Welcome, Sickos

by Kieran Healy on July 25, 2005

Over the past few hours we’ve had a little trouble with the server — apologies to our readers: it should be fixed now. In the course of trying to diagnose and repair the problem, I was looking through our log files and I noticed some search queries that made me feel a bit queasy. About a year ago, Belle wrote a post called “The La Perla Exception”:https://crookedtimber.org/2004/04/02/the-la-perla-exception/, which discussed the legal problems associated with drawing a line between pictures of naked children (e.g., canonical baby-in-the-bath-with-rubber-ducky photos) and child pornography. Just in the past 24 hours or so, we’ve had eleven hits on that page via google. According to “GeoBytes”:http://www.geobytes.com/IpLocator.htm, the originating IPs for these searches were in places as various as Bangalore, Chennai (also in India), Rio De Janeiro, Burnaby (in British Columbia), Oscoda (Michigan), Cabot (Arkansas), Bridgeport (Connecticut) and Tampa (Florida). Of these searches, two appeared legitimate — “debate+child+pornography” and “what+constitutes+child+porn.” The rest were queries like “European+Child+nudity+pictures”, “child+models+nude” (several variants of that one), and “small+girls(12-15+years)+sex+pics.” Because the La Perla post is so old, I’ve no reason to think this trickle of sewage isn’t typical. The searches represent just under one percent of referrals to CT from distinct google queries in 24 hours. That’s pretty low, I suppose. But, then again, it’s not as if Crooked Timber has much in the way of content that would attract pedophiles. Imagine what many other sites — never mind Google itself — must be seeing.

Spreading Statistics

by Ted on July 25, 2005

Like Matthew Yglesias, I was a little stunned at this line from Sen. Rick Santorum in today’s kinder, gentler Washington Post forum:

One place the government does not help is through taxes. In fact in 1950 the average American family paid 2% in taxes. Today that average American family pays 27% in taxes to the federal government. Oddly enough the difference, 25%, is what the average second wage earner makes in America today. So you see, on average, the second wage earner is working simply to pay the increased burden the federal government has put on the family.

That’s a showstopping statistic. Can it be true? I’ve gone to the Tax Policy Center site, which has the most detailed information that I could find. This table, “Historical Combined Income and Employee Tax Rates for a Family of Four”, doesn’t seem to back up Santorum. The TPC chart starts in 1955 (not 1950), before Medicare. According to TPC, federal taxes (federal income, Social Security, and Medicare) for a family of four with the median income have risen from 7.35% to 14.36% between 1955 and 2001.

That’s a substantial increase, but isn’t congruent with Santorum’s description. If we managed to recapture the 1955 tax rate, it would have saved this family $4436 in 2001. $4436 is a pleasant sum to contemplate, but it’s not enough to replace the wages of many second earners.

If anyone else can find a source, please let me know. Maybe there was some major change in tax rates between 1950 and 1955; maybe he’s defining “average family” in a different way. I’ve called Santorum’s press secretary, and will update if they get back to me. If this figure is substantially true, Republicans ought to be screaming it off the rooftops. If it isn’t, the Senator really shouldn’t be throwing it around.

The real villains

by Ted on July 25, 2005

When Christopher Hitchens added his voice to the supporters of the Bush Administration, he didn’t do it out of contempt for human intelligence in the battle against weapons of mass destruction. It wasn’t out of admiration for linguistic sophistry, and support of legal hairsplitting. Yet here he is, writing the defence of Karl Rove on just those principles (if that’s the right word).

Despite the rhetorical flourishes (comparing the attacks on Rove to the McCarthy hearings is particularly nauseating), his points are pretty boilerplate:

– Joseph Wilson is an awful man
– the unpaid trip to Niger was a glorious prize, obtained by the former Ambassador through sheer nepotism
– “you must knowingly wish to expose the cover of a CIA officer who you understand may be harmed as a result”, otherwise it’s all good, and
– the CIA deserves what it’s gotten for leaking against the Administration.

Here’s what I’d like to ask Hitchens or his admirers:

We know that Valerie Plame was in a position to recommend her husband for the Niger mission. But she didn’t actually have the authority to send him. That decision was made by her bosses. To the best of my knowledge, the identity of those bosses has never been publicly revealed. We know nothing about them. Did they vote for Bush? Are they Kerry contributors? “Peaceniks”? No one knows.

Rove’s defenders call this “Nadagate”- they think that Karl Rove did nothing wrong by leaking the identity of Valerie Plame. Some even think that he deserves a medal. If this is true, surely he owes it to the American people to reveal the names of her bosses. It’s true that these people could be covert, and exposing them could endanger and expose their contacts and colleagues. However, if Rove takes the precaution of not checking their covert status, he’s free and clear, legally and ethically.

Does anyone believe this?

P.S. Some really enjoyable Hitchens-bashing at Red State Son.

Another P.S.: This is awfully good, too.

Surveillance technology

by Chris Bertram on July 25, 2005

The BBC showed “a programme the other day”:http://www.blackjackscience.com/bbc/BBC%20-%20Science%20&%20Nature%20-%20Horizon%20-%20transcript.htm about the history of card counting in blackjack and how the casinos eventually defeated the card counters using facial recognition technology. Having traced suspected card counters to MIT, Griffin Investigations, the agency employed by the casinos, then fed the faces from the MIT yearbooks into their databases. When a face appeared in a casino and the software matched it to a suspect, that person was shown the door. The relevant bit of the transcript:

NARRATOR: It was then that Beverley noticed something unusual. Many of the big winners had given addresses from around the same area, Boston. Then she noticed something else, most of her suspects played only at weekends, and they were all around college age. Beverley made the connection. Could these card counting team members be students at M.I.T.? To find out Beverley checked the M.I.T. student year books.

BEVERLEY GRIFFIN: And lo and behold there they were. Looking all scholarly and serious and not at all like a card counter.

NARRATOR: The M.I.T. yearbooks viewed like a rogue’s gallery of team counters. Beverley now realised she was up against some of the smartest minds in America. So the casinos began to develop facial recognition technology, for quick and accurate identification of team play suspects. The basis for the database were the M.I.T. yearbooks. From the moment a suspected counter entered a casino they could be monitored by the hundreds of cameras on the casino floor. Snapshots could then be downloaded for computer analysis.

TRAVIS MILLER: Each time he moves I try to see which shot is going to be the best for him, that we can use to match him up further down the road. This would be the perfect shot, he’s directly in the centre of the photo, all we see is his face, he’s looking straight ahead in to the shot.

NARRATOR: Facial recognition software analysed the relative position of over eighty coordinates on a suspects face. As individual as a fingerprint this information could be run through the Griffin database of suspected card counters, and an identification made.

I’m guessing that if casinos can do this with MIT students then states and security agencies could certainly employ the same technology to keep anyone photographed at a “Hizb ut-Tahrir”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hizb_ut-Tahrir meeting (or similar) off the London Underground or Heathrow Airport. As soon as a match appeared, they could be stopped.

I hasten to state that the civil liberties implications of any such system are horrendous. But my interest here is in whether it would be technologically feasible. Could it work for a large system? How many false positives and false negatives would there be? Any answers?