Rochester Science

Show Me The Strength of Your Singular Eye

In the American Colonies, before the Revolution, taxation was done at the whim of a Parliament in which American tax payers had no representation whatsoever. But far worse for many Americans caught a-foul of the law, settling disputes and penalties with the British legal system often meant showing up in court in Merry Old England herself. Such a voyage in those days meant months and years away from the very properties these Americans we trying to maintain, to say nothing of the lost income and extra expense of the voyage, lodging in England and the like. It was precisely these types of extreme hardships – much more so than the taxation itself – that prompted a few well-educated and wealthy Americans to start plotting the Revolution.

The American Revolution can therefore be thought of in a certain context as a radical renegotiation of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Not simply a reinvention of government, but forging of a new principle of power sharing, supported by thousands of legal pleadings in British courts, up to and including the final and most famous Declaration of Independence.

But I don’t recall having reached any such deal with cameras or computers.[1. Title of this post provided by a lyric from Yes: Machine Messiah]

More and more municipal governments, including most recently Rochester, have been employing red light cameras and other automated means of handling law enforcement issues. This is raising many legal and ethical concerns among many quarters, as Doug Emblidge points to in his above-linked blog post. My concern may seem oblique, but it seems to me that implicit in the negotiation of law is the fact that law exists as a guidepost towards justice, not an iron-clad set of parameters from within which a computer program is expected to perform.

This is not an abstract concept for philosophy classes, nor is it a plot for some 1970’s “computers take over the world” scenario movie. No set of circumstances which deviates from the law yields any other outcome for a computer than a violation of that law, and even if the issue can be resolved in a court, we once again require that potentially innocent people take time out of their lives to prove thier innocence – or potentially fail to – at the behest of a set of arbitrary laws.

Cops do not issue tickets for every violation they see. They don’t even issue tickets for every person they pull over. Computers contain no subroutines for compassion or clemency.


The Wide Stance of Freedom

If you’re in the habit of going into mens rooms for the purpose of seeking anonymous sexual pleasures, there’s a very good chance you could end up leaving with The Gift That Keeps on Giving.

Do I mean herpes?  No, sir, though that, too, is a possibility.  I mean you might end up leaving with a Republican politician.

Do I mean Senator Larry Craig?  No, sir, though that is one option.  Do I mean Mark Foley?  No, sir, and there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it would be.  I mean St. Bernard Parish Councilman Joey DiFatta, who on Thursday withdrew from the 1st Senate District campaign:

DiFatta twice detained for lewd conduct in mall restrooms – Breaking News Updates New Orleans – Times-Picayune –

DiFatta, 53, acknowledged that reports he had been stopped are true, but he denied any wrongdoing in both cases. He said he was not prosecuted in either case and has no arrest record. “If I had done something wrong, I would have been arrested,” DiFatta said Thursday afternoon. “I was not. I will deny that I was involved in any activity of that nature.”

This guy was doing it in the mall, so just so we’re clear: this is not a plague known only to the airports of our great nation.  Is there some trend among closeted homosexuals to go all the way and become “Values Candidates” to prove they’re not gay?  And by the way, that smile!  That smile just screams, “I’m bound to be found doing something lewd in a bathroom, with or without another willing participant.”


Upstate Opportunity Region? This is a Democrat?!?!?!?

Like most New Yorkers, I think, I’ve been woefully unobservant when it comes to the New York State Legislature.  I am paying much, much more attention these days, and promise to pass the benefits to the blogosphere, . . . such as they are.

But in reading an article on Spitzer’s newly-forming Upstate strategy, I was blown away by the following comment from a (nominal, at least) Democratic Assemblyman from Tonawanda:

Jobs at stake in state divide || Democrat & Chronicle: Business

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Tonawanda, called last week for the creation of an “upstate opportunity region.” The goal: to direct state aid to parts of the region that fall below a series of predetermined economic indicators, such as job growth.

He believes that the Legislature should look at ways of easing the burden of certain laws on upstate businesses, such as one that imposes liability on employers for work-site falls from ladders or other lifts, regardless of circumstance.

That law “is an affordable luxury in downstate but it is a project killer upstate,” said Schimminger, who leads the Assembly’s committee on economic development. He says he believes the Legislature has the authority to write laws to apply in one part of the state over another, as it has done in the past with legislation affecting only cities of 1 million or more.

“We should treat upstate, however it is defined, differently from downstate,” Schimminger said.

Where do I even begin?  Have we not had enough of being Corporate America’s dirty little run-down tax shelter, already?  COMIDA has not convinced us of the need to find better ways to reform the state economy?  And how is forcing employers to take heed of safety concerns “an affordable luxury” of downstate?

Grrr. . .  Having spent much of my early adulthood working in factories, that last one really burns me up.  It’s the kind of thing where public ignorance is corporate bliss.

The fact of the matter is, safety is rarely a thing that can be legislated, rarely a thing in which a definable set of rules can be universally applied to all factories and all industries.  For this reason, Worker’s Comp cases can get quite complex and nasty, devolving into a “he said/they said” kind of situation.  There’s no “right way,” to have done whatever caused the accident.  There’s no “wrong way,” upon which to rest one’s case against the worker, and even if there is, there is always employer pressure compelling workers to do things they know are unsafe because “it needs to get done.”

Don’t believe me?  You’ve not worked in a factory.  Period.  Don’t bother to argue with me.

In that situation, the person who comes out best is the one with the better set of lawyers, and guess who that tends to be?  The worker?  Not unless they’re Union.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an altruistic law, either: litigating Workers Comp claims is expensive for the state, and paying out on claims is even more expensive, so this is their way of making sure that employers feel some of that sting, too.

So, one way or another, these types of laws force employers to be more aware of safety concerns.  Or more sensitive, to speak accurately.  They’re the kind of thing that allows us as workers to say, “hell, no.  I’m not climbing that f*ing ladder, dumb ass.  You do it, if its that important.”  They keep us safe and give us leverage to try to improve our work environments as individuals, affecting change where no law can reach us.

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Rochesterians Safe From Identity Theft

And hey! Here’s at least one bit of good news for Rochesterians where crime is concerned: you don’t need to be as worried about identity theft as you would in Las Vegas! That’s right, compiled two lists from Sperlings Best Places, one of places where identity theft is high, and one where it is exceptionally low. Guess which list Rochester’s on? If you said the low one, you’ve been reading this post very carefully.

Yes, that’s right. The one thing you don’t need to worry about as a Rochesterian is someone coming along and pretending to be you. Venereal disease? Murder? Theft? Be very, very afraid. But identity theft is right out.


Big Trouble for B&L

Oh, boy.  Just what we need in Rochester: one of the Big Three getting sued.  Bausch and Lomb’s ReNu Moisture Lock contact lens solution has apparently been alleged to be responsible for 26 cases of a rare fungal eye infection.  What is worse is that it’s a rare infection, and from the way the article makes it sound, there is little chance that the execs didn’t know about it:

Bausch suspends lens solution, faces lawsuit – Yahoo! News

The company was sued in federal court in New York for allegedly failing to disclose problems with ReNu after it became aware that users in Asia had contracted fungal infections.

Bausch & Lomb suspended sales of ReNu in Hong Kong and Singapore after potential health problems arose in Asia two months ago.

What is truly weird about the whole thing is that out of 109 cases in the US, only 26 seem to be directly linked to the contact solution.  That begs the question: how many cases of this infection happen anually under normal circumstances?


Teetering on the Edge of Isolationism / Nonrepudiable Security Technology

This news isn’t going to make very many people very happy at all:

U.S. to Contract Foreign Co. to Scan Cargo – Yahoo! News

One of Americans’ favorite beach destinations, the Bahamas, is getting a new U.S. arrival ? sophisticated equipment to detect radioactive materials in shipping cargo. But U.S. customs agents won’t be on site to supervise the machine’s use as a nuclear safeguard for the American shoreline that is just 65 miles away from Freeport. Under an unusual arrangement, a Hong Kong company will help operate the detector.

But at what point are we becoming isolationist and even naive about the ways of the world? There are so many ways of looking at this issue. . .


Phish On! All’s Well That Ends Well

Thank goodness that at least eBay responds quicker and with a bit more grace than does PayPal. I sent off my email to the address, and within an hour, received my reply. The reply was a very gracious message of appreciation for alerting them to the problem, along with some tips on avoiding such predators. Now, this new phishing site appears to be relatively new: one security site only seems to have acknowledged this particular bugger as recently as this week; however, there does seem to be an enormous amount of phishing aimed at PayPal customers.