Jan 302012
 

Thanks to Occupy Wall Street and the arrest of journalists covering it, the United States fell 27 places in Reporters Without Borders’ latest Press Freedom Index.  The thanks is for the heads up on yet another soft spot in our democracy.  You don’t have to look at this map long to appreciate what a rare thing freedom can be.

freedom of the press map(click to enlarge)

Sadly, there are 130 countries with less satisfactory conditions.  Some much less so…

From the release:

It is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index. This year, they are immediately preceded at the bottom by Syria, Iran and China, three countries that seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror, and by Bahrain and Vietnam, quintessential oppressive regimes. Other countries such as Uganda and Belarus have also become much more repressive.

That’s the other side of this coin.  It’s the place we are trying not to go when we cry foul.  It shouldn’t matter what you think of those getting arrested.  No news is bad news.

Unfortunately over the weekend the Oakland Police Department started working on dropping the United States down a few more slots.  On Saturday night, Occupy Oakland had another run-in with the OPD in which 400 people were arrested, including six reporters.

Though four were released on the scene, two got to see the inside of a jail before the night was over.  Gavin Aronsen was one of those two and wrote up the story over at Mother Jones.  Below, a couple of tweets from Kristin Hanes, one of the semi-lucky reporters, who sums it all up quite well:

Luckily a judge has had his eye on the OPD for a while now and this weekend likely increased the odds the department will go into federal receivership for being “woefully behind its peers around the state and nation”.  Not that Oakland’s is the only force dragging down the country’s freedom of the press rankings.  If you want to see the full journalist arrest tally or follow it as the Occupy movement continues its diagnostic tests of the United States’ checks and balances, Josh Stearns is tracking it right here.

[Press Freedom Index via Boing Boing; High-res map in report PDF]

Things Doing and To Be Done

 Posted by on January 27, 2012
Jan 272012
 

As Captain Monterey Jack said, “Thomas Edison was a great man, but he was bastard to his wife and kids.”

That’s not the real story of course, but we’re just here for a glimpse of a mighty to-do list, which just happened to be penned by the fourth most prolific inventor in history*…

That’s just the first of five pages.  You can see the rest of this list and more in Rutgers’ collection.

[via Lists of Note]

* Legally at least.

Jan 262012
 

Thanks to a declassified set of georeferenced bombing data, we now know that America’s official story on activity in Cambodia during the Indo-Chinese War bore little resemblance to the reality of the campaign.

From the article, Bombs Over Cambodia by Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan:

“The data released by Clinton shows the total payload dropped during these years to be nearly five times greater than the generally accepted figure. To put the revised total of 2,756,941 tons into perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombs during all of World War II, including the bombs that struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 15,000 and 20,000 tons, respectively. Cambodia may well be the most heavily bombed country in history.”

(click to enlarge)

How does set a drastic course of action get set in motion?

“After telling Kissinger that the US Air Force was being unimaginative, Nixon demanded more bombing, deeper into the country: “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in…I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?”

Kissinger knew that this order ignored Nixon’s promise to Congress that US planes would remain within thirty kilometres of the Vietnamese border, his own assurances to the public that bombing would not take place within a kilometre of any village, and military assessments stating that air strikes were like poking a beehive with a stick.

Five minutes after his conversation with Nixon ended, Kissinger called General Alexander Haig to relay the new orders from the president: “He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?””

Read the whole story at The Walrus.

[via iRevolution]

It’s Never Enough

 Posted by on January 25, 2012
Jan 252012
 

When one’s income increases, the tendency would be to expect standard of living to go with it.  In the following example, however, once you’re making $10,000 a year, you might feel just as poor making $40,000.

The issue is the balance of subsides and taxes on the lower income brackets.  The stagnation comes from the loss of social benefits as income rises.  Food stamps turn into grocery bills.  Free health insurance turns into… costly health insurance.

One way of looking at the situation, and the one taken by the Mises Institute, which made the chart above, is to say that by helping the poor, we are taking away the motivation to work.  And sure, when you find out low-wage work might leave you with less money than being unemployed, where is the motivation?  But, what’s the problem here: the helping of the poor or millions of full-time jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet?  Ape Con Myth’s take on the chart is that the base cost of life for hypothetical families of three in Virginia is about $40k.

But that’s Virginia.  What about the country as a whole?  Below we have similar charts based on singles and couples at ages 30, 45 and 60 from a Boston University/National Bureau of Economic Research report.  Don’t worry about the fine print.  Just notice how different they all are…

(click to enlarge)

As the researchers were quick to point out, “the patterns by age and income of marginal net tax rates on earnings, marginal net tax rates on saving, and tax-arbitrage opportunities can be summarized with one word – bizarre.”

What do they think of our chances of understanding the elements at work?  “Thanks to the incredible complexity of the U.S. fiscal system, it’s impossible for anyone to understand her incentive to work, save, or contribute to retirement accounts absent highly advanced computer technology and software.”

Try doing that on a computer at a library.

[Mises chart and NBER report via Greg Mankiw via Kottke]

Jan 232012
 

See how the light spread from sea to shining sea…

(click for interactive map)

Those spots of color are papers in different languages.  Maybe next someone will make one of these where the holdings of the media conglomerates are shaded in by owner.  MediaOwners.com would be a great place to start for such an endeavor.  (Or has it already been done?  Please comment if you know.)

Meanwhile, you can probably follow some of the dots’ comings and goings by cross-referencing this chart of historical U.S. metropolitan area population rankings.

[Map by Stanford University's Rural West Initiative via visual.ly]

Jan 192012
 

A short documentary on how bikes had the numbers, lost the ground, but came back for the win in the Netherlands.

According to the checklist in the film, the United States (and most other places) have all the key ingredients to drive change on the issue…

  • cities could not cope with traffic
  • very high number of casualties
  • oil crisis, economic crisis

… but sadly we are often in short supply of the given answer:

  • A will to change

Or, one could argue, time to change.

Since you’re probably already aware of how bad traffic is and of the various financial crises plaguing the world, we are left to deal with the casualties.  Of 113 causes selected for the National Vital Statistics Reports for the United States in 2008, motor vehicle accidents were the single leading cause of death not only for those aged 5-14, but also 14-25.  These are two age groups prone to not dying, accounting for only 1.5% of deaths in the United States during 2008.  And while 400 deaths is a big number for the Netherlands, with 13M in population back in ’71, they blow every percentage out of the water getting that number down to 14.  In 2008, the U.S. toll for kids 14 and under was 1,593, which is thankfully down from 2000′s count of 2,591, though no less of a shame.

This isn’t about getting rid of cars altogether, but carving out a real place for bikes in the landscape.  Bike lanes wedged between lines of moving traffic and parked cars don’t cut it.

[Video via Brain Pickings, plus a great set of bike-related links on MetaFilter]

Jan 172012
 

Whether you are just tuning in or have been following the saga from the start, The Super PIPA-SOPA Action/Info Flowchart Reference Guide is ready to get you up to speed and lay the whole thing out.

SOPA getting shelved might be a move in the right direction, but the companies supporting it aren’t just going to forget about the internet.  It isn’t over and we shouldn’t let this momentum go…

(click to enlarge)

And don’t forget, January 18th is Internet Blackout Day!  Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing and a host of other sites will be joining in to get the word out.  Find out more and get blackout code for your site at SopaStrike.  It is sure to be an interesting day.