Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Closing the Chatrooms

A fairly large piece of Internet utopia is closing down. As reported
by Reuters, Microsoft is draining the sewer that, alas, has
flooded its MSN chatrooms.

"LONDON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. announced on Wednesday
it would shut down its Internet chat rooms in 28 countries,
saying the forums had become a haven for peddlers of junk
e-mail and sex predators.

"The straightforward truth of the matter is free unmoderated
chat isn't safe," said Geoff Sutton, European general manager
of Microsoft MSN, told Reuters.

From October 14, the software giant will shut down its MSN
chat services in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and
much of Latin America, forcing millions of message board
users to find alternative online forums to discuss the topics of the day.

In those regions, said Microsoft, the chat was free and
unsupervised, giving rise to a nefarious element that
bombarded users with "spam" mail, much of which was
pornographic and, in some cases, allowing pedophiles to
prey on children."

..... "In the United States, Canada and Japan, Microsoft
will introduce an unsupervised chat service solely for subscribers,
who are considered more accountable because their billing details
and identities are on record with the company.

"It's a signal that some of the joyful early days of the Internet
have moved on a bit. Chat was one of those things that was a bit
hippyish. It was free and open. But a small minority have changed
that for everyone. It's very sad," Sutton said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I wonder if Yahoogroups and other prominent chatrooms will
now take similar steps.

In the early days of euphoria about the Internet, it was considered
bad form to talk about the need to control misbehavior on the Net.
Libertarian freedom was to prevail and only the best of human
traits would be on display. No need to worry about greed, explotation,
corporate domination, the corruption of democracy, or the ordinary
evils that afflict social groups. When I called attention to the need
to pay attention to such matters, I was dismissed as overwrought and
probably "anti-technology." But if one sees technologies as forms of
social and political organization, eventually one has to figure out how
to balance the good with the bad. To postpone confronting these problems
merely exacerbates them, as the MSN debacle clearly demonstrates.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Terrorizing America's climate scientists

There’s new evidence of Bush administration attempts to bully E.P.A. scientists studying global climate change. The Observer notes:

"Emails and internal government documents obtained by The Observer show that officials have sought to edit or remove research warning that the problem is serious. They have enlisted the help of conservative lobby groups funded by the oil industry to attack US government scientists if they produce work seen as accepting too readily that pollution is an issue.

Central to the revelations of double dealing is the discovery of an email sent to Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, by Myron Ebell, a director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI is an ultra-conservative lobby group that has received more than $1 million in donations since 1998 from the oil giant Exxon, which sells Esso petrol in Britain.

The email, dated 3 June 2002, reveals how White House officials wanted the CEI's help to play down the impact of a report last summer by the government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which the US admitted for the first time that humans are contributing to global warming. 'Thanks for calling and asking for our help,' Ebell tells Cooney.

The email discusses possible tactics for playing down the report and getting rid of EPA officials, including its then head, Christine Whitman. 'It seems to me that the folks at the EPA are the obvious fall guys and we would only hope that the fall guy (or gal) should be as high up as possible,' Ebell wrote in the email. 'Perhaps tomorrow we will call for Whitman to be fired,' he added. ….

Former EPA climate policy adviser Jeremy Symons said morale at the agency had been devastated by the administration's tactics. He painted a picture of scientists afraid to conduct research for fear of angering their White House paymasters. 'They do good research,' he said. 'But they feel that they have a boss who does not want them to do it. And if they do it right, then they will get hit or their work will be buried.'"

* * * * * * * *

Of course, this is not an isolated case. The breakdown of any rational relationship between science and policy making is one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration. "Facts" are mere constructs to serve predetermined ideological objectives.
Those who object to this way of doing things are threatened and intimidated. It's interesting that we hear so little from the scientific community about this reign of terror. Perhaps the gravy train of research funding is lavish enough to buy their acquiescence.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Thoughts on Howard Dean

I went down to the City of Hudson for a Howard Dean rally this afternoon.
While I've always had a favorable view of Dean, I must say I was strongly
impressed by his talk, both the substance and the way he delivered it.

He began with reminiscences of the Civil Rights movement and its contributions
to American life. From there he recalled the sense of community that
flowed from that movement, noting that the policies and attitude of the
Bush administration has generated not community but division, both among
Americans and in America’s relationship to the rest of the world.
Significantly, he noted Bush’s emphasis on “quotas” in his opposition to
the affirmative action case before Supreme Court, saying that Bush chose to
sow division by playing “the race card.” Dean went on to talk about the 3
trillion dollars that Bush has given to his wealthy friends in tax cut
legislation, as well as the billions spent on the war in Iraq, noting some
of the urgent needs to which this money could be applied in the U.S. –
early education, health insurance for all citizens, veterans pensions,
broadband for rural economies, renewable energy, etc. Especially telling
were his comments about the financial and social costs of our burgeoning
prison population which, he observed, are all the more appalling given the
fact that elementary school teachers can identify the four or five kids in
their classes who are most at risk of winding up in jail. Wouldn’t it make
more sense, he asked, to address the problems of possible future prisoners
while they are just young children with obvious needs?

Dean took special care to attack Bush’s record on defense and security.
How are we more secure having destroyed respect for America around the
globe? What good does it do national defense to wreck the kinds of
cooperation that we know are necessary to quell international conflict?
His approach on these key points struck me as sensible and likely to strike
a responsive chord even among those who have supported Bush’s war policies
until now.

At the heart of his message this afternoon was the conviction that the
American people themselves must join together to take back their country
from the clutches of the cynically self-interested Bush cabal. The hope
for renewal must come from the combined efforts of people in communities
like Hudson, New York.

A fairly large crowd listened and responded enthusiastically. Dean came
across as a straight shooter, a man from the heartland with a no nonsense
vision of the country’s problems and possibilities. Speaking with humor
and modesty, he seemed anything but full of himself, a welcome change from
so many of the politicians we hear these days. Win or lose, we are lucky to
have Howard Dean’s voice gaining prominence in the presidential campaign.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Your Daily Dose of Fear from Bush
(don’t worry, children, he’ll protect us)

Social scientists and concerned citiizens have begun paying attention
to the disempowering rhetoric Bush and his people routinely use to frighten the
public and foster dependency upon the President and support for his perpetual
“war on terrorism.” A short article on this no longer subtle tactic is Renata Brooks’
“Bush Dominates a Nation of Victims.” Now an anonymous anthropologist at
the University of Louisiana, Lafayette has edited the text of Bush's Speech on
Iraq, September 7, 2003, identifying the references to terror, violence and death.

>deadly attacks
>mass destruction
>terrorist threat
>torture chambers
>mass graves
>violence and terror
>international terrorism
>ideologies of terror
>foreign terrorists
>terrorist groups
>inflict harm
>war on terror
>a lengthy war
>a different kind of war
>war on terror
>destroying the terrorists
>against the terrorists
>future attacks
>precise strikes against enemy targets
>enemy weapons
>killed hundreds
>hunting for them
>terrible weapons
>terrorist attacks
>war on terror

Friday, September 12, 2003

Edward Teller's "contributions"

Edward Teller, 95, physicist and tireless Cold War advocate for nuclear
armaments, died this past week.

He was renown as “the father of the H-bomb.” When I was a grad
student in Berkeley during the middle 1960s, I lived briefly in an apartment
just across the street from Teller and would occasionally see him ambling
down the path to his car. I had to suppress an urge to yell out “Hi, Dad!”

Beyond his work on the atomic and hydrogen bomb projects, Teller is
best known for (1) destroying the career of his friend Robert Oppenheimer
during 1954 government hearings on Oppenheimer’s security clearance
and (2) boosting the idea of the “Star War” missile defense shield to
Ronald Reagan and anybody foolish enough to take the plan seriously.

If any of the devices Teller built and promoted are ever put into use, we
can kiss the planet goodbye. The man may have accomplished some good
during his lifetime, but I am unaware of it.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The Bush administration's attack on the environment

Bill Moyer's recent interview for Grist, reprinted in The Utne Reader
offers good insight into the Bush administration's full scale onslaught on
every aspect of environmental protection. Moyer's assessment of the source
of this attack is clear and persuasive:

"Their god is the market -- every human problem, every human need,
will be solved by the market. Their dogma is the literal reading of the
creation story in Genesis where humans are to have "dominion over
the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle,
and over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing ..." The administration
has married that conservative dogma of the religious right to the
corporate ethos of profits at any price. And the result is the politics of
exploitation with a religious impulse."

Comparing the fate of the earth to the centuries old devastation of
Iraq, Moyers comments:

"By the time we all wake up, by the time the media starts doing
their job and by the time the public sees what is happening, it
may be too late to reverse it. That's what science is telling us.
That's what the Earth is telling us. That's what burns in my consciousness.

Consider the example of Iraq. Once upon a time it was such a lush,
fertile, and verdant land that the authors of Genesis located
the Garden of Eden there. Now look at it: stretches upon stretches
of desert, of arid lands inhospitable to human beings, empty of
trees and clean water and rolling green grasses. That's a message
from the Earth about what happens when people don't take care of it.
No matter what we do to Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains a wasteland
compared to what it was. American policy makers see only the black
oil in the ground and not the message that all the years of
despoliation have left."

* * * * * * *

The article notes that the Bushies in Washington simply refuse
any interviews with Moyers' "NOW" television program. It's more
testimony of the increasingly totalitarian stance taken by this gang. I'm
increasingly puzzled as to why well-meaning old school Republicans
put up with such heavy handed, destructive tactics, why there aren't
more James Jeffords jumping ship. Perhaps American politics finally
has become the equivalent of the medieval "Ship of Fools."