Saturday, October 16, 2004

Gay-Friendliness a Prerequisite for Media Accreditation

October 15, 2004
Gay-Friendly News Urged
by Steve Jordahl, correspondent

If you think the mainstream media is biased now when it comes to coverage of homosexual issues, just wait.
College journalism departments that hope to be accredited by a national council are going to have to foster a deeper understanding of gay issues among students next year.
The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC)—which accredits journalism departments at 104 colleges—is reducing the standards it uses to judge a school from 12 to nine. And it's also adding sexual orientation to the diversity standard, according to ACEJMC Executive Director Susanne Shaw.
"You have to understand that we really haven't had any cycle using these new nine standards," she said, "so I am a little premature when I say that they won't lose their accreditation."
Shaw promised the council will try to accommodate Christian colleges, but said one of the ways it judges compliance is an inclusive curriculum.
"Then we look at course syllabi to see how they're talking about diversity or how they're preparing students to cover stories in a diverse world," she said.
James Bruce, a professor at an accredited school in Tennessee, said gay activists within the council pushed for the changes.
"This past year," he said, "a splinter group of the ACEJMC decided that they would push to have included in the diversity section, the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered) category."
Not coincidentally, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association became a member of the council last year. Tom Hess, editor of Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, said the changes add insult to injury.
"There's a great sensitivity to the homosexual issue in the newsroom," Hess said. "There already is a bias, in that they don't quite understand our side of the issue, and this will only exacerbate it."
The move, he added, highlights the importance of alternative Christian media sources.

Military Looking to Concoct 'Super Soldiers'

Sci-Fi Superheroes
By Nicholas Turse,
Posted on October 16, 2004, Printed on October 16, 2004

Even if you never read the comic book or watched the hopelessly low-production-value 1960s cartoon, chances are you've at least seen the image of Captain America – the slightly ridiculous looking superhero in a form-fitting, star-spangled bodysuit. If you're still hazy on "Cap," he was Steve Rogers, a 4-F weakling during World War II who, through the miracle of "modern science" (a "super soldier serum") became an Axis-smashing powerhouse – the pinnacle of human physical perfection and the ultimate American fighting-man.
In the 1940s comic, Rogers had taken part in a super-soldier experiment, thanks to the interventions of an Army general and a scientist in a secret government laboratory. He was to be the first of many American super-soldiers, but due to poor note-keeping methods and the efforts of a Nazi assassin, he became the sole recipient of the serum. Today, however, the dream of Captain America turns out to be alive and well – and lodged in the Pentagon. The U.S. military aims to succeed where those in the four-color comic book world failed. By using high technology and cutting edge biomedicine, the military hopes to create an entire army of Captain Americas – a fighting force devoid of "Steve Rogers" or any other "Joe Average," and made up instead of super-soldiers whose human-ness has been all but banished.
24-Hour Soldiers
The military has long been interested in creating an always-on, 24-hour fighting man. During the Vietnam War, the Army undertook extensive studies on the effects of sleep deprivation. At the time, however, all the military could offer was copious amounts of amphetamines to keep men wired for combat.
As in the Vietnam era, the military is again stretched thin and, with National Guard recruiting having fallen 12 percent below goal in the first three quarters of 2004, in need of troops. What better way to forestall future manpower crises than by creating two-for-the-price-of-one soldiers who never need to sleep?
To this end, the Department of Defense's blue-skies research outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), currently has a "Preventing Sleep Deprivation Program." Its aim is to work on ways to enable a pilot "to fly continuously for 30 hours," Green Berets to carry out 48-72 hours of sustained activity, or "advancing ground troops [to] engage in weeks of combat operations with only 3 hours of sleep per night" – all without suffering from cognitive or psychomotor impairments.
Scientists in the military-industrial-academic complex are hard at work for DARPA on this line of research. At Wake Forest University, for instance, researchers are studying a class of medicines known as "Ampakines" which are thought to be protective against the cognitive deficits ordinarily associated with sleep deprivation. At Columbia University, new imaging technologies are being employed as part of a program to study the "neuro-protective and neuro-regenerative effects" of an anti-oxidant found in cocoa. (In low-tech World War II, they just gave the grunts chocolate bars.) Who's conducting this line of research for DARPA? Why, researchers at the Salk Institute and also at that all-chocolate-all-the-time company Mars Inc. – yes, the folks who bring you M&M's and Snickers!
At the same time, the Air Force Research Laboratory's Warfighter Fatigue Countermeasure program is looking into a drug known as Modafinil which can reportedly keep people awake for up to 88 hours without sleep; while researchers at the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC), the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR), the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, among others, are working on sleep- (or-lack-thereof)-related projects.
Major Morality, You're Demoted
Sleepless soldiers are all well and good while the fighting goes on; but how does one prevent sleepless, anxiety-filled nights after those missions end? Once upon a time, it seems, most soldiers had a great revulsion against close-quarters killing. During World War II, it has been estimated that as few as 15-20% of American infantry troops actually fired their weapons at the enemy. By the Vietnam years, the military had managed to bring that number up into the 90-95% range! Obviously, the armed forces had found ways to turn American men into more efficient killers. But how to deal with the pesky problems of regret, remorse, and post-traumatic stress disorder?
Well, last year, writing in the Village Voice, Erik Baard raised the specter of the creation of a "guilt-free soldier," noting that researchers from various universities across the U.S. (including Harvard, Columbia, NYU, and UC-Irvine) were working on various methods of fear-inhibition and also memory-numbing by using "propranolol pills... as a means to nip the effects of trauma in the bud." He further reported that at Columbia, the lab of Nobel laureate in medicine Eric Kandel had "discovered the gene behind a fear-inhibiting protein, uncovering a vision of 'fight or flight' at the molecular level." When asked by Baard if he was funded by DARPA, Kandel answered, "No, but you're welcome to call them and tell them about me."
Will DARPA take Kandel up on his tacit offer? It seems only natural that a soldier unburdened by morals, ethics, or remorse would be the military's dream. But for now, DARPA seems fixated on another long-term project – creating cyborg soldiers – which might make an anti-morality morning-after (combat) pill superfluous.
Remote-Controlled Soldiers?
As noted recently in the pages of the New Yorker, searching for perks to retain troops, the military is offering free cosmetic surgery (funded by taxpayer dollars) to "[a]nyone wearing a uniform." So right now "bigger breasts" are the type of implants the U.S. military is specializing in. (Military doctors performed 496 breast enlargements between 2000 and 2003.) However, if DARPA scientists have their way, the implants du jour of the future may be the product of the "Brain Machine Interface Program" which seeks "new high-density interconnects for brain machine interfaces that will allow [researchers] to monitor the brain patterns associated with a wide variety of behaviors and activities relevant to DoD [the Department of Defense]."
Monkeys, with electrodes implanted in their brains, have already been taught to use thought-power to do such things as move a robotic arm. But why stop there? A few years back, DARPA scientists succeeded in creating a "ratbot" – a living, breathing rat with electrodes implanted in its brain that could be controlled using a laptop computer. Today, DARPA researchers, not exactly heading up the evolutionary scale but evidently proceeding toward larger sized natural fighting machines, are working on a remote-controlled shark. And how long will it be until some researcher gets the bright idea of a remote-controlled soldier; short-circuiting free will altogether? The technology isn't there yet, but what happens when it is?
DARPA already has all sorts of programs designed to use high-tech means to prevent humans from "becoming the weakest link in the U.S. military." Take the "Neovision Program" whose goal is "using synthetic materials for a retinal prosthesis to enable signal transduction at the nerve/retina interface"; that is, creating devices to technologically-enhance or even re-conceptualize human vision as we know it. Or how about the Biologically Inspired Multifunctional Dynamic Robotics (BIODYNOTICS) Program, which aims to develop "robotic capabilities," inspired by biology -such as the movements of arms and legs – "for national security applications."
Foodless Fighters? Water-free Warriors?
But what good is an always-on, morals-free cyborg soldier if s/he's caught in the classic quagmire of having recurring desires to eat and drink which simply must be met? How pathetically human! Not to worry. Today's soldiers might complain about choking down MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) but, if all goes well, tomorrow's might not have such worries.
Typical adults require about 1500-2000 calories per day, but Special Forces' troops may require as many as 6,000-8,000 calories per day while in the field. Taking time to eat, however, cuts into time that could be spent identifying targets or killing people, so DARPA's "Peak Soldier Performance Program" is investigating ways of "optimizing metabolic performance" to achieve "metabolic dominance" and so to allow future soldiers to operate at "continuous peak physical performance and cognitive function for 3 to 5 days, 24 hours per day, without the need for calories."
At the same time, the DARPA crew has instituted a "Water Harvesting Program" which seeks to "eliminate at least 50 percent of the minimum daily water supply requirement (7qts/day) of the Special Forces, Marine Expeditionary Units, and Army Medium-Weight Brigades" through initiatives such as deriving "water from air."
And when it comes to their meals, perhaps someday soldiers will be able forgo water altogether for long periods of time thanks to the efforts of the Combat Feeding Directorate of the US Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts. Yes, the lab that created the "indestructible sandwich" (which boasts a three year shelf life) has now come up with a dried-food ration that troops can hydrate by urinating on it. And you thought military food was piss-poor to begin with!
Super-Suits: Can I Get This in Star-Spangled Spandex?
What can you say about Captain America's outfit? While certainly distinctive, his red, white, and blue threads were always a bit light on function. So what can we expect for the real Captain Americas of the future? They won't be clad in jingoistic jumpsuits. The Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center is currently supervising a seven-year, $250 million "Future Force Warrior" program, set to be rolled out in 2010, which will outfit soldiers with new, lighter body armor, an on-board computer, "e-textile" clothing (with wiring for computer systems woven into it), and a helmet with built-in night-vision, a computer screen monocle, and bone-conduction microphones. Add a decade onto the Future Force Warrior and the military aims to be rolling out "The Vision 2020 Future Warrior system," an all-black, sci-fi, storm-trooper outfit that looks like it came from a B-movie prop trailer. But both may seem so last year before they ever have a chance to encase a military body!
Earlier this year, Dr. Steven G. Wax, the director of DARPA's Defense Sciences Office (DSO), addressed members of the academic, corporate, and military communities and told them that the mech-suit worn by Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien was fast becoming a reality. While various clunky exoskeletons have been produced since the 1960s, Wax indicated that "breakthroughs in structures, actuators and power generation – with a bit of help from advanced microelectronics" left DARPA capable of creating a workable "external structure that can move unobtrusively with a soldier and still carry more than 100 pounds with no effort by the wearer." And through its "Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation" program, DARPA claims to be en route to creating even more advanced "self-powered, controlled, and wearable exoskeleton devices and/or machines" specifically designed, of course, to "increase the lethality" of U.S. soldiers.
Food for Thought
In a world where many still lack access to adequate clothing, despite it being decreed a basic human right in 1948, DARPA is pouring massive sums into building costly robotic suits. In a world where 800 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1 billion lack access to potable water, food and water are only made "sexy" when DARPA researchers figure out how a few (well armed) people in the global North can do without them on military missions (generally in the global South). There's no DARPA-esque organization involved in actually solving the most pressing problems in the world. And yes, while some in the developing world could benefit from possible DARPA spin-off, trickle-down innovations like futuristic prosthetic limbs, many, many more could benefit from low-cost, low-tech public health initiatives. Of course, many would have no need for high-tech prosthetics if, for so many years, the U.S. military hadn't pumped so much money into weapons, especially landmine research and production. (In Vietnam, for instance, as many as 3 million landmines and "800,000 tons of war-era ordnance" may still lie in the ground.)
DARPA's chunk of the vast Pentagon budget is a cool $3 billion, a sizeable hunk of which is now being devoted to creating real-life Captain Americas or, more accurately Captain DARPAmericas. Like so many DARPA projects, the agency's efforts to craft the super-soldiers of tomorrow typify the ultimate in sci-fi thinking. What was once the stuff of comic books and futuristic movie serials is now assumed to be America's military future.
In reality, however, most DARPA projects fail to meet their ultimate goals. During the Vietnam War, massive amounts of money, firepower, and high-tech weaponry proved unable to stamp out an enemy that regularly used punji sticks (sharpened bamboo) as a weapon. Today in Iraq, billions upon billions of dollars in military and intelligence spending for satellites, state-of-the-art surveillance devices, stealth bombers, fighter jets, tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Humvees, heavy weapons, night-vision devices, high tech drones, experimental weaponry and all the trappings of Technowar, though capable of killing large numbers of people, are again unable to stop resistance fighters who lack heavy armor, airpower, spy satellites, body armor, or high-tech gear and fight with AK-47s – a rifle designed in the 1940s – pickup trucks, and bombs detonated by garage-door openers. Captain DARPAmerica – an always on, never hungry or thirsty, morality-free, remote-controlled soldier – is a frightening prospect; but odds are, even if such DARPA projects pan out, the high-tech super-soldier of our future will fail too, due to underlying conceptual flaws and the ceaseless hubris of U.S. military planners that typified the American experience in Vietnam and continues to do so in today's war in Iraq.
Further, DARPA imagines the future through the lens of the present. Its projects are largely typified, at their core, by the very opposite of blue-sky thinking, being mired in the mindset and premises of today (or even yesterday). Where Pentagon seers envision an Army of unstoppable comic-book heroes, they may well find over-wrought, strung-out soldiers, suffering from the still unknown side-effects that are sure to come from interfering with basic human functions like sleeping and eating. They will be clad in temperamental gear that will prove vulnerable to yet undeveloped, but sure to be cheap, crude, and effective jamming devices and counter-measures. Odds are, the Pentagon would be better off investing in Captain America outfits. Not only would it be infinitely cheaper, but who's gonna mess with a platoon clad in star-spangled spandex?

Ottawa Expands DNA Bank

Ottawa moves to expand DNA databank
Last Updated Fri, 15 Oct 2004 21:53:21 EDT

OTTAWA - The federal government passed legislation Friday that will authorize judges to order people convicted of child pornography to submit DNA samples.
"This legislation would make it possible for more DNA samples to be collected from more convicted offenders," said Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Irwin Cotler.
The current national DNA databank holds samples from people who have been convicted of serious crimes.
If the legislation becomes law, DNA from people convicted of 28 other Criminal Code offences will also be included in the databank.
The list would include Internet luring; child pornography; sexual exploitation of a person with a disability; and offences related to prostitution involving persons under 18.
Judges would also be able to ask for DNA samples from people convicted of criminal harassment; offences related to organized crime; uttering death threats; and intimidation.

May I Scan the Bar Code Embedded in Your Arm?

May I scan the bar code in your arm?
Canadian Press
Thursday, Oct 14, 2004

Forget about temperature-taking and blood-pressure checking. In the bright, near future, the first step for people seeking medical care may be to have their bicep read by an electronic scanner seeking data stored on an implanted chip.
A Florida company, Applied Digital Solutions, announced yesterday it had received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market in that country an implantable device known as a VeriChip.
The grain-of-rice-sized chip contains a unique numeric identifier that hospitals and doctors offices could scan to gain Internet access to an individual's medical records. In the initial rollout, the company will target people with chronic health problems -- and complicated medical records and needs -- as well as patients with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
The technology has already gained acceptance in Canada and the United States among pet owners and livestock producers who use it to trace animals. But are people really ready to have bar codes implanted under their skin?
Applied Digital's chairman Scott Silverman thinks so. The company has not yet applied for permission to market the product for people in Canada, but Mr. Silverman sees global potential.
"Obviously, this is an application and a product that we intend to market worldwide," he said during a conference call when asked if his company will try to crack the Canadian market.
The beauty of the chip, Mr. Silverman told journalists and investment analysts, is that it has multiple applications.
Some people use it to link their bodies to their medical records. Some organizations, including the office of Mexico's attorney-general, use it as an implanted smart card that gains workers access to high-security facilities. Some people use it to keep track of cows.
But cows don't have privacy concerns. And people who worry about human privacy issues say that while the concept has merit, the device's use would need to be carefully regulated.
Medical ethicist Margaret Somerville said she doesn't object to the devices on principle, but could see how they could be abused.
If anyone could get their hands on one of the company's scanners, security would be easily breached, said Ms. Somerville, founding director of McGill University's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.
"Let's assume your [spouse] wants to know if you've been having sex with somebody" and have picked up a sexually transmitted disease, she said. "Could you have a private investigator scan the person without them knowing it and send that off and find out? They're going to have to have safeguards to prevent things like that."
Likewise, the use of the Internet to access medical data could open the door to problems, said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, director of ethics for the Canadian Medical Association. "Kids on the Internet are constantly hacking into sites," he pointed out. Still, it's not hard to see the appeal of a tiny device -- implanted during an outpatient visit using a syringe -- that could allow doctors to determine the name, contact information, drug allergies or special medical needs of an unconscious patient.
"You can think of good things," Ms. Somerville agreed. "But you'd have to make sure that it wasn't abused. And you'd have to make sure it was under the control of the person."

All Anti-Depressants Must Carry Suicide Warnings

FDA Orders Strong Warnings On Antidepressants
The Globe and Mail

WASHINGTON (AP/CP) -- All antidepressants must carry a "black box" warning ñ the U.S. government's strongest safety alert ñ linking the drugs to increased suicidal thoughts and behaviour among children and teens taking them, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.
Because the warnings are primarily seen by doctors, the agency also is creating an information guide for patients to advise them of the risk.
"Today's actions represent FDA's conclusions about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and the necessary actions for physicians prescribing these antidepressant drugs and for the children and adolescents taking them," said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner.
The drug labels also include details of pediatric studies which, thus far, have pointed to Prozac as the safest antidepressant for youths to take.
On average, 2 per cent to 3 per cent of children taking antidepressants have increased suicidal thoughts, independent experts, working with Columbia University, found.
The FDA announcement follows to the letter guidance from federal advisers. After searing and emotional public hearings one month ago, the advisers urged the agency to add its most stringent warnings to the drugs.
The FDA said in a statement that it recognizes that depression in pediatric patients "can have significant consequences in pediatric patients if not appropriately treated. The new warning language recognizes this need but advises close monitoring of patients as a way of managing the risk of suicidality."
An information guide will be distributed with each antidepressant prescription. Parents will be advised to look for warning signs in children that include worsening depression, agitation, irritability, and unusual changes in behaviour. Those worrisome signs could come within the first months of starting an antidepressant or when the drug's doses changes ñ whether higher or lower.
In 24 trials involving more than 4,400 patients taking antidepressants, researchers found a greater risk of increased suicidal thoughts and behaviour during the first few months of treatment.
Celexa, Prozac and Zoloft posed lower risks for children, researchers found, while Luvox, Effexor and Paxil had higher risks of increased suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
Prozac is the only antidepressant approved by the FDA for use for treating depression in pediatric patients.
Anafranil, Prozac, Luvox and Zoloft have been used for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder in pediatric patients.
The new warnings, however, will be carried by all antidepressants, including Anafranil, Aventyl, Celexa, Cymbalta, Desyrel, Effexor, Elavil, Lexapro, Limbitrol, Ludiomil, Luvox, Marplan, Nardil, Norpramin, Pamelor, Parnate, Paxil, Pexeva, Prozac, Remeron, Sarafem, Serzone, Sinequan, Surmontil, Symbyax,Tofranil, Tofranil-PM, Triavil, Vivactil, Wellbutrin, Zoloft and Zyban.
The agency's action comes at a time when it faces withering criticism for not acting sooner on antidepressants and for the high-profile withdrawal of Vioxx over safety concerns.
Congressional investigations have focused on allegations the that agency silenced its own employees who tried to raise safety concerns on the antidepressants and Vioxx.
In June, Health Canada announced that antidepressants including Wellbutrin, Zyban, Celexa, Prozac, Luvox, Remeron, Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor would carry stronger warnings about possible emotional and behavioural changes that could put users at risk of harming themselves or others.

Poll Shows Canadians Want Limits on Abortion

Latest Poll Shows Increasing Majority of Canadians want Limits on Abortion

WINNIPEG, October 15, 2004 ( - The latest pro-life polling was released at the National Pro-Life Conference yesterday by Joanne Byfield, president-elect of LifeCanada.

Byfield told the assembled crowd that although the polling firm Leger Marketing had conducted their polls in both 2002 and 2003, they refused to do so in 2004 saying, "we aren't doing controversial issues." Leger does however do polls on same-sex 'marriage'.

The polling firm Environics conducted the poll - commissioned by LifeCanada - finding 68% of Canadians favored some legal protection before birth, most of those, 33%, believed that protection should be from conception forward. The percentage has increased from 2003 where the poll found 63% wanted some legal protection before birth.

The poll also found that 73% (up from 69% last year) of Canadians agree with legislation requiring that women considering abortion are informed about the risks of abortion, and alternatives to it.

Fifty-five per cent of Canadians felt that parental consent should be required when minors are seeking abortion. Forty-two per cent supported parental consent legislation last year.

The percentage of Canadians who objected to public funding of abortion (other than cases where the mother's life is in danger or that the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest) rose from 68% last year to 72% this year.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Drug Makers 'Bribe Doctors and Ghostwrite Drug Reviews'

Drug Makers 'Bribe Doctors and Ghostwrite Drug Reviews'
By Rosie Murray-West
City Correspondent
The Telegraph - UK

The pharmaceutical industry routinely bribes doctors and "ghostwrites" articles about drugs in major medical journals, MPs were told yesterday.

Professor David Healy, of the University of Wales, told the Commons health select committee that as many as half the articles published in journals such as the British Medical Journal and The Lancet were written by members of the industry who had a vested interest in selling the drugs involved.

Respected clinicians were then paid to have their names put at the top of the articles, he claimed, even though they had not seen the raw data on which they were based.

He said "ghostwritten" articles had far more of an effect on which drugs doctors prescribe than Caribbean conferences where doctors were given massages and "loaded down" with bags of gifts.

"The problem isn't the adverts, the problem isn't the trips to the Caribbean," he said. "We are influenced by articles in journals."

He said he had been asked to put his name to an article, but had not done so. He then saw the same article bearing the name of Siegfried Kasper, from the Department of General Psychiatry at the University of Vienna.

The committee, which is holding an inquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, was told by another doctor that he had been offered two years' salary to suppress data about a drug.

Dr Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, said: "I know the pharmaceutical industry influences the research that is published. I suspect this is as common now as ever. I think it is very common. People are influenced by opinion leaders who are paid consultants to the company."

The pharmaceutical industry is reeling from the recent withdrawal of the rheumatoid arthritis drug, Vioxx, and widespread concerns over the anti-depressant Seroxat being prescribed for children.

At yesterday's hearing, Graham Vidler, head of policy for the Consumers' Association, said the industry's concern with profits and shareholders was "in direct conflict with the responsibilities of the NHS".

After the hearing, a spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said there was some doubt that the committee was approaching the issue constructively.

He said there was "nothing wrong" with articles in major medical journals being written up for a clinician by a company "as long as the person has seen the article and signed it off".

"It is quite wrong if people are putting their names to something they haven't read."

A spokesman for the British Medical Journal said: "The BMJ asks authors to state that they accept full responsibility for the conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish.

"We also publish contributorship statements for each piece of research, which show exactly what each contributor has done."

A spokesman for The Lancet said Prof Healy's comments were "a wild exaggeration".

Dr Des Spence, who runs the British arm of No Free Lunch - a campaign against the industry's influence on doctor's prescriptions, attacked the "widespread hospitality culture", which saw doctors accepting lunches from pharmaceutical companies every single day.

"If civil servants, teachers or policemen were receiving this level of hospitality there would be a public outcry," he said. "However, there is some idea that doctors are anointed by God - this simply isn't true."

He said doctors were just a cross-section of the population, and easily influenced, but they don't complain "because it would be like complaining that Father Christmas gave too many presents this year".

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.

Will Implantable Chips Become a Surveillance System?

Security under the skin
BBC | Oct 15 2004

A US company has been given the green light to implant microchips in humans. It's intended to provide medical information ... but will it turn into a surveillance system?

How would you like to have the equivalent of a barcode built into your arm?

It would be convenient. A quick scan could save the need to show passports or ID cards. It would be handier than carrying cash or producing medical records.

And a particularly clever barcode would let people find you if you were lost or abducted.

Would it mean less hassle and more security? Or would it make you feel like a DVD tagged in the supermarket? Or like a criminal being monitored everywhere you went?

These are the questions being raised by the emergence of microchips that can be implanted in people's arms - with the technology moving from geeky future-gazing to a mainstream proposition.

This week, the United States Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for an implantable chip which can be used for medical purposes.
A microchip the size of a grain of rice can be inserted below the skin - and will carry an individual's medical records which can be read by a scanner.

The makers of the VeriChip say it will carry information that can save a patient's life during an emergency - such as details of medication, blood groups and allergies or if they have conditions such as diabetes.

In the UK, the British Medical Association says that it would see no ethical reason for not allowing such an implanted device, as long as it was proven to be safe and there was no coercion.

Security device

But there are other applications which are likely to be more contentious.

In a question and answer session, following the announcement of the FDA's approval, the Florida-based company behind the chip, Applied Digital, pointed to other commercial uses.
Security, which remains high on the US domestic agenda, is likely to be a key area for such microchips - offering the chance both to identify and track anyone carrying this type of implant.

Military bases, federal offices, prisons or nuclear plants were mentioned as places where the technology could be applied.

These internal microchips would be checked to regulate entry to secure locations. And once inside, scanners placed around the site would precisely locate the movements of each individual.

There would be no passes, ID cards or dog-tags, because all the information would be held on the chip lodged invisibly below the skin.

If this sounds far-fetched, access to a high-security crime database in Mexico is already being limited to the staff who have had a chip implanted.

While there might still be consumer resistance to getting part of a computer stuck in your arm - the underlying technology is already moving from the laboratory into the High Street.

Pet theory

"Radio frequency identification" chips have been attached to products in the supermarket to monitor shopping patterns.

And in response to fears about child abductions, several schools in Japan have experimented with tracking chips being put into pupils' clothing.
Even if we don't want to put microchips into ourselves, we're not squeamish about animals. Following the same basic principle, chips have been injected into millions of pets and farm animals.

But there have been concerns about how such technology could be abused and become a form of undisclosed surveillance, with movements and activities electronically monitored.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged lawmakers in Virginia not to put such trackable chips into drivers' licences - arguing that it would breach people's privacy.

Such devices would allow the authorities "to sweep up the identities of everyone at a political meeting or protest march," says the ACLU.

In considering the potential threat to civil liberties, the UK's data watchdog, the Information Commissioner, says it is important to look at the underlying principles, rather than only the technology.

Threats to privacy

And a spokesperson says that much of the capacity to track people already exists - the question is how this information is used.

If anyone wanted to introduce such a system into the UK, there would need to be assurances that the information was not being used for any purpose other than clearly declared.
The Information Commissioner's office pointed to the current example of delivery drivers who are tracked using their mobile phones. This is deemed acceptable, as long it is being used for very specific business purposes.

But civil liberties campaigners, Liberty, warn that the arrival of such tracking chips needs to be matched by a tougher legal framework to protect people's privacy.

Spokesperson Barry Hugill says the law is lagging behind this accelerating technology - and that more questions need to be asked about how the information gathered will be used and protected.

"When the technology is so powerful it seems wrong that it should be left to multi-nationals to decide how it should be controlled."

Even though tracking chips are intended for legitimate commercial purposes, there are concerns about how this detailed information about people's movements could be collated and who might have access.

In the wrong hands it would be the "stalkers' dream", he says.

Privacy Is Eroding, Bit By Byte

Privacy eroding, bit by byte
Computers, engineers find new ways to keep tabs on you
By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
The Washington Post
Updated: 6:33 a.m. ET Oct. 15, 2004

WASHINGTON - First there were security cameras, sprouting like mushrooms on street corners and buildings. Then came shopper cards, offering discounts in exchange for details about buying habits.

In recent years, we've seen the emergence of electronic tags or "cookies" on the Internet, software that monitors e-mail, GPS devices that pinpoint our position on the planet, and a growing number of machines that capture finger- and face-prints.

Now comes the news that federal regulators on Wednesday approved the injection of microchips under the skin, enabling physicians with the right gear to know who someone is without having to ask. And yesterday, the omniscient-seeming search engine Google bested itself by announcing a service to probe for information both online and in your own machine. One company official called it a "photographic memory for your computer."

Google says no personal information will be sent back to the company. But if it feels like you can't do anything these days without someone looking over your shoulder, you're not just paranoid. Cheap computers, blazing fast networks and clever engineers are finding more and more ways to keep tabs on where you go and what you buy, generally with your permission. They're even getting better at guessing what you'll do next.

"It's this whole new world. It's sort of like all these little details about our lives are being recorded," said Richard M. Smith, an Internet security consultant in Boston. "We love the conveniences. We love the services. But people kind of instinctively know there's a dark side to this. They just hope it won't happen to them."

Smaller, faster and cheaper
To be sure, companies have long gathered personal and shopping information to better market to customers, often with dubious results. Who hasn't received junk mail or telemarketing calls that seem to have no connection with their lives? But those initiatives are fast improving and accelerating as people live more of their lives tethered to cell phones, the Internet and the rest of the wired world, where trading off personal information is part of the price of admission.

Think about a typical day. An advertising service is notified when you check the sports scores on the Web. The EZ-Pass transponder signals when you go through a toll booth. The pharmacy collects personal medication details and sends them along to data companies for analysis. At work, some employees now use face recognition systems to get in to their offices, or they type on machines that trace every keystroke.

"Every move you make is becoming part of your permanent record," said Peter P. Swire, a privacy expert and law professor at Ohio State University. "The trend is smaller, faster, cheaper."

Rapid accumulation
There's no question the data are accumulating, and faster than many people understand. A few years ago, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley estimated that all the information created by humanity by 1999 would double by about now. One of the leading aggregators of personal information, an Arkansas company called Acxiom Corp., has roughly a million times more information about adult Americans and their families than when it first sold stock two decades ago.

Other commercial information services routinely tout their ability to access some 20 billion records. And that's not counting the digital details that come in the form of photographs, videotapes and sensor readings. Most people know companies can mine credit card data, loan records and other transactions. But few know that companies already offer video-mining services as well. One day we might be able to mine the information generated by radio frequency identification chip implanted in our arms. Or we might just use a Google search service custom-made for RFID, as the chips are known.

Not everybody is vexed by these trends. Homeland security, law enforcement and intelligence officials are rushing to take advantage of this wealth of information to protect the country. Web sites like, cell phone services, catalogue retailers, financial services companies and many others are increasingly adept at using data systems to serve customers. Ask people whether they'd give up those services, and many would offer a resounding "no."

David Brin, an author and futurist, believes that recent technological developments have revolutionized the ability of people to see — through cameras around the globe — and remember details through almost unimaginably rich warehouses of information that serve as proxies for our limited memories.

He predicts that we will one day be able to "know" almost everybody in the world through instant access to personal information in ubiquitous data systems. He refers to this as the new "village."

"You'll 'recognize' people on any street on Earth," he said, adding that young people who are better at using computer technology, and more comfortable with it, will be leading the way. "That part is inevitable. The village is returning."

But even Brin's optimism, spelled out in his book, "The Transparent Society," has its limits. He worries that so much telling information could be misused by bad people or misguided government leaders. "It's wonderful stuff, but there are horrible possible consequences. We're all deeply worried that the future awaits us with Orwell's iron boot."

"It's important," Brin said, "to remain calm."

Implantable Chip Prompts Concerns

Implantable chip prompts privacy concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Privacy advocates are concerned that an implantable microchip designed to help doctors tap into a patient's medical records could undermine confidentiality or could even be used to track the patient's movements.
"If privacy protections aren't built in at the outset, there could be harmful consequences for patients," said Emily Stewart, a policy analyst at the Health Privacy Project.
The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that Applied Digital Solutions of Delray Beach, Florida, could market the VeriChip, an implantable computer chip about the size of a grain of rice, for storing medical information.
With the pinch of a syringe, the microchip is inserted under the skin in a procedure that takes less than 20 minutes and requires no stitches. Silently and invisibly, the dormant chip stores a code that releases patient-specific information when a scanner passes over it.
The VeriChip itself contains no medical records, just codes that can be scanned and revealed in a doctor's office or hospital. With that code, doctors can unlock part of a secure database that holds the patient's medical information, including allergies and prior treatment. The electronic database, not the chip, would be updated with each medical visit.
The microchips have already been implanted in 1 million pets. But the chip's possible use to track people's movements -- in addition to speeding delivery of medical information to emergency rooms -- has raised alarm.
The company's chief executive officer, Scott R. Silverman, said chips implanted for medical uses could also be used for security purposes, like tracking employee movement through nuclear power plants.
Stewart said that to protect patient privacy, the devices should reveal only vital medical information, like blood type and allergic reactions, needed for health care workers to do their jobs.
An information technology guru at Detroit Medical Center said he will lobby for his center's inclusion in a VeriChip pilot program.
"One of the big problems in health care has been the medical records situation. So much of it is still on paper," said David Ellis, the center's chief futurist and co-founder of the Michigan Electronic Medical Records Initiative.
"It's part of the future of medicine to have these kinds of technologies that make life simpler for the patient," Ellis said. Strong encryption algorithms will ensure hackers can't nab medical data, he said.
The Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday announced $139 million in grants to help make real President Bush's push for electronic health records for most Americans within a decade.
William A. Pierce, an HHS spokesman, could not say whether VeriChip and its accompanying secure database of medical records fit within that initiative.
"Exactly what those technologies are is still to be sorted out," Pierce said. "It all has to respect and comport with the privacy rules."
To kick start the chip's use among humans, Applied Digital will provide $650 scanners for free at 200 of the nation's trauma centers.
In pets, installing the chip costs owners about $50. For humans, the chip implantation cost would be $150 to $200, said Angela Fulcher, an Applied Digital spokeswoman.
Ultimately, the company hopes patients who suffer from such ailments as diabetes and Alzheimer's or who undergo complex treatments, like chemotherapy, would have chips implanted.

Church Going Reduces Mortality By 25 Per Cent

Faith/Health Connection
By Catherine H. Toye, M.D.
Special Correspondent
October 5, 2004

The health effects of exercise, diet, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, wearing seatbelts and excessive alcohol use are common knowledge. Less well known is the health effect of an unseen factor, faith, which can have as significant a consequence on survival as abstaining from smoking.

Hundreds of studies conducted over the past 30 years have shown that there is a relationship between our spiritual beliefs and practices and our health.

Greater religious involvement has been found to be associated with a longer lifespan and better quality of life. Religious involvement has been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke, the three leading causes of death in the United States, as well as to lower rates of hypertension, depression, dementia, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, cigarette smoking and other behaviors risky to health.

If you are skeptical about an association between faith and health, let me say that I have been in your company. Eight years of rigorous training at Duke prepared me to practice medicine as a board-certified specialist in diagnostic radiology. As is often the case, however, our more hard-won wisdom comes of life's experience rather than from formal education.

In the illustrious and long tradition of "best-laid plans of mice and men" you might say my near lifelong plans went "awry." The onset of a chronic disabling medical illness devastatingly ended my practice of medicine, but not what I was to learn about health.

Illness not only opened the door to faith after 21 years as an agnostic, but it allowed me to experience an unequivocal association between faith and health. That may seem a contradictory statement from someone disabled by chronic illness for the past 14 years but I recognize that my spiritual life has moderated the course of that illness. Faith, as a result, has left me with greater health and quality of life.

Can I prove it? No. Moreover, any self-respecting scientist would relegate my claim to the somewhat dismissive category of "anecdotal experience," but I know the association between faith and health is a real phenomenon. Beyond my personal conviction on the faith/health connection I've been amazed by the scientific data and statistics.

Longevity studies show that people who regularly attend religious services have longer lifespans (on average a 25 percent reduction in mortality rate) than those who didn't regularly attend services. To place that statistic into familiar perspective, it is the equivalent health risk of smoking versus not smoking.

I was surprised at such a large reduction in mortality rate but here is what entirely took me aback. That 25 percent statistic was already adjusted for greater social support and more healthy lifestyle choices such as less smoking, drinking and substance abuse (all of which beneficially affect health and are known to be associated with greater religious involvement.) Researchers were left unable to explain the 25 percent reduction in mortality.

It was the more intriguing to me because I knew firsthand that there was much more to the faith/health connection than the obvious. How can religion exert this mysterious effect on health?

The first mainstream scientific meeting on the relationship between religion and health was held at Duke in July 1999. Besides theologians and scientists, the conference included physicians interested in the study of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems as they interrelate with respect to mind-body interaction -- examining how our thinking, beliefs and feelings can directly impact health.

The conference at Duke explored the impact of stress on immune function. A leading theory on how faith may affect health relates to stress, both physical and psychological. How we handle stress over the course of our lifetime plays a significant role in health and quality of life. Our spiritual beliefs and practices may protect us from the effects of stress by changing how we perceive it and also by enabling or improving our ability to cope with it. Faith can provide a sense of meaning and purpose, integrating our lives with a greater sense of coherence. Faith can also give us the strength to live with the unavoidable stresses of living.

This monthly column will focus on advances in understanding the complex relationship between religion and health. Yet, the answer will always remain part mystery, at least to mortal comprehension. God can act in our lives in ways beyond our grasp. Augustine said it best: "Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature."


Catherine H. Toye, M.D., completed her medical training at Duke and is the author of "My Children, Listen" (Caritas Communications Inc., $24), an account of her spiritual experience after a disabling chronic illness. Her e-mail address is

Copyright © 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Company That Wants Under Your Skin - Literally

One-Day Wonder
Fantastic Voyage
By Lawrence Carrel Published: October 13, 2004

HERE'S A COMPANY that wants to get under your skin — literally.
Shares of Applied Digital (ADSX) surged 68% to $3.57 Wednesday after the Delray Beach, Fla., company received the go-ahead from the Food and Drug Administration to implant microchips into humans for medical use. Known as a VeriChip, the radio-frequency identification, or RFID, device is being codeveloped with Digital Angel (DOC), Applied Digital's publicly traded subsidiary. Digital Angel, based in South St. Paul, Minn., saw its stock climb 29% to $3.49.
"This is a big deal," says Kevin Dede, an analyst at Merriman Curhan Ford. "The major hurdle to overcome is the whole George Orwell '1984' thing, that fear that Big Brother is watching you."
About the size of a grain of rice, a VeriChip can be implanted under the skin, usually on the upper-arm between the elbow and the shoulder. Once inserted there in a brief outpatient procedure involving local anesthetic, the microchip isn't visible to the naked eye. The unique 16-digit verification number transmitted by a VeriChip's radio-frequency signal can only be picked up by a proprietary scanner.
While the technology has a number of potential applications, from security to financial, the FDA's decision only applies to medical uses. In theory, doctors treating a patient implanted with the chip could with the wave of a scanner gain access to a person's medical history, including blood type, drug allergies and pre-existing conditions. That could prove useful in emergency-room situations, in particular, when a patient isn't responsive. The information isn't stored on the chip itself; rather, the verification number on the chip is linked to a database that's accessed via encrypted Internet access.
Though on the surface the idea borders on the realm of fantasy, practical applications have already been found for the chips. Digital Angel, which is 70% owned by Applied Digital, currently uses the technology to track pets and livestock. Applied Digital licenses the technology from Digital Angel. In its written release announcing FDA approval, Applied Digital didn't specify when or how the VeriChip would gain widespread acceptance among the medical community. Company officials couldn't be reached immediately for comment.
Now 16 years old, Applied Digital began as a computer distributor. By 1993, it was specializing in mobile-communication and data collection using wireless computers. The company went public in 1994, and a year later it began an acquisition spree that pulled in an eclectic mix of nearly 100 companies in fields as diverse as computer-aided design, retailing applications and satellite subsystems. It bought Destron Fearing, which had developed an animal-tracking chip, in 2000. Applied combined Destron Fearing with its digital mini-transceiver technology operations to form the subsidiary Digital Angel.
Privacy concerns dogged Applied Digital when it unveiled a chip prototype four years ago. Civil libertarians and others worried the chips could be used to track individuals. At that time the company promised only to use the chips externally and projected a market potential of $70 billion. So far the rosy outlook hasn't panned out. Applied Digital had a net loss of $3.0 million on sales of $26.3 million for its second quarter.
Facing financial pressure to pay back the $100 million it owed to IBM (IBM) after the chip failed to catch on in 2000, Applied Digital changed chief executives, restructured debt agreements and began selling off assets to raise cash. IBM eventually settled for a $30 payment, and forgave the other $70 million. Applied Digital ultimately narrowed its focus to three divisions: Advanced Technologies, which includes VeriChip; Digital Angel, which was spun off in 2002; and InfoTech USA, which generates most of Applied Digital's revenue. InfoTech installs, maintains and services telecommunication facilities and equipment.
In a sign of acceptance, at least in animals, Digital Angel last month said it planned to sell its tracking chips to the Canadian government, which is funding a national cattle-identification drive in response to a case of mad-cow disease that turned up last year.
"The potential market size for the VeriChip is substantial," says Merriman's Dede. "The idea is insurance companies might want this type of identification with transplant patients or new-joint recipients, essentially anyone constantly in and out of hospitals — especially if that person is allergic to standard medications. The profitability potential is immense. But obviously it's a matter of volume." (Dede, who thinks there's potential for the VeriChip to replace traditional military dog tags, doesn't own shares of Applied Digital or Digital Angel; Merriman Curhan Ford doesn't have an investment-banking relationship with either company.)

Smut Pushers Backing Kerry

Kerry Campaign Keeping Quiet on Obscenity Issue
Bill Fancher and Jenni Parker
Agape Press
October 13, 2004

The adult entertainment industry and pornographers have endorsed John Kerry as their candidate for the presidency, and one pro-family advocate has gone to some lengths to find out why.
Bob Peters, president of the organization Morality in Media (MIM), has undertaken the task of researching the presidential candidates to determine where each stands on the issue of indecency. He says he was inspired in part by an ad, from which he learned that "the so-called adult entertainment industry is supporting the Kerry campaign, and trying to get their customers to go out and vote for Kerry."
Intrigued by this information, Peters searched John Kerry's website for a position paper or statement relating to decency standards. He notes, "There weren't any documents with the word obscenity in them. One document included the word pornography, but it happened to be a document that was blasting President Bush because he had appointed a judge to the federal courts who was against pornography."
On the other hand, President George W. Bush's campaign has been fairly vocal on the issue, Peters points out. On Bush's website, he says he found several papers that detail a strong anti-pornography platform. And although he admits Bush's record on obscenity law enforcement has been mixed, the head of MIM notes that the past two years have seen numerous prosecutions throughout the U.S. against commercial distributors of hard-core porn, and many sources report that several more obscenity investigations are under way.
What concerns Peters, however, is the question of what John Kerry is likely to do about enforcing obscenity laws if he is elected. Last week the morality advocate voiced some of his concerns in a response to an article in the October 5 New York Times, "Strip Club's Cover Charge Is Voter Registration Card," which described the "political activism" of the adult entertainment industry on Kerry's behalf.
In his commentary, Peters said he wonders whether Kerry, if elected would "continue the progress (however slow) that has been made in the war against obscenity" or would instead "fulfill the expectations of the pornography industry that seems convinced that he, like Bill Clinton, will be soft on obscenity?"
It appears Kerry has chosen not to take a strong stance against the porn industry or obscenity in the media and entertainment, and MIM's president suspects Kerry's move to distance himself from the issue may in some ways be paying off for the Democratic candidate.
"For whatever reasons, at least to date, [Kerry's] campaign has chosen to remain silent on the subject of federal obscenity law enforcement," Peters says. "I think that certainly is at least helping to fuel the effort, that the adult entertainment industry -- i.e., the strip joints and the hard-core pornographers -- are out there trying to get people to vote for him."
For the past few months Morality in Media has been asking its members to write both presidential candidates, asking each to make his position clear on enforcement of federal obscenity laws.

Americans Opposed to 'Therapeutic Cloning'

Survey: Americans Disagree With John Kerry on Human Cloning for Research
by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 13, 2004

Richmond, VA ( -- A new survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University shows Americans disagree with John Kerry's position on authorizing scientists to use human cloning to create human embryos for research.
Some 56 percent of respondents were opposed to so-called "therapeutic cloning," according to the VCU survey while only 42 percent were in favor. The number of people opposing research-based cloning has increased from 2003, when a similar VCU survey found 48 percent opposed.
In July, Kerry attached his name to a bill, the Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act (S. 303), that specifically allows scientists to create human embryos so their embryonic stem cells can be extracted. The process kills the days-old unborn child.
Kerry has also written to constituents saying he backs human cloning for research.
"While I am opposed to reproductive cloning, I believe that the process of somatic cell nuclear transplant (SCNT), commonly referred to as therapeutic cloning, should be protected," Kerry wrote in September 2002.
President Bush opposes all forms of human cloning and has lobbied for human cloning bans in Congress and at the United Nations.
The VCU poll also found that Americans are concerned that science is advancing at a rate that is too fast for medical ethics to consider.
About six in ten, or 61 percent, agreed that scientific research doesn't pay enough attention to the moral values of society, and 51 percent said scientific research has created as many problems for society as solutions.
The VCU poll, however, contradicts other polls that show a majority of Americans do not favor embryonic stem cell research,
According to the VCU poll, Americans favor the unproven research by a 53 to 36 percent margin.
However, two other show a majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars to be used to pay for embryonic stem cell research and that they oppose human cloning specifically to create embryos for the purpose of research.
One poll revealed that 53 percent of respondents opposed "using tax dollars to pay for the kind of stem cell research that requires the killing of human embryos," while only 38 percent support it.
The other shows that Americans overwhelmingly (80 to 13 percent) oppose the position taken Kerry -- that human cloning should be allowed to create human embryos only to be destroyed for their stem cells.

'Asexuals' Come Out of the Closet

Sex? No thanks

THE sexual revolution of the 1960s gave rise to a generation who fought with the law to sleep with men, women or both at the same time. Today, a new generation are fighting for the right to sleep alone.

People who are glad to be "A" are coming out of the closet to declare they have no interest in sex, according to a new study.

Some research suggests there are almost as many asexuals as there are gay individuals.

A report in the journal New Scientist reveals they are starting to insist on their right not to have sex. Many adherents now believe asexual activism could soon mirror the gay revolution.

Although some might simply have low libidos, others claim to represent a new category of sexual orientation.

Despite having sex drives, these people are not remotely attracted to either gender.

Brian, an asexual navy veteran from Virginia, USA, said: "The place where we draw the line is the desire to interact sexually with other people."

Although such a category of sexual identity has never before been claimed, certain historical figures could have fitted the "type" without themselves being aware of it.

PG Wodehouse was married to his wife Ethel for 60 years, but the couple never had children. His biographer, Joseph Connolly, recently wrote: "I think it is entirely possible that he was asexual, as indifferent to the whole business as he was to anything that did not involve books, writing, cricket, golf, television soap operas and Pekingese dogs."

David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, never married. There are no records of any romantic relationships in his life, and biographers instead refer to his preference for engaging in debates at Edinburgh’s Select Society.

Dr Anthony Bogaert, a psychologist at Brock University in Canada, has just published the first study to try to estimate the prevalence of asexuality.

He drew on a survey of sexual practices among more than 18,000 people in the UK published in 1994.

The survey did not specifically focus on the issue of asexuality, but did include questions about sexual attraction.

One option offered was: "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." One per cent of participants chose this option. The figure was not far behind the rate for same-sex attraction, now believed to be running at 3 per cent.

Another American researcher, Nicole Prause, a PhD student at Indiana University, recruited asexuals via the internet to ask them about their sexual experience, arousability and desire levels.

She found that people who describe themselves as asexuals are often having sex when they do not really want to.

Her study suggests that asexuality is not a kind of illness. "People are using it as their sexual orientation," she told New Scientist.

As one T-shirt puts it: "Asexuality: it’s not just for amoebas any more."

... While the 'promiscuous' 10% contribute to a crisis

ONE in ten adult women and one in eight adult men have two partners concurrently, according to a medical study that calls for tough new measures to combat the UK’s sexual health crisis.

The report, published in the BMA specialist publication, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, also highlights Britain’s problem with the seedy side of sex, with surveys revealing that up to 5 per cent of adult men have paid for sex, increasing the chances of contracting a sexual disease.

According to Professor Mark Bellis, who compiled the study with colleagues from the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University:

"By and large our attempts to avoid a sexual health crisis and, more recently, to manage it, have failed. At the core of this crisis is an unwillingness to deal with the ‘promiscuous’ 10 per cent: a significant group of people who have multiple sexual partners."


Relatives, Not Patients, Ask for Mercy Killings

Relatives, not patients, ask for mercy killings
by Tracey Ellis

RELATIVES are more likely to ask for help to end a life than are terminally-ill patients.
Les Bourgs Hospice director of nursing Ann Martin believes that in eight years of working there, fewer than a handful of people have asked to end their own lives.
‘More often than not it’s the relatives who ask,’ she said.
‘I can appreciate why they ask because they do not want to see someone who they think is suffering.’
Speaking on behalf of the board of governors, she said that the hospice did not support euthanasia, but was keen to see the appointment of a palliative-care clinician; this will be recommended to the States later this month.
Deputies are due to discuss a report which recommends keeping voluntary euthanasia illegal in Guernsey, although Health minister Peter Roffey has produced a minority report supporting the practice in limited, specific circumstances.
The report recommends hiring a palliative-care clinician to improve the quality of life for terminally-ill patients which, Mrs Martin said, could be the crucial link in the chain.
‘We believe that in the majority of cases good palliative care should negate the need for euthanasia,’ said Mrs Martin.
‘Even in those patients who have symptoms that are difficult to control, it is possible to make these manageable so that they can cope.’
She said that euthanasia was an emotive issue and when someone was either ill, or close to someone who was, it was difficult to be objective about the best course of action.
‘Each patient is an individual and have their own coping mechanisms and these may change at each new direction the disease process takes them,’ she said.
It was important, she added, for patients to know that the hospice never stopped trying to find a solution because once people were told that nothing more could be done for them, they were likely to feel abandoned.
Les Bourgs Hospice is just one organisation with which those diagnosed with a progressive disease will come into contact – there is also their own doctor, the Health Department and the Medical Specialist Group.
Mrs Martin believes that the recruitment of a palliative-care clinician would bring all those aspects together.
‘Hopefully it would bring about a more coordinated, consistent and complete service,’ she said.
In addition to helping patients and their families, a clinician could also provide services to the medical profession which may have questions about a particular case that needs specialist input.

*Palliative care provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms and offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death.
Among other things, it also helps the family cope during the patients’ illness and their own bereavement.
The World Health Organisation defines palliative care as: ‘An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness through the prevention and relief of suffering or early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, psychical, psychosocial and spiritual.’

Published 13/10/2004

Commission Sues Planned Parenthood

Oct. 1, 2004, 11:33PM
EEOC sues Planned Parenthood
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Federal regulators are suing Planned Parenthood, alleging the organization
failed to act when a physician sexually harassed one of its employees.

The Houston Planned Parenthood office also retaliated against the employee,
Aymara Castro, by pressuring her to resign after she filed a discrimination
charge, according to Rudy Sustaita, a senior trial attorney with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission.

Planned Parenthood CEO Peter Durkin said he could not discuss pending

"Planned Parenthood has a long-standing policy against any form of
harassment and a strong commitment to women's rights," he said. "While we
respect the EEOC's right to file a lawsuit, these are only allegations and
not fact."

The EEOC also filed suit this week against Houston-basedW-Industries Ltd.
for allegedly transferring and then firing an employee, Brion Wilson, in
retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment from male co-workers and
supervisors, contacting an attorney and filing a complaint.

The company and its attorney both declined comment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Man's Organs Removed Before He Was Dead

Man’s organs removed without proof he was dead, Colorado coroner finds
Published Tuesday, October 5, 2004

DENVER (AP) - A western Colorado coroner said yesterday that two hospitals
allowed vital organs to be removed from a man before they had proved he
was brain-dead, and he declared the death a homicide.

The cause of William Rardin’s death was "removal of his internal organs by
an organ-recovery team," Montrose County Coroner Mark Young said. He said
he did not believe the case should be a criminal matter but said it
"should lead to a clarification of what the accepted standard is."

Young said Montrose Memorial Hospital in Montrose and St. Mary’s Hospital
in Grand Junction did not follow "accepted medical standards" or meet
state guidelines in determining that 31-year-old William Rardin was
brain-dead after he shot himself last month.

Rardin’s heart, liver, pancreas and two kidneys were transplanted into
waiting patients.

Officials with St. Mary’s and the organization that coordinates organ
donation in Colorado and Wyoming insisted the surgeons followed rules and
did nothing wrong.

Young said that each hospital performed a test that did not prove Rardin
was dead and that more tests should have been done.

Rardin was brought to Montrose Memorial on Sept. 26 and declared
brain-dead, Young said. He then was taken by helicopter to St. Mary’s,
where he again was declared brain-dead and surgeons removed his organs.

Will Christmas Be Cancelled in South Africa?

Could Christmas be cancelled in South Africa?
Not likely, but a glut of holidays has led the nation to consider calling
some of them off
UPDATED AT 5:16 PM EDT Tuesday, Oct 12, 2004

JOHANNESBURG -- South Africa's government is beset with massive
challenges, but Rufus Malatjie may have the least enviable job of all.

Mr. Malatjie heads an interministerial task force charged with deciding
whether Christmas should be cancelled, or Freedom Day called off.

Although Sri Lanka and Trinidad also vie for the title, South Africa is
believed to have more public holidays than any other country. Human Rights
Day, Women's Day, Youth Day, Heritage Day and Workers' Day are among the
14 statutory holidays currently celebrated. Canada has nine. The country's
business leaders say that at least one of the holidays has to go,
insisting that the country can't afford the 2.9 billion rand (about
$600-million) each of them costs.

But the powerful trade unions are fighting back. Not only do they say they
won't allow any holidays to be cancelled; they're lobbying for even more
days off.

"Don't tamper with May Day, June 16 Day or Women's Day," warned Patrick
Craven, spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, after
making a submission to Mr. Malatjie's task force earlier this year. (June
16, Youth Day, commemorates the day in 1976 when rioting schoolchildren in
the township of Soweto began the resistance that ultimately toppled

The task force's original motivation was actually not work, but religion.
The country's sizable Asian minority felt it was discriminatory that
Christian holidays were state holidays while Hindu and Muslim feasts were
not. Jewish groups quickly joined the call.

South Africa's odd mix of celebrations is in part a legacy of the
country's troubled political history. The former white rulers, closely
tied to the Dutch Reformed Church, ordered holidays on the major Christian
feasts. But after the transition to democracy in 1994, the African
National Congress, with its communist history, quickly elevated Women's
Day and Workers' Day. Former president Nelson Mandela, in an effort to
compromise, ordered that a traditional Afrikaaner holiday marking a Boer
victory over the Zulus at Blood River in 1838 should remain on the
calendar but be renamed Reconciliation Day.

Unlike Canada, where some holidays shift dates each year (Thanksgiving,
for example, lands on the second Monday of October), most of South
Africa's holidays commemorate specific dates and do not shift. When they
fall on a Tuesday or Wednesday, many workers take a really, really long

Mr. Malatjie and his colleagues from the ministries of Education, Labour,
Finance, and Environment and Tourism have received submissions from more
than 50 interested groups and held hearings in all nine provinces. Now
they must make recommendations to cabinet, which will make the ultimate
decision on which holidays, if any, get the chop.

Mr. Malatjie hopes it will all be wrapped up by Christmas -- but then,
that particular holiday is a bit of a sore subject itself. After a recent
public hearing, the meticulous lawyer told reporters that every holiday is
being considered equally.

"I cannot guarantee that we will still have the Christmas Day holiday," he
said in response to a specific question. "At this stage, anything is
possible. There is no holiday that is regarded as being sacred. They are
all being looked at."

South Africa's determinedly sensationalist media turned those comments
into massive front-page headlines warning that Christmas might be
cancelled. Radio call-in shows were quickly clogged by irate Christians,
who make up three-quarters of the country's population, as well as by
Muslims who insisted that Eid al-Fitr be added to the holiday calendar.

The government went on the defensive, and Mr. Malatjie has been taking
pains to make clear that no decisions have yet been made. "It's a matter
of looking into it," he said recently.

Privately, he reckons Christmas is safe. "You can't cancel Christmas;
people will cry foul. It's not possible," he said in an interview.

But the country could go the way of neighbouring Mozambique, where the
ruling party, Frelimo, which also has a strong socialist background, did
away with Christmas some time ago. Mozambicans still get Dec. 25 off, but
it's called Family Day.

One proposal Mr. Malatjie is considering is the redistribution of
holidays, since the vast majority are clumped together between April and
June, the South African autumn. He said there is also the possibility that
the task force will find that the country needs yet more holidays.

And he knows that his final report, whatever its conclusions, will win him
few friends.

"There will be one sector that will say, 'Yes, we are happy,' " he said
with a sigh. "But not everyone."

Warnings Over Biometric Passports

MEP warns of risk from big brother technology
Oct 13 2004
Birmingham Post

High-tech passports which record iris prints and fingerprints on computer chips could be open to abuse, a Midland MEP has warned.The European Union has announced plans to introduce the new biometric passports, which contain detailed personal information, across all member states.The move was welcomed yesterday by MEP Michael Cashman (Lab West Midlands), but he warned that safeguards were essential.Mr Cashman is a member of the European Parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, which conducted an investigation into the proposals.In a report published yesterday it concluded that biometrics will help to make our documents more secure but warned: "Several requirements protecting citizens' rights have to be met before bio-metric passports are issued".Mr Cashman said: "By making it almost impossible to forge passports and ensuring that the person in question is who they say they are, biometrics have a huge potential to help in the ongoing fight against organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration."But biometrics also have the potential to be seriously abused. We should not, for instance, go down the road of creating a centralised EU database of passports containing everybody's biometric data."The personal information that is collected must be for the specific purpose of verifying that the document is genuine and that the holder is who they claim to be."It should not be used for any other reason, particularly hidden surveillance, and biometrics must not creep into our daily lives via the commercial world."

11 Christians Arrested in Philadelphia

October 11, 2004
Christians Arrested
Eleven Christians Arrested, Jailed, and Charged
Under Hate Crimes Legislation

PHILADELPHIA -- On Sunday, October 10, 2004, eleven Christians with the
Philadelphia-based Repent America were arrested, jailed, and charged under
hate crimes legislation during an evangelistic outreach at the annual
"OutFest" homosexual pride event held in the public streets of

The six men and five women representing Repent America approached the
event and were immediately confronted with unlawful opposition by a group
of homosexuals. This group, the “Pink Angels”, was formed by homosexual
attorney Chuck Volz, a senior adviser to Philly Pride Presents, organizers
of the annual OutFest event which receives $22,500 yearly from the City of
Philadelphia. The “Pink Angels” blocked access to Repent America by
forming a human chain, refusing to allow the Christians to walk down the
public sidewalk. Police intervened shortly thereafter, escorting Repent
America through the human blockade.

While on the public sidewalk and street inside the event, Repent America
began to open-air preach with the use of Scripture banners, and to
distribute Gospel literature, as members of the "Pink Angels" blew loud
whistles and carried large signs alongside the Christians to block their
message and their access to the event attendees, while others screamed
obscenities. The police refused to take action as the Christians were
continuously followed, obstructed, and harassed.

Repent America obeyed all laws, and even the unlawful requests, to move by
the Philadelphia Civil Affairs police officers in an effort of
cooperation. Regardless of Repent America’s compliance, Chief James Tiano,
head of the Civil Affairs Unit, without warning, ordered the arrests of
the Christians and hauled them off to jail, where they spent 21 hours,
before being released the following day. Ten Christians were individually
charged with three felonies and five misdemeanors, while a teenager with
the group was charged with a misdemeanor.

“This is one of the most remarkable and unlawful actions by police that I
have ever witnessed. Their blatant disregard of the law by allowing
hecklers to impede our way, block our message, and then arrest us, is
inexcusable, especially by police officers who are specially trained to
protect civil rights,” stated Michael Marcavage, director of Repent
America. “Christians are now being labeled as ‘haters’ and any speech that
homosexuals perceive to be intimidating, such as our Christian witness at
OutFest, makes them a prime target for ‘hate crimes legislation’,”
Marcavage continued.

The three felonies and five misdemeanors include: Criminal Conspiracy
(Felony), Possession of Instruments of Crime (Misdemeanor), Reckless
Endangerment of Another Person (Misdemeanor), Ethnic Intimidation
(Felony), Riot (Felony), Failure to Disperse (Misdemeanor), Disorderly
Conduct (Misdemeanor), and Obstructing Highways (Misdemeanor). “We are
clearly ‘not guilty’ of these crimes, and with the help of our video
footage, we shall be vindicated of these trumped up charges,” Marcavage

The Christians are scheduled to be arraigned on October 18, 2004 at 8:00AM
in the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center.

Newspaper Circulation Investigation Widens

October 13, 2004
S.E.C. Inquiry on Circulation at Newspapers Said to Widen

More than half a dozen newspaper companies have received letters from the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking information about their circulation practices as part of an inquiry prompted by disclosures of inflated sales at other chains, people involved in the inquiry said yesterday.
Among the companies that have received requests for documents from the commission over the last two months are Dow Jones, Gannett, Knight Ridder, McClatchy, The New York Times Company and the Washington Post Company, these people said. Representatives of those companies declined to comment yesterday, as did a spokesman for the S.E.C.
One organization that did confirm that it had been contacted by the S.E.C. was the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which collects and monitors circulation data for newspapers and magazines.
One person involved in the inquiry emphasized that none of the companies contacted were considered to have done anything wrong or to be a target. Instead, the commission was seeking, at least initially, to mount a fact-finding effort on behalf of investors who use circulation figures as one measure of the relative health of publicly held newspaper companies. Such figures are also used to set advertising rates.
Confidence in the accuracy of those figures has been shaken in recent months, after Newsday, Hoy, The Dallas Morning News and The Chicago Sun-Times revealed that they had overstated their circulations by tens of thousands of copies each day. The parent companies of these papers have since set aside more than $130 million to reimburse advertisers.
When Tribune announced in June that the circulations of Newsday and the Spanish-language paper Hoy were inflated, the company said it was cooperating with an S.E.C. inquiry. A spokesman for the Belo Corporation, which owns The Morning News, said yesterday that it, too, had received a request for information from the commission.
Hollinger International, which owns The Sun-Times, entered into a consent decree with the commission in January, nearly half a year before it disclosed its circulation irregularities, as part of an investigation into several hundred million dollars in disputed payments to executives.
But with its letters to the other companies, the commission is apparently casting a wider net to gauge whether the practices acknowledged by Tribune, Belo and Hollinger are widespread.
"We received under confidential terms from the S.E.C. a letter saying the S.E.C. was reviewing industry practices on circulation,'' said one newspaper executive, who insisted on anonymity. "We think others received that letter. It stated very clearly we were not a target and was not intended to suggest any wrongdoing. At the same time, it is confidential.''
For the newspaper industry, which has struggled for years with stagnant readership levels, the S.E.C.'s scrutiny has the potential to undermine further the confidence of advertisers and investors, who have driven down the stock prices of several newspaper companies in recent months. But should the commission's inquiry find that the practices of Newsday, Hoy, The Sun-Times and The Morning News were anomalies, the industry might be able to put the circulation scandal behind it.
The efforts by the S.E.C.'s enforcement division to get a fix on the circulation practices of publicly held newspaper companies are in keeping with the commission's stepped-up scrutiny in recent years of other industries' accounting practices. Last year, for example, the commission sent out letters to food suppliers to determine whether an accounting scandal at the Dutch food retailer Royal Ahold was a symptom of more systemic problems involved marketing and promotional practices within the supermarket industry.
Those informed of the questions that the commission has been asking of newspaper companies said that they related to the specific practices acknowledged by Newsday, The Sun-Times and The Morning News.
In July, for example, a team of four Newsday reporters found that the paper, which is based in Melville, N.Y., had long increased its readership numbers by delivering free (and at times unsolicited) papers to homes, which the company then counted as paid.
Last month, Belo reported the results of an independent investigation that found that senior managers at The Morning News pressured their subordinates to achieve ambitious increases in readership and dangled trips and cash before outside contractors as inducements to refrain from returning unsold copies of the paper, thus giving the appearance they had been sold.
And Hollinger International said last week that it had uncovered numerous schemes by former managers that were intended to hide returns of The Sun-Times, including payments to distributors similar to those made at The Morning News.

FDA Approves Implantable Chip for Humans

FDA approves use of implantable chip in patients
By The Associated Press
October 13, 2004, 2:11 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved an
implantable computer chip that can pass a patient's medical details to
doctors, speeding care.

VeriChips, radio frequency microchips the size of a grain of rice, have
already been used to identify wayward pets and livestock. And nearly 200
people working in Mexico's attorney general's office have been implanted
with chips to access secure areas containing sensitive documents.

Delray Beach, Fla.-based Applied Digital Solutions said it would give away
$650 scanners to roughly 200 trauma centers around the nation to help
speed its entry into the health care market.

A company spokesman would not say how much implanting chips would cost for
humans, even though chips have been implanted in some, including Scott R.
Silverman, the company's chief executive officer.

The company is targeting patients with diabetes, chronic cardiac
conditions, Alzheimer's disease and those who undergo complex treatments
like chemotherapy, said Dr. Richard Seelig, Applied Digital Solutions'
vice president of medical applications.

It's the first time the FDA has approved medical use of the device, though
in Mexico, more than 1,000 scannable chips have been implanted in
patients. The chip's serial number pulls up the patients' blood type and
other medical information.

With the pinch of a syringe, the microchip is inserted under the skin in a
procedure that takes less than 20 minutes and leaves no stitches.

Silently and invisibly, the dormant chip stores a code -- similar to the
identifying UPC code on products sold in retail stores -- that releases
patient-specific information when a scanner passes over the chip.

At the doctor's office those codes stamped onto chips, once scanned, would
reveal such information as a patient's allergies and prior treatments.

The FDA in October 2002 said that the agency would regulate health care
applications possible through VeriChip. Meanwhile, the chip has been used
for a number of security-related tasks as well as for pure whimsy: Club
hoppers in Barcelona, Spain, now use the microchip much like a smartcard
to speed drink orders and payment.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

Arizona County Bans Abortions at Public Hospitals

Arizona County Bans Abortions at Public Hospitals, Pro-Life Groups Applaud
by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
October 12, 2004

Phoenix, AZ ( -- A measure to ban abortions in Marcopia County-owned medical facilities passed after a 4-1 vote last week. Under the new deed restriction, abortion is only permitted in the rare cases where it is necessary to save the life of the mother.
Chairman Andrew Kunasek introduced the restriction in a draft agreement between the new health care district and the county. The county supervisors currently serve as the newly-formed health care district's board, until a new board is created next year.
The sole vote against the ban came from Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who had voiced opposition to the measure when it was introduced.
The ban states: "No abortion shall be performed at any facility under the jurisdiction of the District unless such abortion is necessary to save the life of the woman having the abortion, or is otherwise required by law."
The clause "or is otherwise required by law" was added at the request of attorneys.
County policy already prohibited abortions at the county's hospital and Arizona law prohibits the use of public funding for abortions.
County supervisors agreed last year that major financial and policy decisions should be made by the new board, but Kunasek said the abortion restriction is the "right decision" to make now.
"I have very strong feelings on the issue of abortion," Kunasek told the Arizona Republic after he had introduced the ban. "I also think it's something that could be very destructive for this new district, especially in its early years, to get into that business."
"We need to set them on the right path. I feel an obligation to do that," added Kunasek. "It's a fundamental right, the right to life. To me, that's just something that's not negotiable."
Kunasek is joined in his support by fellow supervisors Fulton Brock and Max Wilson. Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox has expressed her opposition, and Supervisor Don Stapley has declined to comment on his position.
Cathi Herrod, director of policy for the Center for Arizona Policy, said the clause is important to maintaining a pro-life policy in the county.
"It's a fairly simple matter," Herrod said. "The purpose of the deed restriction is to maintain the long-standing county policies regarding abortion."
In June, Kunasek led an effort to transfer control of an obstetrics and gynecology residency program to the Catholic-based St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. That transfer has not yet been approved.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Low Birthrate Imperils Quebec's Future: Charest

Canoe C-News
October 12, 2004
Jean Charest says Quebec's future bleak because of
debt, low birthrate

ST-AUGUSTIN-DE-DESMAURES, Que. (CP) - Quebec faces a
bleak future with a declining birthrate and a heavy
debt load, Premier Jean Charest told a forum of
provincial leaders on Tuesday.

Charest painted a grim picture in the opening speech
of a three-day forum on the future of the province
where he tried to sell ongoing plans to cut taxes and
reduce the size of government.

Charest said a declining birthrate threatens to put an
even heavier burden on Quebecers. The province already
has the biggest debt and the highest personal tax
burden among the provinces, he pointed out.

"The status quo in Quebec is not a choice," Charest
told about 100 leaders from Quebec business, labour
and social groups.

"We're not here to get a consensus at any price, or to
find the lowest common denominator."

While Charest said a demographic crunch is increasing
pressure on the province, he said the situation is not

"We must understand and anticipate this shift, then we
must do what we can to get out of this tight scrape,"
Charest said.

"We can change this situation. But if the problems
were easy, if the answers were obvious, someone would
have answered them for us long ago.

Outside the conference, a few hundred union protesters
chanted slogans and blew whistles.

On their way into the meeting, business leaders said
they will argue the government should pursue promised
tax cuts while labour leaders said they will call for
more public spending.

"They're trying to make everyone believe in the
bogeyman and it's not going to work," said Henri
Masse, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour.

"The government's observations on Quebec's financial
situation are too alarmist. The government's
interpretations of demographic trends are too dark."

Other prominent participants suggested not much was
likely to get done at the meeting.

"I'm trying to remember what we accomplished at the
last one of these things and I can't," said Quebec
City Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier.

"I'm not sure how useful it can be."

Charest won the 2003 election promising to cut taxes
by $1 billion per year and to dramatically reduce

So far he has delivered direct subsidies to families
and much smaller tax cuts also aimed at families in
the face of protests by social, labour and other
pressure groups.

Seven Die in Japan 'Internet Suicide' Pact

Seven Die in Japan 'Internet Suicide' Pact
Tue Oct 12, 2004 09:26 AM ET

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese police said on Tuesday they were investigating a suspected group suicide involving seven people who met through the Internet, the latest in a rash of suicides linked to the Web.
The four men and three women, mostly in their 20s, were found dead on Tuesday in a car parked on a mountain road in Minano in Saitama prefecture near Tokyo, officers said.
Police said they found four charcoal stoves in the car, which was wrapped in blue plastic sheets and had its windows sealed from the inside.
"We believe they all died after inhaling carbon monoxide from the charcoal," a police spokesman said. "We believe they got acquainted through the Internet."
One of the seven had sent an e-mail to a friend on Monday saying he would commit suicide, the spokesman said.
"We found no traces of violence that could have otherwise led to their deaths," he said.
Empty cans of liquor were found inside the car and a box of sleeping pills near the silver vehicle, Kyodo news agency said.
No religious prohibitions exist in Japan against suicide and it has long been seen as a way to escape failure or of saving loved ones from embarrassment for financial loss. However, it has also been stigmatized as a shameful, taboo subject.
In Kanagawa prefecture, just west of Tokyo, police said two women in their 20s had killed themselves in a car in what was believed to be another case of Internet suicide.
Cases dubbed by the Japanese media as "Internet suicide" pacts started to come to the fore in 2003. A total of 34 people killed themselves in such pacts last year, according to police data.
Police have asked Internet service providers to disclose information about those who post plans about suicides on the Web.
However, experts say it is pointless to blame the Internet and that a closer look should be taken at the society in which they occur.
Suicide rates have always been high in Japan, where there are about the same number each year as in the United States, which has more than double the population.
Last year, Japan reported a record 34,427 recorded cases of suicide. (Additional reporting by George Nishiyama)

Officials Concerned About Homeschooling Popularity

Posted on Mon, Oct. 11, 2004
Education official concerned about homeschooling popularity
Associated Press

MERIDIAN, Miss. - A state education official says she's concerned about the growing popularity of homeschooling in Mississippi.
Peggy Peterson, director of compulsory school attendance enforcement with the Mississippi Department of Education, said she fears that some children may not be receiving top quality education instruction from their parents.
Mississippi Department of Education statistics show that the number of families homeschooling in the state has increased since 1999, when officials began monitoring enrollment.
A total of 11,063 Mississippi children were homeschooled last year, up from 8,768 in May 1999. Lauderdale County alone had 281 families homeschooling their children in May of this year.
Peterson said some parents have done a good job of educating their children, "but I am concerned about the ones who are not qualified to teach their children."
Peterson's office is the only one with the state Department of Education that has anything to do with homeschooling. Families that homeschool their children must register with their county's school attendance officer; the officer, in turn, reports to Peterson's office.
Peterson, a former president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said some states require parents who teach their children to have a certain level of education. She said there was no such requirement in Mississippi.
"Mississippi has the most lenient homeschool laws in the nation," Peterson said.
Joseph and Mary Beth Hallman of Lauderdale County homeschool their son and daughter. They said they wanted to make sure their children receive the best education possible.
"No one cares more about our children than we do," said Mary Beth Hallman, whose two children have never attended a public or private school. "And it is a privilege to teach them at home."
Hannah, 14, is a ninth-grader; Benjamin, 12, is a seventh-grader. Their classroom is the family living room, where their parents teach reading, math, religion and other subjects.
The Hallmans are on the advisory board for the Meridian Christian Home Educators, one of two homeschool groups in Lauderdale County. Members include about 125 families and about 400 students.
Sarah Nicholas, a spokeswoman for the state College Board, said homeschool students often score higher than public school students on the American College Test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test - two national, standardized tests used for college admissions.
"I don't know why they score so high," Nicholas said. "But historically, students who are homeschooled usually have exceptionally high scores on those tests."