June 2009 Archives

Notes on Censorship, Climate, Bisphenol A, and Whac-A-Mole

  • China Delays Censorship Software

    The New York Times reports that China will delay their rule requiring all new PCs to come installed with the Green Dam Youth Escort" censoring software that we wrote about earlier this month.

  • EPA Grants California Waiver

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted California the waiver the state has long sought which will allow it to set emissions standards that are stricter that the federal government's. We wrote about this in several posts including "Clean, Clear Air, Nothing To See Here, Drive Through Please".

  • Bisphenol A in the NYT and Journalistic Fence-Sitting That Must Hurt

    Yesterday we wrote on Nicholas Kristof's NYT report about disturbing research on endocrine disruptors. We discussed what we called 50-50 science journalism, where you erode your science article by giving credit to the "other side", which could be a global warming denier, for instance, or the chemical lobby.

    Another way newspapers can practice balanced journalism is when a publication like the New York Times or the Economist or LA Times runs conflicting articles to appeal to all paying advertisers. For instance John Tierney's column in the NYT today, written by Tina Kolata, quoted Stats.org to deny the dangers of bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor. Stats has the opposite (and incorrect) science information, which conflicts with what Kristof wrote yesterday. Thus the NYT gets 50-50 coverage, for all of those science deniers it wants as subscribers.

    Both Stats and Tierney are solidly in the science and environmental deniers camp. We wrote about John Tierney's denialism in "Scientist Columnists Sell You Short". Tierney has long expressed his devotion to bisphenol A -- "if they ever try recalling it, they'll have to pry [my Nalgene bottle] from my cold dead fingers", he wrote last year. Tierney routinely comes out against science.

    Acronym Required previously wrote about Stats in "Yotta-Yotta-Yottabytes: Content Makes Kings, Print Dies", and various posts on bisphenol A. Stats, as reported here by Sourcewatch, claims to be a "non-partisan" think tank, but they are funded by conservative sources and consistently produce reports that fly in the face of science.

  • Climate Bill's Mixed Reports

    The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill passed last week by Congress received mixed reports on its predicted effectiveness. The National Resource Defense Fund sent an email screaming euphorically, "Well, we did it! And we did it because millions of people like you made their voices heard on Capitol Hill."

    On the other hand, Clive Crook, who we previously highlighted for his climate denialism, had an opposing opinion. Read his "The Steamrollers of Climate Science", for instance, in which he wrote that the IPCC report on climate change was biased, and what the world needed was some opinions from people affiliated with the Marshall Institute, Fraser Institute, and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) (all funded by ExxonMobil). You'd think from that you'd know where he stood.

    But Crook, climate science denier last time we looked, said yesterday that the President was being too weak on climate change. Accompanied by a cartoon of the president ripping open a Superman t-shirt to reveal a cute little Hello Kitty figure, Crook said:

    "The cap-and-trade bill is a travesty. Its net effect on short- to medium-term carbon emissions will be small to none. This is by design: a law that really made a difference would make energy dearer, hurt consumers and force an economic restructuring that would be painful for many industries and their workers. Congress cannot contemplate those effects. So the Waxman-Markey bill, while going through the complex motions of creating a carbon abatement regime, takes care to neutralise itself."

    Conservatives argue that the climate bill will negatively effect the economy for a very small pay-off, whereas some environmentalists argue that the cap-and-trade regime proposed will not work, that there a giant loopholes, and that coal gets too much of a boost from the legislation.

    RealClimate, for its part, is taking a break, a little bummed out about the Groundhog Day aspect of the internet, where you explain the science that all the deniers deny, then they pop-up again. How true, though more a game of Whac-A-Mole than Groundhog Day perhaps. Tenacity wins.

    Joseph Romm of Climate Progress weighs in favorably on the bill.

Endocrine Disruptors in the NYT

Nicholas Kristof wrote about endocrine disruptors in his column this weekend. He cites some of the evidence for disturbances in sexual development -- "bizarre deformities in water animals" -- and accumulating evidence of the same disturbances occurring in humans.

Acronym Required first wrote about endocrine disruptors back in 2005, with Plastic Bottles- Protecting Your Baby, by the ACC". Hundreds of studies in the past 20 years have documented disturbing effects of endocrine disruptors, which are widely used in industry and agriculture to make the food you eat, the containers you eat out of, and the products that surround you as you sit and read this post. Endocrine disruptors act like hormones to effect physiological actions in species from fishes to humans. Here's some of the evidence Kristof cites from the research literature on different chemicals:

  • "Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians began to sprout extra legs."

  • "In heavily polluted Lake Apopka, one of the largest lakes in Florida, male alligators developed stunted genitals."

  • Researchers found in 2003 that "in the Potomac watershed near Washington, male smallmouth bass have rapidly transformed into "intersex fish" that display female characteristics." Today 80% of these male fish lay eggs.

  • Scientists are concerned with "large increases in numbers of genital deformities among newborn boys."

  • "7 percent of boys are now born with undescended testicles, although this often self-corrects over time."

  • "And up to 1 percent of boys in the United States are now born with hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the penis improperly, such as at the base rather than the tip."

  • "DES, a synthetic estrogen given to many pregnant women from the 1930s to the 1970s to prevent miscarriages, caused abnormalities in the children."

  • "evidence from both humans and monkeys [suggests] that endometriosis, a gynecological disorder, is linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors."

  • "Researchers also suspect that the disruptors can cause early puberty in girls."

  • "research has also tied endocrine disruptors to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, in both animals and humans."

  • "mice exposed in utero even to low doses of endocrine disruptors appear normal at first but develop excess abdominal body fat as adults."

  • Kristof notes a recent statement from the Endocrine Society. The group of scientists says: "In this first Scientific Statement of The Endocrine Society, we present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology."

  • Kristof quoted Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network, who said, "'this can influence brain development, sperm counts or susceptibility to cancer, even where the animal at birth seems perfectly normal."'

There's a lot more evidence showing that chemical disruptors produce widespread harm over the environment to produce abnormal reactions. As one John Hopkins scientist told Kristoff: "It's scary, very scary."

But in a completely curious turn, halfway through the article, Kristof capitulates to the winds of "50-50 science journalism". Here's how "50-50 science journalism" works.

  1. Accumulate your evidence.
  2. Make a strong case for your point, citing the evidence.
  3. Then abruptly cripple your whole point, smash it across the knees, by writing a one or two statements for the "other side", thus appeasing some readers and advertisers.

Kristof writes: "The scientific case is still far from proven, as chemical companies emphasize, and the uncertainties for humans are vast." To be fair, Kristof's reference to the "other side" could be considered merely a polite and politic mention. "Vast uncertainty" for humans could mean anything. But even at best this doesn't line up with the rest of his article and all the evidence he cites. What about his lists of studies?

Scientists are "connecting the dots" he writes. I know this may sound trifling but scientists are well into the data. It's only recently that the public is realizing that this problem is real -- a realization that's more substantial, quite un-dot-like. Some journalists are farther behind, but again, the evidence is accumulating at a brisk pace.

My small reservations with his article aside, Kristof often takes on controversial issues, especially in international development, that are easy for the mainstream press to ignore. While coverage of bisphenol A is surprisingly robust, now that states and cities have initiated legislation restricting its use, the larger questions of pervasive chemical use without regulation remain largely ignored. Importantly, this topic has been very easy for federal agencies to ignore. Therefore, it's great to see coverage of endocrine receptors by an influential New York Times journalist who will help inform the public, who will in turn demand that government act more aggressively on chemical oversight.


Acronym Required writes frequently on journalism that remains faithful to all sides of science policy issues despite the evidence, for instance Climate Change: Fueling the "Debate", "Science Editors Sell You Short", and Phthalates and Bisphenol A: Media and Politics

Notes on Censorship and Security

  • Spies, East and West

    Beijing will recruit 10,000 "internet volunteers" to monitor "harmful" websites and content, according to the city's municipal authority information office, via Financial Times.

    The US too, is expanding a program to recruit spies among first and second generation college students. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the program started as a pilot program, the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program in 2004. Kansas Republican Pat Roberts initiated the program after September 11, 2001 following urging by a University of Kansas anthropology professor. Professor Felix Moos had shopped the program around for years, arguing that the federal government should provide scholarships for people to attend colleges and learn languages, technical skills, culture and anthropology in order to work for the CIA. The Obama administration would keep the identity of the spies-in-training a secret.

    The program has its critics. According to interviews by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2005, some professors were concerned about the Pat Roberts program and the anonymity of the participants which the government could leverage to essentially spy on professors, as they did during the Cold War. Others argue that the program could instill distrust of all researchers from foreign governments. Still others were concerned about the ethics of mixing spying with academia.

  • East is East, Thanks to the West

    In other government spy news, the Wall Street Journal writes that Iran is using technology made by Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. to censor internet communications. The technology allows Iranian authorities to block and filter sites and perform deep packet inspection to monitor individuals and control information. Much of the Iranian system operates through a single node at the Telecommunication Infrastructure Co., part of the government telecom monopoly.

    Iran controls communications any way it can, according to the WSJ, filtering international connections go through a single gateway, blocking users in the country from accessing millions of sites in the last few years, and at times requiring bloggers to obtain licenses from the government.

    Under normal circumstances, all the west's technology helps Iran control the population. And periodically, there are more turbulent times like these, when Iran is "now drilling into what the population is trying to say", Bradley Anstis, director of technical strategy with Marshal8e6 Inc. told the WSJ.....Because if an uprising happens on your dictatorial watch and you don't have the wherewithal to look outside the window, then just -- use Windows?

Iran -- Technology Aiding Movement Towards Democracy? Or Technology Aided Rubbernecking?

This We Believe

The world is abuzz about the way Twitter funnels communications out of Iran and for a while even seemed to have tipped the government slightly off balance. We in the west are amazed -- will technology enable Iran to move towards Democracy, people keep asking? At AR we have expressed deep cynicism about this idea in the past. But we also come back to it again and again because it's an irresistibly intoxicating theory and we can't help but fervently seek evidence to prove us wrong.

Technology is addictive to us in the West, we're always after the next coolest thing. Did you get your Plasma TV? Your new iPhone? Yes? Good. Rest assured -- if you feel any twinge of guilt whatsoever -- that standing in line in front of the Mac Store at 7:00AM isn't just some hedonist capitalist folly. It's much more. That slick gizmo which you listen to and speak into and urgently push buttons on is not just some toy, not just better than sex, drugs, Christmas and chemistry all wrapped up in a tiny-shiny irresistible package that fits so nicely in your hand. Your iPhone can change the world. Yes, it can bring peace where there was war, transparency where there was opaqueness, freedom where there were shackles. This we believe. We need technology to be so much more than plastic and tunes and what we ate for lunch today.

Bearing Witness?

But despite our hopes, will Iran look like Burma, look like Tiananmen Square? When the fax was the fastest way to get news out of the country no one could stop 2,500 killed and 10,000 wounded in China, students who confronted tanks in peaceful protest and were shot and treaded to death -- an event that's now written out of Chinese history books. In Burma, the regime allowed the monks to march, then brutally put an end to the protests and the filming of the protests. In Iran, news got out via Twitter. A You Tube video showing Neda bleeding in the street shocked and dismayed us deeply and to our core.

But what do we do with this? Believe it enables more freedom, democracy? Or does it make the paranoid more paranoid, the brutal more brutal, the callous more callous, while the rest of us are rendered still just helpless bystanders, onlookers?

Is it progress?

Or is it entertainment?

If you want to imagine horror, you can do something like visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia where the skulls gape out at you haunting "why"? You'll be reminded of the massacre of 12,000-16,000 people 30 years ago. In this place, S-21, you can easily become overwhelmed of the tragedy and scale of evil of "government" power run amok. Time and geography soften the blow, though, standing in the prison, and keep the tragedy at arms length. The Cambodian genocide happened long ago in a very different place. It's history we can barely conceive, but for the man in charge of S21 prison, Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, who only now, decades later, stands trial -- defiant and apparently proud of his efficient work.

Does the immediacy of photos from Iran change anything?

In the 1970's many Americans were exposed to little more violence than in Starsky and Hutch, or some other TV show. We saw war footage, but didn't learn of Cambodia's true horror until four years after it commenced. In the 80's and 90's, for entertainment, the reality of a goofy cop show was eclipsed by the more palpable, grittier reality of real cops shows, where the cops actually beat down some guy's door and caught the perpetrators. Today, we flee by these shows via the remote, because we can so easily satisfy whatever real violent drama you hanker for via You Tube. Who needs TV crime drama when you have car crashes on demand? They're there on You Tube. Blood and gore and guns and drugs are there too, for our entertainment 24/7.

So how do we feel when we view murders that happened only yesterday, only last hour, only a minute ago? Does Iran's violence in real time make for a better world? Are we less helpless than we were 30 years ago when we wouldn't learn of government atrocities until years after they happened? Does the instant communication help Iranians? Does "bearing witness" help Iranian people? Or is it technology aided rubbernecking about our needs?

Technology and Identity, You and Not You

Web 2.0 Life Changing and Everyday

Social media reminds us that the web is more than just a tool. Today we get news about Iran from Iranians Twittering the election uprisings, for instance. Web 2.0 gives us a bottom-up way of organizing that's impossible for businesses and governments to ignore, that often leaves them scrambling to control. While social media can be grandly disruptive; however, it's usually life changing in little, seemingly mundane ways, insidious ways that we learn to live with, but that can be disconcerting.

Weddings are big, noteworthy events. Before your wedding, your best friend from high school RSVPs, as does your college roomate, your in-laws and their bridge cabal, and Surprise!!-- thanks mom -- the family who lived next door when you were in 6th grade. You see your next door neighbor's son bumping on the dancefloor with your mother's arm-flailing sister, and think, wow -- all these people under one tent. They mingle together with ties and elegant dresses and claim disconcerting familiarity with your past as they swap stories and pass commentary about you, the weather, and your dearly beloved.

Facebook is the quotidian, Everyday-Martha-Stewart-now-available-at-Target version of your wedding. Your high school best friend "friends" you, as does the nerdy guy from the band step ("Remember me?"), along with your brother's wife's brother, the college pal you don't remember to well from that night, and the co-worker you'd like to think highly of you.

Sure, you can segregate the various cohorts, but do you have the energy to devote to being more efficient at online networking? Go ahead, post to impress, chat casually about the red wine's dusky cherry, book leather and balsam with tobacco overtones that you're drinking in Paris with your svelte new wife. But you are unforgettably someone else too, because your freshman dorm mate has simultaneously posted something about "old pictures he found and thought would be fun" something about "that time we drank too much Bud Lite and crashed the sorority party."

Technology may indeed be reaching revolutionary potential but everyday technology brings strangers into our lives in an intimate and less heady ways. Everyday technology unpredictably changes how we interface with friends and acquaintances, old and new, dead and alive.

Identity Theft 2.0

The internet can save loads of time and money, on greeting cards for instance, but where will we end up? Perhaps in the faces total strangers thanks to image search technology, and I'm not talking about standing on the doorstep of a colleague in a foreign country.

A US family who posted a family Christmas photo on their blog was surprised to learn that a grocery story in Czechoslavakia had downloaded and enlarged the photogenic foursome, pasting them onto a life-size poster advertising his store's delivery service. Gone was the leafy background of the Salt Lake suburb behind the smiling family on the e-greeting card, swapped out with a supermarket-tacky, yellow, green, and red background; Czech writing; and the American family unwittingly beaming about the grocery to Czech shoppers. The shop owner he would have sent a bottle of wine to the family as an apology, but for the high postage. Děkuji!

In another case misappropriated identity, the LA Times reported on a South Korean man who was surprised to learn that a photo he posted on his internet site had been appropriated by a Tokyo television station, altered, and released as the long sought photo elusive son of Jim Jong II. North Korea likes technology when it produces missiles it seems but not photos, since the only photo of the dictator's apparent heir is decades old.

To emphasize the likeness, the Japanese television station superimposed the dictator's eyes on the sunglasses in the photo the South Korean man had posted on his website. Voilà, suddenly a South Korean construction worker became the son of King Jong II.

Piracy, Censorship and Damn Youth

While your image may be appropriated so might your work. Pirated software and copyright infringement is common on the internet, because with a few clicks one person can make another's work his own, without a printing press, without even buying the book. This happens constantly in the digital world, where it was relatively rare in the analog world. Recently, China announced it was requiring censoring software on all computers sold in China. But confusingly, the software they're imposing may actually be authored by an American company then pirated by a Chinese company to be deployed for the policing effort.

While Iranians Twitter away about the uprising, China has said that the oddly named Green Dam Youth Escort censoring software must be installed on all imported computers. 1 China, intent on "purifying social civilization" seems determined to implement the rule despite protest from its citizens, American software makers, and the company who claims that "Green Dam" contains its sourcecode.

Solid Oak Software says that the Green Dam source code is pirated from its CYBERsitter software, while the software's contracted author, Chinese company Jinhui Computer Systems, says that the similarities in the software exist because all the software blocks the same pornographic web sites.

While the software may be falsely attributed, it also contains major security flaws according to the University of Michigan Department Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The censoring software may allow any website the user visits to take control of the PC running Green Dam (June 18, 2009).

Theft used to be more physical, someone lifting your wallet, or literally breaking into your physical abode. Now code can be stolen and identity compromised. No glass broken, but internet theft is just as personal, and causes just as much anguish, but is silent and easier and more widespread.

Attribution and Authorship

A less frequent occurrence but also more common with digital media than analog, is false attribution. For instance Google Books has now magnanimously shared authorship of several books written by influential economist, political and developmental economist Albert Hirschman.

Adding a your name to the author field of a book was decidedly more difficult in an analog world. But in the 21st century, If your a dead economist, like Joseph Alois Schumpeter, you might roll over one day and find out that an entity called Google utilized 21st century scanning and internet technology to give you authorship of a new book. It's true that Schumpeter, who died in 1950, posthumously authored "History of Economic Analysis". But he did not co-author "Shifting Involvements: Private Interest and Public Action", with Albert Hirschman in 1979. Hirschman is the sole author of the book, a collection of essays based on lectures Hirschman was invited to give in memory of Joseph Schumpeter.

Google also has Hirschman sharing authorship of "The Passions and the Interests" with Amartyra Sen, who wrote the forward of the book, but was not an author.

Identities and accomplishments confused, lost, and also gained on via technology, every day. Revolutionary?


1We've discussed ideas about technology and progressive change before, for instance here. Sometimes it seems that technology truly could bring progressive change, and other times it seems the technology will always eventually be wrested away by the most powerful players, be they corporations or states.

The FDA and Cigarettes

During the Cold War, when science still had a certain mysterious allure, Liggett used it to sell Chesterfields: "Science discovered it now you can too...No unpleasant aftertaste". The Chesterfield ad shows a man looking down into a microscope while smoking. Smoke wafts up over his face and the microscope. That was then. Now, a half a century later Congress passed a law that gives the FDA regulatory authority over how tobacco is advertised. Landmark legislation, they call it.

"Executing With Quality"

"Joe Camel has been sentenced and put away forever", say the headlines, quoting Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-ILL). The House and Senate supported H.R. 1256 last week. The bill gives the FDA some regulatory authority over cigarettes, including advertising restrictions and limits on cigarette additives and flavorings. Naturally, some of the bill's targets are disgruntled, but surprisingly, not all of them. RJ Reynolds, maker of Camel cigarettes and the infamous "Joe Camel", calls the bill the "Marlboro Monopoly Act", while Phillip Morris, owner of Marlboro cigarettes supports the FDA regulation -- perhaps because Phillip Morris helped produce it. RJ Reynolds is not the only one to complain. "Pro-business" advocates say the bill legislates a tobacco monopoly that's bad for business.

Are cigarettes done? Or has Joe Camel just lost to the Marlboro Man?

Years ago, Altria recognized the need to step-up public relations as the tobacco lawsuits and public pressure increased. Initially, they just tried to stop regulation, but a different tactic finally worked.

  • In a October 1, 1998 memo, Phillip Morris proposed that tobacco was like "guns, alcohol and gambling" -- products where the government '"largely leaves it to consumers to discern the riskiness of the products by themselves"', citing perhaps its true feelings about regulation.
  • But the company also saw the looming probability of an FDA role in regulating nicotine and began aggressively inserting itself in legislative efforts. In 1996 Phillip Morris and United States Tobacco proposed legislation but were met with resistance from the White House, on grounds that their offer was weaker than what the president wanted. While proposing legislation, of course, the tobacco giants simultaneously worked through the courts to minimize FDA involvement.
  • In 1998, the Phillip Morris again made a bid for legislation and John McCain took on the effort. The resulting bill grew as members of each party piled on amendment after amendment until Phillip Morris wanted nothing to do with the result. So they spent "tens of millions of dollars to kill the legislation".
  • In 2001, a year after winning a Supreme Court decision ruling that the FDA doesn't have the authority to regulate tobacco, Phillip Morris took up the effort again, shopping the bill around Congress looking for supporters among representatives with other things on their minds.
  • In 2004, in a much noted strange pairing of allies, Altria, the newly branded parent company of Phillip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids relieved the parties of their opposition and paved the way for co-authoring the current bill..

Altria controls more than 50% of the total tobacco market in the US, that's half of all the cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco products sold. According to the company's 2008 annual report, that's "sixty million adult consumers participating in the total tobacco space in the United States", actually 60.4, up from 60 in 2007.

Those "participants" account for $80 billion dollars in retail sales in 2008, up from $79 billion in 2007. $80 billion dollars a year is turf worth fighting for, even at a time when tobacco use is shifting from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco, and from the US to foreign countries. Certainly Altria doesn't need US shareholders complaining about third world exploitation like they did with sneaker factories in the 1990's.

"Gee Dad, You Always Get The Best of Everything, Even Marlboro"

That's what a small boy says to his father in a Phillip Morris billboard ad in 1951", and it wasn't even Father's Day. RJ Reynolds used the authority of doctors: ""More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." And as we mentioned before, 1951 Liggett's Chesterfield brand used science.

Now it's different, they say. In passing the bill, members of the Senate and Congress aim to prevent dishonest advertising and prevent kids from taking up smoking. The legislation has been in the works for decades, but has finally been passed as tobacco's clout is ebbing in the US -- the political climate is right, as they say.

But it's not clear what effects the legislation will have. For instance in an effort to curb misbranding and counterfeit products, the bill says that a product will be labeled "misbranded", if it fails to contain for instance, "adequate warnings against use by children" -- in instances where the FDA requires one. But wouldn't an "adequate warning" that was "adequate" mean that the children wouldn't buy cigarettes at all?

"Altria" for Altruistic

Altria says in its annual report: "Kids should not use any tobacco products". It's difficult to tell when Altria means what it says, and when its rhetoric is purely public relations. At its shareholder meeting Altria noted that it strives to implement four core strategies with

"five core values guiding our behavior. These values are integrity, trust and respect; passion to succeed; executing with quality; driving creativity into everything we do; and sharing with others."

Compliance is "top-of-the-mind" to all employees and leaders and "one important tool that does that is the Altria Code of Conduct". In addition Altria has "built a Library of Principles and Policies that supports our compliance efforts."

Is it far fetched speculation to think that perhaps Altria, with an eye to evolving public pressure, a burgeoning international market, and increasing profit from tobacco products that aren't cigarettes, supports the bill because it makes the company look good while solidifying it's market. Although the cigarette industry volume has declined about 4% per year, much of the decline has been offset by growth of approximately 7% in smokeless tobacco and 4% in cigar volumes." The bill could make it more difficult for new entrants to compete with Altria's companies.

In addition to its tobacco products, Altria has alcohol interests in Miller and St. Michel Winery. While diversifying to more societally acceptable drugs, however, the company can rest assured that its tobacco business will flourish. In addition to restricting market entry of new products, the new bill also gives the FDA authority to regulate counterfeit products, which has moved some investors to list Altria's stock as a "Buy Now".

As for regulation, crafty companies have proven themselves not only good at controlling their congressional representatives but adept at outwitting the FDA. Regulation enacted is only as good as enforcement. The FDA regulation could be the beginning of more regulation and an end to the deadly scourge -- new scrutiny is now being called for in the marketing of menthol cigarettes. Or it could mean more work for the FDA pursuing counterfeit tobacco -- for health, but as well for the cigarette industry.

In the meantime, there's always more suspense. The new rule may well be challenged as opponents say that a rule like keeping advertising outside of 1000 square feet of schools limits free speech.


Obama Once Again "Saddened" by Gun Violence and Death

This morning my "non-science" reading included Paul Helmke's observation a few days ago that Obama habitually says he's "deeply saddened" when gun brandishing people kill citizens, but has yet to move beyond condolences.

After a gunman in Oakland, California shot and killed four policemen, Obama said:

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Officer John Hege, Sgt. Ervin Romans, and Sgt. Daniel Sakai. Michelle and I hold their families and your community in our thoughts and prayers."

After a gunman killed 13 people in Binghamton, NY, Obama said:

"Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence in Binghamton, NY today..."

After a US soldier killed 5 US soldiers at Camp Victory in Iraq, Obama said:

"I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news from Camp Victory this morning..."

After a gunman killed one soldier and wounded another in Little Rock, AR, the president released a statement:

"I am deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence against two brave young soldiers...."

Then today, following the killing of a guard White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama was of course "saddened" to hear of the Holocaust Museum shooting.

College Roommate Questionnaire -- Please Check The Appropriate Boxes: Are You a Vegetarian? A Smoker? A Concealed Gun Carrier?

The US has long accepted criminal on criminal killing, but now guns are moving into more and more areas like parks and classrooms. The US government is doing little to stop it. Microsoft Encarta advises that "Choosing a college roommate is like a game of Roomie Roulette". Indeed. Despite the spate of college gun violence, including the 32 people killed at Virgina Tech, neither the US government or the states are dedicated to preventing people from getting guns and using them to kill.

Following the Virgina Tech tragedy, not only did Virginia vote down a law that would make it more difficult for mentally disturbed people to buy guns, other states also started easing gun restrictions. Last month the Texas Senate approved a law that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campuses. Recently the Senate passed a law making it legal to carry guns in National Parks.

Helmke noted that although Obama is very busy, he's been unwilling to forge ahead with new rulemaking but instead repeats "gun lobby rhetoric that we should just "enforce the laws on the books'". Helmke say that Obama is "sidestepping the fact that there are only a handful of Federal laws which make it harder for dangerous people to get guns."

Gun Lobby Rhetoric

As gun violence becomes routine and Obama becomes saddened, the gun lobby uses each and every sad episode as a marketing opportunity. Following a shooting the gun lobby doesn't even pause for the funerals before regaling us with stories of how innocent people were killed because they didn't have a chance to protect themselves by carrying a weapon.

So when the congregation was kneeling down murmuring, "Our Father, who art in Heaven...", the NRA scenario would have five parishioners spring up from their prayers, reveal their concealed weapons and shoot through the shoulder to shoulder church-goers praying in the pews thus saving the abortion doctor. You see?

Are you a woman who wants to feel safe riding her bike? Carry a gun, so that when your doing 20mph on the bike path and a criminal jumps out of the bushes, you can whip the gun out of your pannier and stop 'em in your/their tracks. Are you a frail senior citizen afraid of purse snatchers? http://www.boingboing.net/2009/05/04/road-rage-among-seni.html">Carry a little gun in that purse and criminals will know better than to target you. A teacher afraid of school violence? Carry a gun and if a wayward student threatens math class violence lift up your shirt and show class whose boss.

Despite the perception propagated by hundreds of blog commenters across the US, all who have a friend who stopped a potential mass murder by a crazed gunman by carrying a concealed weapon, it's a real simple equation: More guns in a dog eat dog half crazed world, equals more deaths from guns. Europe and Canada have crazy people too, but a fraction of US gun homicides.

Arms Control Starts At Home

On the positive side for some people, more guns also equals more NRA subscriptions which means more lobbying dollars to politicians, which means more guns and -- oh wait -- more deaths....which means more guns, etc.

Some of the most steadfast orators for gun control in the legislature buckle under the pressure. When Congress passed the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009 (H.R.627), Senator Boxer said "Congress has taken historic action to protect consumers". She of course omitted to mention the concession to allow concealed weapons in national parks and monuments (and of course omitted mention that Congress refused to impose an interest rate cap.) For anyone who doesn't wrack up credit card debt but likes to walk in nature this is not "consumer protection". But Boxer said she had voted with her "conscience", and that she if she didn't bow to NRA pressure nothing would get done in the legislature. Sad commentary.

As Goes America...

Now I will argue that the US government's inability to stand up to the gun lobby effects not only American citizens but international relations as well. Senator Boxer recently commended the choice of California Representative Tauscher to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, saying Tauscher was a "constant advocate for stopping the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons across the globe." (Notice she omitted mention of arms manufacturers -- but lets talk about it.)

US arms manufacturers have demonstrated for decades an excellent business model that just happens to result in global weapons proliferation. The US doesn't expect anything less of a business model from allies like France, but acts surprised when countries that give us the jitters like North Korea try to muster their economic independence by advertising their own special brand of missile development progress. North Korea now markets their missiles to rogue buyers across the world, while the US, because it does nothing else, stands by.

Does anyone wonder how we can succeed in proposing countries like North Korea to disarm, if we can't control our own gun manufacturers and their lobbyists who encourage rogue American citizens to buy guns for the purpose of shooting innocent people? Congress's politicians, some of the finest rhetoricians in the world, can't beat the gun lobby's rhetoricians when they insist that more guns will make citizens safer? Democrats stand by while the gun lobby successfully convinces half the US population that the Second Amendment protects automatic weapon buying at gun shows? If they fail in domestic gun battles, how will those fine orators disengage belligerent leaders from their weapons of choice, be those conventional, nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons? How?

How Will They Deal?

The Holocaust Museum shooter published racist vitriol and hate speech on the internet. Some would implement a policy to monitor such speech. But he started the pattern of threatening federal officials with weapons decades ago, before the internet. Some would argue for a better database to track such potential criminals. But we have that technology right? It isn't working? Some would say people who shoot people with guns would otherwise use other lethal weapons, knives for instance. A knife is not a automatic machine gun. End of story.

Some would say anything to get us to buy their product -- their cigarettes, their oil, their guns.

Where's the logic? For this state of affairs, US gun violence and weapons proliferation demands both effective rhetoric and conscientious objection to both the arms and gun lobbies. If you want to climb a tree at 4AM on a November day with a pot to pee in and wait for a deer to wander through your neck of the woods, well that's your choice. But gun violence demands federal legislation that makes in tougher, not easier, to purchase the weapons used for homicides.

Notes about Rogues, Liars, and Media Leading Science Around by the Nose

"As there is a use in medicine for poisons, so the world cannot move without rogues." Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • The New York Times Calls Out the Rogues

    A couple of weeks ago the New York Times seemed obsessed with Star Trek, focusing on Obama and Star Trek in no less than three articles in the Sunday "Week in Review". This week the Times seem to have something for "rogues". No not their own rogues or their economic journalists whose expertise leads to to personal bankruptcy and cringeworthy public confessionals. The Times is taking on rogues of another sort.

    Charles Blow calls conservatives on their hypocrisy in "Rogues,Robes and Racists", a great take-down of conservative lies about Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

    Then in "A Rogue Industry", an editor writes about the Senate's upcoming vote to regulate tobacco through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tobacco, an industry that the court found guilty of racketeering, false statements, and deliberate public deception, has proved itself incapable of regulating itself, says the editor.

  • Refuting the Scoundrels

    Speaking of rogues running awry, the right-wing is loud lately. If I could ask a question of Sonia Sotomayor, I'd ask her what it was like to go to sleep one night as a moderate, highly accomplished Latina and respected Federal judge, and wake up the next morning morphed into a "racist" whose a "bad for business" Supreme Court nominee.

    Thus, some conservatives seem intent on shooting themselves in the feet over the Obama administration's astute nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. First they claimed she was a racist, and to prove so, they parsed statements she made at the University of California years ago and presented them radically out of context. In addition to the response by Charles Blow in the NYT above, Brad Delong's excellent rebuttal of their attempts is here.

    Dancing back from that precipice, conservatives then moonwalked into the less treacherous but equally rocky territory -- her lack of business qualifications. Why can't Obama nominate someone to the court who knows "what it means to explain to a client that what was a secured debt yesterday is not a secure debt today. A little empathy for the people who make America's economy go." There's the American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) argument, complete with all that fake indignation we'd expect, but with no merit.

    There's only one person with "business experience" in the current court line-up, but despite the lack of "business credentials", the Robert's court is the most pro-business court in 30 years. This according not only to Jeffrey Rosen's 8000 word New York Times article on the subject, "Supreme Court Inc.", but also the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and business leaders throughout the world.

    Of 30 business cases decided in the 2007 term, 22 were decided close to unanimously for business, in what the Times called an "ideological sea change". This was the result of a sustained effort by business since the 1970's to change the court action on issues like punitive damages and ability to sue for product liability. Still, some columnists insist on making a spectacle of themselves over the Sotomayor nomination with statements like: "business should shudder in its boots".

    Not only do pro-business venues like the Wall Street Journal think Sotomayor, who was a corporate attorney for years, is mainstream, it's not entirely clear that a judge needs to have run a plumbing business to be a pro-business judge. Pro-business is a philosophy, not a craft -- a philosophy that dominates the American character. We're all pro-business now, as conservatives well know, especially Obama. It's what makes the world economy tick, it's what makes us tick.

  • Link This

    Using a technique that we routinely, wholeheartedly criticize here at Acronym Required, authors recently submitted an article on the fossil find "Ida" to the journal PloS One with such a preemptive froth of advertising hoopla you'd think the researchers were instead a global beverage company unveiling of a new "secret recipe" flavor of soda.

    By all accounts, Ida, who the researchers precociously named Darwinius masillae, is an great fossil find. Nevertheless paleontologists don't agree with the hyperbolic descriptions of Ida as "the link" -- for starters. Scientists are also disturbed by the zany marketing campaign that skips over the peer evaluation and contextualization by the community of scientists. Seed writes that the Ida fossil find, is:

    "...an astonishingly slick, multi-component media package--certainly the first of its kind. In addition to the press conference itself, Little, Brown, and Company released The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, by Colin Tudge on Tuesday; a multimedia-rich website, RevealingTheLink.com, was launched; and a two-hour documentary will air on the History Channel, the BBC, and various stations in Germany and Norway next week..."

    Yikes. PLoSOne out-Seeds Seed. And when Nature questioned the media blitz last week the blog world didn't even launch its usual knee jerk defense of PLoS. Something must be amiss.

    We were away, so missed some of the excitement, but is this the future (demise) of science? Aside from Ida, fossils are usually interesting to us Homo sapiens, and fossil finds always manage to attract public attention, which is a good thing.

    Fossil finds are also notoriously contentious. We previously wrote about Homo floresiensis, the fascinating fossils unearthed in a Flores, Indonesia cave a few years ago. In The "Hobbit" Species in Indonesia -- New?", and ""Homo floresiensis: To Have Been or Not To Have Been", we discussed the high profile scientific dispute over the origin of the cave dwelling fossil's remains.

    For years, Homo floresiensis researchers have been excavating, analyzing and presenting new evidence, in Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and other journals, evidence that supports or disputes the theory that the Flores hominin represents a new species. One of the most recent papers in Nature, authored by William Jungers et al, describes the very unique feet of Homo floresiensis that make it quite unlike em>Homo sapiens, more evidence supporting the idea that the Flores cave dwellers were a new species.

    But the Ida spectacle bests what we thought was the overwrought media coverage of the Homo floresiensis research. Clearly, all the media players could benefit from greater exposure via Ida, but how will science fare? Science research is not, after all, a contest winning singer who you can pretty up to boost your ratings when needed, before demoting to second place. Research is the backbone of technology which drives capitalist economies. So please, a little respect -- as they would say?


Acronym Required wrote about tobacco in "Tobacco's Coups", and "UC Senate Smokes RE-89", and "My Lab Thanks You For Smoking", as well as other posts. We've criticized media hype of dubious research frequently in posts like "Autism, TV, Precipitation: Dismal Science", and "News of Lightweight Study: 'Obese Should Walk Slowly"', and "Britain's Science Path: Brilliant Lights?"

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