Plum Island madness

I don’t read the NY Press often, but it’s great this week. This feature on the Plum Island research facility is the stuff of nightmares.

David thinks I’m silly for disliking our nation’s habit of putting nuclear reactors near population centers (not to mention rivers), but I hope he’ll agree that it’s really dumb to put a bioweapons (I mean, uh, anti-bioweapons) facility just a couple miles off the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut. And even dumber to have animals infected with zoonotic diseases hanging around outside (zoonotics, as I learned, are those diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans). But the height of idiocy is to allow sensitive work that had been done by carefully screened federal employees to be handed over to subcontractors.

In the summer of 2002, strife between federal workers and the subcontractors led to a strike; the already questionable workers were replaced with even iffier folk (including at least one worker with a criminal record). Somehow, as the work stoppage dragged on (amidst rumors of sabotage) all three backup generators on the site failed–the critical negative pressure seals began to deflate, and the fridges holding infected animal carcasses started to warm up.

Disaster was averted, but we’ve yet to see any public hearings on what happened, why, or how the government is working to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The NYT has run a few stories, but to no great public outcry.

Worst of all, the scientists who work at Plum Island are doing incredibly risky things (making, for instance, vaccine-resistant strains of anthrax) and publishing in scientific journals about their efforts. The author compares this to the US government running R&D for Al Qaeda, and you can see his point. It does also make one wonder just how coincidental it is that Lyme disease appeared suddenly just miles away in the Connecticut in the 1970s, and how West Nile popped up in the NY area in the 1990s (that, of course, was widely blamed on Saddam.)

No doubt the author of the article is a bit paranoid, but (as our motto attests) sometimes a bit of paranoia is healthy. With warnings like this, if heaven forfend something does get loose and reach the mainland, it will be our own fault. If it does, you can be sure that the government will conveniently “Aznar up” some terrorist organization as the culprit to hide the ugly truth that the US spent decades sowing the dragon’s teeth that threaten to spawn new disasters.

Critical Swavastika Update

This morning, my Windows machines are prompting me to download a “critical” update. The details read: “This item updates the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in some Microsoft products. The Font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.”

Of course, I unchecked this item (1 of 3) so that nothing would change until I discovered the “unacceptable” character(s). First, I was suprised to find a font named “Bookshelf Symbol 7”; next, I was surprised to find a swastika in it. I’m surprised that made it through the first go round of whatever figurative and real eyes and hands worked on the product.

I have a vague recollection that this symbol was considered benign or positive prior to Hitler’s appropriation of it—and he actually used a swavastika or sauvastika. I don’t think I can add anything new to discussions about what to do with regard to these symbols, and apparently, discussion of this problem in Bookshelf Symbol 7 started over on Typographica back in December.

Surprise! You’re a deadbeat dad.

A chilling account of how federal “deadbeat dad” laws are motivating the States to point the finger at innocent men, under the incentive of generating billions of dollars in revenue from the scheme.

Tony Pierce, a California man, was issued a summons claiming he was the father of an 8-year-old girl whose mother he’d never met. A long game of phone-tag with the county court failed to resolve the issue:

“I said, ‘What do I need to do? I’m not the father,’” he remembers. “And they were like, ‘OK, well this is what you do: You just call in every day, and then we’ll understand that you’re not it, because if you’re it, you’re not gonna call us every day.’”

What he didn’t know was that a federally-mandated 30-day time bomb was ticking, and that if the issue wasn’t resolved by then he’d de facto be the father by default. Not even a DNA test can fix this problem once it happens. And the State doesn’t care, because they’re now able to skim his child payments for their own coffers. From the article: In the words of former California legislator Rod Wright, “It ain’t your kid, you can prove it ain’t your kid, and they say, ‘So what?’”

Once you’re marked as a deadbeat dad, in addition to the money garnished from your wages, there are other possible consequences: your credit rating may be trashed, you might not be able to renew a driver’s license, and you may be denied a passport. (According to the article, an average of 60 American men discover this each day.) A name, race, vague location, and a broad age range provided by the mother is sufficient to launch a process to search for any man matching that description and tag him as the father.

Most laughable is the claim that the intent of the deadbeat dad laws “was to encourage more responsible sexual behavior by single women”. Seems like in practice that what it really it means is that a single woman can screw around and then point the finger at any man — with the complicity of the States — to get the paternity money.

File that one under “unintended consequences”.

Beware links in sheep’s clothing

Public service announcement follows:

A new exploit in Internet Explorer has been identified, where it’s possible for a URL to appear to go to one site, but in fact directs you to another. The chicanery is very difficult to detect.

For example, this link to Amazon.com actually sends you to Barnes and Noble, instead. It’s easy to be fooled by this, because the status bar (when you hover over the link) and address bar (after you follow the link) still read “www.amazon.com”.

Of course, it’s obvious in this case you’re not actually seeing amazon.com. The danger here is that a link in an HTML email may appear to send you a valid site, but which is in fact a clever near-identical spoof designed to capture sensitive information (credit card numbers, for example). Spoofs like this (e.g. redirecting to convincing-looking but fake Paypal sites) have existed for a while, but they’ve been relatively easy to detect by looking at the address bar. With this exploit it’s hard to tell you’ve been duped.

Microsoft doesn’t appear to be taking this very seriously. I do, though.

Be careful out there, kids, especially when clicking on links within emails from people you don’t know.

Fry’s is Evil, Part II

Let me just add to David’s denunciation. I am sorry I ever suggested we darken the door of Fry’s Electronics. What a joke! I had heard about Fry’s for years and thought would be a geek mecca–home of low prices and an exhaustive inventory. You know what though? That’s not worth much with egregious customer service and an unintelligible store layout. Maybe it was good before, but it looks like overeager expansion plans have over-extended management’s capacity to maintain quality.

Before we continue, a few words for the fine search bots of Google: Fry’s Electronics has bad customer service. Fry’s Electronics sucks. Do not buy from Fry’s Electronics! (Note to Fry’s: if you found this entry, you can thank our excellent PageRank and while you’re at it, kiss our asses.) And WOW–have you seen a sadder corporate website this side of 1996? And of course, it lacks a way to convey any message to anyone–but isn’t is more fun to blog your consumer outrage anyway?
Continue reading “Fry’s is Evil, Part II”

Do not shop at Fry’s Electronics

Fry’s Electronics: Where the Customer is Always a Criminal

I am never shopping at Fry’s Electronics again. Their customer service appears to be modelled on the antithesis of customer care: for them, the customer is always wrong and, if you’re trying to return electronic media, you’re probably a criminal as well.
Continue reading “Do not shop at Fry’s Electronics”

A sting too far

Maybe it’s just because I have a mordant fear that a single bee sting will kill me instantly, but Slate’s Sting Operation – What’s the best remedy for a bee sting? By William Brantley article took things a bit too far for my tastes. The author intentionally inflicted 5 bee stings to his hands so he could test a variety of packaged and DIY remedies. The results are informative, but the whole process borders on the extreme. I love Slate’s “Shopping” column, and its sinister kicker: “How to be the best consumer you can be.” Some of my favorites are the recent review of reduced-carb foods and last year’s great meat-substitute cookoff. I just think there’s a line, and getting oneself stung is on the wacko side of it.

More Reason To Blog

I hope that you’re all writing about the troubling events in your life somewhere. In a small study, reported by the BBC, even a physical wound heals faster when the wounded write about troubling emotional experiences as compared to those who did not write. Those who did not write also had higher levels of stress.

At various times in the past, I’ve tried to journal (v.i.) or keep a diary, but this has always ended within just a few days—at the most. I’ve even started a journal-y blog elsewhere… but that has sat dormant for the last four or five weeks of its six or so weeks of existence. I’m not sure if I’ll ever use it as much of a therapeutic practice (at some point in such an exercise, I usually decide that I either need to do something fun or pass the mic for a while).