Active listening

The real terrorists: It was with a grim sense of foreboding that Bites opened an e-mail, purportedly from the CIA, saying Bites had been busted for visiting illegal Web sites. What was even scarier was that the e-mail reply address (as listed in the source-code view in Bites’ e-mail program) was and listed the phone number of the sender, one Steven Allison.

The phone number turned out to be a legit CIA number. But when Bites called, a recorded message from the CIA switchboard explained that the e-mail was a hoax.

Whew! That saved Bites the trouble of erasing all those bookmarks and double-deleting all those incriminating cookies.

But how sobering is it that even the three-letter agencies can’t police the use of their own e-mail addresses on the Internet? This is the CIA, which “renders” suspected terrorists to foreign countries with lax torture laws so they can be interrogated.

Bites wonders if hacker sentencing guidelines would be different if the billions of dollars of lost productivity were taken in a bank heist instead, or acquired in drug trafficking. How long will it be before troublesome computer pranksters get the same treatment as these outlaws? Whenever it is, it’s not soon enough, and the techniques should be as vicious as anything the Tonton Macoutes ever imagined. By the way, Bites just goes to those sites to read the articles.

Odd fellows: One way to know that you’ve led a pretty awesome life is that you have fellows. There’s the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur fellowship, named for rich bankers who gave away a lot of money so people could go to college. There are the Edward R. Murrow Journalism Fellows—promising muckrakers in training. And Jimmy Carter, the last decent president this country ever had, has fellows dedicated to human rights and democracy.

But Bites wants to recognize an elite group of local fellows who were honored last week: Zachary Dowell and Candy Smith, both of Folsom Lake College, and Jerry Estenson, a business professor from California State University, Sacramento, have been named prestigious Sam Walton Free Enterprise Fellows—by the group Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE).

Bites kids you not, folks. The legendary founder of Wal-Mart has his own fellows. They get a stipend from Wal-Mart to train tomorrow’s business leaders.

Wal-Mart boasts that its financial support “is making a meaningful difference as SIFE students are learning to lead by helping others succeed, bringing higher standards of living and economic opportunity to every corner of the globe.”

Um, OK. Bites just hopes the importance of giving your employees lunch breaks is the first thing on the syllabus.

We want to hear you sweat: Last week’s item about the “Homeland Security bathroom” at Ma Jong (see “Through the looking glass,” SN&R Bites, December 29) inspired another Bites reader to call in about her own run-in with an obnoxious public-space invasion. She said that California Family Fitness on Fair Oaks Boulevard was now using “audio monitoring” as part of its security system—a layer of paranoia that this reader lamented “is getting a little intrusive.”

Sadly, Bites has grown used to the now-ubiquitous surveillance camera in public and quasi-public places. If something really bad were to happen, Bites concedes that it would be nice to have the perp’s face on tape.

But what’s going on with audio monitoring? Why does a fitness club or a restaurant or any other business feel the need to eavesdrop on its customers?

Well, according to the company’s director of security, Nick Calnon, the system is really intended to spy not on customers, but on employees.

The mics pick up interactions between customers and staff people and can help sort out problems, like whether the front-desk person actually told the customer “to go pound sand,” Calnon explained. There’s also an audio feed from the aerobics room, to monitor the instructors and keep track of “how up and bubbly they are.” Yeah, that makes Bites feel better.

Is there a business or institution in your neighborhood that’s spying on you, or otherwise abusing your space? Call (916) 498-1234,ext. 3333, or write to <%MungeAddy "”, ""%>.