Two Ways To Look At It
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
I happened upon this excellent quotation in an otherwise unremarkable Miami Herald story at http://www.miami.com/herald/content/news/local/dade/digdocs/108955.htm[Juan Carlos] Espinosa defined racism as "the denial of the ordinary -- I'm ordinary. You're weird".
That's had me thinking for about an hour now.
At first glance, it seems like a hell of a nice definition, and it illustrates the importance of the thing which is taken away from people when they face undeserved bias - "Hey, I'm just trying to buy a loaf of bread here, don't make this into a racial thing" - it almost suggests that our refuge in ordinariness, like the pursuit of happiness or the right to be let alone, is a basic part of the human condition.
On the other hand, being called ordinary is hardly a complement, sort of like being told you are "just the same as everyone else". These are not words you generally want to hear - except, of course, when a cop or a judge is explaining how the rules will be applied to you. It's almost as if the presumption of ordinariness is a courtesy we extend to one another, a form of politeness to put strangers at ease, to make them feel welcome.
On a related note, here is a small but important reminder about someone who has another way of looking at this topic. Most of you know of Al Sharpton, but few, I suspect, are really able to appreciate him in all his glory. Here's an excerpt from an excellent article describing the man at http://www.nationalreview.com/20Mar00/nordlinger032000.htmlIn the spring of 1989, the Central Park “wilding” occurred. That was the monstrous rape and beating of a young white woman, known to most of the world as “the jogger.” The hatred heaped on her by Sharpton and his claque is almost impossible to fathom, and wrenching to review. Sharpton insisted-against all evidence-that the attackers were innocent. They were, he said, modern Scottsboro Boys, trapped in “a fit of racial hysteria.” Unspeakably, he and his people charged that the victim’s own boyfriend had raped and beaten her to the point of death. Outside the courthouse, they chanted, “The boyfriend did it! The boyfriend did it!” They denounced the victim as “Whore!” They screamed her name, over and over (because most publications refused to print it, though several black-owned ones did). Sharpton brought Tawana Brawley to the trial one day, to show her, he said, the difference between white justice and black justice. He arranged for her to meet the jogger’s attackers, whom she greeted with comradely warmth. In another of his publicity stunts, he appealed for a psychiatrist to examine the victim. “It doesn’t even have to be a black psychiatrist,” he said, generously. He added: “We’re not endorsing the damage to the girl — if there was this damage.”
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the most monstrous, hateful example of racism from an American public figure in the last 30 years; if anything you've ever heard can compete with this, I'd like to know about it.
Sharpton, oddly, is not a pariah. He's shared the stage with Hillary Clinton, Bill Bradley, and Al Gore during the last election cycle, and none of these folks even took issue with him. I don't believe they actually support him, of course, but they welcome him, because Mr. Sharpton has the support of a substantial percentage of black voters.
I would suggest that Mr. Sharpton's supporters are not ordinary. They are hateful, ugly people who should be despised, not courted. We should treat them as we would treat any disgusting person and send them on their way with their tails between their legs and the full light of day shining upon their works. Consider this my small contribution towards that end.
Kiddie Porn? You Make The Call
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Is "acknowledging the beauty and sexuality of minors the same thing as pedophilia"? Have a look for yourself:
Artifact Of The Week
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Have a look at this - a cartoon from an August 2001 issue of Time magazine, just a few weeks before 9/11.
Those first two panels are precious. You won't be seeing too many like that anymore...
Some people will tell you that the world has changed; it hasn't. The world is exactly the same, and the risks have always been there. The only thing that's different now is that about 50 million of our fellow citizens grew up in a big hurry that day.
National IDs, Part III - The Security Technology Viewpoint
Saturday, January 19, 2002
First, a quick recap - in Part I, I asserted that anything which substantially increases the scope of government in our lives ought to be regarded with caution; in Part II, I outlined some of the incredible benefits - and tremendous risks - that would come from any workable, nationwide identification scheme. I left you all in the grasp of a huge dilemma, facing tough, important questions with no clear answers.
Now, in Part III I get into the fun stuff - the messy little details of Security Technology upon which this whole discussion depends. The good news is that you can forget about all those tough dilemmas we talked about... there is no chance in hell any of this is ever going to work anyway.
Years ago I worked with a programmer who would describe every assignment as either 'trivial' or 'impossible'. I have often caught myself trying to resist this same impulse, usually because so many of the people around me are smarter than I am, and you risk looking like an idiot if you speak those words too soon. When my gut screams "Impossible!" my mouth usually says "That sounds pretty challenging". When my gut cries "Jesus, I wouldn't even know where to begin" my mouth says "I'll need to think about that one for awhile". (And, of course, when my gut hollers "Trivial!" my mouth says "No problem. Give me a couple of weeks.").
You'll notice I'm not holding back now: it's impossible. You simply cannot build a workable, national ID that you can count on.
First, let's level the playing field a bit. I'll describe how a good national ID system might be put together, and then I'll point out all the holes. I'll need to cover a little background here, but I promise it will be fairly painless.
A good ID system assures that each physical person is associated with exactly one identity, and that whenever a person claims an identity he or she can be authenticated to someone who wants to verify it. Authentication almost invariably requires something called a Trusted Third Party (TTP) who vouches for the veracity of the person's claim. A common mechanism for documenting a TTP's opinion of someone is with a signed statement that ties two or more pieces of information together, so that this combination of information can be trusted.
For example: I go to the bank and try to withdraw $1000 from my savings account, and the nice lady behind the counter asks to see my driver's license. The nice lady is the verifier; the TTP is the State of New York, which has issued a statement (my driver's license) linking my name with my photograph. This statement is "signed" in a primitive way with the fancy patterns and lamination which is intended to minimize forgery - the fancy patterns attest to the document having actually been issued by the TTP, and the lamination is there to indelibly associate my name with my picture. So long as the verifier can trust that these two pieces of information - my name and my photo - can be trusted to go together, than she can give me my money with a clean conscience (once she decides that I actually look like the guy in the photograph).
A half-dozen possible attacks on this system spring immediately to mind:
1) Is the TTP really trusted? What if some crooked DMV clerk made up a fake license on the real machine?
2) Is the document really from the TTP? What if some smart-ass kid with a Mac and a laminator put this together?
3) Has the document been altered? How would I know if this guy put his picture on somebody else's license, and smoothed it out real good so I wouldn't notice?
4) Did the TTP make a mistake? What if this guy is a crook, and he faked out the lady at the Motor Vehicles office? Now their mistake is MY problem?
5) Maybe the document is good, but how well does it authenticate this human being? I mean, the photo looks kind of like him, but maybe this license belongs to his older brother, or even his twin brother?
6) What if there are two guys with the same name walking around, and this guy just changed his address at the DMV to exploit that?
This example illustrates some of the basic components:
1) The TTP needs to be trustworthy.
2) The TTP needs to be able to authenticate it's own documents to the verifier.
3) The documents should be unalterable.
4) The document should not work for any other physical human being.
5) Nobody gets more than one document, and
6) A defect in one part of the system should not propagate so far as to destroy the integrity of the entire project.
Items 2 and 3 can be done rather easily with encryption (specifically, with public keys and with digital signing). Items 4 and 5 can probably be knocked off if you use machine-matchable biometrics, such as finger scans. Items 1 and 6 are hopeless and can never be resolved.
Think I'm kidding? Let's build our system then.
You take the day off from work and visit the DMV. The "nice" lady behind the counter scans all ten of your fingers and both of your retinas (after all, you might lose some of these parts over time) and then makes absolutely certain that you are really who you say you are.
She puts all of this into the Big Giant Database to check for any duplicates, and then she prepares a smartcard document with your name and your picture, and puts the following digital information into it:
Your unique, government issued identifier.
The numeric values of all 12 of your scans.
and then she digitally signs the whole thing with the official, State Of New York private key using three separate encryption algorithms, just to be safe.
Congratulations. So long as they didn't fuck any of this up, you now have an unforgeable identifier.
Any person, from bank clerk to detective, can authenticate you if they have a scanner with a card reader and the official State Of New York public key built in. They don't even need access to the Big Giant Database - for technical reasons that you either already understand or simply don't care about, you can't alter this card, or use somebody else's card, or get two different cards. It's rock solid.
Just so long as they didn't fuck anything up.
How many holes did you notice?
1) How exactly, does the clerk make "make certain" that I'm who I say I am?
2) We trust this bitch?
3) What if somebody steals a copy of the private key? What if it's lost?
4) What if I figure out how to beat the fingerprint scanner?
5) What if the Big Giant Database was hacked? Or has a bug?
6) Suppose they found a duplicate record in the database - I seem to match some guy named "Juan Garcia" who moves around a lot, and they can't find him now. What do they do next?
The first point is the most critical. We all know that I can easily get a fake SSN and a fake driver's license... that's the whole point of this exercise to begin with. But how do you authenticate 250 million people in order to get them into your new system? By checking their driver's licenses and SSNs?
It's even worse if I'm from Yemen and I'm applying for a visa. Sure, I have documents... a Yemeni passport (we trust those guys, right?) and a slip of paper which I claim is a birth certificate. They do know what a Yemeni birth certificate from Assuri province looked like back in '62, don't they?
This is the point at which the ugly truth begins to dawn... garbage in, garbage out. You can't take untrusted data and magically make it trustworthy. Sure, once it's trustworthy you can maybe keep it that way, but face it - you can't polish a turd.
OK, I lied... once it's trustworthy you probably can't keep it clean anyway.
Maybe the nice lady at the DMV does not have direct access to The Big Giant Database or the Official Private Keys, but somebody does, which means somebody can copy them or break them or hack into them in some way or another. Worse, these things are made available on a network to many hundreds of machines, any one of which might have been compromised by clever hackers or crooked employees. Want to know the odds of keeping a large, accessible database full of valuable information secret indefinitely? Ask the guys from the DEA who recently learned that their Top Secret communications network was cracked by the Israelis (either Government Agents or Mafia types, or both) running the telephone switches! You can expect that the sophistication of an attack will rise to meet the value of the data. Remember those 'heavy fistfuls of gold' I mentioned? We are minting them here.
I could go on for days about this, but you get the point. This isn't a technology problem, it's an intrinsic social problem, and no technology is going to fix it.
Bottom line? Hardcore National IDs are a bad, bad, bad idea. Bad dog! No biscuit.
You get lots of risk, lots of invasive government, lots of lost privacy, giant costs, and less security than your average grocery store. Screw it.
There might be some room here for using some sort of technology to harden the documents we already have, but they will never be trustworthy. So long as we all know that and treat them that way, we've come about as far as we can down this road.
National IDs, Part II - The Law Enforcement Viewpoint
Thursday, January 17, 2002
When you get a chance, sit down in front of your TV and catch an episode of American's Most Wanted. A typical segment sounds like this:"Theodore Harring killed seven people that day, and hit his former girlfriend so hard she had to have her ears surgically removed from the seat cushions of her car. Police believe he is hiding out in the Boca Raton area. If you have any information, please call our tipline..."
Guys like our hypothetical Mr. Harring are distressingly common; this is, in no small part, because guys like Mr.. Harring have a place to run. Despite the drivers licenses, the social security cards, and the birth certificates that legitimize the lives of middle class Americans, there remains a huge undocumented underclass in America - an honest-to-god underground - where millions of people live without need of their former identities. They live in apartments and rented rooms, mooching off their girlfriends, working under the table for cash or making their living by more overtly criminal means. They can get by this way for most or all of their lives, going unnoticed, hidden in plain sight in every city in America.
The underground is home to more than just fugitives; the majority are undocumented aliens from all over the world (mostly white Europeans, actually) and a small army of the homeless, the lost, and the mentally ill. I'd bet there are at least five million among us who could not, or would not, be able to honestly identify themselves when asked.
Most of these folks are otherwise honest, hardworking, even admirable. Many of these folks are deadly dangerous. Almost all of them are outlaws.
It's 2002, for chrissake. I can buy a donut in Nebraska tomorrow, and in fifteen seconds the lady behind the counter would query the VisaCard database and learn that my promise to pay her is a good one. Meanwhile we have many tens of thousands of unserved felony warrants nationwide, and the bad guys are walking around in daylight, drinking ripple, selling drugs, getting caught-and-released like some ugly sort of rabid, parasitic fish. Is it just me or there some real room for improvement here?
I always wondered how the INS ever deports anybody. They find some Hispanic-looking guy working in a field and they ask him for his green card:
"Ain't got no green card, I'm a citizen. I was born here."
You got a drivers license, birth certificate, or social security card?
"Nope. Had a social security card once, but I lost it. Don't remember the number".
Where were you born?
"San Diego, I think. Or maybe Atlanta. My mom told me different things."
What's you name?
There are three thousand Juan Garcias currently in the state. This one claims to travel a lot, he hasn't been in one place too long, he tends to hang out with the migrant labors but he insists he's a citizen and you can't prove he's not. And, by the way, while you guys are here, he's been wondering about applying for food stamps...
The story just gets weirder when you think about what happens next... so far as I know, he needs an SSN to apply for any sort of state aid, if for no other reason than that most aid is taxable. What does the lady behind the desk do when Juan shows up? Does she allow him to apply for a new SSN? Does this mean he can sell his old SSN to one of his migrant buddies, who instantly becomes the three thousand first Juan Garcia in the state and America's newest citizen? Or do they just let him slide without it?
I have no idea how they solve problems like this. I do know that there is nothing, not even a picture, to associate a specific human being to an SSN, and that if you have an SSN you have almost everything you need to build yourself an identity, especially if you are young. Hell, if you're sixteen or so and you have the brains and the balls for it, I'd bet you could run off a birth certificate on your Mac and become anybody you want.
Empty your pockets and walk down the street; perhaps a policeman will ask you your name. The policeman has the authority to ask your name, to ask where you are headed and where you are from, without any reason at all.
Tell him whatever you want. He can ask for identification but you are not required to carry it, or even to have it at all. Even if you are arrested for cause, it's not illegal to be undocumented. This is considered a fairly big deal in Civil Liberties circles, the idea that you have a right to be here, and to be presumed to have a right to be here, and you don't need no stinking badges to prove it. Big Brother, asking to see your papers, is the first warning sign of government gone out of control.
So far as I know, this is the primary reason we have not tried to seriously solve this problem.
An identity is a life, an American life, something worth risking everything for. It is worth more, to most people in the world, than a heavy fistful of gold. Think about that for a moment.
So let's just pretend for a minute... suppose we did decide to identify people by their retinas and their fingerscans and we could manage to actually make the system work. It'd be the greatest step forward in law enforcement in the history of the world. We could create an environment where it simply wouldn't be worth it to run - the bad guys, once identified, would always be caught. We'd have control over our borders. The police, finally, would have won.
I get sick just thinking about it, but I'll be damned if I can justify what I feel in my gut. What's next, limiting police cars to a top speed of 40 miles per hour so we can allow some of the bad guys to escape? Load every cop's gun with some random blanks? Make it a national priority that the bad guys have a fighting chance, just in case we someday turn out to be the bad guys ourselves?
That's what the second amendment is all about. It's what privacy is about, and free speech is about, too, when you take the pretty parts away. It's a way to give everybody, even the bad ones, a fighting chance. It's a way to be free in case the police go sour on us.
What a schizophrenic point of view! I honestly can't justify this or explain it any further. It's a deep, vexing question, one that we have not even begun to answer or even to really discuss. On the one side, we have a gigantic increase in government power, an unprecedented change in the very relationship between citizens and their government; on the other, we have created, with our inaction, a space for people to hide; its almost like we've intentionally set aside a little place in each of our cities and towns where the police will not follow. Anyone who can make it there can escape accountability for everything.
Freedom is a funny thing. You want to marry yourself to it like your favorite lover, but it'll spit in your face if you try to make it behave.
The bottom line? A well-designed national ID would be an astonishing, incredible, breathtaking law enforcement tool that would change absolutely everything. But be careful what you ask for.
Next: The Technical Side.
National IDs - Not Such An Easy Call To Make
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
One of the fallouts of the September 11th terrorist attacks is renewed discussion - some quite serious, and likely to bear fruit - for some form of a national ID card. Ironically, I've held off on addressing this topic simply because I have so much to say about it. There are probably three good rants in here:
1) The Civil Liberties viewpoint: Where do you draw the line?
2) The Law Enforcement viewpoint: The costs and the benefits you may have overlooked.
3) The Security Technology viewpoint: what the technology promises, and what it can really deliver.
Rather than bore you to death with one long, giant rant, I'll bore you more gently with three separate ones. First, I'll look at the Civil Liberties side, and I'll address the other stuff over the coming days.
I consider myself to be a fairly strong Civil Liberties advocate, and I don't suppose that too many of you would disagree. However, while I reflexively question any increase in government power, I do not go so far as to suggest that every increase in police power is necessarily a bad thing. We have the police around for a reason, and we expect them to remain effective in the face of technological and social change.
But, let's not forget... there's a name for a society in which the cops have lots of power and can get their jobs done with minimal interference: it's called a "police state". I am quite aware that each new law enforcement power can, and probably will, be eventually misused, and that the effect of this kind of thinking over the long term is a slow but steady increase in government authority that eventually places us in a very dangerous situation. As one writer put it, it's just "good civil hygiene" to keep government from being too able, too efficient. In fact, I'd argue that the scariest thing in the world is a truly strong and efficient government; one of our great strengths as a nation is that our government, to this day, plays so small a role in out daily lives because they are just too clumsy to really screw with us very much.
So where do you draw the line? At what point is one new proposal a good and sensible idea, and another a dangerous incursion into personal freedom?
Personally, I make the call by distinguishing between authority and ability. We should fiercely limit the authority we give the government, but allow them the ability to do what we expect of them. So long as we are careful about inadvertently increasing the defacto authority of the police with each new ability we grant them, I believe we are on steady ground.
This can be a little tricky, though, because we have sometimes granted authorities to the police on the assumption that they would be held in check by the practical limitations of employing them. When those limitations are erased by technical progress, the government can suddenly find itself in command of a hell of a lot more authority than we originally bargained for. For example, wiretaps were once no big deal, because even if the police wanted to cheat and listen in on phones that they did not have a warrant for, there was just no way they could run enough wire to spy on everyone. In today's internet world, something like carnivore changes the rules and suddenly we find that a huge amounts of private communication could, potentially, be surveiled if the police decided not to follow the rules. With each new efficiency comes the risk that new checks and balances may be required.
So where do we draw the line? Here's a few examples:
1): Suppose all new cars were required to be equipped with receivers allowing the police to disable the engine of any car on the road by pushing a button. Is this a good idea or bad one?
Well, by my measure, the police already have full authority to stop cars on their own initiative, and they have the authority to use force to do it, too, so I'd have no problem accepting this step. In fact, considering how dangerous car chases are for everyone, I'd welcome it.
2) Suppose they wanted to do the same with the locks on people's front door?
No way. Why? Because your home, like your guns, your private papers, and your right to voice your opinions, are protected under the constitution and can be violated only with the written permission of a judge. Sure, the police have become very good at smashing doors open, but it's messy and difficult and hard to justify without good cause. It's exactly the sort of thing that should never be made so easy that it can be done as a matter of routine, unlike a vehicle stop, which is, and should be, a daily police activity. The very difficulty and visibility of breaking into someone's home is an important part of what limits police use of this power.
3) Suppose the state wanted to scan your fingerprints when you applied for a drivers license; a good idea or a bad one?
Well, since they already take my picture and collect other personal information, it's hard to see this as a meaningful increase in their authority, and it may provide substantial protection against counterfeiting or misuse these documents. I'd go for it, especially if it resulted in the resolution of some unsolved criminal cases as well.
4) But suppose the state wanted a DNA sample instead?
No fucking way! Why? Because a DNA sample would do more than just identify me; DNA can reveal all sorts of private information, including your health, your paternity, and so on. That would represent a substantial violation of my privacy and a substantial increase in state authority, so I'd resist it.
So, how about a government ID card?
I just happen to have two government ID cards right now - a state-issued drivers license with biometric identifier built in (a photo, which is made available on-line to police who request it) and my Federal social security card, which I must have if I wish to hold a job that pays more than $400 a year.
This falls slightly short of being a National ID, but not by much. There are still some limitations on how this information can be used, but these "protections" have eroded to the point where they have become almost meaningless. For example, I've probably given my SSN to a thousand people over the years; I need it for my credit cards, my TV satellite dish, my house insurance, my jobs (of course), and almost every government document I've ever filled out. Now, I have the right to refuse to share this number with private companies, but they have the right to tell me to take a hike if I do that, and furthermore, they have the right to pursue criminal charges if I lie and give them a bogus number instead. As a practical matter, the distinction between FDR's "insurance" program and a true National ID cards has been lost long ago.
This erosion of the original social security privacy protection, and the slow but steady increase in government powers which eventually mutated a simple insurance card into the almost Orwellian document we have today stands as an excellent example of why Civil Libertarians are so goddamn touchy about this stuff. Every few years it seems the noose gets ratcheted a little tighter, and it never, ever seems to back off.
But... we do expect various governmental and private groups to identify people at certain times. If you want to borrow money, work as a doctor, buy a gun, or lead a boy scout troop, you had better expect to identify yourself, and you better be honest about it, too. Offering a less-easily-spoofed identification document makes good sense; the danger, which unfortunately is inescapable, will be the unremitting efforts to require this document at ever more frequent intervals in you life.
When you need this identifier to board a bus, buy a tank of gas, or purchase a donut, you are being required to leave a trail exposing every detail of your life to anyone with access to the data. That's a big step up in authority rather than ability, a step that's too big to be justified.
Of course, there is nothing stopping government from requiring us to using our drivers licenses in this way right now. Currently, government regulations require a drivers license (or similar document) before you board a plane. If they want, they can require them for just about everything that they have regulator authority over, which means, well, just about everything.
So... what's the bottom line here? My call is, if you want to strengthen the existing documents to make them harder to spoof that's a damn good idea. If you want to use them to track the daily occurrences in everyone's life, then that's not such a good idea. I'm not sure you can have one without the other, but I know I wouldn't want to return to the days when my drivers license didn't have a picture on it, and almost anyone could steal it and use it for their own.
I suppose a fair compromise might be something like a passport; some physically large piece of paper, big enough that people would not usually carry it, but something they could haul out for things like air travel, mortgages, professional licenses, and so on. The physical limitations of the thing, the very inconvenience of it, would help discourage the sort of misuse which comes from demanding that it be carried everywhere.
I agree it's not such a wonderful idea, but the alternative is that we have documents which are, by design, easy to fake. That just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
Next - the Law Enforcement viewpoint.
Some Things Can Shock Even Me
Saturday, January 12, 2002
As most of you probably don't know, the guy who currently in charge of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is a certifiable lunatic. For reasons nobody has yet been able to explain, this guy has it in his head that HIV does not actually cause AIDS, and that giving people AIDS drugs - even the ones that are offered for free! - is the wrong thing to do. Of course, this is more than just his opinion. It's national policy, and it's been that way for years.
Now, this point of view might possibly be defended when one is talking about the sorts of drugs given to HIV infected people which require careful, daily dosing. Presumably, if your country's medical infrastructure is so bad that this sort of treatment is not practical, you could maybe make the case that depending upon such drugs is not a good idea. However, Mbeki even opposes the proven and effective AIDS drugs that you give to babies born of HIV infected mothers - the sort of drug you give just once. The fact that these drugs are widely available for little or no cost makes a seeming inexplicable story into a tragic and inhumane one.
And it's not like AIDS is a small problem in that country, either. I'd bet that at least a fifth of all the babies born there have HIV infected moms.
Well, today the story actually got worse. Doctors, who often keep the one-time-use drugs handy despite government rules to the contrary, are now under official censure for providing this treatment to a baby that had been gang-raped by HIV infected men! (Baby-rape!? It's become fairly common there now, because the locals believe that raping a virgin cures AIDS. Seriously...).
Can you imagine if the old, white apartheid government had conducted a genocidal policy like this? The press would be spilling gallons of ink on the issue, as well they should. But go ahead and pick up your copy of Time or Newsweek or The Wall Street Journal and try to find the story there. And go ahead and tell me that it's for some other reason than the fact that the current leader is black. Hell, I bet I can find three editorials blaming the drug companies for African's AIDS problem for every mention you could find of the ANC's inexplicable policy.
Well, I have three words for the ANC: Barbarous, genocidal lunatics. They actually make the white apartheid government look good in comparison, and that took a lot of hard work. Congratulations, guys.
Here's a link to the latest story. It's just incredible.
Official censure of doctors who gave the anti-retroviral medicine AZT to the nine-month-old Upington baby who was gang-raped by nine men last year has been called "dangerous" and "disastrous", and could lead to an ethical war between doctors and the government reminiscent of the apartheid era.
The condemnation follows Northern Cape Health MEC Elizabeth Dipuo Peters' scolding of doctors at Kimberley Hospital for giving the tiny rape and sodomy victim AZT, an action that fell foul of the government's stance on the treatment of HIV/Aids.
Sibani Mngadi, spokesperson for Minister of Health Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, said the government's stance was clear.
"It does not provide for anti-retrovirals for rape victims at public hospitals," he said. "Until the government has enough evidence to support their use, the policy remains."
He said hospital employees who work for the province were obliged to follow the "proper" guidelines.
Anita Kleinsmidt, of the Aids Law Project at Wits University, said doctors under the ANC-led government were faced with the same conflicts as doctors in the apartheid era.
"They are becoming prisoners of politics. Already we have NGOs dealing with rape intervention being ordered out of hospitals when they want to offer AZT to rape victims. What the government is doing is irrational, and the more people say so, the better."
Zachie Achmat, chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, said the government's policy on Aids had caused "the unthinkable" to happen. "If the government wanted a public relations disaster - one involving a horrifically abused baby - then this is it. I can't imagine what they think of us overseas.
"We are already the laughing stock of the world when it comes to official Aids policies. This simply puts the lid on it."
Achmat added that cost was no longer the issue because international pharmaceutical companies had slashed their prices by almost two-thirds.
Last year, Mpumalanga authorities earned notoriety for evicting rape counsellors from the Rob Ferreira Hospital for dispensing AZT and for not providing Aids counselling or Nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
The only region not toeing the government line is the Western Cape, which has an official detailed protocol for post-exposure prophylaxis at all provincial hospitals, which will be in place by the middle of the year.
Mike Gets Humbled
Tuesday, January 8, 2002
A few hours ago I discovered InstaPundit and I've spent most of the night exploring it. It's a great site, but what really makes it special is that this guy seems to have links to every other cool site on the web. The web is home to many, many rantlist-type web logs, and I found several today that just kick my ass six ways from Friday.
It's a good thing I just do this for fun. If I had any pretentions about doing this sort of thing for real, today would have been the day that I quit.
So, a little credit where credit is due - here's a few of the sites you should be reading right now:
A NEW LOW IN FISKISM. Leave it to the BBC to come up with the root causes of baby rape in South Africa. It's all due to apartheid, you see. Apparently people in the Third World can't really be blamed even when they commit the most obviously heinous acts...
HERE’S A FUN EXPERIMENT you can try at home: take a bunch of meat, grill it, and stick it between some bread. Now sell it to somebody. Repeat the process until you identify just what the hell it is you’re doing that’s so damn evil...
Reading world reaction to our country's policy is like watching Tombstone. When the gunfight at the OK corral starts, Ike Clanton's just kinda wandering around in the midst of the gunfire. Then he runs right up to Wyatt begging him not to shoot. Wyatt retorts, "The shootin's commenced! Either get to fightin' or get outta here!" Ike then runs into a building right next to the gunfight, aquires a pistol, and starts taking potshots at the Earps through a shattered window. So, I'd like to thank the world for ruining my enjoyment of Tombstone. I used to be able to just enjoy the movie, but now I can't see Ike Clanton without thinking of him as the embodiment of World Opinion.
I also discovered a cool bit of internet commerace at http://www.cafepress.com/ cp/info/index.aspx. You can dream up any slogan or logo that you like, and these folks will not only put in on coffee mugs, ballcaps, tee-shirts and mousepads, they will also sell and ship the stuff, too, and then cut you in on the profits. It's incredible.
I actually considered offering a RantList coffee mug at cost - I know I'd buy one - but the question of the logo was a difficult one. My first impulse was a photo of myself, distended stomach exposed, with "RantList.com" written across my flesh in black pen. My second impulse was to forget all about it. My third impulse, which is the one I will actually act upon, will probably hit in a day or two. Stay tuned.
Here's a nice line that almost became my new .sig:It will be a great day when our public schools teach our children half as well as the Pentagon trains our soldiers.
I decided, however, to stay with my current one for a while longer:I ain't givin' to any charity that calls it a "tragedy".
I'm only givin' to charities that call it an "attack".
Why? I'm a practical guy. The sentiment expressed by the current sig will actually happen.
RantList has undergone a minor redesign; it is no longer powered by Blogger.com, and the now archives actually work (a RantList first). Someday, I might even get feedback working again, but it's hard so don't hold your breath.
The process of getting the archives working was interesting for me. The older rants were, well, kind of fun, and I really enjoyed rereading a lot of them. I also noticed that they weren't as much fun anymore after 9/11. Maybe it was some strange mixture of grief and newfound patriotisim, but being critical about little things back home just seemed sort of petty. The only people I had any heart to skewer were the unreconstructed anti-war types, and the've been hunted almost to extinction by now. Needless to say, I quickly ran out of nice things to comment on, so I sort of stalled there for a while.
Well, screw that. It's time to hoist the flag here at Fort Mike and get the guns running again. Meanwhile, here's a sexy photo I like: