Saturday, April 30, 2011

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

I finally watched this very informative great documentary on Joe Strummer on cable TV tonight, highly recommended for Clash fans obviously, but really anyone into early UK punk at all will appreciate this. Julien Temple did an incredible job on the documentary, of apparently one of his "great friends". It's over 2 hours, but really nice.

My only complaint is that he does not show any of the names of the talking heads in the movie, some are recognizable or you're able to figure it out in context, but others leave one thinking what is the credibility of this voice? who are they and why are they in this movie? Particularly towards the end it gets really corny with some of the celebrity cameos. But the rest of the film is so well done I still recommend it.

here's the trailer:

If you can't find the film on TV somewhere or don't want to rent it, I noticed it's on YouTube in like 15 parts.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Humans Are All Much More Related Than You Think

All humans can trace their family tree back to a surprisingly small group of common ancestors. It's a question of basic mathematics - there simply aren't enough ancestors to go around.
Let's say you were born in 1975, your parents were both born in 1950, your four grandparents were born in 1925, your eight great-grandparents in 1900, and so on. In other words, your number of ancestors doubles every 25 years the further back in time you go. If you take this back just 1,000 years, you'll find that you have well over 500 billion ancestors in a single generation.

Considering there's fewer than seven billion people on this planet there's something seriously wrong here. The solution, of course, is that you don't have 500 billion distinct ancestors, but rather a much, much smaller number of ancestors reappear over and over and over again in your family tree.
from The Presurfer

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Meet Science: What is "peer review"?

from BoingBoing
When the science you learned in school and the science you read in the newspaper don't quite match up, the Meet Science series is here to help, providing quick run-downs of oft-referenced concepts, controversies, and tools that aren't always well-explained by the media.
"According to a peer-reviewed journal article published this week ..."

How often have you read that phrase? How often have I written that phrase? If we tried to count, there would probably be some powers of 10 involved. It's clear from the context that "peer-reviewed journal articles" are the hard currency of science. But the context is less obliging on the whys and wherefores.

Who are these "peers" that do the reviewing? What, precisely, do they review? Does a peer-reviewed paper always deserve respect, and how much trust should we place in the process of peer review, itself? If you don't have a degree in the sciences, and you aren't particularly well-versed in self-taught science Inside Baseball, there's really no reason why you should know the answers to all those questions. You can't be an expert in everything, and this isn't something that's explicitly taught in most high schools or basic level college science courses. And yet, I and the rest of the science media continue to reference "peer review" like all our readers know exactly what we're talking about.

I think it's high time to rectify that mistake. Ladies and gentlemen, meet peer review:

What does the phrase "peer-reviewed journal article" really mean?

This part you've probably already figured out. Journal articles are like book reports, usually written to document the methodology and results of a single scientific experiment, or to provide evidence supporting a single theory. Another common type of paper that I talk about a lot are "meta analyses" or "reviews"—big-picture reports that compare the results of lots of individual experiments, usually done by compiling all the previously published papers about a very specific topic. No single journal article is meant to be the definitive last word on anything. Instead, we're supposed to improve our understanding of the world by looking at what the balance of evidence, from many experiments and many articles, tell us. That's why I think reviews are often more useful, for laypeople. A single experiment may be interesting, but it doesn't always tell you as much about how the world works as a review can.

Both individual reports and reviews are published in scientific journals. You can think of these as older, fancier, more heavily edited versions of 'zines. The same scientists who read the journals write the content that goes in the journals. There are hundreds of journals. Some publish lots of different types of papers on a very broad range of topics—"Science" and "Nature", for instance—while others are much, much more specific. "Acute Pain", say. Or "Sleep Medicine Reviews". Usually, you have to pay a journal a fee per page to be published. And you—or the institution you work for—has to buy a subscription to the journal, or pay steep prices to read individual papers.

Peer review really just means that other scientists have been involved in helping the editors of these journals decide which papers to publish, and what changes need to be made to those papers before publication.

How does peer review work?

It may surprise you to learn that this is not a standardized thing. Peer review evolved out of the informal practice of sending research to friends and colleagues to be critiqued, and it's never really been codified as a single process. It's still done on a voluntary basis, in scientists' free time. Such as that is. And most journals do not pay scientists for the work of peer review. For the most part, scientists are not formally trained in how to do peer review, nor given continuing education in how to do it better. And they usually don't get direct feedback from the journals or other scientists about the quality of their peer reviewing.

Instead, young scientists learn from their advisors—often when that advisor delegates, to the grad students, papers he or she had volunteered to review. Your peer-review education really depends on whether your advisor is good at it, and how much time they choose to spend training you. Meanwhile, feedback is usually indirect. Journals do show all the reviews to all of a paper's reviewers. So you can see how other scientists reviewed the same paper you reviewed. That gives you a chance to see what flaws you missed, and compare your work with others'. If you're a really incompetent peer reviewer, journals might just stop asking you to review, altogether.

Different journals have different guidelines they ask peer reviewers to follow. But there are some commonalities. First, most journals weed out a lot of the papers submitted to them before those papers are even put up for peer review. This is because different journals focus on publishing different things. No matter how cool your findings are, if they aren't on-topic, then "Acute Pain" won't publish them. Meanwhile, a journal like "Science" might prefer to publish papers that are likely to be very original, important to a field, or particularly interesting to the general public. In that case, if your results are accurate, but kind of dull, you probably will get shut out.

Second, peer reviews are normally done anonymously. The editors of the journal will often give the paper's author an opportunity to recommend, or caution against, a specific reviewer. But, otherwise, they pick who does the reviewing.

Reviewers are not the people who decide which papers will be published and which will not. Instead, reviewers look for flaws—like big errors in reasoning or methodology, and signs of plagiarism. Depending on the journal, they might also be asked to rate how novel the paper's findings are, or how important the paper is likely to be in its field. Finally, they make a recommendation on whether or not they think the specific paper is right for the specific journal.

After that, the paper goes back to the journal's editors, who make the final call.

If a paper is peer reviewed does that mean it's correct?

In a word: Nope.

Papers that have been peer reviewed turn out to be wrong all the time. That's the norm. Why? Frankly, peer reviewers are human. And they're humans trying to do very in-depth, time-consuming work in a limited number of hours, for no pay. They make mistakes. They rush through, while worrying about other things they're trying to get done. They once had to share a lab with the guy whose paper they're reviewing and they didn't like him. They get frustrated when a paper they're reviewing contradicts research they're working on. By sending every paper to several peer-reviewers, journals try to cancel out some of the inevitable slip-ups and biases, but it's an imperfect system. Especially when, as I said, there's not really any way to know whether or not you're a good peer reviewer, and no system for improving if you aren't. There's some evidence that, at least in the medical field, the quality and usefulness of reviews actually goes down as the reviewers get older. Nobody knows exactly why that is, but it could have to do with the lack of training and follow-up, the tendency to get more set in our ways as we age, and/or reviewers simply feeling burnt out and too busy.

It's also worth noting that peer review is really not set up to catch deliberate fraud. If you fake your results, and do it convincingly, there's not really any good reason why a peer reviewer would catch you. Instead, that's usually something that happens after a paper has been published—usually when other scientists try to replicate the fraudster's spectacular results, or find that his research contradicts their own in a way that makes no sense.

If a paper isn't peer-reviewed, does that mean it's incorrect?

Technically, no. But, here's the thing. Flawed as it is, peer review is useful. It's a first line of defense. It forces scientists to have some evidence to back up their claims, and it is likely to catch the most egregious biases and flaws. It even means that frauds can't be really obvious frauds.

Being peer reviewed doesn't mean your results are accurate. Not being peer reviewed doesn't mean you're a crank. But the fact that peer review exists does weed out a lot of cranks, simply by saying, "There is a standard." Journals that don't have peer review do tend to be ones with an obvious agenda. White papers, which are not peer reviewed, do tend to contain more bias and self-promotion than peer-reviewed journal articles.

You should think critically and skeptically about any paper—peer reviewed or otherwise—but the ones that haven't been submitted to peer review do tend to have more wrong with them.

What problems do scientists have with peer review, and how are they trying to change it?

Scientists do complain about peer review. But let me set one thing straight: The biggest complaints scientists have about peer review are not that it stifles unpopular ideas. You've heard this truthy factoid from countless climate-change deniers, and purveyors of quack medicine. And peer review is a convenient scapegoat for their conspiracy theories. There's just enough truth to make the claims sound plausible.

Peer review is flawed. Peer review can be biased. In fact, really new, unpopular ideas might well have a hard time getting published in the biggest journals right at first. You saw an example of that in my interview with sociologist Harry Collins. But those sort of findings will often published by smaller, more obscure journals. And, if a scientist keeps finding more evidence to support her claims, and keeps submitting her work to peer review, more often than not she's going to eventually convince people that she's right. Plenty of scientists, including Harry Collins, have seen their once-shunned ideas published widely.

So what do scientists complain about? This shouldn't be too much of a surprise. It's the lack of training, the lack of feedback, the time constraints, and the fact that, the more specific your research gets, the fewer people there are with the expertise to accurately and thoroughly review your work.

Scientists are frustrated that most journals don't like to publish research that is solid, but not ground-breaking. They're frustrated that most journals don't like to publish studies where the scientist's hypothesis turned out to be wrong.

Some scientists would prefer that peer review not be anonymous—though plenty of others like that feature. Journals like the British Medical Journal have started requiring reviewers to sign their comments, and have produced evidence that this practice doesn't diminish the quality of the reviews.

There are also scientists who want to see more crowd-sourced, post-publication review of research papers. Because peer review is flawed, they say, it would be helpful to have centralized places where scientists can go to find critiques of papers, written by scientists other than the official peer-reviewers. Maybe the crowd can catch things the reviewers miss. We certainly saw that happen earlier this year, when microbiologist Rosie Redfield took a high-profile peer-reviewed paper about arsenic-based life to task on her blog. The website Faculty of 1000 is attempting to do something like this. You can go to that site, look up a previously published peer-reviewed paper, and see what other scientists are saying about it. And the Astrophysics Archive has been doing this same basic thing for years.

So, what does all this mean for me?

Basically, you shouldn't canonize everything a peer-reviewed journal article says just because it is a peer-reviewed journal article. But, at the same time, being peer reviewed is a sign that the paper's author has done some level of due diligence in their work. Peer review is flawed, but it has value. There are improvements that could be made. But, like the old joke about democracy, peer review is the worst possible system except for every other system we've ever come up with.

If you're interested in reading more about peer review, and how scientists are trying to change and improve it, I'd recommend checking out Nature's Peer to Peer blog. They recently stopped updating it, but there's lots of good information archived there that will help you dig deeper.

Journals have also commissioned studies of how peer review works, and how it could be better. The British Medical Journal is one publication that makes its research on open access, peer review, research ethics, and other issues, available online. Much of it can be read for free.


The following people were instrumental in putting this explainer together: Ivan Oransky, science journalist and editor of the Retraction Watch blog; John Moore, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College; and Sara Schroter, senior researcher at the British Medical Journal.

Image: Some rights reserved by Nic's events

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Fundamental Injustice That Is Poisoning the Nation

from Richard Metzger over at Dangerous Minds
A guest editorial courtesy of our super smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith. This essay is cross-posted from his essential Of Two Minds blog. Buy his book, Survival+

The guilty are powerful and free, the innocent burdened and oppressed: that is injustice.

There is a fundamental injustice that is poisoning the soul of the nation, and if it is not openly addressed then the nation will face the explosive consequences of institutionalized injustice.

Simply put, it is this: those responsible for the nation’s financial crisis and its catastrophic after-effects are not paying for the consequences of their actions—it is the innocent, those who were not responsible, who are paying the price.

You can call it whatever you want: the Anarchy of the Super-Rich (as per Paul Farrell), the Financial Power Elite, the financial Oligarchy, Plutocracy or Corporatocracy, or the unprecedented concentration of financial wealth and political power in a financialized post-industrial economy. Whatever you call it, we all know this class of financiers and its minions got away with high financial crimes.

Do the crime, do the time—unless it’s “white-collar” financial crime on a vast scale. Then you might pay a wrist-slap fine (a few million dollars from your treasure of embezzled hundreds of millions) and then you’re free to go on your merry way.

The after-effects are not just the losses which can be totalled on a calculator: the really catastrophic losses are to the foundations of democracy and the economy. Democracy has been subverted—oh please, spare us the happy-story propaganda about “reform” and “the system worked”—and the economy has been incentivized to favor poisonously addictive financialization and the shadow institutions of corruption, fraud, embezzlement, favoritism, collusion and misrepresentation of risk. This might be summarized as the protection of vested interests, engineered and overseen by the partnership of the ever more intrusive Central State and the nation’s Financial Power Elite.

The Central State, designed to protect the citizenry from an oppressive monarchy or Elite, now protects this Elite from the citizenry. That is how thoroughly the injustice has been institutionalized.

There is a second part to this fundamental injustice: look who will pay for the bailouts, guarantees and the interest on the borrowed trillions. Not the banks and bankers, to be sure. Who will pay? Those who the Central State can easily tap: taxpayers who earn most of their income from wages, and those politically weak players dependent on government payments.<

Now that the bills of the bailout are coming due, the State isn’t going after GE for more taxes. Heavens no—if you try that, the Panzer Division of GE’s tax avoidance army would overrun you. No, the politically easy thing to do is raise taxes on wage earners and trim entitlements, because all the government needs to do is send down the orders and it is done: the taxes are withheld and the bennies trimmed.

To go after the Power Elite is just too difficult. They have the tax attorneys, the lobbyists, the campaign fundraisers, and all the rest.

The U.S. is just a third world kleptocracy on an Imperial scale. I explored the parallels with the Roman Empire in Survival+: the Elites increasingly avoided military service and taxation, the bedrock of Roman power, while the taxes on the middle class rose to such heights that this productive class was basically driven into serfdom. The bottom layer of State dependents was placated and made complicit with bread and circuses—yes, Rome had a vast “welfare state” and much of Rome’s population received free bread to keep them quiet and pliant.

That is of course a road to ruin: let the Elite plunder at will, protected by the Imperial Central State, tax the productive class to fund the armed forces and free bread, and then buy off the lower class with bread and circuses.

The only successful model of reconciliation and justice we have is the “truth commissions” in other post-oppression autocratic kleptocracies. In countries that were deeply divided and poisoned by institutionalized injustice and exploitation, the healing process requires a public, transparent “truth commission” in which the guilty are brought forth to confess their sins against the innocent and face the consequences of their actions.

If a society cannot rouse itself to cleanse the fundamental injustice at the heart of its institutions, then it is effectively choosing self-destruction.

So far, the U.S. is pursuing the Roman Imperial model with an institutional zeal unmatched since Rome’s fall.

Embedded institutional injustice has a price, a price which rises with every passing day of propaganda and prevarication. Some day the bill will come due and a terrible price paid in full. For those in power, the only concern is that it not be today or tomorrow.

Below, Charles Hugh Smith discusses his book Survival +

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Art of Rap | Movie Trailer #1

My good old friend, all around nice guy, and loyal friend to many, is directing his own documentary. Here's his 1st trailer for the flick.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Playing God with a high-speed/high-def video camera

Tom Guilmette spent a productive evening locked in a Las Vegas hotel room with a Phantom Flex high-speed/high-def video camera, taking high-speed footage of water, breaking glasses, himself jumping on the bed, and other everyday phenomena that become amazing and dramatic when slowed down to wachowskiian speeds and cleverly edited.
Violating the laws of nature. Playing God. Capturing stuff we are not supposed to see. Potentially opening up a wormhole in the fabric of time.
These are a few of the things I think about while shooting with a Phantom High Speed Digital Cinema camera. The above video is a bunch of test footage I shot to get familiar with the new "Flex" version. I shot inside my Las Vegas Palms Casino hotel room between the hours of 2am and 6am. If you had a Phantom in your bedroom, you would stay up too!
Cool stuff...
thanks, BoingBoing

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Languages Grew From a Seed in Africa, a Study Says

from NYTimes

Phonetic Clues Hint Language Is Africa- Born
A researcher analyzing the sounds in languages spoken around the world has detected an ancient signal that points to southern Africa as the place where modern human language originated.

The finding fits well with the evidence from fossil skulls and DNA that modern humans originated in Africa. It also implies, though does not prove, that modern language originated only once, an issue of considerable controversy among linguists.

The detection of such an ancient signal in language is surprising. Because words change so rapidly, many linguists think that languages cannot be traced very far back in time. The oldest language tree so far reconstructed, that of the Indo-European family, which includes English, goes back 9,000 years at most.

Quentin D. Atkinson, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, has shattered this time barrier, if his claim is correct, by looking not at words but at phonemes — the consonants, vowels and tones that are the simplest elements of language. Dr. Atkinson, an expert at applying mathematical methods to linguistics, has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.

Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes.

This pattern of decreasing diversity with distance, similar to the well-established decrease in genetic diversity with distance from Africa, implies that the origin of modern human language is in the region of southwestern Africa, Dr. Atkinson says in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Language is at least 50,000 years old, the date that modern humans dispersed from Africa, and some experts say it is at least 100,000 years old. Dr. Atkinson, if his work is correct, is picking up a distant echo from this far back in time.

Linguists tend to dismiss any claims to have found traces of language older than 10,000 years, “but this paper comes closest to convincing me that this type of research is possible,” said Martin Haspelmath, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Dr. Atkinson is one of several biologists who have started applying to historical linguistics the sophisticated statistical methods developed for constructing genetic trees based on DNA sequences. These efforts have been regarded with suspicion by some linguists.

In 2003 Dr. Atkinson and Russell Gray, another biologist at the University of Auckland, reconstructed the tree of Indo-European languages with a DNA tree-drawing method called Bayesian phylogeny. The tree indicated that Indo-European was much older than historical linguists had estimated and hence favored the theory that the language family had diversified with the spread of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, not with a military invasion by steppe people some 6,000 years ago, the idea favored by most historical linguists.

“We’re uneasy about mathematical modeling that we don’t understand juxtaposed to philological modeling that we do understand,” Brian D. Joseph, a linguist at Ohio State University, said about the Indo-European tree. But he thinks that linguists may be more willing to accept Dr. Atkinson’s new article because it does not conflict with any established area of linguistic scholarship.

“I think we ought to take this seriously, although there are some who will dismiss it out of hand,” Dr. Joseph said.
Another linguist, Donald A. Ringe of the University of Pennsylvania, said, “It’s too early to tell if Atkinson’s idea is correct, but if so, it’s one of the most interesting articles in historical linguistics that I’ve seen in a decade.”

Dr. Atkinson’s finding fits with other evidence about the origins of language. The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert belong to one of the earliest branches of the genetic tree based on human mitochondrial DNA. Their languages belong to a family known as Khoisan and include many click sounds, which seem to be a very ancient feature of language. And they live in southern Africa, which Dr. Atkinson’s calculations point to as the origin of language. But whether Khoisan is closest to some ancestral form of language “is not something my method can speak to,” Dr.Atkinson said.

His study was prompted by a recent finding that the number of phonemes in a language increases with the number of people who speak it. This gave him the idea that phoneme diversity would increase as a population grew, but would fall again when a small group split off and migrated away from the parent group.

Such a continual budding process, which is the way the first modern humans expanded around the world, is known to produce what biologists call a serial founder effect. Each time a smaller group moves away, there is a reduction in its genetic diversity. The reduction in phonemic diversity over increasing distances from Africa, as seen by Dr. Atkinson, parallels the reduction in genetic diversity already recorded by biologists.

For either kind of reduction in diversity to occur, the population budding process must be rapid, or diversity will build up again. This implies that the human expansion out of Africa was very rapid at each stage. The acquisition of modern language, or the technology it made possible, may have prompted the expansion, Dr. Atkinson said.

“What’s so remarkable about this work is that it shows language doesn’t change all that fast — it retains a signal of its ancestry over tens of thousands of years,” said Mark Pagel, a biologist at the University of Reading in England who advised Dr. Atkinson.
Dr. Pagel sees language as central to human expansion across the globe.

“Language was our secret weapon, and as soon we got language we became a really dangerous species,” he said.
In the wake of modern human expansion, archaic human species like the Neanderthals were wiped out and large species of game, fossil evidence shows, fell into extinction on every continent shortly after the arrival of modern humans.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beastie Boys New Promo, Star Fucking of Another Kind...

promo for the new album...

the last song was my favorite

Friday, April 22, 2011

Young Conservatives "FUCK NEW YORK"
before the Republican National Convention
(remeber 2004?)

This satirical clip was created before the Republican National Convention came to New York City in 2004. These actors portray Bush and his cabinet as young wannabe b-boy thugs. ONE OF THE GREATEST POLITICAL CLIPS EVER. Directed by Matt Lenski

I had posted this on google video years and years ago and just got notice from them that ALL videos uploaded to google video will be taken down at the end of this month! So i found it on you tube and figure i'd share it with you here. At the time it gave me much entertainment, and when i played it for Russell Simmons he actually wanted to pay to get it on MTV, he looked into it for a minute and of course there was no way it was going to happen, but it would've been great.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Raymond Scott celebration
on Network Awesome


from DangerousMinds

Our pals at Network Awesome bring together the varied and disparate artifacts of your favorite geniuses for your trouble-free enrichment. Here’s a swell multi-pronged tribute to visionary composer and inventor Raymond Scott including an interview with Jeff Winner of the Raymond Scott Archives

Jeff Winner is one of the chairmen of the Raymond Scott Archives, founder of and co-producer of Manhattan Research, Inc., a 2-CD & book set of Scott’s early electronic work. That makes him totally the dude to talk to about Raymond Scott himself. And on top of being a total badass on Raymond Scott-ology, he was a nice enough guy to answer a few of our questions. The conversation goes everywhere - from Looney Tunes to Benny Goodman to Mark Mothersbaugh.

video playlist:
The Raymond Scott Quintette - War Dance For Wooden Indians
The Philharmonicas - Powerhouse
The Raymond Scott Quintette - Ali Baba Goes To Town (1937)
The Raymond Scott Quintette - Night and Day
Raymond Scott's Electronium: The Restoration
Designs in Music - Dorothy Collins, Raymond Scott on the Bell Telephone Hour
Raymond Scott: On To Something (trailer)

The Sound of Surreal: Interview with Jeff Winner on Raymond Scott

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Found Sign: Why the Internet is No Substitute for a Library

Joe Sabia says, "This is a sign that hangs from the wall of my local public library in Milford, Connecticut. It's a large but quaint building occupied by maybe 6 or so people, and 3 elderly kind women at the check out desk." Click for larger size.

via Xeni at BoingBoing

Monday, April 18, 2011

Clas War: "Funny Isn't It?"


Nicole Belle put it nicely at Crooks and Liars:

Man, conservatives sure do want everyone to buy into the notion that the only answer to Medicare is to not have it. They go on and on about how Medicare is going to go bankrupt. But what is never mentioned is the actual end of that sentence “...under current spending levels.”

Let’s remember that there are two sides to that coin. One way to deal with rising costs is to drastically cut benefits. But that doesn’t reduce the existence of the need for those benefits, it simply transfers the costs to the individual, who is on Medicare because they cannot afford private insurance. As in our current system with those who are uninsured, if those individuals can’t pay those costs, they get passed on to everyone else in the form of increased premiums and bloated medical charges (nothing like paying for a $20 box of tissue during a hospital stay).

But the other way to deal with it—which is apparently unthinkable to George Will and Chrystia Freeland—is to increase spending, in the form of tax increases. Yes, I said the dreaded phrase: tax increases. At the time that Medicare was enacted in 1965, the top marginal tax rate was 70%. Now it’s less than 40%. Of course there’s no money…we’re too busy allowing the uber-wealthy and corporations to skate on their share of the social fabric to create huge population-sized holes in the safety net.

I do have to credit the GOP with the talking point that it won’t affect anyone currently getting Medicare or scheduled to receive it for the next ten years. *Wipes brow* whew! I guess that leaves me—in my mid-40s, with a history of cancer and without a steady paycheck for 15 years, so I’m imminent competitively hire-able—in the perfect spot to afford private insurance policies as a senior? I guess it’s a good thing I had children…I’ll need somewhere to live when my IRA (since Social Security is in the crosshairs as well) goes almost exclusively to my medical needs. Multiply that over tens of millions of Gen X-ers and Y-ers and Millennials and suddenly, that doesn’t seem so sustainable for the economy, does it?

And can we please call a moratorium on calling Medicare and Social Security “entitlements”? I’m so sick of that bull excrement. There is nothing “entitled” about having taxes taken out of every paycheck to a trust fund that will enable one to live through one’s golden years without resorting to eating catfood or wearing a Walmart greeter’s vest because the idea of a true retirement is out of the realm of possibility. The only entitlement I see is the white privilege of the Beltway establishment, unwilling to actually be honest about the consequences of such destructive Republican policies.

Below, Rep. Eric Cantor says things that will make you want to vomit on Fox News.


Cartoon via Bart Cop

from Richard Metzger at DangerousMinds

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Skateboarding Is Still A Crime
(In Some Places)

fom Ozzie Ausband's blog at Concrete Disciples
booking number: 11043110010

Will someone tell me when this misery is going to end? I will go to sleep & wake when it’s over, because I can’t see much reason in the things that are happening to me. Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m living for. The day started fine. The sun was out & birds dripped from limb to limb, pouring from the trees. They sang & answered each other. I loaded the truck with the pumps & assorted tools. Grabbing a coffee, I drove through the early light listening to Peter Yorn & scouted some pools. We would be riding on Sunday & I wanted a few fresh pools readied for the crew. At one potentially good left-hand kidney, I was struck with a problem. The house sat on the top of a hill with properties surrounding it on the hillsides below. If I drained the pool– which was huge– all the water would probably flood some yard below. That would not be a very neighborly thing to do. It would make for a bad day. The property was huge & the pool sat way back in the yard. It was a long way to the street. I knew that I needed longer outlet hoses for the pool so I could get the water all the way out front to the driveway & gutters. I would check with Salba later & see if he had any extra.

I left & drove around a bit more, checking a few old favorites & new foreclosures. Salba had told me of a pool nearby that needed to be checked. I cruised up a wide tree-lined street & banked the wheel of the truck. I soon found myself coming to a stop. I backed into the driveway of a faded foreclosure. The house was pale & lifeless. The trees sagged in the morning sun. It was a picture of emptiness. Whatever were the miracles of home & family that had once existed here, were certainly long gone. I saw the locked gate & the pool beyond. It had a wooden frame over the entire thing. This frame was covered with plastic sheeting & a metal grid was stapled over it. I grabbed my three foot bolt cutters & was quickly inside the property. I pulled back a bit of the plastic by the deep end & found that the transitions looked pretty good. There was very little water in the deep end. The plastic had done its job. I knew that I had to get inside for a better look. I took my bolt cutters & cut away a small area around the shallow end & shimmied down inside. It was like a sauna & mosquitoes quickly bit into me. I took a few photographs & realized that the shallow transitions were kinked & the surface was pitted. It wasn’t worth the work.

Pulling myself up out of the pool through the hole, I saw shiny boots & knew the game was over. Police. The two male officers questioned & immediately hand-cuffed me. They were pretty mellow & seemed like they were going to let me go. They looked through the images on my camera & saw that they were all pool images. They looked through my truck & saw that there was nothing out of line. I have no record. Then, a female ‘Watch Commander’ arrived. I overheard them explaining things & when she saw my bolt cutters, she started swearing. “This is bullshit!” was one of the nicer things that flowed from her profane mouth. It turns out that this was her ‘beat’. These guys were her backup. She called the shots…. and she did. She quickly had me placed into a cruiser after informing me of my lowly place in her grand scheme of things. "You are almost 50 years old & are trespassing to skateboard!? You need to act your age!” She spat this at me as if the words were leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. "Act my age!?" I thought... 'Yeah, and be a twisted husk like her... waiting to die?.' No thanks. I'd rather feel alive. As they hustled me into a cruiser, I saw her frothing her fury & thumbing through my possessions.

In about an hour, they had read me my Miranda rights & had the truck impounded. I winced inside as I watched the flatbed towing vehicle roll away with my truck on top. The male officers transported me to the correctional facility. I was searched, finger-printed, had photographs taken & was led to a stinking concrete cell & locked inside. My wrists were sore from the hand cuffs. I looked around in the cell. There were five of us & the faces that turned toward me were unfriendly. One sucked-up scrawny guy rocked in the corner mumbling to himself. He looked like a rumpled bag on a dirty sidewalk. It was a long day. I spent five or six hours in that reeking concrete cell. They finally let me out. They called us up one at a time, had me sign some forms, gave me a court date & my wallet then turned me out into the street. I had left my cell phone at home. I walked to a payphone & called Salba. His was the only number I remembered. He asked my room-mate Michael to come pick me up. It was almost dark.

I phoned about my truck. It’s going to cost me $349.00 to get it out on Monday (which I don't have) . They kept the bolt cutters (obviously) & my camera or I would show you a few pictures of the pool. It was an expensive day. When we do this thing we do, it can be dangerous. People don’t react well to someone found lurking in their yard. Dogs & violence are an ever-present danger. Law enforcement is as well. People have a misconception. They think that we just show up, sweep the pools out & grind away the afternoon. People think that there is no muck, filth, danger, hard work or sacrifice involved. Well, I am here to show you– as I often have– that this is not the case. I took one for the team yesterday… and it really hurts. Skate- Ozzie

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Great Hank Shocklee Interview

Here's an interview with one of my good old friends, music producer, cultural critique, hustler, Hank Shocklee, the leader of the infamous Bomb Squad, who of course produced all the Public Enemy recordings I shot the covers on, not to mention countless other tracks and artists.

here's the blurb that came with the clip:
Public Enemy is without a doubt the most influential rap group of our planet. Thanks to Hank Shocklee. The founding member and legendary DJ/producer gives you an insight into the beginnings of P.E.. Whether it is the complementary combination of the voices of Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, or the legendary noisy and soulful sound design of Public Enemy, making rock 'n' roll by the means of hip hop - Shocklee's beats has always been balanced out ingeniously in order to be charged with fierce energy. Being a DJ the turntable have always been a fundamental part of the intrumentation. Moreover Hank Shocklee provides some really exquisite recipes for unique production results.

My Hank Shocklee photo at top of this post, shot in the jail in New Jersey, away from the set of "Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos" video shoot. circa 1988. (see the video below)

check Hanks main web presence at

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wingsuit Flying - Total Fucking Insanity

If the next James Bond movie opening sequence does not hire this guy (Jeb Corliss) they are playing themselves.

According to Wikipedia:
Wingsuit flying is the sport of flying the human body through the air using a special jumpsuit, called a wingsuit, which adds surface area to the human body to enable a significant increase in lift. Modern wingsuit designs create the surface area with fabric between the legs and under the arms. A wingsuit may be referred to as a birdman suit or squirrel suit.

A wingsuit flight ends with a parachute opening, so a wingsuit can be flown from any point that provides sufficient altitude to glide through the air, such as skydiving aircraft or BASE jumping exit points, and to allow a parachute to deploy.

The wingsuit flier wears parachute equipment designed for skydiving or BASE jumping. The flier deploys the parachute at a planned altitude and unzips the arm wings, if necessary, so they can reach up to the control toggles and fly to a normal parachute landing.
And now some video I saw for the first time recently that made put together this post:

I can't stop watching these clips!!!


NYTimes on line has an interesting video story here:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Liberal Vs. Conservative: Politics Reflected in Brain Structure

from DangerousMinds

Of course, it’s something many of us have suspected all along, but a new study published yesterday in Current Biology reveals that the differences in our political views are tied to differences in brain structure.

The next time you look at a Republican and wonder in astonishment at how small-minded, unscientific, inflexible and sometimes scarily racist their belief systems often are, well, wonder no more: They can’t help themselves…!

And the way you wince at them? It goes both ways, mate. Might be hard-coded into your gray matter as well. No wonder Conservatives find Liberals so infuriatingly condescending…

From Science Daily:
Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say.

“Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual’s political orientation,” said Ryota Kanai of the University College London. “Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure.”

Kanai said his study was prompted by reports from others showing greater anterior cingulate cortex response to conflicting information among liberals. “That was the first neuroscientific evidence for biological differences between liberals and conservatives,” he explained.

There had also been many prior psychological reports showing that conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty, while liberals tend to be more open to new experiences. Kanai’s team suspected that such fundamental differences in personality might show up in the brain.

And, indeed, that’s exactly what they found. Kanai says they can’t yet say for sure which came first. It’s possible that brain structure isn’t set in early life, but rather can be shaped over time by our experiences. And, of course, some people have been known to change their views over the course of a lifetime.
So there IS hope for Glenn Beck?

Here’s more on this from TIME’s blog:
This is not the first attempt to locate the biological roots of party affiliation. In an October 2010 study, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University identified a “liberal gene” — a variant called DRD4-7R, which affects the neurotransmitter dopamine — that has been linked with a personality type driven to seek out new experiences.

Another study from the University of Nebraska found that liberals and conservatives had different reactions to “gaze cues” — whether they tended to look in the same direction as a face on their computer screen. Liberals were more likely than conservatives to follow another person’s gaze, suggesting that people who lean right value autonomy more; alternative explanations suggest that liberals might be more empathetic, or that conservatives are less trusting of others.
The thing this study doesn’t explain is why progressive women are so much hotter than Republican women!

(runs away)

Another explanation for Tea baggers?

Thanks to Richard Metzger of course!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The One-Percenters

from Roger Ebert's Journal
"The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation's income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.

"Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent."

So I discover in a piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz in the new issue of Vanity Fair. These facts confirm my impression that greed is now seen as a virtue in America. I'm not surprised by the greed of the One-Percenters. I'm mystified by the lack of indignation from so many of the rest of us.

Day after day I read stories that make me angry. Wanton consumption is glorified. Corruption is rewarded. Ordinary people see their real income dropping, their houses sold out from under them, their pensions plundered, their unions legislated against, their health care still under attack. Yes, people in Wisconsin and Ohio have risen up to protest these realities, but why has there not been more outrage?

The most visible centers of these crimes against the population are Wall Street and the financial industry in general. Although there are still many honest bankers, some seem to regard banking and trading as a license to steal. Outrageous acts are committed and go unpunished. Consider this case of money laundering by Wachovia Bank, now part of Wells Fargo. This Guardian article reports: "The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveler's checks and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts."

The bank paid fines of less than 2% of its $12.2 billion profit in 2009. No individual was ever charged with a crime. We need not doubt that Wachovia executives received bonuses over the period of time when they were overseeing these illegal activities. Permit me to quote one more paragraph:

"More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4 billion -- a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico's gross national product -- into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business."

If a third of the Mexican GNP passes through your bank and you don't ask the questions required by law, you are either (1) a criminal, or (2) incompetent. I can't think of another possibility.

Stories like this have become commonplace. Two of the most common types of news stories about banks recently have involved their losses, and the size of their executive bonuses. Bloomberg News reports: "JPMorgan Chase & Co. gave Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon a 51 percent raise in 2010 as the bank resumed paying cash bonuses following two years of pressure from regulators and lawmakers to curb compensation."

And here's more, from the Wall Street journal: "$57,031. That's about what the average U.S. archaeologist made last year. It's also what J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon made every day of last year -- $20.8 million total, according to the firm's proxy filing this week. Anyone who has doubts about the resiliency of Wall Street banks and brokerages should ponder that figure for awhile. The J.P. Morgan board also spent about $421,500 to sell Dimon's Chicago home. And they brought back the big cash bonus, doling out $30.2 million in greenbacks to Dimon and his top six lieutenants."

The CEOs of the venerable trading firms that were forced into bankruptcy were all paid bonuses. In a small recent case, executives of Borders intended to pay themselves $8 million in bonuses until a U. S. Trustee objected. A company spokesperson said, "The proposed programs were designed to retain key executives at Borders as we proceed through the Chapter 11 reorganization process." In short, retain those whose management bankrupted the corporation.

Corporations in theory are managed to benefit their shareholders. The more money Wal-Mart can make by busting unions and allegedly discriminating in its hiring practices, the happier its shareholders become. Yet obscene bonuses penalize even the shareholders. Isn't that, in theory, their money? Wouldn't it be decent for the occasional corporation to put a cap on bonuses and distribute the funds as dividends?

I have no objection to financial success. I've had a lot of it myself. All of my income came from paychecks from jobs I held and books I published. I have the quaint idea that wealth should be obtained by legal and conventional means--by working, in other words--and not through the manipulation of financial scams. You're familiar with the ways bad mortgages were urged upon people who couldn't afford them, by banks who didn't care that the loans were bad. The banks made the loans and turned a profit by selling them to investors while at the same time betting against them on their own account. While Wall Street was knowingly trading the worthless paper that led to the financial collapse of 2008, executives were being paid huge bonuses.

Wasn't that fraud? Wasn't it theft? The largest financial crime in American history took place and resulted in no criminal charges. Then the money industries and their lobbyists fought tooth and nail against financial regulation. The Republicans resisted it, but so did many Democrats. Partially because of the Supreme Court decision allowing secret campaign contributions, our political system is largely financed by vested interests.

We know that Bernie Madoff went to jail. Fine. No Wall Street or bank executive has been charged with anything. It will never happen. The financial industries are locked an unholy alliance with politicians and regulators, all choreographed by lobbyists. You know all that.

What puzzles me is why there isn't more indignation. The Tea Party is the most indignant domestic political movement since Norman Thomas's Socialist Party, but its wrath is turned in the wrong direction. It favors policies that are favorable to corporations and unfavorable to individuals. Its opposition to Obamacare is a textbook example. Insurance companies and the health care industry finance a "populist" movement that is manipulated to oppose its own interests. The billionaire Koch brothers payroll right wing front organizations that oppose labor unions and financial reform. The patriots wave their flags and don't realize they're being duped.

Consider taxes. Do you know we could eliminate half the predicted shortfall in the national budget by simply failing to renew the Bush tax cuts? Do you know that if corporations were taxed at a fair rate, much of the rest could be found? General Electric recently reported it paid no current taxes. Why do you think that was? Why do middle and lower class Tea Party members not understand that they bear an unfair burden of taxes that should be more fairly distributed? Why do they support those who campaign against unions and a higher minimum wage? What do they think is in it for them?

If it is "socialist" to believe in a more equal distribution of income, what is the word for the system we now live under? A system under which the very rich have doubled their share of the nation's income in 25 years? I believe in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Isn't that an American credo? How did it get twisted around into an obscene wage for shameless plunder?

One of the challenges facing the One-Percenters these days is finding ways to spend their money. Private residences grow as large as hotels, and are fitted out with the amenities of luxury resorts. Fleets of cars and private airplanes are at their owners' disposal. At work, they sink absurd mountains of money into show-off corporate headquarters that have less to do with work than with a pissing contest among rival executives. Private toilets grow as large as small condos, outfitted with Italian marbles and rare antiques. This is all paid for by the shareholders. One area of equality between the One-Percenters and the rest of us is that we sit on toilets of about the same size. What's different is the size of our throne rooms.

I find this extravagance unseemly in a democracy. Many of today's One-Percenters feel no more constraint than Louis XIV. A culture of celebrity has grown up around these conspicuous consumers, celebrating their excesses. I believe rewards are appropriate for those who have been successful. I also believe a certain modesty and humility are virtuous. I find it unbecoming that those who fight most against social welfare are those most devoted to their own welfare.

In America there is an ingrained populist suspicion of fats cats and robber barons. This feeling rises up from time to time. Theodore Roosevelt, who was elected as a Trust Buster, would be appalled by the excesses of our current economy. Many of the rich have a conscience. Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over America. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations do great good. Bill Gates lists his occupation as "philanthropist."

Yet the most visible plutocrat in America is Donald Trump, a man who has made a fetish of his power. What kind of sick mind conceives of a television show built on suspense about which "contestant" he will "fire" next? What sort of masochism builds his viewership? Sadly, I suspect it is based on viewers who identify with Trump, and envy his power over his victims. Don't viewers understand they are the ones being fired in today's America?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fast food, fat profits: Obesity in America

This is a well made 23 minute program from Al Jazeera English on the culture of obesity in the U.S.

From their program "Fault Lines"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cutting The Arts?

Listen to Kevin Spacey discuss with Chris Matthews on "HardBall" how incredibly stupid it is for the government to cut off funding to the arts.

There's a Winston Churchill quote referred to in the last minute is incredible.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Boys Are Back In Town

in case you missed it, i just got it in my inbox from the Beastie Boys earlier...

this is the trailer to a 30 minute short coming soon.
The short, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, features a series of meta re-creations of the group’s original video for “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”

The Beasties seem to have called in favors from just about every corner of the entertainment planet, rounding up Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Jack Black, Rainn Wilson, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Steve Buscemi, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, ChloĆ« Sevigny, and Will Arnett. That’s a lot of star power, though it leaves out participants like Kirsten Dunst, Martin Starr, Laura Dern, David Cross, and Zach Galifianakis, who are in the movie but didn’t make the trailer cut. The whole thing is even set to new single “Make Some Noise,” ...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Incredible photographs of GoldenRay migration

In 2008, amateur photographer Sandra Critelli captured these stunning images of a mass migration of Golden Rays while looking for whale sharks off the coast of Mexico. She said, “It was an unreal image, very difficult to describe. The surface of the water was covered by warm and different shades of gold and looked like a bed of autumn leaves gently moved by the wind.”

from Tara at DangerousMinds - thanks!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"The Bones Brigade Video Show" cont.
(part 3)

To continue from Mondays original post on the forthcoming "Bones Brigade" documentary, here's the last set of stills from the interviews, and a few more shots from my own unseen archive that may appear in the film.

Stacy Peralta, Feb 2011

Tony Hawk, Feb 2011

Tony Hawk, early 80's

Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, Feb 2011

Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, late 70's

Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, late 70's

Tony Alva, Feb 2011

Jay Smith, late 70's

Myself, Feb 2011

Now that the first round of interviews have been done, the film is currently only in it's earliest stages of post production. There is no trailer or anything like that even close to being cut yet. Any new information should turn up at before anywhere else, so keep your eye over there if you're interested.

And you can bet, as soon as they have a trailer or teaser of any kind i will have it up here too.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Bones Brigade Video Show" cont.
(part 2)

To continue from yesterdays original post on the forthcoming "Bones Brigade" documentary, here are some more stills from the interviews, and a few shots from my own unseen archive that may appear in the film.

Craig Stecyk, Feb 2011

George Powell, Feb 2011

Rodney Mullen hanging out with Minor Threat at Kenter Canyon School, Early 80's

Rodney Mullen, Feb 2011

Steve Caballero and Rodney Mullen, early 80's

Steve Caballero, Feb 2011

Steve Caballero, early 80's

Ben Harper, Feb 2011

Christian Hosoi, late 70's

(I will post a few more images from the production and my personal unseen archive tomorrow, for the last installment)

Now that the first round of interviews have been done, the film is currently only in it's earliest stages of post production. There is no trailer or anything like that even close to being cut yet. Any new information should turn up at before anywhere else, so keep your eye over there if you're interested.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"The Bones Brigade Video Show" cont.

First word.

In case you haven't heard, Stacy Peralta (former Z-Boy and more recently award winning film maker) has begun his latest documentary, looking back on the crew that got him to pick up the video camera for the first time. A film that is going to take a look at the years and lives of the original "Bones Brigade" that he so masterfully put together in the late 70's and the through the 80's, as well as the time and the sport itself, what it went through and how it survived a complete commercial breakdown and then flourished.

Post Zephyr/Dogtown days Stacy became the world class spokesman for the sport, that he always seemed to be cut out for. Soon after his own skateboarding was no longer to be in the forefront of his personal agenda, he began to put together a team of skateboarders from far and wide, that he would hand pick and coach, to become some of the most influential and inspiring skaters in the history of the sport. By the early 80's he became the defacto cameraman, director, and editor of his own teams' videos, the very first ever made in the skateboard industry. The impact they made can not be downplayed at all, even from the least interested but knowledgeable skateboard history skeptic. Along with collaborator Craig Stecyk, whom Peralta befriended since the early Zephyr days, they would continue to make skateboarding, via the "Brigade" a world class attention getter, and an outlet for creativity in art, design as well as performance.

I was one of the dozens of people he corralled in late february to sit and talk for a while about the skaters, the era, and the videos, not to mention the lives, and the drama that ensued. What I can say is that on the day I was interviewed it was a ton of fun between Stecyk, Steve Olson, Tommy Guerrero, Alan "Ollie" Gelfand (yes he's the one who actually invented the trick) and myself. But from what i've gathered in the weeks since, and now that Stacy has had time to go over all the transcribed interviews, this flick is going to be a fucking monster. The emotions and lifes stories that spilled out of the guts of these guys, most totally unexpected, have revealed an underbelly of the "boy scouts" that they seemed, from the "den father" down, to an incredibly dedicated, heartfelt, motivated group of perfectionists who would do anything to promote the sport because what it had done for them, through the good times and bad.

Here's an exclusive peek from the set of some of the folks that have been interviewed, as well as a few vintage shots of my own that may make it in the film.

Stacy Peralta, Feb 2011

Stacy Peralta, late 70's

Lance Mountain, Feb 2011

Lance Mountain, early 80's

Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero, early 80's

Tommy Guerrero, Feb 2011

Duane Peters, Feb 2011

Mike McGill, early 80's

Shepard Fairey, Feb 2011

(I will post more images from the production and my personal unseen archive over the next few days)

Now that the first round of interviews have been done, the film is currently only in it's earliest stages of post production. There is no trailer or anything like that even close to being cut yet. Any new information should turn up at before anywhere else, so keep your eye over there if you're interested.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The World's Largest Indoor Photograph

Photographer Jeffrey Martin took a 40 Gigapixel photo of the Philosophical Hall, a Baroque reading room in the 868-year-old Strahov monastery library in Prague, Czech Republic. The photo consists of 2,947 individual shots turned into a single picture.

Martin's panorama lets you examine the spines of the works in the Philosophical Hall's 42,000 volumes, part of the monastery's stunning collection of just about every important book available in central Europe at the end of the 18th century - more or less the sum total of human knowledge at the time. You can even zoom in to read the titles of the books.
There's some insane detail here, i'll be moving to a little more digital one day, it's inevitable... click on that link above.

from The Presurfer Thanks!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Barack Obama's Top Secret Tent

from the BBC
A rare photo, released by the White House, shows Barack Obama fielding calls from a tent in Brazil, to keep up with events in Libya. The tent is a mobile secure area known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, designed to allow officials to have top secret discussions on the move.

They are one of the safest places in the world to have a conversation.

Designed to withstand eavesdropping, phone tapping and computer hacking, Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities are protected areas where classified conversations can be held.

They can be permanent enclosures within a building, or mobile areas set up when a world leader is on the move, to allow them to view sensitive documents or have secret conversations without any outsiders listening or hacking in.

When operations in Libya commenced at the weekend, President Obama was in Brazil on a pre-arranged trip.

Ring of Steel

In order to keep abreast of events a mobile war room was set up in his hotel so he could hold a secure conference call with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others.

A photo released by the White House showed the president and advisers gathered around a video phone, inside what looked like a standard blue tent, erected on the hotel's floral carpets.

Making sure no-one can intercept the activities in the room requires detailed planning, says Mark Pfeifle, who worked as a deputy National Security Adviser in the White House under George W Bush.

"When a president travels in the US or internationally one thing a team is doing in advance of the visit is locating and securing a certain area where the tent could be placed," explains Mr Pfeifle.

It has to be positioned carefully in relation to windows, and concentrations of people.

Hotel rooms, as used by President Obama in Brazil, are a popular place to locate them, but it can depend on the nature of the trip and where the president is.

Once you have found a place for the tent, the next issue is making sure it is completely secure.

Windowless rooms

This can mean creating a self sufficient pod with its own air supply, says Phil Lago, who is one of the founders of Command Consulting Group, a company which provides SCIFs to government agencies.

"We have to make sure that any kind of emissions don't get out. That could be from your laptop, your radio, your telephone," he explains.

Rather than a ring of steel around a secure complex, he likens it to a "ring of electronic waves" which prevents signals from getting in and out of the tent. The only signal which can get out is the encrypted communications, which are made through a secure and encrypted phone line, which sends conversations through a satellite, he says.

Mr Lago recalls travelling with George W Bush to Kennebunkport, where the president used his mobile SCIF to conduct discussions with Tony Blair, who was in Downing St, about Afghanistan and Iraq.

The exact specifications of a mobile pod are top secret, but a public document (The intelligence community directive 705) states that a SCIF, mobile or not, needs not only to be totally soundproofed, but built with an "Intrusion Detection System" to detect any break-ins.

The tent itself is windowless and is made from a secret material which is designed to keep emissions in and listening devices out.

Only those specially authorised can go inside a SCIF, with entry usually requiring a combination of pin numbers, access badges and biometric data.

The perimeters of the tent might be controlled by guards, but there would also be people monitoring outside to see if any data gets out. "You have a line of defence for everything," says Mr Lago.

Carrying a mobile SCIF around is an important part of any presidential trip, he says, adding that they are getting easier to transport.

"You can usually fit them into two large foot lockers and that's most of the equipment you need. In the old days you had to put them in the back of a trailer," he says.

'Not infallible'

As well as mobile tents used to hold conversations, many permanent SCIFs are used to hold secure meetings, in offices and embassies. They are typically constructed with bomb proof walls and similarly tight security measures, explains Michael Creasey, director of development at CSG partners, another company which provides SCIFs.

He says most of his customers are government or defence contractors and departments, but might also be companies who are working on a new design for a plane or a ship and want to hold secure conversations.

When creating SCIFs for clients Mr Creasey says he can use a range of equipment, from a fence which alerts you when someone is touching it to cameras, or devices which can tell when someone has just received an e-mail.

"Nothing in a SCIF is allowed to operate on a remote control because that's a frequency that can be tapped," he says. "Much of what is distributed is done on fibre, not copper as fibre as yet can't be hacked into."

Mr Creasey says demand for SCIFs is particularly high in the Baltimore and Washington area, where many US government agencies are based, and where the cost of setting one up can vary widely from $200 to $5,000 a square foot.

While they are designed to be as impenetrable as possible, and are constantly becoming more sophisticated, Mr Lago says they are not 100% infallible.

"We call them 99.9% infallible."

thanks, Presurfer