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