Archive for September 22nd, 2006|Daily archive page

Oedipus (the Quickie)

This must be my month for things Greek .

I give you:
    Oedipus (Quicktime , YouTube)
    The story of Oedipus, in 8 minutes, performed by vegetables.

Hat Tip: Ehrensenf (German video blog)

Porn: Just a little Sex with Your Computer

A new study has revealed that looking at porn isn’t like thinking about sex, it’s like thinking while having sex.

I learned this while reading Jonah Leher over at The Frontal Cortex on ScienceBlogs.

Now, where did I put those cigarettes?

ExxonMobil meet Science; Science, ExxonMobil

Oh sure, I find a cool link and someone does a much better job of blogging it.

With out further ado, I give you John Quiggin at Crooked Timber who did a much better job than I could have.

Turkey hasn’t Evolved Freedom of Speech

Michael van der Galien, a blogger over at The Moderate Voice, has a post up praising Turkey for movement towards freedom of speech after a Turkish court acquitted Elif Shafak, a best-selling novelist, of insulting the national identity.

He points to an article at the BBC that starts:

Ms Shafak, 35, had faced charges for comments made by her characters on the mass killings of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Turkey rejects Armenia’s claim that the killings constituted “genocide”.

The EU welcomed the court ruling, but urged Turkey to scrap a law that makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness”.

It is important to note a couple of things at this juncture.

Whether Turkey chooses to agree to the term ‘genocide’ or not, it still, after over 90 years, hasn’t accepted any responsibility for the acts carried out against a civilian population during the First World War. Indeed merely a fictional account depicting the events is enough to get reactionary forces to bring the writer to trial. This is not freedom of speech.

Perhaps even worse is, while there is a law protecting its national identity, the government seems to have no problem with openly anti-American and anti-Israeli material (The Valley of the Wolves). When complaints were heard in Germany, Turkey and the producers held up freedom of speech rights to defend the film. Freedom of speech or no, the film was the run away box-office hit in Turkey the summer it was released.

I would argue there are two Turkeys. One is progressive and EU oriented. The other seems more like a slice of the medieval Ottoman Empire projected into the twenty-first century. I would agree that the progressive EU, the urban and tourist areas, is indeed ready to join the EU. But the bulk of the country and the bulk of the population is still much too reactionary.

One measure of this backward thinking can be seen in a recent comparison of European and world feelings about evolution. The only country that scored lower than the US was Turkey. Turkey wasn’t even close to European feelings on this issue. Until Turkey can find a way to ‘intellectualize’ the villages and back country, it remains and should remain on the outside looking in.

Turkey should be a part of the EU, a bridge between the occident and the orient, but only after it has evolved into the twenty-first century.

Heads Up: FBI Spying on John Lennon

While the subject could seem like something from yesterday, the current debate over domestic spying and the partisan climate make Adam Cohen’s column (TimesSelect) in Thursday’s New York Times seem very up-to-date.

During the 1971 Nixon campaign, the FBI began an exhaustive investigation into John Lennon, Yoko Ono which included following the location of Ono’s daughter from an earlier marriage and surveillance of a concert in the winter of 1971 in support of John Sinclair, a man imprisoned for 10 years for the possession of two joints.

What Lennon did not know at the time was that there were F.B.I. informants in the audience taking notes on everything from the attendance (15,000) to the artistic merits of his new song. (“Lacking Lennon’s usual standards,” his F.B.I. file reports, and “Yoko can’t even remain on key.”) The government spied on Lennon for the next 12 months, and tried to have him deported to England.

Nice to know they sent agents who were able to understand and relate to the music, if not the message. But reporting the results? That sounds a little dubious. I wonder how long it will take before Fox airs Americas Best Telephone Bloopers sponsored by the NSA and the FBI?

Perhaps even more worrying were the effects

The F.B.I.’s timing is noteworthy. Lennon had been involved in high-profile antiwar activities going back to 1969, but the bureau did not formally open its investigation until January 1972 — the year of Nixon’s re-election campaign. In March, just as the presidential campaign was heating up, the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to renew Lennon’s visa, and began deportation proceedings. Nixon was re-elected in November, and a month later, the F.B.I. closed its investigation.

If Lennon was considering actively opposing Nixon’s re-election, the spying and the threat of deportation had their intended effect. In May, he announced that he would not be part of any protest activities at the Republican National Convention, and he did not actively participate in the presidential campaign.

According to Cohen this surveillance is the subject of a new documentary “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” and the files collected in the book “Gimme Some Truth” by Jon Wiener.

I was never one for Beattlemania but Lennon’s death was a watershed moment at the end of my youth and his music has effected and still effects the world. It’s sad that the country that considers itself to be the bastion of democracy keeps using the tactics of dictatorships.

While one hopes that there are more John Lennons out there, let’s just hope they aren’t under surveillance.

Hat Tip: Laura Rosen 

Your Tax Dollars At Work: Identity Theft

The Washington Post reports another data snafu at a government agency:

More than 1,100 laptop computers have vanished [poof!] from the Department of Commerce since 2001, including nearly 250 from the Census Bureau containing such personal information as names, incomes and Social Security numbers, federal officials said yesterday.

This disclosure by the department came in response to a request by the House Committee on Government Reform, which this summer asked 17 federal departments to detail any loss of computers holding sensitive personal information.

Of the 10 departments that have responded, the losses at Commerce are “by far the most egregious,” said David Marin, staff director for the committee. He added that the silence of the remaining seven departments could reflect their reluctance to reveal problems of similar magnitude. [my emphasis]

This doesn’t really surprise me. No one likes their dirty laundry aired in public. I wonder whether congress will follow up on this?

Although I’d love to point fingers and say “na, na, naaa, na, na,” I really can’t blame anyone for this. Too few people realize how important the information on a laptop really is. With the explosion of easily transported electronic devices, information that used to fit in a warehouse can now be transported in your pocket. Public consciousness hasn’t keep up with developments. The sensitivity of the information isn’t something you can keep drumming into people. They either get it or not.

At some point laptops started being the Computer De Jour for anyone wearing a suit and tie (or a nicely pressed business outfit with classy accessories). According to my experience, anyone with enough clout can run roughshod over security issues, at least for someone in the Census Bureau and not in Homeland Security. The DHS has stringent computer controls! (Or maybe not?) But if you have a laptop, you take it with you. And sometimes laptops get stolen. No rocket science here people.

The only real solution here will probably involve hardware supported data encryption. The data encryption needs to be both code to the individual and absolutely transparent to the user. No extra installation, no extra hassle. If anything the computer has to be easier to use with encryption than without. This might take the form of biometric data (fingerprint scanning?) coupled with a direct encrypt/decrypt chip between the hard drive and the rest of the computer.

The problem is that if there is no standard for the hardware, no system will be supported widely enough to be worth implementing. And US government can’t implement a standard because that’s in a hands-off legal area. (Or at least a hands-off political area)

But if I had my druthers, that’s where I’d want my tax dollars going. And not my information into the hands of thieves.

Science Becomes Policy. A New Trend?

Both the Washington Post  and the New York Times headline with news that the CDC is recommending routine testing for the HIV virus. David Brown from the Wasington Post ledes with

All adolescents and adults should routinely be tested for HIV infection in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, the federal government said yesterday, signaling a radical shift in the public health approach to the 25-year-old epidemic.

Under the new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients would no longer have to sign a consent form and get extensive pre-test counseling. But they would have to be told they were being tested for the AIDS virus, asked if they have any questions and given the opportunity to “opt out.”

This would mean testing for all individuals between 13 and 64 years old. I’m not sure I understand the upper limit on the cut off due to the risks of sexually transmitted diseases in the elderly, but the CDC probably had it’s reasons. 

This is a major shift in policy and as far as I know the US is the first country to do this.  It will still take several years for this policy to filter down through the highways and byways of the American legal system but it’s a start. And speaking of the legal system, according to the NYT, the ACLU has come down against the measure.

Rose A. Saxe, a staff lawyer with the AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said her group opposed the recommendation because it would remove the requirement for signed consent forms and pretest counseling. In settings like emergency rooms where doctors are strapped for time, Ms. Saxe said, “we’re concerned that what the C.D.C. calls routine testing will become mandatory testing.”

Patients, particularly teenagers, she said, “will be tested without an opportunity for understanding the magnitude of having a positive result.” 

I’d have to break with the ACLU on this issue because ignorance in this case is not bliss, it’s deadly. Again from the WP

The benefits of knowing — and the hazards of not knowing — one’s HIV status are clear from studies. Between 54 and 70 percent of sexually transmitted cases of HIV are transmitted by people who do not know they are infected with the virus. [my emphasis] 

With an administration that seems increasingly unfriendly towards science, the move by the CDC will send the Religious Right through the roof. This seems to be is a major shift towards science out of step with the rest of the US government. And that in an election year! What were they smoking?

HIV/AIDS deniers have just suffered a major blow. Keep your eyes on Tara Smith’s blog for her take on this. She’s my one-stop reading place for the arguments from HIV/AIDS deniers.

 For once studies not scriptures seem to have carried the day. Will wonders never cease?

Deep-Fried Fluff

The LA Times ran a piece of journalistic Fried Fluff on a Stick a very serious article yesterday about the fried foods being offered at this year’s LA County fair. 

The hungry and the curious follow the greasy, but alluring, scent of batter frying in hot oil to Charlie Boghosian’s stand at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.

 When they arrive, the menu stops them in their tracks: deep-fried Twinkies, deep-friend Oreos, deep-fried avocados, deep-fried pickles, deep-fried olives and more.

 Boghosian sees himself as not just a fried-food salesman, but as a fried-food innovator. He recently saw possibilities in churros, the already deep-fried sugary treat. He bought one at a nearby stand and took it to his trailer, where he cut it into four pieces. He mixed the pieces in wet pancake batter and dunked them into a frying vat filled with 370-degree soybean oil. 

According to the – um – article, this method of preparing food at fairs is becoming increasingly common and popular. Might this increase in deep frying absolutely anything have something to do with current trend of minor increases in Americas average girth? Or with the resent introduction of HP’s ‘slim fast – the digital way’ camera ? Nah, just me. 

At the Texas State Fair (formerly known as the State Fair of Texas), birthplace of the corn dog, a vendor won best ‘taste’ category with deep-fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. (This seems to prove that taste in food and presidents is relative.) 

Oh! And don’t miss the slide show. (Deep-fried Snickers bars?! WTF?!)

I think this is just a simple case of out of the frying pan and into the fire – um – fat!