— Brave New World —

July 4, 2012

Two Twitter Tidbits

Monique Chartier

Firstly, a Manhatten judge has ruled that Twitter must release three months of tweets of a man charged with disorderly conduct. The D.A. had supboenaed the tweets to establish that the defendant knew that he was breaking the law when he marched on the Brooklyn Bridge

during a mass demonstration related to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The reasoning of Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. strikes me as interesting and sound.

Twitter had moved to quash the request from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, arguing that like email, Twitter users have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the fourth amendment. The judge disagreed, saying “if you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

And, paging Woonsocket's John Ward, City Council president and member of the Budget Commission. Can we please get some background/explanation of this enigmatic tweet from a couple of days ago?

John Ward ‏@jfward55

How many mole hills does it take to make a mountain? One, I think, in the right forum.

June 3, 2012

Friends, I Give You The Euphemistic Phrase of the Month (Possibly of the Year): "Premortem Donation"

Monique Chartier

... as in, "donating" - this word actually goes beyond euphemistic to inaccurate as, usually, no consent can be obtained - an organ - yes, your own vital organs from your own personal body - before you're ... well, dead.

From a website called BioEdge, though the suggestion originated in the mind of a professor at Rhode Island's own Brown University, and with apologies for posting about such a subject on a Sunday.

There may be an international shortage of kidney donors, but there is no shortage of creative solutions. In the latest issue of the American Journal of Bioethics, Paul E. Morrissey, of Brown University, in Rhode Island, suggests that both kidneys could be removed from brain trauma patients on life-support. Afterwards, the patients would be removed from life support and would die. Two fresh and viable kidneys become available for rapid transfer to waiting recipients.

Life without kidneys is normally short, but Morrissey argues that the patient is so close to death that it is reasonable to assume that removal of the kidneys cannot be described as the cause of death. Hence, the fundamental principle of transplant surgery is observed, the Dead Donor Rule: that organ retrieval itself must not be the cause of death. He calls the procedure premortem donation.

The argument could probably be extended to other organs, one of the accompanying commentaries notes, although Morrissey is tactful enough not to note this, say, the heart or the liver.

The tricky question is whether the operation causes death. Morrissey says No:

"Medically and legally the donor would be alive at the time of surgery and would die secondary to irreversible head injury as some interval after the surgical procedure. This proposal is therefore unlike proposals for euthanasia by organ donation or criminal execution by organ donation. For the donor or donor surrogate facing imminent death, premortem donation balances the promise of a final altruism against the exploitation of a vulnerable population."

There are many other benefits: the hospital staff can work in an orderly fashion; the family has time to grieve; the public maintains its faith in the Dead Donor Rule; and live-saving kidneys enter the transplant system.

This target article in AJOB was praised for its creativity by some specialist and criticised by others. The authors of one commentary were scathing: “Bilateral donor nephrectomy will have catastrophic consequences on survivors of erroneous prediction of poor neurologic outcome or survival after [withdrawal of life support]. Morrissey's proposal violates the Hippocratic Oath of do-no-harm and the public trust in professional obligations to serve patients’ best interests.”

However, Franklin G. Miller and Robert D. Truog, two well-known American bioethicists, believe that the argument is quite sound. They contend that: “Probably some will oppose the proposal on slippery slope grounds: Procuring both kidneys premortem is the entering wedge for abandoning the dead donor rule. Facing the reality of our current practices, however, makes it clear that the dead donor rule is preserved only as a fiction.”

February 26, 2012

What Exactly Do You Propose To Do About It?

Monique Chartier


It took a moment to grasp the misanthropic message of this bumper sticker, spotted in Cranston recently. When it fully registered, I was shocked. (Yes, that's a stork off on the right, carrying a "bundle".)

July 9, 2011

Big Brother Hacker is Watching???

Monique Chartier

Though I didn't quite know how to react at first - technically, isn't an Apple store a public place? - this man's actions were undoubtedly weird, if not creepy.

The US Secret Service has raided the home of an artist who collected images from webcams in a New York Apple store.

Kyle McDonald is said to have installed software that photographed people looking at laptops then uploaded the pictures to a website. ...

Kyle McDonald's images were uploaded to a page on the blogging site Tumblr.

In the description of People Staring at Computers, the project is described as: "A photographic intervention. Custom app installed around NYC, taking a picture every minute and uploading it if a face is found in the image.

"Exhibited on site with a remotely triggered app that displayed the photos full screen on every available computer."

The site features a video and series of photographs, apparently showing shoppers trying-out computers.

So if this had been Apple security making sure that people weren't prying and pocketing pieces of their laptops, that would have been one thing. But because this was a private individual doing the ... er, surveillance, it's a problem. (Right?) Even if it was For The Sake of Art ...

May 19, 2011

Charlie Sheen as Internet Metaphor

Justin Katz

In an essay that is, unfortunately, behind a subscriber wall, Rob Long casts Charlie Sheen as the harbinger of the entertainment industry's Internet doom:

... Charlie Sheen is the living embodiment of what everyone in Hollywood fears. Leaving aside, for a moment, the creepy prurience of his 2 mil1lion Twitter followers, or the death-watch quality of his Ustream.tv viewership, Sheen has taken his insanely valuable network-television scarcity — his take-home was something along the lines of $2 million per episode — and squandered it on freebie Web appearances, hourly Tweets, and low-rent antics. He makes Lindsay Lohan look like Princess Grace. He makes Snooki seem stately. Charlie Sheen has become the lowest kind of celebrity. He has become a reality-television star.

That's what drugs will do to you, of course. But on another level, that's also what unlimited bandwidth — the crystal meth of the media business — is doing to the old Hollywood business model. We are all moments away from cheap, knock-off stardom. Click around YouTube and you'll be astonished at the number of people who regularly post videos of themselves. These are people you and I have never heard of, and yet there they are, talking into the camera, for millions of subscribers.

The analysis brings to mind the Newport Daily News organization's decision to charge more for online content than for the paper itself. The old model worked; the new model doesn't yet make a profit. The Internet may bring a new level of readership, but they don't come with a revenue stream.

In the case of the Daily News, the gamble is that online media organizations won't be able to profit, either, thus building a long-term competitor for news content in the city. The broader news and entertainment industry, however, might not even have that gamble to make. As the media in which their content is delivered converge — that is, as movies and audio become stream-able digital content that can be freed of viewer restrictions and distributed instantly — they are having to compete with the YouTube stars on even turf, not Web versus print.

It's tempting to celebrate the democratization of media (why should Charlie Sheen be famous and not you?), but the reality is that it takes money consistently to create compelling, high-quality content. The only hope may be that technology will reveal some new feature, as the TV, computer, and telephone all become the same device, that opens up a new avenue for revenue and thereby encourages the extra effort of big-budget productions.

Frankly, I don't think Two and a Half Men was very far from Internet schlock to begin with: mainly a vessel for dirty jokes and a long-time star. For that matter, network television created the culture of reality TV. So maybe the first step for Hollywood (broadly meant) is to up its game and use its manipulative influence to raise the bar on what counts as entertainment.

April 22, 2011

Dumb Legislation at the Speed of Text

Justin Katz

Now here's a wrong way to address the complexities of society in the Information Age:

Under the legislation students could still carry phones in school, but they couldn't use them during school hours, including study hall and lunch. A first offense results in a warning. A second violation would lead to administrators confiscating the phone for three days. The third time, the phone would be kept for five days. Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Sen. John Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, introduced the bill after leading a legislative task force investigating cyberbullying. The work led Tassoni to conclude that cellular prohibition is the best way to ensure students are focusing on a textbook, not Facebook.

Why is this a legitimate activity for a state legislature that currently has government-shaking deficits and structural deficiencies to address? Of course, legislation that would prevent Tassoni from operating his voting button while the General Assembly is in session might be worth a look...

They're Watching You

Justin Katz

Well, this really isn't a surprise:

Apple Inc.'s iPhones and Google Inc.'s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal—intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data.

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services—expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

It's been a goal of such companies for years to move these devices to the point of eliminating the distance between impulse and purchase. Whether that represents convenience or manipulation is a matter of opinion. Personally, I think a little such distance is an important aspect of self-control, and if devices get to the point of continually placing unrequested items into your awareness, that could be very disruptive. One can only hope that consumers will recognize as much and push back... probably by creating demand for somebody else to create an application that blocks the intrusions.

This is just one of those aspects of technology that we're going to have to learn to deal with. What's disconcerting, as a number of action and conspiracy movies from the past decade prove, is the interconnectivity of everything and the impossibility of expecting the average person to have any idea what to look for to safeguard privacy. Hopefully a new market for consultants will open up, rather than a new opportunity for government to regulate and manipulate for itself.

August 17, 2010

The Brain of Slaves

Justin Katz

As a carpenter, I'm very aware of the risks that materials and labor present. Asbestos, lead, mold, on the one hand; falls, sprains, cuts, on the other. Not surprisingly, as a new media blogger type, I've also been concerned about this sort of thing:

"All this information is done in short, quick bursts," [Tom Kersting, a student assistance coordinator at Indian Hills High School and a psychotherapist in private practice in Ridgewood, N.J.,] said in a telephone interview. "So they have a difficult time, cognitively, nowadays developing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, because they are so used to quick burst and tweets of information." ...

Kersting said that students' brains are essentially being rewired to adapt to the way they communicate. In the process, they may lose the ability to relay ideas and interact with people in the way others had done before. If teens stop communicating with their friends and others face to face, they will lose the ability to navigate complex social situations and that could be devastating for them when they are faced with college and job interviews, Kersting said.

Nobody is claiming, I don't believe, that there aren't pluses to new ways of doing things, even of thinking — especially given the ways in which human society is reshaping its activities. But that doesn't mean that it isn't prudent to maintain old habits, practices, and abilities.

We still need plenty of in-person interaction (perhaps at recess!), and it's a valuable trait to have the capacity to sit down quietly and read a book for hours on end. That blend of personal independence and ability to read others' non-verbal cues and to convey complicated intellectual and emotional messages blending multiple forms expression, bland as it may seem, may just turn out to be critical to avoiding a state of slavery in the future.

August 15, 2010

Ketchup? Salt? Statin?

Monique Chartier

From Friday's Washington Times via the Daily Caller.

As a public service, British researchers are proposing that fast-food eateries dole out complimentary cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to offset the hazardous glories of their fatty cuisines.

“When people engage in risky behaviors like driving or smoking, they’re encouraged to take measures that minimize their risk, like wearing a seat belt or choosing cigarettes with filters. Taking a statin is a rational way of lowering some of the risks of eating a fatty meal,” said Dr. Darrel Francis, a cardiologist at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.

A couple of thoughts.

At what point do we go from promoting public health to shielding people, in such a casual fashion, from the consequences of their bad behavior? Take this pill (which, itself, has side effects) so you can go on thoughtlessly consuming an unhealthy diet.

And the part of me that upon occasion scans the horizon for black helicopters can't help thinking that this would be the camel's nose under the food wrapper: that it's a short step from offering a statin as an optional side to including a dose of it in all Big Macs and Whoppers ... and then on from there to pick-a-medicine (and not just vitamins) being involuntarily added to an array of mass produced foods. Why not? It would be for the health of the public.

... or perhaps I should cancel that order for horizon-scanning binoculars. But put me down as uneasy, at a minimum, about the casual distribution of heavy duty medicines at the take-out counter.

July 21, 2010

Shutting Down the Alternative

Justin Katz

This is the sort of thing about which all Americans should strive to be aware:

Hot on the heels of recent threats from Vice President Joe Biden and Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel directed at sites offering unauthorized movies and music, last month U.S. authorities targeted several sites they claimed were connected to the streaming of infringing video material.

'Operation In Our Sites' targeted several sites including TVShack.net, Movies-Links.TV, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, ThePirateCity.org, ZML.com, NinjaVideo.net and NinjaThis.net. In almost unprecedented action, the domain names of 7 sites were seized and indications are that others — The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload — narrowly avoided the same fate. ...

Now, according to the owner of a free WordPress platform which hosts more than 73,000 blogs, his network of sites has been completely shut down on the orders of the authorities.

We're all interconnected, out here on the Internet, and it would be very easy to come up with pretenses to take out unquestionably legitimate Web sites with which the powers who be have problems. We're not to the point of virtual black helicopters, yet, but it's critical to have an eye on such developments.

May 18, 2010

A Foreboding Web Site Name

Justin Katz

I have to say that the name of Angus Davis's new social networking site seems predestined for irony:

Backed by $8.5 million in early-stage funding, Swipely.com is a social networking site that allows consumers to share and rate their everyday purchases. Got a great deal on a pair of jeans? You can post news of the purchase to the site the moment it happens by linking it to your credit card. You can also write a review of what you bought and answer questions from people in your network.

Linking a Facebook-style page to your credit card so that people can see what you're buying in real time? We're already well past the point at which too much information becomes too much information. Removing the need to pause and log in to Twitter to announce every purchase seems rife with risks.

April 18, 2010

Defining "Objectionable" as "Not This"

Justin Katz

People don't like the idea of human cloning, and large constituencies aren't comforted by proposals that would require scientists to kill the humans whom they create through that process. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco notes that the supposedly pro-life Congressman Jim Langevin has come across a curious means of skirting objections:

The proposed legislation permits cloning-to-kill by redefining the scientific definition of human cloning. According to Langevin's bill, "[t]he term 'human cloning' means the implantation of the product of transferring the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into an egg cell from which the nuclear material has been removed or rendered inert into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus." In contrast, the scientific consensus defines cloning as the creation and not the implantation of a cloned embryo. By manipulating the definition of cloning, Representative Langevin and his congressional colleagues want to reward scientists who would derive stem cells from the cloning and killing of human embryos, by giving them federal monies to fund their research with these embryonic stem cell lines. This bill would lead to the creation and the destruction of innocent human beings, and thus, like the President's executive order, is immoral and unjust.

It's always been my approach to seek agreement on the terms of the debate and argue from there. Whoever wins the debate wins, and whoever loses the debate has a lot of work to do persuading, developing new arguments, and then moving through the process of changing policies. There's not much room for fair debate, though, when people attempt to define the very points of contention out of the discussion.

March 30, 2010

Putting Power in the Air

Justin Katz

As much as I rely on technology for so much of what I do, and as enamored as I am of high-tech tools and gadgets, I hew to a common sense rule of thumb that the minor inconvenience of wires and direct switches and locks is counterbalanced by privacy and security concerns. With regard to "smart grid" energy technology, here's one reason:

In the US alone, more than 8 million smart meters, designed to help deliver electricity more efficiently and to measure power consumption in real time, have been deployed by electric utilities and nearly 60 million should be in place by 2020. Now the Associated Press reports that smart meters have security flaws that could let hackers tamper with the power grid, opening the door for attackers to jack up strangers' power bills, remotely turn someone else's power on and off, or even allow attackers to get into the utilities' computer networks to steal data or stage bigger attacks on the grid. Attacks could be pulled off by stealing meters — which can be situated outside of a home — and reprogramming them, or an attacker could sit near a home or business and wirelessly hack the meter from a laptop, according to Joshua Wright, a senior security analyst with InGuardians Inc, a vendor-independent consultant that performs penetration tests and security risk assessments.

Combine that concern with the trend toward the wireless meters relentlessly being placed in houses. We've all seen movies in which some spy or stalker must break open an outdoor telephone panel in order to tap the family's phone line or break into the house to cut the power line. The protagonist usually manages to figure out what's going on pretty rapidly by tracing wires. In the case of wireless technology, highly trained technicians would be sorting through the mazes of ones and zeroes in computer code trying to trace problems in the middle of the night.

Moreover, as the above link goes on to indirectly suggest, it's simply not possible to prevent people from stealing information that's traveling through the air, making encryption the only safeguard. As energy companies use their equipment to collect more data from our households' lights and appliances, the loss of privacy and control could be immense.

March 20, 2010

The Microwave at Your Ear

Justin Katz

Nobody likes to be the superstitious Luddite afraid of the antennas on the 1950s television set, but still, warnings such as Christopher Ketcham's enter into our consciousness from time to time:

We love our digital gadgets -- "magic" devices that define cool and promise to remake our lives for the better. But there is growing evidence of a dark side to the techno-magic. Your cellphone, and any other wireless device that depends on electromagnetic (EM) microwave radiation to function, may be hazardous to your health.

Most of the bad news comes from major labs and research institutions in Europe. What they're reporting is that using cellphones and Wi-Fi transmitters -- which operate using similar frequencies -- can have biological effects on the brain and body.

Most of us cannot possibly devote the time to sorting through the necessary findings and qualifications, determining which device has what effect under what circumstances for how long and regular a usage. Strapping a cranked up cell phone to a rat's head might be as damaging as injecting sugar directly into its heart, but the practical lessons that the average consumer should draw ought to be decisions, not reactions. Positives and negatives, in other words, have to be weighed.

That said, inasmuch as is possible, it's wise to take precautions. Personally, I dislike any but the shortest cellphone conversations without the use of a separate headset, and I can't help but wince every time I see kids walking down Main Street with phones pressed tightly to the ear. Children in the single digits of age are now being handed such devices, and whatever the social and psychological effect might be, we won't know, for a full lifespan, the consequences to their physical health.

May 26, 2009

The Environment Enables the Camel's Nose in the Tent

Justin Katz

Casual attendees at local government meetings might on occasion be stunned by the utter lack of discomfort among officials about using children to advance environmentalist principles. As with much else, the English are blazing the path to the next step down:

Children as young as seven are being recruited by councils to act as 'citizen snoopers', the Daily Mail can reveal.

The 'environment volunteers' will report on litter louts, noisy neighbours - and even families putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.

There are currently almost 9,000 people signed up to the schemes. More are likely to be recruited in the coming months.

Controversially, some councils are running 'junior' schemes which are recruiting children. ...

Luton Borough Council's Street Seen scheme encourages its 650 volunteers to report 'environmental concerns'. It is also recruiting 'Junior Street Champions', aged between seven and 11.

Primary schools could also be involved within two years.

It's one thing to train interested citizens to take relevant notes about such crimes as prostitution and drug deals, but leveraging public schools to enlist the help of children is a dangerous innovation. We've already seen decades of child-focused propaganda on environmental issues, and that's certainly had an effect on the habits of American families. Recruiting the kids to snitch on hold-outs should inflame such concerns as are mildly evoked by the phrase "government schools."

May 11, 2009

A Broader Application than Broadband

Justin Katz

It seems to me that Frank Rizzo's reasoning in deciding that government-run broadband Internet is a bad idea applies pretty much across the board for possible government actions beyond a limited set of activities:

At the heart of the problem is this: The economics simply didn't work [in Philadelphia]. To come close to breaking even, municipal systems need to attract sufficient numbers of low-dollar subscribers to help offset the ever-swelling capital costs of building, maintaining and upgrading the network.

Typically, any wire line or wireless broadband network will cost, conservatively, tens of millions of dollars in initial investments. On top of massive start-up capital costs for initial construction, broadband networks require huge annual operating costs to pay for administrative staff, customer service, repairs and maintenance. Equipment upgrades — needed every four to five years — often cost potentially tens of millions of dollars more.

To offset these costs, municipal systems need to attract thousands of local subscribers by either drawing customers away from commercial providers or by persuading nonbroadband users to sign up.

But commercial providers generally offer more reliable and faster service — few of their subscribers are likely to switch to a slower municipal service to save a couple of bucks. And, as the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found, broadband nonusers don't see relevance of the technology in their lives, making it unlikely that a taxpayer-subsidized network would suddenly change their minds.

Government isn't as sufficient. It can rig the system. And it drives up prices for everybody outside of its offering and diminishes quality for those within.

Despite his insight, Rizzo falls back on brainstorming ways in which to make the system work:

What's really needed is not a utopian dream bound for fiscal bankruptcy, but rather a true national broadband policy that will give the nation's mayors the resources for low-cost computers, digital training, local technology centers and resources for creative nonprofits and other third parties to generate targeted online content that will foster greater interest in broadband by nonusers. When Wireless Philadelphia failed, we did just this with the Digital Inclusion 2.0 program and, as a result, more low-income residents are online in our city than ever before.

Thus does a limited effort to level the playing field and create a baseline public infrastructure for Internet access grows into the generation of content meant to generate interest in a government service. It's like government mission-creep at Internet speed.

May 10, 2009

Big Brother Is Only Logical

Justin Katz

Does anybody else pick up a willful naivete in Gerald Bastarache's advocacy for a mileage tax?

To measure these miles, the commission calls for "in-vehicle or after market Global Positioning System (GPS) devices" that would track the way we drive. The per-mile charge would depend on whether the driving is on crowded urban freeways during rush hour (higher charge) or lightly traveled rural roads (lower charge).

The goal of the mileage tax is still to collect the funds we need for good highways through user fees, but in a more logical way than we do now.

The report says the amount charged for cars could range from 0.9 cents per mile to match current trust fund revenues, or go up to 2.3 cents per mile to "maintain and improve" the annual investment level.

The levels of taxation require careful calibration to ensure fairness. But compared with the current system, fairness should be relatively easy to achieve. ...

Privacy is sometimes cited as a concern, but privacy is protected when the data is kept within the vehicle. The many tracking devices already in today’s vehicles, such as OnStar, E-ZPass and LoJack, are effective without compromising privacy.

"Careful calibration" in a system of taxation that varies by location and maintenance needs? Chilling.

Moreover, consumers can have some trust in private companies, because if they violate that trust, car owners can cancel their services and even rip the units right out of the cars. If the violation is sufficiently egregious, the entire business model could tank. Taxpayers, by contrast, would not be permitted to "cancel" the service, except via indirect application of the political process, even when bureaucrats and government officials find the excuses to violate trust far too compelling to ignore.

April 19, 2009

When Big Brother Starts to Come Together

Justin Katz

Such gradual expansions of programs appear innocent from up close and always present legitimate claims of practicality, but they create channels for illegitimate power awaiting application:

Law enforcement officials are vastly expanding their collection of DNA to include millions more people who have been arrested or detained but not yet convicted. The move, intended to help solve more crimes, is raising concerns about the privacy of petty offenders and people who are presumed innocent.

Until now, the federal government genetically tracked only convicts. But starting this month, the FBI will join 15 states that collect DNA samples from those awaiting trial and will also collect DNA from immigrants who have been detained - the vanguard of a growing class of genetic registrants.

Ironically, perhaps, the example of "a man found guilty of loitering for the purpose of prostitution" indicates a direction in which this program could head. If, say, the federal government begins attributing terroristic intent to gatherings of citizens with particular views, and if the action that triggers DNA collection is mere arrest or detainment, a broadly interconnected police and security system could begin amassing DNA information about a targeted political minority.

Approaching the matter from another direction reveals another spectrum of concerns. Who's to say where DNA-related technology will go? Imagine that an individual targeted by the law is known to have a genetic susceptibility to a chronic health problem; investigators would thereby have a means of narrowing their search. Suppose technology advances to the extent that DNA can be collected casually and analyzed on the spot, or that there proves to be genetic correlation for certain beliefs.

Speculation in this line rapidly moves toward science fiction, but so, too, does reality. DNA is the key to our biological constitution, and when it's clear how knowledge of it may be used as a tool for oppression, it's likely to be too late.

April 13, 2009

Congressman Langevin Should Tell Us What He Means

Justin Katz

Given its title, I had hoped for some blogworthy meat in Rep. James Langevin's Sunday op-ed, "U.S. needs more control over Internet," but having read the thing, I'd be hard pressed to describe what he's proposing. The reader gets this at the beginning:

A NEWLY INTRODUCED Senate bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which would establish cyber security standards for both the government and the private sector, and create a national cyber security officer within the office of the president, is a notable development in our nation’s effort to craft a comprehensive national cyber security strategy.

And this in the middle:

True protection requires cyber resilience. But that can only be achieved through collective action and cooperation on a scale rarely witnessed before: a national effort involving business, government and society — similar to the way "Y2K" was approached, but designed for the long-haul not just one event. No single organization has the capacity to build this resilience. We need to work as a large and inclusive community across government, industry and non-profit organizations — a mega-community of sorts.

But what does this mean? And how can a "mega-community" help but be open to infiltration and attack?

The underlying question is, I suppose, why Mr. Langevin thought his essay worth writing in the first place. A quick review of the Cybersecurity Act text suggests that its main thrust is to create panels, programs, and centers — another bureaucracy — that will assess and address problems related to cybersecurity, not only for national security purposes, but also to protect intellectual property rights. That's all fine, but is this what now constitutes "action afoot" in the federal government?

I'm afraid so. When we the voters are brought into the fold, the information is vague warnings and declarations of a need for collaboration and, of course, spending. Somehow, at the tail-end of the process, we seem always to be spending more of our money to finance somebody else's investigation into methods of curtailing our freedom of motion and of information.

Aren't there already agencies in the federal government tasked with ensuring our security? I'd suggest that we could add cybersecurity to their responsibilities and then require them to provide detailed explanations for why they need to reallocate or acquire additional funds to address specific problems. Instead, we get politicians who wish most to create the image that they are doing something — while pinning themselves to as few specific policies as possible — and an ultimately unaccountable bureaucracy that will never go away, even when the prefix "cyber-" is a quaint relic of the past.

January 25, 2009

Freeze. Dirt. Bag.

Monique Chartier

From the BBC News.

Two Japanese companies have unveiled a security robot that can be commanded from a mobile phone to hurl a net that traps suspected intruders.

The prototype T-34 was developed jointly by robot firm Tmsuk Co and security firm Alacom Co.

It moves at up to 10km/h (6mph), and can be controlled by someone seeing real-time images on a mobile phone.

The small robot is built on wheels and is equipped with sensors that can detect the movements of intruders.

And watch it in action.

January 11, 2009

Only the Perfect Need Be Born

Justin Katz

Welcome to the morally ambivalent new world and its updated version of eugenics:

This BBC article celebrates the birth in Britain of the first baby tested in vitro for an altered form of the BRCA1 gene known to vastly increase the risk of breast cancer. The girl—whose family has been very hard hit by the disease in prior generations—was conceived by IVF and tested when she was still an embryo, before being implanted in her mother's womb. She was very fortunate not to carry the altered form of the gene, because if she had been found to carry it, she would have been killed. ...

Better to eradicate the carriers, it seems, than to risk a potentially curable if very serious adult-onset illness. So should cancer patients wish they had never been born? Should the rest of us wish they hadn't been?

In the vanity and selfishness of our age, the implication is more accurately that parents who fear their children's cancerous future should lament that they never had the opportunity to snuff them out prior to the crib.

December 27, 2008

If Dr. Frankenstein Had Been an Adolescent...

Justin Katz

Mark Shea has an oft-recited line that fits this turn of events well:

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life-forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said.

As Mark says, human history is often a tale of two questions: "What could it hurt?" Followed by, "How were we supposed to know?"

December 20, 2008

Searching for New Directions

Justin Katz

Since it's been a topic of discussion around here, it's worth noting that — although Capitol Records continues on its litigious path, the Recording Industry Association of America is discerning the error of its ways:

After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy.

The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003. Critics say the legal offensive ultimately did little to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music. And it created a public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.

Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it finds a provider's customers making music available online for others to take.

ISPs are going to have a bevy of moral and strategic questions to answer, but this is certainly a more prudent approach than demanding to dig through the computers of families that, once upon a time, had different computers that may or may not have contained pirated digital music.

December 16, 2008

Claiming One's Life Repository

Justin Katz

We should all hope that Capitol Records fails in its efforts to claim a Providence family's computer for inspection, but as the breadth of activities occurring on computers expands, the likelihood goes up that they will become subject to confiscation for one reason or another. In that light, even just the circumstances of the threat are disconcerting:

The company has asked the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island to compel his parents, Judith and Arthur Tenenbaum, to turn over the family computer so experts can inspect it.

Judith Tenenbaum said before proceedings were to begin yesterday that the family disposed of the computer her son used as a teen years ago.

"That was two computers ago," she said. She is reluctant to turn over her current computer, she said, because it contains personal information.

This over seven songs downloaded when a doctoral student was in high school. Think of the potential for pretext when a small amount of questionable data processed by a computer (let alone previous computers owned by the same family) becomes an excuse for outside access to machines used for everything from private communications to personal finances to business back-office work.

November 23, 2008

A Show of Death

Justin Katz

Such stories give one a sense that reality is slipping away:

The family of a college student who killed himself live on the Internet say they're horrified his life ended before a virtual audience, and infuriated that viewers of the live webcam or operators of the Web site that hosted it didn't act sooner to save him.

Only after police arrived to find Abraham Biggs dead in his father's bed did the Web feed stop Wednesday - 12 hours after the 19-year-old Broward College student first declared on a Web site that he hated himself and planned to die.

Obviously, the technology is not centrally to blame, but I do wonder how much the reinforcement of an audience dulls the natural reluctance to do one's self harm with a reluctance to admit weakness by pulling back from the edge. This incident is eerily similar to the 2003 death of Brandon Vedas, who, although he hadn't declared his intention to kill himself, was intent on showing his online audience how "hardcore" he was.

October 25, 2008

When Realities Collide: Surreality

Justin Katz

Video games are getting serious:

A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband's digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.

The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.

The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

She has not yet been formally charged, but if convicted could face a prison term of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000.

Perhaps it's a silly question, but inasmuch as it's a completely manipulable world, can't the game owners resurrect the character and punish the woman by banning her?

May 21, 2008

People, Who Need People...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monday's call from the Projo editoral page for worldwide population control…

There are just too many people in the world, and there are, of course, more every day — and 80 million more each year. The effects, in declining standards of living in many places, as well as in environmental degradation, are obvious. The increase should be sharply slowed and then halted.
...returns me to Spengler's explanation of global finance in his Asia Times column from yesterday. According to Spengler, the basic division in the world is between an older generation in search of a stable and comfortable retirement and a younger generation seeking growth and opportunity. The system works for everyone when the older generation loans part its wealth, accrued over a lifetime, to the younger generation who combines the borrowed resources and their youthful energy to create new value, a piece of which is then returned to the oldsters, helping to fund their retirement.

But if a new generation is discouraged from ever coming into being, it will not be as easy as the Malthusians on the Projo editorial board and elsewhere assume it will be for current and future retirees to find the resources needed to maintain the standard of living they're expecting to have. Standards of living, as Spengler explained, depend not only on material resources, but also on complex interconnections to a world full of energetic, creative people. To believe that bureaucratic planning can be used to limit the number of people and their associated energies, without major impacts on financial and government systems built on the assumption of dynamic human growth, is sheer folly.

April 29, 2008

So Many Ways to Go Wrong

Justin Katz

Welcome to the small-world reality of gay Westerner commercial baby creation outsourced to the third world:

Yonatan Gher and his partner, who are Israeli, plan eventually to tell their child about being made in India, in the womb of a stranger, with the egg of a Mumbai housewife they picked from an Internet lineup.

The embryo was formed in January in an Indian fertility clinic about 2,500 miles from the couple’s home in Tel Aviv, produced by doctors who have begun specializing in surrogacy services for couples from around the world.

"The child will know early on that he or she is unique, that it came into the world in a very special way," said Mr. Gher, 29, a communications officer for the environmental group Greenpeace.

An enterprise known as reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding business in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have recently been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s mix of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby). ...

So far, for the Israeli couple, the experience of having a baby has been strangely virtual. They perused profiles of egg donors that were sent by e-mail ("We picked the one with the highest level of education," Mr. Gher said). From information that followed, they rejected a factory worker in favor of a housewife, who they thought would have a less stressful lifestyle.

Mr. Gher posts updates about the process on Facebook. And soon the clinic will start sending ultrasound images of their developing child by e-mail. Highly pixelated, blown-up passport photos of the egg donor and surrogate mother adorn a wall of their apartment in Israel.

And everybody will act surprised when a dark underbelly emerges. On we lurch.

April 6, 2008

"Having this baby doesn't make me any less of a man."

Justin Katz

So how much of the Brave New World will be purely a matter of semantics?

The man who stunned the world when he announced he was pregnant gave an intimate insight into his personal life in a revealing television interview with Oprah.

Thomas Beatie stripped off for the cameras and bared his baby bump and also revealed pictures from his beauty queen days as a young woman.

However, the 34-year-old transsexual also told chat show host Oprah Winfrey that he feared for his own safety and admitted doctors had warned him his baby could be killed because of the revulsion at her birth.

As a pure example of the mainstreaming of relativism, it appears that Beatie is a man mostly because he/she claims to be so:

Beatie legally became a man after undergoing a sex change operation - but kept her female reproductive organs.

He told People magazine he decided to get pregnant after wife of five years Nancy had a hysterectomy.

He. Her. Small breasts and facial hair. Womb.

Poor child.

August 1, 2007

The Eye That's Always Open

Justin Katz

Tom Shevlin sees Big Brother in the arrival of E-Z Pass:

... a recent ABC survey found that almost three-quarters of Americans support expanding our surveillance apparatus including eighty six percent of Republicans who support Rudy Giuliani and over seventy percent of registered Democrats.

So what's the big deal? Why care? Because America was founded on the premise that the individual must be protected from the intrusion of government and the expansion of the surveillance state strikes directly at the heart of our personal liberty.

Just think about how a not-too-distant future trip to the Providence Place Mall could play out.

My first thought upon hearing the E-Z Pass news was that we'll likely find toll-booths beginning to pepper our highways once the General Assembly decides that an automatic debit system for tolls would sap sufficient aggravation to get away with further bleeding of the public. Tom and my reactions aren't mutually exclusive, of course.

Another item across which I've just stumbled:

Privacy advocates have long viewed red light cameras with the suspicion that the devices were the first step down a path of increased surveillance. Those fears may come true as the city of Oakland, California has revealed that it is working with the state legislature to secure a change in the law that will allow red light cameras to become full-scale surveillance cameras. In a memo from the Oakland Police Department dated June 26, Police Chief Wayne G. Tucker recommended that the city's lobbyist be ordered to advocate a new law in Sacramento.

"The legislation would also allow the use of those (red light camera) images for evidentiary purposes other than the enforcement of red light violations, such as reckless driving, assaults, public nuisance activity, drug dealing, etc."

The easy comfort that all of those people who support additional surveillance likely offer to each other is that those who do no wrong need have no fear. The problem is that those who would abuse power are often masterful in labeling a convenient batch of activities as "wrong" according to the law. Think, for example, political speech.

Sometimes a prudent caution requires a novelist's imagination; toward that end, consider that social surveillance equipment could track the movements of multiple people, helping to determine when meetings have happened. Inchoate opposition groups could be scuttled before they begin even to dream of effecting substantial change, perhaps with a first-class-mailed fine for jaywalking.

July 25, 2007

A Chip in Our Shoulders

Justin Katz

It probably won't be HIV that brings the push for microchip injection in the West, but then again, it probably won't be "right wing" homeland security initiatives, either:

Lawmakers in Indonesia's Papua are mulling the selective use of chip implants in HIV carriers to monitor their behaviour in a bid to keep them from infecting others, a doctor said Tuesday.

John Manangsang, a doctor who is helping to prepare a new healthcare regulation bill for Papua's provincial parliament, said that unusual measures were needed to combat the virus.

"We in the government in Papua have to think hard on ways to provide protection to people from the spread of the disease," Manangsang told AFP.

"Some of the infected people experience a change of behaviour and can turn more aggressive and would not think twice of infecting others," he alleged, saying lawmakers were considering various sanctions for these people.

June 7, 2007

Drunk on Antiseptics

Justin Katz

I was at a loss to choose a category for this curious bit of information — which I originally thought to be typical email-forward spam — but it seems like something worth knowing about:

Just wanted to send you a quick email and warn you about using hand sanitizers wtih your young kids. We have been using that with Sydney in place of hand washing for convience sake. Today she told me she was going up to her room to get a toy, while I was downstairs feeding Griffin, and after taking longer then it should I called for her. When she didn't answer I knew she was up to something and the bathroom door was closed. She got into the hand sanitizer and had ingested some of it. There wasn't a large amount missing from the bottle but I could smell it on her breath.

Within approx. 10 min. she was all glassy eyed and wobbly in her feet. As the minutes passed, she continued to get worse and got to the point where she couldn't even stand up or walk, it was awful!!

I called poison control immediately and they told me to take her to the ER right away due to the alcohol level in hand sanitizers. As we were driving there her speech became slurred and harder to understand and her eyes looked awful. They admitted her and did urine and blood tests and it turns out that her blood alcohol level was .10 — which is legally drunk. It turns out that the hand sanitizers (Purell) have 62% alcohol in them and the dr. compared it to her drinking something that is 120 proof.

And here I thought I'd come up with the worst possible abuse of the stuff when I've used it to clear my sinuses.

June 6, 2007

Into the Abyss or the Same-but-Different?

Justin Katz

There's an attraction, among older folks, to validating what the kids are doing. Nobody wants to become the modern version of that fuddy-duddy whom they mocked as children, but there's a risk of overlooking important considerations as one rushes to be cool about the modern-day Walkman, the latest music, or newfangled manifestations of the recklessness of youth. The case in point is Jason Fry, in his Wall Street Journal Real Time column on the "New Generation's Public Disclosures" (note that "After Net kids" is a generational coinage, not a group of specific young'n's):

What do you do when you realize how public your online life is? You could retreat into anonymity and try to ensure you leave no trace online -- but increasingly there's something odd about a person who seems to leave no Google trace. You could try to scrub your online image, getting rid of the things you'd rather not have people see and/or taking steps to elevate what you do want people to see in search results. But that generally doesn't work.

Or you could say "So what?" and accept that every aspect of your online life is out there for people to find and judge as they will. (Note I'm not talking about personal information like Social Security numbers -- that's a whole nother column.) You could decide that if some people then judge you poorly based on one aspect of that online life, that's their problem -- a decision that will help you develop the thicker skin we all need in a changing world.

That's the strategy the After Net kids have pursued -- not consciously, but because it's the only world they've ever known. Will it cost some of them jobs? Undoubtedly -- but not for much longer. Because it's their worldview that will win the day as they assume the positions of authority vacated by people my age. The ones who'll struggle? Here's betting it'll be Before Netters like me, with our weirdly sterile Google lives that begin in middle age and our old-fashioned skittishness about online embarrassment and criticism.

I wouldn't say that this is a trend that requires those who are concerned about it to do something, but to declare that we oughtn't warn the After Netters about the dangers of their public personae is to lead them away from a sober assessment of the world in which they live. Perhaps there is nothing that can be done to stop the technological advances in question — even if there were reasons to make the attempt — but it is odd that a man who" ould argue such a thing doesn't seem to realize that human nature and diversity of behavior will persist, as well.

One can easily sketch a mental image of the rebellious youth who lets it all hang out — prudent public image be damned. One can also easily sketch the overly primped and primed youth whose public image is so clearly concocted that one suspects an underlying truth that he or she feels a need to hide. But most kids will fall between these extremes. In other words, integral to his conclusion that "Before Net guy running HR" (turning away applicants associated with beer bong photos) will one day be replaced by "an After Netter with an old MySpace page of her own" (ensuring that reckless use of the Internet will cost kids jobs "not for much longer") is the flawed assumption that the former's lack of MySpace translates into a lack of sympathy and that the latter will not only have her own MySpace page, but one broadcasting keg stands or the like.

I rather expect middle-of-the-spectrum kids to grow into adults who use reasonable judgment in categorizing applicants, who will continue to be judged in keeping with the quality of their own apparent judgment. Therefore, kids in proximity to digital video cameras ought to be prepared to ensure that their behavior is such that they are confident in saying "so what" to those who might point it out in the future.

That all said, I'm more concerned about a possibility that Fry misses altogether. The article that he cites reports that one "fourth of human resources decision makers said they had rejected candidates based on personal information found online," but MySpace drunkenness is only an example. Although it isn't mentioned, another example of online personal information could be opinions on political, cultural, or religious issues. One HR respondent admitted to rejecting an applicant based on activities that "did not fit ethically" with the company. Who knows to what that refers, in this instance, but it could just as easily be participating in pro-life marches as biting the heads off squirrels. In other words, judgment could be passed based not on what you did, but on what you believe.

Over years of office evolution, random ideological challenges at the water cooler could become a thing of the past. Opportunities could diminish to meet people who have different cultural personae through related employment personae. The Internet's primary function is to accelerate our access to information, and that includes qualities of personality as well as facts and figures. Whether or not fretting over the consequences makes me a fuddy-duddy, I worry that we haven't reached a sufficient level of general respect and capacity for intellectual distance in order to avoid self-stratification as the collection of personal information outpaces the development of personal empathy.

I humbly suggest that encouraging everybody to post multimedia clips of their youthful indiscretions as Internet-speed first impressions would be a foolish way to remedy discrepancies between the pacing of relationship formation and the aggregation of biographical data.

May 1, 2007

Fatherland, Socialism or Death

Carroll Andrew Morse

In honor of today’s worldwide May Day celebrations, I present to you the slogan of the Western Hemisphere’s leading socialists, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban Leader Fidel Castro…

"We will triumph. Fatherland, socialism or death."

April 16, 2007

Humanity in a Brave New World

Justin Katz

At the risk of confirming suspicions of conservatives' reactionary squeamishness, I have to admit to huge, visceral aversion to this sort of thing:

Women might soon be able to produce sperm in a development that could allow lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters, according to a pioneering study published today.

Scientists are seeking ethical permission to produce synthetic sperm cells from a woman's bone marrow tissue after showing that it possible to produce rudimentary sperm cells from male bone-marrow tissue.

The researchers said they had already produced early sperm cells from bone-marrow tissue taken from men. They believe the findings show that it may be possible to restore fertility to men who cannot naturally produce their own sperm.

But the results also raise the prospect of being able to take bone-marrow tissue from women and coaxing the stem cells within the female tissue to develop into sperm cells, said Professor Karim Nayernia of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Creating sperm from women would mean they would only be able to produce daughters because the Y chromosome of male sperm would still be needed to produce sons. The latest research brings the prospect of female-only conception a step closer.

On first look, it would seem that neither the standard pro-life nor the standard secular community objections apply, but where does that leave one's sense that we are on the cusp of changing human society in irrevocable ways and with barely a thought of the consequences. Of course, Christians believe, in the words of Mel Gibson's character in Signs, "that whatever's going to happen, there will be someone there to help them." The optimistic pragmatist, with whom I often feel a certain intellectual sympathy, might feel that nothing that is fundamental in humanity will change. And there are certainly liberals who, in their variously motivated advocacy on behalf of homosexuals, will throw themselves behind any "advancement" that allows those folks to more closely simulate normal lives.

Still, I can't shake the sense that all of these modern permutations to society will fall on us all at once in their aggregate magnitude and our society will jerk and sputter in a new, disassociated direction — perhaps under constant attack from true reactionaries from foreign cultures. We who believe that humanity has long had all that it needed, really, no matter the comforts that progress might provide may find ourselves unable to avoid the tremendous questions that the next couple of centuries will pose. Properly seen, it seems to me that such a predicament is more a blessing than a curse.

March 31, 2007

The Fairness of New Media, or The Power of Jim Hummel's Pinky

Justin Katz

Not too long ago, public figures — beleaguered school superintendents, for example — could leverage print media and law enforcement procedures in order to manipulate public understanding of confrontations, much as North Kingstown Superintendent James M. Halley is doing in this Projo report:

Halley filed a complaint with the police Thursday alleging that Hummel, a senior reporter with ABC’s local affiliate, WLNE, struck him in the chest and tried to block him from entering the high school auditorium. The report was forwarded to Town Solicitor Terrence Simpson, who is expected to decide early next week what criminal charges, if any, grew out of the confrontation, Capt. Charles Brennan said. ...

In the complaint, Halley claims Hummel "jumped in front of him, bumping him and blocking his access to the door." He says the newsman "put up his left forearm and pushed against him, striking his chest and arm area" while holding his foot to the bottom of the door to block his entrance.

In the report, Halley also tells the police that he "advised [Hummel] that he was not authorized to be on stage." He said he wished to press charges, though he was not injured.

In the world of new media, also provided by the Projo, Internet-connected citizens can observe for themselves why it is an injustice even to deem it necessary to note that Superintendent Halley "was not injured." At most, Hummel's pinky lightly brushed Halley's jacket, a moment after Halley had attempted to push past the reporter, who asked, "you gonna knock me over?"

In the not too distant future, it won't only be reporters who wield the power of the archive, but any citizen with a video-capturing cell phone.

March 27, 2007

Look on Their Works and Despair

Justin Katz

Yeah, yeah, I know I'm a superstitious flatearther afraid of science and willing to impose my fear-based morality on others, but I'm beginning to wonder if our culture will be able to muster the fortitude to object to any scientific "advances." The latest:

Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer. ...

The process would involve extracting stem cells from the donor's bone marrow and injecting them into the peritoneum of a sheep's foetus. When the lamb is born, two months later, it would have a liver, heart, lungs and brain that are partly human and available for transplant.

Are we just numb to this sort of thing at this point? Or do we live in a state of disbelief, as if the news were fiction? Or do we lack the imagination to envision the ways in which these trends can go horribly wrong, or the self-awareness to understand how the lines in the sand of our tolerance drift away with every gust of scientific presumption?

January 29, 2007

Mitt Romney on Social Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know. I’m not supposed to be posting anything on the 2008 Presidential campaign before June. However, I’m adding a codicil to my New Year’s resolution: I can make an exception when able to present primary-source material about a Presidential candidate (or someone with a Presidential exploratory committee) that adds to a discussion area already active here at Anchor Rising.

At the National Review Institute’s (direct quote from NRO-Editor-at-Large Jonah Goldberg: "Whatever that is") Conservative Summit held this past weekend in Washington D.C., Presidential Candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave a substantive address on his philosophy concerning the major issues in American politics -- limited and fiscally conservative government, healthcare, foreign policy, and social and life issues. Here's what Governor Romney had to say about gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research...

Governor Mitt Romney: When I ran [for Governor of Massachusetts], there were a couple of social issues that were part of that debate. You probably know what some of them were.

One was gay marriage. I opposed then and do now oppose gay marriage and civil unions.

One was related to abortion. My opponent was in favor of lowering the age where a young woman could get an abortion without parental consent from 18 to 16…I, of course, opposed changing the law in that regard.

Another issue was the death penalty, I was for, [my opponent] was against.

Another was English immersion. For a long time, our state had bilingual education, where the schools or the parents get to choose what language their child is taught in. I said that’s just not right. If kids want to be successful in America, they have to learn the language of America. We fought for that, and by the way, I won that one, my opponent did not.

Now, as you know, after I got elected, Massachusetts became sort of the center stage for a number of very important social issues, one of them being gay marriage. I am proud of the fact that I and my team did everything within our power and within the law to stand up for traditional marriage. This is not, in my view and the view of my team, a matter of adult rights. We respect the rights of gay citizens to live as they wish and to have tolerance and respect and not be discriminated against. I feel that very deeply. At the same time, we believe that marriage is not primarily about adults. In a society, marriage is primarily about the development and nurturing of children. A child’s development, I believe, is enhanced by access to a mom and a dad. I believe in every child’s right to a mom and a dad.

Now, there’s one key social issue where I did not run as a social conservative, at least one. That was with regards to abortion. I said I would protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion. I’ve changed my view on that, as you probably know.

Let me tell you the history about that. Some years ago, when I was at the Olympics, I met a guy named Mark Lewis. He was head of our marketing there. He told me that he was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship. I don’t know how far he got. His final interview was with a German interviewer and the interviewer said to him “Mr. Lewis, who is one of your political heroes?” and he said Ronald Reagan. The German had the predictable response -- *GASP*. He said how in the world can you square that statement with what Churchill said, which is that “a young person who is not a liberal has no heart?” Mark responded by repeating the last portion of that Churchillian comment, that “an older person who was not a conservative had no brain” and adding “I, Herr Doctor, simply matured early”.

On abortion, I wasn’t always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Regan, by the way. But like him, I learned with experience.

In my case, the point where that experience came most to bear was with regards to learning about stem-cell research. Let me tell you, there are so many different ways of getting stem cells. I was delving into that because my legislature was proposing new legislation that re-defined when life began. I think it’s interesting that the legislature thinks it has the capacity to make that determination. Our state had always said that life began at conception, but they were going to re-define when life began, so I spent some time learning (with, by the way, a number of people in this room who helped) about all of the different types and sources of stem-cells, not only adult stem cells and umbilical stem cells and stem cells from existing lines, but also surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. I supported all of those.

But for me, there was a bright-line when you started creating new life for the purposes of destruction and experimentation. That was somatic-cell nuclear transfer (or cloning) and also what’s known as embryo farming. At one point, I was sitting down with the head of the stem-cell research department at Harvard and the provost of Harvard University, and they were explaining these techniques to me. I imagined in my mind this embryo farming. Embryo farming is taking donor sperm and donor eggs and putting them together in the laboratory and creating a new embryo. If that’s not creating new life, then I don’t know what is. I imagined row after row after row of racks of these, created either by the cloning process or the farming process. At that point, one of the two gentleman said, “Governor, there’s really not a moral issue at stake here, because we destroy the embryos at 14 days”. I have to tell you, that comment and that perspective hit me very hard. As he left the room with his colleague, I turned to Beth Myers, my chief of staff, and said I want to make it real clear: we have so cheapened the value and sanctity of human life in our society that someone can think there’s not a moral issue because we kill embryos at 14 days.

Shortly thereafter, I announced I was firmly pro-life.

Now, you don’t have to take my word for it, by the way. The nice thing about being able to watch governors is you don’t have to look just at what they say, you can look at what they’ve done. Over my term, I had 4 or 5 different measures that came to my desk [concerning life issues] and on every single one I came down on the side of respecting human life. That didn’t make me real popular in the state. Remember, in Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy is considered a moderate….

In the next few days, I’ll have more from Mitt Romney on other issues, excerpts from Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush on the meaning and future direction of conservatism and from Tony Snow on the Iraq Surge and the President’s new healthcare proposal, plus a whole lot of insights and opinions that I heard discussed at the conference that will bring you up-to-date on the state of conservatism…

January 4, 2007

Needed: A Eugenics Program for Public Policies

Justin Katz

You've likely come across the notion that a society that rejects a governing morality will require laws to fill the void. Well, have you noticed that those whose societal aspirations run against the grain of traditional morality are often quick to treat all objections — even mere expressions of concern — as if they are arguments for government restrictions? Two nights ago, for example, I posted a response to John Derbyshire's thoughts on eugenics in which I did not presume to suggest how the tricky circumstances of the future ought to be handled, and somehow I've apparently taken a leadership role in a movement to ban "genetic-intervention procedures."

As much as I'm kindly inclined toward some of those who make such arguments, it seems to me that there's a petulantly played rhetorical trick involved. Paraphrasing: "You have moral objections to eugenics? You're going to be isolated on this one. Good luck making it illegal! And if you do, good luck hunting down those who seek treatments in other countries! I'll choose freedom, you autocratic moralist!"

There's some irony in the fact that my leading concern was that government involvement in eugenics is inevitable to the extent that the technology is successful. It's mighty big of Mr. Derbyshire to accept "a permanent underclass [as] the price of liberty" — as if he'll be the one paying it — but there are surely not enough voters of similar mind to make Derbyshire's acceptance more than just symbolic. The post of his to which I initially responded treated "***STATE-SPONSORED*** eugenics programs" as a legitimate concern, and my point has been that such programs will have too much moral and practical gravity for state sponsorship to remain in distant orbit.

I'd also note that I don't use "underclass" as a marker of moral stain on a society (as do liberals), but as an actual and threatening category within that society. I would, in fact, concede that we would have a moral responsibility to help those whose families are under threat of perpetual deficiency, but there would also be a strong public interest case to be made for doing so. Arguably, those unable to afford, or comprehend the benefit of, eugenic technology are precisely those whose children require it most — and with respect to whose children society would benefit from it most. More extremely, would Derbyshire be willing to pay the price of liberty if it were the underclass's violent rejection of a system that is rapidly and inexorably locking them out? And once the public interest is ceded in such a matter, we've opened the door to creeping micromanagement.

That is not to say that I believe invidious government involvement to be the only peril of eugenics; as a society, we ought to fully vet various other aspects before advancing, or choosing not to do so (a process that is not well served by quick resort to heated anti-theocrat rhetoric). Consider an argument of which Derbyshire and others seem fond: that "the ordinary kind of mate selection we humans have been engaging in for the past 100,000 years" is not substantially different from eugenics. One needn't delve into the various ways of differentiating between the two to unearth a difficulty: Characterizing mating (for most intents and purposes, marriage) in these terms, it's possible to see divorce as the remedy for errors in judgment. What would be the remedy when parents feel they've erred in concocting their children's qualities? If we're in the realm of consumer freedoms, how do we translate the well-understood concepts of returns, exchanges, and customer service? Would government involvement be justifiable — even necessary — in that area?

As is observable in the comments to my previous post, proponents of science's march into the realm of science fiction aren't shy about acknowledging the possibility of unintended consequences... and passing them right by. Morality serves a purpose, however, and through discussion of its implications, we can address unpleasant complexities before we rush headlong into the brier patch.

In his own follow-up to John Derbyshire, Ramesh Ponnuru writes:

It is nice to see Derbyshire setting aside his admonitions against attempting to apply logic to human affairs, even if he is only setting them aside selectively. (That’s why he’s in a stand-off with Justin Katz. Derbyshire suggests that it’s pointless for Katz to raise objections to eugenics, since people are going to practice it whatever he says. When Katz points out that people are going to practice it collectively, too, Derbyshire falls back on . . . the force of the arguments he will make when that day comes.)

Here's the relevant paragraph from Derbyshire:

Speaking as a small-government conservative, I'd like to think that we—we, the people—are able, through our democratic process, to deny the invention of bogus "rights" and new kinds of government transfer payments. I would certainly agree we have not been very successful at such denying in recent years. That, however, is a negative phenomenon that I deplore. To premiss public policy on the worst expectations of our political processes is to abandon all hope. If some technological advance leads to demands for new "rights," let's resist those demands, as conservatives should. That's what we're here for. That's one of the fights we fight.

Perhaps I'm stabbing at subtleties, but I'm not so sure that Derbyshire believes that his future arguments will have much practical force. If memory serves, he sees these battles more as categorical necessities for conservatives than as strategies for optimal outcomes. In short, unless I'm misreading him, all he's really pledged is his intention to voice futile opposition.

December 18, 2006

Children of "Murphy Browns" Paying the Price

Marc Comtois

Dan Quayle was taken to task many years ago for his "Murphy Brown" speech, in which he said:

Ultimately however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown - a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman - mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another "lifestyle choice."

I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood; network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in , this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong...It's time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity and personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of our belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one.

As Quayle said, we social conservative are often pooh-poohed as moralizing busy-bodies. But there's a reason why we care about such things as promoting traditional families. No matter that we can all point to specific, acute examples of imperfect "traditional" families--and there is no "perfect" family--conservatives believe that the basis for a sound family is having a parent of either sex. Dan Quayle voiced those beliefs 14 years ago and since then, many people--both liberal and conservative--have conceded that Quayle was right:
Ten years later, most anyone involved in child development agrees that two parents are preferable. He beamed while pointing out a recent New York Times headline that read "The Controversial Truth: Two-Parent Families Are Better."

In 1992, discussing illegitimacy was taboo. Most politicians had steered clear of the subject since 1965, when a then-obscure assistant secretary of labor by the name of Daniel Patrick Moynihan released a report linking poverty among black children to the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births. The report was denounced, and Moynihan was labeled a racist.

During the 1990s, the climate changed.

Due to a push by conservatives -- and some liberals -- and to a growing body of research, the subject of illegitimacy became legitimate.

Press coverage of the topic grew. And, as welfare reform emerged as a major policy priority in Congress, Democrats and Republicans agreed that the government needed to take concrete steps to reduce out-of-wedlock births. A 1993 Atlantic magazine cover story was titled "Dan Quayle Was Right." And later that year, Clinton declared, "I believe the country would be a lot better off if children were born to married couples."

"We finally removed the gag," says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Rector has helped draft many family-formation provisions of Republican welfare reform bills in Congress. In the 1996 federal welfare reform law, Congress approved federal funding for sexual-abstinence programs and a bonus to states that reduce their ratios of out-of-wedlock births

Now, all of this expert opinion is fine and dandy, but a new set of voices is making themselves heard. The kids who have lived through the experience. Katrina Clark was one of those kids:
When she was 32, my mother -- single, and worried that she might never marry and have a family -- allowed a doctor wearing rubber gloves to inject a syringe of sperm from an unknown man into her uterus so that she could have a baby. I am the result: a donor-conceived child.

And for a while, I was pretty angry about it.

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.

I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.

We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth -- the right to know who both our parents are. {Emphasis mine.}

Continue reading "Children of "Murphy Browns" Paying the Price"

November 10, 2006

It's Frighteningly Telling...

Justin Katz

... that Brown University professor emeritus of psychology, medical science, and human development Lewis Lipsitt doesn't offer one single example of what he means by "learning processes and socialization on a grand scale [that] will ensure human survival."

The same intelligence that brought us here must now be used to reverse aggressive assaults and promote opportunities for collaborative peace-making. ...

FDR's emphasis on science suggests that had he lived there might have been another Manhattan Project, addressing human relationships and the learning processes required to control international aggression. We have the choice to use, or not use, behavior science benevolently. ...

Such an effort is now required, even more than in FDR's time, to study how to abort and abate the violent behavior so prevalent in the modern world. Today, only a full-throttle commitment and large-scale investment in the study of the behavior of aggression will provide a level playing field for the terrorized people of the world.

So what rights will society claim when it comes to handling those who don't consent to this benevolent socialization? And why do I get the feeling that Lipsitt intends a very broad meaning of "terrorized people"? I'm sure the category of terroristic behavior will not drift toward a secular liberal fantasy of social engineering one bit. Yeah, right.

November 16, 2005

Why Who Maintains the Internet Matters

Carroll Andrew Morse

Heres a little something to think about while the UN makes the case for greater international control of the internet this week. From the Financial Times (via Drudge)

Beijing has halted plans to allow foreign newspapers to print in China because of concerns raised by recent colour revolutions against authoritarian governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, according to a senior media regulator.

Shi Zongyuan, head of the General Administration of Press and Publication, said the role of the international media in such popular revolts had prompted the suspension of what had been an cautious, but significant easing of Chinas curbs on foreign news publications.

The colour revolutions were a reminder not to let saboteurs into the house and that the door must be closed, so we have closed it temporarily, Mr Shi said in an interview with the FT.

If the government of China considers mainstream media newspapers to be saboteurs, what do they consider blogs to be? And what would they do to them if they had a share of control of the internet?

October 27, 2005

The United Nations and the Internet

Carroll Andrew Morse

What do they mean, exactly, when they say the United Nations is trying to take over the internet? Bascially, they mean that at the next meeting of the WSIS, the WGIG may recommend replacing ICANN with a more direct authority over the 13 root name servers.

I explain in a bit more detail in my latest TechCentralStation column.

May 26, 2005

A Matter of Competing Values

Justin Katz

Part of what makes a danger of modern approaches to addressing public policies that bear on "progress" is that we tend to view them on an individual basis, and when we do realize that they are tangential to each other, we hesitate to follow the implications but so deeply. (Sometimes the hesitance results from the complexity, sometimes from the sense that we'll be proven wrong in what we want to believe.)

My latest column for TheFactIs.org dwells on the intersection of embryonic stem cell research, "right to die" trends, socialist healthcare schemes, and radical life extension. Ultimately, I don't think any of these issues can be fully appreciated without consideration of the others. (And many others, but one can only do so much in fewer than 1,000 words.)

December 30, 2004

Where Humanitarianism Meets Nihilism

Justin Katz

Cynthia Weisboro, a member of the South Kingstown Library Board of Trustees, doesn't apparently believe that self government extends to determination of the principles by which we ought to govern ourselves:

[David] O'Connell bases his opposition to such research on the very questionable theological concept of the "soul," a concept unproven and unprovable. Speculation on the existence of the soul is intellectually stimulating, but should not be the basis for public policy in our pluralistic society. Rather, policy should be rooted in rationality and humanitarianism.

Unfortunately, I can't find Mr. O'Connell's full letter online (without paying for it), but it's adequate to note that he was explaining to pro-life U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) that an honest "search for foundational, objective truths regarding the presence of the spirit, human identity, and universal justice" would ultimately invalidate support for embryonic stem cell research. To Ms. Weisboro, that search — honest or not — is irrelevant. Religious citizens are not allowed strive for a government that designs policy in accordance with the area of their lives that they consider most important. Her preferred doctrine — rationalism — is the exclusive guide of our "pluralistic society."

It isn't even the fact that soul is "unproven and unprovable" that disqualifies the religious view. (One wonders by what mechanism Ms. Weisboro achieved the revelation that soul is unprovable.)

Putting the well-being of a cluster of cells, with or without souls, over the interests of our suffering loved ones is not rational, nor is it humane.

So, even if human beings in the early stages of development have souls, even if they are in that sense "persons," it would still be the "humane" choice to kill thousands of them based on speculation that doing so will lead to treatment for human beings with more cells. Frankly, I suspect — rather, I hope — that Cynthia didn't quite mean what her language states, because I've never heard its like. Or, to be more accurate, I've never heard its like in modern discussions about the rights of the unborn; the general idea has been promoted before in different contexts, and we should all tremble if it has found a new entrance to our culture.