It's Not Possible To Be Fully Human If You Are Being Surveilled 24/7

Groklaw has now shut down it's operations to avoid exposing all of it's email to government surveillance.

Groklaw is a site that provided deep analysis of the legal system, providing explanations of ongoing court cases. Now it's joined other online services like Lavabit and other email providers that have closed down in order to protect their users from drag-net government surveillance.

You can read the entire story here but the following I found especially compelling:

...What I do know is it's not possible to be fully human if you are being surveilled 24/7.

Harvard's Berkman Center had an online class on cybersecurity and internet privacy some years ago, and the resources of the class are still online. It was about how to enhance privacy in an online world, speaking of quaint, with titles of articles like, "Is Big Brother Listening?"

And how.

You'll find all the laws in the US related to privacy and surveillance there. Not that anyone seems to follow any laws that get in their way these days. Or if they find they need a law to make conduct lawful, they just write a new law or reinterpret an old one and keep on going. That's not the rule of law as I understood the term.

Anyway, one resource was excerpts from a book by Janna Malamud Smith,"Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life", and I encourage you to read it. I encourage the President and the NSA to read it too. I know. They aren't listening to me. Not that way, anyhow. But it's important, because the point of the book is that privacy is vital to being human, which is why one of the worst punishments there is is total surveillance:

One way of beginning to understand privacy is by looking at what happens to people in extreme situations where it is absent. Recalling his time in Auschwitz, Primo Levi observed that "solitude in a Camp is more precious and rare than bread." Solitude is one state of privacy, and even amidst the overwhelming death, starvation, and horror of the camps, Levi knew he missed it.... Levi spent much of his life finding words for his camp experience. How, he wonders aloud in Survival in Auschwitz, do you describe "the demolition of a man," an offense for which "our language lacks words."...

One function of privacy is to provide a safe space away from terror or other assaultive experiences. When you remove a person's ability to sequester herself, or intimate information about herself, you make her extremely vulnerable....

The totalitarian state watches everyone, but keeps its own plans secret. Privacy is seen as dangerous because it enhances resistance. Constantly spying and then confronting people with what are often petty transgressions is a way of maintaining social control and unnerving and disempowering opposition....

And even when one shakes real pursuers, it is often hard to rid oneself of the feeling of being watched -- which is why surveillance is an extremely powerful way to control people. The mind's tendency to still feel observed when alone... can be inhibiting. ... Feeling watched, but not knowing for sure, nor knowing if, when, or how the hostile surveyor may strike, people often become fearful, constricted, and distracted.

I've quoted from that book before, back when the CNET reporters' emails were read by HP. We thought that was awful. And it was. HP ended up giving them money to try to make it up to them. Little did we know.

Ms. Smith continues:

Safe privacy is an important component of autonomy, freedom, and thus psychological well-being, in any society that values individuals. ... Summed up briefly, a statement of "how not to dehumanize people" might read: Don't terrorize or humiliate. Don't starve, freeze, exhaust. Don't demean or impose degrading submission. Don't force separation from loved ones. Don't make demands in an incomprehensible language. Don't refuse to listen closely. Don't destroy privacy. Terrorists of all sorts destroy privacy both by corrupting it into secrecy and by using hostile surveillance to undo its useful sanctuary.

But if we describe a standard for treating people humanely, why does stripping privacy violate it? And what is privacy? In his landmark book, Privacy and Freemom, Alan Westin names four states of privacy: solitude, anonymity, reserve, and intimacy. The reasons for valuing privacy become more apparent as we explore these states....

The essence of solitude, and all privacy, is a sense of choice and control. You control who watches or learns about you. You choose to leave and return. ...

Intimacy is a private state because in it people relax their public front either physically or emotionally or, occasionally, both. They tell personal stories, exchange looks, or touch privately. They may ignore each other without offending. They may have sex. They may speak frankly using words they would not use in front of others, expressing ideas and feelings -- positive or negative -- that are unacceptable in public. (I don't think I ever got over his death. She seems unable to stop lying to her mother. He looks flabby in those running shorts. I feel horny. In spite of everything, I still long to see them. I am so angry at you I could scream. That joke is disgusting, but it's really funny.) Shielded from forced exposure, a person often feels more able to expose himself.

I hope that makes it clear why I can't continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That's it exactly. That's how I feel.

The Top 10 Reasons You Should Go To Medical School... And The Single Best Reason Not To

medschoolJeremy Weaver is a medical school student I'm working with as one of the editors over at Uncommon Student MD where he's written a really good post on The Top 10 Reasons You Should Go To Medical School, And The Single Reason Not To.

Whether you're a first year medical student or a practicing physican, there's a good chance you've asked yourself the quesion, "WHY the @#$% DID I GO TO MEDICAL SCHOOL?" Here are a few EXCELLENT reasons... and one bad one.

Just as the blisses of Christmas break was ending for most of us tortured souls who fly the banner of "medical student," and sail these uncertain scholarly seas, Uncommon Student MD got some serious traction with medical students around the world. I believe timing had a large part to do with the explosion in its popularity. Simply put, after christmas break a lot of medical people were thinking, “what am I doing here?!” - A case of mass buyers remorse.

Can't Buy Happiness Past $60k

$60K a year can make you happy

Psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman says millions of dollars won't buy you happiness, but a job that pays $60,000 a year might help.

Happiness levels increase up to the $60K mark, but "above that it's a flat line," he said.

"Money does not buy you experiential happiness but lack of money certainly buys you misery," he said. But the real trick, Kahneman said, is to spend time with people you like.

Blog Action Day for the environment: October 15th

action_250x250.jpgBlog Action Day is an awareness event to promote environmental awareness.

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

Blog Action Day is about MASS participation.

There are many great places to find information on the web about the environment:

  • Treehugger - Easily the best environmental blog on the web, Treehugger has a great section called How to Go Green as well as tons of other useful stuff. It's manned by some 40 writers around the world and contains no less than 14,000 posts!
  • Wikipedia's list of environmental issues - With enough links to keep you busy for hours, Wikipedia should easily set you off on your environmental web travels.
  • Digg's Popular Environment Stories - lists tons of popular posts and articles on all sorts of subjects. Looking forward to seeing some Blog Action Day posts appearing here and on reddit on October 15th!
  • Green TV - If you need visual stimulation, Green TV has a lot of videos to get you going, divided up into channels of content, it is eminently watchable.
  • We can live green - A lot of things boil down to practicality and We Can Live Green will help you find actual products and consumables that are environmentally friendly.
  • IMDB's Highest Rated Environmental Movies and Documentaries - Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth isn't the only environmental DVD to watch, check out IMDB's list of features ordered by user ratings.

Business Networking: How to build your personal value.

network.gifBusinesspundit has a post on networking for introverts.

So you're really not much good at networking. You keep a drink in one hand and the other in a pocket. You stand against walls. You avoid direct eye contact. You pretty much suck at it and since you suck at it you hate doing it. You're constantly standing around trying to look pretty and hoping that someone you're interested in meeting will come and talk to you. 

Me too.

It's interesting to watch the dynamics at a networking event. I've attended many but there's often a sense of being disassociated from the main conversations. The worst are the hard sellers.

The Hard Sellers: These guys are there to pitch. For the most part they're talking to themselves. Whenever I'm near a hard seller I'm tuning them right out and trying to scrape them off my shoe asap. The Hard Sellers listen little and talk much. They've done this and that and would appreciate it if you validate their existence by doffing your cap. 

I hate that and respond poorly to it as most people probably do.

Poor networking is usually cause by embarrassment and fear of rejection... hey , it's just like dating. (Here's my eminently readable post on Horizontal Networking)

I have a good friend Chia in NY who's a photographer. She's about 4'8" and 73lbs (I'm 6'3" and 260) Chia used to be an actress before she became a photographer and now she's the most sought after actor photographer in Manhattan.

Chia lives down in the Flat Iron district (The triangle shaped building in Spiderman). A boxing gym opened up next to her building and  Chia thought it would be great exercise to take up boxing. (Here's her boxing photography)

Interestingly, the gym owners thought this was kind of cool so Chia hired a trainer and started hitting a heavy bag. It was a scene straight out of Million Dollar Baby except that Chia was much shorter.

Of course Chia never actually wanted to fight. In fact, the gym ordered her a pair of pink boxing gloves which, I have to say, were really cute.

Anyway, Chia hit like a girl. She'd prance around and make 'hitting' noises while she punched at the air.

Chia wanted to be more serious. She wanted to move and hit like a boxer, not like a girl. When she talked to her trainer he looked at her like she was as stupid as a bag of hammers. "Chia", he said, " Just act like a boxer." That was it... Chia knew how to act and she was a boxer after that.

The point being: It's always something you can act through. If you're not a great networker... act as though you were.

Works for me. 

Virginia Tech: Gun dealer's now sold guns for 5 murders.

Like everyone else, I've been watching the news about the Virginia Tech Massacre.

_42815029_glock_cut.jpgI was watching Larry King last night and one of the guests was the owner of the pawn shop where Cho purchased or picked up the weapons he used in the killings.

He talked about a completely normal and legal sale. 

The owner came across as a calm older guy running a business and when he mentioned he'd received nasty calls and emails and that he'd run a background check and nothing came back so there was nothing he could do, my reaction was that he was completely blameless...

Sometimes I read news from other countries. In reading about these killings on the BBC, I came across the following paragraph that caught my attention.

John Markell, the owner of the Roanoke firearms shop really have wanted to sell Cho the 9mm Glock if he had read some of these pages? After all four guns sold from his shop had already been reportedly involved in other homicides.

Evidently John Markell has sold the weapons that have been used in five separate homicide incidents with at least 36 people dead. (32 at VT and four others.) That's quite a record. I wonder how much money his pawn shop has made from the sale of those five weapons?

Sometimes it might be good to question whether you're really contributing to society in a beneficial, not just blameless, way. 

Abu Ghraib: American torture & apple pie.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib 

I just finished watching the Ghosts of Abu Ghraib on HBO. I missed it at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered.Utah's

the most conservative state in the nation and generally supportive of George Bush and the War on Terror. Personally I'm not a fan. I'm even less of one now. 

The stories of abuse and torture that have come out of Abu Ghraib disgust me as an American. How could they not. While I'm all for killing the right people, I find it deeply troubling that America has allowed itself to be led by people to whom getting caught is what makes a practice wrong. American should watch this film.

And of course there's this: A U.S. soldier was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday for the gang rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family last year.

The Geneva Conventions expressly prohibit torture and outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment... But George Bush not only defined prisoners in US custody as not being covered by the Geneva Conventions, but that torture would now become part of US policy.

200px-Abu_ghraib_feces_06a.jpg The photo to the right is one of the previously unreleased images released in February 2006 by SBS in Australia, showing a man covered in excrement forced to pose for the camera. I'm surprised that being forced to stand naked in front of your captors while covered in shit doesn't make the list of torture on the Times article below. This sure looks like an outrage upon personal dignity.

The New York Times, in a report on January 12, 2005,reported testimony suggesting that the following events had taken place at Abu Ghraib:

  • Urinating on detainees
  • Jumping on detainee's leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly
  • Continuing by pounding detainee's wounded leg with collapsible metal baton
  • Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees
  • Sodomization of detainees with a baton
  • Tying ropes to the detainees' legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.

From a Sundance review: Over and over we're told that "the gloves are off" in the fight against America's enemies. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib is an essential declaration of the truth behind that cliché: Taking the gloves off is no guarantee the job will get done; it is a guarantee that you'll get your hands dirty. I can only hope that as many people as possible can see Ghosts of Abu Ghraib before April 15 and tax time roll around: This is what we have paid for with money, this is what American soldiers will pay for in blood, this is what our children will pay for as nations around the world perceive that America has gone from a defender of liberty to a swaggering thug. This is what Ghosts of Abu Ghraib shows us: lost lives, lost honor and fascist brutality in the name of democracy and freedom.

The $100 Micro VC Maddy Fund & Kiva's Third World Entrepreneures

maddyfund.gifThird world entrepreneures will be receiving some VC funding this Christmas... in the amount of $100 from the Micro VC Maddy Fund.
is a microloan sight that lends money to third world entrepreneures in help their businesses and grow markets and economies.  So...

I've decided to facilitate this process and hopefully my daughter and I will learn from and teach each other something along the way.


My daughter will be receiving a gift certificate for $100 that she can invest in entrepreneurs who need access to capital. My expectation is that these tiny loans will be repaid and that I'll provide Maddy with $100 next year to ad to her Micro VC Maddy Fund. Then we'll sit down and have a talk about expectations and responsibilities. I think of this as a kind of 'Pass It On' project

I'm adding the $100 Micro VC Maddy Fund as a new category but I'm sure Maddy will be posting about on her blog at Pony Tail Club.

During the week between Christmas and New Years  Madison will be responsible for using the Kiva site to find 4 receipients to loan $25 each to. (Kiva uses a technique that allows / encourages this.) She will have to report to me why she chose this individual over all the others.

One of the most important in my mind is that she understands the finality of this act. Loaning money to one person means that you're not loaning money to someone else. Maddys decisions will carry repercussions for individuals that she needs to consider and not take lightly.

My goals in doing this are:

  • I believe in Kiva mission and want to support them.
  • I believe in my daughter and her sense of justice.
  • I want my daughter to realize exacltly how privledged she is and respect those who are less fortunate.
  • I want my daughter to feel the joy of successfully helping someone.
  • I want my daughter to learn something of decision making and repercussions.
I'd encourage anyone who thinks this is a good idea to comment, do it themselves, or blog / link to

All men are created unequal.

0393318885.jpgFrom NYTimes: Billionaires & The rest of us

The truth is that one life is not valued the same as another. The human condition is that we place more import on those we define as in our 'tribe' as more important that others.

The fundamental condition of valuing every life as having the same intrinsic value? We're far from reaching the utopia of Star Trek.

As Gates told a meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva last year, he and his wife, Melinda, “couldn’t escape the brutal conclusion that — in our world today — some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not.” They said to themselves, “This can’t be true.” But they knew it was.

...A famous story is told about Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher, who argued that we all act in our own interests. On seeing him give alms to a beggar, a cleric asked Hobbes if he would have done this if Christ had not commanded us to do so. Yes, Hobbes replied, he was in pain to see the miserable condition of the old man, and his gift, by providing the man with some relief from that misery, also eased Hobbes’s pain. That reply reconciles Hobbes’s charity with his egoistic theory of human motivation, but at the cost of emptying egoism of much of its bite. If egoists suffer when they see a stranger in distress, they are capable of being as charitable as any altruist.

...Even when private donations are included, however, countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands give three or four times as much foreign aid, in proportion to the size of their economies, as the U.S. gives — with a much larger percentage going to the poorest nations.

Pony Tail Club: A girl & her horse.

ponytailclub.icon.pngPony Tail Club

My daughters new blog.

I thought this was a good idea for a number of reasons. First, she loves horses and if I'm going to have to continue to pay for shoeing, vet bills, feed and training... We're going to make it a business. (Of course, Dad doesn't get it.)

(After seeing that I received a check from Yahoo last month my daughter also thinks this is a good idea. She has dollar signs prancing in her head already.)

My wife is also involved. She's just got her new advertising site up (Wild Blue Creative) and now we're off on the pony express. Our goals with this new pony site are:

  • Give Madison (our daughter) a place to express herself and gain positive feedback. Gramsie & Gramps, Yaya & Papu, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and fellow academy riders can all be counted on to provide this.
  • Provide a method that by itself teaches consistency and self motivation. ie. No posts / no quality = no traffic.
  • Provides and outlet where she can express her love for riding.
  • Offers some experience in building something of value that people want.
  • Lets her generate income that's a direct result of her own efforts (with parential help and moderation).
Pony Tail Club will be completely kid safe, friendly and positive. If you have anyone interested in reading the ongoing reality show saga of girls who love horses, please send them a link.


Interestingly, I just put the site up yesterday and there are already 30 rss subscribers. I find that unusual.

Science vs. Religion

1937.jpgI don't know who said it but someone did: "When science finally makes it up the hill of knowledge, it will find that religion has been sitting there all along."

Of course it could be that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. But who's the squirrel, and what's the acorn? 

A free for all on Science & Religion

perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects — testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.

Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.

High Tech Jelousy: Enough will just never be enough.

jealousy2.jpgA simple explanation of why people with more money than 99.999% of the rest of earths population still don't have enough.

It seems that a lot of high tech entrepreneurs are learning about the afflictions that venture capitalists have been suffering under for years. Those returns just aren't as big as the other guys.

From the Times: In Web World, Rich Now Envy the Super-Rich

...Envy may be a sin in some books, but it is a powerful driving force in Silicon Valley, where technical achievements are admired but financial payoffs are the ultimate form of recognition. And now that the YouTube purchase has amplified talk of a second dot-com boom, many high-tech entrepreneurs — successful and not so successful — are examining their lives as measured against upstarts who have made it bigger.

Reference points only make matters worse, Mr. de Botton said. He pointed to research that has been done on attractive women who feel ugly when surrounded by images of more beautiful women. “Very often the problem isn’t so much what an individual happens to look like, but the extraordinary comparisons being made,” he said.

So what's behind this mid-life crisis? This study, by academics from Pennsylvania State and Harvard University, finds that richer people tend to be happier than poorer people. But the data revealed that the green-eyed monster jealousy influences how people gauge how happy they are.

"The higher the income of others in one's age group, the lower one's happiness," said Glenn Firebaugh a sociological researcher at Pennsylvania State University, one of the report's co-authors.

The research contains a worrying message for society, as the close observance of others' income, a "keeping up with the Joneses" trend, forces people to continually increase their income, the report said.

"Rather than promoting overall happiness, continued income growth could promote an ongoing consumption race where individuals consume more and more just to maintain a constant level of happiness," said Firebaugh.

According to the research of Brehm in 1985, there are five stages of jealousy: 

The first stage is the suspicion of the threat. In this stage people are insecure and may see signs of disaster where there are none. They tend to feel competitive to those they see as threatening.

In the next stage people begin to assess the threat and they become very protective of their possession. They worry themselves sick wondering what is happening or may happen in their relationships. These feelings of insecurity may lead them to spy on their significant other and/or the perceived rival. They question their partner`s fidelity and their own desirability.

The third stage is called emotional reaction. Here people determine if there is a threat and then react to it. People can react with a wide range of emotions depending on the person and the situation. Their reactions can range from clinging dependency to violent rage at the competitor or their partner. Their reactions may be to criticize themselves, become depressed, or resent their partners.

The next stage is called the coping response. There are two basic responses here. People either do their best to repair the threatened relationship, or they become competitive and look for ways of getting even with their mate and the competitor. Men and women tend to differ in their coping responses. Women are more likely to become depressed and blame themselves, whereas men become more competitive and angry. Research indicates that females are more jealous than males over situations involving the partner spending time on a hobby or with family members, but other situations evoke no sex differences (Hansen, 1985).

The final stage according to Brehm is the outcome stage. People ask themselves how their reactions are effecting their relationship. They determine whether they are helping or harming their threatened relationship with such emotional responses.

According to McIntosh and Tangri (1989), jealous behaviors are divided into two types, direct and indirect. Direct behaviors are more confrontational behaviors such as confronting a partner about a jealousy-evoking event. The indirect type includes behaviors that are less confrontational such as giving a partner the silent treatment.

It would appear that the evidence suggests that jealousy is hardwired into us humans and if we're in certain situations their's little we can do.

Certainly there is much to be said for the benefits of jealousy; it makes you work harder and strive to out compete others. In many business situations this is exactly what you want. But the fact is that it comes at a price. I'm sure if you asked people what they want 'happy' trumps 'rich', although many equate the two. It's obvious that that's not the actual case. 

Perhaps the high tech answer is to trade in the BMW or Ferrari and get a minivan. After all, your kids don't know you're a loser. 

The Perception of Human Beauty: Current beauty standards are superhuman.

I posted a longer article on my Medical Spa MD blog here but I thought this was interesting.

The current standards for human beauty are not only impossible to reach for the masses, they're impossible for anyone. It appears that we humans are 'hardwired' with what we consider attractive traits. Now technology is allowing us to realize those standards in visual form through digital aids. You can imagine in the not to distant future that computer programs and motion picture digital aids will be able to: Make Tom Cruize taller, take 15 pounds off the female lead, and create hyper exaggerated sexiness. (Perhaps the real life Jessica Rabbit.) But these manifestations of beauty will be confined to the digital and motion picture worlds... At first.

It may be that these hyperbeauty standards will accelerate the move to genetically engineering of human beings. (This is inevitable for many reasons.) With society setting the bar impossibly high, I can imagine that it will increase both the speed and pressure. Gattiaca is not far off.

What makes beauty?

From the study: Who is the most beautiful woman in Germany? An official jury tries to answer this question each year. In January 2002 it chose Miss Berlin to be the most attractive woman (left picture). But is she really the most beautiful one? The results of our study suggest - at least in theory - to be far from the ideal. 

For this reason we cooperated with Pro7 (a German television channel) and managed to get portrait photos of all contestants of the final round of this national beauty contest. In contrast to their live evaluation on the catwalk, the beautiful women could not show a particular sexy way of walking or put on a charming smile but had to comply with our scientific requirements: Frontally photographed face, hair tied to the back, neutral facial expression - and especially: no make-up! 

A selection of the 22 contestants of the final round of the contest

Miss North-Rhine/Westphalia 


 Miss Thuringia


 Miss Bavaria


Miss Bremen

Miss South Germany

Miss Baden-Wuerttemberg

Based on our previous research results we computed a new face out of all original faces by using the described morphing software. The resulting “virtual” beauty as well as all other original faces were evaluated with respect to their attractiveness by a representative sample of people in a local shopping center. 

More beautiful than Miss Germany 

The results are clear. The virtual face was rated by far as being most attractive. On a scale reaching from 1 (= very unattractive) to 7 (= very attractive) it obtained the highest score with an average of 6.2 and let Miss Germany lie far behind having an average score of just 2.8. None of the 47 asked test subjects rated the real Miss Germany as being more or at least evenly attractive than the virtual one. The highest score of the real faces obtained Miss Bremen (4.9 points), but also Miss Bremen lies clearly and statistically most significantly behind the computer beauty. 

"Real" and "virtual" Miss Germany in comparison:

On the left: the “real” Miss Germany 2002 (= Miss Berlin) and on the right: the “virtual” Miss Germany, which was computed by blending together all contestants of the final round and was rated as being much more attractive. 

Read the entire study here.

Why was Gigi abandoned? A not so simple answer.

Pete adopted a baby boy. Congratulations Pete. I've never met Mrs. Shmula, but congratulations there too.

Adoption is curious. My daughter Madison and I met when she was five. I very clearly remember the first time I saw her. She's thirteen now. Although she's not really adopted, (her other family is in Salt Lake), there is really no difference.  :... when you hold your precious jewel for the first time, no one cares if none of those chromosomes came from you."

When I saw the image Pete posted of his new son I immediately thought of my niece Gigi. The following is from my brother in laws blog, Meet Gigi, the story of a little girl from China who now lives in San Francisco and is very loved. And even though I know the players, It's one of the sweetest and most touching things I've ever read.

Why was Gigi abandoned?

This is a post drafted long ago, and worked over a few times, in an effort to get the tone and details right. Here's our best effort with the delicate subject.

gigi.firstpic.jpgSo, why was Gigi abandoned? It's a complicated mix of cultural and political factors that caused Gigi's birth family to "abandon" or, as we've taken to saying, "anonymously place" her with authorities. Gigi was likely given up by parents who loved her, who wanted a child throughout the pregnancy, but who desired--or were pressured to want--a boy. As in other patriarchal cultures, in Chinese tradition boys are favored over girls. In addition to contributing to a family’s livelihood during their parents' working years, particularly for the farming families that fill China's inland, they also play the role of caring for their parents when retired.

Whatever the cause, many Chinese girls end up unwanted--aborted (when a physician can be bribed into illegally disclosing the results of an ultrasound), abandoned, or worse. How many? If you view the Lost Girls documentary referenced below, you’ll learn about the troubling trends in Chinese demographics. The boy-to-girl gap is already noticeable in a typical elementary school classroom, where boys are in a clear majority. Demographers predict it may reach as many as 100 million unmarriageable men by 2040.

Which brings us back to Gigi: Where does she fit in this complex socio-political situation? What led to her parents’ decision? Here’s what we know: She came from a rural part of southern China and is therefore likely to be among the girls displaced for economic reasons. That she is apparently healthy and had good nutrition readings upon arrival at the orphanage indicates that she was cared for prenatally.

giginote.jpgBut here is the clincher: Days after being united with Gigi, we received a copy of the solitary trace she will ever have of her birth parents. When found, Gigi had this note attached, indicating her birth day, March 26, 2004, but also on the Chinese lunar calendar, February 6, 2004.

While this is not uncommon with such children anonymously placed with authorities, it indicates that Gigi’s birth parents or mother wanted these two key elements of her otherwise blank identity to be known. In other words, she was loved. And it was hoped by people who surely carry a sense of loss and regret that she would benefit from the life they chose not to provide--or couldn't. Abandoned? No. Anonymously placed.

gigi.andcleo.jpgHappily for the girls yet unborn in China, and those at risk of suffering from the side effects of the one-child policy, things are changing. The government has awoken to the crisis of the gender gap and, among other measures, has launched a public education campaign to shift the perception of girls in Chinese society. Headlong into industrialization, social change in the developing part of China is also well underway, with the attendant realignment of lifestyles, gender roles, and family sizes. So, as much as we will cherish Gigi, we can hope that fewer of China’s girls like her will have to be taken so far from their birthplace to join a loving family to which they're entitled.

You can read the rest of Gigi's story here. 

Bush appointee on endangered species: 'We'll still have pictures...'

1400051266.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgFrom the Scientific Activist

Yesterday's Washington Post reported that several environmental groups have obtained strong evidence that Bush Administration political appointee and deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks Julie MacDonald has actively censored scientific information and given elevated and inappropriate consideration to non-environmental concerns in order to prevent the adding of new species to the Endangered Species list. The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the original organizations to make the revelation, has detailed information on the actions of MacDonald and other appointees at the Department of the Interior on its site. Here at, The Questionable Authority and Thoughts from Kansas put in their two cents on the issue as well.

The evidence is pretty damning but should anyone really be surprised? Hardly. This is just another item in the long list of political interference in science scandals that have characterized the current administration. Hmmm... this sounds a little too familiar.