Please visit the new home of Majikthise at bigthink.com/blogs/focal-point.

« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »

36 posts from December 2007

December 27, 2007

Depressing news

Not that I really think the hivemind here is unaware of the assination of Benazair Bhutto, but since Lindsay is away, I thought it might be something people wanted to discuss.

What I know (as I wake up to the news; 0800 PST)).  A man on a motorscooter pulled up, fired some shots, at least one of which hit Bhutto, and then blew himself up.

She died in the hospital.

As might be expected there is unrest.  People suspect Musharraf.  I can see a number of outcomes, none of which is good, and some of which are very bad.

December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays

Greetings from Vancouver.

The normal posting schedule will resume soon. 

December 19, 2007

Raw Story's Seigelman piece cited on Harper's blog

Scott Horton of Harper's cited our Rove/Seigelman article!

Masa Acher magazine exploits Flickr photographers

A few days ago, I received message from Tomer Pratt, deputy editor at the Israeli magazine Masa Acher. He described the publication as "a leading geographical and cultural magazine."

Pratt was seeking permission to publish my photograph, "Snowy Owl," for an upcoming story about the arctic.

I wrote back asking about Masa Acher's rates. Like many professional photographers, I use Flickr to display my work. Photo editors use Flickr to locate hard-to-find images. I've sold pictures to TIME, Shock Magazine, Aften Posten, a newsletter published by the London School of Economics, and a variety of other publications through the site.

Pratt replied: "unfortunately' we dont pay for photos tham comes from flicker. we pay  to  many immage banks, but not flicker' which considered to be sharing website based on on principle of give and take. i hope its not too disapointing' and i wish you send us your photo in sake of publication."

I was appalled that a professional editor would try to convince me that Flickr photographers don't deserve to get paid because Flickr is a "sharing website" that is "based on the principle of give and take."

For those who reserve the rights to their work, Flickr is no more about free "sharing" or "give and take" than any other portfolio site where potential customers to view images and download comps. Just because Flickr is an honors system doesn't make it a free-for-all.

A double standard for Flickr users vs. image services is unethical. If a magazine is willing to pay for photographs through a broker, they should be willing to pay photographers directly.

Flickr is home to talented amateurs as well as professionals. Some unscrupulous publications take advantage of the fact that many Flickr users don't know the value of their work. I'm disappointed to learn that Masa Acher is one of them.

December 17, 2007

Obama on obesity

Meowser takes exception to a recent comment by Barack Obama's claim during a recent Democratic debate that that "[i]f we could go back to the obesity rates of 1980 we could save the Medicare system a trillion dollars."

In this election season, Meowser has some questions about how far this crop of Democrats is willing to go to control obesity:

[W]e have an election coming up next year, and strictly from a fat perspective, I worry about who is going to replace [Bush]. When I found out Barack Obama (much like Hillary Clinton, who has made similar remarks in the past) wanted to disappear me solely because of my weight in order to save the government money, I had to ask: Just how far are they willing to go to make that a reality?

I find this rhetoric offensive. The United States government really is disappearing untold numbers of people, and not because they're fat. (Cf. Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane, an outstanding book that I plan to review soon.)    

Meowser continues:

But I still think I have a right to know just how much agency they are willing to remove from people—and especially fatasses like myself—in the name of "health care cost containment." You'd think the Democrats would be all about personal agency and individual freedom. They damn well ought to be. But I'm afraid that when it comes to nosing around in people's body autonomy, they're just as guilty as the people they want to replace; they just want to nose around in a different part of our bodies, that's all.

Here are some questions I'd love to see asked during Presidential debates (and not just of Democrats):

"Do you believe in reducing the number of fat people by any means necessary? What if people really make an effort to exercise and 'eat right' but are still 'obese'? Do you favor requiring them to have bariatric surgery, or putting them in weight-reduction prisons, or having a police state in which people get their homes broken into and their pantries cleaned out and forced at gunpoint to work out until they drop, or being barred from all restaurants and grocery stores and all public places until they slim down? How far are you willing to go?"

Who said anything about stripping people of agency, let alone disappearing anyone?

If politicians are making hateful or false statements about fat people, they deserve to be called out on their prejudice. However, Meowser hasn't offered any evidence that Obama or Clinton is doing any such thing. She's railing at Obama for an empirical claim about the relationship between health care costs and obesity, and assailing Clinton because she voted for nutrition grants and exercise promotion.

These candidates haven't said anything about people who are already fat needing to diet, much less to disappear. Clinton's bill was aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles across the board. We don't know what Obama has in mind, but we shouldn't assume that he's calling on anyone to diet. He was talking about reducing obesity rates to what we saw in the 1980s through prevention. That could mean preventing obesity through healthy school lunches, phys ed, and grants for bike paths.

As far as health policy is concerned, it would be a mistake to fixate on obesity itself as the primary threat. The rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity is just one very visible symptom of much more widespread public health problems, including poor nutrition and insufficient excercise.

Experts disagree about the extent to which excess body fat itself causes health problems
However, there's no doubt that high calorie, low nutrient diets will eventually cause weight gain in a large percentage of the population. We know that poor nutrition and inactivity are harmful, even to those who don't gain weight. What isn't showing up on your abs may very well be collecting in your arteries.

So, the increasing prevalence of obesity is genuinely worrisome, if only because it appears to be linked to deteriorating diets and declining activity levels on a societal level. Weight isn't a good indicator of individual health. However, it is troubling to see entire populations getting heavier, at younger ages.

Clearly, the answer isn't to identify people who weigh "too much" and harangue them to lose weight.  If individual bootstrapping worked, the burgeoning diet and fitness industries would have already addressed the problem one consumer at a time.

We often talk about obesity as if fat people have a problem and everyone else is A-OK. That's a dangerous form of self-delusion. We're ignoring the ways in which our entire society has become less healthy since the 1980s. As a society we're driving more and sleeping less. We're awash in high fructose corn syrup because we subsidize too many Iowa corn farmers. Schools are shortening recess and cutting out PE while adding vending machines to generate badly-needed revenue.

Politicians should be encouraged to talk about public health issues. Their health policies should be judged on their merits. If Obama and Clinton are scheming to deprive fat people of their agency, let's see the evidence.

[NB: I don't want to hear any hateful comments about weight or body shape. Take that bullshit somewhere else.]

[Raw Story] Karl Rove oversaw Alabama elections from White House

By Larisa Alexandrovna, Muriel Kane and Lindsay Beyerstein....

December 16, 2007

As the revolving door turns: Aschroft cashes in

Former Attorney General John Aschroft has landed a lucrative contract from a former employee, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.

The Aschcroft Group will oversee a $311 million deferred prosecution agreement against a company that made medical devices. For 18 months of service, the firm will be paid between $29 million and $52 million, according to the Project on Government Oversight.

POGO's Neil Gordon explains:

Deferred prosecution agreements (and a variant called non-prosecution agreements) are a new weapon gaining in popularity among federal prosecutors. They are starting to show up in POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database. Deferred prosecution agreements usually involve court involvement or oversight. However, the deal arranged in the Zimmer Holdings matter was crafted entirely at Christie’s discretion. The companies under investigation faced a difficult choice: either agree to Christie’s terms and pay the substantial fees charged by the monitors that he appointed, or face prosecution. Also, fee arrangements for corporate monitors are usually secret; Zimmer Holdings took the rare step of disclosing its compensation arrangement with Ashcroft in an SEC filing.

Christie said he had nothing to do with arranging Ashcroft’s fee, which he justified as a “real bargain” for taxpayers. However, Christie used the hefty monitoring fees the companies agreed to pay as an excuse not to impose any criminal fines. Is it really a “bargain” if, instead of paying back the government, companies who cheat the public are instead forced to enrich the lucky few who have connections to a U.S. Attorney? [POGO]

With sweet deals like this to be had, it's no wonder Republicans felt the need to appoint politically friendly US Attorneys.

Last month, Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) joined Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in calling on the House Judiciary Committee to investigate deferred prosecutions.

December 15, 2007

St. Paul police chief subpoenaed journo's records to ID source of public document

A Minnesota police chief is defending his decision to subpoena the phone records of a TV reporter in order to identify the official who gave the journalist a copy of a public record.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, both the chief and the source knew all along that the document in question, an arrest report, was a public record.

[St. Paul police chief John] Harrington told the station that the investigation involving the phone records was conducted out of concern for "data privacy," although he did not explain what privacy interests were involved in release of a public record. He wouldn't tell the station who authorized the subpoena or what time period the records covered.

[KMSP-TV reporter Tom Lyden] said in a report aired on his station that his concern is about what police are doing with all the records they now possess.

"In obtaining my phone records they basically opened up my reporter's notebook," Lyden said in the KMSP report. "They can match up every source that I have had. It is awful." [RCFP]

Police Chief John Harrington should be fired for abuse of power.

Rich getting richer, faster

Income inequality is increasing very rapidly in the US, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office:

The increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans from 2003 to 2005 ($524.8 billion) exceeded the total income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans ($383.4 billion), according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office. “On average, incomes for the top 1 percent of households rose by $465,700 each, or 42.6 percent after adjusting for inflation. The incomes of the poorest fifth rose by $200, or 1.3 percent, and the middle fifth increased by $2,400 or 4.3 percent.”  [NYT/Think Progress]

Speaking of inequality, Roy culled the following 'graph from a commenter of Dr. Helen's. The commenter was, in turn, responding to another post about how uppity women wreck marriage and dating:

Most men are simply priced out of the marriage and dating market. If you dropped a mere $100K in the yearly bank account of those lonely, "shy" men women would be all around and over them. Because the men would have higher RELATIVE status. Which would make them sexy instead of losers. [whiskey_199]

W_199 went on to assert that this putative sociological fact is attributable to the hardwired shallowness of women. I hear this argument pretty often, almost always from men. The moral of the story is invariably that modern women are too snotty for their own good. If you were casting about for a whole gender to blame using the same premises, you could just as easily argue that men are lazy SOBs who refuse to better themselves. Yet, that's seldom the moral of the story. Nor should it be.

I wish liberals would talk more about how increasing relative economic inequality might be affecting people's day-to-day lives. Abject material deprivation is only part of the problem. For example, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that a lot of young people are priced out of marriage--not because they can't find a willing partner, but because they don't have enough financial stability to "justify" getting married.

If you don't have substantial assets in common, or a job that would give benefits to a spouse, marriage just isn't as practically alluring as it might have been.

I don't view declining marriage rates as a problem--unless marriage is just one more dream that is being squelched by inequality. Obviously, a lot of people disagree with me about the intrinsic value of high marriage rates. Often, they cloak their social conservatism in utilitarian arguments about how marriage is a great solution to poverty.

Addressing poverty and other kinds of income insecurity might actually give people more incentive to get married.

Of course, as Amanda notes so often, it's easier just to blame women.

Giving up password may constitute self-incrimination

An interesting legal for our times, via Bellman at Metafilter...

A Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court in Vermont has ruled that a man allegedly caught with child pornography on his laptop need not reveal his PGP password (yes, authorities shut down the laptop and now can't get at the alleged porn) pursuant to the Fifth Amendment's protections against self incrimination. The decision is here [PDF]. A decent write-up (from CNET of all places) is here.

Bellman notes that submitting to blood test is not considered self-incriminating, nor is handing over the physical key to a safe. Is there a difference, he wonders, between demanding the key and demanding the combination to the lock?