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by / November 30, 2000
I Don't Know Who To Root For ...

Crackers can be a pain. Often compared to graffiti vandals, they break into your carefully constructed Web site, mess everything up and leave you to deal with the aftermath. Government agencies have long been a favorite target of crackers. The only people who might get held in lesser esteem are the rich oil barons that control the world's oil supply through OPEC -- especially as gas has climbed to over $2 a gallon in recent months. So when a cracker broke into the OPEC Web site in mid-September and demanded that OPEC lower prices, it was difficult to choose a side. This particular cracker apparently had a social conscience. "I think I speak for everyone out there (the entire planet) when I say to you guys to get your collective [expletive] in gear with the crude price," the cracker wrote on the cartel's home page. "We really need to focus on the poverty-stricken countries who don't even have enough money for aspirin, let alone exorbidant (sic) prices for heating oil. I think the lives of children are paramount to your profits."

For the Love of God, Get Bruce Willis

The British Task Force on Near Earth Objects has turned into a modern-day Chicken Little. The taskforce has produced a report that says the threat of an asteroid plowing into Earth, a la Armageddon, is real and that the government needs to take steps to prevent it. The report, which hit the stands in mid-September, suggests an international effort to develop an asteroid early-warning system. Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, who appointed the taskforce, said the report "sets out clearly and authoritatively the nature of the risk and suggests the sort of international action that we should participate in."

Sainsbury pointed out that NASA was already cataloging near-earth objects and had a Congressionally mandated goal to detect 90 percent of all near-earth objects with a diameter over one kilometer within 10 years. Lembit Opik, a member of British Parliament, has called for 70 million pounds -- $98 million -- to be spent over 10 years on technology to track approaching asteroids.

All Jail, All the Time

Maricopa County, Arizona's Joe Arpaio -- "America's Toughest Sheriff," according to his PR folks -- is at it again. Famous -- or infamous -- for such gambits as forcing all the inmates in his jail to wear pink underwear and building tent cities in the desert to store more convicts rather than release any early, Sheriff Joe has found a new way to get his prisoners -- and himself -- some PR: the Web. Doing away with all that legal mumbo-jumbo like "due process" and "innocent until proven guilty," Maricopa Joe has installed four Web cams in his Phoenix jail: two entry cameras, a camera in the search cell and one in the holding cell. The pictures refresh about once every 15 seconds. The site promises spicy material in the form of a warning: "This is a real life transmission of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Madison Street Jail. Instances of violence or sexually inappropriate behavior may occur. Viewer discretion is advised."

But after watching about 20 minutes or so, I came to the conclusion that I was in more danger of falling asleep than catching a knife fight or some gruesome jailhouse initiation. I'm going back to watching OZ on HBO. For the rest of you, check out the jail cam and make your own decision.

Sex, Drugs and the Men in Blue

The police department in Berwyn, a suburb of Chicago, finally decided to take advantage of this new-fangled thing we call the Web. So they set up a site at The front page displays information about the police department, neighborhood watch programs and the Berwyn Police Explorer's youth program. The site was originally hosted by and for a while a banner advertisement from the company ran across the top promising "More Sites Like This." If you got there soon enough, you could click on the banner and, in a very short time, get yourself into all sorts of naughtiness. You could pull up pictures of naked people, sites on how to grow marijuana in your garage, sites on how to build pipe bombs and sites on computer cracking. Evidently the sites were related to the police department by the fact that many of the suggested activities could land you in jail. The links are a fundamental part of the business model. The company provides free Web hosting in exchange for the right to sell that advertising space. Apparently, the Berwyn Police Department decided to move, as the banner is no longer on the site.

Stone Tablet | Larry Stone