Thursday, November 27, 2014

Great Thanksgiving Story By American Mother Of Released Al Qaeda Hostage

Nancy Curtis, left, and her son, Peter Theo Curtis are pictured in Boston on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, the day he returned to the U.S. from being held hostage in Syria. (Curtis Family)
Nancy Curtis, left, and her son, Peter Theo Curtis are pictured in Boston on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, the day he returned to the U.S. from being held hostage in Syria.
Theo Padnos, who has also written under the name Peter Theo Curtis, spent the last two Thanksgivings as a hostage of Islamist militants in Syria.
He was released in August and will spend this Thanksgiving with his family.
Here & Now’s Robin Young visited his mother, Nancy Curtis, at her home in Cambridge, Mass., to talk about Theo’s capture and the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to his release.

Interview Highlights: Nancy Curtis

On how it feels to have Theo back home
“Obviously I am so very happy that Theo is home safe and in very good shape. He’s recovering very well from a terrible ordeal. We’re profoundly, profoundly happy. Of course, we are humbled by the fact that other families were not as fortunate as we are.”
On figuring out that Theo had been kidnapped in October 2012
Theo Padnos and his mother Nancy Curtis pose for a picture after Theo's return to the U.S. (Courtesy of Nancy Curtis)
Theo Padnos and his mother Nancy Curtis pose for a picture after Theo’s return to the U.S. (Courtesy of Nancy Curtis)
“I knew that something was wrong about Theo because we had been in daily communication. I knew he was going into Syria for just a few days. Suddenly there was nothing from him, and then an email that said “hey” — that was the subject line, and there was no message. And it was just like a dagger to the heart. I didn’t hear any news whatsoever until the end of July 2013. That’s when a fellow cellmate was able to escape. And then the FBI called me and said ‘we have proof of life; we know that Theo is alive.'”
On what waiting and not knowing was like
“You adapt. You cannot live in terror every day for two years. I think I went pretty numb. I didn’t allow myself to contemplate the worst because it would be paralyzing. Three female cousins — all of them professional women with great demands on their time — took on finding Theo and getting him out as a second job. It was just remarkable. And I did the zombie state — pretty much functioning — I was going to work every day. But I don’t think you can live in just 100 percent terror all the time.”
On the U.S. policy of not paying ransom
“It is painful — it’s terrible — to see other people in the same situation having their sons be released and yours cannot be released. I fully understand the United States policy. We were warned by the State Department – ‘oh, you can’t pay a ransom, and you could be prosecuted.’ I understand the reasons for it, but I think there needs to be a debate — how do you handle this.”
On sitting down with the FBI to Skype with the captors’ negotiator
“[The captors’ negotiator] made it very clear they did not want to deal with the family. They wanted to deal with United States government. I think they realized that American families don’t have the kind of money that they were looking for — certainly didn’t in my case. They took a video of me, and then they could show it to Theo to make sure that they had the right person.”
On what her Arab translator friend told the negotiator
“The first guy that we talked with, he gradually became friendly with my Arab-speaking friend. He said to them, ‘Listen, you have to understand this is a poor old woman! She’s sold her clothes, she’s selling her furniture! She’s doing everything she can to raise money!’ But he was putting it in cultural terms that the people could understand.”
On learning that photojournalist James Foley had been killed
“One of the worst moments was when I heard that Jim had been killed. It just devastated me because I hadn’t — you know, I hadn’t contemplated that that could happen to Theo; you can’t let yourself think that. And when the reality hit, it was — I just sank on the floor and sobbed. They were taken a month apart in the same part of Syria, and they were held in the same prison complex, although neither one was aware that the other existed. And ISIS, as Theo described it, calved out of Nusra and became a separate group and took a bunch of prisoners with it.”
Read More


  • Nancy Curtis, mother of released hostage Peter Theo Curtis.

Why Police Get Away With Murder. 2 Minute Video

Why it's so rare for police to be prosecuted for killing civilians, explained in 2 minutes

  1. Facts: In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians. Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic.
  2. Alan: If poverty is the prime driver of violence, blacks are a little less than three times as likely as whites to be poor. However they are 21 times more likely to be killed by police. This suggests excessive use of force.

When FDR Moved Thanksgiving: The Executive Action That Tore A Nation Apart

When FDR moved Thanksgiving: 

The executive action that tore a nation apart

All of those pale, however, compared to the uproar that swept the nation in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to move the holiday's date. States split on whether to abide by his decree, and for three years, many celebrated the holiday on separate dates — with FDR's new chosen date being derisively dubbed "Franksgiving" by Republicans.

An economic stimulus attempt

FDR carves Turkey
FDR carves a Thanksgiving turkey in 1935, four years before he went mad with power and changed the holiday's date. (Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt library via Digital Library of Georgia)
Since the late 19th century, Thanksgiving had traditionally been celebrated on the final Thursday in November. But in 1939, Roosevelt's seventh year in office, that last Thursday fell on November 30And that left a mere 24 days of shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Retailers believed this would lead to less money spent on holiday gifts, and would therefore hurt the economy (and, of course, their own bottom lines). The solution seemed obvious — the date should be moved one week earlier, to Thursday, November 23. Roosevelt agreed, and announced on August 15, 1939, that he would do just that, with an executive proclamation.

The partisan uproar, from Hitler comparisons to sardine cans

Alf Landon
Former Kansas Governor Alf Landon literally compared FDR to Hitler for moving Thanksgiving's date. (Library of Congress Collection)
What may have seemed like a wonkish, technocratic, good-government policy clashed with what turned out to be deeply-ingrained feelings among many Americans about when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Associated Press story announcing the move said Roosevelt "was shattering another precedent," and quoted a town official of Plymouth, Massachusetts saying the traditional date was "sacred."
In addition, it's unclear that the president anticipated how much of a problem his big-government solution would pose to an active, and pre-scheduled, day of football. The New York Times reported that, on the day of the announcement, "most football managers were too dumbfounded for any comment other than expressions of amazement." Frightening projections were thrown around that game attendance could fall by as much as half.
Republicans pounced, and used the move to portray Roosevelt as a power-mad tyrant. In an early example of Godwin's Law, FDR's recent presidential opponent Alf Landon said Roosevelt sprung his decision on "an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler." Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire suggested that while Roosevelt was at it, he should abolish winter.
Accordingly, many GOP governors announced they would refuse to move Thanksgiving's date. Kansas Governor Payne Ratner said that in his state, "we do not destroy tradition merely to gain newspaper headlines." And Time reported that Maine's Republican governor Lewis Barrows refused to carve a turkey at a banquet on the earlier date, and "whipped from his pocket a can of sardines instead."
But it was the Republican mayor of Atlantic City, Charles D. White, who would bestow an enduring name on the controversy. When New Jersey's Democratic governor Harry Moore agreed to move the date, White announced, tongue-in-cheek, that Atlantic City would celebrate the earlier date only "as 'Franksgiving,' in honor of our President."
In the end, only 23 out of 48 states ended up moving the holiday to FDR's preferred date — with a few others, including Texas and Colorado, celebrating on both Thursdays.

Our long national nightmare ends

The confused turkey in Holiday Inn, unsure of Thanksgiving's date. (Screencap: Kimberly Guise)
As 1941 began, the controversy still raged, with FDR setting that year's date for the particularly early November 20. That year, two-thirds of states opted to go along. An animated sequence in the film Holiday Inn — which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, and premiered the song "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin — portrayed a confused turkey jumping back and forth between those two dates on the calendar, as you can see above.
But in May of that year, Roosevelt changed his mind again, and announced he'd move the date back in 1942. The Times reported that FDR "conceded frankly that the Commerce Department had found that expected expansion of retail sales had not occurred" — and he had concluded it was an "experiment" that "had not worked." (Interestingly enough, though, more recent research indicates this judgment may have been mistaken. A study by Professor Robert Urbatsch of Iowa State found that "an earlier Thanksgiving appears to serve as economic stimulus in the labor market.")
However, things didn't go back entirely to the way they were before. At the end of 1941,Congress passed, and Roosevelt signed, a joint resolution setting Thanksgiving as not the final but the fourth Thursday in November. Essentially, that means that Thanksgiving will fall between November 22 and 28 — never on the month's last two days. The new law struck a sensible balance between the business interests of retailers and Americans' beliefs that Thanksgiving shouldn't be too early, and it has lasted ever since.SHARE

One-Chart Summary Of Every Ferguson Eyewitness' Grand Jury Testimony

Michael brown mother

A one-chart summary of every Ferguson eyewitness's grand jury testimony

Ferguson grand jury eyewitnesses
This great PBS NewsHour chart shows an analysis of the eyewitness testimony provided to the grand jury that investigated the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The chart shows many contradictions between some eyewitnesses — and lots of questions that went unanswered in different interviews.
There are two key points of near agreement: Brown was facing Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson as he was fired upon, and Brown did have his hands up during his final moments.
St. Louis County Attorney Robert McCulloch has questioned the validity of the eyewitness testimony. During a Monday night press conference, McCulloch said some of the witnesses changed their stories, and that the physical evidence disproved some of their claims.
Vox's Amanda Taub explained why this was so unusual for a prosecutor who has full control of the evidence presented to a grand jury:
If McCulloch believed that this evidence was not credible, then why did he present it to the grand jury? It is perhaps understandable that he would have presented evidence with only minor credibility issues, in order to let the grand jury evaluate it. But McCulloch referenced "witnesses" who had only heard about the shooting from their neighbors, or from the media. It is hard to imagine a reason why it would have been reasonable to present that evidence to the grand jury.
And if McCulloch didn't present that testimony to the grand jury, then why discuss it during the press conference? What would be the purpose of bringing it up at all? By attacking the credibility of the eyewitnesses to the shooting, most, if not all, of whom had been publicly critical of Wilson, McCulloch gave the impression that he was acting as an advocate for Wilson.
Whatever the case, the grand jury also didn't appear to buy into the testimony of the eyewitnesses — and they ultimately decided to let Wilson go without a trial.

What are the Ferguson protests about?

Michael Brown was an 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. Brown, who was college-bound and had no criminal record, was unarmed.
Brown's killing and the subsequent events in Ferguson have become a national controversy touching on much larger national issues of race, justice, and police violence.
The shooting almost immediately triggered protests in the St. Louis suburb, as demonstrators took to the streets to speak out against what many saw as yet another example of police brutality against young black men, for which Ferguson has a troubling record.
Michael brown motherTears roll down the cheek of Lesley McSpadden, the mother of slain teenager Michael Brown. 
The situation subsequently escalated and drew national attention when police reacted to protesters, even those acting peacefully, with military-grade equipment, such as armored vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons.
One of major demands of protesters was to get prosecutors to put Wilson on trial for the Brown shooting. But a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson after three months of deliberations — in what many saw as a deeply flawed, biased investigation led by local officials with close ties to law enforcement.
The investigation into the shooting, inherently secretive grand jury proceedings, and subsequent reactions by local officials further worsened ties between local residents and their government, which is controlled by mostly white politicians despite Ferguson's majority black population.
The events in Ferguson captured national attention because, in many ways, they're indicative of the racial disparities many Americans, particularly minorities, see in the criminal justice system on a daily basis. While the specifics of the Brown shooting involve just one teen and one police officer in a small St. Louis suburb, the circumstances surrounding Brown's death replicate a fear commonly held by many parents — that black lives matter less, particularly in the face of increasingly heavily armed police who are carry tremendous legal freedom in whether they can shoot a suspect they merely perceive as dangerous.

Boarding Planes Quickly: Often, Counter-Intuitive Approaches Are The Most Productive

Article Entitled "Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List" Accepted By Journal

"Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List" is an actual science paper accepted by a journal

(David Mazieres and Eddie Kohler)
Let us explain.
The journal, despite its distinguished name, is a predatory open-access journal, as noted by io9. These sorts of low-quality journals spam thousands of scientists, offering to publish their work for a fee.
In 2005, computer scientists David Mazières and Eddie Kohler created this highly profane ten-page paper as a joke, to send in replying to unwanted conference invitations. It literally just contains that seven-word phrase over and over, along with a nice flow chart and scatter-plot graph:
mailing list 1
mailing list 2
According to the blog Scholarly Open Access, this PDF made the rounds, and an Australian computer scientist named Peter Vamplew sent it to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology in response to spam from the journal. Apparently, he thought the editors might simply open and read it.
Instead, they automatically accepted the paper — with an anonymous reviewer rating it as "excellent" — and requested a fee of $150.
This incident is pretty hilarious. But it's a sign of a bigger problem in science publishing. This journal is one of many online-only, for-profit operations that take advantage of inexperienced researchers under pressure to publish their work in any outlet that seems superficially legitimate. They're very different from respected, rigorous journals like Science and Nature that publish much of the research you read about in the news. Most troublingly, the predatory journals don't conduct peer-review — the process where other scientists in the field evaluate a paper before it's published.

This isn't the first time a predatory publisher has been exposed

In a several different cases, reporters have intentionally exposed low-quality journals by submitting substandard material to see if it would get published.
Last April, for instance, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen named Tom Spears wrote an entirely incoherent paper on soils, cancer treatment, and Mars, and submitted it to 18 online, for-profit journals. Eight of them quickly accepted it, asking for $1,000 to $5,000 in exchange for publication.
Last year, science reporter John Bohannonconducted a similar stunt, with the cooperation of the prestigious journal Science. He submitted a less absurd, but deeply flawed paper about the cancer-fighting properties of a chemical extracted from lichen to 340 of these journals, and got it accepted by 60 percent of them. Using IP addresses, Bohannon discovered that the journals that accepted his paper weredisproportionately located in India and Nigeria.
Earlier this year, I carried out a sting of a predatory book publisher — a company that uses the same basic strategy, but publishes physical books of academic theses and dissertations. When they contacted me offering to publish my undergraduate thesis for no fee, I agreed, so I could write an article about it. They gained the permanent rights to my work — along with the ability to sell copies of it for exorbitant prices online — but failed to notice that I'd stuck in a totally irrelevant sentence in towards the end, highlighting the fact that they publish without proofreading or editing.
Compared to these stunts, though, "Get me off your fucking mailing list" is even more troubling. It shows that for this one journal — which claims to conduct peer review — an actual human never laid eyes on the paper before it was accepted.

Inside the weird world of predatory journals

The existence of these dubious publishers can be traced to the early 2000's, when the first open-access online journals were founded. Instead of printing each issue and making money by selling subscriptions to libraries, these journals were given out for free online, and supported themselves largely through fees paid by the actual researchers submitting work to be published.
The first of these journals were and are legitimate — PLOS ONE, for instance, rejected Bohannon's lichen paper because it failed peer review. But these were soon followed by predatory publishers — largely based abroad — that basically pose as legitimate journals so researchers will pay their processing fees.
Over the years, the number of these predatory journals has exploded. Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, keeps an up-to-date list of them to help researchers avoid being taken in; it currently has 550 publishers and journals on it.
Still, new ones pop up constantly, and it can be hard for a researcher — or a review board, looking at a resume and deciding whether to grant tenure — to track which journals are bogus. Journals are often judged on their impact factor (a number that rates how often their articles are cited by other journals), and Spears reports that some of these journals are now buying fake impact factors from fake rating companies to seem more legitimate.
Scientists view this industry as a problem for a few reasons: it reduces trust in science, allows unqualified researchers to build their resumes with fake or unreliable work, and makes research for legitimate scientists more difficult, as they're forced to wade through dozens of worthless papers to find useful ones.
Correction: This article previously said the article was published by the journal. It was only accepted, because the author didn't want to pay $150.