Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On Fat Kids

One of my favorite debate issues, unhealthy advertising for children's television, is being turned into a policy by Ofcom in the UK.

The reason why I like it so much is because it's one of the most balanced issues I've seen, not to mention one of the richest. On one hand, banning junk food advertisements might help stave off childhood obesity. On the other, childhood obesity should be something parents should pay attention to, and the burden and responsibility shouldn't be on the government, lest parents become complacent. There's also the "Joe Camel" principle, then again the consequences to children's programming might be dire considering who their major sponsors are.

In any case, the most interesting point about this new proposal is that it doesn't just cover children's programming, it also covers programming that has an audience composed primarily of children. That means shows such as Friends is also included in the ban.

If you're too lazy to read the two links above, here's the faq that the Guardian provided:

FAQ: Junk food advertising

Why is Ofcom taking action now?
In December 2003 the government asked the regulator to consider strengthening the regulation of food and drink advertising on children. It then embarked on a marathon research effort that sought to determine the effect of junk food advertising on children's eating habits and place it in the context of other influences including demographics, family eating habits, school policy, public education, food labelling and exercise.

Why has it taken so long?
It has been a long and exhaustive lobbying process, pitting the combined might of the food industry, advertising trade bodies and broadcasters against single issue health groups and consumer associations. The latter loose coalition saw their arguments gain traction as the Jamie Oliver-inspired healthy eating campaign and the debate around childhood obesity gathered pace.

How did we get here?
Having established that television advertising had a "modest" direct effect on eating habits and a larger indirect effect, Ofcom published a menu of potential options. However, none satisfied the health lobby, which wanted to see a complete ban on all junk food advertising before 9pm. Ofcom argued that would have a devastating effect on broadcasters, and came back with further proposals more draconian than its original ones but still stopped short of a complete ban.

Why has it proved controversial?
The debate over advertising junk food to children is a microcosm of the wider debate around obesity and the damaging effects of "pester power". The combined lobbying power of the food industry, added to the debate around obesity and a government taking a keen interest but not wanting to legislate in the area left Ofcom in a no-win situation.


In other news, there's also a proposal coming from the UK that wants severely obese children get gastric bypass surgery.

That is, the government should subsidize the gastric bypass surgery of severely overweight children.

Could be a good debate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Myanmar and China

The New York Times has an article explaining how China's wealth and relationship with Myanmar is keeping the military junta alive despite US sanctions.

Since the New York Times keeps their articles behind a firewall after a few weeks, I'm posting the entire article after the jump.



Despite Energy Wealth, Myanmar Is Mired in Dark
By JANE PERLEZ
Published: November 17, 2006

SITTWE, Myanmar — In the balmy waters of the Bay of Bengal, just off the coast, an Asian energy rush is on. Huge pockets of natural gas have been found. China and India are jostling to sign deals. Plans are afoot to spend billions on new ports and pipelines.

Yet onshore, in towns like this one, not a light is to be seen — not a street lamp, not a glow in a window — as women crouch by the roadside at dawn, sorting by candlelight the vegetables they will sell for two cents a bunch at the morning market.

Paraffin and wood are major sources of light and heat. People receive two hours of electricity a day from a military government that is among the world’s most repressive.

But attempts at outside pressure to prod the government to address its people’s needs and curb abuses have faltered, in large part because China’s thirst for resources has undermined nearly a decade of American economic sanctions. Critics say that Washington’s policy has handed Myanmar, formerly Burma, to China. Still, as President Bush prepares to meet with leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Vietnam on Nov. 17, one topic on his agenda will be how to keep up the pressure. He is not likely to find cooperation, not from rivals like China and Russia, or even countries like Singapore and Indonesia, which trade freely with Myanmar.

The Asian energy rush is the latest demonstration of how the hunt for oil and gas, and China’s economic leverage, are reshaping international politics, often in ways that run counter to American preferences.

In many respects, with the rise of China’s economic power and its unflagging support, the government here has become more entrenched than ever, people inside and outside the country say.

“What can we do about it?” said a well educated man here, when asked about the plans to sell the gas abroad in the face of the deprivation at home. “What good would it do to protest, what would we get?” People were too afraid of the 400,000-member strong army supplied by China, Russia and Ukraine to complain, he said.

In numerous encounters in Myanmar, where most speak with extreme caution to foreigners and almost always anonymously for fear of jail, people joked sardonically that China was the “big daddy” and that soon it would “own” Myanmar. “China is a good friend of the government, not of the people,” one woman said. “They are like brother and brother-in-law.”

The Bush administration has pledged that it will not let up on its sanctions against the government until it releases the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 11 of the past 17 years.

Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party won an overwhelming victory in elections in 1990, and Washington insists that the government recognize those results, and release an estimated 1,100 political prisoners.

The Bush administration says it plans to file a Security Council resolution at the United Nations in coming weeks condemning the government for its human rights abuses, and tightening sanctions further.

The United Nations under secretary general, Ibrahim Gambari, met with the junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, on Nov. 11 in Myanmar and urged the government to mend its ways on forced labor and political prisoners. The meeting ended inconclusively, United Nations officials said.

With so much energy and other resources at stake, and given its preference to shun outside interference in internal politics, China’s leaders are seemingly unbothered by what is happening inside Myanmar.

China’s National Development Reform Commission approved plans in April to build a pipeline that would carry China’s Middle East oil from a deep water port off Sittwe across Myanmar to Yunnan, China’s southern province. This would provide China with an alternative to the Strait of Malacca, which it now depends on for delivering its oil from the Middle East.

Though no date has been announced for work on the new pipeline across Myanmar, the military appeared to be getting ready to build the deep sea port on the island of Ramree, to the south of here, local people said.

In another sign of the importance of Myanmar to China, the chairman of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Fu Chengyu, said in a speech this year that the company would focus its investment in the medium term on two countries: Myanmar and Nigeria. Cnooc engineers are currently exploring for oil on Ramree, and the company has rights to other oil deposits in central Myanmar, according to Myanmar government reports.

India, thirsty for energy to fuel its own fast-growing economy, sees Myanmar as a place where it needs to contain China. In the late 1990s, democratic India switched its policy toward Myanmar from antagonism to friendship.

And Thailand, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, spends about $1.2 billion a year for Myanmar’s natural gas, giving the military government badly needed hard currency.

In conversations with people in a number of towns, a portrait emerged of a universally unpopular, deeply corrupt government. People told of worsening poverty, a collapsed education system and a health care system that could deal only with those who paid. Tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS were rampant, they said.

The government’s budget for its AIDS program in 2004 was $22,000, according to a recent health survey by John Hopkins University Medical School.

The junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, 73, whose early military training was in psychological warfare, was described by many here as a master manipulator of his minions. He insisted, apparently out of fear of a coup, that the capital be moved this year from Yangon, formerly Rangoon, to a new site in the jungle, Naypyidaw.

The move, costing millions of scarce dollars, was in step with the general’s belief that he marched in the footsteps of the old Burmese kings — the name of the new capital means “Royal City.” Then, as now, there was a fierce line between the rulers and the ruled.

For the first time, health workers said they were discovering severe malnutrition among children in urban centers, a true anomaly in a lush country that was once the world’s biggest exporter of rice.

In Mandalay, the second-biggest city, almost naked children with distended stomachs scrounged on the riverfront. In one village on the Thwande River on the west coast, nomadic families were too strapped for food to offer any to visitors, a traditional courtesy in Myanmar.

“Why is there severe malnutrition in this Garden of Eden? Because people are poor,” said Frank Smithuis, a physician who has worked in Myanmar since 1994 and heads the Doctors Without Borders, Holland, medical programs. “People are going from three meals to two meals to one meal. One meal a day just isn’t enough.”

In the village of Leat Pan Gyunt, south of Sittwe, villagers said they could afford to send their girls to school for only three years. The local school consisted of one dirt-floored room for all grades from first to eighth. The desks were planks of wood supported on two bricks.

Afraid of protests by students, the government dispersed the University of Yangon to sites outside the capital.

At the new Magway University, the medical students were learning surgery from books and videos, without working on human corpses because the government refused to pay for formaldehyde, two people familiar with the situation said.

In contrast to the deepening poverty — Myanmar’s per capita income is calculated at $175 a year, far below neighboring Bangladesh — the military leaders were amassing fortunes, people said.

The latest evidence was a video leaked to a Web site, www.irrawaddy.org, based in Thailand, of the recent opulent wedding of General Than Shwe’s daughter, Thandar Shwe. The video showed the bride, with her father alongside her, decked out in a necklace of six ropes of large diamonds, her hair looped with diamonds as well.

For those educated people who want change, the path is treacherous.

“I don’t want to waste myself in jail,” said one woman, who had two relatives imprisoned. “They were not the same when they came out.”

In a similar vein to the dissidents in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, the woman said she believed change had to come from inside the country. But unlike Poland under Soviet rule, no unions are allowed in Myanmar, and most kinds of formal associations are considered suspect.

She said she held classes at her home on how to be more confident, how to strategize. She was trying to spread her classes to Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches, she said.

“Only education can change people because people don’t know anything,” she said. “Only about 10 percent of the people know what is going on.” Sometimes she was in such despair, she said, that she believed that the only way to win against the government was “to think like them.”

“But we can’t think like them,” she added, “nobody thinks like them.”

Not all opposition groups that work outside the country believe that Washington’s hard line is serving the best interests of Myanmar or the United States.

With its policy of isolation, the Bush administration was allowing China, and to a lesser extent, India, to have a free hand in Myanmar to the exclusion of the United States, said Aung Naing Oo, who spent a year at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and who is the author of several books on Myanmar.

“The geopolitical situation favors the Burmese military,” he said. “China and India both want to support it, and the Asian nations have no teeth.”

Still, on a recent trip to Vietnam, a delegation of Myanmar officials heard something that astounded them, he said. They went to find out why Vietnam had become so suddenly prosperous.

“The Vietnamese said one word: ‘The Americans.’ The Burmese could not believe that after fighting a war Vietnam was friendly with the United States.”

"Sex" Education

Recently, the Boy Scouts of the Philippines announced that they will be accepting girls into the ranks of the BSP.

This, not surprisingly, pissed off the Girl Scouts of the Philippines.

Boy scouts cannot teach girl scouts to be “womanly women,” said the GSP

"We do as many challenges now as the boy scouts and we are part of an international organization, which is the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. We have relevant programs like in Africa about HIV-AIDS, and here in the country, we are also doing programs even in reproductive health, awareness of what a girl is. A girl is different from a boy in the first place, why are they saying too girly?" she [Dr. Cristina Yuson] said.


This brings up a good debate, do organizations such as the Boy Scouts have a right to choose who gets to be a member?

Raul Pangalangan gives some very good insights into this question, particularly the notion of the "right to expressive association".

Basically, the right to expressive association means that if your freedom of expression as an organization is linked to the kinds of people you allow to become members, then you essentially have a right to discriminate among your applicants.

This may seem a bit mindboggling, but the idea here is that if your organization is sending a specific message that requires a particular membership (say, the GOP for instance), your organization can exclude people from joining (say, card-carrying Democrats, if there are any).

This was the case when the US Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to boot a homosexual from its ranks.

This kind of mindset might allow for a certain danger of discrimination, but then again, the burden of proof is that your membership has to exclude people to properly express its views.

Another thing that needs to be discussed regarding this development was, what is the difference between the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts in the first place? Aside from the obvious, of course.

It all boils down to the age-old question of whether or not there are inherent differences between genders that requires different activities and actions to be undertaken. Makes you wonder if there are any studies regarding this, doesn't it?

In that regard, there is also a movement in the United States that's demanding for single-sex public education to be provided.

The idea being, the government should provide diverse options when it comes to education, and since there are some parents who would prefer to have their kids go to single-sex schools but don't want to pay for an expensive private school, they should provide for this. I don't exactly know if this is reasonable.

But it certainly is debatable.

Single Mothers and their Sex Offender Boyfriends

Single mothers will be able to ask the police to check the background of a new partner to find out whether he is a sex offender under moves being considered by the Home Office, the Guardian can reveal.

For those of you who like debating about registered sex offenders and pedophiles but are pretty tired of the same issue all over again, this might just be the issue for you.

It is a pretty interesting proposal, especially since single mothers are probably the no. 1 targets of child sex offenders.

At first glance this might seem like a pretty skewed motion. How can you possibly argue against protecting people from these registered sex offenders?

But as the article says (and as the proposal attempts to address), this kind of policy might be open to abuse. You might have these single mothers actively promoting and advertising that Mr. A is really a pedophile. In which case, you will have the whole 'right to privacy' debacle on your hands.

More importantly though, how about these sex offenders? What happens if you were a sex offender but you got help and now you don't stalk children anymore? Are you still considered a sex offender because of your past actions? If so, is it right to continue your punishment through the persecution you're going to get from this kind of policy?

My question is, if this can be the case, what's stopping the government from disclosing the same information schools and other public/private institutions that cater to children? Or do they do so already? I don't really know.

All in all, in a debate like this, you are inevitably going to have to give a discussion the same issues that any pedophile debate might entail. What you have to be careful about is being able to provide the proper nuance that would keep your debate from being generic.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More On Net Neutrality

The Consumerist, a blog accounting the tales of woe suffered by the little man from the Big Bad Corporations, gives you more matter on the issue of net neutrality. You can go with why net neutrality is good, or you can go with why net neutrality is bad.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Oldie but a Goodie

The issue of criminals and their published memoirs is certainly nothing new, but the British government has come up with a new proposal to stop ex-convicts from being able to profit from published works about their crimes.

The operative word here being "profit", the current proposal doesn't seem to restrict these criminals from getting their life experiences published, just that they can't get any kind of profit from them.

Good thing Martha Stewart is American.

By virtue of the fact that this issue is ancient, you won't see this being debated anymore (certainly not in the last few tournaments). This issue is a good one for beginners to train on because it requires more logical thinking and argumentation rather than knowledge on technical matter (although being able to cite a few examples always helps).

For example, why is it so wrong for criminals to profit from publishing their criminal acts? By serving their sentences, they've already paid their debt to society. Why should additional, across-the-board, penalties be accorded to them after the fact?

On the other hand, as the article says, criminals being able to profit from their works goes against the very principles of natural justice, and justice isn't just measured by how much time is served in prison.

One can even argue that the proposal is trying to have its cake and eat it too - they recognize the value of these published memoirs (after all, they're not disallowing it) but they don't recognize the value of compensation for these criminals' experiences. What makes these two values so mutually exclusive? And wouldn't that be self-defeating since without any form of monetary compensation, criminals won't be inclined to share their life stories and thus destroying the value that they so want to protect?

Really good issue. People should start discussing this again.

Socializing Medicine

As the Democrats take over the US Congress, the issue of health care becomes hot again. Slate has a good perspective on what's happening now. The basic idea being argued here is that the current system of health care in the US (that is, privatized health care) isn't working and it's time to start thinking of socializing health care the same way it is in Canada, UK and France. The clincher is this,

the United States spends about twice what Canada, France, and the United Kingdom do on health care (all three have socialized medicine) yet ranks lower than these countries on life expectancy and higher on infant mortality.


Read it.

Madonna's Madonna Complex

In recent years, the "in" thing for celebrities has been to adopt orphans from third-world countries and display them to the paparazzi as if they were the latest piece of jewelry. Madonna has been the latest offender/defender of these orphans and has made this issue relevant again.

The issue in question? Not particularly having celebrities use people as ornaments, but the idea of trans-racial adopting, and whether or not that's an action that should be condoned.

This kind of activity isn't particularly new. This kind of practice has been going on for years, so much so that it has become part of Popular Culture already, as manifested in Arrested Development.

Certainly, there is a value to be had for trans-racial adoptions. Children who would have otherwise have grown up poor in a third world country without proper care or medication literally have a new world open to them.

Then again, it also has its own problems. What happens to that particular child's own culture? What about his identity? What happens if he/she's alienated in the predominantly White society that he/she's presumably going to be living in?

There's also the question of what the point of trans-racial adoption is. Why adopt people from another country if there are orphans in your own country that you can adopt as well? Adopting one child is certainly not going to alleviate poverty. What are the implications of trans-racial adopting, and should they be encouraged/discouraged?

In any case, the assessment of values in this debate probably boils down to two things - the child in particular and third-world children and the society in general.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hacking Democracy



To mark the US Midterm Elections and to partly explain why despite all evidence to the contrary, I think that the Republicans are going to maintain control of the US Legislature, this is an HBO documentary explaining almost point by point how the elections in the US HAVE been rigged and CAN be rigged in so many levels and how nobody in government is doing anything about it.

The best part is in the end, where they demonstrate the 21st century version of dagdag-bawas.

This is why I can't understand why a lot of people keep on insisting that we need to "modernize" our voting system. Any ten-year old with a computer will tell you that any digital system can be co-opted, the DRM wars is just the easiest example.

That's the entire movie by the way. One hour and twenty minutes, so it might take awhile.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Further reading on disabled newborns.

The Guardian has further insight into the issue of euthanasia for disabled newborns.

Another thing you need to clarify with this issue, you're not supposed to be talking about cases wherein the disabilities are detectable during pregnancy. Those cases are different, and they fall in another debate. That is, aborting fetuses that have birth defects. The cases that you are supposed to be talking about are those that aren't detected during pregnancy or those detected during the third trimester, depending on which context you're going for (some countries allow abortions as long as they're before the third trimester). This might seem like a small and insignificant difference, but in a messy and/or high-level round, this can make or break your team. Not specifying these things only make it more possible for the debate to be more muddled up later and as most of you should know, you can't just "clarify" this in a point of information or in the next speaker.

In any case, the most striking point I found in the article above is this,

The UK Disabled People's Council yesterday rejected discussion of euthanasia for newborn babies. "It is not for medical professionals or indeed anyone else like families to determine whether someone else's quality of life will be good simply on the grounds of impairment or health condition," said its parliamentary worker, Simone Aspis.

Which is true. But then again, the question remains, who does? How do you qualify "quality of life"? That then becomes an issue in the debate that you need to settle. As opposition, it might be strategic to say something like that but you have to be able to answer it as well. If the parents are the determinant of quality of life, why are they so? This gets more and more complicated the further you go, but then again, that's what makes this an interesting debate.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mercy Killing for Disabled Newborns

Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology are lobbying for the legalization of euthanasia for disabled newborns.

This seems to be a pretty interesting perspective on an old standby. It certainly has a different dynamic to it. It's one thing to talk about the killing of a terminally ill/disabled patient that's lived a long life, it's another thing to talk about the killing of one that has his/her whole life ahead of him/her. However, the same question of quality of life still applies. In protecting life, does the quality of that life factor in?

This debate gets even more complicated when you try to set it up. How would you define what a "disabled newborn" is? Does a crack baby qualify? How about if the baby is just genetically blind? You have to be careful in how you set this debate up lest you suddenly find yourself defending something you weren't exactly planning to, such as killing babies that just can't walk. What kind of disability you eventually choose to discuss has to be so bad as to warrant taking someone's life.

Sensitivity is also something you need to watch out for. You can't just talk about these babies as if they were statistics. Doing so only serves to turn off a lot of people. Be careful how you package your arguments.

In my opinion, this issue becomes harder if you're to oppose it. You have to justify why child barely alive has to live the next 40 years in life-support systems, never truly living.

One possible track is mentioned in the article, how such a policy only serves to promote bigotry for disabled people, as if they were lesser human beings.

If you can't make the connections for that argument, realize that the only other living beings killed for their disabilities are horses with broken legs.

The best strategy that an opposition team should take (at least I think so) would be to try and frame the issue as if it was a typical euthanasia issue.

Then again, in a debate, anything could happen.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

For a Redrawn Middle East

Ralph Peters from the Armed Forces Journal is making the case for a Middle East with borders that follow cultural/religious boundaries instead of the current borders that were made by the European empires of the 19th Century.

Now this would make for an interesting debate. Does a peaceful Middle East require redrawn territories? Or can we attain peace in the region in despite the current configuration?

This would also be a pretty complicated debate. How do you draw the borders? How can you make sure that every country in the region is satisfied? How do you deal with Israel?

On one hand, you have the Squiggly border theory, an NBER study done by a couple of Harvard economists that basically states that the more squiggly the borders, the better chances for growth while the less squiggly the borders, the more worse off the state is. This stems from the idea that straight borders indicate a state that was artificially determined (most of the time from some invading colonial/imperial power) whereas squiggly borders indicate a state that was more naturally determined. The straight bordered countries are worse off because the state was created without consideration of cultural, religious and/or ethnic conflicts within the region.

On the other hand, you have the example of Yugoslavia, proving that peace and development might not necessarily be accomplished by a state formed by ethnicity.

Then again, this is the Middle East, so who knows?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Linkblogging

David Cameron and the Tories argue that the different rights that we get once we turn 18/21, such as getting a driver's license, being able to drink alcohol, being able to vote, should be contingent on the accomplishment of a national service program (read: NSTP/ROTC). The basic point that they're trying to make is that these rights shouldn't be linked to an arbitrary age requirement but rather to some proof that there's a sense of social responsibility inherent in the young person in question. Then again, doing such a thing removes the whole unalienability of those rights in the first place. Could be quite an interesting debate.

Steven E. Landsburg explains how exactly the existence of Internet Pornography prevents the people most likely to commit rape to go out in the streets and rape someone. It essentially boils down to "Net access reduces rape because Net access makes it easy to find porn."

This would be especially useful in debates such as the one regarding fictional child pornography, or actually pornography in general.

Another thing the article explains is how violent movies reduce the incidents of violent crime.

Juan Cole talks about the idea being talked about in the US Congress about partitioning Iraq to three separate regions of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. One side is arguing that such a move would be "balkanizing" the region. The other side is saying that that's exactly what Iraq needs, considering that the Balkans are pretty stable right now. Either way, the article sheds some light on an old debate.

Gary Kamiya argues that the US should apologize to the Iraqis. His basic point is, "When we smashed into their country, we in effect became their temporary guardians. We were responsible for their well-being. We needed to raise them, take care of them, until they could take care of themselves. And we failed them. This is a deeply shameful feeling."

Then again, is a US apology really what Iraq needs right now, or is it just going to make things worse? Such an apology undoubtedly will accomplish one thing - alleviate the shame that's supposed to be in every American regarding Iraq. But what else would an apology do? Maybe embolden the fundamentalists. Maybe discredit the US as an international mediator. In any case, this is a pretty interesting debate in the long line of "compensation debates".

Bill O'Reilly vs. David Letterman

Most of the time (in fact almost 99% of the time), David Letterman isn't funny. His jokes are tired and forced, and his band leader is more annoying than Jar Jar Binks. Sometimes however, sometimes, he gets a guest over and THIS happens:






One thing you can say about Letterman, he doesn't just babysit the guests, especially when he has guests like Bill O'Reilly.

Watch the two clips. Watch how both sides debate with each other. From the start you can see O'Reilly trying to beat around the bush and avoid the issue of Iraq and the Bush Administration as best as he can. Each and every time though, Letterman forces him back onto the course. Then, a few ad hominems from both sides get thrown around, rinse and repeat.

What I find interesting about the interview is how Letterman tries to frame the Iraq issue initially in a way that's accomodating to O'Reilly's perspective - that is that the US basically pulled a 'Batman', they invaded Iraq because they wanted to stop something horrible that was already happening to them. Later on during the interview, he shifts from this perspective when he calls Bill O'Reilly on the original reasons for invading Iraq, which was the WMDs. He shifts back later on in the interview.

Other than that, (and other than that time O'Reilly takes a slight advantage when he pulls the 9/11 card) he argues the case pretty well. Take into consideration the fact that Letterman doesn't probably have a comprehensive knowledge about the history of the problem with Iraq, and it goes beyond just 'pretty well'.

He was right when he said that O'Reilly "puts artificial facts into his head". A lot of what O'Reilly said during the interview can very well be considered false matter. Is the status quo in Iraq right now really not that much different from the status quo in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime? No. Saddam killed around 300,000 people. The US Occupation in Iraq has so far killed at least 650,000. That's hardly a tie. Before the war, Iraqis (at least according to the IHT article I read way back then) were able to start their own Internet Coffee Shops. I doubt they have the same liberty now. Iraq under Saddam may have been horrible, but at least it wasn't as horrible as it is now, and at least it was stable.

More importantly and much more offensive (at least for me) was the comment O'Reilly said in the latter half of the interview - that "the intent was noble". As if that excuses everything that the Republicans have done wrong in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. Even worse, he seems to think it's perfectly fine that this rationalization harks back to Western Imperialism and the 'White Man's Burden', as if there's nothing wrong with it.

What a lot of people (particularly the Americans apparently) keep on forgetting however is that US & UK intelligence wasn't wrong only once. It was completely wrong in TWO occasions. First it was wrong with its claim of WMDs in Iraq. Second it was wrong wit h its non-claim of WMDs in North Korea. George Bush and Tony Blair dropped the ball in the biggest crisis to hit the international community since World War 2. And so far, no one's taking them completely to task with that. If they actually had their intelligence right, the world wouldn't be where it is right now, back in the Cold War.

In any case, galing lang, how Letterman completely owns O'Reilly, and all O'Reilly could do was hide himself behind a pillow.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Linkblogging

The Diary of a Sex Slave - a four part series by SFgate.com about global sex trafficking.

Charity is Selfish - the economic case against philanthropy - Slate economist Tim Harford argues that charity isn't all that altruistic.

The War on Water - How the shortage in water, privatization, and the World Bank contribute to the poverty in Bolivia.

Non-Resident Mayors - Bong Austero of the Manila Standard talks about the problem with mayors who don't reside in the towns they're governing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Further discussions on intellectual property and copyright law.

As you will read, the discussion on intellectual property and copyright law goes way beyond mp3s and AIDS cocktails.

Can fashion be copyrighted? - the Wall Street Journal talks about the infamous practice of producing knockoffs.


New Era of the Recipe Burglar
- the magazine Food and Wine deals with the latest trend of copyrighting recipes.

For a time, people were also discussing plagiarism in the context of Architectural Design. One famous case is the one against David Childs for his design of the Freedom Tower.

Considering all of this, I'm starting to think that the entertainment industry's obssession with DRM (digital rights management, you should know this) has made the idea of intellectual property trendy. Which wouldn't be that bad, until you realize that it has come to the point where people are already copyrighting phrases (read: Donald Trump).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What One Fewer Planet Means to Our Worldview

Because of the recent brouhaha regarding Pluto's non-planetary status, an editorial at the Washington Post posits the question why defintions are so important.

Some choice exerpts:

Definitions and categories are the handles by which we grasp the world. If we change the handles, we change how we see the world.


The reason people care so much about one definition rather than another is because definitions are markers for group identity, said Barbara King, a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary who studies social behavior in primates. Wanting to see the world a particular way is an extension of our innate tendency to form groups, coalitions and tribes.


The moral lesson is: be more careful with your definitions.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Fresh Take On The Death Penalty

The Scientific Activist questions the humaneness of lethal injections.

Specifically, the fact that most people in the medical community refuse to participate in executions for the simple reason that is the Hippocratic Oath.

As a result, non-medically trained technicians are the ones that perform the executions.

Which wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that if you don't know how to execute them properly, they will die the most horrible death possible - paralyzed and in pain.

There's the dilemma. The question (and therefore, the debate) is, given the large possibility of inhumaneness that might occur with a non-medico, should the medical community be forced to cooperate with lethal injections, or do they reserve the right to refuse to cooperate?

Thoughts?

Friday, August 25, 2006

This Week in Status Quo

Women can buy the morning-after pill without a prescription, the government declared Thursday, a major step that nevertheless failed to quell the politically charged debate over access to emergency contraception.

That being said, I guess that means that debate is dead. Only way now is to discuss it in terms of minors since you still have to be of age to purchase the drug.

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Astronomers have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.

This brings up an interesting new science debate. Should science conform to societal standards? I haven't figured out how to word it properly yet, but the idea here is when it comes to certain things, should scientists disregard objective standards and follow what, dare I say it, emotionally resonates with society?

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Human embryonic stem cell lines have been generated without embryos being destroyed, according to researchers.


This also brings an interesting development in this debate. Now that 'ethical' stem cell generation has been developed, should 'unethical' stem cell research continue?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Pedophilia

The New York Times currently has two articles up with regards to Pedophilia, Child Pornography and its relation to the Internet. Read it if you want to have a more comprehensive understanding of how this particular community works, it's probably going to help you in a debate one of these days.

Motions that I've thought of concerning this topic:

This House would extend child pornography laws to sexualized imagery of minors. (most balanced, I think)

This House would hold Internet Service Providers liable for the distribution of child pornography. (also balanced, and it SHOULDN'T be the same debate as that of filesharing)

This House celebrates the formation of Pedophilic Political Parties. (Just so you know, a Dutch Court upheld the formation of that Netherlands one)

Since their website restricts access to the articles after two weeks, I'm posting the full articles after the jump.





On the Web, Pedophiles Extend Their Reach
By KURT EICHENWALD

At first blush, the two conversations — taking place almost simultaneously in different corners of the Internet — might have seemed unremarkable, even humdrum.

In April, with summer fast approaching, both groups of online friends chatted about jobs at children’s camps. Did anyone, one man asked, know of girls’ camps willing to hire adult males as counselors? Meanwhile, elsewhere in cyberspace, the second group celebrated the news that one of their own had been offered a job leading a boys’ cabin at a sleep-away camp.

But participants in the conversation did not focus on the work. “Hope you see some naked boys in your cabin,” a man calling himself PPC responded. “And good luck while restraining yourself from doing anything.”

The two groups were made up of self-proclaimed pedophiles — one attracted to under-age girls, the other to boys. Their dialogue runs at all hours in an array of chat rooms, bulletin boards and Web sites set up for adults attracted to children.

But it is no longer just chatter in the ether. What started online almost two decades ago as a means of swapping child pornography has transformed in recent years into a more complex and diversified community that uses the virtual world to advance its interests in the real one.

Today, pedophiles go online to seek tips for getting near children — at camps, through foster care, at community gatherings and at countless other events. They swap stories about day-to-day encounters with minors. And they make use of technology to help take their arguments to others, like sharing online a printable booklet to be distributed to children that extols the benefits of sex with adults.

The community’s online infrastructure is surprisingly elaborate. There are Internet radio stations run by and for pedophiles; a putative charity that raised money to send Eastern European children to a camp where they were apparently visited by pedophiles; and an online jewelry company that markets pendants proclaiming the wearer as being sexually attracted to children, allowing anyone in the know to recognize them.

These were the findings of a four-month effort by The New York Times to learn about the pedophiles’ online world by delving into their Internet communications. In recent months, new concerns have emerged about whether the ubiquitous nature of broadband technology, instant message communications and digital imagery is presenting new and poorly understood risks to children. Already, there have been many Congressional hearings on the topic, as well as efforts to write comprehensive legislation to address the issue.

But most of those efforts have focused on examining particular instances of harm to children. There have been few, if any, recent attempts to examine the pedophiles themselves, based on their own words to one another, to gain a better recognition of the nature of potential problems.

Last week, that world attracted new attention after reports that John M. Karr, who was arrested last Wednesday as a suspect in the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, apparently used Internet discussion sites intensively in efforts to communicate with children, sometimes about sex. In e-mail messages to a journalism professor that investigators believe were written by Mr. Karr, statements about children seemed to echo the online dialogue among pedophiles.

“Sometimes little girls are closer to me than with their parents or any other person in their lives,’’ the e-mail messages say. “I can only say that I can relate very well to children and the way they think and feel.’’

The recent conversations among pedophiles that were examined by The Times took place in virtual rooms in Internet Relay Chat, a text-based system allowing for real-time communications; on message boards on Usenet, which has postings by topic; and on Web sites catering to pedophiles.

In this online community, pedophiles view themselves as the vanguard of a nascent movement seeking legalization of child pornography and the loosening of age-of-consent laws. They portray themselves as battling for children’s rights to engage in sex with adults, a fight they liken to the civil rights movement. And while their effort has brought little success, they celebrated online in May when a small group of men in the Netherlands formed a pedophile political party, and they rejoiced again last month when a Dutch court upheld the party’s right to exist.

The conversations themselves are not illegal. And, given the fantasy world that the Internet can be, it is difficult to prove the truth of personal statements, or to demonstrate direct connections between online commentary and real-world actions. Nor can the number of participants in these conversations, taking place around the Internet, be reliably ascertained.

But the existence of this community is significant and troubling, experts said, because it reinforces beliefs that, when acted upon, are criminal. Repeatedly in these conversations, pedophiles said the discussions had helped them accept their attractions and had even allowed them to have sex with a child without guilt.

Indeed, law enforcement officials say that the refrain of justification from online conversations is frequently voiced by adults arrested for molestation, raising concern that such conversations may lower pedophiles’ willingness to resist their temptation.

“It is rationalization that allows them to avoid admitting that their desires are harmful and illegal,” said Bill Walsh, a former commander of the Crimes Against Children Unit for the Dallas Police Department, who founded the most prominent annual national conference on the issue. “That can allow them to take that final step and cross over from fantasy into real-world offenses.”

Still, in their conversations, some pedophiles often maintain that the discussion sites are little more than support groups. They condemn violent child rapists and lament that they are often equated with such criminals. Many see themselves as spiritually connected to children and say that sexual contact is irrelevant. Yet the pedophiles consistently return to discussions justifying sex with minors and child pornography.

Many of these adults described concepts of children that veered into the fantastical — for example, at times depicting themselves as victims of predatory minors. A little girl in a skirt reveals her underwear by doing a cartwheel; a boy in a bathing suit sits on a bench with his legs spread apart; a child playfully jumps on a man’s back — all of these ordinary events were portrayed as sexual come-ons.

“It really is like going through the rabbit hole, with this entire alternative reality,” said Philip Jenkins, a professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University who wrote “Beyond Tolerance,” a groundbreaking 2001 book about Internet child pornography.

The conversations also demonstrated technological acumen, with frequent discussions about ways to ensure online anonymity and to encrypt images. That underscores a challenge faced by the authorities who hope to combat online child exploitation with technology. For example, in June, Internet service providers announced plans for an alliance that will use new technologies to locate child pornography traders.

Pedophiles were undaunted. Within hours of the announcement, their discussion rooms were filled with advice on how to continue swapping illegal images while avoiding detection — months before the new technologies were to be in full operation.

Portraits of Pedophilia

In a sense, the creation of the pedophiles’ online community was a ripple effect from the success of government efforts to crack down on them.

Washington’s efforts in the late 1970’s to stamp out child pornography by declaring it illegal were enormously effective, closing off traditional outlets for illicit images.

But the Internet soon presented an alternative. In the early 1980’s, through postings on bulletin board systems, pedophiles went online to swap illegal images. From there, they could easily converse with others like themselves, and they found theirs to be a community of diverse backgrounds.

In the conversations observed by The Times, the pedophiles often discussed their personal lives. Their individual jobs were described as being a disc jockey at parties (“a high concentration of gorgeous” children, a man claiming to hold the job said); a pediatric nurse (“lots of looking but no touching”); a piano teacher (“I could tell you stories that would make you ...well... I’ll be good”); an employee at a water theme park (“bathing suits upon bathing suits!!!!!”); and a pediatrician specializing in gynecology (“No need to add anything more, I feel”).

The most frequent job mentioned, however, was schoolteacher. A number of self-described teachers shared detailed observations about children in their classes, including events they considered sexual, like a second-grade boy holding his crotch during class.

The man relating that story held up that action as an expression of sexuality; he was not dissuaded when another participant in the conversation suggested that the boy might have just needed to go to the bathroom.

Some pedophiles revealed that they gained access to children through their own families. Some discussed how they married to be close to the children from their wives’ previous marriages. Pedophiles who said they were fathers described moments involving their own children, such as a man who told of watching his sons change for swimming in a locker room, complete with details about the older boy’s genitals and emerging pubic hair. Others insisted they would never feel any interest in their own children, but commented on the benefits presented by parenthood.

“I have a daughter and have never been attracted to her,” a man with the screen name of jonboy wrote. But, he added, “I did find her friends very attractive.”

Pedophiles chafe at suggestions that such comments reflect risks to minors. They point out, correctly, that family members and friends — not strangers — are the most frequent perpetrators of child sexual abuse. They never note, however, that the minors mentioned in their online discussions are most frequently those they know well, like relatives and children of friends.

Justifications Online

In the pedophiles’ world view, not all sexual abuse is abuse. There is widespread condemnation and hatred of adults who engage in forcible rape of children. But otherwise, acts of molestation are often celebrated as demonstrations of love.

“My daughter and I have a healthy close relationship,” a person with the screen name Sonali posted. “We have been in a ‘consensual sexual relationship’ almost two months now.”

The daughter, Sonali wrote, is 10. Whatever guilt Sonali felt for the relationship was eased by the postings of other pedophiles. “I am so happy to find this site,” Sonali wrote. “I thought having a sexual attraction to my daughter was bad. I now do not feel guilty or conflicted.”

In that, Sonali was demonstrating what experts said is the most dangerous element of the pedophile Internet community: its justification of illegal acts. Experts described the pedophiles’ online worldview as reflective of “neutralization,” a psychological rationalization used by groups that deviate from societal norms.

In essence, the groups deem potentially injurious acts and beliefs harmless. That is accomplished in part by denying that a victim is injured, condemning critics and appealing to higher loyalties — in this case, an ostensible struggle for the sexual freedom of children.

Pedophiles see themselves as part of a social movement to gain acceptance of their attractions. The effort has a number of tenets: that pedophiles are beneficial to minors, that children are psychologically capable of consenting and that therapists manipulate the young into believing they are harmed by such encounters.

“Every human being, no matter the age, should be allowed to have consenting mutual sexual relations with anyone they wish,” a man calling himself Venn wrote. “All age of consent laws must, and forever, be abolished.”

Those same types of comments online are now turning up in court. For example, a man known by the screen name Brother Peteticus is among those who have argued online for legalizing sex with children. In real life, he is Phillip J. Distasio of Rocky River, Ohio, who was arrested last year on charges of raping two autistic boys who were his students. In court this month, Mr. Distasio, 34, portrayed himself as following the dictates of his own religion, and made arguments frequently expressed by the online community.

“I’ve been a pedophile for 20 years,” Mr. Distasio said at the pretrial hearing. “The only reason I’m charged with rape is that no one believes a child can consent to sex. The role of my ministry is to get these cases out of the courtrooms.”

In the days that followed, some pedophiles supported that position online, agreeing with Mr. Distasio that mentally handicapped, prepubescent boys could consent to sex with their teacher.

That same logic is applied by the pedophiles to child pornography, which many of them said should be legalized. “Where is the problem?” from child pornography, a pedophile who used the screen name Writer said in an online posting. “Once again, the underlying issue is the repressive belief that sex is intrinsically sinful.”

In making these arguments, pedophiles often demonize parents and other adults as cruel, unloving people who exert authoritarian control over children and stand in the way of minors’ sexual freedom. “Anti-pedophiles are NOT about protecting children,” a man who called himself Christopher wrote. “They are usually the ones who are beating (they call it spanking) or emotionally neglecting their children.”

But their arguments often seem contradictory. While maintaining that they can be trusted with children, some pedophiles said they would not allow minors in their lives to be with other adults attracted to children. “I guess coming from the inside, I know a bunch of the bad stuff that can happen,” one man wrote.

Many pedophile sites conduct surveys to learn about the attitudes of their contributors. While none of these surveys are scientifically valid, they do reflect the thinking of some people who traffic in these sites. And not surprisingly, a large number of the surveys are about sex.

For example, on one site, pedophiles were asked if they would “have full intercourse with a little girl.” Seventy-four members responded. Only 17 replied no. The same number said that they might. The largest group — over 54 percent — said that they would.

Some attached comments to their survey response. One man provided descriptions of the acts he would repeatedly perform on an 8-year-old to prepare her. The words — too graphic to be printed here — raised no criticism on the site.

But in other discussions, pedophiles cautioned that some comments were too dangerous. When one man described in lurid terms his fantasies about molesting an infant girl, the response was quick. “This is best not discussed,” a man calling himself garvy wrote, adding that someday, pedophiles would need evidence proving that they cared only about children’s best interests.

“Such posts,” garvy concluded, “will be very damaging to the Cause.”

A Web of Deception

The booklet — recently circulated through a Web site for pedophiles — had been written, it said, “for any boy who is old enough to be able to read it.”

Called “Straight Talk for Boys,” it is an 18-page discussion of sex, particularly between children and adults, from the pedophiles’ viewpoint. Such encounters are depicted as harmless, even beneficial. The document criticizes parents and therapists. And it encourages boys to wear Speedo bathing suits and shower naked in public places.

But it repeatedly returns to one message: boys should never tell about sex with adults. “Older boys and men may be frightened about getting caught having sex play with you, because they can be put in jail,” it says. “So you have to think of ways to ‘signal’ your interest in another person without openly saying what you want,” adding that “nobody else can know about what you agree to do.”

The booklet comes with instructions, advising pedophiles on how to distribute it. “The best and safest way is to leave quantities of the booklet in places where boys in the 8 to 14 range can find them, and where adults will not discover them too quickly,” the instructions read. “Obviously, you don’t want to be observed placing the booklets in your chosen locations.”

The booklet reflects how pedophiles can use the Internet to advance their interests in the real world. Like many of those efforts, this one involved deception: the booklet does not reveal, for example, that it has been written and distributed by men who are sexually attracted to children, but instead portrays itself as objective fact.

Using deception to gain access to children is a recurring theme. For example, on a site for adults attracted to boys, someone calling himself Vespucci asked in June whether a single man could become a foster father. The respondents cautioned Vespucci to disguise his pedophilia.

“You better have a darned good excuse why you never married, such as your fiancĂ©e died in a car wreck,” replied a man calling himself simply “d.” “I highly recommend you date women for several years and keep at least a couple of those relationships going for at least a couple of months. Around the women, make a point of being nice to children.”

The deception would be worthwhile, d wrote. “It will help out in the reference-check dept. when you apply.”

Pointers on ways to get close to children were frequent topics. One man posted an Internet “help wanted” advertisement from a single mother seeking an overnight baby sitter for her 4-year-old daughter; another recommended shopping at weekend estate sales, since plenty of bored minors showed up accompanying inattentive parents.

Some participants in these conversations claimed to have established charitable efforts that put them in contact with children. For example, an organization called BL Charity said it was seeking money to send Eastern European children to camp.

The charity’s site, which recently closed, showed scores of images of children at camp and in their homes, supposedly taken by the men running the site. The effort was organized by pedophiles; BL is the online term for “boy-lover.” It eventually shut down, largely from a lack of money, according to a posting from the site’s operators. After the site closed, further details of BL Charity could not be learned. Not every organization and effort of the pedophiles is directly tied to trying to reach children. For example, pedophiles have created Internet radio stations for the purpose of providing support for one another and encouraging their perceived social movement.

It is not known how many such stations exist, nor the size of the audience. The most prominent station appears to be Sure Quality Radio, which on its home page proclaims, “From all levels of society you will find us, not as predators but as human beings, loving and caring for boys or girls or both.” The site has a program schedule and an online store selling mainstream music and movies featuring children.

People who work with Sure Quality Radio did not respond to questions e-mailed to them from The Times, although one person with the online name of boystory replied by saying he was immediately severing all ties with the station.

There are also online podcasts, recorded talk shows of 60 to 90 minutes featuring discussions among pedophiles. The discussions, as described online, deal with topics like “benefits of age difference in sexual relationships”; “failure of sex offender registries”; “children’s sexual autonomy, practices and consequences” and “the misrepresentation of pedophilia in the news media.”

With the chat rooms, radio stations and other organizations, pedophiles’ views are continually reinforced. But some realize that this online echo chamber can warp reality. For example, a man calling himself AtosW reported to fellow pedophiles that he had been chatting on a game site frequented by boys. A conversation began about the Dutch pedophile party, AtosW said, and the minors reacted with threats of violence.

AtosW was perplexed. “Why are posters THAT young so angry about it?” he asked. “It is after all THEIR rights that they are pushing for.”

A man calling himself Ritter responded. “Your post is a typical example of what happens when you spend too much time in the online BL community,” he wrote. “Believe it or not, most young children are NOT anxious to have sex with adult men.”


With Child Sex Sites on the Run, Nearly Nude Photos Hit the Web
By KURT EICHENWALD

In the photograph, the model is shown rising out of a bubble bath, suds dripping from her body. Her tight panties and skimpy top are soaked and revealing. She gazes at the viewer, her face showing a wisp of a smile that seems to have been coaxed from off-camera.

In just over seven months, the model has become an online phenomenon. She has thousands of fans from around the world, membership lists show, who pay as much as $30 a month to see images of her. According to the posted schedule, new photographs of her — many clearly intended to be erotic, all supposedly taken that week — are posted online every Friday for her growing legions of admirers.

The model’s online name is Sparkle. She is — at most — 9 years old.

Sparkle is one of hundreds of children being photographed by adults, part of what appears to be the latest trend in online child exploitation: Web sites for pedophiles offering explicit, sexualized images of children who are covered by bits of clothing — all in the questionable hope of allowing producers, distributors and customers to avoid child pornography charges.

In recent months, an array of investigations of the child pornography business — by the Justice Department, state and local law enforcement and Congress — have contributed to wholesale shutdowns of some of the most sexually explicit Internet sites trafficking in child images. But they have been rapidly replaced by a growing number of these so-called model sites, Internet locations that offer scores of original photographs of scantily clad under-age children like Sparkle, often posed in ways requested by subscribers.

More than 200 of the sites have been found by The New York Times through online advertising aimed at pedophiles, and a vast majority focus mostly on one child. Almost all the children appear to be between the ages of 2 and 12.

Based on descriptions in online customer forums and in Web pages showing image samples, the children are photographed by people who have frequent access to them. The sites often include images of “guests”: children who are described as a friend of the featured child, but who appear for only a day. The sites say the children come from different parts of the world, including the United States.

Based on the images and wording from online advertisements, the sites show toddlers wearing tight thongs, and slightly older children posing evocatively while wearing makeup and feather boas. There is even a site that offers images of girls and boys who appear to be 5 or 6 years old, wearing just diapers.

In online conversations observed by The Times over four months, pedophiles portrayed model sites as the last of a shrinking number of Internet locations for sexual images of minors.

”I considered the authors of those sites as leaders of a rebellion movement for child porn,” a man calling himself Heartfallen wrote in an online site for pedophiles, discussing the decline in the number of sites featuring images of naked minors. “They’ve vanished. There is much less freedom on the Internet now. We still have a rebellion made up of nonnude child modeling sites. But are they going to suffer the same fate as their predecessors?”

Insight to the Ramsey Case

The secretive world of child exploitation is in the spotlight because of an arrest last week in the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant princess. The suspect was a fugitive from charges of possessing child pornography and had exhibited a fascination with the sexual abuse of children.

While many of the recently created sites are veering into new territory, the concept of for-pay modeling sites using children has been around for years. They first appeared in the late 1990’s, when entrepreneurs, and even parents, recognized that there was a lucrative market online for images of girls and boys.

Sites with names like lilamber.com emerged, showing photographs of children, usually modeling in clothes or swimsuits. Their existence set off a fury of criticism in Congress about possible child exploitation, but proposed legislation about such sites never passed.

The sites that have emerged in recent months, however, are markedly different. Unlike the original sites, the newer ones are explicit in their efforts to market to pedophiles, referring to young children with phrases like “hot” and “delicious.” The children involved are far younger, and the images far more sexual, emphasizing the minors’ genitals and buttocks.

Some modeling sites have already attracted the attention of law enforcement. Earlier this year, prosecutors obtained a guilty plea on child pornography charges from Sheila L. Sellinger, then of Shoals, Ind., who had been selling illegal photographs of her 10-year-old daughter on a modeling Web site. Last month, Ms. Sellinger was sentenced to almost 12 years in prison.

Ms. Sellinger, who earned thousands of dollars a week from the pornographic yet clothed images of her daughter, cooperated with law enforcement, leading to the arrest of two men who had been assisting her with her site and had been running several more, court records show.

To attract subscribers, central marketing sites, called portals, list scores of available modeling sites that accept money in exchange for access to children’s images. The portals promote the busiest sites, ranking them by the number of hits they receive.

Such a marketing approach proved effective for some online child pornography businesses that have disappeared over the last year, including those that offered illicit videos of children generated by Webcams.

The Times did not subscribe to any sites, which it first saw referenced in online conversations among pedophiles. The Times followed a link posted in those conversations to forum postings and images on freely accessible pages of the modeling sites. Because those sites appeared to be illegal, The Times was required by law to report what it had found to authorities. Federal law enforcement officials were notified in July about the sites.In contrast to their advertising, many of the sites portray themselves on their main pages as regular modeling agencies trying to find work for their talent. But executives in the legitimate modeling business said that virtually everything about the sites runs contrary to industry practice. Most child images for genuine agencies are password-protected, the executives said, with access granted to companies and casting agents only after a check of their backgrounds.

These executives said that real modeling agencies would refuse to use the types of sexualized images of children sought by pedophiles, not only because they are exploitative and illegal, but also because they would be bad business.

Such images on an agency Web site would drive away many parents who might be seeking representation for their child, executives said; indeed, most photographs of child models are nothing more than head shots. And the legitimate agents provide the phone numbers, addresses and names of their executives so potential clients can contact them; most of the sites aimed at pedophiles not only provide little or no means of contact, but even hide the identities of the owners behind anonymous site registrations.

“These are clearly not bona fide companies, and it’s obvious these are just Web sites for people to go on and view children in an unhealthy manner,” Bonnie Breen, chief booker for the Bizzykidz Agency, a prominent modeling agency for children based in London, said when provided with a description of the emerging modeling sites.

Despite repeated statements on the sites that they are lawful, they may well run afoul of American law. While the issues are far from settled — thus leading to the attempts by Congress to clarify the law — courts have worked over the last two decades to define standards for what constitutes potentially illegal images of children.

‘Lascivious Exhibition’ Standard

Under law, for an image that does not involve a child engaged in a sex act, a court must find that it entails “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” of a minor to determine that it is child pornography. As a result, courts have ruled that images of naked children were not automatically pornographic, and thus not illegal, while also holding that the mere presence of clothing on a photographed child was not, in itself, adequate to declare the image lawful.

Instead, the courts often apply a six-pronged test, developed in a 1986 case called United States v. Dost, to determine whether an image meets the “lascivious exhibition” standard. That test — which requires a court to examine the child’s pose and attire, the suggestiveness and intent of the image and other factors — includes one standard on whether the child is naked. However, no single standard under Dost is absolute, and courts must continuously examine potentially illegal images while considering each part of the test.

The leading precedent on child pornography involving clothed minors is a federal case known as United States v. Knox, which involved a pedophile who obtained erotic videos of girls. In that 1994 case, the Federal Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of the pedophile, Stephen Knox, saying explicitly that clothing alone did not automatically mean that images of children were legal.

“The harm Congress attempted to eradicate by enacting the child pornography laws is present when a photographer unnaturally focuses on a minor child’s clothed genital area with the obvious intent to produce an image sexually arousing to pedophiles,” the court’s ruling says. “The rationale underlying the statute’s proscription applies equally to any lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area whether these areas are clad or completely exposed.”

While adult pornography has some First Amendment protections, there are no such protections for child pornography. Still, some experts have expressed discomfort, in general, at criminalizing clothed pictures of minors.

“This is a difficult area,” said Michael A. Bamberger, a First Amendment specialist at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, based in New York, who filed a brief on behalf of a booksellers’ group in the Knox case. “The whole history of the exception from First Amendment protections for child pornography is based on the harm to the child. But there is in my view a free speech issue with respect to designating photographs of persons under the age of 18 who are clothed as child pornography.”

But Mr. Bamberger expressed uncertainty about whether his concerns applied when told details of the model sites found by The Times. “To me, it sounds as if you are really talking about nude equivalents, almost like cellophane clothing, and that’s not clothing at all.”To distinguish between illegal images and, say, photographs of children posing in underwear for a store catalog, the court said it had to apply the Dost standards and review a range of facts, like the nature of the images and whether the marketing was intended to appeal to pedophiles.

For example, the court noted, a potential customer could know the images of minors were illegal if they were marketed with statements proclaiming that they would “blow your mind so completely you’ll be begging for mercy.” Explicit listing of the children’s ages, along with sexually loaded terms like “hot,” could also be used as evidence of illegality, the court said.

The modeling sites reviewed by The Times incorporated many such references to encourage viewers to subscribe.

That is true for one of the most successful collections of sites, according to some portal rankings, run by an entity called PlayToy Entertainment. On its central site, PlayToy holds itself out as a company that helps children start modeling careers. There is, however, no phone number, address or prominent e-mail address available for companies that might seek to hire the girls or for parents who might want their children to be models.

The central PlayToy site originally located by The Times contained links to as many as six sites featuring little girls. In recent days, the central site has been redesigned, removing the links to the girls’ individual sites.

Those sites still exist, however, including the one for the girl called Sparkle. Another site features a prepubescent girl named Lolly — a widely used online code word for pornographic images of girls. There are even sexualized images of a girl called Baby, who appears younger than 5 and whose photographs seem to go back as far as her second birthday or earlier, when she was still in diapers.

The marketing makes clear that this is no typical modeling company.

“Call 911 before viewing!!!” proclaims the site for Sparkle, which shows her in a thong so revealing that she appears to be naked below the waist. The ad for the site uses words that echo those cited in the Knox decision, reading, “Only 9 years old! Hot!”

Other PlayToy sites are more explicit. “Feel her breathe on your face, take a gentle touch from your screen, open your mind and push the limits,” reads the site for the girl called Lolly. “If you are ready to handle this trip, PlayToy Lolly is calling.”

An advertisement for another PlayToy site, featuring a girl called Peach, declares, “A peach has never looked so delicious.**8 years old**.”

The site includes a picture of the young girl wearing a tank top pulled off one shoulder. Directly below that is a purple emblem with the company name and the words, “Nonnude website: 100% legal.”

But experts said that assurance was almost certainly not true. Based on the ages of the children, the marketing words and customer comments on the PlayToy sites described to him by The Times, a lead lawyer in the Knox case said that the subscribers had plenty of reason to worry.

“They shouldn’t have any comfort that they are not breaking the law,” said Edward W. Warren, a partner from the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis who helped to argue Knox as a representative of 234 members of Congress who joined the case. “This sounds worse and more graphic and more grotesque than what we were dealing with, particularly given how young the children are.”

The assurance by the company that the sites are lawful is irrelevant to any potential prosecution, experts said. Indeed, in the Knox decision, the court held that defendants could be found guilty if they were aware of the “general nature and character” of images that they bought involving clothed children in sexual poses.

“The child pornography laws would be eviscerated if a pedophile’s personal opinion about the legality of sexually explicit videos was transformed into the applicable law,” the court held.

In their comments on PlayToy’s site, which can be viewed without registering with the company, the subscribers make clear that they are aware these are sites for pedophiles, not legitimate modeling clients.

“I think it would be awesome to have the models start off fetchingly clothed, and then strip down to tops or panties (or thongs!!),” a customer calling himself head2fat wrote on the forum.

Another client, calling himself ludwig66, instead requested that the girls appear in stockings, “ending up removing them to reveal bare feet and legs.” And still another customer, calling himself littlefeet, asked the site owners to pose the girl known as Baby in bare feet with her toes pointed, “so all of those beautiful wrinkles show!!!”

While PlayToy’s management and its members repeatedly assure themselves online about the legality of their images, they did not hesitate to post images from known child pornography sites. For example, when Ms. Sellinger was arrested this year for selling photos of her daughter, PlayToy members — and even the site operator — posted messages of dismay, referring to both mother and daughter by name. They also composed a photographic homage to the girl in the forum discussion, using images from the site that had been deemed illegal.

PlayToy’s sites have been online since October, company records show. But in that short time, the records show, 6,000 people have subscribed to view the images of the girls. Each subscriber is paying $30 a month for each site; that means the operators have collected a minimum of $180,000 in that short time, assuming every subscriber bought only one site for one month.

The cash has been collected either by credit card — processed through a company called Advanced Internet Billing Services, or through Western Union payments — as well as through an online money system called e-gold. A Tortuous Digital Trail

Attempts to learn the identities of the people behind PlayToy suggested many possible locations. Payments through Western Union were processed through Ukraine. An administrative e-mail address suggested the company was based in Russia. Using a commercial software program, The Times traced messages sent by the PlayToy sites back to servers in Germany and obtained what is known as the Internet protocol address of that online host.

An examination of the registration documents for the sites’ names led to a company that is essentially a front, permitting its name to be used as the registrant by people who wish to remain anonymous.

The Times then obtained business records about the site prepared by someone involved in its operation.

If true, the records show the name, address, telephone number and other personal information of a man in Florida who is involved in running the site. An e-mail address listed in the records was traced to postings that appeared in pedophile conversation sites, including comments praising child pornography and images of young girls in thongs. Because of the possibility of identity theft, The Times has elected not to publish the name of that man or of associates who also appear to be involved in the business.

The Florida man did not return a voice mail message left on his cellphone or respond to an e-mail message.

Still, even if the operators of PlayToy are positively identified and compelled to shut their sites, the growing business of model sites would probably continue to thrive. PlayToy’s many subscribers, a large number of whom identify themselves on the site as living in America, could simply drift over to other model sites, all offering similar fare.

There, on each of those hundreds of competing sites, the subscribers will find at least one other little girl who, every few days or so, is dressed in panties or thongs, placed in a bathtub or posed on a bed, while a nearby adult snaps pictures for the delight of a paying audience of thousands.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Addressing Security Concerns

All of you probably already know that security guards in front of malls inspecting your bags, a national ID system, arming the barangay tanod as well as the recent ban of liquids on aircrafts are all ridiculous ways to prevent terrorist acts from happening.

This essay by far articulates it best.

Excerpts,

It's easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it's shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we've wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we've wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets -- stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security -- and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that require us to guess correctly don't work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It's not security, it's security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.


Security theater. Best packaging of it yet.

Also, the concrete repercussions of such policies in airports.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Filler

If you've ever been the type of person to use fillers during a speech. Here's something that might help you.

I don't know if it will actually work, but it's worth a shot.

Better than seeing everybody in the room counting to your 'ums' and 'ahhs'.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hell March

If you like Hunter S. Thompson and his gonzo journalism, here's a pretty good piece on the current state of the mail order bride industry.

Actually, if you've ever wondered what exactly the mail order bride industry was all about, this is a good place to start as any.

An excerpt:

Again and again, my companions declared that they weren’t looking for a sex tour, and that neither were they simply looking for a servant to cook for them and clean their home—that it was a real companion they sought. Each consistently made a point of saying how intelligent their dates were, even if their outing had only lasted for half an hour and had taken place without a common language between them. One, a California contractor with a seething, hostile energy and the blue-eyed, mustachioed handsomeness of a 1970s porn star, summed it up thusly: “I don’t want someone that I’m going to run; I need somebody’s help. I need an opinion. I’m not out to pound a bunch of pussy. If that’s what I want, I’ll go down to the whorehouse.”

But what they really wanted, and what most imagined they would find in Ukraine, was a fusion of 1950s gender sensibilities with a twenty-first-century hypersexuality. Along with everything else, the men had heard that the women here were “wild,” “uninhibited,” that being with them was “a whole different ball game.” As always, Dan the Man had done his part to stoke this fantasy, peppering his talk of traditional values and wifely devotion with just the right amount of lasciviousness. “I’ve heard stories from all the guys who have been married to them, and they all say the same thing: they definitely are much, much, much more passionate, much more open-minded,” he told us at one point. “This guy, he’s been married for six, seven years and his wife is just as crazy, they have threesomes all the time.” The vision was Madonna and puttana rolled together, an American male desire shaped in equal parts by the Promise Keepers and Internet porn.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Weird Science

Some science issues that might lead to interesting debates.

Just remember, when debating on science, be careful not to deal too much with specifics. When that happens, the debate tends to go to shit.

Some science bloggers wonder out loud about the dangers of researching on the possible biological origins of homosexuality. Which, in a debate, may be discussed with a motion like,

This house condemns the continued scientific research on the possible biological origins of homosexuality.

Another blog talks about the current double standards that the US administration has with regards to being "pro-life". And no, it's not just a picking between embryos who can potentially become babies and the people who have diseases that might be cured by embryonic stem cell research. It's also to do with the US government completely ignoring the thousands of embryos currently in frozen storage waiting to be discarded the moment the couples who made them stop their payment for their storage. This therefore begs the question: if the Republicans are so pro-life, why aren't they doing anything to 'save' the potential lives of these thousands of embryos?

Which leads us to a motion that might be something like,

This house believes that the government has the responsibility to take care of all unused embryos in storage.

This has the underlying logic that in a country much like George Bush's United States where embryos and unborn children are increasingly acquiring the rights we accrue to actual living minors, then in the same way that the government has children of the State, the government should also have embryos of the State.

After all, as Karl Rove said, "we were all embryos once..." and young.

Lastly, this might seem old, but I never recalled debating on this in the 5-6 years I've been debating, so I think it's a good time to start discussing this. Especially since it's becoming a hot topic once again.

This house supports the testing of animals for scientific progress.

If you want to make it harder for the opposition, make it "the ethical testing".

And for those of you wondering where to get more scientific political goodness, there's The Scientific Activist for you.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Jon Stewart on Net Neutrality

By far the easiest and simplest explanation of how the internet works and what net neutrality is. If you can't be bothered to read up on the stuff, at least watch this.

Friday, July 07, 2006

On Divorce

Here's a situation: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl gets married, boy and girl start to hate each other and separate, boy (or girl) start divorce proceedings, during divorce proceedings boy (or girl) die. What happens?

That's the new question people are asking. Do you allow for posthumous divorces to take place?

You might ask yourself, what's the point? They can't get any more divorced than THAT!

Then again, there are other things that need to be considered. To summarize what's said in the article, what happens to deceased spouse's estate if said spouse died before signing divorce papers or updating his/her will?

That's basically the problem. Under current law (but correct me if I'm wrong here), since they're still married, surviving spouse gets everything, unless specified in the will. Posthumous divorces address that problem by allowing the division of assets that would otherwise have happened had deceased spouse wasn't actually deceased.

The question is, should that happen in the first place?

In this debate, much like any other debate concerning dead people, you have to prove whether or not dead people have rights in the first place. If they don't prove that they should.

On the other side of the coin, you need to prove why they shouldn't, or barring that, why the rights of the living need to be prioritized. Corollary to that, you also need to prove that the rights of the living and the rights of the dead are actually in conflict.

Be careful though, as opposition in a debate like this, it's very very easy to come across as cold and insensitive. Be very careful with what you say.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

English as a First Language

One of the stranger issues that've come out of the United States is Lobbyists who are advocating for English Langauge reform. By English Language reform, they mean they want to change how English is spelled from the current status quo to being spelled phonetically.

However, there HAS been precedent for this. Not in the last fifty years or so, sure, but it's been done before. The last time, If my knowledge of history is correct, was to take out redundant letters (e.g. doughnut becomes donut) to save on space when it comes to publishing.

It's basically a practicality vs. principle debate. And like most practicality vs. principle debate, you either have to prove which side has both, or if your side (be it more practical or more principled) is the higher value.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

On Argumentation

I read this commentary on today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and I just had to laugh. Hard. The arguments that this person had to say about death penalty were that ridiculous, I couldn't believe that he was a former justice of the Sandiganbayan. Read it, and I hope I need not explain to you how exactly almost everything he said was patently absurd as arguments supporting the death penalty.

Reflections on the death penalty abolition

By Manuel R. Pamaran
Inquirer
Last updated 02:06am (Mla time) 07/02/2006

Published on Page A11 of the July 2, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITHOUT much debate and public hearing, Congress passed the bill abolishing the death penalty and the President signed it into law. In these times when heinous crimes imperil the daily lives of peaceful citizens, and unabated graft and corruption hinders the country’s economic growth, the justifications for the abolition are flimsy.

Among the main reasons given for the abolition of the death penalty are: (1) it is not an effective deterrent to crimes; (2) human life is God-given, therefore, it must be respected and only God has the right to take it; (3) a death sentence that has been executed can no longer be remedied; and (4) it deprives a convict the opportunity to reform.

On the first reason, let it be stressed that the death penalty was re-imposed by Republic Act 7659 only on Jan. 1, 1994. Since then, not more than 10 convicts have been executed despite the fact that there are more than a thousand death convicts. Besides, most of the death sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment, if not indefinitely suspended. In short, there had been no real implementation of the death penalty law; therefore, there is not enough basis to say whether or not the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crimes.

To be an effective deterrent, the “threat” of death penalty should be complemented with the efficient and speedy administration of justice in the arrest, investigation and trial of the accused. Without this complement, death penalty would be a lonely scarecrow. Worse, in the absence of both—death penalty and efficient, speedy justice—our country will not be a wholesome place to live in.

On the second issue, the purpose of the death penalty is to uphold the sanctity of life. The taking of human life is justified by necessity under certain circumstances. One such situation is “self-defense.” Another is the defense of the person or right of one’s wife, ascendants, brothers and sisters, or relatives by affinity in the same degree, and those by consanguinity within the fourth civil degree; and of the person or right of a stranger under circumstances analogous to self-defense. (Art. 11, Par. 1, Revised Penal Code)
Under the law, the author thereof is freed from any and all liability, it being understood that had he not done the act, he or the person he defended would have been killed.

If under such circumstances -- where at stake is only the life of the person defending or being defended -- killing is justified, the more reason that the State is justified to take human life in defense of thousands of other lives and of the community itself. This, undoubtedly, gives greater meaning to the sacredness of human life.

Viewed from another angle, the abolition of the death penalty seriously sets back our fight against graft and corruption, especially against plunder which is punishable by death. It puts in serious doubt our thrusts toward and avowals for a clean and honest government.

As to the third issue, it is unlikely that someone innocent could be a “victim of execution.” The victim of a crime or his heir -- knowing that accusing an innocent person will set free the real wrongdoer and, therefore, he will not get justice -- will in all likelihood see to it that he accuses only the person who has wronged him. This is human nature and is not debatable.

Moreover, our judicial system practically reduces to zero any error of judgment: A criminal complaint is first filed with the police officer who conducts an investigation to determine if there is a reasonable ground to charge the suspect. If such ground is found to exist, the case is forwarded to the prosecutor who in turn conducts a preliminary investigation to determine if there is probable cause showing a crime has been committed and the suspect is probably guilty thereof. In the event of a positive finding, the case is filed with a regional trial court. If the accused is convicted and sentenced to death, his case is reviewed by the Court of Appeals and if affirmed, it goes up to the Supreme Court for automatic review. The votes of at least eight of the 15 justices are needed to affirm a death sentence. All these proceedings are done in succession and are adversarial in nature: the accused, assisted by counsel, is given his day in court to confront the witness(es) against him and to present witness(es) in his behalf. If there is even just an iota of doubt about his guilt, he is absolved or acquitted of the crime.

In the event that the death sentence is affirmed by the Supreme Court and becomes final, the accused has still a chance to have his case reviewed, this time by the President who decides whether or not the accused deserves to be granted executive clemency.

Lastly, the claim that the death penalty offers the criminal no room for reform is not accurate. On the contrary, it is the best way to reform criminals. In a limited sense, it may be said that the executed criminal will never have a chance to reform; but from a wider perspective, we can say that reformation occurs when criminals avoid suffering the same fate by not persisting in their evil ways. If they do, they have only themselves to blame if they end up with the death penalty.

Montaigne, a French essayist, once said: “We do not aim to correct the man we hang; we correct and warn others by him.” Voltaire, another French poet, said it another way: “Life resembles the banquet of Damocles; the sword is ever suspended.”


At this point, all I can really do is shake my head.

Again, THIS is a Justice of the Sandiganbayan.