In the vast electronic ecosystem that is the Internet, there exist dusky swamps from whence spring forth a host of unwelcome pests, from the niggling to the virulent. Without question, spam is among the more vexing and persistent of these pests. One can only hopeâ€”should there truly be a heaven and a hellâ€”that there is a particularly unpleasant spot in the Underworld reserved for the purveyors of spam. (Perhaps they might have to spend eternity in a sweltering, foul-smelling room chained to a desk atop which rests a clunky PC with a dial-up connection, forced to readâ€”in 9-point font sizeâ€”one spam e-mail after another while simultaneously being castigated by Bill Oâ€™Reilly.) In any regard, the computer security company, Sophos, recently issued an interesting report that documents which nations are currently the worst offenders when it comes to sending spam. Once again, the United States wins the gold medal…
Sophos has published a report on the top twelve spam-relaying countries over the second quarter of 2006.
Experts at SophosLabs scanned all spam messages received in the companyâ€™s global network of spam traps, and have revealed that for the first time in more than two years the U.S. has failed to make inroads into its spam-relaying problem. The U.S. remains stuck at the top of the chart and is the source of 23.2 percent of the worldâ€™s spam. Its closest rivals are China and South Korea, although both of these nations have managed to reduce their statistics since Q1 2006.
The vast majority of this spam is relayed by â€˜zombies,â€™ also known as botnet computers, hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers.
The top twelve spam-relaying countries from April to June 2006 were: U.S. 23.2 percent; China (& Hong Kong) 20 percent; South Korea 7.5 percent; France 5.2 percent; Spain 4.8 percent; Poland 3.6 percent; Brazil 3.1 percent; Italy 3 percent; Germany 2.5 percent; U.K. 1.8 percent; Taiwan 1.7 percent; Japan 1.6 percent; and Others 22 percent.
Sophos noted that spam is even being relayed from The Vatican and Antarctica.
Since the introduction of the CAN-SPAM legislation in 2004, there has been a regular quarter-on-quarter drop in the proportion of spam coming from the U.S. â€” until now. â€œIt is difficult to criticize the U.S. for failing to take action, given the number of arrests and the huge fines for guilty spammers. The likely reality is that these statistics will not drop unless U.S. home users take action to secure their computers and put a halt to the zombie PC problem,â€? says Brett Myroff, CEO of master Sophos distributor, NetXactics.
Even though Russia does not feature in the dirty dozen of spam-relaying countries, Sophos has uncovered evidence that Russian spammers may be controlling vast networks of zombie PCs. Sophos recently discovered a Russian spamming price list, which showed that US$500 would purchase e-mail distribution to eleven million Russian e-mail addresses. On top of this, companies could buy distribution to one million addresses in any country they wanted for just $50.
One key development in 2006 so far has been the increase in spam containing embedded images, which has risen sharply from 18.2 percent in January to 35.9 percent in June. By using images instead of text, messages are able to avoid detection by some anti-spam filters that rely on the analysis of textual spam content.
Sophos estimates that 15 percent of all spam e-mails are now pump-and-dump scams, compared to just 0.8 percent in January 2005. These scams are e-mail campaigns designed to boost the value of a companyâ€™s stock in order for spammers to make a quick profit. Many of these spam messages contain images rather than traditional text.
â€œIt is always a concern to see so many pump-and-dump e-mails, particularly as the people acting on these e-mails are not skilled investors. They do not realize that purchasing the shares will not reap any rewards, and benefits only the spammers, while creating a financial roller coaster for the organization in question,â€? says Myroff.
Sophos recommends that computer users ensure that they keep their security software up-to-date, as well as using a properly configured firewall and installing the latest operating system security patches. Businesses must also look to implement a best practice policy regarding e-mail account usage.
The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would force schools and libraries to block chat and social networking sites as a condition of receiving federal E-rate funding.
This bill goes far beyond the already broad mandate that requires schools and libraries to filter out obscenity and â€œharmful-to-minorsâ€? content and would block access to many legal and valuable web sites and Internet tools. Because chat and social networking are woven into the fabric of Internet communication, a huge range of sites may be declared off limits in libraries and schools.
The bill appoints the Federal Communications Commission as the arbiter of what can and cannot be accessed in libraries around the country, meaning that for the first time, the federal government would be getting into the business of evaluating and screening wholly lawful Internet content.
While I’m all for filters to screen out the porn and gambling and other garbage from public internet sources, it does not seem fair or in the best interest of free speech and communication to restrict libraries and schools from social networking and chat and the many, many sites which have these features. When I go to the library, I see a lot of people typing away on blogs or in other social networking sites. A lot of these people appear to be teenagers who may not have internet access at home, or simply people without the money to afford internet access. These restrictions do indeed seem overly broad.
In these woeful times, when the globe is warming and hope for humankind is cooling, it is heartening to happen upon news that illustrates a greater good being served and what can be accomplished with enough compassion, perseverance, and creativity. The following [excerpted] article is by Stephanie Strom and may be found in todayâ€™s New York Times:
PATNA, India â€” The drug that could have cured Munia Devi through a series of cheap injections was identified decades ago but then died in the research pipeline because there was no profit in it.
So Mrs. Devi lay limp in a hospital bed here recently, her spleen and liver bulging from under her rib cage as a bilious yellow liquid dripped into her thin arm. The treatment she was receiving can be toxic, and it costs $500. But it was her best hope to cure black fever, a disease known locally as kala azar, which kills an estimated half-million people worldwide each year, almost all of them poor like Mrs. Devi.
Soon, however, all that may change. A small charity based in San Francisco has conducted the medical trials needed to prove that the drug is safe and effective. Now it is on the verge of getting final approval from the Indian government. A course of treatment with the drug is expected to cost just $10, and experts say it could virtually eliminate the disease.
If approval is granted as expected this fall, it will be the first time a charity has succeeded in ushering a drug to market.
This novel way of helping people whose needs have not been met by for-profit pharmaceutical companies is gaining traction. Several partnerships are working to develop drugs to fight neglected diseases, underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders and other groups. Another nonprofit agency, the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, is searching for a means to prevent tuberculosis.
For its first project, the San Francisco charity, the Institute for OneWorld Health, focused on reclaiming the all but abandoned drug, paromomycin, which research found promising in the 1960â€™s.
That was the easy part. Its hurdles lay elsewhere. The Internal Revenue Service at first denied the charity nonprofit status, concerned that it looked too much like a for-profit enterprise. The World Health Organization, which controlled the drug, was reluctant to hand over the data needed for further development. And OneWorld Health had to set up clinical trials matching United States and European standards in one of the poorest parts of the world.
Nor was it obvious where the money would come from. The idea of a nonprofit drug company struck many as folly when Dr. Victoria Hale, a former Genentech executive and Food and Drug Administration official, founded OneWorld Health in 2001. So Dr. Hale and her husband started the project using their own money, though they have since won support from the Gates foundation, among others.
â€œMy colleagues and mentors in the pharmaceuticals industry told me it was a wild idea, that it would never work out, that I was jeopardizing my reputation,â€? Dr. Hale said. â€œI started this organization knowing our first project had to be a winner or we wouldnâ€™t survive.â€? [full text]
When I first saw the headline in todayâ€™s Washington Post, I fell off my chair (which just goes to show that, in the search for knowledge and meaning, it is dangerous to drink and derive). I was astounded. Could it be true? Had the Saints really chosen to smile down upon us in such a glorious fashion? Could our long national nightmare finally be over? Had the last chapter of Incurious George and the Reign of Error been written? Would we no longer have to fear that Bush the Bumbler would inadvertently â€œinsticateâ€? a â€œnucularâ€? war? Could we be so fortunate? But there was the headline, in black and white: â€œBush Agrees to Six-Year Deal With the Saints, Will Report Today.â€? Whoâ€™dâ€™ve thunk it?
According to the National Priorities Project, the cost to U.S. taxpayers for the war in Iraq is about to surpass $300 billion. The cost in American lives currently stands at 2574. Given the unrelenting violence, the Pentagon reportedly plans to increase the number of troops in Iraq to roughly 135,000. There is simply no end in sight. As to what it is like for the young men and women serving in this hostile foreign land, Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post offers a glimpse into their lives and experiences:
Army Staff Sgt. Jose Sixtos considered the simple question about morale for more than an hour. But not until his convoy of armored Humvees had finally rumbled back into the Baghdad military base, and the soldiers emptied the ammunition from their machine guns, and passed off the bomb-detecting robot to another patrol, did he turn around in his seat and give his answer.
“Think of what you hate most about your job. Then think of doing what you hate most for five straight hours, every single day, sometimes twice a day, in 120-degree heat,” he said. “Then ask how morale is.”
Frustrated? “You have no idea,” he said.
As President Bush plans to deploy more troops in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers who have been patrolling the capital for months describe a deadly and infuriating mission in which the enemy is elusive and success hard to find. Each day, convoys of Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles leave Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad with the goal of stopping violence between warring Iraqi religious sects, training the Iraqi army and police to take over the duty, and reporting back on the availability of basic services for Iraqi civilians.
But some soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division — interviewed over four days on base and on patrols — say they have grown increasingly disillusioned about their ability to quell the violence and their reason for fighting. The battalion of more than 750 people arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait in March, and since then, six soldiers have been killed and 21 wounded.
“It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we’re driving around waiting to get blown up. That’s the most honest answer I could give you,” said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio, a muscular former backup fullback for Baylor University. “You lose a couple friends and it gets hard.”
“No one wants to be here, you know, no one is truly enthused about what we do,” said Sgt. Christopher Dugger, the squad leader. “We were excited, but then it just wears on you — there’s only so much you can take. Like me, personally, I want to fight in a war like World War II. I want to fight an enemy. And this, out here,” he said, motioning around the scorched sand-and-gravel base, the rows of Humvees and barracks, toward the trash-strewn streets of Baghdad outside, “there is no enemy, it’s a faceless enemy. He’s out there, but he’s hiding.”
“We’re trained as an Army to fight and destroy the enemy and then take over,” added Dugger, 26, of Reno, Nev. “But I don’t think we’re trained enough to push along a country, and that’s what we’re actually doing out here.” [full text]
This is by Ninjanurse, aka Nancy Green, RN.
From The New York Times, Drug Makers Pay for Lunch As They Pitch. Well, stop the presses! This has been going on for years.
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I often pondered that as I dug into the Pad Thai and the cute little roll-up sandwiches that the pharmaceutical reps brought to various of my workplaces. Most health care workers spend their lunch breaks, (assuming they get one at all) eating the sad peanut butter sandwiches they brought from home, or the weird offerings from the vending machine company.
But if you have the right kind of job, you might get invited to the drug lunch.
The drug lunch is cool. A sales representative from a pharmaceutical company brings in some really good food from a local restaurant, and invites all the staff to partake. All you have to do is behave decently. In that, it rather resembles a gallery opening, where you can inhale a large quantity of wine and cheese as long as you pose as an art lover.
But there are other attractions for the health care professional. The drug reps are nice looking people with excellent social skills who really seem to believe in their product. They are pharmacists, or have some other science degree and give interesting power point presentations, while handing out nifty office supplies like sticky pads and pens. (Pens evaporate in the health care setting and must constantly be replaced.) These useful work tools keep the manufacturer’s name always close to your heart. Myself, I once coveted a coffee mug with the logo for ‘Haldol’. I didn’t steal it. Anyone know where I can get one?
Anyway, the presentations were a perk in themselves. Keeping in mind that this was the manufacturer putting their best foot forward with their latest drug, it was good to have an inservice on the lunch break. All health care professionals have to stay current with a torrent of new drugs hitting the market.
The problem is that the inservice is also a sales pitch. It’s not a neutral party offering unbiased continuing medical education to professionals. Unless your employer is a good one, you have to find that on your own. It doesn’t come to your workplace with a nice plateful of samosas and pasta salad, with those really good chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
Ah, the memories… anyway, I have to admit that there are several drugs I know better through drug lunches, tough luck to all the ones who never bought me a sandwich. But there is a bigger lure that the drug companies use.
You see them hanging out on the corner, with their baseball caps turned backwards and their baggy jeans, or driving around in Hummers with tinted windows so you can’t see their face, passing packages in dark alleys- they give you a taste, and you’re hooked. They…
Wait a minute, I need to get a grip. I just mean to say that with the high price of prescription drugs, the drug samples that the pharmaceutical reps supply are going to a lot of patients who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Most doctors set aside a good hunk of their closet space in their office to drug samples. Supposedly these samples let the patient try the medication for a few weeks or a month to see if it’s effective. Then they get it by prescription. In a less chaotic, a less F.U.B.A.R. healthcare system it would probably work that way.
As things stand, there are plenty of medications that are long since gone to generic that are still unaffordable to a good number of people. Thank the gods for the sample cabinet. If your patient has a bad infection that needs the latest antibiotic and they can barely manage the rent you may be able to provide a full course of therapy from the samples. But if your patient has a chronic disease, like hypertension, or depression, it gets complicated. The newest drug on the market might work great for them, but when the samples run out, then what? The doctor has to search and the patient has to adjust, to a substitute. It’s a hidden cost, the extra visits, the stress.
These costs fall on the patient, and the taxpayer, through Medicaid, Medicare, state programs like RIPAE, the large local hospitals. While a doctor can easily get samples of the newest drugs, it’s often impossible to get a break on an old reliable drug that has gone to generic. For someone on a very low income even the generics might be out of reach. Amazingly, being sick and having a low income often go together.
The world of free lunch, free samples, medical educational lectures that take place in fancy restaurants is the world of marketing. Marketing costs are added on to the price of the drug, of course, so I guess that sick people and taxpayers bought my lunch. Thanks.
I’m not anti-pharmacy. I’ve spent a lot of time persuading people to take their meds because there are real diseases that kill people when they are not treated. Every time I see someone struggling to walk after a stroke, or blind from diabetes, I wonder if that suffering could have been prevented. Often, with the right treatment it could, and that includes taking medication.
Health care isn’t cheap, it takes a large share of the gross national product of every developed nation. Americans spend a lot, but we get less for our money than other countries because we do it backwards. We don’t invest in preventing disease and promoting health. We let the pharmaceutical industry tailor the medicare drug benefit to their needs and wants, and end up with a patchwork system so confusing that even retired rocket scientists can’t figure it out.
We really need to provide health care to everyone. It won’t be cheap, but the state of Rhode Island already has a high rate of insured people, and good programs like RIte Care. We can be a national model. We can stop pretending there’s a free lunch and count up the real costs. The payoff will be a better future for all Rhode Islanders, especially the children, and we won’t have all that guilt giving us indigestion.
What does it say about this countryâ€”in particular, its militaryâ€”when homosexuality is somehow viewed as a greater threat than terrorism? When fighting a war is deemed subordinate to cleansing the ranks of gay soldiers? When an individualâ€™s skills and experienceâ€”no matter how crucial or rareâ€”take a backseat to their sexual orientation and would be cast aside because of such? What lessons can be gleaned from the tale of Sgt. Bleu Copas, as reported here by the Associated Press?
A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified.
Bleu Copas, 30, told The Associated Press he is gay, but said he was “outed” by a stream of anonymous e-mails to his superiors in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“I knew the policy going in,” Copas said in an interview on the campus of East Tennessee State University, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling and working as a student adviser. “I knew it was going to be difficult.”
An eight-month Army investigation culminated in Copas’ honorable discharge on Jan. 30 â€” less than four years after he enlisted, he said, out of a post-Sept. 11 sense of duty to his country.
Copas now carries the discharge papers, which mention his awards and citations, so he can document his military service for prospective employers. But the papers also give the reason for his dismissal.
He plans to appeal to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, established in 1993, prohibits the military from inquiring about the sex lives of service members, but requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.
The policy is becoming “a very effective weapon of vengeance in the armed forces” said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based watchdog organization that counseled Copas and is working to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Copas said he was never open about his sexuality in the military and suspects his accuser was someone he mistakenly befriended and apparently slighted.
More than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the policy, including 726 last year â€” an 11 percent jump from 2004 and the first increase since 2001.
That’s less than a half-percent of the more than 2 million soldiers, sailors and Marines dismissed for all reasons since 1993, according to the General Accountability Office.
But the GAO also noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California.
Discharging and replacing them has cost the Pentagon nearly $369 million, according to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara. [full text]
Those who govern, the overseers of the nationâ€™s laws and affairs, are but dogs. Though they may guard the gates of the republic and grant us their protection, though they may manifest a certain loyalty and kindness, though they may submit to our authority or leash, though they may avidly and even gently accept the offerings of our hands, they cannot be entirely trusted. They are dogs. The nature of such beasts is not wholly predictable, no matter how tamed they may seem. To disregard their inherent wildness, their violent potential, or their pack mentality is to risk being bitten. They are dogs, and they can turn on their masters in a snarling flash. Vigilance is the price of ownership.
Thus, when those who govern urge our unconditional trust and ask that we overlook their past offensesâ€”even while our hands still throb from their biteâ€”great caution is required. Case in point, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings yesterday on a proposal that would, in effect, broaden the governmentâ€™s ability to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans and decrease legislative oversight over such. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration favors this proposal, as reported in todayâ€™s New York Times:
Senior Bush administration officials said Wednesday that it would be impractical for them to obtain individual warrants every time they needed to eavesdrop on a conversation suspected of involving Al Qaeda. They urged Congress to approve a proposal that critics said would give the president broad, unchecked powers.
In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, called the proposal, developed by Senator Arlen Specter and the White House, â€œa great opportunityâ€? to modernize intelligence-gathering procedures in a way that would â€œprotect our liberty and security.â€?
General Haydenâ€™s testimony, and that of two other senior officials, amounted to the administrationâ€™s first pitch for the Specter-White House agreement. Under the proposal, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which meets in secrecy to rule on usual government requests for warrants in intelligence cases, would decide whether the administrationâ€™s program of monitoring international communications of Americans without warrants is constitutional.
But critics attacked the agreement Wednesday as abdication to the White House. Mr. Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the Judiciary Committee, appeared particularly stung at the hearing when a civil liberties advocate, James X. Dempsey, told him he would prefer to see no legislation at all, allowing the National Security Agency to continue wiretapping Americans without warrants, than Congressional approval of procedures outside the scope of the 1978 law that created the secret court.
In agreeing to that courtâ€™s review of the N.S.A. program, the White House had insisted that the bill include language implicitly recognizing the presidentâ€™s â€œconstitutional authorityâ€? to collect foreign intelligence beyond the provisions of the 1978 law. Mr. Dempsey, policy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said at the hearing that he appreciated Mr. Specterâ€™s efforts to bring the N.S.A. program under judicial review but that â€œthe price you paid for that simple concession is far too high.â€?
The proposal, he said, â€œwould turn the clock back to an era of unchecked presidential power, warrantless domestic surveillance and constitutional uncertainty.â€? [full text]
The Center for Democracy and Technology is not alone in opposing Specterâ€™s proposal. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a press release yesterday in which they â€œraised strong objections to S. 2453, the National Security Surveillance Act,â€? and â€œurged Congress to reject attempts to further erode the Fourth Amendment and its protections.â€? Similarly, the Washington Post ran an editorial yesterday that expressed considerable concern about Congress handing the executive branch a â€œblank check to spyâ€? and, using Mr. Specterâ€™s own words against him, argued that â€œhis legislation would essentially respond to this festering sore [of the NSA program] by shooting the patient.â€? Also questioning the Senatorâ€™s bill was Shayana Kadidal, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has raised legal challenges to the NSAâ€™s domestic surveillance program. Writing in Jurist, Kadidal asserts that the bill â€œis a sell out, of both Congress and the American people.â€?
In short, the dogs are turning on us. Itâ€™s time to pay due attention and either shorten the leash or get ourselves some new dogs.
CRANSTON — City Council members Cynthia M. Fogarty and Allan W. Fung sought credit for the city’s fiscal turnaround at the first mayoral debate last night, lauding the improved bond rating and a pension fund they say they helped rescue.
Michael T. Napolitano, the third mayoral candidate, was not impressed.
The former municipal court judge said Republican Mayor Stephen P. Laffey and the council presided over stifling tax increases, as municipal services and infrastructure declined.
“People have told me they’ve been taxed out of their homes,” said Napolitano, 49, who is facing Fogarty in a Sept. 12 Democratic primary. “I believe we can do better.”
Napolitano, whose well-financed candidacy was endorsed by the Democratic City Committee last month, emphasized his outsider status throughout the 90-minute debate at Hope Highlands Elementary School.
Fung, a Republican ally of Laffey, said the tax increases helped end a fiscal nightmare that left the city’s rating in “junk” status and its pension fund nearly bankrupt. Napolitano assailed them as unfair to the elderly, citing real-estate data he said reveals an exodus of homeowners.
Fogarty boasted that the city made Money magazine’s list of the top 100 places to live in the United States. It continues to improve, she said, citing the planned redevelopment of the former Park Cinema, a long-stalled project she said is “moving forward.”
Again, Napolitano disagreed, and he threatened to seize the cinema property by eminent domain if elected mayor.
Napolitano, who has never held elective office, also assailed the atmosphere in City Hall, telling the packed auditorium that local politics had become needlessly confrontational.
“The bickering must end,” he said, alluding to the multiple feuds between Laffey and the Democrat-controlled City Council. “I will change the tone in leadership.”
Napolitano was not, however, the only candidate promising change in Cranston. And in his broad themes — economic development and more efficient city services — he echoed many of his opponents’ proposals.
Fogarty, 50, called for stricter enforcement of the building code to improve the city’s increasingly “run-down” appearance. And she called for consolidating municipal and School Department services to slow budget increases.
Fung, 36, pledged to use his business contacts to recruit companies to Cranston and to aid existing small businesses with new tax incentives. The commercial tax base, he said, must grow to reduce the property-tax burden on homeowners.
“We can bring in more businesses,” said Fung, a lawyer and State House lobbyist for Metlife Auto & Home. “My goal is to make the city more affordable.”
But unlike Napolitano, neither Fung nor Fogarty described the city as particularly troubled or in need of radical change.
Instead, they argued that the strategies instituted during the financial crisis in 2002 have been wildly successful, and they asked voters to reward the architects of that turnaround.
The two council members so rarely disagreed that after the debate they lingered on stage together, even posing arm in arm for a photographer.
“We cannot return the city to the practices that were in place when I joined the council,” Fogarty, a lawyer in private practice, remarked during the debate. “The initiatives we put in place have fixed the problems.”
Fung agreed. “We righted the ship,” he said in one of several transportation metaphors. “It’s a train that’s on the right track.”
Due to my work schedule, I was not able to attend. The characterization above doesn’t really tell me much, other than that Napolitano is trying to use the tax increases as his big axe to grind. Anyone else out there attend? I would like to hear more about what went on.