HALLS OF IVY, AND SNOOPING
Los Angeles Times: Summertime, and the living is anything but easy for many high school students. Instead of lounging in sun-soaked deck chairs, college-bound soon-to-be-seniors are hunching over computer screens, grinding out self-serving essays and padding resumes. Months later, they will be nervously staring at the screen again.
Over the last few years, the Internet has allowed many colleges to shave days off students' agonizing wait to hear whether a college has accepted or rejected them. It's a good system, but ham-fisted hacking by Princeton University recently revealed its vulnerability to two troubling trends: the erosion of privacy in the Internet age and increasingly cutthroat competition between universities.
It seems that Princeton University Admissions Director Stephen E. LeMenager used the birth dates and Social Security numbers of several students who had applied to that Ivy League school to break into a restricted Web page that archrival Yale University used to notify students whether it had accepted them to the class of 2006.
Staking out the competition
LeMenager maintains he was just testing the security of the site. Yeah, right. More likely is that Princeton was staking out the competition. LeMenager nosed around, for instance, to see what Yale had decided on relatively high-profile applicants, including President Bush's niece, whose acceptance was viewed four times in one afternoon, and the grandson of a famous Notre Dame football coach. Princeton could use such information to determine whether to sic its high-pressure deal-closers on these coveted kids.
College applicants reveal themselves with the understanding that the information is only for the eyes of a select few in an admissions office. LeMenager's actions breached that trust, and probably the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is intended to safeguard the student personal information so increasingly abundant in cyberspace these days.
Let's hope the nation's universities respond to the Princeton mini-scandal with another layer of security, like the special pass codes in use at some schools. Either that or risk leaving confidential information as fodder for a hackers' free-for-all.
THIS YEAR'S FOOD CRISIS
Washington Post: Only nine months ago the United Nations was racing to avert mass starvation in Afghanistan, where 6 million people were put at risk by years of drought and war and the tyranny of the Taliban. Even now hunger remains a severe problem in North Korea, where millions may have perished from lack of food in recent years despite massive international aid. But already a new crisis has seized center stage: southern Africa, where nearly 13 million people in six countries are said by the U.N. World Food Program to be at risk of famine.
As in southern Asia, natural phenomenon, including two years of drought, are a major cause of the problem. But as elsewhere, governments are also to blame, and their unpopularity means that the task of collecting and distributing emergency aid is going too slowly.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has already wrecked his country's economy and its international standing by clinging to power through fraudulent elections and persecution of his opponents. Now, thanks in part to his destructive campaign against the country's predominately white commercial farmers, he will need international handouts to feed 6 million of his people between now and next March.
The country's commercial agricultural production has plummeted by nearly 60 percent, a disaster that has also affected neighboring countries that normally depend on Zimbabwe's corn exports. In Zambia, 2 million people are estimated to be at risk; in tiny Malawi another 2 million, their plight worsened by the government's irresponsible and probably corrupt sell-off of the country's emergency food reserves. People in Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique are also affected.
War and the Taliban greatly complicated the Afghan relief effort; in Africa, an equally large obstacle is HIV/AIDS, which already has infected some 40 million people in the region, killed 20 million and left 15 million orphans. The disease has wrecked relief networks and resources that might otherwise be in place, and it complicates the feeding problem, since those suffering from infections need a higher-protein diet to survive. If that were not enough, Mugabe has introduced another obstacle to the rescue effort by raising questions about genetically altered U.S. corn -- a senseless bit of grandstanding that is slowing deliveries of needed food.
Unchecked disease and hunger could blend into a whirlwind of devastation in the coming year: Already, life expectancy in Zambia has fallen to 37 years, compared with 50 in the late 1980s. Yet the World Food Program has so far raised only about half the necessary 1.2 million tons of emergency food aid, and would be farther behind if not for a commitment by the Bush administration to provide one-third of the total.
The World Food Program is also behind this year in Afghanistan, where contributions of food aid are so far about $100 million short, and is one-third short of its budget in North Korea, where 6 million people still need to be fed. The agency's new director, James Morris, is seeking new sources of contributions, from countries such as China, Russia and Mexico; but even so, he reckons the agency at best may collect $1 billion less than it needs for feeding programs this year.
More and more, developmental food programs that were once the World Food Program's main focus are being overtaken by humanitarian emergencies, creating an ever-shifting cycle of crises and emergency appeals for donations that frequently fall short of need. Meanwhile, rich nations store up $100 billion in surplus food obtained from subsidized farmers; Europe and Japan decline to dispose of theirs through aid programs, and complain in trade talks of dumping when the United States makes such donations. Just one percent of this stockpile, which mostly goes to waste, would fill the yawning hunger gap this year in southern Africa, Afghanistan and everywhere else.