US rail company Amtrak has begun offering writers residencies on trains, after the author Alexander Chee expressed a wistful longing to write on trains in a recent interview. The writer Jessica Gross tweeted her approval, “because it would allow for uninterrupted creativity and window-gazing”, and Amtrak picked up on the idea; Gross has now travelled to Chicago and back, writing about her journey for the Paris Review, and Chee is due to take his own journey later this year. More trips – free, or as low-cost as possible – will follow, Amtrak told The Wire. The eventual goal, said Julia Quinn, social media director for Amtrak, is to “engage with writers several times a month”.
27 February 2014
27 February 2014
27 February 2014
I think any distraction that takes a driver’s eyes from the road is dangerous.
Having said that, I think that five of the seven members of Shaker Heights’ city council are clueless because they chose to target an economic class with their cell-phone ban, rather than apply the law equally to all drivers in the city.
If a driver has the wherewithal to buy a hands-free cell-phone system, or to buy a vehicle equipped with hands-free cellular service, then they need not fear a $1,000 fine, 30 days in jail and two points on their license. For those not so economically advantaged, however, Shaker Heights has no mercy.
The problem is that, in terms of driver safety, hands-free systems are not safe.
According to a 2008 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:
About two-thirds of drivers who use cell phones while driving believe that it is safer to talk on a hands-free cell phone than on a hand-held cell phone; however, the overwhelming majority of available evidence suggests that it is not.
I strongly suspect that attorneys are sharpening their briefs to get the Shaker Heights law tossed.
27 February 2014
Verrilli’s false assurance to the Court came in the context of the ACLU’s lawsuit – Clapper v. Amnesty International USA — challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance authority under Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, codified as U.S. Code § 1881a.
Title VII, which was added by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, provides statutory authority for warrantless surveillance. Specifically, Section 702 allows the NSA to obtain electronic communications (phone, email, etc.) of targets “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States,” from telecoms and internet service providers without a court order. Though it was not known at the time of the suit, because of information provided last summer by Edward Snowden we now know the internet collection program was known within the NSA as PRISM. The ACLU suit argued that the law vests the executive branch with “sweeping and virtually unregulated authority to monitor the international communications – and in some cases, purely domestic communications – of law-abiding U.S. citizens and residents.”
Endeavoring to avoid judicial review of the program, the Obama administration sought dismissal of the case through the narrow, technical doctrine of standing. Under this principle, a plaintiff cannot sue based on mere speculation of harm. As solicitor general, it was Verrilli’s job to sell the administration’s position to the Supreme Court; specifically, that the group comprised of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal, and media organizations represented by the ACLU lacked standing because their injuries were speculative. Due to the secret nature of the program, the Clapper plaintiffs had no evidence that they had been targeted for surveillance. It was a Kafkaesque burden of proof. Indeed, during oral argument in October 2012, Verrilli had barely completed his introduction to the Court before Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked point blank: “General, is there anybody who has standing?”
And the Bush-Obama Security Scheme trundles on…
26 February 2014
Of course his name is Gillighan…
26 February 2014
Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless one goes in for ‘rare’ books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books. (Most booksellers don’t. You can get their measure by having a look at the trade papers where they advertise their wants. If you don’t see an ad. for Boswell’s DECLINE AND FALL you are pretty sure to see one for THE MILL ON THE FLOSS by T. S. Eliot.) Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long — I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours to buy books — and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows. And books give off more and nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die.
26 February 2014
25 February 2014
How will the Cleveland news media play the debate over the sin tax?
So far it’s pretty much business as usual.
The Plain Dealer jumped on the wagon before it even started rolling. The editorial board endorsed the tax on January 25.
That’s more than 100 days before the election. One hundred and two days actually. A hundred days before they even examined the issue.
It should be embarrassing to an honest editor.
It suggests the Plain Dealer wasn’t interested in giving the issue any real thought.
They pulled the trigger before asking questions.
“It should be renewed,” it said. Quick decision.
It stated that if “the sin tax isn’t extended, the city and county, per the team leases, will still have to come up with at least a share of the money for major capital repairs…”
Well, not if the leases were changed. A possibility not even mentioned.
Why make waves.
Why question authority.
I’ll tell you way. Because the newspaper is part of the pro-tax team. Not independent. Indeed, the paper itself endorsed that 1990 pro-tax ad in the PD, which has now been discredited by its promoter, as even the PD has quoted, him saying the claims were “lies.”
25 February 2014
25 February 2014
I think it’s cute what you did there: Protestants have superstitions, but you have traditions. You really are peas in a pod.
Also, no one is making you change your traditions or telling you what to believe. You don’t have to get married to someone of the same sex. Your church doesn’t even have to carry out gay marriage ceremonies. You get to do as you want.
Except where it hurts people. [Emphasis mine, JH]
That’s the thing. Where you think you are just so fucking special because you’re Catholic, the rest of the world is trying to grow up and recognize that every one of us, gay or straight, man or woman, brown or pink, are human beings who deserve equal treatment under the law, and that ‘tradition’ is not a sufficient excuse to refuse some people their rights.
I would also ask how, if a pair of gay atheists marry, it makes you abandon your Catholic tradition? Or what if it’s a pair of liberal Lutherans, or a pair of ex-Catholics? Is it just violating your Catholic tradition of treating some people as less than human?
25 February 2014
25 February 2014
By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.
Now, won’t that make you feel safer if you actually own a business?
We submitted numerous questions to GCHQ, including: (1) Does GCHQ in fact engage in “false flag operations” where material is posted to the Internet and falsely attributed to someone else?; (2) Does GCHQ engage in efforts to influence or manipulate political discourse online?; and (3) Does GCHQ’s mandate include targeting common criminals (such as boiler room operators), or only foreign threats?
As usual, they ignored those questions and opted instead to send their vague and nonresponsive boilerplate: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”
These agencies’ refusal to “comment on intelligence matters” – meaning: talk at all about anything and everything they do – is precisely why whistleblowing is so urgent, the journalism that supports it so clearly in the public interest, and the increasingly unhinged attacks by these agencies so easy to understand. Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.
The troll you hate, the friend egging you on, the lover enticing you in, may be on the government payroll. Inducing paranoia is part of the strategy.
24 February 2014
Only West Virginians grow up knowing the difference between a “right near” and a “right far piece.” They also know that “just down the road” can be one mile or 20.
My Hess line moved to Palantine, Virginia (now Fairmont, West Virginia) in 1723. My father and his parents moved to Marietta, Ohio during World War II. My dad is fond of joking that he raised the average intelligence in both states when he moved.
24 February 2014
[Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, also acknowledges that the very human nature of the bureaucracy he controls virtually insures that more mass disclosures are inevitable. “In the end,” he says, “we will never ever be able to guarantee that there will not be an Edward Snowden or another Chelsea Manning because this is a large enterprise composed of human beings with all their idiosyncrasies.”
That is indeed true, and it’s good news: more Chelsea Mannings and Edward Snowdens are inevitable, and there is nothing the U.S. Government can do to stop them. That’s good news because it means government officials will have to operate on the assumption that what they do in the dark will become public (an excellent deterrent) and because that type of transparency is inherently healthy in a political culture where secrecy is rampant and the institutions designed to check it (Congress, the media, the federal judiciary) have all profoundly failed.
This also underscores why the U.S. Government has been so vindictive in trying to punish the likes of Manning and other whistleblowers. Since they have no means of preventing these sorts of leaks, their only hope is to create a climate of fear and intimidation: if you are thinking about exposing our bad acts, look at what we did to Chelsea Manning or Tom Drake and think twice. That’s why it’s been so vital – and, for the U.S. national security state, so devastating – that Edward Snowden has remained out of their grasp: rather than getting to parade him in front of the world in an orange jumpsuit and shackles, U.S. officials are forced to watch as he is hailed as an international hero, receives award after award, and participates freely in the debate he triggered. That, in turn, allows the template he used to be a positive one, one that will undoubtedly inspire future whistleblowers.
And the Bush-Obama Security Scheme slogs on…
23 February 2014
I’ve devoted a great deal of time over the past few years to railing against Walmart, but in many ways Amazon is a greater problem because we never actually see the workers.
PZ Myers over at Pharyngula links to a story at Salon this morning about the ongoing inhumane practices at Jeff Bezos’ company.
I left this comment:
Good morning P.Z.
I stopped buying from Amazon years ago for just these reasons.
Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland went under cover at an unnamed Internet warehouse and lasted three days before she quit.
When we buy from Amazon we are, as I see the situation, taking part in a real-life Milgram experiment.
Do all you can to make today a good day,
Have Coffee Will Write
Best comment of the thread:
Rainmaker42 asked, With the world economy pretty much set up thus, what is one to do?
Greta Christina replied, What we can, when we can. When we can: Buy from small local businesses. Buy from companies with reasonably ethical practices. Boycott companies with truly horrible practices. Support unions: don’t cross picket lines, buy union when you can, use social media to spread the word about unionizing and labor events. Talk with people about this stuff. Unionize.
22 February 2014
Via Zen Pencils…
*I like Green, but he should loose the This Machine Kills Fascists sticker on his laptop. Woody Guthrie had a concept and I’ll give Pete Seeger a pass as righteous homage, but everyone else, you’re just sad.
And, oh, about awesome. (Yeah, OK, Louis C.K. was talking about amazing, but you get the idea.)
21 February 2014
That is now official United States’ law, at least as far as U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martini is concerned.
In the case of spying by the New York City Police Department Judge Martini wrote:
None of the Plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents. Nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press. This confirms that Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the documents. The harms are not “fairly traceable” to any act of surveillance.
Now, if the NYPD had been spying on members of the Tea Party…
The Bush-Obama Security Scheme knows no bounds.
21 February 2014
Mel Brooks discusses his writing with Playboy:
Brooks: Young Frankenstein is nothing like Blazing Saddles. It’s in black and white; the photography by Gerald Hirschfeld is magnificent. Everything is back-lit and bathed in antique radiance. So often, the image on the screen looks like a Rembrandt. And the story is very strong, very serious and noble. It’s based on Mary Shelley’s book, and it’s the story of a scientist who challenges God by creating life; you could also interpret it as a story about womb envy. This creator loves his creature so much that he risks his sanity and his life to help his brainchild survive. In our picture, Dr. Frankenstein starts out like Yahweh and winds up like Christ.
That’s the serious side. But the funny side is terrifically funny, though not in the same way as any other movie I’ve made. There’s a lot of dangerous laughing in this movie. You got to have good strong veins to watch it. And when you’re not laughing, you’re shivering. But everything is done in the grand manner. The actors move like singers in a grand opera. I take my time and work for big moments. What can I tell you? I really think we’ve delivered a landmark film, a never-to-be-forgotten movie. Maybe even good.
Playboy: How much of it is you, how much is Wilder?
Brooks: A big, big part is Gene. He wrote the screenplay in collaboration with me and he plays Dr. Frankenstein.
Playboy: How did you write together?
Brooks: We holed up in the Bel Air Hotel, where Gene was staying, and we acted all the parts out. Sometimes he’d be the monster, sometimes I’d be the monster. “Rraawwrr!” “No! No! Back! Back!” We really had fun, we were like a couple of kids. When I’m writing a script, I don’t worry about plot as much as I do about people. I get to know the main characters—what they need, what they want, what they should do. That’s what gets the story going. Like a child, I listen to the characters. “Oh, so that’s what they want! I hope they get it. I love them!” You can’t just have action, you’ve got to find out what the characters want. And then they must grow, they must go somewhere.
I think every human being has hundreds of separate people living inside his skin. And the talent of a writer is directly related to his ability to give them separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living within him. That’s why we like Tennessee Williams’s plays so much. He does all this so well. But I think Gene and I did it pretty well, too. Anyway, only after the characters are developed and the main action laid out is it safe to add the gimmicks: Kenny Mars’s wooden arm, Cloris Leachman’s wart—which, by the way, she ate. Fell in her tuna-fish salad and was swallowed in a glob of mayonnaise.
And on comedy:
Brooks: There’s one thing you’ve got to understand before you can direct comedy. Comedy is serious—deadly serious. Never, never try to be funny! The actors must be serious. Only the situation must be absurd. Funny is in the writing, not in the performing. If the situation isn’t absurd, no amount of hoke will help. And another thing, the more serious the situation, the funnier the comedy can be. The greatest comedy plays against the greatest tragedy. Comedy is a red rubber ball and if you throw it against a soft, funny wall, it will not come back. But if you throw it against the hard wall of ultimate reality, it will bounce back and be very lively. Vershteh, goy bastard? No offense. Very, very few people understand this.
Brooks’ finish is brilliant.
I’m planning a Mel Brooks weekend…
21 February 2014
The [Human Rights Watch] report also calls on the U.S. government to explain how the attack could possibly have complied with the new policies President Obama announced in May 2013, and repeated less than three months before the wedding strike, that he had “limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.”
Obama administration officials have insisted since the strike that only members of al Qaeda were killed. Defense Department spokesman Bill Speaks reiterated to The Intercept on Wednesday “that the Yemeni Government has stated that the targets of this operation were dangerous senior al Qaeda militants,” but he declined to provide any details or evidence to support that conclusion. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden also declined.
The Associated Press reported Thursday morning that, according to three anonymous U.S. officials, two government investigations concluded that only members of al Qaeda were hit in the strike:
Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, ordered an independent investigation by an Air Force general and the White House requested another by the National Counterterrorism Center. Both concluded no civilians were killed. Votel’s staff also showed lawmakers video of the operation. Two U.S. officials who watched the video and were briefed on the investigations said it showed three trucks in the convoy were hit, all carrying armed men.
But the officials provided no details, no evidence — and were not quoted by name. The AP explained:
The officials said the Pentagon can’t release details because both the U.S. military and the CIA fly drones over Yemen. By statute, the military strikes can be acknowledged, but the CIA operations cannot. The officials said that if they explain one strike but not another, they are revealing by default which ones are being carried out by the CIA.
But at its core, the Human Rights Watch report makes the case that a swirling mix of competing accounts surrounding the strike demands a transparent investigation and publicly available findings. In an interview with The Intercept Wednesday, Letta Tayler, the author of the report, said the contradictory claims her team uncovered investigating the strike were “mind boggling.”
And the Bush-Obama Security Scheme rolls on…