Category Archives: News

Somebody Get Those Protesters Some Ferry Boats

If they’re going to do stories like this, it would be neat if the NY Times would hire a reporter to cover the Bay Area who actually knows the Bay Area — specifically, the difference between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge:

No central action was planned. A coalition of labor unions had asked Occupy Oakland, with its proven ability to turn out large numbers of militant activists, to blockade the Golden Gate Bridge, but then withdrew the request at the last minute.

via Oakland, the Last Refuge of Radical America – NYTimes.com.

Limbaugh: Free Market, Not Free Speech

Kind of embarrassing to read this AP story about the campaign to get Rush Limbaugh off the air. The story couches the debate in terms of his misogynistic attacks on law student Sandra Fluke versus Limbaugh’s “first amendment right” to free speech. But Limbaugh doesn’t have the constitution on his side here.

The notion that the first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want is a common misinterpretation. Coming from the pen of a news writer, it’s particularly egregious; I would expect a reporter to know better. The first amendment doesn’t actually provide the right to say whatever you want in whatever context. (It certainly doesn’t give somebody the constitutional right to be on the radio or to accept payments from sponsors.) Instead, the first amendment exempts a very narrow class of political speech against regulation by the government.

But the government doesn’t have a dog in this hunt; the tussle is between Limbaugh and his corporate sponsors, who have come to the conclusion that his show is too toxic to sponsor (at least for the moment).

What Limbaugh is experiencing is not some horrible injustice but the not-so-invisible hand of the free market. If he’s really on the site of liberty and free markets, you’d think he’d welcome this market-enforced course correction. But it’s clear that this is just another example of how conservative money-men like Limbaugh only believe in their principles when those principles happen to coincide with their agenda.

Growing Air of Concern in Greece Over New Bailout

Mr. Tsoukalas said he had a master’s degree in industrial product design but worked in the coffee bar five days a week to make ends meet. He said he earned around 700 euros a month, or about $927, and could barely get by, with his mortgage and new tax increases.

Growing Air of Concern in Greece Over New Bailout – NYTimes.com

Next time you hear somebody gripe about how entitled Americans are, consider Greece, the land where baristas can afford to buy their own homes while still feeling put-upon.

Apocalypse Then

Of most concern to the president himself, one high-level aide said, is the perception that the United States would once again be meddling in the Middle East, where it has overturned many a leader, including Saddam Hussein. Some critics of the United States in the region — as well as some leaders — have already claimed that a Western conspiracy is stoking the revolutions that have overtaken the Middle East.

“He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic,” the senior official said, quoting the president.

Countries that supported the totally pure and utterly organic American Revolution: France, Germany, Spain.

Discord Grows in Washington Over a Potential Role in the Libya Conflict – NYTimes.com.

Call It The Dead Billionaire’s Tax

Handbook for the recently deceased

From the NY Times comes this tale of a recently-deceased billionaire, Dan L. Duncan, whose estate will be the first ever billion-dollar estate in the U.S. to pass to his heirs 100% tax-free.

This situation is the bastard child of the Bush-era tax “reform” in which the estate tax was characterized as a “death tax” and repealed. The repeal was rolled back, but it won’t take effect until next year, which means that estates of anyone who kicks off in 2010 will go to the heirs tax-free.

Well played, rich kids!

This is the kind of issue that drives Democrats crazy. Conservatives put forth these policies which are obviously intended to help big businesses and people in top income brackets, label it “freedom” or whatever, and then Democratic leaders don’t have the stones to counter it rhetorically.

There’s certainly nothing unfair about a tax on dead multi-millionaires, which is what the “death tax” actually is. The estate tax has been part of U.S. tax policy for a hundred years, it only affects a tiny percentage of estates, and it has a clear social objective — to help prevent dynastic concentrations of wealth.

The main argument of conservatives against the estate tax is that it’s “double taxation” (taxing someone on money that’s already been subject to an income tax) and that double taxation is somehow wrong. But this argument, like many principles of “fiscal conservatism,” is based on a deceit. You’re already subjected to “double taxation” on every dollar you earn and every dollar you spend (money that’s subject to income tax is also subject to sales tax, excise taxes, cell phone luxury taxes, etc.). So why is the tax on someone who’s already dead a particular problem? The answer undoubtedly lies in the fact that the estate tax only affects multi-millionaires, and in the conservative cosmology, those are the ones who need to be protected most.

Link: Estate Tax Dormant, Billionaire’s Bequest Is Tax-Free – NYTimes.com.

Stop Responding to Terrorism with More Security Theater

Over Christmas we were following the story of the loon who attempted to set off some kind of incendiary device on an airplane. Today, this:

According to a statement posted Saturday morning on Air Canada’s Web site, the Transportation Security Administration will severely limit the behavior of both passengers and crew during flights in United States airspace — restricting movement in the final hour of flight. Late Saturday morning, the T.S.A. had not yet included this new information on its own Web site.

“Among other things,” the statement in Air Canada’s Web site read, “during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.”

This is a profoundly stupid rule, even dumber than the rule that prevents passengers from carrying an unlimited number of three ounce containers of liquid aboard airplanes. The rule is not intended to protect passengers; it’s intended to protect politicians, to inoculate them from criticism the next time a bad terrorism incident occurs in the future. There are rules in place to prevent this kind of thing, right?

But it’s utterly absurd to think that these airport security rules will never prevent a single act of terrorism. (What’s to prevent the bad guy from doing his thing one hour and one minute before the plane lands?) What these rules will do, though, is to eternally memorialize every half-cocked would-be terrorist who manages to stick something flammable into his shoe or into his pants. And that is precisely the terrorists’ objective.

via Restrictions Rise After Terrorism Attempt – NYTimes.com.

Update: My favorite gadget blog, Gizmodo, has been doing a lot of good blogging on airline security mindlessness. They have their own post on this topic.

Crowdsourced document analysis and MP expenses

My former Yahoo! colleague Simon Willison is doing some amazing work setting up near-instant crowdsourced content analysis systems for government documents in the UK. He and his team are developing vital knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in these kinds of systems, and he’s shared it on his blog:

News-based crowdsourcing projects of this nature are both challenging and an enormous amount of fun. For the best chances of success, be sure to ask the right question, ensure user contributions are rewarded, expose as much data as possible and make the “next thing to review” behaviour as solid possible. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to apply these lessons, although at this point I really hope it involves something other than MPs’ expenses.

Who is doing this kind of thing in the US, I wonder?

Link: Crowdsourced document analysis and MP expenses.

Sometimes A Movie Is Just A Movie

Link: Movie Review – Where the Wild Things Are — NYTimes.com

There are different ways to read the wild things, through a Freudian or colonialist prism, and probably as many ways to ruin this delicate story of a solitary child liberated by his imagination.

There are probably fewer ways to ruin a movie review, but trying to turn it into a miniature graduate school dissertation is definitely one of them, as the Times’ Manohla Dargis does all too frequently.

LATimes.com’s Redesign is 1000% Awesome

I’m really, really appreciating the new LATimes.com. The recent redesign was timely since this week there is actually news going on down there that I sort of care about (the city where I went to high school is apparently becoming even more of a hellish infernal wasteland than it was when I lived there).

la_times_redesign

The downright pornographic use of white space and thick chunky typography is definitely primo, but it took me a few days to catch the most useful feature: trending topics, conveniently placed at the top of the page. That’s right, trending topics, just like on Twitter. (And look there, a link to one of the paper’s actual Twitter feeds above the fold on the home page.)

It’s like having a newspaper that’s psychic.

The Associated Press Discovers Tagging

The Associated Press is floating the idea of creating a tag taxonomy that would provide metadata about their news stories to automated crawlers.

Setting aside the fact that this would appear to be an attempt at creating their own niche set of copyright regulations, I’d be surprised if the AP will even be able to pull this off, since they can’t even be bothered to include bylines on most of the stories they syndicate to their member organizations through their traditional distribution channels.