2007 - %3, March

McCain's MySpace Page Hacked

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 11:34 PM EDT

mccain_myspace.JPG
Josh points out a curious prank pulled on McCain in his MySpace profile. First spied by TechCrunch the following appeared today on the page:

Today I announce that I have reversed my position and come out in full support of gay marriage. Particularly marriage between passionate females.

Oooh, can't you just see the steam coming out of his ears when he saw that this morning. Well, apparently it's his own doing, or his staff's anyway. The story goes, as of now, that the designer of the page's template, Newsvine Founder and CEO Mike Davidson, was pissed that McCain staffers didn't give him credit on the page. Plus, Davidson ends up paying for the bandwidth used from page views on the site. So, as the guy in control he turned the tables for a time, replacing contact info with McCain's "announcement."

That's what happens when you piggyback on existing technology and templates. You open yourself up to pranks that end with your very own cursive signature.

It's just too bad that Davidson's comments weren't a touch more tasteful. Leave it at the first sentence and he would have gotten a lot more cheers. Instead he had to go all mud-wrestling fantasy and turn what is a very serious message, into a frat-house joke.

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Common Fungicide Causes Changes in Mating Behavior Generations After Exposure

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:43 PM EDT

Female rats avoid males whose great-grandfathers were exposed to a common fruit crop fungicide. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin examined rats whose great-grandparents were exposed to the fungicide vinclozolin, which causes early onset of cancer and kidney disease in males.

Female rats can tell the difference between male descendants of rats that have or have not been exposed to vinclozolin, and strongly prefer males descended from unexposed rats. Proving for the first time that environmental contamination affects evolution through changes in mating behavior.

Vinclozolin causes changes in the male rats' germline cells, like sperm. It doesn't directly alter DNA, instead causing changes in elements that regulate DNA. This is known as an epigenetic change.

Early onset of disease caused by initial exposure to vinclozolin is passed down generation to generation through the germline of the males. The female rats can sense something is wrong, even though they can't see it. Since males move beyond their birth territory when they mature, they carry their unlovable and fatal defects with them.

Hmm. Is the biosphere cannily healing itself, one little rat at a time? Or are rats truly destined to inherit the Earth? --Julia Whitty

Disappearing Climate Zones Mean Disappearing Species

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:05 PM EDT

A new study forecasts the complete disappearance of existing climates in tropical highlands and regions near the poles. Meanwhile large swaths of the tropics and subtropics will likely develop new climates unlike any seen today, according to the National Science Foundation. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wyoming predict that existing climate zones will shift toward higher latitudes and higher elevations, squeezing out the climates at the extremes. In fact a lot of this is already underway, as species are already moving to higher latitudes and higher elevations to escape the heat.

The most severely affected parts of the world span heavily populated regions, including the southeastern U.S., southeastern Asia, parts of Africa. Known hotspots of biodiversity, including the Amazonian rainforest and African and South American mountain ranges will also experience radical change. Disappearing climates will affect biodiversity, increasing extinctions too.

The study's authors foresee the appearance of never-before-seen climate zones on up to 39 percent of the world's land surface area by 2100, and the global disappearance of up to 48 percent of current land climates, if current rates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue. Julia Whitty

Is Someone Gaming Obama's YouTube Site?

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 9:15 PM EDT

Over at Techpresident, a group blog on web politics, blogger Joshua Levy is making an interesting case that something's amiss. Obama's YouTube channel has 2,700,000 views--35 times as many as the second most-popular political site, that of Hillary Clinton. While people trolling for the 1984 video may have skewed web traffic to a degree, that's still a huge disparity. "There are a few reasons why the high number of channel views looks fishy," Levy says:

First, the total number of views of Obama's individual videos is nowhere near the total number of channel views. When you first load the channel, a video automatically plays, which may or may not contribute to that video's total views (the relationship between channel and video views is sketchy, though we're told by sources at YouTube it should be cleared up soon). But if we take the total number of video views as accurate this means that only about 24% of visitors to his video-sharing web site are actually watching videos, while over 2 million people are visiting the channel but not watching any videos.

Second, it appears that there's a way to game the system. Last fall a social networking news site called Mashable published a post about "Gaming YouTube for Fun and Profit," in which they described how to artificially increase the number of video views on YouTube. Essentially, if you set your browser to auto-refresh a YouTube page (a Firefox extension does it), every time the browser refreshes the video has a new view added to it.

(To test this idea, Levy made a video of himself discussing the problem, uploaded it to YouTube, and set his browser to auto-refresh every ten seconds for 12 hours. The strategy yielded 1200 views).

Third, Levy notes the Obama channel's unusually small number of viewers compared to subscribers. See his post for the cagey response from YouTube.

If gaming is indeed at play, it wouldn't be a first for Web 2.0, nor would it be all that surprising. Elliot Schrage, Google VP of Global Communications, recently predicted the advent of political spyware in this year's election and wondered whether people will attempt to track candidates using GIS chips in their cell phones. As David Weinberg of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society put it to me today: "Anything that you can imagine happening online, eventually, probably will."

Time Caught in Act of Dumbing Down the News for US Readers

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 8:14 PM EDT

Blogger Paul Schmelzer has been busy raising questions about some of the nation's widely read periodicals when it comes to the selection of their cover stories—namely the difference between Time's April 2 U.S. and International editions. While the international cover features a story about Pakistani religious extremists filtering across the border of Afghanistan "with the intention of imposing their strict interpretation of Islam on a population unable to fight back," the US edition of the publication features the story, "The Case for Teaching the Bible." Schmelzer wonders why Time isn't giving the U.S. the same edition that the rest of the world is seeing on newsstands. The choice can't only be about marketing and keeping newsstand sales up in the U.S. Something's a little fishy here.

This isn't the first time that a major US news weekly has pulled this trick of presenting the news differently to US readers than it does to the rest of the world. Last September, Newsweek gave international readers a cover story about the Taliban and US readers a cover featuring photographer Annie Leibovitz, in essence replacing with a hard-hitting news story of international importance with a much lighter celebrity piece. In the case of both the Time and the Newsweek cover story cover-ups, the stories were related to coverage of the Taliban. Is marketing getting in the way of the serious news in the U.S.? Or is the media afraid to tell Americans what they don't want to hear? Only Time can tell.

—Rose Miller

Homeland Security Up Your Butt--For Real

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 7:50 PM EDT

A fistula-in-ano is an abnormal connection between the rectum and skin that can cause pain, bleeding, infections, and discharge of fecal matter through openings in the body other than the anus. The condition is generally caused by infection of a gland within the anal canal. Bacteria multiply and create an abscess that goes through the rectal wall to the surrounding skin. The condition can also be caused by cancer, Crohn's Disease, and an episiotomy that does not heal.

Sue Clark, M.D., a surgeon in Harrow, England, had a patient with fistula-in-ano who had been treated through surgery. The 48-year-old man had a long-term seton to control sepsis. This particular seton was a length of suture material knotted to form a loop placed into the fistula track. Last August, this patient traveled from England to New York for a vacation. Upon arrival, he was interrogated by immigration officials, and then examined and searched. During the rectal exam, an official yanked hard on the seton, causing the patient severe pain. The patient was told he could not enter the United States unless the seton was removed.

Not wanting to give up his vacation after he had flown across the ocean, Dr. Clark's patient allowed a doctor to remove the seton. The physician claimed he had never seen an anal seton before. The good news is that the yanking done by immigration officials did not cause any damage to the sphincter muscles. The bad news is that Dr. Clark's patient must now go under general anastesia to have a new seton inserted.

In a letter to The Lancet last month, Dr. Clark said she wanted to "highlight this rather bizarre manifestation of 'homeland security' in order to warn other patients with setons who travel to the U.S." Former Sen. Carol Mosely Braun talked about Homeland Security's propensity to "look between your toes." Former Texas governor Ann Richards had her crotch checked at the airport. And now an Englishman has had his surgical procedure (not to mention his dignity and his physical comfort) destroyed so that the U.S. can be safe from terrorists.

(Information from the current issue of Harper's, "The Long Arm Of the Law")

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California: More Highways if You Want Them or Not

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 7:14 PM EDT

highways.jpgHumans have a really hard time planning for outcomes that feel abstract. Here we are 90 percent sure that we're destroying the planet and ourselves with it, and we're conducting business as usual.

One tough, but supremely logical, change we ought to be making is redirecting all money spent on road construction to mass transit systems and smart growth projects. (Even the greatest road warrior wouldn't complain about not being able to drive his SUV if there were a cheap, easy way to get where he was going.) The State of California, which touts itself as an environmental leader, is doing exactly the reverse. The state, whose efforts to build and expand highways have long been stymied by environmental lawsuits, has begun suing developers for money they say will mediate (i.e., accommodate on roads) the increased traffic their projects will generate. The state is using the lawsuits as a funding source—which might be fair if the suits weren't targeting smart growth projects designed to be accessible by mass transit.

Good news is, developers are irate and are lobbying Governor Schwarzenegger to stop his renegade agency. Looks like we'll get to see just how powerful developers are after all.

Cute Knut to Live, Knut-Mania Commences

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 6:57 PM EDT

knut327.jpgCutie polar bear cub Knut made his public debut last week, to the sounds of thousands of cooing fans and 300 shutter-clicking media members. The fuzzy animal, now the size of a Labrador Retriever puppy, delighted visitors as he frolicked through a stream, kissed his keeper, and rolled in the dirt.

Berlin Zoo
officials say the cub is not in danger of being killed, as a few animal activists have suggested. Instead, hand-raised Knut is the zoo's star attraction, especially after his neighbor, 22-year-old panda Yan Yan died Monday, of constipation.

The Berlin Zoo has seen attendance jump by 300% since Knut appeared to the public, and the Zoo gift store had to order 10,000 more stuffed Knut dolls after their original 2,400 sold out. The cub now has his own television show, podcast, and a blog written from his imagined perspective. Graffiti artists are even spraypainting his name on concrete pillars under the bear-shaped logo for the Berlin Film Festival.

But for all the Knut-mania, is Knut really doing anything to preserve his kind? Well, kind of. The German Environmental Minister took a media-attended walk with Knut inside his pen, and has said Knut's the property of all Berliners. "Knut is in safe hands here," said the minister, "but worldwide polar bears are in danger and if Knut can help the cause, then that is a good thing." He then tickled the cub under its furry chin.

Knut's media attention may lead to increased awareness of the polar bear plight (though their plight is hardly obscure at this point). German public television is making a documentary about the bear, whose mother abandoned him and whose brother died of neglect. Schools across Germany are organizing "Knut trips" to go see the now-tiny (but soon to be huge) bear and learn about nature. And then there's the mysterious conservation campaign for which Knut will be the star, photographs courtesy Annie Leibovitz. Seems young Knut will be kept quite busy, both as a goodwill ambassador and as Berlin's (and the world's) latest object of affection.

How Bush's Abuse of Power Affects You

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 5:01 PM EDT

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush expanded the uses of the list of "specially designated nationals," which banks have traditionally used to thwart financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. The Washington Post reports that Bush retooled the list to target terrorists. It then grew longer, reaching 250 pages, and all businesses were blocked from doing businesses with those on it.

"The law is ridiculous," said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md. "It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who's on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount. . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law."

The problem is, the names of many innocent American citizens are similar to those on the list. The penalties businesses face for violating Bush's rule—up to $10 million and 30 years in prison—are stiff enough to scare them away from customers whose names vaguely resemble any of the nearly 3,500 on the list. Take Tom Kubbany. He has good credit, but couldn't get a mortgage because his middle name is Hassan—an extremely common Arab name, which is also purportedly an alias of one of Saddam Hussein's sons. Never mind that Kubbany was born in Detroit in 1949, and the government believes his alleged namesake was born in 1980 or 1983. There is no penalty for wrongfully turning someone away.

You're most likely to suffer these humiliations if your name is or sounds Muslim. The Bush administration's no-fly list also mainly affects those whose names resemble Muslim terrorists', but "300 names a day are added to the government's "no-fly" list, which has included Senator Ted Kennedy, the star of Ozzie and Harriet, and at least 14 infants. The so-called watch list is more likely to affect you. The names on it include everyone who has purchased a last-minute or one-way ticket, or whose name resembles that of someone who did. (I'm on that list, so I have to take my shoes off and have my bag hand-searched at every security checkpoint.)

"If We Don't Get a Hold of Ourselves, We Will Wear Out Elizabeth Edwards Long Before Her Cancer Does."

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 3:13 PM EDT

That's the gist of this very good article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose reporter noticed that on a recent trip to Ohio, poor Mrs. Edwards couldn't each lunch because press photographers needed (apparently) another five hundred pictures of The Woman Who Dares to Keep Campaigning With Cancer. It's a solid article, and touches on the idea that the press, by second-guessing the Edwards' decision to not cancel the campaign, is imposing its standards on a couple who have every right to do as they please. The best embodiment of that is this video compilation from Katie Couric's 60 Minutes interview, which I'll run without comment other than to say I found it on post called "Leave Elizabeth Edwards Alone" at AmericaBlog. "Some say...."