and observe the film purely on its artistic merits.

Verdict: In a year that saw the theatrical release of Something Borrowed and Dream House, Anonymous still claims the mantle of sorriest cinematic act of 2011.

DOJ Shows Sudden Interest in Undisclosed Foreign Lobbying

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 1:00 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder

In recent months, the Justice Department has shown a new fervor for enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires any group trying to influence US policy on behalf of a foreign government, political interest, or company that's majority-owned by a foreign power, to register with the agency. FARA doesn't apply to good old, influence-buying lobbying. The law, instead, concerns activities that would typically be designated as public relations or strategic consulting work.

This year alone, over two dozen law firms, PR shops, and tourism offices have retroactively filed paperwork with the DOJ's FARA unit, detailing work they completed years ago—likely in response to the DOJ peppering them with audits, The Hill's Kevin Bogardus reports:

"The FARA unit appears to have increased the number of routine audits, the number of routine notices regarding missing and late filings," said Joe Sandler of Sandler Reiff Young & Lamb. "It seems to me that they have been a little bit more diligent in looking into firms that should have filed but haven't."

Others who advise clients on the foreign lobbying law agree that enforcement has increased...

In an update sent to clients last week, Covington & Burling said it seems that Justice "is continuing to expand its enforcement activities of this often-overlooked statute, this time targeting those that the department believes should have registered under the statute for doing work on behalf of a foreign entity."

The FARA unit's awesome weapon of vigilance:

Covington’s memo said Justice will typically "cite news articles or other public information that appears to suggest a connection between the letter’s target and an entity abroad."

[Covington attorney Rob Kelner] said a "wave of audits" under FARA began about two years ago.

"No one who I talk to had seen a FARA audit in many, many years," Kelner said.

Since 1966, there hasn't been a single successful criminal prosecution under FARA, and only 3 indictments charging FARA violations—which means that the flurry of activity in 2011 is somewhat unprecedented.

In March, Mother Jones reported that work done for the Qaddafi regime in Libya by the Boston-based Monitor group—a consulting firm founded by a group of Harvard academics and business professors—may have run afoul of FARA. Spoiler alert: It did. In May, Monitor retroactively registered for the $1.65 million worth of work it did in Libya, following an internal investigation. And in July, the DOJ alleged that two Pakistani-Americans had spent the past two decades working as agents of Pakistan's intelligence service without registering under FARA.

So why all the fuss, and why now? One theory: That Justice views FARA as the tip of the spear in rooting out groups actively helping the Qaddafis, ISIs, and Syrias of the world. In the Monitor instance, for example, the alleged FARA rule-breakers actively worked as boosters for the Qaddafi regime, writing favorable essays and op-eds for prominent Western publications while frequently failing to disclose their Monitor Group ties. But the DOJ unit had several years to turn the heat up on Monitor, and didn't.

The more likely story is that high profile cases like Monitor have highlighted the fact that firms are skirting the law. Now that they're being pressured to file, will these firms now have to weigh more carefully whether they'll take on lucrative but controversial clients?

Texas Store Refuses to Sell Guns to Muslims, Socialists

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 12:28 PM EDT

Mason County, Texas, is notable mostly for being the only place in the United States to have a piece of public art inspired by the book Old Yeller. It's also home to Keller's Riverside Store, a general store owned by one Crockett Keller, who recently cut a radio ad announcing that his store would refuse to offer training lessons to Muslims and Obama supporters.

Here's the offending ad, which has prompted an investigation from the Texas Department of Public Safety:

"If you are a socialist liberal and/or voted for the current campaigner-in-chief, please do not take this class. You have already proven that you cannot make a knowledgeable and prudent decision as required under the law. Also, if you are a non-Christian Arab or Muslim, I will not teach you the class. Once again, with no shame, I am Crockett Keller. Thank you and God bless America."

I can accept the premise that Crockett Keller might have some sort of prejudice against Muslims, because Islamophobia is pretty widespread in the United States. But non-Muslim, non-Christian Arabs? Who exactly is he referring to—the Druze?