Buying Trouble

Racial profiling, algorithms, and the perils of shopping: “Could the items on your grocery list make the authorities see you as a potential terrorist?” Another argument not to use those frequent-shopper cards [to incentivize your opt-in to which the supermarket chains (and drugstores, and etc. etc.) are so eager to hand out discounts to to you], which have apparently been the source of this information about you.

The final destination of all that data scares Ponemon and other civil libertarians, defenders of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure. (Larry) Ponemon (CEO of the consulting firm Privacy Council and a former business ethics professor at Babson College and SUNY), for one, suggests federal authorities are plugging the information into algorithms, using the complex formulas to create a picture of general-population trends that can be contrasted with the lifestyles of known terrorists. If your habits match, expect further scrutiny at the least.

“I can’t reveal my source, but a federal agency involved in espionage actually did a rating system of almost every citizen in this country,” Ponemon claims. “It was based on all sorts of information—public sources, private sources. If people are not opted in”—meaning they haven’t chosen to participate—”one can generally assume that information was gathered through an illegal system.” Village Voice


Inside Al-Qaeda

This edition of the NPR talk show The Connection is guest hosted by All Things Considered co-host Robert Siegel while the tiresome Dick Gordon is away. It consists of a conversation between Rohan Gunaratna (author of Inside Al-Qaeda, research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St. Andrews) and Andrew Higgins (Moscow Bureau Chief, Wall Street Journal). Essentially, Gunaratna finds Al-Qaeda to be a scarily disciplined tightly organized organization with worldwide reach and impeccable strategy and resources which has not been diminished but, indeed, strengthened by the dismantling of its Afghan training camps. . Higgins, who analyzed the Al-Qaeda computer which came into the WSJ‘s possession, contends they are an “almost shambolic”, largely ineffectual ragtag movement, if an organization by that name even exists. Uhh, would it be fair to say that the truth certainly lies somewhere in between?? The quality of the listener calls struck me as particularly lame, especially the woman who “greatly appreciate(s) and agree(s) with your experts.” As for the promised “prescription for combatting the first multinational terrorist organization,” Gunaratna suggests that we should promote educational reform and strengthen the political and economic hand of the moderates in Arab countries to counter Islamist influence, which I find a dubious premise. Higgins agrees on the educational reform…


Twice as Bad as Hoover

“George W. Bush is shattering records for the worst first 18 months in office for a U.S. president as measured by the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500. In his first year-and-a-half in the White House, Bush presided over a 36.9 percent decline, almost twice the percentage drop of Herbert Hoover, the president who led the nation into the Depression…

Ironically, given the Republicans’ business-friendly reputation, the four worst performing stock-market presidents in the first 18 months are all Republicans. Ronald Reagan’s 15.3 percent decline joins Hoover, Nixon and Bush at the bottom. The top two performing presidents, as measured by the S&P in their first 18 months, are Democrats, Lyndon Johnson at a plus 27.5 percent and Franklin Roosevelt at 55.1 percent…

Though some presidents reversed the early returns of the stock markets, Bush has so far failed to inspire confidence either with his personal performance or his policies. The stock market has greeted speech after speech by Bush with double-digit declines in the Dow.” The Consortium


I Can’t Help; I’d Lose Votes…

Bush Holds U.N. Family Planning Funds

The Bush administration, in a victory for social conservatives who oppose abortion, will withhold $34 million that had been earmarked for U.N. family planning programs overseas. Instead, the money will go to international child survival and health programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development, officials said Monday.

Critics of the decision said it was driven by politics and vowed to fight to ensure funding for the U.N. program. NY Times


Cosmologists: "…often wrong but never in doubt…"

In the Beginning …: ‘In the last few years… a funny thing has happened. Cosmologists are beginning to agree with one another. Blessed with new instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope and other space-based observatories, a new generation of their giant cousins on the ground and ever-faster computer networks, cosmology is entering “a golden age” in which data are finally outrunning speculation.’ NY Times


Remaining U.S. C.E.O.s make a break for it:

Band of roving chief executives spotted miles from Mexican border: “Unwilling to wait for their eventual indictments, the 10,000 remaining CEOs of public U.S. companies made a break for it yesterday, heading for the Mexican border, plundering towns and villages along the way, and writing the entire rampage off as a marketing expense.”

“CEOnista Martha Stewart (Martha Stewart Omnimedia) was one of the few executives captured. Her mask is made from recycled Christmas paper wrapping.” SatireWire [thanks to David]

In related news, ‘the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that corporate earnings statements should be protected as works of art, as they “create something from nothing.” ‘ also SatireWire


"The more you suffer, the higher you stand."

“There is a definite hierarchy in residency programs, and the more you suffer, the higher you stand.” A ‘diary’ entry by a graduating medical resident:

Residency is generally considered an unpleasant time of life, but there are varying degrees of unpleasantness, depending on the specialty you’ve chosen and where you do your training. There are “cush” programs where call is once a week, from home, even for surgeons, and there are “malignant” programs, where call is every other night for the interns and you never sleep and you are treated like dirt. In New York City, the programs have had to go a little easier on the residents since the famous Libby Zion case, where a young girl died. It was a complicated case, and whether or not the fatigue of the resident caring for the patient contributed to her death is still controversial. Nevertheless, it did call attention to the long hours residents work. New York passed a law limiting residents’ work hours, and recently an advisory committee to the American Medical Association recommended revising resident work schedules to shifts of no more than 12 hours straight. This would be a radical change. The word “resident” comes from the fact that medical trainees used to actually live in the hospital. For years, the misery of residency was perpetuated, whether because of tradition — ”the old “I suffered, you should suffer, too” philosophy — ”or, as some people say, because it allows for the most amount of training in the least amount of time. Slate

And let’s not forget perhaps the strongest incentive for the ‘training’ system — that it gives the lucky teaching hospitals the most work possible from the cheapest pool of physician labor. It has often been said that medical training does not prepare emerging doctors for the economic realities of modern healthcare. To consider the issue, as this graduating resident does, only from the perspectives of ‘tradition’ or ‘training needs’ is a graphic illustration of the ways in which alienated labor doesn’t even see that it is alienated!


Men resistant to the one-upmanship entailed in a visit to the doctor

Letters to the Editor: ‘The main reason men don’t come to doctors is because doctors do not know how to interact with patients as equals…

I can multiply examples, but suffice it to say our medical training is so imbued with learning through endless one-upmanship that it is second nature for doctors to try to be winners all the time. Starting from a disdain for the patient’s time, making them wait as if we were as high and mighty as judges, doctors never deal with patients on a level field, the way barbers or bartenders do with their clientele.’ AMA News


Kronos Crashes

The quartet butchers Mexican music: “With the recently released Nuevo, a collection of mainly Mexican and Latin American tunes, the Kronos Quartet is no longer the same group of pioneers who warranted attention for their commitment to contemporary music and for their on-stage fire. They’re a group of sonic clowns. And a hapless one at that.” Slate


Fiddling while Rome burns:

The Relevance of Sex in a City That’s Changed: “Tonight Sex and the City begins its fifth season on HBO in a world solemnized by terrorism and, apparently, newly appreciative of the joys of marriage. What does this mean for a show that has relied on an unending sense of youth and blitheness? Has Sex become irrelevant?” Who cares? Was it ever anything but an icon of frivolous decadence? This NY Times puffpiece describes a pitiful effort to exploit the new opportunities for poignancy in the post-9/11 City.


Panic Probes and the Identification of Panic:

A Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective: Hinton, Nathan, Bird and Park. Abstract:

“This article reviews the historical development of the category of panic disorder in the United States, particularly the shifting perspectives on both what causes panic and how the presence of panic should be determined. The notion that panic attacks of a panic-disorder type must be “out of the blue” and “unexpected,” except in the case of triggering by a particular place (i.e., agoraphobia), is critiqued. The authors illustrate that a meaningful epidemiological determination of panic rates in other cultural groups must be preceded by a detailed ethnography that ascertains the catastrophic cognitions, core symptoms, and typical cues of panic attacks in that particular context.”

Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry


Panic Disorder, Somatization, and the New Cross-cultural Psychiatry:

The Seven Bodies of a Medical Anthropology of Panic: Devon Hinton and Susan Hinton. Abstract:

“This article aims to adduce a framework that will allow for the cross-cultural study of panic disorder. The authors take sensation as the key unit of analysis, aiming to contribute to a medical anthropology of sensation. The seven analytic perspectives that are suggested in the article are the following: the full spectrum of panic attack sensations (the sensation body), the biological generation of panic sensations (the biological body), sensation as invoking an ethnophysiology (the ethnophysiological body), sensation as metaphor (the metaphoric body), sensation as invoking the landscape (the landscape body), sensation as invoking catastrophic cognitions (the catastrophic cognitions body), and sensation as invoking memory (the memory-associational body).”

Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry