Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The internet reduces rape?

Personally I'm rather unsure that you can find any definite link between the media and violent crime. This paper (warning: .pdf), “Pornography, Rape, and the Internet” by Todd Kendall of the Department of Economics, Clemson University, Sept. 2006, comes up as a bit of a surprise.
Specifically, the results suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in internet access is associated with a decline in reported rape victimization of around 7.3%. While admitting that data quality, omitted variables, functional form assumptions, and other confounding factors could potentially cause bias, I support this claim with six separate pieces of evidence. When considered as a whole, the empirical case is more compelling.

First, I use a simple differences-in-differences approach to show that states that adopted the internet quickly saw larger declines in rape incidence than other states (while no similar effect is evident for homicide).
Second, I show that this effect is most concentrated among states with a high ratio of male to female population, suggesting that men are substituting pornography for rape most when potential mates are in low supply.
Thirdly, I use regression analysis with fixed state and year effects to show a negative
correlation between internet access and rape, even controlling for a wide variety of otherfactors.
Fourth, I show that a similar analysis evidences neither a statistical nor economically significant effect of internet usage on any other violent or property crime for which reliable state-level data is available.
Fifth, using data on arrests, I am able to separate the effects of internet access on rape across different age groups. I find a significant negative effect of internet access on rape arrest rates among men ages 15-19 – a group for whom pornography was most restricted before the internet, while the estimated effects on arrest rates for other age groups are statistically insignificant and smaller in magnitude. Again, by contrast, I show that no similar pattern exists for homicide arrests.
Finally, I also provide evidence on the correlations between internet adoption and several other measures of sexuality, including teen birth rates, prostitution arrests, marriage and divorce rates, and HIV transmission.

The results generally imply that internet usage has had significant effects on sexual behavior more generally, and thus they lend credibility to the claim that the internet may impact sexual assault to the degree claimed.
I've always thought the link between porn and rape was rather dubious, rapists always seem to be motivated by extreme misogyny rather than lust.
On the other hand, with physical violence, I can't help but feel the glamourisation in films and TV does have some influence does have some influence over young people, it's difficult ever to prove anything on this score either way.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An economist talks sense

Economics, all too often, seems to consist of either statements of the blindingly obvious or pure fiction to justify the greed of the wealthy. At long last an important economist, Sir Nicholas Stern (I presume he's important, he's got a "Sir", but then again so has Mark Thatcher) has realised climate change could cost dearly - story.
Climate change could end up costing the global economy up to £3.68 trillion ($6.98 trillion) unless drastic action is taken, a key report is set to warn. Economist Sir Nicholas Stern will also warn that failure to act would turn 200 million people into refugees as their homes could by hit by drought or flood. An international plan to tackle climate change is needed to prevent a global recession, the UK review will say.

There are still climate change deniers out there, despite even President Bush making an uncomfortable retreat on the subject, as well as realising the War Against Iraq isn't going to be won any time soon.

Meantime, we have car factories churning out far more than can sell until the money men are forced to pull the plug on them, creating rustbelt cities like the one I live in, while windfarm operators are hitting a major supply problem for gear that they can't install anyway as they're blocked by nimby's who don't want the view of their second home in the sticks ruined. And, coincidentally, often just happen to be rather wealthy and hence influential. Their second homes also help to make property unaffordable for the locals, so they're hardly keeping their quaint villages pristine.

At the root of it is an idiocy that was taught in economics and quite possibly still is: that nature is a free resource.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Remote control

While aerial drones are commonplace above battlefields, robot warfare becoming increasingly extended on the ground, too.
By 2015, the US Department of Defense plans that one third of its fighting strength will be composed of robots, part of a $127bn (£68bn) project known as Future Combat Systems (FCS), a transformation that is part of the largest technology project in American history.The US army has already developed around 20 remotely controlled Unmanned Ground Systems that can be controlled by a laptop from around a mile away, and the US Navy and US Air Force are working on a similar number of systems with varying ranges.

The reason behind investing in robots is not only in controlling the fallout from bringing body bags home, not so importnat anyway with the US and UK having a largely tame press and the attacks on al-Jazeera, is that it continues the ditancing of soldier from victim.

The rifle is superior to the sword not only in requiring less skill and physical force, but in terms of the distance between soldier and victim. The soldier need never look into the eyes of his victim. Modern warfare has taken this far further. Remember the cockpit camera clips from Gulf War I showing a bunker being taken out by a missile? All seemed very clean and clinical, more like a video game than a war, until it was found one of those bunkers contained civilians sheltering from the air attacks.

Distancing the combatants allows more brutality. The large-scale murder of civilians, political enemies and then racial extermination by Nazi troops in areas of the Soviet Union was causing emotional and mental breakdown among the troops charged with carrying it out, which led to the first true mechanisation of slaughter, the extermination camp. Few troops rebel against immoral orders, but it's unlikely robots ever would.

And who then controls the robots? The President of the USA? (certainly not the British Prime Minister!). The President is just a figurehead of something far larger, the days often referred to as the military-industrial complex, itself a machine run by giant corporates. Who, in turn, runs the corporates? They're again like machines, run on their own internal logic. Supposedly, their one mission is to make money for their shareholders, yet how often, as in the case of Enron, have they ripped their own shareholders off?

In Newton's age, the universe was thought of as running like clockwork, and the superior man, understanding how the clockwork ran, would come to rise to the top. Instead we've already elevated the clockwork to the realms of power.

We need a new age of enlightenment to give back power to humanity. And maybe need to learn hacking in order to survive the battlefield robots long enough to face down the soft machines.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

James Clavell

Currently reading James Clavell's Gai-jin, and a mighty slog it is too, despite having plenty of reading time, with travelling from the far-flung edge of Coventry to Leamington each day and being a rather faster than average reader. It's my third of his, having got through Tai-pan and Shogun previously. The thing I like about Clavell's books is the great 'sense of place' - no other fiction I've read set in the Far East really captures what it's like. Peculiarly, in the case of the Japanese, he writes very powerfully from their (then) point of view, capturing their repulsion to Western barbarians, yet he himself was a Japanese prisoner of war during WWII so you'd hardly expect him to write sympathetically on their score in any manner.

The cultural differences between orientals and westerners in these books is indeed striking. While the westerners were vastly ahead technologically, they seemed incapable of dressing sensibly for the climate and scorned any manner of cleanliness.

The difference in attitudes towards sex is striking: the Chinese and Japanese had simply never been inflicted with the Christian abhorrence, most striking amongst the British, I suppose as an overhang of the puritanical 17th century. There's a rather amusing passage in Shogun, where the main character, John Blackthorne, responds angrily when offered a maid for 'pillowing' for the night. The lady of the household and a samurai guard are rather nonplussed and wonder between them whether he'd prefer a boy, or a 'dog or a duck, like the garlic eaters' (Koreans). I believe this change still exists at some basic level, try finding a sensible debate on prostitution in Britain, for example. On a left-leaning notice board I use, many people assert that all prostitutes must be slaves of people traffickers or victims of child abuse. The orient has changed, however, and the middle classes of most countries mimic British attitudes of the 1930s attitudes while working-class people often show the liberal tendecies of the forbears. In Thailand, several of my friends are ladyboys, most from the poor north-east of the country, and never had a problem with their parents, while one from a comfortable Bankok suburb was beaten by hers every time they caught her wearing feminine clothes or makeup.

Another thing I like about Clavell's stories - every major character is plotting against everyone else. This leads to rather interesting storylines with plenty of twists and turns. While characters may be aligned with the principles of a movement or country, they aim to secure whatever personal advantage they can within it.

The historical setting of Gai-jin is particularly interesting. The Americans had forced a trading agreement allowing a foreign enclave in Yokohama in Japan against a fiercely nationalistic attitude of the Japanese Shogunate. More sensible members of the body wanted to acquire western weaponry to enable them to remove the same westerners militarily, while within the samurai class, some, known as shi-shi, were carrying out guerrilla operations to bring down the Shogunate, restore the power of the emporer and expel the foreigners there and then. The latter was, of course, rather foolish for as skilled as the samurai were with swords and bows, the westerners had repeating rifles and naval cannon.

Moreover, the samurai had another hatred, their own mercantile class, to whom they were heavily indebted and bore the seeds of their social decline. While the samurai were keen to get guns, the merchants were equally interested in the far more sophisticated western finance techniques.

The westerners just wanted to trade, though on unfair terms and their main commodities going out to the Far east were drugs and guns. Which are now havily infecting our own inner cities. As the Japanese characters of these books would no doubt say, 'Karma, neh?'

Friday, October 20, 2006

1 down, 31 to go

On Tuesday, I lost the first of my adult teeth, upper left premolar. I've been horrified at the thought of an extraction ever since I had two out at the age of eight, one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. There was the sickly sweet smell of the gas coming through the rubber mask, the rubber bung between my teeth, being woken up by a nurse slapping my face, to be led, feeling somewhat confused and nauseous to a washbasin to deal with my mouthful of blood.

The tooth involved had been seen by another dentist in July. It had been causing me severe pain, for which he successfully prescribed a week's worth of antibiotics. However, despite being infected, his examination led him to conclude there was nothing physically wrong with the tooth. He looked at the X-ray, reckoned it was too blurred to make out and somehow came up with another, mysteriously his assistant had taken only the one shot. Not long after the filling in the centre fell out, and more recently it became somewhat loose.

I saw another dentist as soon as was practical and his examination, by contrast, told him the tooth had split vertically even before he checked the X-ray, and as such, unsalvageable, it had to come out. I explained to him my fears of extraction and he reassured me dentistry had come on a bit since then. Well, you'd hope so, most businesses have in the last 44 years.

As it was the extraction was a pretty smooth job. The strange thing was it culminated in me hearing / feeling a 'crunch', which I somehow knew, yet my previous extractions had nbeen under nitrous oxide induced sleep. A memory from a previous lifetime? No idea, but it was definitely no surprise.

I went back to work that afternoon, diligently coding the huge, XHTML / PHP e-commerce system I'm working on with a bloody cotton wool plug rammed into the gap.

Apart from a little soreness of the gums, there's no physical problem now, but I can't help but feel there's a piece of me missing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

US court tries to destroy Spamhaus

Getting too much spam in your inbox? You'd have loads more if not for the noble efforts of Spamhaus, a volunteer who tracks down and exposes spammers, and provides ISPs and the like with lists of the worst to block.
However an alleged spammer, e360insight, brought a court action against Spamhaus on the basis of loss of trade. Spamhaus has refused to defend itself in the court claiming that being a British organisation, a US court has no jurisdiction, moreover admitting its jurisdiction would result in every spammer, his brother and his brother's dog bringing similar suits.
If there are two institutions that seem incapable of understanding anything to do with the net, they are print-based journalists and courts. The judge has slapped a $11.7m fine on Spamhaus, which can only be a deliberate attempt to destroy the body, and more recently, tried to get ICANN to de-register their domain.
e360insight claims to be a legitimate opt-in marketer (but so do most spammers), while Spamhaus contends it has actual examples of their spam in its honeytraps. While I can't say for definite who's in the right, I think you can guess which of them I'd trust.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Royal mail and junk mail

The Royal Mail is to remove its limits on unaddressed advertising dross - story. Well, thanks, guys, we simply weren't getting enough through nuisance phone calls and spam, as it was. At least the electronic stuff doesn't leave solid waste:
The LGA chair, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, pushed the issue back into the headlines with a letter to the Royal Mail chief executive, Adam Crozier, expressing concern that the rising cost of disposing of more and more junk mail would leave council tax-payers facing bigger bills. He also noted that the rising tide of junk mail hurt the environment. The LGA said 78,000 tonnes of junk mail reached landfill sites each year.

So with higher costs of disposal and hence council tax bills, you could well find you have to pay for it! And what excuse do they come out with?
"If Royal Mail did not deliver any of this mail then it would simply be posted by other operators."

Hmmm, taken a few lessons from the arms dealers, have we?

If the Royal Mail is concerned about its financial position, how about cutting out waste like changing the name to Consignia and back again, or disciplining posties who advise householders how to avoid this rubbish?


Had a chat with the driver while waiting for the bus to go out, both of us were appalled at the litter, smoking, vandalism and other anti-social behaviour that the buses, for reasons neither of us could fathom, seem to attract. The big difference between us - he's Pakistani by birth and (otherwise) loves Britain. Why is there such a bad attitude problem with so many Brits? He reckoned it was a law and order problem, yet we outstrip other European countries in both this area and with our humungous prison population.
Just a few minutes later, I read in the paper that a recent poll found 57% of Brits want Muslims to make more effort to integrate. Perhaps they need to drop a few sweet wrappers, smash up the odd bus shelter or inflict violence on random passers-by?

The great veil debate has forced me into an uncomfortable position: for once I found myself having to agree with Jack Straw, whom I regard as one of the most odious ministers of the whole lot who served under Blair. I find veils creepy. Moreover, there seem to be more in Britain than I can ever remember seeing in most Muslim countries I've been to. When I lived in Krabi, reckoned to have something like a 70% Muslim population, I don't think I ever saw one. In fact hardly any women there went around wearing the headscarf. It's wrong to ban them like in France, but I think any woman who takes up the veil must realise it will isolate her from a hell of a lot of people and will (as in the case of an American woman who was refused a driving licence with a veiled photo and more recently, a British teacher suspended as her veil impeded communication with her pupils) reduce her rights. But no British Muslim woman will ever have her rights reduced to those of women in the more extreme Islamic states from where this fashion was imported.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

More on emailadvertisinginc

This blog gets plenty of hits from people searching for that spammer, so I'm guessing he's one of the most prolific doing the rounds at present. According to this site, the culprit is called Bob Soloway (it's a huge page, but pretty comprehensive). There's more info on Spamhaus's ROKSO project.

God save the queen

Before yesterday's match against Macedonia, I couldn't help but wonder why on earth I, an athiest republican, would want to sing a song to demand a god I don't believe in to save a monarchy I don't believe in from the Jacobite Rebellion which finished in 1745?

If not enough of us sing this song before each football match, will God ressurect the rebellion? Or is it that we need God to sort out the Scots who aren't fighting us anyway because the British Army's too busy fighting for the American empire in Iraq and Afghanistan? And if you were omnipotent creator of the universe, would you honestly bother checking out that crap draw, or for that matter, any team that Steve McLaren managed?


Found out on Friday night that one of my friends on Samui, Leigh Phillips, had died.

I met Leigh when I was running my internet cafe in Soi The Club (a.k.a. Soi Starbuck) in Chaweng. He owned Samui's only gay go-go bar on the opposite side of the soi and he and his staff became regular customers, Leigh for our excellent coffee and his staff to e-mail farang boyfriends and download gay porn (which soon taught me gay porn sites are awful for having malware built-in). I was also frequently fixing his laptop, on which his then boyfriend would vent his rage whenever they had an argument.
At that stage there was quite a pleasant ex-pat community, mainly Brits, along our street. Nearly everyone went bust, the Bali bombing, SARS, bird flu, etc. meant only big business with deep pockets could survive.

Leigh went on to manage the Samui Mermaid (one of my websites BTW), a cut-price hotel at Big Buddha beach, which whenever I subsequently visited Samui, would stay at. We had some good drinking sessions, particularly at Teng's Cabaret until it closed.

Back in the UK, he'd been a sax player in various jazz bands and had played all the major venues like Ronnie Scott's, and had run a garage flogging luxury cars.

He died of liver failure from drinking too much, all too easy to do in a hot country like Thailand. Interestingly, while he was openly gay, he never had a problem drinking down one of the locals run by a couple of Millwall skinheads. Had they been back in London, quite possibly their attitudes would have been different. It's amazing the effect living uin the Far East has and has had on Brits from cold, dull, WASP Britain.

Why hasn't this made national news?

TWO Pendle men have appeared before Pennine magistrates accused of having "a master plan" after what is believed to be a record haul of chemicals used in making home-made bombs was found in Colne.
Mrs Christiana Buchanan, who appeared for the prosecution in Jackson's case, alleged the pair had "some kind of masterplan".
She said a search of Jackson's home had uncovered rocket launchers, chemicals, BNP literature and a nuclear biological suit.

Compare that to the Islamic fundie scares, which are mostly not credible or entirely lacking evidence, yet cause front-page headlines and/or disruption of the airports, while this only got as far as the local paper and urban75.

E2A This is the only other link I could find.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Complete control

This new invention from Raytheon offers some very nasty possibilities of controlling people:
Their findings: "This technology is capable of rapidly heating a person's skin to achieve a pain threshold that has been demonstrated by AFRL human subject testing to be very effective at repelling people, without burning the skin or causing other secondary effects." The device, it adds, "is an alternative to lethal force."

The human testing showed that the beams will penetrate even tiny openings and cracks in any physical barrier, including clothes, walls and shields. It is as though it wraps around corners to affect any piece of exposed body - the fingers or face, say, of those trying to hide.

What is clear is that this weapon ushers in a new era of paralysing weapons for urban warfare and, potentially, a techno-politics of border exclusion and crowd control. Raytheon insists that although pain is produced instantaneously, it will cause no damage, apparently on the assumption that targets will move away at once.

Add this to the widescale CCTV coverage we have in this country, and now a linked speaker system to bark out orders, and you have the possibility of the UK evolving into Airstrip One sometime soon.

Of course, CCTV is far from unpopular given the twin threats of terrorism and street crime, leaving the majority of us as though crushed in a huge vice. Effectively they're all on the same side: intimidation. A battle for the minds and not the hearts.

There are counterbalances to the technological threats:
"Non-lethal weapons are still being reviewed by the medical group ... Basically my point to them was [that] we need to start using that here in the US on Americans. And if we start using that here on Americans ... the first thing they will do is cry out that you have hurt them medically in a way that is pejorative."
The litigious nature of the US public, so often derided over here, could well be beneficial, as soon as someone gets a hit of microwave pain-infliction you can bet Raytheon and the US Govt will be in the dock. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if you have an army of ambulance-chaser lawyers camped out just beyond the range of these devices, clipboard in hand.

The other development that could link the control technologies together would be the new biometric ID cards the government is trying to foist on us. Here again we're safeguarded by their IT development strategy, handing out huge amounts of public money to massive contractors who seldom satisfactorily complete the projects, just think of the hopelessly expensive messes of the NHS Lorenzo system, the Child Protection Agency's hopless start in life and the poor families devastated by having to pay back incorrectly-calculated tax credits, just for starters.

Non-governmental intimidation is far less high-tech, such as the death sentence against Salman Rushdie, the riots over the Danish cartoons by people who'd never seen them, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the play Sanctuary being forced off stage by Sikhs, attacks and death-threats against anyone named on Redwatch (which, peculiarly, the govt claim to be unable to do anything about) and the twisted logic of the extreme violence of some animal rights protestors. But I guess they don't featherbed high-tech industries.