Social Issues

So·cial iss·ues: of or pertaining to the life, welfare, and relations of human beings in a community; of or pertaining to humans associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes, esp. as a body divided into classes according to status. Posts in this category pertain to matters of human social interaction, classification, and association.

Antarctica Defies Global Warming Alarmists

Filed in Science, Social IssuesTags: Media Bias

Despite alarmists' cries about the shrinking arctic ice cap, Antarctica just set a new record for most total ice extent (links in original; emphasis added):

While the Antarctic Peninsula area has warmed in recent years and ice near it diminished during the Southern Hemisphere summer, the interior of Antarctica has been colder and ice elsewhere has been more extensive and longer lasting, which explains the increase in total extent. This dichotomy was shown in this World Climate Report blog posted recently with a similar tale told in this paper by Ohio State Researcher David Bromwich, who agreed “It’s hard to see a global warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now”.

From the World Climate Report blog post linked in the quote above:

Incredibly, if you are interested in Antarctica temperature trends from the present back to 1982, the region has cooled. If you go from present back to 1966, the region has cooled. Like it or not, over the past four decades, and during the time of the greatest build-up of greenhouse gases, Antarctica has been cooling!

Here's the NASA Earth Observatory image of Antarctic temperature trending from 1982-2004:

Antarctic Temperatures 1982-2004

Antarctic Temperature Trend 1982-2004
Photo © NASA Earth Observatory, used with permission.

(HT: PowerLine)

Stanislav Shmulevich Koran Hate Crime Case Beginning to go Viral

Filed in Politics, Religion, Social IssuesTags: War on Terror

The Stanislav Shmulevich story I discussed yesterday is beginning to go viral.

LGF updates with a report that Phil Orenstein of Democracy Project is getting involved, and also that many lawyers are lining up to help with the defense.

The mainline blogosphere is taking notice, as Michelle Malkin, Allah Pundit (who agrees with my legal analysis that the felony charges are baseless), Neal boortz, and others are beginning to weigh in.

More blog reactions: Infidel Terrorist, Side Effects May Vary, Jihad Watch.

Why is this case important? Consider that Omar Ahmed, the chairman of the board of CAIR - the group behind the escalation of the valdalism to the level of a hate crime - spoke the following (H/T Halal Pig) [emphasis added]:

"Those who stay in America should be open to society without melting, keeping Mosques open so anyone can come and learn about Islam. If you choose to live here, you have a responsibility to deliver the message of Islam ... Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faiths, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth."

This statement represents the true intent of CAIR, MSA student groups at college campuses across the country, and Islam as a whole. Islam is not merely a religion (if it can even be called that); it is a fascist socio-political movement, the goal of which is world domination and subjugation to Islamic law. We must stand together against Islam's goals of conquest, or we will all fall together - and the Land of the Free will be no longer.

Outrageous: Sharia Law in New York

Filed in Politics, Religion, Social IssuesTags: War on Terror

Completely, utterly, outrageous: Sharia law has now taken precedence in New York.

LGF reports (and follows up on) the story (with a hat tip to Purple Wombats) of Stanislav Shmulevich, who was arrested on felony counts of aggravated harassment and criminal mischief, for throwing a Koran into a toilet at Pace University. From the wire story:

A 23-year-old man was arrested Friday on hate-crime charges after he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions, police said.

Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both hate crimes, police said. It was unclear if he was a student at the school. A message left at the Shmulevich home was not immediately returned.

...

The school was accused by Muslim students of not taking the incident seriously enough at first. Pace classified the first desecration of the holy book as an act of vandalism, but university officials later reversed themselves and referred the incident to the New York Police Department's hate crimes unit.

Yes, you read that correctly: two felony counts, aggravated harassment and criminal mischief - classified as hate crimes - for throwing a Koran in the toilet.

According to this story, Stanislav was caught by a security camera as he was leaving a (Muslim) meditation room where the Korans were stored.

This incident is clearly a First Amendment, free speech and establishment challenge, and reeks of involvement by CAIR.

As has been pointed out in the LGF comments, burning the American flag, displaying a crucifix in a vat of urine, and displaying a painting of Mary covered in dung are all considered forms of protected religious or political speech. Flushing a Koran, however, is now considered a hate crime.

Here are the New York Penal code definitions of aggravated harassment (First Degree, Second Degree) and Criminal Mischief (First Degree, Second Degree, Third Degree, Fourth Degree).

Granted, I'm no lawyer, but the felony escalation of the criminal mischief charge appears to be specious, and the aggravated harassment appears not to apply whatsoever. On the former charge, no explosive was used (first degree, class B felony), the Koran was not worth $1,500 (second degree, class D felony), and the Koran was not worth $250 (third degree, class E felony). At best, Stanislav committed a class A misdemeanor (fourth degree).

On the latter charge, Stanislav neither communicated with a person via phone or any form of written communication nor physically touched a person (second degree, clauses 1-3, class A misdemeanor), nor did he damage premises used primarily for religious purposes (first degree, class E felony). That no actions (spoken or written communication, or physical contact) were directed at any person, the "hate crime" provision of the first degree charge is irrelevant.

If you value your freedoms as an American, you had better be absolutely outraged at what is happening here.

Personally, it makes me want to go buy a Koran, wrap it in bacon, throw it on the glowing charcoal of my Weber, and douse the charred remains in the toilet - and then post a picture so the intolerant, fascist scum at CAIR and elsewhere can choke on it.

After all, as has been pointed out on various comments threads:

The Koran is itself a hate crime against Jews and Christians.

Amen!

More coverage from Digg, Hot Air, Jawa Report, Texas Hold 'Em, UrbanGrounds, Deep Thoughts, Pierre Legrand’s Pink Flamingo Bar, Riehl World View, JustOneMinute, Saber Point, Israel Matsav (twice), Relapsed Catholic, Dog Opus, 186K Per Second, Never Ye Melted, Hindu-Jewish-Christian Rightwing Conspiracy.

Pregnant: “She Is” or “We Are”?

Filed in Personal, Religion, Social IssuesTags: Christianity, Family, Fatherhood, Marriage

Steve Carr blogged in agreement with this Christianity Today article denouncing fathers who use the phrase "we are pregnant". His lead-in and closing sentences sum up his agreement:

The author, a man by the way, believes that sentence to be both inaccurate and demeaning. When men drop that phrase, he believes, they are actually belittling all that the woman endures during and after the pregnancy...So no matter how secure I am in my fathering skills far be it from me, or any other of us guys, to declare that “we’re pregnant.”

When I read his post, I had to comment, to convey my opposing opinion:

Steve, I completely disagree with you. When Stephanie was pregnant, I always said we were pregnant - not because I wanted some of the attention due solely to Stephanie, but because I had a rightful place in the experience. And as you well know, we fathers are part of that experience, for better and for worse.

We shared the difficult physical and emotional stresses of pregnancy, just as we shared the joys of being blessed with the spiritual and physical care of a new life. I proudly embraced my God-given role as Stephanie’s supporter, encourager, and confidant, even as I did not experience the most intimate experiences with which only a woman is blessed (and cursed).

I couldn’t care less that society marginalizes the role of the father - even through the experience of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. God has blessed me with the role of husband and father, and proudly will I thus declare my rightful place in that role.

Besides, if you believe that little phrase, “…a man will leave his father and his mother, and the two shall become one flesh,” then it is only right that every experience, good, bad, and otherwise, is shared equally by husband and wife.

So, I proudly declared that we were pregnant, and when God blesses us with another child, I will do so again. It in no way belittles Stephanie, nor her role in the child-bearing process; to the contrary, it affirms God’s plan and desire that this process be experienced as a man and a woman, united as one, in Him.

I wanted to take some time to address the original article, and also to expound upon my comments above.

Here, the author, Mark Galli, begins his argument:

A male friend, married to a lovely women, comes up to me beaming and says, "We're pregnant!"

"Wow!" I reply, with inappropriate sarcasm. "When I was a young man, only women could get pregnant."

I've heard this phrase—"We're pregnant"—too much recently, but it's time to move beyond sarcasm. The intent is as understandable as the execution is absurd. It arises out of the noble desire of men (and future fathers) to participate fully in the childrearing. And I understand that for many men, it simply means, "My wife and I are expecting a baby."

Here I have my first point of disagreement with the author (a point which will be developed further momentarily, but which I introduce here): my use of the phrase, "we're pregnant," is not "to participate fully in the childbearing" but rather to identify with complete involvement and unity in my relationship with my wife.

He continues:

But the first dictionary meaning of pregnant remains, "Carrying developing offspring within the body." Whenever a word is misused, it means the speaker is unaware of the word's meaning, or that the cultural meaning of a word is shifting, or that some ideology is demanding obeisance. Probably all three are in play, but it's the last reality that we should pay attention to. It is not an accident that this phrase, "We're pregnant," has arisen in a culture that in many quarters is ponderously egalitarian and tries to deny the fundamental differences of men and women.

Introducing the dictionary definition of "pregnant" here is a specious argument. Obviously, the speaker of the phrase "we're pregnant" is not unaware of the word's meaning, as the definition of "pregnant" in no way biologically ambiguous (as demonstrated by the author's sarcastic comment in the article's introductory paragraph). Likewise, "cultural shift" of the connotation of the term is irrelevant. Thus, we are left with the third point of the argument: that some ideology is demanding obeisance.

And what is this ideology that the author argues thus demands deference? Namely, "...a culture that in many quarters is ponderously egalitarian and tries to deny the fundamental differences of men and women."

First, let me clarify: I am speaking as a Christian. I do not inherently ascribe to cultural mores, especially when we live an culture in which those mores increasingly differ from the ethical standards to which I as a Christian ascribe. Thus, my use of the phrase "we're pregnant" may very well have a fundamental difference from any secular uses of the phrase. I do not believe that Christian culture resembles that which the author describes above. With that understanding in mind, let us continue with the author's argument:

This phrase is most unfortunate after conception because it is an inadvertent co-opting of women by men—men using language to suggest that they share equally in the burdens and joys of pregnancy. Instead, pregnancy is one time women should flaunt their womanhood, and one time men should acknowledge the superiority of women. Men may be able to run the mile in less than four minutes and open stuck pickle jars with a twist of the wrist, but for all our physical prowess, we cannot carry new life within us and bring it into the world. To suggest that we do is a slap in the face of women.

It is also a slap in the face of our Creator, who made us male and female. We were not created with interchangable parts or traits, nor is it our purpose to duplicate or replace one another.

That's not a happy thought to many, because egalitarian culture resents differences. We believe (wrongly) that differences by their very nature are unequal. History would seem to support this assumption. The sad history of most cultures has assumed that male traits (authority and leadership) are superior to female traits (meekness and service). But that is more a product of human pride than of the created order. In the end, we have no objective standard by which to judge the intrinsic value of differing gifts and abilities.

Gender egality and gender differences both rightfully belong in Christian philosophy. As Christians we recognize the wisdom and sovereignty with which God made man and woman spiritual beings equally in His image and having equal intrinsic value, just as we recognize and appreciate that God created man and woman different physically, physiologically, and emotionally - and created to hold unique roles in the life for which He created them.

However, God also created man and woman to live in relationship with one another, in a manner symbolic of our relationship with Him. The most fundamental such relationship between man and woman is that of husband and wife in marriage - a relationship directly analogous to and symbolic of Christ's relationship with His bride, the church. Let us take a moment to explore the biblical nature of these relationships.

On Marriage:

4 "Haven't you read," [Jesus] replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'[Gen. 1:27] 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'[Gen. 2:24 ]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV)

On Christ and the Church:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)

On Unity in Christ:

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many...

I Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I Corinthians 12:26 (NIV)

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

In my opinion, the analogy between the relationship between husband and wife and the relationship between Christ and His church is perfectly clear. Now, I don't want to take the analogy farther than Scripture implies, but I don't think it is going too far to say that the intimacy and unity between a husband and wife is analogous to the intimacy and unity between Christ and His church. In fact, I believe God intended this symmetry between these relationships, so that through marriage men and women would develop a greater understanding of the intended nature of their relationship with God.

So when we are told that in the body of Christ, when one suffers all suffers and when one is honored all rejoice, I believe the symmetry applies also to the marriage relationship. It is God's divine intent that the two united as one suffer together just as they rejoice together.

Do these shared experiences demean or belittle the unique role husband and wife each play in the marriage? Not at all. Consider again the words of Paul:

28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

I Corinthians 12:28-30 (NIV)

God clearly intends for the different parts of the body of Christ to play unique, individual roles according to the direction and gifting of the Holy Spirit; likewise, God clearly intends for husband and wife to play unique roles in the marriage. Even so, the many parts share equally in the experiences in which each one suffers or rejoices. Therefore, God ordained a marriage relationship that is both egalitarian in intrinsic value and shared experiences, and discriminatory in role and gifting - just as God ordained the same characteristics for the body of Christ.

Therefore, it is only natural that a husband would identify with his wife's experience of pregnancy. That he cannot empathize with the physical, hormonal, and emotional changes and stresses of pregnancy is completely irrelevant; he still experiences all of those stresses and changes both directly in his relationship with his wife and vicariously through his wife. And just has he cannot experience the full measure of his wife's suffering through pregnancy, neither can he experience the full measure of her joy.

Thus, far from being a "co-opting of women by men", much less a "slap in the face of women" or - heaven forbid - "a slap in the face of our Creator", a husband's proclamation that "we're pregnant" is an affirmation of both his God-ordained relational unity with his wife and his God-given role of supporting his wife through the suffering and joys of pregnancy.

Back to the article; after the author spends several paragraphs defending the undisputed argument that men and women are created with differences, he begins his conclusion:

My point is simply this. I continue to look for ways to encourage us all to relax a little about gender. I'm hoping that after the tumult of the last 30 years—during which time women have rightly learned a great deal about things like leadership and men have rightly learned a great deal about things like nurturing—we can once again affirm what culture after culture in human history seems to confirm: We are created male and female, both fully loved in God's eyes, but created with unbridgeable differences.

I think perhaps the author needs himself to relax a little bit about gender. It seems counter-productive, if one's objective is to "relax a little bit about gender," to denounce the use of a phrase that is intended solely to emphasize the relational unity between husband and wife in marriage during pregnancy.

Also, I disagree that male and female were "created with unbridgeable differences." As individuals, yes: men and women cannot hope to bridge their created differences; however, men and women were never intended to live as individuals. Our Creator endowed us men and women with differences that are intended to be complimented and completed in the marriage relationship. God did not create gender differences to be unbridgeable; rather, God Himself bridges those differences through the bond and covenant of marriage

(Again, I note the symmetry between the marriage relationship and the body of Christ, since God also intended that the differences with which He endowed each unique part of the body all compliment and complete one another, and all such differences are bridged through His Holy Spirit.)

Finally, the author concludes:

Better than the language of equality, I believe, is the language of fulfillment. "God created man in his image, male and female he created them." That is, we do not reflect the divine image when we try to duplicate or co-opt or replace each other. It's only when we participate with each other, with all our differences as male and female—as married couples, as friends, as co-workers—that we begin to fill out the image of the Triune God who created us.

Whenever that happens, I believe God once again says, "It is very good."

How truly ironic! A husband who uses the phrase "we're pregnant" epitomizes the principle of participation with his wife; indeed, the phrase is the epitome of "language of fulfillment."

Therefore, I stand by my original conclusion:

So, I proudly declared that we were pregnant, and when God blesses us with another child, I will do so again. It in no way belittles Stephanie, nor her role in the child-bearing process; to the contrary, it affirms God’s plan and desire that this process be experienced as a man and a woman, united as one, in Him.

Follow-Up to Matt Franck Anti-Cloning Measure Article

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

About a week ago, I wrote about this Post-Dispatch article, written by Matt Franck. I discussed the perceived bias in the article with respect to Amendment 2 and the efforts of supporters of the HJR11 anti-cloning measure the article discussed.

As I try to do whenever I discuss someone's writing, I emailed the author to let him know of my blog post, and to allow (and to solicit) a response. To my pleasant surprise, Mr. Franck responded to my email. In the interest of fairness, based upon his response, I would like to re-visit the question of bias in his reporting of the Amendment 2 issue.

Mr. Franck responds:

My ability to respond to your email in detail is limited by time. But let me reply in brief. The stated aim of lawmakers who support HJR11 and its Senate counterparts is to essentially negate Amendment 2. Yes, I understand that the proposal doesn't mention the amendment. But the fact remains, it would make SCNT illegal -- something specifically protected under Amendment 2, and a procedure at the heart of the push to pass the ballot measure.

Here, I agree with Mr. Franck that part of the underlying intent of HJR11 was to overturn parts of Amendment 2; however, the further intent of HJR11 was to expose the intentional deception and hypocrisy of Amendment 2 and that of its supporters and their $30 million propaganda campaign.

The Coalition for Lifesaving Cures states "Fact #3" on their "Fact Sheet" that "Amendment 2 clearly and strictly bans any attempt to clone a human being.":

Amendment 2 bans human cloning and makes any attempt to clone a human being a felony crime. Opponents of stem cell research claim that making stem cells in a lab dish is the same thing as "human cloning." Medical experts and most other people disagree with that view and understand that "human cloning" means creating a duplicate human being – not making stem cells in a lab dish.

The truth of the matter - as exposed by Amendment 2 supporters' objections to HJR11 - is that, currently, (embryonic) stem cells cannot be made "in a lab dish"; they must be harvested from an embryo. To date, stem cells must be harvested from embryos resulting from natural or in vitro conception. The comment about "making stem cells in a lab dish" is in reference to embryos produced via Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) - or, in other words: cloning.

The issue centers around the correct identification of the entity produced by SCNT. Biologically and genetically, that entity is an embryo, genetically identical to the donor of the somatic cell from whom the clone was produced. In fact, for the purposes of harvesting stem cells from the entity resulting from SCNT, that entity must prove to be a viable embryo that undergoes self-directed development from the initial single-celled zygote into a 5-7 day-old embryo at the blastocyst stage.

The Coalition continues to divert this issue by intentionally mis-identifying this entity as a "clump of cells", a "ball of cells", or other similar terms. Doing so provides a means to avoid the reality that SCNT produces a cloned embryo. Thus, they are able to ignore the biological and genetic reality, and claim some arbitrary "birth of a cloned human" as the "cloning" that is "strictly" banned.

The media coverage - for whatever reason - has tended to favor the Coalition's position with respect to terminology. It is the reason that many of us make a concerted effort to find and correct this misinformation wherever it is propagated in the news media. Thus, in response to Mr. Franck's article, I wrote in my email to him:

Second, you state:

"Opponents of Amendment 2 had wanted lawmakers to send a ballot measure
to voters in November 2008. The proposed amendment would have asked the
public to ban all forms of human cloning, including when the research is
used solely to produce embryonic stem cells. Voters specifically
protected that form of research by passing Amendment 2 last year."

This statement is inaccurate. The result of of human cloning is NEVER
"solely...embryonic stem cells". This research - somatic cell nuclear
transfer - ALWAYS results in the production of a living embryo of the
same species as that of the gamete and somatic cell from which the
embryo was produced. Should SCNT of a human egg and somatic cell nucleus
ever succeed, the result will be a human embryo. Any stem cells
resulting from this process will and must come from the destruction of
that embryo. They cannot be produced apart from the embryo using SCNT.

On that point, Mr. Franck responds in his email:

On your second point -- yes, I know and agree that SCNT produces an embryo [which] is then harvested for stem cells. I think you misread my use of the word solely. I did not mean to imply that all that is produced are stem cells.

I appreciate Mr. Franck clarifying this point in his response. He goes on to address the question of his personal bias in regard to the Amendment 2 issue:

There are limits to the territory that I can cover in a 350-word story. In lengthier stories -- of which I have written several -- I deal with these issues more thoroughly. Even so, I stand by my story.

...For three years, I have strived to cover this issue with detachment and fairness. And I believe that if you ask around, I have a good track record in this regard.

While I certainly infer a bias in the end result of the article in question, I want to be fair in asserting the source of that bias. To that end, I did my best to research Mr. Franck's past articles. He was kind enough to send me the copy of a rather lengthy piece he wrote, and of which I found a copy at the Center for Genetics and Society website. I also found recent Post-Dispatch articles here and here, as well as a copy of an article reposted here.

After reading this broader sample of Mr. Franck's writing on the Amendment 2 issue, I believe that he is correct in his assertion that he has made every effort to deal with the issue with detachment and fairness. While I disagree with repeated use of incorrect and/or potentially misleading terminology (such as referring to an embryo as a "ball of cells" or "clump of cells" or "cluster of cells"), an overall reading of his articles lends me to believe that he has attempted to present each side of the issue fairly.

I believe any overt bias inferred from these articles - and in particular, the article I originally critiqued - results from the limited scope of a shorter article and, more importantly, the editorial bias of the Post-Dispatch.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Franck for taking the time to respond to my email. Not many reporters would take the time to do so - especially to respond to someone being critical of that reporter's work.

Greek Study Falsely Disparages Low-Carb/High-Protein Diets – Part 1

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Health/Nutrition

For background information, see the Introduction.

Part 1: Is It Really Low-Carb?

The study purports to evaluate "the effects on mortality of habitual low carbohydrate–high-protein diets that are thought to contribute to weight control." - ostensibly, this study evaluates low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets designed for weight control (that is, weight loss). In other words, this study purports to evaluate low-carb weight-loss diets. (I may sound repetitive here, but I have a purpose). What, then, does this study consider to be "low-carbohydrate/high-protein"?

According to the Results section:

With respect to the choice LC/HP score that relies on energy-adjusted components, at the high extreme of the distribution around 20% of energy intake was derived from proteins, whereas around 25% was derived from carbohydrates. At the low extreme of the distribution, around 10% of energy intake was derived from protein, whereas more than 50% was derived from carbohydrates.

Thus, for the purposes of this study, "low-carbohydrate/high-protein" means 25% carbohydrate and 20% protein.

Yes, you read that right: this study claims that a diet that includes 25% of its caloric intake from carbohydrate is "low-carb", and that a diet that includes 20% of its caloric intake from protein is "high-protein".

For a 2,000 kCal daily intake, these values equate to 500 kCal, or 125g, of carbohydrate per day - and bear in mind, this is the most extreme low-carb limit in the study. (Likewise, these values equate to 400 kCal, or 100g, of protein per day, for a 2,000 kCal daily intake. This is the extreme high-carb limit in the study.)

So, my first question is this: what mainstream low-carb diet in any way resembles this macro-nutrient intake?

To put the bounds of the study into perspective, here are the mean macro-nutrient intake values for the population:

In this population, the mean intake of protein was 76 g/day with standard error of the mean (s.e.m.) 0.16 g/day, the mean intake of carbohydrates was 208 g/day with s.e.m. 0.44 g/day, and the mean intake of lipids was 109 g/day (28% saturated, 15% polyunsaturated, 48% monounsaturated fatty acids and 9% other components of the lipid group) with s.e.m. 0.25 g/day.

Let's explore those numbers for carbohydrate intake: mean intake 208 g/day, s.e.m. 0.44 g/day. Standard Error on the Mean (s.e.m.) is equal to the standard deviation (σ) divided by the square root of the number of samples (total population size). The total population size is 22,944; the square root of 22,944 is 151.5. Thus:

s.e.m. = 0.44 g/day = σ / 151.5

σ = 0.44 g/day * 151.5 = 66.7 g/day

Thus, carbohydrate intake for the study was a mean of 208 g/day with a standard deviation of 66.7 g/day.

Standard Deviation is the measure of the distribution around the mean. We can probably safely assume that our population is normally distributed (bell-shaped curve, with the peak at the mean, and exactly half of the population on either side of the peak). In a normally distributed set of data, 2/3 of all data lie within 1 σ of the mean, and 90% of all data lie within 2 σ of the mean.

Therefore, given the values for mean and standard deviation, we know that, statistically speaking, 2/3 of the study participants had a carbohydrate intake between 141 and 274 g/day, and that 90% of the study had a carbohydrate intake between 75 and 340 g/day.

How accurate is that estimate? The accuracy depends on the normality of the distribution.

According to Table 1 of the study, only 552 men (5.9%) and 2,218 women (16.3%) - a total of 2,770 participants (12.1%) had a carbohydrate intake of less than 140 g/day.

Based on the mean and standard deviation above, we can estimate that since 2/3 of the study participants had a carbohydrate intake between 141 and 274 g/day, that 1/3 were outside of that span - half of which (1/6, or 16.7%) had a carbohydrate intake of less than 140 g/day.

If anything, the distribution is biased against the low-carb side of the curve - meaning that the true number of participants at any given standard deviation is actually less than predicted by the normal curve.

The two most popular mainstream low-carb diets are the Atkins Diet and Protein Power (the South Beach diet does not consider itself to be "low-carb" and is excluded here).

The Atkins Diet allows anywhere from 20g carbohydrate per day in the Induction phase to 60-90g carbohydrate per day in the Maintenance phase (with allowance for more than 90g per day for active exercisers).

Protein Power allows anywhere from 40g carbohydrate per day at the Intervention level to 80g carbohydrate per day at the Maintenance level (according to Table 13.6 of my Protein Power Lifeplan book, page 355).

That means that less than 5% of the study participants had a carbohydrate intake anywhere near what is specified by mainstream low-carbohydrate diets.

In other words, this study in no way resembles either mainstream, low-carbohydrate diet. Therefore, any conclusions to which this study might lead do not apply to mainstream low-carbohydrate diets.

Coming Soon - Part 2: Is It Really High-Protein?

Greek Study Falsely Disparages Low-Carb/High-Protein Diets – Introduction

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Health/Nutrition

Introduction

Recently, Jimmy Moore at Livin' La Vida Low-Carb linked to an epidemiological Greek Study that purported to compare mortality rates of Low-Carb/High-Protein and High-Carb/Low-Protein diets, along with a challenge from Dr. Steven Acocella - a vocal critic of low-carb diets - to refute it under the assumption that it is a legitimate study:

I will not editorialize on the study, but simply listen to you and your reader’s comments. I will say that there's no reason that we need to dispute the efficacy of the study itself. Let's go from the position that the study is not flawed. Let's discuss the science and findings.

The conclusions of the authors are reproducible and consistent. What do you all think? If you do post this study I applaud your willingness to explore the science and not ignore nor dismiss it.

Many of Jimmy's readers have been up to the challenge, and I would like to throw in my two-cents' worth.

First, let's examine the abstract, to get a basic understanding of the study. Here is the study objective:

We have evaluated the effects on mortality of habitual low carbohydrate–high-protein diets that are thought to contribute to weight control.

As the objective states, the object of the study was to evaluate the effect on mortality rate of so-called low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets - ostensibly, low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets.

The study setting is the general Greek population. Here are the subject methods:

Follow-up was performed from 1993 to 2003 in the context of the Greek component of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition. Participants were 22 944 healthy adults, whose diet was assessed through a validated questionnaire. Participants were distributed by increasing deciles according to protein intake or carbohydrate intake, as well as by an additive score generated by increasing decile intake of protein and decreasing decile intake of carbohydrates. Proportional hazards regression was used to assess the relation between high protein, high carbohydrate and the low carbohydrate–high protein score on the one hand and mortality on the other.

In other words, this is an epidemiological study based on the Greek-population subset (about 23,000 people) of the EPIC study from 1992 to 2003. Analysis is based on separating this subset into various decile groups based on descending protein intake, ascending carbohydrate intake, and a sum of the two deciles.

Understanding these groupings is key to understanding the study, so let's take some time with the explanation. For the three analysis groups, participants were separated into decile groups - that is, groups of 1/10 of the total - based on the given criterion. So, for the descending protein intake group, all 23,000 participants are ordered based on protein intake, and the highest 2,300 participants are placed in the first decile (and so on, for all 23,000 participants). Likewise for descending carbohydrate intake (except, in this case, the 2,300 lowest carbohydrate-intake participants are placed in the first decile). Finally, for the third analysis group, each participant's two decile "scores" (the first decile is scored a "1" and the tenth decile is scored a "10") are added together, and groups are defined from a "score" of 2 (low-carb/high-protein) to 20 (high-carb/low-protein). Make sense?

Moving on: The study claims the following results:

During 113 230 persons years of follow-up, there were 455 deaths. In models with energy adjustment, higher intake of carbohydrates was associated with significant reduction of total mortality, whereas higher intake of protein was associated with nonsignificant increase of total mortality (per decile, mortality ratios 0.94 with 95% CI 0.89 –0.99, and 1.02 with 95% CI 0.98 –1.07 respectively). Even more predictive of higher mortality were high values of the additive low carbohydrate–high protein score (per 5 units, mortality ratio 1.22 with 95% CI 1.09 –to 1.36). Positive associations of this score were noted with respect to both cardiovascular and cancer mortality.

Finally, the study makes the following conclusion:

Prolonged consumption of diets low in carbohydrates and high in protein is associated with an increase in total mortality.

Sounds pretty bad for low-carb diets, eh? Perhaps - or perhaps not. We need to dig deeper into the study in order to decide.

Read on, in Part 1: Is It Really Low-Carb?

Post-Dispatch Misleads on Anti-Cloning Measure

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch today reported that MO House Bill HJR11 was killed in committee yesterday. Unfortunately, the P-D could not see past its own bias in order to report accurately on the measure. Ironically, in order to spin the truth, the article exposes the hypocrisy and deception of Amendment 2.

To begin with, take the opening paragraphs of the article:

A House committee killed legislation Monday designed to largely invalidate a new constitutional amendment protecting stem cell research.

The 3-4 vote by the House Rules Committee all but ends efforts this legislative session to overturn Amendment 2, which 51 percent of voters approved in November.

Based on this reporting, one would infer that the measure refers either to Amendment 2 in particular or stem cell research in general. To the contrary, the wording of HJR11 references neither stem cells nor Amendment 2. In fact, the words "stem cell" - or any derivation thereof - do not appear anywhere within the text of the measure:

Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring therein:

That at the next general election to be held in the state of Missouri, on Tuesday next following the first Monday in November, 2008, or at a special election to be called by the governor for that purpose, there is hereby submitted to the qualified voters of this state, for adoption or rejection, the following amendment to article III of the Constitution of the state of Missouri:

Section A. Article III, Constitution of Missouri, is amended by adding thereto one new section, to be known as section 38(e), to read as follows:

Section 38(e). 1. The general assembly may enact laws concerning health care research, including controlling taxation, appropriations, and use of public resources for health care research, and regulating research that could pose a risk to human life or health.

2. It is unlawful to engage in human cloning. For the purposes of this section and section 38(d) of this article, "human cloning" means the creation of a human zygote, human blastocyst, or human embryo by any means other than the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm.

3. The provisions of this section supersede any provision of section 38(d) of this article that is inconsistent with this section.

As you can see, the measure makes no mention of either Amendment 2 or stem cells. How on earth, then, could the author make such a claim? Examine the next paragraph for the answer:

Opponents of Amendment 2 had wanted lawmakers to send a ballot measure to voters in November 2008. The proposed amendment would have asked the public to ban all forms of human cloning, including when the research is used solely to produce embryonic stem cells. Voters specifically protected that form of research by passing Amendment 2 last year.

The deception seems to get ever more subtle. To wit [emphasis added]:

The proposed amendment would have asked the public to ban all forms of human cloning, including when the research is used solely to produce embryonic stem cells.

Did you catch it? The problem with this statement is that "the research" - that is, human cloning - is never used "solely to produce embryonic stem cells", since the result of human cloning is - always and by definition - a human embryo, not just embryonic stem cells.

The problem with this rationalization is the same problem that the proponents of Amendment 2 had during their 30 million dollar campaign of deception: the claim that Amendment 2 would "strictly ban human cloning". In fact, as both an educated reading of the wording of the amendment as well as the double-speak found in this P-D article reveal, Amendment 2 not only did no such thing, it actually made human cloning constitutionally protected in the state of Missouri.

This duplicity is further revealed by the actions of the house committee that killed the measure [emphasis added]:

"I'd say that a third (of House members) will be happy they don't have to vote on this," said Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton.

Cooper, who serves as chairman of the House Rules Committee, said he voted against the measure simply because he supports Amendment 2.

If Amendment 2 "strictly bans human cloning" - as its supporters claims it to do - why would an Amendment 2 supporter vote against a measure that would allow Missouri voters explicitly to ban all forms of human cloning? Any proponent of Amendment 2 could only oppose such a measure if in fact human cloning were a part of Amendment 2. That supporters of Amendment 2 oppose this measure demonstrates that their claim that Amendment 2 "strictly bans human cloning" was an outright lie.

Cooper - and those like him - should be ashamed of himself, and is a disgrace to the Missouri Republican party. Duplicity, hypocrisy, lying, and subverting the democratic process have no place in the Republican Party. For one, if his beloved Amendment 2 "strictly bans human cloning" then what does he have to oppose in HJR11? For another, even if he legitimately opposes HJR11, how dare he deny the voters of Missouri the opportunity to exercise our democratic right?

The truth, which should now be plainly evident to all, is that Amendment 2 constitutionally protected human cloning for the purpose of human-embryo-destructive research, and that the proponents of Amendment 2 knew this truth and intentionally mislead Missouri voters into believing that passing Amendment 2 would "strictly ban human cloning".

Julie Amero Update

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Computers, Education, Internet, Technology

An update on the miscarriage of justice in the Julie Amero case, about which I previously wrote:

PC World's Steve Bass reports on responses he received from both a juror in the trial, and also from the detective in the case against Julie Amero. Both responses only further prove the gross injustice in Amero's arrest, trial, and conviction.

First, the juror. Bass does a decent job fisking the juror's email, and the comment thread further rebuts the juror. Here are the words of the anonymous juror, who identifies himself only as ConnYankee1951 [Bass' comments interspersed]:

I was on the jury and yes we did find her guilty.

But everything seems to be misquoted by the papers and reporters envolved [sic]. The bottom line was that it didn't make a difference who or how the porn sites showed up on the computer.

The fact that a teacher in a public scol [sic] system did absolutly [sic] nothing to keep it away from the children is what was wrong. Yes we were told that she was given no permissions to turn off the computer, she also said she was not allowed to use any other school equipment.

Bass' comments: According to the trial transcript, Amero testified that she made every attempt to keep the children from seeing the images. In fact, a number of children at the trial testified that she had attempted to block them from seeing the screen. Also, another substitute teacher testified that Julie had asked for help in the teachers lounge.

If a 40 year old school teacher does not have the sense to turn off or is not smart enough to figure it out, would you or any other person wanting her teaching your child or grandchild?

Bass' comments: At the trial Amero testified that she didn’t, in fact, know how to turn a computer on or off.

The juror states: "The bottom line was that it didn't make a difference who or how the porn sites showed up on the computer." Curious statement, that. Let's explore it in more depth, shall we?

First, we need to understand the statute of which Amero was convicted. The germane clause in the statute is as follows:

(a) Any person who (1) wilfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under the age of sixteen years to be placed in such a situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered, the health of such child is likely to be injured or the morals of such child are likely to be impaired, or does any act likely to impair the health or morals of any such child

The previously linked blog also quotes the jury instruction that accompanies the "risk of injury to a minor" charge:

To find the defendant guilty of wilfully or unlawfully causing or permitting any child under sixteen years to be placed in such a situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered, the health of such child is likely to be injured or the morals of such child are likely to be impaired, the state must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that at the time of the incident, the alleged victim was under the age of sixteen years; and (2) that the defendant wilfully or unlawfully caused or permitted the victim to be placed in a situation that endangered the child's life or limb, or was likely to injure his health or impair his morals.

The conduct to be punished must involve a child under the age of sixteen years. The statute also requires wilfulness or unlawfulness in causing or permitting the child to be placed in a situation that his life or limb is endangered, or his health is likely to be injured, or his morals are likely to be impaired. This is the conduct of a person that is deliberately indifferent to, acquiesces in, or creates a situation inimical to the child's moral or physical welfare.

''Wilfully'' means intentionally or deliberately. ''Unlawfully'' means without legal right or justification. Causing or permitting a situation to arise within the meaning of this statute requires conduct on the part of the defendant that brings about or permits that situation to arise when the defendant had such control or right of control over the child that the defendant might have reasonably prevented it.

I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on tv (nor on my blog). However, the statue and jury instruction seem pretty clear to any reasonably intelligent reader. The entire case rests upon the prosecution's ability to fulfill the burden of proof "that the defendant wilfully or unlawfully caused or permitted the victim to be placed in a situation that endangered the child's life or limb, or was likely to injure his health or impair his morals."

In order for conviction, the prosecution must have proved that Amero 1) intentionally navigated to the illicit web sites in question, and/or 2) did not prevent the students from viewing the illicit images in question. Thus, the juror's statement that the manner in which the images appeared on the computer did not ultimately matter is demonstrably incorrect.

According to both the juror's own statements (following below) and known facts surrounding the trial, the prosecution based their case around - and the jury convicted upon - in part the former allegation. That Amero allegedly navigated to the web sites in question appears to have been a key point in demonstrating her intent (or mens rea). Proving this allegation is critical to proving that Amero was responsible for willfully or unlawfully placing the students in a situation that would impair their morals. The prosecution clearly made the case (and the jury apparently believed) that Amero intentionally navigated to the illicit web sites. If the prosecution's case rested merely on the latter allegation, then the questions of browser history, pop-ups, javascripts, and links would never have arisen, as they would not have mattered.

I will address the allegation itself below, with the juror's comments concerning the prosecution's evidence attempting to prove it.

Back to the juror:

If you and your wife were watching an xxx rated movie the you put into the dvd player, you powered it up and you hit play, then went into the other room for a snack and your child or grandchild entered the room would you expect your wife to stop the dvd or just let it play because she didn't start it. No you would be upset as all get out.

Even giving Julie the benefit of doubt, not knowing enough about a computer to be able to turn it off. Some paper and tape would have covered the screen or a coat or sweater, it was October after all.

First, the juror's analogy does not apply; the premise is entirely different. That said, let's explore his argument: illicit material was on display on the computer's monitor, and Amero did not take appropriate action to prevent the students from viewing it.

If we ignore the former allegation (that Amero created the situation by navigating to the illicit web sites), then no basis exists to claim that Amero's actions were willful or deliberate. Thus, in order to prove that Amero was guilty of "conduct of a person that is deliberately indifferent to, acquiesces in, or creates a situation inimical to the child's moral or physical welfare", the prosecution had to prove that her actions were unlawful. In other words, the prosecution had to prove that Amero, without legal right or justification, permitted a "situation to arise when the defendant had such control or right of control over the child that the defendant might have reasonably prevented it."

First, the prosecution had to prove that Amero had no legal right or justification for her actions. Second, the prosecution had to prove that Amero did not exercise rightful control over the children to prevent the situation.

On the first point, even the juror conceded that Amero had potential legal justification for her actions: her lack of expertise with computers, and her instruction not to turn off the computer. Again, I am no lawyer, but I question the legal precedent of the "paper and tape or sweater or coat" argument with respect to what Amero could have done and what she was legally compelled to have done. Let us recap Amero's actions in response to the situation:

  • Amero attempted to block students' view of the screen, and to push students' faces away from the monitor.
  • Amero attempted to close the pop-up windows that were displaying the illicit images.
  • Amero sought out assistance from another teacher (and was refused help).

Amero clearly and demonstrably attempted to resolve the situation. To claim that Amero was criminally responsible for the situation, as defined by the statute in question, because she did not think to resolve the situation by the entirely arbitrary means of "paper and scissors", "a sweater", or "a coat" seems to me to be incredibly specious.

On the second point, it appears that the prosecution attempted to prove that Amero did not exercise rightful control over the computer - but according to the statute, the burden of proof exists to demonstrate that the defendant did not exercise rightful control over the students. According to the statutes, what Amero did with respect to the computer has, at best, only indirect relevance to what Amero did with respect to the children in exercising her rightful control over the children in order to prevent the situation.

In other words, it is mostly irrelevant that Amero didn't unplug or turn off the computer, or cover the monitor, because such actions do not represent exercise or failure in exercise of rightful control over the students. To the contrary, Amero's actions demonstrated that she made a reasonable effort to exercise her rightful control over the students (see the list above). Further, note that, as a substitute teacher, Amero had considerably less "rightful control" over the students than a regular teacher would have had.

Speaking of "rightful control" over the students, why was the school's IT administrator not held accountable on the same charge? We know that the computer's web-site filtering software was out-of-date at the time the incident occurred. Clearly, the IT administrator was negligent in exercising his rightful control over the students, by allowing the filtering software to become outdated, thus allowing school computers to be used to navigate to illicit web sites. Also, the IT administrator did not maintain the security robustness of the school's computers: the computer had no firewall, its antivirus software was outdated, and the computer was infested with various forms of malware. This negligence is undoubtedly more egregious than anything Julie Amero did or could have done on the morning in question.

On this point, the school board continues to give the appearance of using Amero as a scapegoat for the school's own negligence. Commenting on the trial, current Norwich superintendent Pam Aubin has said, "this wasn't a computer out of control. People are complicating this too much. [Amero] had a responsibility to teach the students. That didn't happen." This blog post also quotes the superintendent at the time of the incident:

Michael J. Frechette, the Norwich superintendent at the time of Amero's arrest, said this was simply a teacher with pornography. "We were just reacting to the facts."

Clearly, either the school administration didn't know "the facts", or else they know the facts and are choosing to deny them. First, a computer openly exposed to the internet, with no firewall, outdated antivirus, outdated filtering software, and that is malware-infested is, by definition, "out of control". Second, Amero was not on trial for abdicating her "responsibility to teach the students." This statement is completely irrelevant. Third, no evidence yet exists that Amero had anything to do with the illicit web sites or images, other than trying to get them off the computer screen and trying to prevent the students from seeing them.

Back to the juror, here is his conclusion:

Finally she was pronounced guilty because she made no effort to hide or stop the porno, not just because she loaded the porno onto the machine. Going to the history pages it was obvious that the paged [sic] were clicked on they were not the result of pop-ups.

Bass' comments: Actually, the defense expert at the trial testified that the sites visited were from pop-ups.

Each web page visited showed where links were clicked on and followed to other pages. Pop ups go to sites without change lnk colors, as in used links.

Bass' comments: That’s incorrect. Pop-ups show as a changed type color, just like a normal site visit.

These statements by the juror proves exactly why this trial was a miscarriage of justice. Anyone with any knowledge whatsoever of the internet and web browsers knows that these statements are patently false. Browser history pages cannot differentiate between URIs to which the browser navigates via a mouse click and those navigated via javascript (e.g. a pop-up window). Also, all links to cached (visited) URIs will show as "visited", regardless of whether the URI was cached in the browser history due to a mouse click on a link or a javascript (pop-up window) command.

That a woman was convicted of a felony and faces up to 40 years of jail time because of such flimsy and outright false evidence of her guilt is an egregious injustice. I cannot fathom how this verdict doesn't get overturned on appeal. This trial was a complete farce, and the juror who responded above proved himself entirely ignorant of such computer technology as would be required to assess the evidence in the case, and completely incompetent to act as a juror in the trial.

Having addressed the juror's response, let's turn to this response from Detective Mark Lounsbury, the crime prevention officer with the Norwich Police Department:

Dear Mr. Bass, Unfortunately the truth in this matter is yet to be told to all those who were not located in the courtroom during the trial. Those in the courtroom saw and heard the truth. Once sentencing is done the truth CAN BE presented to the world IF they want it. I'm thinking the world doesn't want to hear the truth. IGNORANCE IS BLISS. The lies are exciting, bringing up STRONG emotions. OMG, that poor person, victimized by the Evil Government and its minions.

It continues to amaze me how people can base their opinion on what is fed to them. Did anyone ask the Expert for the evidence he recovered which would support his claims? The "curlyhairstye script", those pornographic googlesyndication.com generated pop ups? BUNK also known as errors of commission. Would you like to know the truth? Once sentencing is over I'd be more than happy to let you see the source code, scripts, etc.

I've received allot [sic] of calls and emails regarding this. All from people interested only in TELLING me their opinions or TELLING me they're going to get me. Not once has anyone called or written me to ASK me a question. They apparently have what they want. I work hard every day for the victims of crime. I search for the truth not for me but for them. If what the newspaper reported about my testimony was my actual testimony, taken in context, don't you think there would have been some consequences, a rebuttal, something. Feel free to write if you wish.

With respect to Shakespeare, the detective protests too much, methinks. I find it highly ironic that he is apparently attempting to claim that he is the victim, when Julie Amero is the one facing 40 years in prison, because of his erroneous testimony. As for his testimony, rebuttal testimony by the defense's (bona fide) computer expert was not entered, because the prosecution blocked its admission; therefore, the detective's testimony was the only (so-called) "expert" testimony in the trial (to my knowledge).

Of course, Bass replied with several questions, and got this response:

Dear Mr. Bass, Once the sentencing phase for this case is done I can answer all your questions. I have all the information you seek. My opinion is not important but I am fleshing out a theory concerning site blocking software which was in place and how to circumvent it. I can provide you w/ the source code showing all the .htm and javascripting for each web page, images from those pages, date/time of creation, MD5 hashes, etc. I will contact you after sentencing. Thank you

While I am willing to reserve final judgment until all facts in the trial are revealed following the upcoming sentencing, I highly doubt that any salient facts will emerge that would change my opinion about the trial. Though, I'm extremely interested in Lounsbury's supposed "evidence" to support his testimony - evidence not yet publicly known.

I'm especially curious about the "theory" that he is fleshing out "concerning site blocking software...and how to circumvent it". I do hope that theory includes how a woman who was so computer-illiterate that she could barely read email and couldn't turn a computer on or off would implement such a site-blocking software circumvention. Do, tell, detective!

Other coverage: Nationwide awareness of Julie Amero injustice grows

Coverage of the Julie Amero Case:

Substitute Incrimination and Computer Injustice
Julie Amero Update

Substitute Incrimination and Computer Injustice

Filed in Social IssuesTags: Computers, Education, Internet, Technology

The other day I read this article on PC World about Julie Amero, a substitute teacher convicted for exposing students to pornographic material on the computer of the teacher for whom she was substituting. In summary:

The story is short: On October, 19, 2004, Amero was a substitute teacher for a seventh-grade language class at Kelly Middle School. A few students were crowded around a PC; some were giggling. She investigated and saw the kids looking at a barrage of graphic, hard-core pornographic pop-ups.

(Follow-up stories here, here, and here, with local newspaper coverage here, here, and here.) The prosecution alleged that Amero had used the computer to visit adult web sites, while the defense countered that the computer was already infested with various malware programs that caused the illicit pop-ups. The analysis of the case is drastically different, depending upon which story is true.

The prosecution alleged that Amero intentionally visited various adult web sites, but this report by the defense's expert computer witness refutes that claim. This expert was prepared to re-enact the events in the classroom with a clean laptop in the courtroom, but the prosecution objected to this defense, and the judge did not allow it. (And from the conclusion of the report, it appears that the judge also did not even allow the expert to present the results of his forensic examination of the computer.

This whole story appears to be a case of 1) the school using the substitute teacher as a scapegoat for its own failure to ensure the security of its students and its computer resources, and 2) the prosecutor, judge, and jury acting from a position of complete computer/internet illiteracy.

The computer in question was running Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 5, with no firewall, was infested with malware, and had outdated anti-virus signatures (according to an op-ed piece written by Alex Eckelberry). Thus, the first entity responsible for the incident is the school administration, for not having and/or following a procedure or policy for computer administration that would include ensuring that computers are protected against malware, and that antivirus signatures are maintained. In fact, the school admitted that their blacklist filter was not kept current during the time in question.

Also, school computers were allowed to be used for personal internet use, with only a blacklist filter in place. As this blog points out, this policy is a recipe for potential disaster, since blacklist filters that are not kept current are easily bypassed, and many malicious or illicit web sites intentionally use a practice called typosquatting (using typographic-error URLs in order to lure visitors who intend to go to one website but are instead directed somewhere else due to an incorrectly spelled URL - think "google" vs. "goggle").

The prosecution alleged two things: one, that Amero intentionally visited the web sites that served the illicit images, and two, that Amero did not prevent the students from continuing to see the images by immediately turning off the computer.

The forensic evidence (which was not allowed to be presented) clearly proved that the illicit images came to the computer through clicks on what was ostensibly a hair-style web site, and were of a size consistent with pop-up ads, not intentional image downloads. This evidence proves that the computer experienced what is known as a "pop-up storm" - something with which anyone who has used a computer with software older than Internet Explorer 6 running on Windows XP Service Pack 2 (or better) is experienced. Further - and worse - the police software used to examine the computer (ComputerCOP Pro) cannot differentiate between an explicit click and a script-generated window-open. The prosecution proved that the computer made a connection to an illicit web site, but had no means whatsoever, using the police software, to prove how the site was accessed.

Also, while some hold the assertion as fact), it does not appear that the prosecution proved (or even attempted to prove) that Amero herself, and not a student or students, was operating the computer at the time that the sites in question were visited. Given that the computers internet history cache shows that kid-centric websites such as crayola and hair-styling sites were visited, the prosecution's first argument appears to be unproven at best, and specious at worst.

The prosecution (and others) assert that Amero should have shut down the computer. This assertion makes some assumptions, namely that Amero was expert enough to know what was happening to the computer, and that Amero had the authority to remedy the situation by shutting down the computer. The prosecution proved neither. At the beginning of the day, the permanent class teacher logged onto the computer for Amero, giving explicit instructions not to log off from or shut off the computer. So, to shut down the computer - as the prosecution contended Amero should have done - would have been a direct violation of the teacher's instruction not to do so.

Also, when the incident occurred, Amero attempted to get rid of the popups by closing each popup window. Anyone with any experience with popup storms knows that this action will only invite further popup windows, usually at a rate beyond what is possible to keep up with. Amero, who is by no means a computer expert, did make a good-faith effort to get rid of the illicit images and to prevent the students from viewing them. She even asked for help from the school administration - help that, over the course of the school day, never came. So, the prosecution's second argument is an unproven claim based on an untrue assertion of the proper course of action in the incident.

In short, students - not Amero - were using the computer when the popup storm happened, the popups were generated by a script on a non-pornographic website, and Amero did try to prevent the students from viewing the images.

Worse than the prosecution's ridiculous case, is that nobody involved in the case (except the defense's expert, who was not allowed to present anything near his full testimony) has anything even resembling sufficient computer/internet literacy or expertise: the school board, the police, the prosecution, the defense attorney, the judge, the jury, or the defendant.

Perhaps I should exclude the school board; it is more likely that the board needed someone to take the fall for the incident, and chose Amero. Parents were outraged over their children being exposed to illicit images at school, and the board was forced to act. This action, of course, came after the vice principal initially told Amero not to worry at the end of the school day in question, when she went to the office for at least the second time that day, to report the incident. The first time she reported it, she was promised help, but nobody ever came to provide the promised help. If Amero's actions had been sufficiently criminal to warrant her arrest, why did the school not call the police at the time of the incident?

The police who investigated the case didn't even search for spyware on the computer, and the police investigator testified in the trial that an image coming from a given web site proves that someone had to intentionally go to that web site in order to see the image. This assertion is patently untrue. The defense's expert witness had evidence that the illicit images came first through a malware javascript link on ostensibly innocuous hair style web site. Both Amero and the students testified that the images were on popup windows, not a website proper.

Even to pursue this case proves the prosecution's lack of computer expertise. The defense attorney admitted to Alex Eckelberry that he had no computer expertise. This fact alone should be enough for an appeal - if not an outright mistrial. The judge upheld the prosecution's objection of perfectly reasonable defense testimony, was reportedly falling asleep during trial, and reportedly gave instructions to the jury for an expedited completion of the trial. The jury clearly had insufficient computer expertise, and were reportedly violating sequestering rules by discussing the case outside the courtroom. Amero's lack of computer expertise has already been addressed.

This case was a trial that should not have taken place, carried out by a judge, jury, and attorneys who should not have been involved, regarding a criminal charge that should not have been filed, against a completely innocent victim.

More commentary: ComputerWorld's Preston Gralla initially lauds the conviction. Alex Eckelberry refutes his opinion, after wich Gralla issues a mea culpa, and Eckelberry praises the change-of-opinion. Eckelberry also links to an AlterNet story about the case, as well as a Digg comment storm.

If you want to help, go to this website set up by Julie Amero's husband for information on the case and defense fund contributions.

Coverage of the Julie Amero Case:

Substitute Incrimination and Computer Injustice
Julie Amero Update