Stop, Start

November 25, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Cooking With Julia

November 25, 2010

Via TribLive

The Economist:

WHEN Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, presented its new messaging service on November 15th, he praised one feature in particular: the “social inbox”, which would catch spam or other unwanted messages. “Because we know who your friends are, we can put in really good filters to make sure you only see things you care about,” he said, with unwarranted confidence.

Spammers are moving onto social-networking sites such as Facebook because they find e-mail increasingly unrewarding. Data from Cisco, which makes networking gear, show the volume of e-mail spam began declining slowly in late 2009 (see chart) and by almost half in the past three months, after the authorities disabled spam networks in Russia and the Netherlands.

One reason is that online-security firms have worked on every bit of the chain, from the content of junk e-mails to their sender, with the result that they stop more than 98% from reaching its target. First they blocked e-mails containing suspect words or links. Then they blacklisted addresses used by spammers. In response, senders started using botnets (networks of otherwise innocent computers). But security firms have now got better at spotting patterns in the spammers’ output.

Spammers also need lots of addresses to evade the filters. They may buy as many as 10,000 domain names for a single scam. That is getting harder. After a flood of dubious .cn registrations from Russia, China has imposed tough checks that make applications by foreigners harder. The White House turned to internet registrars when it convened a meeting in September about how best to crack down online pharmaceutical fraud. Garth Bruen, who runs KnujOn, a web-security firm (read it backwards), and thus frequents dodgy online chat rooms, has observed panicky discussions about which registrars will still take the scammers’ business.

Catch me offline

The criminal businesses that rely on spam are most at risk in law-abiding bits of the real world, such as America. Just like honest businesses, they appreciate its robust networks, reliable web-hosting. But law-enforcement agencies and internet security companies are also more active in such countries and have started working closely together. When Mr Bruen presents evidence to reputable hosting companies in America that their customers are fraudsters, they unplug them. Police agencies are increasingly interested to hear from him and fellow experts about the others.

That, says Mr Bruen, reflects an important point. The word “cyber” in cybercrime obscures real crimes committed in real places. Typical junk mail comes from freelancers (see article) who are paid to direct traffic to websites that sell fake pills and counterfeit brands. But fraud and forgery are illegal…

Read it all.

Der Spiegel:

David Berger, a gay theologian who has written a book about his experiences as a senior theologian in the Catholic Church, speaks to SPIEGEL about homophobia and the church’s shift to the right.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Berger, you describe the Catholic Church as a homophobic organization. Why did it take you, a homosexual theologian, so long to resign from your offices in the church?

Berger: Because such an exit isn’t a question of days. Even as a child I wanted to be a priest, but by the time I had finished high school it was clear to me that I would not be able to live a life of celibacy.

SPIEGEL: And you became a theologian anyway?

Berger: Yes, because the church never lost its attraction for me. The Tridentine Mass was like a gateway drug for me. When I was 17, I was with the Pius Brothers in Lower Bavaria. What I saw there was a fascinatingly aesthetic baroque dream of leaf gold and Brussels Bobbin lace. I couldn’t get away from it. It only became clear to me later what I had got involved in, and the dream turned more and more into a nightmare.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Berger: Because my own life, my life with a partner, increasingly contradicted what was said and demanded in my church environment. Through my enthusiasm for the traditional mass and for conservative theology, I became increasingly involved with conservative Catholic networks of young aristocrats, industrialists and reputable academics. They utterly condemned homosexuality.

SPIEGEL: How did that manifest itself?

Berger: I kept having to listen to inhuman views. For example, Hitler was praised for having interned and murdered homosexuals in concentration camps. The point came when I couldn’t remain silent any longer …

SPIEGEL: … after you and your career had profited for a long time from contact with these right-wing circles.

Berger: Ever since Pope Benedict XVI, at the latest, you have to be anti-modern to have a career in the Catholic Church. I criticized the relatively progressive theology and left-wing church policy of Karl Rahner. That is how people noticed me. Because I was an expert on the medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas, I was invited by almost all right-wing conservative groups to give lectures. I was in touch with the Sedevacantists, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, Una Voce, Opus Dei and the Servants of Jesus and Mary.

SPIEGEL: What went on at the meetings?

Berger: These groups are very careful about who they invite. They meet in very high-class venues, sometimes in former aristocratic residences or in luxury hotels. Old men smoke fat cigars, drink expensive red wine and eat well. It is a parallel world whose inhabitants seek to defy the modern world.

SPIEGEL: And what do they discuss?

Berger: They talk about a supposed Jewish global conspiracy or about how to keep emancipators, freemasons and gays out of the church. For many years, there were “gentlemen’s evenings” in Düsseldorf that were organized by a tax consultant. They increasingly became a focal point for a right-wing Catholic network. At one of the meetings, which were regularly visited by senior clerics, the man sitting next to me, a retired university professor, was railing against the gay parades on Christopher Street Day (in Germany): “Instead of standing in a corner, being ashamed of themselves and just shutting up, they behave like pigs gone wild.”

SPIEGEL: Why didn’t you turn your back on the church at that point?

Berger: Many gays are attracted by the clear hierarchies of the male world of Catholic rituals. Among clerics I discovered extremely effeminate behavior of the sort I knew well from certain gay scenes. People give each other women’s names and attach very high importance to clerical robes in all colors. Just think of the nicknames Bishop Walter Mixa (who recently stepped down amid accusations of violence and financial irregularities) and his housemaster friend gave each other: “Hasi,” or “bunny,” and “Monsi,” short for monsignore.

SPIEGEL: Did you get the impression that your homosexuality may even have helped your career?

Berger: In clerical circles I kept getting shown through unmistakeable looks, hugs, stroking of my upper arms and excessively long handshakes that one didn’t just appreciate my work a lot. The fact that many prelates had homosexual tendencies is certain to have made them more ready to help me get positions.

SPIEGEL: And these gentlemen weren’t homophobic?

Berger: The contradiction between evident homosexual inclinations and homophobic statements is one way in which people in the church deal with their own, usually suppressed inclination.

SPIEGEL: You must explain that to us.

Berger: Evidently those who succumb to their desires are rejected particularly vehemently by those who painfully suppress such leanings in themselves. In the course of my own close cooperation with clerics, something I had long disavowed suddenly became clear to me: The fiercest homophobia in the Catholic Church comes from homophile clerics who desperately suppress their own sexuality…

Read it all.

New York Times:

On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook,YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

It is a tension on vivid display at Vishal’s school,Woodside High School, on a sprawling campus set against the forested hills of Silicon Valley. Here, as elsewhere, it is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games, and virtually everyone is on Facebook.

The principal, David Reilly, 37, a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students. He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.

He pushed first period back an hour, to 9 a.m., because students were showing up bleary-eyed, at least in part because they were up late on their computers. Unchecked use of digital devices, he says, can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it.

“I am trying to take back their attention from their BlackBerrys and video games,” he says. “To a degree, I’m using technology to do it…”

Read it all.

Gratitude

November 25, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

The Untouchables

November 25, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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