Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Backlash Against Vacuity ?

Item 1: I was browsing a bookstall in Rayleigh on Thursday, and saw a couple of young guys - maybe 19 or 20 - glancing at a copy of "Living The Dream: My Story", by Big Brother celebrity Chantelle. "But you haven't DONE anything yet!", one of them groaned, as he looked at her picture. As they walked away I felt slightly encouraged about the younger generation.

Item 2 : The Guardian reports today that news presenter Mika Brzezinski refused to cover Paris Hilton as her lead news story on MSNBC:

And here's a YouTube face-to-camera item that a "teen Canadian" has done in support:

According to Central Sanity,

"Remember her name. She started the revolution, the taking back of American intellect from celebrity and pseudo-celebrity fixation. God bless you, Ms. Brzezinski."

The President can cure AIDS with his herbs and the power of the Holy Book

Here's an edited report from Der Spiegel:

In January of this year, the President - a military officer who staged a successful putsch in 1994 - summoned a number of his acolytes together with foreign diplomats and revealed to them that he had made an extraordinary discovery. He announced that, in addition to asthma, he was now capable of healing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). On Thursdays -- the President's healing powers are only available to him on that day of the week he says -- the president frequently allows national television to film him as he defeats AIDS: Patients lie flat on their backs as the president whirls around them and mumbles verses from the Holy Book. He slaps green sludge onto their skin, sprinkles liquid from an old Evian bottle over them and gives them a brown broth to drink. A quick fruit snack completes the therapy.

That's it. Thanks to the power of the Holy Book and seven secret herbs this treatment, repeated over the course of several weeks, leads to the patient being cured of the lethal virus "with absolute certainty," as the President says.

So far, one of the few within the country to voice any criticism has been the United Nations spokesperson there. She said there was no proof for the success of the method and that no one should believe they would no longer be infected following treatment by the president. The president was so enraged that he immediately declared the UN representative unwelcome and forced her to leave the country within 48 hours.

Earlier, two high-ranking AIDS educators had already announced their resignation in the capital city.. They explained that, in light of the healing mania, it was impossible to teach the population about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. Meanwhile the President continues to up the ante. In early April he announced he has now acquired the ability to heal diabetes, and that -- just as with asthma -- he needs only five minutes to do so. Not all his subjects believe him -- but quite a few do.

The country is Gambia, and here's the latest from the Daily Observer in Banjul, the capital. (By the way, according to the BBC, in 2006 the media rights organisation Reporters Without Borders described the press freedom situation as "catastrophic". You can maybe detect that the Cuban doctors in Gambia are a little bit uncomfortable with what's going on::

On Sunday, 17th June, 2007, 13 cured HIV/Aids patients were discharged after they have successfully undergone President Jammeh's treatment.

In a landmark speech during the serene ceremony attended by Secretaries of State, Secretary-General and Head of the Civil Service, Permanent Secretaries, Service Chiefs, the medical team that worked with the President, the Alkalo of Kanilai, the CEO of RVTH. President Jammeh began his speech by thanking the Almighty Allah, Dr Malick Njie, and the original medical team who worked with him throughout the period of the treatment of the patients.

President Jammeh also thank the Government and people of Cuba, in particular, the Cuban medical team who worked with him in the initial period of the HIV/Aids treatment programme. President Jammeh reminded the large gathering that today The Gambia's profile in the medical field is among the best in the world, thanks to the contribution of the government and people of Cuba.

He also explained why the Cuban doctors who were participating in the HIV/Aids treatment programme were released of their responsibilities.

The valiant people of Cuba has always been involved in a fight against the big powers.

It was therefore apparent that when the first CD4 counts results were announced proving the success of President Jammeh's treatment, that indeed we have picked up a huge fight globally on behalf of The Gambia and humanity, and since President Jammeh did not want to add another burden to the Republic of Cuba he decided to release our Cuban brothers and sisters whilst we continue this global fight that has been unleashed on us. So it was not because the Cuban doctors are not efficent, or that they are not trusted but the simple reason as indicated by President Jammeh is the desire not to put our friends the Cubans in a fight that is directed against President Jammeh and The Gambia. As His Excellency aptly put it, the principles of humanity dictate that if you have a friend who is trying to help you but is already in a fight, it is more honourable not to involve him in a new fight.

This is the reason why our Cuban sisters and brothers were relieved of their duties and responsibilities in the treatment of HIV/Aids.

This was purely to put them away from the fight that is directed against President Yahya Jammeh. Indeed this was an honourable gesture to protect our Cuban friends from malicious attacks from their enemies and to ensure that Cuba is not dragged in to this new fight directed by the powers against President Jammeh and the Gambian people.

And according to the President's own words, AIDS is being produced to kill Africans:

So those who produce Aids to kill Africans (blacks) are the ones crying loud about doing something about Aids in Africa. But their insincerity has been shown by their brutal attacks on something that scientifically cannot be disputed, that is the results of my treatment. If they are concerned about HIV/Aids and they want to stop it, if they are sincere, the first thing they should have done was to come and say let's see how we can develop it and make it available for humanity.

So we have AIDS itself blighting Africa, the President's healing methods, and his claim that AIDS was created to kill Africans. Depressing, isn't it?

Hat tip: Daniel Drezner

A Small Town Website

This morning I stumbled on the website for New Scotland, which is a town of less than 10,000 people in New York State, quite near the state capital of Albany. The website has a well-written first page that is more inspiring than bureaucratic:

Town of New Scotland
The Jewel of Albany County, New York
2029 New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, NY 12159

Years ago, you might have referred to New Scotland as the best kept secret of Albany County. Today, this Jewel continues to charm and allure residents with its rural characteristics, suburban, agricultural and commercial qualities.

New Scotland offers the best of everything in 58 scenic square miles. The villages and hamlets of the town (Clarksville, Feura Bush, New Salem, New Scotland, Onesquethaw, Unionville and Voorheesville) have almost 10,000 residents who consider themselves fortunate to live here and strive to preserve this beautiful region.

As we proceed into the 21st Century, New Scotland residents will continue to make a difference through their volunteer efforts and desire to enrich their community along with 50 members of the Town Team who are working to make this vision a reality.

Join the Town Team on a journey through our website. This is your information source and communication tool. Your input is essential and we welcome you to contact us.

I really like what they've written, it would encourage me to get involved if I lived there. But has anybody seen a town or parish website home page that is even better at motivating local people? If so, I'd like to have a look...

PS the web-page for the Town Court is almost weirdly friendly:

Comments Friendly court on State Highway 85. If you have a criminal matter call to be sure you're scheduled for a DA night. Otherwise it may be a wasted trip. This court is usually not very busy, so don't be more than 15 minutes late. On a bad day you might miss it.

About the area The Town of New Scotland is a gorgeous area bordering Guilderland, Bethlehem, Albany and the hilltowns, and contains the village of Voorheesville within its boundaries.

Judges Hon. Margaret Adkins & Hon. Thomas E. Dolin. Both are excellent judges.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Didn't Expect This....

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

Hat-tip : Pharyngula

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Loving Vs Virginia

1958 was the year I was born. 13 years after the Allies defeated Hitler and his genocidal, racist Nazis.

And yet in 1958 people of different races couldn't get married in Virginia or many other states of the USA. I'm amazed that I didn't hear about the story of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving until today.

As Wikipedia tells it:

The plaintiffs, Mildred Jeter (a woman of black and Rappahannock Indian descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man), were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June of 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade a state law banning marriages between any white person and a non-white person.

Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and in 1963 began a series of lawsuits seeking to overcome their conviction on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court.

This week is the 40th anniversary of their victory, and Mildred Loving has released a statement:

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

There are those who will say that society today is too liberal, there's no respect for authority, etc. etc. - and sometimes they may be right. But this is a reminder of what the "good old 1950s" were like in the world's most powerful democracy. Civilisation has moved in the right direction....

Hat-tip: Halfway Down the Danube

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pictures Of Rayleigh

I now discover that Lord Rayleigh already has two craters named after him. Here's a picture of the lunar crater Rayleigh . It's on the edge of the Moon , as seen from Earth- so it's hard to see it. It's quite big though - 107 km across.

And here's a picture of the Martian crater Rayleigh. It's quite near the Martian south pole , and even has some frost in it sometimes. It's bigger than the lunar crater - 153 km across.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Abe Obama?

There's an interesting piece at BAGnewsNotes on this quite arresting image:

As they explain, the image comes from an article on the Black Agenda Report (nothing to do with yours truly, it's an African American website) which savages Obama for, essentially, not having two black parents, spending his childhood in Hawaii and giving whites a chance to show the world that they could vote for a black president.

I'm not sure about Obama myself yet - he almost seems too good to be true,and might be a better choice as vice-president. But I wonder if this kind of attack from an African American source might actually help him get more white votes...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Julie Amero Case

In terms of dodgy trials, this takes some beating, and I'm surprised that I hadn't heard about this before. But this is an account from the Washington Post, about a school substitute teacher facing a possible 40 years in jail. For a lack of IT skills. In civilised Connecticut....

Substitute Teacher Faces Jail Time Over Spyware

A 40-year-old former substitute teacher from Connecticut is facing prison time following her conviction for endangering students by exposing them to pornographic material displayed on a classroom computer.

Local prosecutors charged that the teacher was caught red-handed surfing for porn in the presence of seventh graders. The defense claimed the graphic images were pop-up ads generated by spyware already present on the computer prior to the teacher's arrival. The jury sided with the prosecution and convicted her of four counts of endangering a child, a crime that brings a punishment of up to 10 years per count. She is due to be sentenced on March 2.

I had a chance this week to speak with the accused, Windham, Conn., resident Julie Amero. Amero described herself as the kind of person who can hardly find the power button on a computer, saying she often relies on written instructions from her husband explaining how to access e-mail, sign into instant messaging accounts and other relatively simple tasks.

On the morning of Oct 19, 2004, Amero said she reported for duty at a seventh grade classroom at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Conn. After stepping out into the hall for a moment, Amero returned to find two students hovering over the computer at the teacher's desk. As supported by an analysis of her computer during the court proceedings, the site the children were looking at was a seemingly innocuous hairstyling site called "" Amero said that shortly thereafter, she noticed a series of new Web browser windows opening up displaying pornographic images, and that no matter how quickly she closed each one out, another would pop up in its place.

"I went back to computer and found a bunch of pop-ups," Amero said. "They wouldn't go away. I mean, some of the sites stayed on there no matter how many times I clicked the red X, and others would just pop back up."

Amero said she panicked and ran down the hall to the teacher's lounge to ask for help. "I dared not turn the the computer off. The teacher had asked me not to sign him out" of the computer, she recalled. Amero said none of the teachers in the lounge moved to help her, and that another teacher later told her to ignore the ads, that they were a common annoyance. Later on, prosecutors would ask why she hadn't just thrown a coat or a sweater over monitor. On that day Amero hadn't worn either.

Several children told their parents about the incident, who in turn demanded answers from the school's principal. Three days later, school administrators told Amero she was not welcome back. Not long after that, local police arrested her on charges of risking injury to several students.

The case came to trial this month, and computer expert W. Herbert Horner testified for the defense that the images were the result of incessant pop-up ads served by spyware on the classroom computer. The prosecution's expert, a local police officer, said time-stamped logs on the machine showing adult-themed images and Web pages accessed by the Web browser at the time she was in the classroom proved that someone had intentionally visited the sites by clicking on a link or typing the address into the browser address bar.

An explanation for this is that Web browser logs will keep records of sites accessed whether they were generated by internal pop-up serving software or clicked on by a user. Also, try not to dwell on the fact that the judge in the case barred Horner from presenting technical evidence to back up his claims. Horner on Monday published a summary of the facts he would have presented were he allowed to at trial.

I checked out theInternet Archive's view of the site referenced in this case, and it is clear that the page was a gateway site for the type of products typically promoted by spam -- penis enlargement and hair loss drugs. A review of the site's source code shows that it also uses Javascript to launch at least one pop-up ad promoting various online dating and porn sites. When I clicked on one of the sites in that list -- "CoolSexx!" -- my anti-virus program alerted me that it was trying to drop a Trojan horse program on my machine (Trojans are generally used to download malicious software to your PC). The spyware was attempting to load itself onto my computer despite the fact that I was using Internet Explorer 7 and up-to-date anti-virus software.

Try also to ignore that the computer in question was a Microsoft Windows 98 machine running an outdated version of Internet Explorer Web browser (IE 5.0), or that the school's license for its firewall program expired prior to the date of the alleged incident. Likewise, the machine's anti-virus software (Cheyenne Software) was expired and it lacked any anti-spyware tools. In short, the Windows 98 computer was completely exposed to the Internet without any kind of protection.

Then there is the admission by the prosecution that it had failed to conduct even a rudimentary scan of the computer's hard drive with anti-spyware software. Amero's defense said that had it been allowed to present its full testimony, it would have shown the results of spyware software scans on the PC she used, which found two adware programs and at least one Trojan horse program. The logs showed that all of the unwanted programs had been installed weeks prior to the alleged incident, the defense claims.

Spyware and adware has long been the source of objectionable pop-up ads. In February 2006, I wrote about a young man who was earning thousands of dollars each month installing porn pop-up ad serving software on computers whose users had failed to equip the machines with security patches or firewall software. The adware this kid installed was a Web browser add-on that barraged victims with endless pop-ads for adult Web sites and services. I managed to track down several of his victims, including a technologically naive pastor in Memphis.

I spoke briefly with Amero's attorney, who said: "I sincerely believe that had we been allowed to present our testimony in full, Julie would not have been convicted. This is a grave miscarriage of justice." With no prior convictions or criminal history, Amero was eligible under state law for "auxiliary rehabilitation," meaning she could have the charges expunged by agreeing to a short probationary period (provided she didn't get arrested again during that period). But, insistent upon her innocence, she chose to fight the charges.

A number of blogs have recently spoken up on Amero's behalf. Also, a former Massachusetts school administrator recently called on the state governor to pardon Amero and expunge the conviction. Even the local paper, firmly convinced of Amero's guilt, called for lenience in her sentencing.

This may not have been an isolated incident in the Connecticut public school system. According to another former teacher in Amero's school, who spoke this week with Security Fix on condition of anonymity, the kids in the school had few restrictions on what sorts of content they could and did view on school computers. "You could look at any history in any computer and chances are you would see the children had [visited] inappropriate sites," the teacher said.

There seems to have been a groundswell of support for the lady concerned, particularly from bloggers and the latest news is that there's going to be a retrial:

A judge has granted a new trial for former Norwich substitute teacher Julie Amero, who was convicted of allowing students to view pornography on a classroom computer.

The Windham woman was convicted of exposing students to pornography on a computer at a Norwich middle school.

Amero has adamantly denied clicking on pornographic Web sites that appeared on her classroom's computer screen in October of 2004 while she was teaching seventh-graders at Kelly Middle School in Norwich.

Amero's lawyers yesterday filed a motion seeking a new trial, and the judge today granted it. The motion claimed that evidence gathered after Amero's conviction casts serious doubt on the evidence that led to the guilty verdict.

Her case prompted national debate over unseen spyware and adware programs, which some technology experts believe might have generated the pop-up ads for pornographic Web sites.

This woman must have been going through hell - and she's not safe yet....

A Burning Issue.

According to our local paper the Echo, today:

A CANNABIS plantation caught fire at a house in Westcliff.

Firefighters were called to a blaze in a terraced house in Brightwell Avenue just before 9am on Saturday morning.

Their report ends with:
A joint investigation by the fire service and Essex Police has been launched.

Starlight Over Rayleigh.

On June 1st this year Minor Planet 22740 was named "Rayleigh" - my home town!

Why is it called Rayleigh? It was named after the scientist John William Strutt, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1904 and became the 3rd Baron Rayleigh. He wasn’t made a lord for his scientific work, he simply came from an aristocratic family. In fact Lord Rayleigh is described on the Nobel website as “one of the very few members of higher nobility who won fame as an outstanding scientist.”

And why was Lord Rayleigh called Lord Rayleigh? Because his grandmother was the first Baroness Rayleigh, and she lived elesewhere in Essex and chose the title “Rayleigh”, apparently because Rayleigh was a respectable place to be named after and that “Baroness Rayleigh” sounded good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Gordon Brown Meme

At the invitation of Prague Tory....

2 things Gordon Brown should be proud of.

His family, and the minimum wage.

2 things he should apologise for.
Supporting the invasion of Iraq, and the Private Finance Initiatives.

2 things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM.
Mmmm. This is a bit of a tough one. But I would say firstly select a cabinet with a lot of new faces, and secondly tell them at the first cabinet meeting that he wants to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, but to stay in Afghanistan 'for the duration'.

2 things he should do while he is PM.
On the small scale, give power back to locally elected councils. On a bigger scale, set out a goal that in this century Britain's role will be as a world centre for rational, knowledge-based, democratic English-speaking culture.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A note for Gordon Brown

I found a list here entitled "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord". For example:

No. 65. If I must have computer systems with publically available terminals, the maps they display of my complex will have a room clearly marked as the Main Control Room. That room will be the Execution Chamber. The actual main control room will be marked as Sewage Overflow Containment.

One or two of the items are even profound. For example:

No. 61. If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

Gordon Brown, please take note.
Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

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