Fiscal Cliff


Posted: 2012-12-31 13:15   |  More posts about america politics

It's almost the new year, which means that we're at the precipice of the so-called "Fiscal Cliff". A cliff that somehow manages to loom while simultaneously threatening to drag us under.

The first time I heard the phrase fiscal cliff was the morning after the 2012 American election, when it was already clear that Obama would win. All of a sudden, it was everywhere. However, according to Wikipedia:

In late February 2012, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, popularized the term "fiscal cliff" for the impending 2012 fiscal crisis.

Some analysts have argued that fiscal slope or fiscal hill would be more appropriate terminology because while the cumulative economic effect over all of 2013 would be substantial, it would not be felt immediately but rather gradually as the weeks and months went by.

With this in mind, here is a google trends graph of searches for "fiscal cliff" from February to today:

Doesn't look like there's much movement until after October. Analysing just October to the present day, we get the following graph:

Just as I'd thought - the first spike occurs on November 7th: the morning of Obama's re-election.

I am not suggesting anything conspiratorial, but I do find it curious that talk of such an apocalyptic term as the fiscal cliff would only emerge directly after the election. Why not in February? Why not during the painfully long election campaign when journalists would have been happy to have had something new to write about?

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Judge, jury and executioner


Posted: 2011-01-22 03:51   |  More posts about america guns politics

A friend brought this blogpost from the New York Times to my attention. It deals with the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which nineteen people were shot, six of them fatally; and the resulting reinvigoration of the gun-control debate in America.

An excerpt:

On the day of the shooting, a young man named Joseph Zamudio was leaving a drugstore when he saw the chaos at the Safeway parking lot. Zamudio was armed, carrying his 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. Heroically, he rushed to the scene, fingering his weapon, ready to fire.

Now, in the view of the more-guns proponents, Zamudio might have been able to prevent any carnage, or maybe even gotten off a shot before someone was killed.

“When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim,” said Arizona state representative Jack Harper, after a gunman had claimed 19 victims.

“I wish there had been one more gun in Tucson,” said an Arizona Congressman, Rep. Trent Franks, implying like Harper that if only someone had been armed at the scene, Jared Lee Loughner would not have been able to unload his rapid-fire Glock on innocent people.

In fact, several people were armed. So, what actually happened? As Zamudio said in numerous interviews, he never got a shot off at the gunman, but he nearly harmed the wrong person — one of those trying to control Loughner.

He saw people wrestling, including one man with the gun. “I kind of assumed he was the shooter,” said Zamudio in an interview with MSNBC. Then, “everyone said, ‘no, no — it’s this guy,’” said Zamudio.

To his credit, he ultimately helped subdue Loughner. But suppose, in those few seconds of confusion, he had fired at the wrong man and killed a hero?

Earlier, I had also happened upon another article, this time from the L.A. Times.

An excerpt:

The bizarre chain of events unfolded about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on a busy stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard near the 105 Freeway when a southbound driver struck a pedestrian walking across the street outside the crosswalk. Hawthorne Police Lt. Gary Tomatoni said the driver of a white or gray minivan fled the scene and as the injured pedestrian lay in the street, a second vehicle ran over the man. That driver also failed to stop and provide aid. Several pedestrians who saw the two cars hit the man ran to him to try to help. One of the good Samaritans was running across Crenshaw Boulevard toward the victim when she was hit by another motorist traveling southbound. That motorist stopped to check on the woman, but as he did so, he was attacked by a mob of bystanders.

Remind me, what is it they say about the road to hell?

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Qaeda Quality Question Quickly Quickly Quiet


Posted: 2010-12-03 23:51   |  More posts about america art film media oddities short film war words

I rather like the "A", "Amer-kawh", "and", "for" and "great" bits.

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Torture and the media


Posted: 2010-07-01 13:29   |  More posts about america media news politics war

Abstract from Desai, Pineda, Runquist, Fusunyan et al. (2010), emphasis mine:

The current debate over waterboarding has spawned hundreds of newspaper articles in the last two years alone. However, waterboarding has been

the subject of press attention for over a century. Examining the four newspapers

with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and

sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early

1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered

waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was

torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on

the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By

contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to

waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or

implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so

in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as

torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding

torture or implied it was torture. In addition, the newspapers are much more

likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is

the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with

a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or

implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States

was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in

91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only

11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.

Read the entire paper here.

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The biggest problem with Libertarian thinking


Posted: 2010-06-18 13:05   |  More posts about america idiots politics words

A member of reddit, quag7, contributes to a thread entitled "I am a registered Libertarian, but it seems the party has lost its way" in /r/Libertarian. Reposting here in full. Thanks to Hugh for bringing this to my attention:

Read more...

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Rise of the Robots


Posted: 2010-06-12 02:58   |  More posts about america computers politics robotics science war

A good, short blog post from the wonderful ginandtacos blog on the increasing prevalence of unmanned vehicles in war, ending with a very sobering thought:
Won't it be great when the military can send in the tanks without having to put crews in harm's way? Yes and no. The fewer casualties, the better. But what becomes of our reluctance to send the military galavanting around the sordid parts of the world once American casualties are taken out of the equation? We have almost no restraint as it is. I shudder to think of how easily Presidents and legislators will make the decision to go to war when the attitude of "We can just send robots to do it!" becomes entrenched. We saw what the advancements in design of cruise missiles in the 1980s did to the Executive Branch; if someone's acting up, just lob a dozen Tomahawks at them from a few hundred miles away. It became the easy way to intervene without actually making a commitment or putting Americans at risk. Collateral damage isn't much of a deterrent to our political class. UAVs are another step in that direction, a step toward a future with more remotely operated and even autonomous means of doing the dirty work. It's great that technology allows more American soldiers to come home alive and in one piece, but if we remove the U.S. body count from the decision-making process the only restraints on waging war will be common sense, morality, and logic. Yeah, let's start taking bets on how well that works.

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Girl banned from using sign-language on school bus


Posted: 2010-06-09 00:09   |  More posts about america idiots news

From ABC News:

School officials have threatened a hearing-impaired girl with suspension if she uses sign language to talk to her friends on the school bus, the girl's parents say.

But officials at Stonybrook School — which is not a school for the hearing-impaired — and district officials in Branchburg, N.J., apparently believe signing is a safety hazard. They have sent a letter to the Lesko family ordering Danica to stop using sign language on the school bus or risk a three-day suspension.

The March 30 letter from her principal that said Danica was "doing sign language after being told it wasn't allowed on the bus."

The Leskos may file a lawsuit over the sign language ban, claiming officials are violating Danica's civil rights and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"She has a hearing problem, and now she's being punished for using sign language," Mary Ann Lesko, Danica's mother, told The Star-Ledger of Newark. "It's absurd."

A horrific story already, my heart sank to a new low when I read the closing paragraph:

Danica's parents say she began losing her hearing last November, when a classmate allegedly shot a bottle rocket near her ear. They have already sued the Branchburg School District over that incident.

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The Language Log


Posted: 2009-08-09 16:22   |  More posts about america linguistics words

I first came across this blog a week or two ago, and have so far thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of articles I've read there. It's updated frequently (certainly more frequently than this derelict blog has been in the past while) and is now enjoying a secure place in my RSS reader. Here, I'll link to a few articles that are worthy of mention:

The first article I read, entitled "Fucking shut the fuck up" is a serious analysis of the syntax of one of Van Morrison's on-stage outbursts. Short, readable and interesting - even a few of the comments are good - it's a must-read.

The next is an article on timing and silence in spoken discourse (summary from John Gumperz , "Contextualization and Ideology in Intercultural Communication"):

Conversations are often punctuated with relatively long pauses and silences. In informal gatherings, Indian people may sit or stand quietly, without speaking. If addressed, they may look away and remain silent for a relatively long time (at least from the perspective of mainstream Americans) before responding. When a person is asked a question and she has no new information to provide, nothing new to say, she is likely to give no answer. In all such cases, American Indians themselves interpret the silence as a sign of respect, a positive indication, showing that the other's remarks or questions are being given full consideration that is their due.
The blog post is essentially a series of quotations from the literature such as this, comparing the differences in implied meaning of silence in Native American and Anglo cultures. The final post is a link to an article from Ben Zimmer that's appeared in this week's New York Times' On Language column. It describes the transformation of the word "fail" from verb to noun, due to it becoming an internet meme:

Time was, fail was simply a verb that denoted being unsuccessful or falling short of expectations. It made occasional forays into nounhood, in fixed expressions like without fail and no-fail. That all started to change in certain online subcultures about six years ago. In July 2003, a contributor to Urbandictionary.com noted that fail could be used as an interjection “when one disapproves of something,” giving the example: “You actually bought that? FAIL.” This punchy stand-alone fail most likely originated as a shortened form of “You fail” or, more fully, “You fail it,” the taunting “game over” message in the late-’90s Japanese video game Blazing Star, notorious for its fractured English.

In a few years’ time, the use of fail as an interjection caught on to such an extent that particularly egregious objects of ridicule required an even stronger barb: major fail, überfail, massive fail or, most popular of all, epic fail. The intensifying adjectives hinted that fail was becoming a new kind of noun: not simply a synonym for failure but, rather, a derisive label to slap on a miscue that is eminently mockable in its stupidity or wrongheadedness. Online cynics deploy fail as a countable noun (“That’s such a fail!”) and also as a mass noun that treats failure as an abstract quality: the offending party is often said to be full of fail or made of fail.

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How Dysfunction Helps the GOP


Posted: 2009-07-01 13:22   |  More posts about america conservatism health care obama politics republicans

Thanks to John for bringing this to my attention - an op-ed journal in the Wall Street Journal entitled "How Dysfunction Helps the GOP: The party says its own mistakes prove Government can't work."

It begins:

'Remember the $400 hammer? How 'bout that $600 toilet seat?" asks a Conservatives for Patients' Rights TV commercial criticizing President Barack Obama's health-care plan. "Seems when Congress gets involved, things just cost more."

As it happens, I do remember the incident of the $436 hammer, the one that made headlines back in 1984. And while it may "seem" in hazy retrospect as though it showed how "things just cost more" once those silly liberals in Congress get started, what the hammer episode actually illustrated was a very different sort of ripoff. The institution that paid so very much for that hammer was President Ronald Reagan's Pentagon. A private-sector contractor was the party that was pleased to take the Pentagon's money. And it was a liberal Democrat in the House of Representatives, also known as "Congress," who publicized the pricey hardware to the skies.

And ends with these thoughts:

A government that works, some conservatives fear, is dangerous stuff. It gives people ideas. Universal health care isn't just a bad idea for their buddies in the insurance business; it's a gateway drug to broader state involvement in the economy and hence a possible doomsday scenario for conservatism itself. As two fellows of the Ethics and Public Policy Center fretted in the Weekly Standard in May, "health care is the key to public enmeshment in ballooning welfare states, and passage of ObamaCare would deal a heavy blow to the conservative enterprise in American politics." On the other hand, government fails constantly when conservatives run it because making it work would be, for many of those conservatives, to traduce the very laws of nature. Besides, as we can now see, bungling Katrina recovery or Pentagon procurement pays conservatives huge dividends. It gives them potent ammunition to use when the liberals have returned and are proposing another one of their grand schemes to reform health care.

Well-written, concise and to-the-point - definitely worth reading.

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American Department of Defence brands protest as "low level terrorism"


Posted: 2009-06-15 19:00   |  More posts about america censorship politics

From the ACLU:
Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as “low level terrorism.” ACLU attorneys are calling the approach “an egregious insult to constitutional values” and have sent a letter to the Department of Defense demanding that the offending materials be changed and that the DoD send corrective information to all DoD employees who received the erroneous training. “DoD employees cannot fully protect our nation and its values unless they understand that a core American value is the constitutional right to criticize our government through protest activities,” said ACLU of Northern California attorney Ann Brick. “It is fundamentally wrong to equate activism with terrorism.” Among the multiple-choice questions included in its Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness training course, the DoD asks the following: “Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorist activity?”  To answer correctly, the examinee must select “protests.” “Teaching employees that dissent on issues of public concern is something to be feared, rather than respected, is a dangerously counterproductive use of scarce security resources, making us less safe and less democratic,” said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent.

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