Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Month: April, 2009

The Politics of Swine Flu

We all have our bogeymen, the thing we blame for everything. For some it’s immigrants, for others it’s Cheney and for still others it’s the French. Similarly, we all have our panaceas, the thing we believe can solve all problems. For some it’s Obama, for others it’s the free market and for some others it’s covering-your-ears-while-shouting-lalalalalala-i-cant-hear-you.

Swine flu has brought out the worst of these tendencies. So far, I’ve seen the following:

  1. Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine, has been put on the defensive for negotiating to remove pandemic preparedness from the stimulus approved by Congress. aka The Republicans are to blame for swine flu.
  2. A caller on NPR’s On Point yesterday tried to connect the spread of swine flu to illegal immigration. As if people didn’t legally travel between the Mexico and other countries. aka I have a sad life, can I blame an illegal immigrant?
  3. To prove that even people on the left see the world through ideological goggles, another caller on NPR’s On Point said that maybe if we had Obama’s universal health care, we wouldn’t have the epidemic. aka I have this great hammer, and all I see are nails!
  4. Yet another caller, said that maybe factory farming is to blame. aka I buy groceries at Whole Foods, why don’t you?

In another context, I may agree with each of these points to different degrees. But I also find such ideology driven comments for every unrelated national news story as knee-jerk and self-centered.

You Can’t Ban it If You Can’t Define it

Thesis #1 of my 95 theses was about reclaiming the language. You can’t avoid it if you don’t know what it is.

$$ Not Defined

I’m sure something profound could be derived from the Firefox error I just got while on CNN Money: Read the rest of this entry »

Four Conditions for the End of Torture

For the discussion on torture in this, or any other democratic country, to ever be satisfactorily complete, the following conditions must be satisfied.

  1. We must be absolutely certain what we mean when we use the word “torture”.
  2. Once defined, we agree that we do not torture.
  3. The decision to reject torture does not depend upon the effectiveness of torture.
  4. We are prepared for the worst possible outcome of not using torture.

Any discussion that does not deal with each of these issues to their logical conclusion is incomplete and will only force us to repeat the past. We find ourselves playing word games, debating how flexible our morals are and at what point we would give them up. Rule #3 and #4 are especially difficult, but our constitution is strongest only if we stick with it in the worst of times.

AT&T Goes After Sling

You know your company is doing something right when AT&T inserts a phrase in to their terms of service to block you:

This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services, customer initiated redirection of television or other video or audio signals via any technology from a fixed location to a mobile device, web broadcasting, and/or for the operation of servers, telemetry devices and/or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition devices is prohibited.

Sling for the iPhone, you must be doing something right. If you get past the iTunes App Store gatekeepers, AT&T is setting up another gate right behind them.

[via TUAW]

UPDATE: That was quick. AT&T has apologized for the modification to the ToS:

“The language added on March 30 to AT&T’s wireless data service Terms and Conditions was done in error. It was brought to our attention and we have since removed it. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Behold the power of the Internet.

iPods, Obama and the Queen

An excellent article from Fred von Lohmann at EFF:

President Obama reportedly gave an iPod, loaded with 40 show tunes, to England’s Queen Elizabeth II as a gift. Did he violate the law when he did so?

You know your copyright laws are broken when there is no easy answer to this question.

[from iPods, First Sale, President Obama, and the Queen of England | Electronic Frontier Foundation]

The issue stems from how the law deals with bits (MP3s, software and Kindle eBooks) differently from atoms (CDs, paperbacks). If the President had bought a CD for the Queen (of the band Queen, no less) it would have been perfectly legal. But digital music, on the other hand, is much murkier territory— you own a “license” not the music. The article at EFF does much better justice to the topic, so read the details there.

Nature Beats SciFi

That’s a real undersea volcano near Tonga, halfway between Australia and Tahiti, aka the Pacific “ring of fire”.


The “ring of fire” is an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga. That is quite an arc.