Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brennan Calls CIA Hacking Charges “Beyond The Scope of Reason”

Brennan Calls CIA Hacking Charges “Beyond The Scope of Reason”

Brennan Calls CIA Hacking Charges “Beyond The Scope of Reason”

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 11:15 AM PDT

Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan fought back Tuesday against serious accusations made by the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, who alleged on the chamber floor earlier in the day that the agency may have violated federal and constitutional law in searching computers used by the committee.

Dianne Feinstein's rare public rebuke of the agency—she said she came to the Senate floor "reluctantly"—came just hours before Brennan was scheduled to speak at an open press event at the Council of Foreign Relations. It is the latest in a growing fight over an unpublished report by her committee based on a multi-year review of millions of internal CIA documents regarding the agency’s now-defunct programs of rendition, detention, and interrogation, which critics say crossed the line into torture.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said of the illegal monitoring claim made by Feinstein. "We wouldn't do that. That's just beyond the scope of reason."

"We are not in any way, shape, or form trying to thwart this report's progression or release," he added. "Far more than other institutions of government, the CIA wants to put the rendition, detention, and interrogation chapter of its history behind it.”

At issue is the "Panetta Review"—named after Leon E. Panetta, the former C.I.A. director, who ordered the agency to review its documents to better help it understand the volume of material it gave to the committee in 2009. The "Panetta Review" memos are reportedly critical of interrogation methods like waterboarding, which are described as providing little intelligence, according to the New York Times. After the committee raised questions about the Panetta Review with the CIA, Feinstein alleged, the agency surreptitiously searched the computers Senate staffers were using for the review to determine how the staffers had obtained copies of the Panetta documents.

Feinstein said that the committee staff did not hack the CIA computers for the memos, as had been reported, but that they were identified using the search tool provided by the CIA to find the documents, and that they "have no way to determine" who made the internal documents available. On the Senate floor, Feinstein said that 6.2 million pages were provided without any organizational structure—"a true document dump."

Brennan said that the agency is a "far better organization" due to congressional oversight, but said that he "absolutely" disagrees with "some important points" in the committee's report. "It's up to them to decide if they want to put it out publicly or not," he said. "I'm not going to stand in the way, however, I will protect sources and methods in terms of the tremendous investment the country has made" in order to keep the country safe, he added.

It would be unusual if any charges were brought against anyone at the CIA, and it remains unclear whether Feinstein’s allegations are true. Feinstein said Tuesday that she spoke publicly only after receiving neither the apology nor recognition from the CIA that the search of the staffers’ computers was "inappropriate.” In response to a question by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who moderated the CFR event, Brennan said he would not resign should the allegations prove true.

"I am confident that the authorities will review this appropriately," said Brennan. "I would just encourage members of the Senate to take their time to make sure that they don't overstate what they claim and what they probably believe to be the truth."

"If I did something wrong, I will go to the President and explain to him exactly what I did and what the findings were," he added. "He is the one who can ask me to stay or to go."

President Obama Gets To Watch Game of Thrones Season 4 Before You Do

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 11:10 AM PDT

While you’re watching the seconds tic by anxiously waiting for the return of the HBO series Game of Thrones on April 6, President Obama is living high off the hog with exclusive screeners of the show provided to him by its creators.

The co-creators of the show, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, recently confirmed to Vanity Fair's Jim Windolf that yes, the rumors are true: Obama has been given advanced screeners of the upcoming fourth season.

"One perk of being the most powerful man in the world: yes, you get to see episodes early," the pair said in a joint email.

Just weeks ago, in the depths of the frigid winter of 2014, this writer called on President Obama to order the early release of Game of Thrones, that we might weather the winter storms in the relative comfort of Westeros fantasies.

This week we're expecting one final winter spell, so it's not too late.

Your move, Obama.

[Vanity Fair]

Need a One-Handed PlayStation 4 Controller? How About for Xbox One?

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 11:10 AM PDT

According to the Amputee Coalition, the number of people living with limb loss in the United States is nearly two million, and 500 Americans lose a limb every day. While the majority of cases involve lower body amputations, the most common type of amputation according to the National Center for Health Statistics relates to the hands, where loss can involve one or more fingers. That’s followed, in statistical terms, by the loss of one arm.

And that’s just amputations. Many grapple with other forms of physical impairment that limit their ability to use interfaces most of us take for granted, say a gamepad or keyboard and mouse. According to a 2004 IGDA white paper, 48 million people in the U.S. alone identify as “disabled.”

Back when Computer Gaming World was still around, I wrote about an inspiring fellow named Robert Merritt. He had a moderately disabling condition known as hemiplegia, which had paralyzed his right side, right hand and right leg to varying degrees — the result of complications from a surgical procedure performed shortly after his birth to correct a rare heart defect. The surgery induced stroke-like attacks that damaged the left side of his brain and rendered the right side of his body partially immobile. Needless to say, this complicated his relationship with gaming.

A gamer from the age of five (his first experiences was with Magnavox’s Odyssey in 1974) he’d managed to work around the problem over the years by configuring various controllers — joysticks, gamepads, keyboards, multi-button mice and so forth — to allow him to play games like Battlefield, Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic. And not just play these games, but according to him, play them competitively.

At the time, Merritt told me he was against specially adapted controllers, so I’m not sure what he’d make of all these newfangled contraptions gizmo-maker Ben Heckendorn has crafted in recent years, but I’d like to think he’d find Heckendorn’s latest contributions intriguing — like these one-handed versions of gamepads for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

In short, Heckendorn took both controllers apart, then put them back together with all the buttons on one side, allowing someone to play one-handed (assuming their ability to master managing twice as many buttons with a single paw).

The video up top promotes an upcoming episode of Heck’s show during which he’ll apparently pore over the creation of the PS4 controller in detail, and you can check out the Xbox One controller clip below.

Europe Wants its Parmesan Back, Seeks Name Change

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 11:03 AM PDT

(WASHINGTON) — Would Parmesan by any other name be as tasty atop your pasta? A ripening trade battle might put that to the test.

As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan on cheeses made in the United States. Others include feta and Gruyere.

The argument is that the American-made cheese is a shadow of the original European brands, and it cuts into sales and identity of the original cheeses. The Europeans say Parmesan should only be from Parma, Italy, not in those familiar green cylinders that American companies sell.

U.S. dairy producers, cheese makers and food companies are all fighting the idea, which they say would cost them millions of dollars and endlessly confuse consumers.

Lawsuit Claims Cop Ogled Whitney Houston’s Naked Corpse

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 11:01 AM PDT

A Beverly Hills police sergeant is suing the city, claiming he faced retaliation after reporting that a detective in his unit made inappropriate remarks about Whitney Houston’s body at the scene of her death.

In a lawsuit, Sgt. Brian Weir alleges that just hours after the singer’s death, a fellow sergeant from the Beverly Hills Police Department lifted a sheet covering the superstar’s naked body and said: "Damn, she's still looking good, huh?"

Since he reported the incident, Sgt. Weir claims he's been demoted and harassed, NBC reported.

Houston was 48 when she drowned in a bathtub in her room at the Beverly Hilton hotel two years ago.

Watch the video above for more.

Microsoft Readies Surface Power Cover While Fixing a Major Annoyance

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 10:55 AM PDT

The Power Cover for Microsoft’s Surface tablets is available for pre-order now, with a $199 price tag and a ship date of March 19.

Much like the $130 Type Cover 2, the Power Cover has a full physical keyboard and a tiny trackpad. But it also has its own battery, which according to Microsoft will extend the life of a Surface 2, Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2 by up to 70 percent. (The original Surface is not supported.)

Stuffing a battery into a Surface keyboard cover does have some drawbacks: At 1.2 pounds, the Power Cover is twice as heavy as a Type Cover 2, bringing the total weight of a Surface Pro up to 3.2 pounds. That’s a lot heavier than most thin-and-light laptops. The Power Cover also lacks keyboard backlighting, unlike the Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 2.

In my experience with the Surface Pro 2, I average around six to seven hours on a charge with the Type Cover 2 plugged in. It’d be nice to push the battery into the 10-hour range, but I wouldn’t want that extra weight tacked on all the time, so I’ll personally be holding off unless the price ever drops into impulse-buy range. The Power Cover could be a life saver, however, for the original Surface Pro, whose battery runs around four to five hours on a charge.

In the meantime, I’m happy to see that Microsoft is fixing the biggest annoyance with all of the current Surface keyboard covers. In Windows 8.1 Update 1, the Surface covers will finally support double tap-and-drag on the trackpad.

Currently, trying to drag an object using the Type Cover 2 is a maddening experience. You must first hold down the left-click button with one finger, and then use another finger to drag, but the left button is so finicky that it’s hard to keep it held down as you move your other finger around. Most laptop trackpads allow you to drag items by double tapping a single finger, then holding it down as you drag, but for some reason the Surface covers can’t do this. I asked Microsoft representatives in January if they were planning to address the issue, and I got stonewalled.

Apparently Microsoft has been working on it behind the scenes. Although the company hasn’t gone into detail on what it’s calling the “spring update” for Windows 8.1, those who have used the leaked version say that double tap-and-drag has been added.

According to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, the update for Windows 8.1 will likely be available in early April.

President Obama on Between Two Ferns: How Funny or Die Made It Happen

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 10:42 AM PDT

The road to the White House is a long one — and the road to getting President Obama to appear on an episode of an absurdist web series is long, too. Also, it turns out, circular. It started at the White House and ended there, with the taping of Zach Galifianakis’ Funny or Die talk show Between Two Ferns, which appeared online this morning.

The first step, says Mike Farah, Funny Or Die’s president of production and an executive producer of Between Two Ferns, was a meeting at the White House last July, which was part of the official effort to engage with Hollywood on the topic of the Affordable Care Act. He and his team came prepared with ideas. At the top of the list was Between Two Ferns.

“We didn't pitch the President that idea — that would have been pretty inappropriate — but that started a whole partnership with the White House,” Farah says. "It was cool to meet the President, but it was a lot better to go out and do the work to try and make some things."

Mike Farah
Mike Farah attends the Film Independent forum on Oct. 27, 2013 in Los Angeles David Buchan / WireImage / Getty Images

The first product of that partnership was a spoof of Scandal, starring Jennifer Hudson, which launched in September. Farah says that pitching the ACA at Funny Or Die made sense, considering the site’s history of comedy about political subjects; though the topic of the healthcare law is a touchy one, he sees it as a natural extension of pre-existing topical videos. “Ultimately, we felt like this was a law that had been passed,” he says, though he acknowledges that it’s a “divisive” one. In addition, he points to statistics showing that young people signing up for insurance is crucial for the law’s effective implementation, and that Funny Or Die’s audience is “really young and engaged.” (According to their statistics, an average episode of Between Two Ferns gets 6 million views; Justin Bieber’s appearance got 16 million.)

When the President’s advisor Valerie Jarrett visited Funny Or Die in the fall, she sat down with Galifianakis and the topic of Between Two Ferns finally came up. So, by the time the President wanted to get more directly involved, the groundwork had been laid.

The journey that began at the White House last summer brought the Funny Or Die team back there a few weeks ago, to film the episode. Farah describes the production as seamless and says there was very little material on the cutting room floor — nor were there “George-Clooney-esque pranks on set” that could be blooper-reel-worthy, unfortunately for Presidential-humor fans. There was no particularly special security needed beyond the normal White House visit screening, and the effort to keep the video secret until today’s launch sounds fairly low-key, too; the goal was to surprise viewers, but Farah gives more credit for the secrecy to the Funny Or Die team’s being busy finishing it up than he does to any extreme secrecy measures.

As TIME’s James Poniewozik noted in his take on the episode, the Funny or Die-produced series is an “unusually edgy kind of comedy for any politician,” given that a lack of tact is perhaps the primary characteristic of the public-television host character played by Galifianakis. But Farah says that the administration gave the comedian a lot of leeway in finding a balance between not disrespecting the Presidency and allowing Galifianakis to use his “idiot persona.” The result: the President of the United States examining a nasty spider bite and trading barbs about basketball. It helped that Obama had seen the show before, so he knew what to expect. (Was the whole thing scripted, then? Farah won’t give a straight answer, though he does say that Galifianakis was able to do some things off the cuff. "I think I'm supposed to refer you to the White House for that,” he says. “I don't want to get in trouble. But everything I said about [Obama] knowing the drill, all that stuff is accurate.")

Farah says he thinks the President had a good time during the taping. The comedy team did, too — so good, in fact, that he says he wants to do even more ACA content before the March 31 open enrollment deadline, though it’ll be hard to top having the President show up. His ultimate goal, however, is the same as it was when the site launched and as it will be when that deadline passes. “I'm obviously proud of the ACA component but I think I'm even more proud that it's a really funny video,” he says. “Our whole goal going into this was to make a Between Two Ferns that happens to have the President in it, and then let everything else work itself out.”

And as for the ultimate goal on the White House side? Apparently, it’s not mutually exclusive with humor:

UPDATE, 2:00 pm: At today’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed the topic of Between Two Ferns. Asked whether it was a scripted comedy bit or a real interview, Carney — like Mike Farah — did not give a yes/no answer, though he did say there was a lot of ad-libbing. One question did get a straight answer, however: Did having the President on Between Two Ferns damage the dignity of the office? “No,” said Carney.

You’re Going To Like The Way Men’s Wearhouse Bought Jos. A. Bank

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 10:33 AM PDT

Men’s Wearhouse announced Tuesday that it is buying its suit-selling rival Jos. A. Bank for $65 a share in cash after months of wrangling between the two competitors, greatly expanding the size of the menswear chain.

After the merger of Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, the two together will have more than 1,700 stores in the United States, with approximately 23,000 employees and annual sales of about $3.5 billion. The deal totals out at $1.8 billion, with the boards of directors of both companies unanimously approving the transaction.

The two companies have been attempting to take each other over for months. Jos. A. Bank. sought to acquire Men’s Wearhouse for $48 a share, or $2.3 billion in a surprise bid in October, but dropped its offer by mid-November. In December, Men’s Wearhouse struck back with $1.5 billion bid that led to the current agreement.

Jos. A. Bank board chairman Robert N. Wildrick the final $65-per-share deal was satisfactory to his shareholders. Jos. A. Bank’s stock has never traded for the $65 per share, and over the past year—its strongest 12 months—it traded between $40 and $60 per share.

“The transaction we are announcing today clearly reflects the success of our efforts, providing a substantial premium over any price at which our stock has ever traded, including a 56% premium since our interest in Men’s Wearhouse became public last October, and allowing our shareholders to receive immediate consideration for their holdings,” Wildrick said in a statement.

As part of the deail, Jos. A. Bank agreed to scrap its agreement with Everest Holdings LLC to buy subsidiary Eddie Bauer.

Despite the contention between the two companies, Men’s Wearhouse CEO Doug Ewert struck a conciliatory tone. “All of us at Men’s Wearhouse have great respect for the Jos. A. Bank management team and are eager to work with Jos. A. Bank’s talented employees,” he said.

Skydiving Association: 1st-Time Jumpers Must Be 18

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 10:27 AM PDT

(TULSA, Okla.) — The U.S. Parachute Association will increase the minimum age for first-time skydivers nationwide to 18 years starting May 1, replacing a provision that allowed younger teens to jump with parental consent.

USPA spokeswoman Nancy Koreen says the change isn’t related to the recent incident in Oklahoma in which a 16-year-old girl plummeted 3,000 feet to the ground after her parachute malfunctioned. The teenager, Makenzie Wethington, survived and is recovering from her injuries.

In an email to The Associated Press, Koreen says raising the age limit has been an issue that the USPA and the skydiving industry “have been struggling with the past couple of years.”

Koreen says skydiving equipment manufacturers have already instituted 18 as the minimum age for use of their gear “in reaction to an increasingly litigious society.”

The 300 Abs Problem: Boys Feeling Body Image Pressure Too

Posted: 11 Mar 2014 10:18 AM PDT

Young men—whether they were looking for their battlefield gore fix or a chance to geek out over the historical inaccuracies of a sex scene between Themistokles and Artemisia—lined up for the opening of 300: Rise of an Empire on Friday. And though some parents may forbid their teens from seeing the R-rated film because of the blood and violence, they should probably be more concerned about the Greeks’ sweaty, washboard abs.

We’re all familiar with the pressures on girls and women to look thin, but discussions of body image often overlook men—a demographic increasingly at risk for unhealthy behaviors due to body insecurity. Men are feeling increased pressure to add muscle mass and gain weight, not lose it.

The average guy wants 15-27 more pounds of muscle and a three to four percent decrease in body fat. And a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics in January found that 18 percent of boys are very concerned about their weight and physique. Failure to attain these unrealistic body goals can lead to depression, high-risk behaviors (like drinking and drugs) and eating disorders. Though about 15 percent of boys concerned with their weight are worried about thinness, about half are concerned with gaining more muscle and an additional third are concerned with both muscle gain and thinness.

Many of these changes are thanks to media images—and the 300 movie series is leading the way in the promotion of unrealistic male body standards (buttressed by video games and clothing ads featuring scantily clad men).

When the original 300 film hit theaters in 2006, a grueling fitness program called the “300 workout” swept gyms across the U.S. as men hoping to get gladiator-like bodies signed on. The workout, which was developed to get the cast of the films in fighting shape, has a pretty basic concept: 300 reps of various exercises with no breaks. But it is so intense that the cast had to train six hours per day, five days per week for four months before they could even attempt the 300 workout, and only one actor, Andrew Pleavin, was able to actually complete it. In a Men’s Health interview, Gerard Butler admitted that he could not workout for a year after filming 300 because the program made him so physically exhausted.

And yet publications like Men’s Health touted intermediate and beginner versions of the 300 workout. Instructional YouTube videos of similar workouts abounded. Suddenly average guys were aiming for 300 bodies.

Why? The ripped male bodies that grace our movie screens have boys thinking they’re inadequate. Research has shown that 25 percent of men with a healthy weight think that they are underweight. And a recent TODAY/AOL Body Image survey found that men worry about their appearance more than they do about their health, family, relationships or professional success. Fifty-three percent of men said they felt insecure about their appearance at least once a week.

Parents, teachers and doctors often miss male weight disorders because the symptoms are not the same as with females, according to a recent Atlantic article. Most eating disorder assessment focuses on girls who starve themselves or induce vomiting in order to look thin. Boys are engaging in a different type of unhealthy behavior—working out obsessively, taking natural but unregulated substances like powders or shakes to bulk up and even using steroids. Such efforts can hurt young boys’ growth and, in the case of steroids, cause behavioral problems, rage and depression.

“Instead of wanting to something unhealthy to get smaller, they’re using unhealthy means to become larger,” Dr. Alison Filed, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and the lead author of the JAMA Pediatrics study tells The Atlantic.

Health professionals are slowly defining the line between health-conscious behavior and over-the-top behavior for boys and men. But it will likely be a while before public awareness catches up to the dangers posed by the overemphasis on impossible physical goals.


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