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April 30, 2003

Oh, Those Tricky DMCA Advocates

Via boing boing, Larry Lessig reports on an attempt to make the DMCA effectively irrevocable:

The US Trade Representative is negotiating trade agreements with Chile and Singapore. The agreements essentially require these two countries to adopt the DMCA, and make it a violation of "our international obligations" if we were to change the DMCA. Representatives Lofgren and Boucher -- who both have bills introduced to amend the DMCA -- have written a strongly worded letter to the USTR asking for clarification. For consistent with this policy making process, just what is being promised is never made clear — until it is too late.
Lessig's entry can be found here. The letter to the USTR can be found here.

April 29, 2003

My Blogging Style

Trevor Smith, a former co-worker of mine, writes kindly of my blog:

This post on Pseudorandom is an example of Frank Boosman's style of taking rather large texts and quoting from them with commentary. At first I wasn't enjoying the length of the posts, as I think that there are shorter ways to make the points he's trying to make, but then a few weeks ago something clicked and now I'm reading every word. I think I switched from thinking of Pseudorandom as a personal blog to more of a one man online magazine.
Thanks, Trevor!

To answer the unasked question -- why I write blog entries as I do, quoting liberally from sources -- there are two reasons:

  1. I don't want to interrupt the reading experience for visitors. Although I think it's vitally important that bloggers provide references for their writings, I don't want to force my readers to trace through a series of links to be able to follow what I'm saying.
  2. I want my blog entries to be viewable in the future. If, for example, I was to link to a New York Times story without quoting from it, in two weeks' time, that link would break and my blog entry would be incomplete or even incomprehensible. This is something that concerns me about blogs in general: that years from now, as links die, they'll become unreadable. (The classic example would be of the "check this out" or "isn't this amazing" variety, with no other context provided. Once the link dies, the entry is useless.)
So that's why I blog the way I do.

By the way, in an effort to keep down the length of my entries, I try to edit quoted material as heavily as I can while preserving its meaning. I admit I'm not always as successful as I would like. I'll keep working at it.

April 28, 2003

Eradicating SARS in 2003?

From SARS Watch, an excellent and highly recommended site tracking SARS, an op-ed piece from the Wall Street Journal:

As summer approaches and the SARS epidemic declines, there will be an understandable urge to celebrate. But we must eschew premature celebrations and self-congratulations. History teaches us that the devastating 1918 influenza epidemic began with a modest "herald wave" in spring that faded away during the summer, only to explode and wreck global devastation the following fall and winter. It is possible that SARS, now seeded around the globe, could follow a similar pattern and fade away this summer, only to erupt again next winter.

The coming summer lull in SARS affords an extraordinary opportunity. If we can detect, diagnose and effectively isolate every contagious case during the period when the infection rate is at its lowest, it is possible that we can truly eradicate SARS, not just for the short term, but permanently.

Epidemic-control efforts should not simply be maintained, but doubled, and redoubled again. New diagnostic tests should be mass produced and made freely available around the globe. Epidemiological teams should investigate every possible case, even in the poorest communities. Face-saving politicians who hide local epidemics must be cajoled, or more forcefully convinced, to cooperate. Special efforts must be made to detect and quench new outbreaks in the Southern Hemisphere. With skill, determination, and luck, we might be able to break all the chains of transmission before the onset of winter offers the virus a chance to spread more rapidly again...

[A] halfhearted effort at controlling the epidemic would guarantee failure. But if the U.S. is prepared to lead a world-wide coalition of nations in joining forces with the World Health Organization with the goal of doing everything possible to eradicate SARS, this extraordinary goal might just be achievable.

The full article is well worth reading.

Homosexuality and the Right to Privacy

Via SFGate, an unedited transcript of the relevant portion of Senator Rick Santorum's comments on homosexuality and privacy. This should be considered required reading for all US citizens. I've commented on it below:

AP: If you're saying that liberalism is taking power away from the families, how is conservatism giving more power to the families?

Santorum: Putting more money in their pocketbook is one. The more money you take away from families is the less power that family has. And that's a basic power. The average American family in the 1950s paid (unintelligible) percent in federal taxes. An average American family now pays about 25 percent.

Once again, a classic Republican is behaving according to type, proposing to keep the government out of people's wallets but in their bedrooms (as he argues below). Of course, a classic Democrat would argue for just the opposite.

[continued] The argument is, yes, we need to help other people. But one of the things we tried to do with welfare, and we're trying to do with other programs is, we're setting levels of expectation and responsibility, which the left never wanted to do. They don't want to judge. They say, Oh, you can't judge people. They should be able to do what they want to do. Well, not if you're taking my money and giving it to them. But it's this whole idea of moral equivalency. (unintelligible) My feeling is, well, if it's my money, I have a right to judge.
Actually, as he makes clear below, Santorum believes he has a right to judge whether or not any of his money in involved.
AP: Speaking of liberalism, there was a story in The Washington Post about six months ago, they'd pulled something off the Web, some article that you wrote blaming, according to The Washington Post, blaming in part the Catholic Church scandal on liberalism. Can you explain that?

Santorum: You have the problem within the church. Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles. And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this "right to privacy," then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it.

AP: The right to privacy lifestyle?

Santorum: The right to privacy lifestyle.

AP: What's the alternative?

Santorum: In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense is a a perfectly fine relationship as long as it's consensual between people. If you view the world that way, and you say that's fine, you would assume that you would see more of it.

So Santorum is arguing that homosexuality within the Catholic Church is more prevalent in modern times as a result of the modern concept of the right to privacy? Does he have access to some secret report that the rest of us haven't seen, measuring homosexual practices among priests over the ages?

The Supreme Court case he cites below as creating the right to privacy -- Griswold v. Connecticut -- was decided in 1965. Is he arguing that homosexual practices among priests have risen since then? Again, does he have statistics to back this up? And if so, can he prove a causal link?

AP: Well, what would you do?

Santorum: What would I do with what?

AP: I mean, how would you remedy? What's the alternative?

Santorum: First off, I don't believe...

AP: I mean, should we outlaw homosexuality?

Santorum: I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.

As someone on Plastic put it, "I have no problem with Jews. I just wish they wouldn't celebrate Passover."

[continued] As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.

AP: OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?

Santorum: We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold -- Griswold was the contraceptive case -- and abortion. And now we're just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you -- this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality...

AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.

This has to be one of the great moments in modern journalism. What makes it especially delicious is that the Senator doesn't seem to appreciate the subtle ridicule to which he's being subjected.

Santorum: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.

AP: Sorry, I just never expected to talk about that when I came over here to interview you. Would a President Santorum eliminate a right to privacy -- you don't agree with it?

Santorum: I've been very clear about that. The right to privacy is a right that was created in a law that set forth a (ban on) rights to limit individual passions. And I don't agree with that. So I would make the argument that with President, or Senator or Congressman or whoever Santorum, I would put it back to where it is, the democratic process. If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. I mean, I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in.

As I have noted before, I believe that a right to privacy should be made explicit in the US Constitution. Senator Santorum's comments -- which are a direct refutation of the Ninth Amendment to the US Constitution -- make me believe in the need for a privacy amendment more strongly than ever.

April 27, 2003

More on Thermal Depolymerization

My entry on thermal depolymerization has engendered more comments than any other entry of mine to date -- 23 as of this writing. There seems to be fairly serious disagreement about the practicality of the technology and whether the claims made for it are entirely true.

The company behind this version of thermal depolymerization is Changing World Technologies of West Hempstead, New York. I couldn't find any technical information their site more detailed than what was in the Discover article, but one story on their site mentioned "scientist Paul Baskis." A USPTO search turned up the following patents for Paul T. Baskis:

6,109,123 Rotational inertial motor
5,825,839 Method and apparatus for converting radioactive materials to electrical energy
5,543,061 Reforming process and apparatus
5,360,553 Process for reforming materials into useful products and apparatus
5,269,947 Thermal depolymerizing reforming process and apparatus
The first patent, 5,269,947, would seem to be the critical one:
I'm not a chemist by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm hoping that others more knowledgeable than me will investigate these patents and report back on what they find.

April 26, 2003

"It Was Not Clear They Had Any Such Rights"

A blog entry from Rafe Colburn, reproduced here in its entirety (because it's important):

John Ashcroft overruled a panel of immigration judges yesterday and ruled that illegal immigrants can be detained indefinitely without any legal recourse for "national security" reasons. You can shelve him with Donald Rumsfeld as a government official probably better suited for service in a totalitarian regime, but we already knew that. The real kicker in this case is that the ruling was issued in reference to Haitian immigrants. Ashcroft says that they threaten national security by consuming homeland security resources. By detaining them for as long as we want, we will deter other potential Haitian refugees from coming to America, Ashcroft theorizes. So now you no longer have to threaten this country yourself, you just have to soak up resources that might potentially be used against people who are actual threats to earn imprisonment without trial for as long as these sleazebags want to hold onto you. I have to admit that this story made my jaw drop, some days I don't even feel like I know what country I live in any more.
From the Washington Post article Rafe references (emphasis mine):
[Ashcroft's] order means that groups of asylum seekers and other aliens -- in this instance Haitians -- can be locked up without hearings and without recourse to release on bond. Ashcroft rejected claims that denying them bail on broad national security grounds would violate their due process rights. He said it was not clear they had any such rights.
Is the average person generally aware of the frontal assault on our basic liberties that the Bush administration has conducted in response to 9/11?

For the record, I would like to declare that if I am ever killed in a terrorist attack, under no circumstances would I agree with the use of my death as justification for the suspension of liberties promised in the US Constitution.

The Most Essential Service

Via Opinion Journal, a portion of an interview between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean:

Wolf Blitzer: Last month he called it the wrong war at wrong time. The former Vermont governor, the current Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's policies as far as Iraq is concerned.

With the conflict pretty much over does he feel differently now?

Howard Dean is joining us from Burlington, Vermont.

Governor, do you feel differently?

Howard Dean: Not really. I don't think anybody could reasonably suspect we weren't going to win. The problem now is how to govern, and that's where the real rubber is underneath the road. The hardest part is still ahead of us, and I think the events that we were watching on CNN showed that. The Shi'a in the south would like in some cases fundamentalist religious state or province, that would be much worse than Saddam Hussein in terms of a threat to the United States it would allow al Qaeda to move in. We seen chaos in Baghdad with the proclamation of somebody claims he's the mayor. And this is going to go on and on. So we've really got to now build a Democratic society out of a...

Blitzer: But governor, nobody -- nobody disagrees there are going to be problems. But aren't the people of Iraq so much better off now without Saddam Hussein on their back?

Dean: We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet, Wolf. We still have a country whose city is mostly without electricity. We have tumultuous occasions in the south where there is no clear governance. We have a major city without clear governance. We don't know yet, and until we do...

Did Dean say what I think he said? Because what he seemed to imply was that living under Saddam Hussein's rule -- i.e., living without freedom -- might be preferable to living without electricity or "clear governance."

As I have described, though I supported the war in Iraq, I opposed the diplomatic steps the US took leading up to it. Moreover, I have many good friends who opposed the war, and I have great respect for their opinions. War is serious business, and disagreement about it is not only normal but vital to a healthy democracy. But I cannot understand Dean's comments. For a candidate for the US presidency to imply that freedom is less than our most cherished value is, for me, unacceptable.

Of course, it's not just Dean. As I wrote in August of last year:

[C]onsider the following statements by President Bush at a recent press conference:
The number one priority of this government and the future governments will be to protect the American people against terrorist attack...

Protecting American citizens from harm is the first priority, and it must be the ruling priority of all of our government.

And here I thought the first priority of the President was to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
It is vitally important that we restore the Iraqis' essential services and restore their infrastucture. I have been extremely disappointed in how seemingly unprepared the US was for the end of the war and how poor a job we have done in its aftermath. Winning the peace depends in large part in how compassionate the Iraqis perceive us to be in this difficult time. But the most essential service we can provide is freedom, and judging by the rather ironic protests against us, it's clear that we have done so. The Iraqi people are now free -- free to worship, free to speak their mind, free to assemble as they wish. We yet face the task of helping them build a stable government that will preserve these freedoms, but simply being free in the moment is a good start.

April 25, 2003

WSJ on Jobs

The Wall Street Journal has an article today on Steve Jobs' efforts to transform Apple into a digital entertainment company:

About a month ago, Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple Computer Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios, made a plea to Irving Azoff, the manager of the rock group the Eagles.

According to Mr. Azoff, Mr. Jobs called to ask that music by the Eagles be included in a new online music service that Apple is launching on Monday. "Please, please, please clear this," Mr. Jobs said, knowing the Eagles in the past have blocked the use of their songs on digital-music services. Mr. Jobs even offered to personally demonstrate the service for Mr. Azoff and to make his case directly to Eagles singer Don Henley.

Scheduling conflicts prevented the personal visits, but the entreaty worked. Earlier this week, the Eagles and AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Music struck a deal, allowing most of the band's music to be used by Apple's service. "I've said 'no' to all of them," Mr. Azoff says of other music services. "But I don't like their services, and I liked [Apple's] product." ...

Now, the latest piece of Mr. Jobs's digital entertainment efforts -- the online-music service it expects to announce Monday -- is reaching fruition. Mr. Jobs has long criticized other online-music services as difficult to use. Apple's approach, say people who have seen it and spoken to Mr. Jobs, is to make delivery of online music easy and intuitive.

Several months ago, Mr. Jobs began a campaign to persuade record labels to let him use their music...

He impressed music-industry executives with his intricate knowledge of the new service, say people who have met with him. In some meetings, he sat at the computer himself to demonstrate. With his trademark confidence, he has asserted Apple will transform the online-music business, claiming that consumers will pay to download millions of songs in just a few months. And he has promised Apple's marketing machine will swing into action behind the music initiative, with an ad blitz similar to Apple's "Think Different" and "Switch" campaigns.

Mr. Jobs hopes to create a new model for online music, a business that so far has only been able to draw large numbers of customers seeking free tunes on Napster and other renegade file-swapping services...

According to people who have met with Mr. Jobs, the new service is integrated with Apple's iTunes software. Only Apple customers can use it, but that may change. The service requires a mouse click to buy songs and additional simple steps to move them to a CD or an iPod. Apple will charge 99 cents per song and sell albums for around $10, they say. Users will get to keep the songs permanently.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Jobs has convinced record executives he's willing to end his provocative dance with digital piracy, symbolized by the slogan "Rip. Mix. Burn." That tag created a furor among entertainment executives, including Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who publicly complained that it amounted to an invitation to steal copyrighted material. While Mr. Jobs has told music officials that he believes any protection is ultimately vulnerable to hackers, he has promised the new service will put up barriers to "keep honest people honest."

For one, music bought through Apple's service will be protected so that it will be more difficult to use an iPod to transfer songs from one computer to another. Users also won't be able easily to e-mail copies of their purchases, or transfer them to the computers of friends. (However, a customer will be able to play the songs on up to three Macintosh computers that he or she designates, as well as an unlimited number of personal iPods registered to him or her.)

In addition to the Eagles, Mr. Jobs has signed up the hot band No Doubt, and other artists who haven't yet allowed their songs to be offered by legitimate online companies. The new service is expected to have an "exclusives" area for music not available elsewhere.

Apple may still be overshadowed by the competing services owned by the record labels and by Listen.com Inc.'s Rhapsody, which recently agreed to be acquired by the software company RealNetworks Inc. "Apple has their core market of 3% to 5%" of computer users, says Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks. "I guess we'll have to settle for the other 95%."

Though his sound bite is a good one, Glaser is being disingenuous.

First, Apple owners are typically digital media users who are far more likely to use an online music service than the general population of PC owners.

Second, there's nothing to prevent Jobs from moving his service to PCs. Goodness knows I'd rather use software from Apple than the spamware that RealNetworks makes.

Third, Apple's music service will undoubtedly push some fence-sitters over the edge and into the Macintosh camp. Every such convert represents not only a monthly revenue stream from music purchases, but margins of hundreds of dollars on the sale of a new computer.

I must admit that I was down on Jobs when he took over Apple. I was at Be at the time, and we used to joke about how he had engineered a deal in which Gil Amelio paid Jobs $430 million to fire him, and how he was innovating in new colors for computer cases. But he has performed brilliantly as Apple's CEO. It would be foolish to assume that his foray into online music would be anything other than a success.

It's the Nukes, Stupid

The day before Christmas of last year, I wrote of the situation on the Korean Peninsula:

A paranoid, totalitarian regime which has in the past engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, and which recently demonstrated the ability to reach the capital of the world's second-largest economy with ballistic missiles, has reneged on its agreement to halt nuclear weapons development and now has the capability to produce such weapons within six months. Its democratic neighbor to the south, which it attempted to conquer in the past, and which has pursued a policy of engagement to attempt to improve relations, has just elected a new leader who has never traveled outside the country and who believes that more engagement will solve the current crisis. A superpower is committed to the defense of the democracy, but the people so protected are as skeptical of the superpower as of the totalitarian regime. In any case, the superpower is distracted with the pursuit of war against a paranoid, totalitarian regime elsewhere in the world.

Do people appreciate just how serious this situation is?

From an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

Speaking privately, [US] officials... outlined a bizarre scene of spiraling threats from the North Korean side.

As expected, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly opened the talks by insisting that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear ambitions. The head of North Korea's delegation, deputy director of American affairs Ri Gun, in his opening statement, declared that his country had "successfully reprocessed almost all of the eight thousand spent fuel rods" it has been storing into nuclear-weapons material. "The only question now is what we do with the plutonium," he said, said a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the talks.

After making that threat, the North Korean laid out a long series of concessions the U.S. needed to make, including extensive aid, a nonaggression pact and full diplomatic relations, in exchange for which his country would eventually abandon all its nuclear-weapons programs.

U.S. officials said the threats escalated sharply on Wednesday evening, when Mr. Ri pulled aside Mr. Kelly for a brief private conversation. In that talk, according to U.S. officials, the North Korean declared that his country already has nuclear weapons -- the first such admission by any North Korean official.

"Whether we test them, use them or export them depends on your next step," he is reported to have said. Mr. Kelly had no response, a senior U.S. official said.

If this account is correct, and if the North Korean threats were more than mere bluster, we have a situation that is now perilously close to disaster. North Korea has not only built its first nuclear weapons, but is threatening to export or use them.

Last week, hawks were crowing that our victory in Iraq had forced the North Koreans back to the bargaining table. I don't hear much crowing right now. While the Bush administration has been consumed with Iraq, the North Koreas have apparently made dramatic progress with their nuclear program.

Our options for a graceful end to this crisis are narrowing. Japan and South Korea must stop coddling the North Koreans. We must stand together -- with the Chinese and Russians if possible, and without them if not -- and let the North Koreans know that we will not tolerate their possession of nuclear weapons.

My hope is that the Bush administration understands this and delivered this message to the North Koreans quietly, allowing them to save face in public. My hope is that we told them unambiguously that military action is an option for us, but that we would rather avoid conflict and resolve the situation peacefully.

North Korea must not be allowed to retain permanent possession of nuclear weapons. For them to do so would be an foreign policy mistake of the highest order. If the North Koreans develop a functioning arsenal of nuclear weapons, it won't matter how successful the administration is in Afghanistan and Iraq; we will have allowed a paranoid, totalitarian regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism, and which possesses ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US, to develop weapons of mass destruction.

It's the nukes, stupid.

April 24, 2003

Toronto-WHO Smackdown

On NewsHour last night, the deputy mayor of Toronto, Case Ootes, faced off against Denis Aitken, chief of staff for the director general at the World Health Organization, moderated by host Ray Suarez:

Ray Suarez: Denis Aitken, the WHO has added Toronto to a list that includes Chinese provinces and the Chinese capital Beijing. Why?

Denis Aitken: Because Toronto now meets the three criteria that we have for ensuring that we try to keep down the international spread of the disease.

The three criteria are that there's a large number of cases, that secondly there's evidence of transmission now unfortunately outside of the hospital community and the local family of those into the wider community, and finally that we have had a case of an exportation of the disease from Canada.

Ray Suarez: Deputy Mayor Ootes, given those criteria what was Toronto's reaction to the WHO's announcement of a travel warning.

Case Ootes: Well, we were obviously very upset and have launched a protest through our federal minister of health that the action by the World Health Organization is not justified given the situation in Toronto which is completely different from the situation in China...

Ray Suarez: What about the third criterion Mr. Aitken mentioned, that now there is evidence that cases have been exported from Canada to other countries?

Case Ootes: I think he's talking about two cases, and to issue a warning based simply on that, that has the economic impact on the lives of people in this city, seems to be an action that doesn't... isn't merited by the facts...

Denis Aitken: Let me say that one case was enough to start this thing in Canada. It came from Hong Kong. In Hong Kong one case was enough from Guangdong to start the case in Hong Kong, the whole outbreak in Hong Kong.

Score one for the WHO.

Toronto and SARS

Toronto has been the city hardest hit by SARS outside of Asia. Yesterday the WHO took a dramatic step, adding Toronto to its list of cities and regions for which it warns against all non-essential travel:

Hoping to slow the spread of SARS, the World Health Organization on Wednesday warned against "all but essential" travel to Toronto and parts of China, including the capital, Beijing -- a move immediately decried by one of Toronto's chief microbiologists as "ridiculous."

The statement from the WHO extends a previous warning that urged people not to travel to the Chinese province of Guangdong and to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

"As a result of ongoing assessments as to the nature of outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Beijing and Shanxi province, China, and in Toronto, Canada, WHO is now recommending, as a measure of precaution, that persons planning to travel to these destinations consider postponing all but essential travel," the group said in a statement issued from Geneva.

The reaction of Toronto's health officials and city leaders was of outrage:

Anne McLellan, federal Health Minister, said Canada takes "very strong exception" to the decision.

"I am just shaking my head here in disbelief," said Dr. Colin D'Cunha, Ontario's commissioner of public health.

"Our team is very disappointed with the WHO's warning. We believe this decision was made without consulting the province. We believe it is an over-reaction."

Others were harsher.

"It's a bunch of bulls---," said Dr. Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, who has been at the forefront of Canada's SARS battle. "The impact on the city -- you won't be able to take this mark off."

But while Toronto is angry at the WHO for their travel warning, one of Canada's own provincial leaders is considering doing the very same thing:

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein mused yesterday about whether he'd let his government's employees travel to Canada's largest city...

The Alberta Premier said yesterday that he had cancelled a trip to China because of SARS fears. All of his government's employees are now prohibited from travelling to China, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao.

Mr. Klein said the province is also considering whether to impose a similar ban on travel to Toronto.

Personally, I think the reaction of Toronto officials puts them in danger of looking like Chinese officials a week or two ago: in denial about the true nature of the threat they face. A more considered response would be to say something like, "While we disagree with the WHO's assessment of the seriousness of the situation here, we will work with them over the next three weeks to continue the process of containing SARS in Toronto and demonstrating to the world that our city is safe for travelers."

April 23, 2003

Text Messaging Adoption

Richard Boyd's message on cell phone trends in Italy, posted to the unwired list, has led to numerous responses, most notably this from Shawn Conahan:

[H]ere are some possible... reasons why text messaging is being adopted in Italy and Japan at a faster rate than in North America:
  • Calling Party Pays (CPP) -- In much of Europe, including Italy, the billing paradigm puts the burden on the initiating party for the cost of the call. The primary effect of this paradigm is more rapid mobile adoption. This makes sense because people would be more willing to accept an incoming call in general if they know they are not paying for it. Don't take my word for it -- here is a report from Rogers from several years ago identifying this concept as a key to mobile adoption. The secondary effect of CPP is a correlation to text messaging. Economics have historically (and presently, in CPP markets) dictated that it is cheaper to send a text message than to call someone. So what happens? Initially a bunch of people sending a text message to their friends saying, "Give me a call..." and ultimately a bunch of people sending back and forth text messages because they perceive it to be cheaper.
  • Cultural Issues -- I could explain how Japan's shame-based society limits interpersonal interaction and forces a layer of abstraction between the individual and the world around him or her, and the mobile phone is the technological evolution of this complex social layer allowing interaction within the limits of socially-acceptable behavior while broadening each individual's reach deeper into society. I could further explain that the West's guilt-based society promotes selfishness and worships wealth and success and our communication tools have evolved to serve this purpose in the most efficient manner possible and so mobile phones as person-to-person voice communication devices provide a level of efficiency of communication while satisfying a sort of personal communication solipsism that requires those around us to know that we are important enough to have a conversation in, say, a movie theater. But I better not. Such issues are undercurrents that one should allow to flavor their understanding of how our industry fits into society as a whole. Deepak Lal might refer to these concepts as "Unintended Consequences." Here is a good resource if such things matter to you. And a book review of the same.
  • Environmental Issues -- This one seems simple to most people. In the U.S., we drive to work. We drive everywhere because (as Numair pointed out) we have a lot of space and have to drive. This makes voice communication the most efficient mode for the environment in the U.S. In Japan they take the train at least an hour each way to work and they're not allowed to talk (on their mobile phones) on the train. In Italy they sit for hours per day at outdoor cafes sipping cappucinos already, so why not slip in a text message or two? The point is, cities with pedestrian traffic likely have a higher adoption rate of text messaging than cities with high personal vehicular traffic.
  • Competing Technologies -- We are currently in a Revolution of Increasing Expectations. Regis McKenna warned us to be prepared for the 'never satisfied customer' in his book Real Time. Compare text messaging in the U.S. with the other options I have available to me and it is no wonder I have no incentive to use it. I spend 10 hours per day in front of my computer. Instant Messaging has essentially replaced email for me. Going from IM to SMS is a step backward for me. Compare that attitude to consumers in Japan and most of Europe where a dearth of broadband penetration (or simple copper, for that matter) retarded PC adoption compared to the U.S. which retarded Internet adoption compared to the U.S. For many consumers in Japan, iMode was the Internet, or their first view of it, anyway. For many consumers in European countries, SMS was IM because penetration was lower at the same time that mobile penetration was higher than in the U.S. Going from IM to SMS is a difficult transition given my personal situation, but there are cases to be made on each side of the discussion. Here is some objective content on the matter to help you form an opinion.
Extremely well said.

Good News and Bad News from Ford

There was good news and bad news from Ford on the environmental front last week. First the good news: a formal announcement of their Escape Hybrid SUV, and a pre-announcement of their Futura mid-size sedan, which will be available with a hybrid engine:

Ford Motor Company is highlighting its commitment to hybrid vehicles at this week’s New York International Auto Show. The company is showing the Escape Hybrid SUV -- which will begin low-volume fleet production at year’s end and retail production in the second half of 2004 -- as well as announcing that the all-new 2006 Ford Futura mid-size car will be the company’s next hybrid vehicle.
Ah, but now the bad news: backing down from a prior environmental pledge:
Executives of the Ford Motor Company yesterday backed away from a pledge to increase the fuel economy of its sport utility vehicles by 25 percent by 2005...

Ford is not abandoning the pledge entirely, said one Ford executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, but rather is indicating that it does not know whether it can meet the original timetable.

"Are we still trying to get there? Absolutely," this executive said. "Will we get there by that deadline? It's unclear."

More on hybrid cars soon..

April 22, 2003

Big, Evil Sugar

Via boing boing comes a story in the Guardian on the US sugar industry's opposition to new nutritional guidelines from the World Health Organization:

The sugar industry in the US is threatening to bring the World Health Organisation to its knees by demanding that Congress end its funding unless the WHO scraps guidelines on healthy eating, due to be published on Wednesday.

The threat is being described by WHO insiders as tantamount to blackmail and worse than any pressure exerted by the tobacco lobby.

In a letter to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the WHO's director general, the Sugar Association says it will "exercise every avenue available to expose the dubious nature" of the WHO's report on diet and nutrition, including challenging its $406m (£260m) funding from the US.

The industry is furious at the guidelines, which say that sugar should account for no more than 10% of a healthy diet. It claims that the review by international experts which decided on the 10% limit is scientifically flawed, insisting that other evidence indicates that a quarter of our food and drink intake can safely consist of sugar.

"Taxpayers' dollars should not be used to support misguided, non-science-based reports which do not add to the health and well-being of Americans, much less the rest of the world," says the letter. "If necessary we will promote and encourage new laws which require future WHO funding to be provided only if the organisation accepts that all reports must be supported by the preponderance of science." ...

The Sugar Association objects to the new report having been published in draft on the WHO's website for consultation purposes, without what it considers "a broad external peer-review process". It wants a full economic analysis of the impact of the recommendations on all 192 member countries. In the letter to Dr Brundtland, it demands that Wednesday's joint launch with the Food and Agriculture Organisation be cancelled...

The industry does not accept the WHO report's conclusion that sweetened soft drinks contribute to the obesity pandemic. The Washington-based National Soft Drink Association said the report's "recommendation on added sugars is too restrictive". The association backs a 25% limit.

The Sugar Association is proposing to withhold all US funding from the WHO -- yes, the people fighting to contain SARS and numerous other worldwide health threats -- if they don't agree that people should feel free to consume one-quarter of all their calories from added sugars. This goes beyond audacious self-interest. This is -- and I don't use the term lightly -- evil.

This is just the latest example of the destructive self-interest practices of the US sugar lobby. They have long sought and received unfair trade protections that cost US consumers billions of dollars, as described in this 2002 article from the Cato Institute:

Through its sugar program, the U.S. government guarantees a minimum price to domestic sugar growers by restricting imports and by buying and storing excess production. The result of this intervention is a domestic sugar price that is typically two or three times the world market price. The losers are millions of American families that consume sugar, along with sugar-using industries such as candy-makers, and sugar growers in mostly poor countries.

As with other protectionist policies, the biggest losers are consumers. American families pay for this program every time they buy Christmas candy and cookies, a bag of sugar, soft drinks or candy bars. A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that, in 1998, American sweetener users paid an extra $1.9 billion a year because of the U.S. sugar program...

Also paying the price for the sugar program are taxpayers and the environment. To mop up overproduction caused by price supports and protection, the federal government bought nearly 1 million tons of sugar last year only to store it in government warehouses. The buying and storing of excess sugar will cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion over the next 10 years. Taxpayers are also paying billions of dollars to help clean up the Florida Everglades, where excess sugar production in the region has disrupted water flows and dumped pollutants such as phosphorus in waterways.

The sugar program has caused damage beyond our borders. The depressed global sugar prices caused by U.S. protectionism cost sugar producers in poor nations an estimated $1.5 billion a year in lost export earnings. Our stubborn refusal to open our sugar market has complicated the efforts of U.S. trade negotiators to open foreign markets to American exports, including services, manufactured goods, and farm products such as soy beans and corn in which we enjoy a natural competitive advantage...

The U.S. sugar program is a classic case of concentrated benefits and diffused costs. A small number of sugar growers receive enormous benefits, while the costs of providing those benefits are spread across the U.S. economy, specifically to consumers and confectioners. Consequently, U.S. sugar producers have a strong incentive to lobby and fund campaigns of U.S. policy-makers. Dominated largely by two companies in Florida (Flo-Sun and U.S. Sugar), the sugar lobby has been a major financial contributor to incumbent politicians.

Enough is enough. Big Sugar must be stopped.

Cell Phones in Italy

A message from my colleague Richard Boyd, currently vacationing in the north of Italy:

In the nine months or so since I was here last, northern Italy has undergone some kind of transformation. It is starting to look like Japan. The outside tables in the piazza are filled with people glued to their color cell phone screens text messaging each other, laughing and taking pictures of friends wiht their phones. The most popular one looks like a Panasonic flip phone with a nice big reasonably rezzed screen. These phones aren't cheap. They run about €500. No one under 50 would be caught dead without one.

Is there something about the social fabric of the U.S. that is slowing adoption for us? Social interaction in Italy is very different from Japan. But they have both adopted this method of staying connected.

For whatever reason, Japanese and Europeans generally are tolerant of text messaging input via numeric keypads, while Americans generally aren't. I know that I fall into the American camp on this issue: typing text on a numeric keypad and reading messages on a phone screen don't appeal to me except in situations where no other access is possible.

My belief is that this has to do with first experiences of the Internet and how they shape us. If one's first experience of accessing the Internet is through a cell phone, then small screens and numeric keypad-based text entry will probably always seem reasonable. If, on the other hand, one's first experience of accessing the Internet is through a personal computer, then larger screens and full alphanumeric keyboards (or keypads) will probably always seem to be requirements.

April 21, 2003

The Psychology of TiVo

Via the New York Times, an article on rabid fans of TiVo:

Not since the PalmPilot debuted in 1996 has a new electronic contraption sparked a cultlike following and so many zealous proselytizers...

Press a button, and TiVo will record every episode of "Six Feet Under," or any other show, for a season. TiVo viewers can pause when the phone rings, or speed through the boring parts. By fast-forwarding through commercials and those dull conferences at the mound, a TiVo viewer can watch a baseball game in 40 minutes without missing a pitch. Sit-coms take about 22 minutes. "Saturday Night Live" and "60 Minutes" can be viewed back to back -- on Monday.

Like early adopters of cellphones and the Internet, the first wave of users of personal video recorders swear that the devices have fundamentally altered their lives -- changing domestic routines, making it possible to live a life free of commercial interruptions and even providing the satisfaction of a rebellion against network goliaths.

The devices also make it easier to watch a lot more TV. Studies by Next Research, a media consulting firm, show that TiVo users watch an average of five to six additional hours of television per week, the company said.

"You justify it because it's more efficient," said Elise Loehnen, 23, an editorial assistant at Lucky magazine. "It means you're late going to the gym and that when you're home, you're not reading."

As a TiVo owner, I can attest to the truth of this. I feel like I'm beating the system somehow -- that by skipping commercials and not being tied to a schedule, I'm getting by with something. I feel like I'm being more efficient. But I'm also watching things I wouldn't have otherwise. I'm spending more time in front of the television.

I suppose that while the good news is that with TiVo, there's always something on that you want to watch, the bad news is that with TiVo, there's always something on that you want to watch.

April 20, 2003

Atkins' Worst Week

As if it wasn't bad enough for Dr. Robert Atkins that he died this past week, by coincidence, an article published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed, in examining 107 previous studies, to find no consistent correlation between low carbohydrate intake diets (as he so famously espoused) and weight loss:

There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among participants older than age 50 years, for use longer than 90 days, or for diets of 20 g/d or less of carbohydrates. Among the published studies, participant weight loss while using low-carbohydrate diets was principally associated with decreased caloric intake and increased diet duration but not with reduced carbohydrate content.
Found on Slashdot here (press release here).

April 19, 2003

Thermal Depolymerization

Via boing boing comes a story from Discover on a truly revolutionary new technology:

In an industrial park in Philadelphia sits a new machine that can change almost anything into oil.


"This is a solution to three of the biggest problems facing mankind," says Brian Appel, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, the company that built this pilot plant... "This process can deal with the world's waste. It can supplement our dwindling supplies of oil. And it can slow down global warming."

Pardon me, says a reporter... but that sounds too good to be true.

"Everybody says that," says Appel. He is a tall, affable entrepreneur who has assembled a team... to develop and sell what he calls the thermal depolymerization process, or TDP. The process is designed to handle almost any waste product imaginable, including turkey offal, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, municipal garbage, cornstalks, paper-pulp effluent, infectious medical waste, oil-refinery residues, even biological weapons such as anthrax spores. According to Appel, waste goes in one end and comes out the other as three products, all valuable and environmentally benign: high-quality oil, clean-burning gas, and purified minerals that can be used as fuels, fertilizers, or specialty chemicals for manufacturing.

Unlike other solid-to-liquid-fuel processes such as cornstarch into ethanol, this one will accept almost any carbon-based feedstock. If a 175-pound man fell into one end, he would come out the other end as 38 pounds of oil, 7 pounds of gas, and 7 pounds of minerals, as well as 123 pounds of sterilized water...

[A] large chunk of the world's agricultural, industrial, and municipal waste may someday go into thermal depolymerization machines scattered all over the globe. If the process works as well as its creators claim, not only would most toxic waste problems become history, so would imported oil. Just converting all the U.S. agricultural waste into oil and gas would yield the energy equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil annually. In 2001 the United States imported 4.2 billion barrels of oil. Referring to U.S. dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East, R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and an adviser to Changing World Technologies, says, "This technology offers a beginning of a way away from this."


Like the reporter, I can't help but think that this sounds too good to be true... but if it is true, it will be revolutionary in the true sense of the word.

I've wondered if and when future generations would not only recycle their own waste, but go back and clean up the messes left by previous generations (including ours). Could thermal depolymerization be a first step toward the repair of our planet?

April 18, 2003

The Company We Keep

From the Economist, a chart of executions by nation during 2002:

Besides the US, the rest of the top ten countries in terms of executions consists of China, Pakistan, Kenya, Sudan, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Vietnam, and Rwanda.

How can Americans look at a list like this and not feel deeply ashamed?

April 17, 2003

Free Money! Woo-Hoo!

From a Wall Street Journal story today on American Airlines' near-miss with bankruptcy:

President Bush's signing Wednesday of a war spending bill that included $2.9 billion in aid to airlines offers a boost to American. The carrier's share of the second federal airline-industry bailout bill in two years is estimated at $410 million in cash, likely to be paid within 30 days.
Writing as someone who has been flying American for 15 years now, and who would certainly like to see them continue on in some fashion -- otherwise my saved frequent flyer miles and lifetime elite status could disappear -- I nevertheless find this offensive.

Has the war been tough on airlines? Sure it has. Has it been tough on other industries? Sure it has. Are Congress and the Bush administration prepared to give handouts to every industry that has been negatively impacted by recent geopolitics? And if they're rewarding industries that "lost" in the war, are they prepared to punish industries that have "won," like defense contracting?

At this point, no airline shareholder should attempt to profess surprise that the airline industry is highly cyclical. The fact that the US was attacked by terrorists, or that the US invaded Iraq, and that the economy was correspondingly affected, doesn't make it the responsibility of the US taxpayer to bail out the airlines. It's the nature of their business. Besides, Southwest and JetBlue seem to be making money even in current conditions.

$2.9 billion works out to nearly $10 for every person in America. That means my three kids and I were just forced to donate almost $40 to the airlines because they can't run their businesses properly. I can think of far, far better uses for that money.

April 16, 2003

Timing the War

At Michael Jordan's final home game Monday night, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was introduced to the crowd before the game. (He received a loud ovation, by the way. If Wizards fans are representative of the larger world, Rummy is more popular than I would have thought.) He was there to present Jordan with a flag that was flying at the Pentagon on 9/11.


He was introduced as "Secretary of Defense and Wizards season ticket holder Donald Rumsfeld," which led me to the following conjecture:

  1. Rumsfeld is a Wizards season ticket holder.
  2. Rumsfeld knows Jordan will be playing his last home game on 14 April.
  3. Rumsfeld wants to attend that game.
  4. Rumsfeld feels that it would be unseemly for him to be seen at a basketball game while a conflict with Iraq is going full-force.
  5. Rumsfeld feels that it will take less than a month for US military forces to achieve victory in Iraq.
Could Jordan's final home game have influenced the start date of hostilities?

Okay, I'm just kidding. No hate mail, please.

April 15, 2003

Michael Jordan's Final Home Game

Courtesy of business partners, I had the extreme fortune of watching the greatest basketball player of all time play in his final home game last night.


In the game, Michael's Washington Wizards lost to the New York Knicks, but of course it was the Michael Show. Every time he touched the ball, flash bulbs went off throughout the stands. Every time he scored, the crowd went wild.

The most amazing moment of the evening came at the end. With a little more than two minutes left in the game, Jordan went out. The crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation as he walked off the court and then kept going -- as play resumed, as the Knicks got the ball, as the Knicks scored, as the Wizards got the ball, as the Wizards scored, as the Knicks got the ball again... through it all, the ovation continued unabated. I couldn't see a single person sitting down in the entire arena.


It was a wonderful ending to an event that I felt privileged to attend.

April 14, 2003

Remaking Casablanca?

Heard on Saturday Night Live this past weekend:

It is rumored that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez want to star in a remake of Casablanca. This would be the perfect film for people who liked the original, but wished it was terrible.
Is it just me, or does it seem like far more than five years ago that Ben Affleck was sharing the Academy Award for best original screenplay with Matt Damon?

April 13, 2003

Friedman on Saddamism

From Thomas Friedman's latest column in the New York Times:

America was not just at war with Saddam, but with Saddamism: an entrenched Arab mind-set, born of years of colonialism and humiliation, that insists that upholding Arab dignity and nationalism by defying the West is more important than freedom, democracy and modernization.

Throughout this war, Saddamism was peddled by Al Jazeera television, Arab intellectuals and the Arab League. You cannot imagine how much distress there is among certain Arab elites that the people of Iraq preferred liberation by America to more defiance under Saddam.

It's a sad thing that so many Arabs would rather see their nations defy the West and remain unfree rather than embrace the West and achieve democracy and modernization.

The problem with Saddamism is that it doesn't work. It took the US-led coalition only three weeks to effectively win the war -- this speed surprising many, including me -- because our economies are not only ahead of those in the Arab world but continue to accelerate away. As long as Arab nations fail to democratize, fail to modernize, fail to take responsibility for their own problems instead of blaming their ills on the West, then Western nations will not only maintain but increase their economic and military superiority over them -- and buying jet fighters from the US or France is not a fix for this.

The attempt to uphold Arab honor by defying Western political and economic systems ensures not only more conflicts between the two worlds but more humiliating defeats for the Arabs. For their sake and ours, I hope the US helps the Iraqis build a stable, prosperous, and democratic nation that serves as an example to the rest of the Arab world.

April 12, 2003

After SARS

An article from the Wall Street Journal on an aspect of SARS not much discussed: its aftermath.

Doctors count Chu Thi Phuong among the fortunate.

On March 28, the 42-year-old Vietnamese office cleaner and mother of three was discharged from a Hanoi hospital. She had survived SARS...

[S]he and her family are confronting the stigma of a disease with no clear scientific origin and no proven cure. "Sometimes I go out and the local kids see me and hold their noses," Ms. Phuong said...

Her nine-year-old son has trouble finding after-school playmates. Her four-year-old son was banished to an outdoor courtyard by a fearful day-care worker. Even Ms. Phuong's closest friends are keeping their distance...

For Ms. Phuong, the emotional pain will soon be compounded by financial hardship. At month's end she will lose her $100-a-month salary at Gilwood Co. Ltd., a New York garment company, which confirms that it is relocating its Hanoi office elsewhere in Vietnam because of SARS jitters. "I don't know what to do now," Ms. Phuong said...

Johnny Chen, an American merchandise manager from Gilwood's Shanghai office, came to town on Sunday, Feb. 23, after a short stay at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong. The hotel was later pinpointed by the World Health Organizations as a center for infection after a doctor who had treated SARS in southern China stayed there and spread the virus to other guests...

Wednesday morning, Feb. 26, another Gilwood employee told her Mr. Chen was ill. Ms. Phuong went out to get him some hot rice porridge and an extra blanket. Gilwood colleagues returned to the office later in the day and found Mr. Chen sprawled in the bedroom with a raging fever. Ms. Phuong helped bring Mr. Chen to the Hanoi French Hospital, the lone international hospital here in Vietnam's capital.

At first, Ms. Phuong visited Mr. Chen's bedside each day. "He was a stranger here," she said. "I'm a maid at the company, so I had to take some responsibility."

Ms. Phuong made him fresh orange juice, fed him some meals and whisked away his dirty clothes; she even paid his laundry bills. When Mr. Chen's condition became critical, she made a list of his possessions, which included $2,400 in cash, two cameras, a portable music player and a mobile phone.

Five days into this vigil, she began feeling sick herself.

After three visits to hospitals, Phuong was finally recognized as a SARS case and admitted. As she slowly recovered, she learned that Chen had died in Hong Kong. Finally she was able to return home, but there was no job awaiting her:

After Mr. Chen's affiliation with Gilwood became known, Gilwood's Vietnamese suppliers were afraid to do business at the firm's Hanoi office. Gilwood decided to relocate in Hung Yen province, more than 40 miles from Hanoi, where a contractor is churning out jeans...

She pities her nine-year-old boy's loneliness, now that his friends won't say they won't let him play at their houses after school...

Her medical bills total eight million dong, or $520, a sum equivalent to five months' salary at her Gilwood job. Gilwood agreed to pick up that tab, but that hasn't eased her worries about finding a new job.

I hope that, with the publicity from this story, Gilwood comes to realize that this woman became sick almost certainly because of her care -- which went far beyond the job description of a maid -- for one of its employees. Paying her medical bills is a good start, but to leave her jobless seems cruel. They should offer to relocate Phuong and her family to their new factory location, or at a minimum give her a generous severance package. A small amount of money by American standards could make a huge difference in this woman's life.

Is this the sort of social stigma that will face recovered SARS patients elsewhere in the world, including in developed countries?

April 11, 2003

SARS, Aircraft, and Evolution

From a New York Times story filed from Hong Kong:

Health officials announced here tonight that a man infected with a new respiratory disease had flown from Hong Kong to Munich, Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Munich again, Frankfurt again and then back to Hong Kong before entering a hospital.

The Hong Kong Department of Health appealed for passengers and air crews from all seven flights to consult medical professionals. A health department spokeswoman said it was not yet known whether the man, who is 48, had infected anyone else on the flights with the disease -- severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

All the flights were on Lufthansa. The airline said in a statement tonight that it had disinfected all the planes and was contacting the air crews and passengers...

Airlines have been saying that the filters aboard modern planes do a good job of removing viruses from the air. But according to the health department here, at least 13 people have fallen ill with SARS so far after they shared a flight from Hong Kong to Beijing last month with an elderly man who had been infected with the disease while visiting his brother in a hospital here...

Travelers have continued to board planes while feeling ill despite strenuous warnings from the World Health Organization and national health agencies that they not do so.

In the case that was announced tonight, the man flew on Lufthansa Flight 731 on March 30 from Hong Kong to Munich, and traveled the next day on Flight 4316 to Barcelona, according to an itinerary that was released here by the health department. He developed symptoms while in Barcelona.

The man then traveled on Flight 4303 to Frankfurt on April 2 and on to London the same day on Flight 4520. He went to Munich the next day on Flight 4671, then headed for Frankfurt on April 4 on Flight 265. He connected with Flight 738 the same day back to Hong Kong, arriving on April 5.

The man checked into a hospital here on April 8 and was confirmed today to have SARS.

Some years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting the evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins over dinner at his house in Oxford. At the time, the Ebola virus was in the news. I had just read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, whose first chapter -- in which a Kenyan man in the near-final stages of Ebola, vomiting blood as his internal organs begin to disintegrate, boards a flight to Nairobi to seek treatment -- is the scariest thing I've ever read.

"Would it be possible," I asked Dawkins, "for a virus to evolve specifically to take advantage of modern aircraft ventilation systems? Could a virus evolve that would use aircraft as more than just transportation for its human hosts?"

Dawkins thought for a moment, then replied.

"Yes, I believe it would be possible."

I hope people listen to the warnings and stop flying if they have symptoms of SARS. I understand well the desire to go home when one is sick, but to do so is to put the world at risk.

April 10, 2003

Missed a Day

For the first time in months, I missed a day blogging yesterday. It was a long day coming at the end of the longest three-day trip I can remember (though a productive trip to be sure). Driving through the sleet and snow in New Jersey on April 7 was a real low point.

In any case, I'm back now. Sorry for the interruption.

Goodbye, Sweet Concorde

From BBC News comes word that the Concorde is to be permanently grounded:

Concorde flights are to end after more than three decades of luxury travel.

British Airways and Air France made simultaneous announcements that they would be permanently grounding the famous supersonic airliners this year.

Passenger numbers have never recovered since the crash near Paris in 2000 and the aircraft no longer makes a profit.

In a statement, BA said Concorde would cease flying in the autumn because of "commercial reasons, with passenger revenue falling steadily against a backdrop of rising maintenance costs for the aircraft".

Flying on the Concorde has long been on my wish list, but it appears I won't have the chance. I suppose this means I'll have to start rooting for its successor to be built, though given that the airlines couldn't bring themselves to purchase the Sonic Cruiser, it's hard to see that happening anytime soon.

April 08, 2003


Is "luxury" a marketing adjective that has reached that rarefied state in which it actually means the opposite of its original definition? I can't think of the last time I saw the word 'luxury" used in marketing to describe something that was truly luxurious... but depressingly non-luxurious products and services seem to be so described on a regular basis.

April 07, 2003

Only in America

My 13-year-old daughter and I had an argument recently. She didn't believe that one could buy guns at Wal-Mart. I was ready to drive her to the closest store and walk her into the sporting goods department to prove to her that Wal-Mart does indeed sell firearms when she conceded the argument... though incredulously.

Of course, Wal-Mart sells a wide range of guns, including shotguns. It occurs to me that not only can I buy a shotgun there, but to saw the barrel off, I can buy a hacksaw as well, and an overcoat beneath which to hide my sawed-off shotgun. I can buy them all at the same time, and no one will interfere with my purchase.

Now, what this has to do with the Second Amendment to the US Constitution...

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
...I don't know.

April 06, 2003

SARS Growth

Via David Smith, a statistical graph and predictions for the SARS epidemic by Ted Kaehler:


The number of reported cases of SARS in the world is doubling every 11 days. This is implied by the slope of the blue curve, using the data available on April 5, 2003. There will be 100,000 cases on about June 1, 2003. A million cases will be reached on about July 6, 2003, and ten million on about August 11, 2003. These predictions will change every day as new data changes the slope of the curves. Only world cases after March 25, 2003 are used to compute the slope, because that is when China began reporting...

Epidemics usually follow S-shaped curves. The predictions here are based on pure exponential growth. When the middle of the S-shaped curve is reached, the rate of infection will slow, and exponential growth predictions will no longer be useful. The reported data shows that the epidemic is still in an exponential growth phase.

The $64,000 question is, when will SARS transition out of its current exponential growth phase and into the middle of the S-shaped curve? After 10,000 cases? 100,000 cases? 1,000,000? 10,000,000?

The page with the graph and all the statistical forecasts can be found here.

Two Degrees of Joi Ito

I'm becoming convinced that Joi Ito violates the normal laws of social networking and is connected to virtually anyone by just two hops and not the typical six.

A few months ago, an old friend of mine, Eve Blossom, met Joi while both of them were visiting the Bay Area. More recently, Eve returned from a three-week trip to Southeast Asia. While in Vientiane, Laos, Eve happened to meet two women who were visiting from Japan. As they were discussing a book Eve had been reading, one of the women, Yoko Albert (married, as Eve recalled, to an American involved in computer animation), asked if the book was by Scott Fisher. Eve replied no, but that led to a mention of Scott's wife and Joi's sister Mimi, and it turned out that Yoko knew Joi, at least in passing.

As Eve was telling me this story, her husband Jon chimed in with his own. A few years ago, while working at Lucas Learning, Jon received an e-mail from a woman researching a report on the children's software industry, Mizuko Ito. He did a phone interview and then didn't think about it again. About a year ago, he received an e-mail from Mizuko, who was checking quotes. When Eve came back from Laos and mentioned her encounter there, and the name of Joi's sister Mimi came up, Jon wondered, "Mizuko?" and they put it all together.

So here's the new challenge: find someone to whom Joi isn't connected within two hops.

April 05, 2003

China Apologizes

Just as I was about to post a truly scathing entry on China's response to SARS, word comes that they are apologizing for their conduct to date:

China apologized Friday for not doing a better job of informing people about severe acute respiratory syndrome as an international medical team went to the city where it believed the mystery illness may have first broken out.

The admission, extraordinary for a government that rarely acknowledges fault, came after escalating criticism abroad -- and one day after the health minister explicitly said China had followed its own rules in dealing with the problem.

"Today, we apologize to everyone," said Li Liming, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control.

"Our medical departments and our mass media suffered poor coordination. We weren't able to muster our forces in helping to provide everyone with scientific publicity and allowing the masses to get hold of this sort of knowledge."

Will the highest levels of the Chinese government stand behind this apology, or will China revert to form and disavow any culpability in the matter? The next few days will tell.

I'll hold my more direct attack until we have a clear idea of what China's official stance will be.

Dramatic Ideas for Post-War Iraq

Two dramatic ideas for post-war Iraq:

Via Plastic, an article in the New Yorker proposing that Iraq repudiate its international debt:

In 1979, when Saddam Hussein took power, Iraq -- thanks to the oil boom of the seventies -- had a foreign surplus of about thirty-five billion dollars. A decade later, after the war with Iran, it had a foreign debt of some fifty billion dollars. And today, after more war and a dozen years of missed interest payments, the country owes, by many estimates, more than a hundred billion dollars. Its creditors, which include Kuwait, Bulgaria, and the Korean conglomerate Hyundai, are already jockeying for position to be repaid after the war.

Iraq has no hope of ever repaying its debts. Its annual gross domestic product is a mere thirty billion dollars, and even if this war does relatively little damage to the country’s infrastructure it will take years -- and tens of billions of dollars -- to repair the damage that Saddam has done to the Iraqi economy. Presumably, the U.S. and others will invest heavily in reconstruction. But, if Iraq is to become stable and prosperous, it needs to spend public dollars on public goods (health, education, roads), not on debt payments to creditors who willingly lent money to Saddam.

Even if the Iraqi people could afford to pay back Saddam's debts, it's hard to see why they should. Most of the money that Iraq borrowed in the past twenty years went either to Saddam's military misadventures in Iran and Kuwait or to his internal security apparatus. Asking the Iraqi people to assume Saddam’s debts is rather like telling a man who has been shot in the head that he has to pay for the bullet.

Oddly, though, that’s pretty much what international custom seems to require. Lenders and borrowers still believe that debt belongs to a state, not to a regime. As a result, only a handful of countries have ever repudiated their debts. Even when tyrannical regimes have been deposed -- Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire, the apartheid system in South Africa -- their successors have dutifully, if reluctantly, assumed their debts.

It might be time to change all that and consider an old idea that has recently been resurrected: the doctrine of odious debts. First articulated in the twenties by a former tsarist minister named Alexander Sack, the doctrine holds that a country is not responsible for debts incurred by a "despotic regime" and used for purposes "contrary to the interests of the nation." Both criteria have to be met for the debt to be considered odious. (In other words, profligate Argentina couldn't repudiate its debt, because it's a democracy.) The idea is that when the despot falls his debt disappears with him. The Harvard economists Michael Kremer and Seema Jayachandran have proposed the creation of an international institution that would have the authority to declare a regime "odious." Such a system would likely persuade lenders to avoid tyrants, as they would no longer expect to be repaid...

Perhaps Saddam's successors should turn theory into practice and, when the time comes, repudiate the debts that Saddam incurred to stock his arsenal and maintain his power. That would vastly improve Iraq’s economic prospects, and establish a worthy precedent: lend to tyrants, and you will get stiffed. The U.S., at least, is unlikely to object -- two of Iraq’s biggest creditors are Russia and France.

And via InstaPundit, an idea to pass much of Iraq's future oil wealth directly to its people:

Our government should announce -- soon -- that the new postwar Iraqi administration will "personalize" the nation's oil revenues by establishing an Iraqi national investment trust -- The Iraqi People's Freedom Trust -- that will receive a major share -- say, 50% -- of all future Iraqi oil earnings.

The rest can go to central government and federal regional governments on some per capita basis.

Each Iraqi -- man, woman or child -- would be eligible for a personal investment account in the trust once they register as citizens of New Iraq...

Funds in the trust may be invested in New Iraq government bonds, domestic equities, venture capital investments in Iraq or international markets. But legal ownership will be vested in each individual Iraqi -- not the tribe, clan region, power-broker etc. Any Iraqi over age 21 may withdraw funds or borrow against their balances -- for any reason at all...

The effect -- immediately -- would be to establish irrefutably that the U.S. is NOT waging this war to somehow steal Iraqi oil -- but rather to return this resource to the benefit of the Iraqi people themselves -- directly. One person at a time.

It would give all Iraqis a clear sense of the profound policy difference between liberators and corrupt thieves like the Ba'ath regime who have exploited, stolen and misused oil revenues in way that infuriate ordinary Iraqis -- and endanger the world...

By ensuring that all Iraqis will have access -- on reaching adulthood -- to significant sources of money -- it would spur entrepreneurship, revitalize the whole economy, distribute real resources to the most remote and poor regions of the country and create a very strong interest among all ethnic and confessional groups and tribes in ensuring their nation's future stability.

We're not talking small money here. Once its oil facilities are repaired and production is ramped up, Iraq can earn $50 billion a year from its oil. 50% of that would be about $1,000 a year per person...and funds would accumulate for young people to even more significant sums -- until they came of age... I would suggest to you that such a proposal, properly structured and publicized, would have the kind of impact -- in Iraq and on world opinion -- that Lincoln's emancipation proclamation did on the domestic politics -- and nternational [sic]diplomacy -- of our own Civil War. It would be the same kind of profoundly moral -- and revolutionary -- stroke.

Though, as the conquering power, the US will have the ability to impose these ideas on Iraq, it shouldn't do so. But encouraging Iraq's new leaders to take such steps -- and working with them to make doing so possible -- has great appeal.

I don't agree with how we got into this war, but as Thomas Friedman says, now it's time to take our lemons and make lemonade. A post-war Iraq along these lines -- a secular, democratic nation of 25 million people, debt-free, with half its oil revenue kept in trust for the direct use of its people -- is a powerful idea.

April 04, 2003

Still More on China and SARS

Also from the Times, also from yesterday, another article on Chinese stonewalling on SARS:

In early March, when a new mystery illness started hopscotching around the globe, Chinese health officials looked on in silence, as if to say, "This has nothing to do with us."

At that point, China was already four months into an outbreak that officials later acknowledged was the same disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Yet they insisted that the situation was fully under control, shared none of their data and declined to join international investigations.

Only in the face of intense international pressure are the Chinese now releasing valuable information to scientists from the World Health Organization, who were allowed in the country just a few weeks ago.

This week, the Chinese government announced its count of new SARS cases for March, bringing China's caseload to 1,190, with 46 deaths -- the highest figures for any nation. It also announced that the W.H.O. team had permission to travel to the southern city of Guangzhou, the epicenter and origin of the epidemic...

By January, Chinese doctors in Guangdong Province already understood a lot about the disease's spread and how to control outbreaks. If three months ago, they had shared that experience or allowed international experts in to aggressively look for the germ responsible, would so many be dying from Canada to Vietnam today?

How much plainer can the question be asked?

More on China and SARS

From an article in the New York Times yesterday:

Speaking at the first news conference held by the Chinese government on the outbreak, which is thought to have started last November in Guangdong Province, Zhang Wenkang, China's minister for health, rejected a travel advisory issued the previous day by the World Health Organization, which is based in Geneva.

"It is safe for people to come to China to work, travel or attend conferences," Mr. Zhang said. "I'm not an agent for an airline trying to sell plane tickets to travel in China."

His assurances directly conflicted with the first disease-related travel advisory the World Health Organization has issued in its 55-year history. They also highlighted ongoing tensions with international medical investigators.

Beijing has hampered the free movement of medical investigators, released few statistics on the disease and has long insisted that the outbreak is "under control."

But officials of the agency insisted today that the disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, is not under control.

"The numbers released by Chinese authorities yesterday were far higher than we expected," said Peter Cordingley, a spokesman for the World Health Organization. "It is imperative that we exercise all caution until we understand the situation in Guangdong."

The evidence of Chinese obstructionism -- leading to an accelerated spread of SARS and a resulting increase in the number of deaths -- seems to mount by the day.

More Brutality While We're Distracted

A few days ago, I blogged about Zimbabwe apparently using the world's distraction with Iraq to crack down on dissidents. Now it appears that Cuba is doing the same:

Dozens of government opponents have gone on trial across Cuba in what is being seen as the harshest crackdown on dissent in years.

Hearings began in the cases against at least 78 dissidents accused of working to subvert Fidel Castro's government.

The trials are taking place behind closed doors and supporters of the accused say some face life imprisonment.

The government is releasing little information beyond saying the defendants are charged with plotting against Cuba with the top US representative in Havana, James Cason...

One report said those arrested also included Hector Palacios, an organiser of reform efforts known as the Varela Project.

During three weeks of mass arrests, Cuban officials said that those being held were counter-revolutionaries and mercenaries in the pay of the US Government.

The arrests have been condemned by human rights groups.

Some are accusing Cuba of attempting to stifle all internal opposition while the world is distracted by the war in Iraq.

Found here.

April 03, 2003

Thanks, China

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the Chinese front in the war against SARS. I quote extensively from this article because of the import:

China revealed that a lethal strain of pneumonia has caused an additional 12 deaths and hundreds of new cases, and said it would allow a team of foreign specialists to visit the area where the outbreaks first occurred.

Wednesday's developments suggest that China's leadership -- facing its first major challenge since taking office earlier this year -- is seeking to address sharp criticism of its handling of the outbreak as economic and political fallout grows.

The World Health Organization said severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has spread to five Chinese provinces and Beijing, infecting a total of 1,190 people and causing 46 deaths since November. Included in the tally were figures released Wednesday by the southern province of Guangdong, which put its latest death toll at 40. The WHO, which is sending a team of doctors to Guangdong, also issued a rare alert urging travelers to avoid the province and Hong Kong, two of the hardest-hit areas.

China has come under fire at home and abroad for its rigid control of information and slow response to the epidemic. Besides its halting disclosure of new SARS cases, Chinese authorities took five days to grant the WHO's request to visit Guangdong. In a rare rebuke from the state-controlled media Wednesday, the English-language China Daily newspaper blamed local authorities for failing to inform the public about the outbreak...

In seeking explanations for China's actions, some analysts note the paradox facing Beijing. China's open door to investment has launched more than two decades of growth and prosperity. But that growth has led authorities to fear releasing information that might rattle the public and scare off the foreign investment on which the economy increasingly depends. Though it has been unwilling to concede that its public-health failures may be responsible for the disease's global spread, Beijing is now realizing the cost of that policy, these analysts say...

An account of the spread of SARS makes clear that if Chinese authorities had acted differently, the outbreak might have taken a different course and more might now be known about the disease. The virus, which spreads through close contact with an infected person and incubates for as long as 10 days, seems to have first appeared in Guangdong in November, about the same time that new local Communist Party Secretary Zhang Dejiang was taking over the leadership of the province. Authorities quickly clamped down on reporting by the domestic media after nervous residents in southern cities began to stockpile medical supplies.

Guangdong authorities remained silent about the illness until Feb. 11, when provincial officials revealed the scope of the outbreak, reporting 305 recorded cases and five deaths from atypical pneumonia; they also said that the outbreak was under control.

Provincial authorities belatedly admitted on March 26 that by the end of February -- 15 days after Guangdong's assertion that the outbreak was under control -- cases in their province more than doubled, to 792 from 305, with 31 deaths.

During those 15 days, as alarm mounted over the new disease, Secretary Zhang, a Politburo member who outranks the minister of health, tried to calm public fears. On Feb. 14, he ordered provincial officials to educate the public to "voluntarily uphold social stability, not believe in rumors, not spread rumors" and to focus on the party's goal of building China into a "comparatively well-off society." According to the media outlet of the Guangdong party committee, the Southern Daily, police summoned the operators of leading Web sites and ordered them to carry only positive reports about the fight against the illness.

This approach wasn't limited to Guangdong. When Beijing authorities admitted on March 26 that there were SARS cases in city hospitals, the news didn't get front-page treatment in local newspapers the next day. Under orders from the city's propaganda authorities, the capital's stable of papers, normally fierce rivals, all ran the same brief three-paragraph story tucked away on their inside pages, and all under the same reassuring headline: "Imported atypical pneumonia in our city has been effectively controlled."

It was only on March 28 -- more than four months after the first known case -- that the government told the WHO it would make SARS a "Category B" disease, meaning that provincial health officials would be obliged to notify central health authorities of cases. But as of Wednesday, according to Wu Kejun of the Department of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Health, "the ministry has required local governments to report to the central government about SARS cases once in a while, but how to classify SARS is still under discussion." ...

Even Wednesday, there were signs Beijing could do more. Chinese Health Minister Zhang Wenkang broke the general silence on the issue in a state-television interview, but he said the outbreak was "under effective control." State TV also said recently anointed Premier Wen Jiabao Wednesday called for measures to "eliminate the epidemic situation in a few areas at its roots."

There was some good news. Health Ministry officials agreed to nominate Chinese doctors to WHO expert teams, and have promised to provide the WHO with daily updates on a province-by-province basis on the progress of the disease, though there was no indication of when these might begin.

For me, the most important sentence of this article is:

An account of the spread of SARS makes clear that if Chinese authorities had acted differently, the outbreak might have taken a different course and more might now be known about the disease.
It is unbelievable to me that it has only been in the last two days that China has agreed to allow WHO doctors into Guangdong. I don't especially fault the Chinese leadership for issuing calming words and urging people not to panic -- the public health authorities in Toronto did the very same thing yesterday in response to a convention cancellation and a travel warning from the government of Australia. What is unforgivable is China's refusal to cooperate fully with the international health community until so much time had passed after the seriousness of the problem had been recognized.

As of today, the WHO reports 2,270 cases of SARS to date, with 79 of those resulting in deaths. The question we have to ask -- and can never truly know -- is how many of those deaths could have been avoided had the Chinese government cooperated fully in the fight against SARS from the very first moment.

This Isn't Good

A CDC director on SARS:

Dr Julie Gerberding, a director of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said on Thursday that a massive scientific drive to beat the illness may be too late to prevent a major outbreak across every continent of the world...

In an unprecedented move on Wednesday, the WHO told travellers to postpone non-essential trips to this part of China, or Hong Kong, where there have been hundreds of probable cases and dozens of deaths.

There have been 72 probable cases of Sars in the US so far, but Dr Gerberding fears that the worst could yet be to come.

In the New England Journal of Medicine, she wrote: "A very sobering question remains -- are we fast enough?

"Can we prevent a global pandemic of Sars?"

"If the virus moves faster than our scientific, communications and control capacities, we could be in for a long, difficult race.

"The stakes are high, and the outcome cannot be predicted."

From BBC News.

April 02, 2003

Just Read This

A female friend of mine who isn't into blogging recently wrote to me:

where are the COOL people's blogs?

is anyone writing about literature, etc, etc...or is everyone writing about technostuff?

I responded with pointers to a variety of blogs not focused on technology (or at least mostly not): the usual suspects (Lisa Rein, Susannah Breslin, Heather Havrilesky, etc.) as well as a few blogs that aren't so well-known (Shaun Benchi, Beth Cherry, etc.). Mission accomplished.

To once and for all answer this question, though, if a non-blogger asks me, "Why blogs," "What are blogs good for," "Are all bloggers geeks," or even "Where are the cool people's blogs," I'll just point them to this blog entry and be done with it.

Turkey Redefines Chutzpah

From a Washington Post story on how the diplomatic dance with Turkey went so wrong:

The week before the parliamentary vote that U.S. officials expected on Feb. 18, a delegation led by [Yasir] Yakis [the former Turkish foreign minister who played a key role in the talks with the United States] arrived in Washington to discuss Turkey's financial package for agreeing to the troop request. The administration had offered $4 billion -- $2 billion in grants and $2 billion in military credits. But a day of negotiations went nowhere...

That night, at 9, Yakis called Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at home and insisted he had to see him. Powell was due to fly early the next morning to New York to haggle with France and other U.N. Security Council members over whether to continue weapons inspections in Iraq. But he agreed that Yakis and the Turkish economics minister could come to his spacious McLean home at 10:30. When they arrived, Powell, still dressed in jacket and tie, ushered them into his dining room, according to an official who was present. He didn't offer them food or a drink.

Yakis told Powell the $4 billion offer wasn't enough. He had consulted with Ankara and his government had decided to ask for $92 billion over five years, the official said. Failing that, Ankara wanted $22 billion in the first year.

Powell noted that the entire foreign aid budget for the United States was $18.5 billion. As the clock neared midnight, Powell told them he would ask Bush to raise the U.S. offer to $6 billion, with $1 billion that could be used immediately for a loan of $8 billion to $10 billion.

During the negotiations, Bush had made only a handful of calls on the troop request. U.S. officials more or less expected the Turkish delegation's meeting with the president in the Oval Office the following day would seal the deal. Bush told Yakis he would agree to Powell's $6 billion offer, but that was the maximum. "You are great negotiators," Bush said, according to U.S. and Turkish officials. "You got me to my top line. But it really is my top line."

Basically, Turkey offered the US a choice: five years to pay $92 billion, or $22 billion cash on the barrel head. They weren't going to get it, but they did manage to get the US from an offer of $4 billion in grants and credits up to $6 billion. Part of me is offended at the naked greed, and part of me admires their strategy. All of me thinks that the definition of the word chutzpah should be updated. I'm not sure it's a Yiddish word anymore.

April 01, 2003

Seymour Hersh on Rumsfeld

Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article on Donald Rumsfeld and the development of the war plan for Iraq that has generated so much discussion (including my post over the weekend) is now available online.