When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

26 February 2006

NYT weekend linky goodness

Some very interesting stories in this weekend's editions of the New York Times -- an unusually high concentration of them, in fact.

A quick roundup:

(1) The NSA goes "shopping" in Silicon Valley, talking with venture capitalists and hoping to steer them towards funding some technologies that the Feds would be interested in buying. (For those of you who thought the ACLU "pizza ad" example I posted earlier this week was ridiculous, virtually everything the NSA is looking at in the commerical software market involves data mining.)

On the [NSA's] wish list, according to several venture capitalists who met with the officials, were an array of technologies that underlie the fierce debate over the Bush administration's anti-terrorist eavesdropping program: computerized systems that reveal connections between seemingly innocuous and unrelated pieces of information.

The tools they were looking for are new, but their application would fall under the well-established practice of data mining: using mathematical and statistical techniques to scan for hidden relationships in streams of digital data or large databases.

(2) Software gazillionaire Thomas Siebel (of the eponymous Siebel Systems, recently purchased by Oracle) who lives part-time in Montana, is funding the Montana Meth Project, blanketing the state of Montana with anti-methamphetimine advertising that makes the old egg-in-the-frying-pan "This is your brain on drugs..." PSA look like an episode of Romper Room. For example:
The camera follows the teenager as she showers for her night out and looks down to discover the drain swirling with blood. She turns and sees her methamphetamine-addicted self cowering below, oozing from scabs she has picked all over her body because the drug made her think there were bugs crawling beneath her skin, and she lets out a scream worthy of "Psycho."
That's an interesting way to spend some of the metric buttload of cash he just got from Larry Ellison.

(3) There's a long, fascinating article in the Sunday NYT Magazine about Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a non-traditional, older college student in his freshman year at Yale. He was out in the working world for a while before attending university--as a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"Fahad, Hyder, Rahmatullah, me — we fight every day," Ahmed says. "We have lunch together. At 6 o'clock we meet for dinner at the Slifka Center [ed. note: this is the kosher dining hall at Yale - where halal food isn't available, kosher suits many Muslims fine.] We sit together and eat food off one plate and talk about things. Sometimes we make fun of the Taliban. Every day we come up with something to fight about. We pretend to be only mocking, but we're genuinely angry. Friendship to a Pashtun means you have exclusive rights to abuse each other. After dinner we go back to my suite in Davenport and play foosball or stay up late playing Civilization. Rahmatullah loves the equality of how people are over here. He's very down to earth. He gets a lot of respect at Yale. If you want to test a man's character, either give him power or take it away — and see how he responds. I'm proud to be his friend."


Many distinctions could be drawn between his old life and his life at Yale. But he had seized on one.

"You have to be reasonable to live in America," he said. "Everything here is based on reason. Even the essays you write for class. Back home you have to talk about religion and culture, and you can win any argument if you bring up the Islamic argument. You can't reason against religion. But you cannot change Afghanistan overnight. You can't bring the Enlightenment overnight."
(4) Critics of the American health-care system (and I count myself in their number) who look hopefully to the Great White North for answers would do well to read this article about Canada's flailing, drowning government health-care system and the rise of technically-illegal private clinics and hospitals:

The country's publicly financed health insurance system — frequently described as the third rail of its political system and a core value of its national identity — is gradually breaking down. Private clinics are opening around the country by an estimated one a week, and private insurance companies are about to find a gold mine.

Dr. Day, for instance, is planning to open more private hospitals, first in Toronto and Ottawa, then in Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. Ontario provincial officials are already threatening stiff fines. Dr. Day says he is eager to see them in court.

"We've taken the position that the law is illegal," Dr. Day, 59, says. "This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years."

(5) Finally, Paul English's "get out of voicejail free" project, GetHuman.com, which has been blogged a time or two here at enrevanche, gets some nice coverage: Your Call Should Be Important To Us, But It's Not.
[L]ast summer, fed up with too many aggravating run-ins with awful customer service, Mr. English posted a blog entry that reverberated around the world: a "cheat sheet" that explained how to break through automated interactive voice-response systems at a handful of companies and speak to a human being. He named the companies and published their codes for reaching an operator — codes that they did not share with the public.
Stories referenced:

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