Archive for November, 2006

If you tried visiting my site in the past 24 hours you probably received a 403 Forbidden error. Last night I was apparently on the receiving end of a ginormous referrer spam attack. What’s a referrer spam attack, you ask?

Here’s how it works. Whenever you attempt to visit a web page, your browser sends an HTTP request to the server, which specifies the file that you want as well as some other information about your browser and such. If you request a page by clicking on a link, the URL of the document containing that link is sent in the HTTP request. Web servers log these HTTP requests and then log analysis tools can generate statistical reports.

My stats have been publicly available (if you knew where to look), and one of the parts of the reports is top referrers, so I can see where traffic to my site is coming from. The addresses in the referrer report are live links, so when Google’s web crawler indexes my site, it sees these top referrers as sites that I have linked to, which increases their PageRank score. Therefore, if a devious individual can have a bunch of zombie computers make a bunch of bogus HTTP requests with the perpetrator’s site as the referrer, this nefarious person can get a link to their site on mine and thus increase their web site’s rank in Google searches (or perhaps more likely the weight that Google gives to their site when determining the rank of the pages that others may pay them to link to).

I’ve known that this sort of thing has been going on for some time, but the referrer spam that I’ve seen has always been rather light—just a small (though not insignificant) percentage of the traffic on my site. Last night, however, my server was being hit so hard that the server was being overloaded and my web host had to block all web access.

You’ll notice that web access has been restored, although, for now, only if you enter the address directly. Referred traffic is still blocked, so trying to access my site from a link on another site will still be blocked. Perhaps I’ll go in and unblock some of the legitimate sites that I know link to me.

Comments 3 Comments »

During this election season, Missouri has become a hotbed of political wrangling. In addition to an extremely close U.S. senatorial race, two proposed amendments to the state constitution have stirred controversy and led to the expenditure of multiple tens of millions of dollars by special interest groups for advertising.

The most controversial amendment is the so called “Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative” (a.k.a Amendment 2). According to supporters, this amendment will ensure that Missouri citizens have access to any and all cures and treatments that are developed from stem cell research, ensure that Missouri medical and research institutions can pursue any stem cell research allowed by the federal government, and ban human cloning. Indeed, the fair ballot language that voters will be presented with paints nothing but a rosy picture of Amendment 2. However, as Amendment 2’s opponents correctly argue, this amendment is deceptive.

The most deceptive claim is that this amendment will ban human cloning. Although the amendment clearly states, “no person may clone or attempt to clone a human being” (Section 38(d) 2(1)), the lengthy definition section redefines what constitutes cloning:

“Clone or attempt to clone a human being” means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being. (Section 38(d) 6(2))

For the purposes of Amendment 2, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)—the first and primary step in creating a clone of a being—is not itself considered cloning. Rather, cloning supposedly begins when a cloned embryo “anything other than the product of fertilization” is implanted. Thus, Amendment 2 only outlaws reproductive cloning, while explicitly protecting therapeutic cloning.

In addition, the amendment claims that “no person may, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell human blastocysts or eggs for stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures” (Section 38(d) 2(4)), which is supposed to prevent the exploitation of women for their eggs. However, again, the definition section strikes back. Specifically excluded from the definition of “valuable consideration” is “consideration paid to a donor of human eggs or sperm by a fertilization clinic or sperm bank” (Section 38(d) 6(17)), which leaves open a huge loophole.

Finally, even if one supports embryonic stem cell research, supporting this amendment doesn’t make sense. Why should this one procedure (SCNT) be written into the state constitution? Why should this one medical industry be immune from legislative oversight and control? Section 38(d) 2(7) forbids the state legislature from preventing, restricting, obstructing, discouraging, or creating disincentives for stem cell research or therapies (whatever all that can be construed to mean), and section 38(d) 5 forbids the state legislature from eliminating, reducing, denying, or withholding public funds either directly or indirectly related to stem cell research or treatments. No other industry is granted this level of autonomy from governmental intervention. Indeed, Amendment 2 would place embryonic stem cell research completely outside the reach of the state government. Isn’t it a matter of bad public policy to legally enshrine (in the state constitution, no less) one particular technology, especially when that technology is in its infancy, when we don’t know if it will actually produce anything worthwhile, when we don’t know what additional issues (ethical or otherwise) the technology might later raise, and when competing technologies might prove more viable?

Let’s imagine that Amendment 2 passes and that 20 years from now embryonic stem cells have been successful in producing the many cures and treatments that their current proponents tout. What would happen if a new, unforeseen and superior medical technology is developed that supersedes embryonic stem cell treatments? In such a situation, the state faces a dilemma. Although the state obviously ought to channel funding away from stem cell research and towards this new medical technology, it is constitutionally obligated to continue funding stem cell research. Technology doesn’t stand still. It evolves and current technology becomes obsolete. Therefore, we ought not legally obligate the state to support or privilege any particular technology.

Because of all this, I will be voting NO on Amendment 2.

Coming in just behind Amendment 2 on the controversy scale is Amendment 3, which would enact an additional tax of 4¢ per cigarette to be used towards “tobacco use education, prevention, and cessation programs and initiatives, and the improvement of health care access and treatment” for low income Missourians (Sections 37(b) 1, 8).

My primary objection to this amendment is that it is an amendment in the first place. Why does a tax on cigarettes belong in the state constitution? A state constitution should outline the structure of the state government, defining and limiting the powers of the various branches and offices. It is not the place to enact specific tax policies.

I would also be interested in seeing some demographic studies about the use of tobacco products and income level. My hunch is that tobacco use is greater amongst the lower income brackets. If this is the case, then Amendment 3 would disproportionately burden many of the people that it purports to help.

Furthermore, with only 3% of the funds raised by Amendment 3 designated for anti-smoking programs, the vast majority of the funds will be directed towards state-sponsored health care. Yet why should smokers be singled out in this way to fund medical care for all? Perhaps a more interesting and fair proposal would be to use the money from tobacco taxes to pay for the treatment of smoking-related diseases.

Because of all this, I will be voting NO on Amendment 3.

Comments Comments Off on Clones and Cigarettes