Posts tagged ‘television’

Is Bing Censoring US Searches on Chinese Topics?

The other day I had a little fun with Bing's search results on Windows 8 problems.  But this seems much more serious.  From a reader:

No comment.

That’s Microsoft’s response to new revelations that the search engine is censoring Chinese searches in the United States — not just in China. Searches on Chinese topics in the U.S. now produce markedly different search results than Google, results that mimic those  in China. China broadly censors the Internet, blocking topics like the Dalai Lama and Tiananmen Square.

The censorship blog Greatfire.org was the first to point out  that Bing’s search results display information propagated by Chinese authorities. A Chinese language search in Bing for the Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛 in Chinese) produces two results from China’s Wikipedia (Baidu Baike) and one from the state-owned television station CCTV. In Google, the same search returns two Wikipedia entries and the Dalai Lama’s official site.

Click here to see the results in Bing, versus the results in Google.

Even more shocking, a search for the anti-censorship software FreeGate produces the result: “Due to restrictions on Chinese laws and regulations, we removed the results of these search terms. For more information, see here.”

Microsoft responded to a request from Charlie Smith’s Greatfire to explain the discrepancy. At first, the  software juggernaut replied: “We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org. First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China. Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.”

But after finding the “due to Chinese laws and regulations” search result, Microsoft replied: “Thanks for your inquiry. We have no comment on this topic.”

Much more detail at the link, with examples and screenshots

Libertarian: I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

From Lee Goodman on an opinion piece in the WSJ

This startling assertion of government power became public in December when the FEC released an enforcement file in the case of a Boston television station's regular Sunday-morning news program, "On the Record." The station, WCVB, had invited two congressional candidates (a Democrat and a Republican) into its studio to appear on "On the Record" in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election and formatted the joint appearance as a 30-minute debate.

Another candidate (a libertarian) who was not invited filed a complaint alleging that the value of WCVB's production costs and airtime constituted unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates who were invited.

Wow, I am sure glad the "libertarian" is pushing for government regulation of speech and government restrictions on the decision-making of private businesses.

How Newspapers May Survive

Local blogger Greg Patterson writes:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Gannett will soon be adding USA Today to it's local papers.

With this change, the Republic and USA Today are essentially a hybrid.  As print revenue continues to slide the USA Today side will grow and the Republic side will shrink.  Eventually, your morning Republic will consist of a copy of USA Today with enhanced local coverage.

This is a change I have expected for a long time.  The wire services have always existed as an attempt by local papers to share costs in national and international news gathering, but I would have expected this next step of national consolidation some time ago.  The internet allows not just the text, but the entire layout of newspapers to be transmitted instantly across the country.

The whole situation reminds me of television broadcasting, where local affiliates exist mainly as a byproduct of past technological limitations in signal transmission.  Satellite and cable have eliminated these restrictions, but still local affiliates exist, in part because there is some demand for local content but in part because of the fact that the government protects their existence (by law, cable and satellite operators must give you the local affiliate, they cannot give you the national feed).

This is what I wrote back in 2009

I actually think the problem with newspapers like the Washington Post is the "Washington" part.  Local business models dominated for decades in fields where technology made national distribution difficult or where technology did not allow for anything but a very local economy of scale.  Newspapers, delivery of television programming, auto sales, beverage bottling and distribution, book selling, etc. were all mainly local businesses.  But you can see with this list that technology is changing everything.  TV can now be delivered via sattelite and does not require local re-distribution via line of sight broadcast towers or cable systems.  Amazon dominated book selling via the Internet.  Many of these businesses (e.g. liquor, auto dealers, TV broadcasting) would have de-localized faster if it had not been for politicians in the pocket of a few powerful companies passing laws to lock in outdated business or technological models.

Newspapers are ripe for a restructuring.  How can one support a great Science page or Book Review section or International Bureau on local circulation?  How much effort do the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, SF Chronicle, etc. duplicate every day?  People tell me, "that's what the wire services are for."  Bah.  The AP is 160 years old!  It is a pre-Civil War solution to this problem.  Can it really be that technology and changing markets have not facilitated a better solution?

The future is almost certainly a number of national papers (ala the WSJ and USA Today) printed locally with perhaps local offices to provide some local customization or special local section.  Paradoxically, such a massive consolidation from hundreds of local papers to a few national papers would actually increase competition.  While we might get a few less stories about cats being saved from trees in the local paper, we could well end up not with one paper selection (as we have today in most cities) but five or six different papers to choose from  (just look at Britain).  Some of these papers might choose to sell political neutrality while some might compete on political affiliation.

I Used to Respect Michael Crow. Never Mind. The NCAA Hypocrisy Never Ends

Arizona State University (ASU) has always had a certain niche in the college world, a niche best evidenced by their making both the top 10 party school and top 10 hottest women lists in the same year.  President Michael Crow has done a fair amount to, if not reverse this image, at least add some academic cred to the university.  ASU has been creeping up the USN&WR rankings, has a very serious and respected honors college (Barrett) and hosts the Origins conference each year, one of the most fun public education events I have attended.

But Michael Crow is now upset that another Phoenix area school has been given Division I status in sports, a for-profit college named Grand Canyon University.  This could really hurt both ASU's athletic recruiting in the area as well as dilute its revenues.  But in the supremely hypocritical world college athletics, he can't say that.  Instead, he says (Via Tyler Cowen)

The conference's 12 presidents signed and delivered a letter dated July 10 urging the NCAA's Executive Committee to "engage in further, careful consideration" about allowing for-profit universities to become Division I members at the committee's August meeting. In the meantime, Pac-12 presidents decided at a league meeting last month not to schedule future contests against Grand Canyon while the issue is under consideration.

"A university using intercollegiate athletics to drive up its stock value -- that's not what we're about," Arizona State president Michael Crow said in a phone interview over the weekend. "... If someone asked me, should we play the Pepsi-Cola Company in basketball? The answer is no. We shouldn't be playing for-profit corporations."...

"Our presidents have a pretty clear view that athletics works for the broader benefit of the university," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "There's a discomfort with the idea that the sole accountability around athletics would be to a company that might use athletics as a marketing tool to drive stock price. There's a sense that changes the dynamics and accountability around athletics."

It is freaking hilarious to get lectured on accountability around athletics by the NCAA.  This is an organization that has been making billions off unpaid workers for years, workers who think so much of the value of the compensation they do receive (a free education) that most of the best of them never complete it.  I wrote more about the NCAA and athletes here.  In short, though, all these schools use the athletic program to raise capital (in the form of donations), likely far more so than a private school's sports team would raise its stock value.  Unless you grew up near the school, what do you know about well-known schools like Penn State, Ohio State, University of Miami, LSU, Alabama and even Notre Dame other than their athletics program?

Michael Crow reveals himself as just another incumbent that does not want competition.

In regards to Grand Canyon specifically, though, it would certainly appear that Crow, who's been spearheading the effort, is driven in part by protecting his own turf. Arizona State has long been the only Division I university in the Phoenix market. And in the bigger picture, it seems a bit self-righteous that the same group of presidents that in 2011 signed a $3 billion contract with ESPN and FOX -- and which last year launched a profitable television network of their own -- would play the "non-profit" card in calling out someone else's motives.

"It's different in the following sense," Crow said of the comparison. "Whatever income we generate from a television network goes to support the swimming team, the rowing team at Cal. We support thousands of athletes and their scholarships, their room-and-board, as part of the intercollegiate spirit of athletics. ... In the case of a for-profit corporation, those profits go to the shareholders."

His last point is a distinction without a difference.  First, I am not sure it is true -- Grand Canyon also has other athletic programs that cost money but don't bring in revenue. They also have a women's swim team, for example.  But who cares anyway?  Why is a student interested in swimming more worthy of receiving football largess than an investor?  Maybe Crow is worried that the people of Arizona that fund so much of his operations (and bloated overpaid administrative staff) might suddenly start wondering why they don't get a return for their investment as do GCU shareholders.

Postscript:  Phil Knight at Oregon and Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State (to name just 2 examples) get an incredible amount of influence in the university due to the money they give to their football programs and the importance of the football programs to those schools.  Boone Pickens says he has given half a billion dollars to OSU, half of which went to the football program.  But it is clear he would not have given a dime if he had not been concerned with the football team's fortunes and the problem of his university's football team losing to other rich guy's teams.  Is this really somehow better and cleaner than being beholden to equity markets?

The link in the original article is broken, so here is a better link to an article and video of how "non-profits" are spending their athletic money, on things like this palatial locker room for the Alabama football team that would make Nero's gladiators blush.

Film Production -- The Strangely Favored Industry

My son and I were watching a TV show and at the end there was a blurb about it being made in Georgia.  I said to him "I guarantee that "filmed in Georgia" translates to "subsidized by Georgia."  He did not believe me, and could not understand why anyone would subsidize film production.  After all, we can argue about whether any government subsidized jobs make sense or just cannibalize investment in other areas, but film jobs are the most temporary and fleeting of all jobs.

Turns out I was right (I followed a web link from the credits):

Georgia production incentives provide up to 30% of your Georgia production expenditures in transferable tax credits.

The program is available for qualifying projects, including feature films, television series, commercials, music videos, animation and game development. With one of the industry’s most competitive production incentive programs, the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office can help you dramatically cut production costs without sacrificing quality.

Highlights from the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act include the following:

  • 20% across the board, transferable flat tax credit with a minimum of $500,000 spent on qualified production and post production expenditures within Georgia
  • Additional 10% tax credit if a production company includes an imbedded Georgia promotional logo in the qualified feature film, TV series, music video or video game project
  • Provides same tax credits to all instate and out-of-state labor working in Georgia, plus standard fringes qualify
  • No limits or caps on Georgia spend; no sunset clause
  • For commercials and music videos, a production company may group multiple projects together to meet the $500,000 minimum spend on qualified expenditures

This is just insane.  WTF is the state doing subsidizing 30% of the cost of making commercials?  What could possibly justify this, except that this is a sexy business and it gives politicians a chance to rub shoulders with film people?   Why are Georgia business people taxed in order to hand money film producers?   What makes film production a "good" industry and, say, campgrounds a bad one?

Well, I suppose it could be argued that filming in Georgia would help advertise Georgia by showing scenes filmed on location in the state.  Except that the show we were watching was Archer, an animated series about spies based in New York City.  Not one second of the TV show has ever shown or ever will show a live image of Georgia, and I am almost all the way through the second season and not one location in the state of Georgia has been mentioned  (though they might have mentioned the one in Asia).

 

Those European Hotbeds of Civil Liberties

I am happy to vociferously criticize the many shortcomings in US civil liberties.  But one are where I can't agree with other civil libertarians is their frequent homage to Europe as the home of civil liberties enlightenment.  Kudos, of course, to countries like Holland and more recently Portugal for reasonable drug laws.  But Europeans have many problems we do not share, particularly in protecting, or not protecting free speech.  Here is another example, from Sweden.  Just because they have a reputation for sexual freedom does not make them a civil liberties paradise:

One of the prime arguments I have always made about the Assange asylum case is that his particular fear of being extradited to Sweden is grounded in that country's very unusual and quite oppressive pre-trial detention powers: ones that permit the state to act with anextreme degree of secrecy and which can even prohibit the accused from any communication with the outside world.....

Svartholm is now being held under exactly the pretrial conditions that I've long argued (based on condemnations from human rights groups) prevail in Sweden:

"Gottfrid Svartholm will be kept in detention for at least two more weeks on suspicion ofhacking into a Swedish IT company connected to the country's tax authorities. According to Prosecutor Henry Olin the extended detention is needed 'to prevent him from having contact with other people.' The Pirate Bay co-founder is not allowed to have visitors and is even being denied access to newspapers and television. . . .

"Since he hasn't been charged officially in the Logica case the Pirate Bay co-founder could only be detained for a few days.

"But, after a request from Prosecutor Henry Olin this term was extended for another two weeks mid-September, and last Friday the District Court decided that Gottfrid could be detained for another two weeks.

"To prevent Gottfrid from interfering with the investigation the Prosecutor believes it's justified to detain him for more than a month without being charged....

Unlike in the British system, in which all proceedings, including extradition proceedings, relating to Assange would be publicly scrutinized and almost certainly conducted in open court, the unusual secrecy of Sweden's pre-trial judicial process, particularly the ability to hold the accused incommunicado, poses a real danger that whatever happened to Assange could be effectuated without any public notice....

By the way, the whole sexual freedom thing?  Uh-uh.  Which is another reason Assange is worried, since women can pretty much retroactively any sex they later regret as a sexual assault.

The NCAA Labor Cartel

Gary Becker via Ilya Somin:

The toughest competition for basketball and football players occurs at the Division I level. These sports have both large attendances at games-sometimes, more than 100,000 persons attend college football games– and widespread television coverage.... Absent the rules enforced by the NCAA, the competition for players would stiffen, especially for the big stars...

To avoid that outcome, the NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players....

It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.

Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are blatantly inconsistent with these defenses....

I expressed many of the same thoughts in this article at Forbes.  In addition to making the same points as Becker, I slammed on the whole concept of the "amateur athlete" as an outdated holdover from the British aristocracy and their disdain for commerce:

University presidents with lucrative athletic programs will do about anything to distract attention from just how much money their Universities are making off of essentially unpaid labor.  Their favorite mantra is to claim they are holding up an ideal of “amateurism.”

The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true “gentleman” did not actually work for a living but sponged off the locals while perfecting his golf or polo game.  These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges.  Even the Olympics, though,  finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.

In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of “amateurism” in any other part of society, or even any other corner of university life, it would be considered absurd.  Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers?  Economists?  Poets?

When Brooke Shields was at Princeton, she still was able to perform in the “amateur” school shows despite the fact she had already been paid as an actress.   Engineering students are still allowed to study engineering at a university even if a private party pays them for their labor over the summer.  Students don’t get kicked out of the school glee club just because they make money at night singing in a bar.  The student council president isn’t going to be suspended by her school if she makes money over the summer at a policy think tank.

In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics.  I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.

Peak IP

Human ingenuity keeps finding more oil and gas but we are close to running out of IP addresses, at least in the old IPv4 system, which all of your are probably using right now.  This does not mean the world will shut down - already, for example, all the computers in your home probably share a single IP address to the outside world, and for many of you that IP address is dynamically assigned by your Internet provider to further save addresses.  Many web sites on the same server will share an IP address (which is actually a good reason not to used shared hosting, because if one of the other accounts on your server is a bad actor, your IP address can effectively get banned from sites and networks trying to ban that other person on your server).

However, a new system is in place, but as with many standards transitions the details are tricky.  It will be interesting to see how this mostly free-market transition goes in comparison to government enforced transitions (e.g. television broadcast standards).

The following will probably just demonstrate my total ignorance of networking protocols, but I am not sure why IPv6 couldn't be written in a way that the extra bytes would just be ignored by IPv4 systems.  It could be assumed that all IPv4 addresses of the form www.xxx.yyy.zzz map to www.xxx.yyy.zzz.000.000 in IPv6, but this may be wildly simplifying what is going on.

The reason I bring this us is because I have always thought the way black and white TV was transitioned to color was particularly clever.  They could have broadcast color with three signals of Red, Green, and Blue levels, and then black and white TVs would have to be thrown out - they wouldn't show anything meaningful with that signal.  Instead, though, they mapped color with a three part system of an absolute brightness signal for each pixel, plus two color signals.  If you are familiar with Photoshop, when you choose a color, you can enter the color as three numbers R-G-B for the intensity of each color or as Hue-Saturation-Brightness.  While not the same as the TV system, it is similar in that it has a pixel brightness component, plus to color components.  (my memory is that in the TV system, it is brightness plus two colors and the third color -- blue, I think -- is arrived at by subtraction from the total brightness minus the two other colors.)

Here is the trick - the signal which was just the pixel brightness component is essentially identical to the old black and white TV signal -- after all, a black and white signal is just the relative brightness of each pixel.  So they took a black and white signal and then added bandwidth so that there was more information if one had a color set.  Both technologies, old and new, worked from the same signal.

I suppose the problem with this is that I am thinking of routers like telephones.   Most folks know that if we dial more than 10 digits, the extras are just ignored.  My guess is that routers are more finicky and precise than this, and they can't just ignore the fact the IP address they are getting are too long.  But I still would imagine there could be a simple hardware hack to cheaply strip off the last part of a longer IP address so that older IPv4 infrastructure could still work in an IPv6 world.  Or is this hopelessly misinformed and naive?

Spiderman Tonight

Well, after flying 10 hours round trip to do 5 minutes of television  (don't get me wrong, it was a new enough experience that I am glad I did it) I am going to reward myself by seeing Spiderman the musical tonight.  Seriously, Bono, Edge, Spiderman, stage accidents?  I have to give it a chance, despite mixed reviews.  I will post reviews tomorrow.

Coyote on TV

I flew to New York to go in studio on the Stossel show today.  I did a brief bit on the minimum wage, a reprise from my earlier cameo on Stossel special.  It will be on tomorrow, Thursday at 9PM Eastern on Fox Business  (not Fox News, Fox Business).

The whole experience was new to me, which made me virtually unique as I was surrounded by policy wonks who do this kind of talking head thing all the time.   By the way, there was no sharing of questions or his plan in advance -- I think they want you cold.  So answers are all in real time.

Please, please, please do not write me or post comments such as "you should have said ____."  It will just depress me.  Believe me, 5 minutes after walking out I thought of 9 things I should have said.  Which is in fact why I blog rather than engage much any more in real time argument.

Anyway, I think his show will be pretty good -- he has Michael Cannon on health care and segments after mine on cash for clunkers and alpaca subsidies.  I shared the green room with an alpaca, which will probably just go to prove the old saying about always getting upstaged by kids and animals.

By the way, I think Stossel must set a different tone for his staff than is normal on TV.  I was talking to one of his producers, a guy that had come with Stossel from ABC, and I asked him if he had studied something relevant to this job in college.  I expected him to say "yes, theater" or "yes, television production."  But he said "yes, economics at George Mason."  I loved that answer.

Huh

Found by my son Nic on Wikipedia:

The Wilhelm scream is a frequently-used film and television stock sound effect first used in 1951 for the film Distant Drums.[1] The effect gained new popularity (its use often becoming an in-joke) after it was used in Star Wars and many other blockbuster films as well as television programs and video games.[2] The scream is often used when someone is pierced with an arrow, falls to his death from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion.

The Wilhelm scream has become a well-known cinematic sound cliché, and is claimed to have been used in over 216 films

This is the sound.

By the way, Nic thanks everyone for their help on his blog and his writing project.  He is writing a novel over the next year, dealing mixing his interest in sports with dystopian themes.  This entry into the Hayek poster contest actually comes really close to the themes in his book.  I thought he was getting on a wrong track by trying to use Atlas Shrugged too much as a model.  While I love the book and it has had a profound effect on me, as a work of fiction it is pretty limited, with black and white characters and no character movement/development at all.  I am making him read the Fountainhead right now as a better example of having more intriguing characters.

Fact vs. Myth

I have this same problem all the time now in Arizona:

To understand how badly we're doing the most basic work of journalism in covering the law enforcement beat, try sitting in a barbershop. When I was getting my last haircut, the noon news on the television"”positioned to be impossible to avoid watching"”began with a grisly murder. The well-educated man in the chair next to me started ranting about how crime is out of control.

But it isn't. I told Frank, a regular, that crime isn't running wild and chance of being burglarized today is less than one quarter what it was in 1980.

The shop turned so quiet you could have heard a hair fall to the floor had the scissors not stopped. The barbers and clients listened intently as I next told them about how the number of murders in America peaked back in the early 1990's at a bit south of 25,000 and fell to fewer than 16,000 in 2009. When we take population growth into account, this means your chance of being murdered has almost been cut in half.

Its almost impossible to convince folks that AZ is not in the middle of some sort of Road Warrior-style immigrant-led wave of violence.  In fact, our crime levels in AZ have steadily dropped for over a decade, in part because illegal immigrants trying to hang on to a job are the last ones to try to stir up trouble with the law (charts here, with update here)

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, "Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we're significantly down." Mr. Crump said Phoenix's most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona's major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn't have exact figures. [see charts above, these are continuation of decade-long trends]

But over Thanksgiving my niece visited from the Boston area for a national field hockey tournament and her teachers and coaches had carefully counselled them that they were  walking into a virtual anarchy, and kidnapping or murder would await any teen who wandered away from the group.

Homesteaders Beware

I already wrote on the egregious FTC proposals to begin the government takeover of journalism.  But I missed this part, via South Bend Seven, which caught my eye in their post:

Tax on broadcast spectrum. They argue "commercial radio and television broadcasters are given monopoly rights to extremely lucrative spectrum at no charge," and this is a massive public subsidy. They therefore suggest the revenues generated by that spectrum be taxed at a rate of 7 percent, which should result in a fund of between $3 and $6 billion. In exchange, commercial broadcasters would be relieved of any obligations to engage in "public-interest programming," which the broadcasters claim costs them $10 billion annually.

Much of the TV and radio spectrum was indeed "given away," in exactly the same process that the Homestead Act (and I believe the Northwest Ordinance before that) "gave away" land to Americans who were willing to develop it.  These acts gave land away to pioneers who were willing to take the risk and effort to develop what was essentially value-less land into a productive asset  (the land had potential value, but until someone tilled it and put up structures and built rail and road to it, it was worthless).  When TV and Radio broadcasters first started using the spectrum, it was worthless -- and we were even less confident in its potential value than we were of the land in the Homestead Act.  The spectrum did not have value until private broadcasters demonstrated it had value through their investment, development, and experimentation.

So is Congress next going to tell everyone who lives on homesteaded land that they received a massive public subsidy and that their land is now going to be taxed?  The current landowner would likely argue that they didn't get the land for free - they bought it for a substantial price from the previous owners, who bought if from someone else, who bought it from the original homesteader.  But the situation is no different in the broadcast spectrum.  Clear Channel did not get the spectrum for free -- it did not even exist for decades after the spectrum was homesteaded -- it paid a full market price for the spectrum it controls.

Postscript: However, I am happy to see even the leftish Obama Administration admit that public-interest programming is a questionable requirement.  Because broadcasters only make money if they broadcast things people want to see or hear, everything they do is "public-interest."  What is meant in practice by the term "public-interest" should actually be called "political-interest" programming, because this programming tends to be uninteresting to the great majority of the public (have you ever listened to the garbage at 5am on Sunday morning on radio?) but is supported by small niche groups that have disproportionate political influence.  Let's remove these requirements as stupid without holding up broadcasters for more taxes in exchange.

Overzealous Prosecution

It sure looks like the Feds are bending over backwards to make sure R. Allen Stanford, accused of massive investment fraud, is not allowed to defend himself.  The Feds are running the whole playbook at him, from onerous pre-trial detention requirements to asset forfeiture (the latter to the point that the Feds are working to make sure the insurance policy he had to pay for his defense in such actions is not allowed to pay him.)  I understand that a guy who has substantial interest in offshore banking centers might be a flight risk, but this is absurd:

Mr. Stanford has been incarcerated since June 18, 2009 and was moved to the [Federal Detention Center] on September 29, 2009. Immediately upon his arrival at the FDC, he underwent general anesthesia surgery due to injuries that were inflicted upon him at the Joe Corley Detention Facility. He was then immediately taken from surgery and placed in the Maximum Security Section "” known as the "Special Housing Unit" (SHU) "” in a 7' x 6 1/2' solitary cell. He was kept there, 24 hours a day, unless visited by his lawyers. No other visitors were permitted, nor was he permitted to make or receive telephone calls. He had virtually no contact with other human beings, except for guards or his lawyers.

When he was taken from his cell, even for legal visits, he was forced to put his hands behind his back and place them through a small opening in the door. He then was handcuffed, with his arms behind his back, and removed from his cell. After being searched, he was escorted to the attorney visiting room down the hall from his cell; he was placed in the room and then the guards locked the heavy steel door. He was required, again, to back up to the door and place his shackled hands through the opening, so that the handcuffs could be removed. At the conclusion of his legal visits, he was handcuffed through the steel door, again, and then taken to a different cell where he was once again required to back up to the cell door to have his handcuffs removed and then forced to remove all of his clothing. Once he was nude, the guards then conducted a complete, external and internal search of his body, including his anus and genitalia. He was then shackled and returned to his cell. In his cell there was neither a television nor a radio and only minimal reading material  was made available to him. He remained there in complete solitude and isolation until the next time his lawyers returned for a visit.

In short, Mr. Stanford was confined under the same maximum security conditions as a convicted death row prisoner, even though the allegations against him are for white collar, non-violent offenses. He is certainly not viewed as someone who poses a threat to other persons or the community, nevertheless, he has been deprived of human contact, communication with family and friends, and was incarcerated under conditions reserved for the most violent of convicted criminals. Officials at the FDC informed counsel that this was for Mr. Stanford's "own protection" and to minimize their liability.  .  .  .

Remember, he has not been convicted -- this is pre-trial detention.  The sole goal, legally, is supposed to be to keep him from fleeing before his trial.

I am sensitive to this from my climate work.  My gut feel is that people who are truly confident in their case do not work overtime to make sure their opposition is not allowed to make their case.

Markets in Everything, March Madness Edition

Sorry to steal the phrase from Marginal Revolution, but it seems appropriate for this story -- Surgery as an excuse to be laid up in bed watching TV

Come to find out that untold numbers of American males at this very moment are propped up in front of their television sets at home, bags of ice strategically placed in their respective crotches.

Cleveland urologist Dr. Stephen Jones has noted a 50 percent increase in recent years in vasectomies performed a day or two [before] the start of the NCAA men's tournament.

That's a lot of slicing and dicing.

You can imagine the dialogue, first between the dude and his woman:

"Honey, doc says I gotta take it easy for a couple of days. I'll be back to normal after the weekend."

Or this one with the boss:

"Sorry, I'll be out Thursday and Friday. Surgical procedure. Nothing big. No, I'll be laid up and it probably will be better if I start up fresh on Monday, OK?

Not sure I have the cojones to try that.

Really, Really, Really Bad Idea

Just what we need, the government choosing winners and losers in media like they do earmark recipients.  Since government ownership of GM was politicized in Congress before the ink on the court agreements was dry, I wonder how fast Congress will find a way to use a government media bailout to punish the critical and reward sycophants.

A top Democratic lawmaker predicted on Wednesday that the government will be involved in shaping the future for struggling U.S. media organizations.House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, saying quality journalism was essential to U.S. democracy, said eventually government would have to help resolve the problems caused by a failing business model.

Waxman, other U.S. lawmakers and regulators are looking into various options to help a newspaper industry hurt by the shift in advertising revenues to online platforms.

Waxman continues:

"Eventually government is going to have to be responsible to help and resolve these issues,"

Why?  You mean like when the US government stepped up in the 19th century to bail out pamphleteers and failing broadsheet publishers when the market moved to new media?  Or when it moved to bail out network television under assault from new cable channels?  Remember that?  Neither do I.

Next steps:

At the Federal Communications Commission, officials are embarking on a quadrennial review of the state of U.S. media. The study, which is mandated by Congress, seeks to determine whether current rules should be changed to allow for a more vibrant media industry serving a diverse audience.

We have that.  Its called the Internet.  It emerged entirely free of government action (save some funding of some original infrastructure).  Go away.

If America Did Not Exist, Dictators Would Have to Invent It

Via Q&O:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told the military and civil militias today to prepare for war as a deterrent to a U.S.-led attack after American troops gained access to military bases in neighboring Colombia.

Chavez said a recently signed agreement that gives American troops access to seven Colombian bases is a direct threat to his oil-exporting country. Colombia has handed over its sovereignty to the U.S. with the deal, he said.

"Generals of the armed forces, the best way to avoid a war is to prepare for one," Chavez said in comments on state television during his weekly "Alo Presidente" program. "Colombia handed over their country and is now another state of the union. Don't make the mistake of attacking: Venezuela is willing to do anything."

Dictator play book page 1, paragraph 1:  When domestic situation goes bad, find an external enemy.

Doubling Down .. For What?

OK, I am finally going to break under the pressure.  I have resisted posting on Roman Polanski's extradition.  Like many, I shook my head in amazement at all the Hollywood apologia for a man who drugged, raped and sodomized a 13-year old girl.  But I expected it to mostly blow over.  I figured a few Hollywood stars would make a pro forma statement to cement their sophistication credentials, then move on, in the same way they buy a Prius to establish their environmental bona fides and then hop on their G5 to fly to Gstaad.

But I am just amazed at how many folks seem willing to double down on their defense of Polanski, as illustrated by Anne Applebaum's refusal to concede the facts.  Is this really the the right spot to choose to draw the line in the sand and battle bourgeois moralizing or religious fundamentalism?   Heck, I probably support the legalization of more personal behaviors and practices than most liberals, and even I see Polanski's behavior as on the very wrong side of a pretty bright moral line.

This is like watching Lee stubbornly keep trying to attack Union positions on the third day at Gettysburg or Burnside throwing his men against the near impregnable Southern position at Fredericksburg.  You just want to go to them and say "guys, this is terrible ground to fight a battle.  Retire from here and go find a better spot."

Update: Freaking incredible, via Patrick at Popehat, is this:

Some of the [television and film] industry's most prominent women said they believe Polanski, who faces a sentence as low as probation and as high as 16 months in prison for pleading guilty to having sex with a minor, should be freed. "My personal thoughts are let the guy go," said Peg Yorkin, founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation [owner of Ms. Magazine]. "It's bad a person was raped. But that was so many years ago. The guy has been through so much in his life. It's crazy to arrest him now. Let it go. The government could spend its money on other things."

Patrick points out that Ms. Yorkin did not always have so casual and comfortable attitude about rape.

Update #2: By the way, the similarities between this episode and one written by Mario Puzo in the Godfather 10 years earlier are striking to me.  Obviously Polanski wasn't the model for the producer Woltz, but someone real probably was.

Propping Up the Las Vegas Home Electronics Market

Regulation in California has generally been good for the relocation-related businesses in Nevada in Arizona.  Now, California is looking to prop up the home electronics retailers in neighboring states:

"To reduce the electrical draw from TVs, the commission has proposed the nation's first mandatory energy limits on televisions -- limits that many large LCD and plasma TVs on the market do not meet.

"'We want to get rid of energy-guzzling televisions,' said Adam Gottlieb, spokesman for the state energy commission.

"The proposed rules would take effect from 2011 to 2013, eventually cutting the use of power by 50 percent.

"But only one-fourth of TVs now sold in the state meet the standard

From the San Francisco Chronicle via Al Tompkins via Overlawyered.

A Gross Over-generalization Related to Gender

I try very hard not to fall into the trap of making generalizations related to ethnic or racial groups.  However, I must make a gender-related exception.  There seems to be something about how the average woman's brain is wired that the concept of source switching on a TV set is virtually impossible to comprehend.  I have just had yet another hopeless tech support conversation with a female friend/family member that got "stuck" with cable or DVD material on the TV screen when they wanted to view the other.  Adding to the fun, the female in question was attempting to use a universal remote control which also required mode-shifting to make sure one had the remote set to control the correct component  (another concept apparently particularly difficult for the fairer sex).  Making the tech support challenge harder in this case, the manufacturer of this TV apparently chose not to use the fairly ubiquitous "TV/Video" label for the source-switching functionality, obviating my usual strategy of yelling "TV/video button" over and over into the phone until I get a response.  Fortunately, my second guess of "input" seemed to match a label on the remote.

Yes, I know, all you women will now be rushing from Lawrence Summers' house to mine to set up protests.  I still think that with women dominating on things like relationship management and hygiene standards, and men leading mainly on understanding television source switching and programming remote controls, that women are probably still ahead on points.

Notice: All the World's Major Problems Have Been Solved

Clearly, all the major problems of the world have been solved, because Arlen Specter wants to focus the Senate's time on the New England Patriots' violation of NFL rules for which they were severely punished and which violations in no way tread on any law, just NFL rules.

In a telephone interview Thursday morning, Senator Arlen Specter,
Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking member of the committee, said
that Goodell would eventually be called before the committee to address
two issues: the league's antitrust exemption in relation to its
television contract and the destruction of the tapes that revealed
spying by the Patriots.

"That requires an explanation," Specter
said. "The N.F.L. has a very preferred status in our country with their
antitrust exemption. The American people are entitled to be sure about
the integrity of the game. It's analogous to the C.I.A. destruction of
tapes. Or any time you have records destroyed."

Please, to the friends of Arlen Specter:  It is time for an intervention, before the man hurts himself any more. 

Next Up:  Kay Bailey Hutchison calls Jerry Jones in front of Congress to explain why the Cowboys gave up on the running game in the fourth quarter of this year's playoff game against the Giants.

Bloggers are Tehwable

Sports columnist Stephen A. Smith fires off an over-the-top rant at bloggers:

"And when you look at the internet business, what's dangerous about it
is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their
piece to the masses. I respect the journalism industry, and the fact of
the matter is ...someone with no training should not be allowed to have
any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level
which they can. They are not trained. Not experts."

Despite its wackiness, we can still draw some useful observations:

  • Yet again, we have an industry incumbent calling for some sort of professional licensing, nominally to protect consumers, but in actuality to protect the incumbent's position in the industry.  Smith himself couldn't be more explicit about this:

"Therefore, there's a total disregard, a level of wrecklessness that
ends up being a domino effect. And the people who suffer are the common
viewers out there and, more importantly, those in the industry who
haven't been fortunate to get a radio or television deal and only rely
on the written word. And now they've been sabotaged. Not because of me.
Or like me. But because of the industry or the world has allowed the
average joe to resemble a professional without any credentials
whatsoever."

He can't even complete the sentence with the window dressing justification that this is for the consumers before he gets to the real people he is trying to protect, ie traditional media personalities like himself.  You know, trained professionals.   You could subsititute attorneys, doctors, nurses, real estate agents, funeral directors, massage therapists, hair braiders, fishing guides and any other licensed or unionized professional and find the same speech given somewhere at some time.

  • People called me crazy when I said that the next step in the media wars with bloggers was a call for licensing (and here) Whose crazy now?
  • McCain-Feingold sent us a long way down this horrible path by establishing that there are such things as "journalists" who can be trusted to speak in public before elections, and everyone else, who cannot be so trusted.  This was the first time the debate over whether bloggers are journalists turned heated, because there was a legislated cost associated with not being a journalist.
  • Note the implicit disdain for the consumer, or in this case, the viewer or reader.  The unstated assumption is that the consumer is a total idiot, a dupe who mindlessly keeps tuning in to inferior news reports from untrained bloggers rather than watching pros like Stephen A. Smith as they should be
  • Finally, and this may be unfair because I am only partially familiar with Mr. Smith's work, but I will observe that he is an African-American who brings a kind of street style to his reporting.  A style that I might guess that a crotchety sports reporter from thirty years ago might easily have defined then as unprofessional.  Mr. Smith's career has benefited in part because he has differentiated himself with new style and approach, but now he wants to slam the door on others trying to similarly bring innovation and new approaches to the sports world.  Unfortunately, all too typical of professionals of all stripes, particularly since the government has set the expectation over the last 100 years that it is open to using its coercive power to enforcing professional standards in even the most trivial of professions.

I end such a discussion, as always, with Milton Friedman:

The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

On the Virtues of the Modern Economy

Best thing I have read in a long time:

Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local,
the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion
is guaranteed. Sound idyllic?

But hold on"¦ Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or
soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation;
there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is
egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no
industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic
because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As
a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical
work which may end up yielding little.

There is "“ or at least was "“ such a
place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the
enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary,
there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence
and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.

Via Hit and Run.  I made a fairly similar point here when I compared California "robber baron" Mark Hopkins mid-19th century house to one a friend of mine used to own in Seattle:

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning,
electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a
computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a
movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of
these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a
toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning,
a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One
owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his
warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do
business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by
train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

On the Virtues of the Modern Economy

Best thing I have read in a long time:

Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local,
the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion
is guaranteed. Sound idyllic?

But hold on"¦ Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or
soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation;
there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is
egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no
industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic
because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As
a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical
work which may end up yielding little.

There is "“ or at least was "“ such a
place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the
enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary,
there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence
and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.

Via Hit and Run.  I made a fairly similar point here when I compared California "robber baron" Mark Hopkins mid-19th century house to one a friend of mine used to own in Seattle:

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning,
electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a
computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a
movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of
these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a
toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning,
a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One
owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his
warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do
business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by
train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

Jane Galt on Immigration

Jane Galt takes on some of the more common anti-immigration talking points.  Just for example:

5. There were ethnic newspapers, but nothing like today's ethnic media.

This is just ridiculous. Immigrants in 1900 could get all the
entertainment that was then available in their own language; for
example, by 1918, New York City boasted 20 Yiddish theaters.
The idea that Latin American immigrants are somehow uniquely unable to
assimilate because they can now watch soap operas and the Venezuelan
version of Eurovision in their very own language seems to me
self-evidently absurd; an immigrant at home watching television in
Spanish is immersed in her own culture no more thoroughly than was the
typical resident of an ethnic neighbourhood who shopped, worked, went
to services, and partied entirely with their compatriots.

I am working on some research right now -- immigration opponents are claiming that "yes, immigration may have been OK in the past, but its different now."  I am in the process of putting together anti-immigration quotes from the late 19th and early 20th century that cover all of the same ground -- they're lazy, they breed too fast, they have disease, they don't integrate, they have divided loyalties -- but aimed at Irish and Italians.