Friday, August 7, 2009
If you haven't seen it, YouTube News Near You is an automated microlocal news service, with software detecting a your location and matching it with video news stories from that neighborhood. Turn on, tune in, and drop out of the six o'clock local TV news.
So far the story selection is pretty limited. Think of YouTube's new local news service as 2009's version of the "Camel News Caravan," NBC's 15-minute nightly newscast of the early 1950's, hop scotching your neighborhood for headlines. But five decades ago, John Cameron Swayze soon gave way to Huntley and Brinkley, and modern NBC television news was born. YouTube news could evolve really quickly in the next few years, or the next few months, especially as YouTube signs up local television and newspaper newsrooms around the country as video-providing partners.
And please note YouTube news is launched by Google, which dominates search advertising. YouTube news will drill down and let Google deliver ads tuned to microlocal neighborhoods, because viewers are already tagged by their location. It's easy to imagine Google adding viewer self-selection to enable specifying which neighborhood (or neighborhoods) you want delivered to your computer: self-identification by nine-digit zip code. Now microlocal online ads start to really make sense, because advertisers can pinpoint exactly where viewers are. Coming soon to your computer: ads for momandpopstore.com
Viewers will also be able to self-select in other ways. Embedded in the very structure of YouTube is self-selection driven by choices you make. You clicked on three stories about traffic? Here's another – and a local political candidate's ad touting his proposals to ease traffic congestion. You liked that clip on the fire down the street? People who liked that story also liked this one, too... and by the way Amazon has a sale on fire extinguishers if you order on line in the next five minutes.
Sound farfetched? Not at all: News Near You went mainstream in The New York Times this week. But last month there were reports in the blogosphere noting YouTube's approach to publishers asking to become a "YouTube news partner." One blog included the text of the pitch from YouTube, complete with five benefits, from larger audiences and increased revenue to detailed demographic analyses, for free, of the people who play their videos. News Near You is snuggling much closer to you than you may have expected.
TAMPA — Bitter divisions over reforming America's health care system exploded Thursday night in Tampa amid cat calls, jeering and shoving at a town hall meeting.
"Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!" dozens of people shouted as U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, struggled to talk about health insurance reforms under consideration in Washington, D.C.
"There is more consensus than there is disagreement when you get right down to it,'' Castor offered, immediately drowned out by groans and boos.
She pressed on, mostly unheard among screams from the audience estimated by Tampa police to be about 1,500.
"Tell the truth! Tell the truth!" "Read the bill!" "Forty-million illegals! Forty million illegals!"
The spectacle at the Children's Board in Ybor City sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy, and it was just the latest example of a health care meeting disrupted by livid protesters. Similar scenes are likely to be repeated across the country as lawmakers head to their home districts for the summer recess.
by JAMES A. HAUGHT
Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible's satanic agents of the Apocalypse.
Honest. This isn't a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.
Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their "common faith" (Christianity) and told him: "Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins."
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its "coalition of the willing" to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush's call and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs."
After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn't comply with Bush's request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal. Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to "turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws," and slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament, the mystical book of Revelation envisions Gog and Magog gathering nations for battle, "and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."
In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush's strange behavior in Lausanne University's review, Allez Savoir. A French-language Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, printed a sarcastic account titled: "When President George W. Bush Saw the Prophesies of the Bible Coming to Pass." France's La Liberte likewise spoofed it under the headline "A Small Scoop on Bush, Chirac, God, Gog and Magog." But other news media missed the amazing report.
I was babysitting for my mom's friend Kathleen's daughter the night I wrote that first fan letter to John Hughes. I can literally remember the yellow grid paper, the blue ball point pen and sitting alone in the dim light in the living room, the baby having gone to bed.
I poured my heart out to John, told him about how much the movie mattered to me, how it made me feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood.
(I felt misunderstood.)
I sent the letter and a month or so later I received a package in the mail with a form letter welcoming me as an "official" member of The Breakfast Club, my reward a strip of stickers with the cast in the now famous pose.
I was irate.
I wrote back to John, explaining in no uncertain terms that, excuse me, I just poured my fucking heart out to you and YOU SENT ME A FORM LETTER.
That was just not going to fly.
He wrote back.
"This is not a form letter. The other one was. Sorry. Lots of requests. You know what I mean. I did sign it."
He wrote back and told me that he was sorry, that he liked my letter and that it meant a great deal to him. He loved knowing that his words and images resonated with me and people my age. He told me he would say hi to everyone on my behalf.
"No, I really will. Judd will be pleased you think he's sexy. I don't."
I asked him if he would be my pen pal.
He said yes.
"I'd be honored to be your pen pal. You must understand at times I won't be able to get back to you as quickly as I might want to. If you'll agree to be patient, I'll be your pen pal."
For two years (1985-1987), John Hughes and I wrote letters back and forth. He told me - in long hand black felt tip pen on yellow legal paper - about life on a film set and about his family. I told him about boys, my relationship with my parents and things that happened to me in school. He laughed at my teenage slang and shared the 129 question Breakfast Club trivia test I wrote (with the help of my sister) with the cast, Ned Tanen (the film's producer) and DeDe Allen (the editor). He cheered me on when I found a way around the school administration's refusal to publish a "controversial" article I wrote for the school paper. And he consoled me when I complained that Mrs. Garstka didn't appreciate my writing.
"As for your English teacher…Do you like the way you write? Please yourself. I'm rather fond of writing. I actually regard it as fun. Do it frequently and see if you can't find the fun in it that I do."
He made me feel like what I said mattered.
by Ted Rall
After Professor Gates, Why Pretend?
NEW YORK--The current national conversation about race and the police reminded me about an incident that occurred when I was in Uzbekistan. As I walked into an apartment complex for an appointment I noticed the decomposing body of a man lying on the side of the road.
"How long as he been there?" I asked my host.
"Three, maybe four days," he said.
"What happened to him?"
"Shot, maybe," he shrugged. "Or maybe hit by a car. Something."
I didn't bother to ask why no one had called the police. I knew. Calling the Uzbek militsia amounts to a request to be beaten, robbed or worse. So desperate to avoid interaction with the police was another man I met that, when his mother died of old age at their home in Tashkent, he drove her body to the outskirts of town and deposited her in a field.
With the exception of New Orleans after Katrina, it's not that bad here in the United States. Consider Professor Henry Louis Gates: he shouldn't have been arrested by that Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer, but he came out of the experience physically unscathed.
Nevertheless, the Gates incident has illuminated some basic, strange assumptions about our society. Cops think they have a constitutional right to be treated deferentially. And black people think cops are nice to white people.
Yeah, well, take it from a white guy: we don't like cops either.
Most of the articles and blogs have also mentioned that I did an image of George W. Bush as the joker last year for Vanity Fair Online. Some of the news outlets, (Fox News, etc), have asked me for my feelings about it all, why the left never made a peep about the Bush image being over the top, but are now complaining that the Obama image is "racist", and insensitive. I've basically dismissed it by quoting the standard, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", and "Great minds think alike", but I finally decided to bring it up here. My image was done the week the Batman movie came out, and I think works well using the analogy of the Joker, an agent of chaos, destruction and death, all the while laughing through it all, as Bush, seemingly laughing and unmoved through the destruction reaped by his war in Iraq. The Obama/Joker image just doesn't work as satire, humor or anything else. You can put the white face Joker makeup on any celebrity or politician and you'd have a provocative, negative image, but beyond that, what's the actual point? What does being a supposed Socialist have to do with The Joker?
The best thing that came out of all this is that I got a great quote for the back cover of my upcoming anthology from Rush Limbaugh, who called my illustration of Bush, "of low artistic quality".
Such an honor!
During her freshman year at the University of Virginia, Kaitlyn McDowell enjoyed receiving the occasional letter with a care package from younger cousins.
Beyond that, though, the 19-year-old from Ellicott City mostly corresponds by e-mail, text messaging and social networking, like many of her generation.
"It's easier. You don't have to go through the trouble of getting stamps, writing the letter, sealing it and taking it to the post office," said McDowell.
The paperless preferences of McDowell and her peers reflect a generational shift from a time when letter writing was a preferred form of communication. It's one of the reasons the U.S. Postal Service, which has projected a net loss of more than $7 billion at the end of this fiscal year, is considering closing hundreds of post offices.
The postal service says that third-quarter mail volume is down 7 billion pieces, or 14 percent, compared with a year ago - the largest consecutive third-quarter drop in total volume since 1971. To offset the resulting budget crunch, officials are also considering discontinuing Saturday deliveries and eliminating some classes of stamps. They say that some collection boxes are already being removed from city streets, in part because they contain just 25 or fewer pieces of mail within a given period.
Yet for many twentysomethings and teens who have grown up on digital media, post offices and collection boxes are about as vital as pay phones.
By Danny Westneat
Recently Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was asked whether he still reads books on paper, what the techies call "physical books."
"I kind of am grumpy when I am forced to read a physical book," Bezos replied. "Because it's
"It's had a great 500-year run ... but it's time to change."
Uh oh. I like Amazon — the ease and price of its service, and, at least in the past, its corporate principles. Like the time in 2006 it fought the U.S. government's subpoena to sift through the book-buying records of 24,000 of its customers.
But lately I've got to say: Jeff, you're making me grumpy.
I am one of those annoying book junkies. I've been in the same book club for 15 years. Paper or pixel, it doesn't make much difference to us. I tried to describe what does matter to me when Amazon put out its e-book reader, the Kindle, in 2007:
"Books are our last private refuge," I wrote. "They're analog. Stand-alone. Other than talking with my wife late at night, reading a book is about the last form of communication I do that doesn't involve logging on to some collective network."
Which is why U.S. Patent Application No. 20090171750 is so irksome.
It was filed last month by three Amazon technologists. It's a system for embedding ads in books. Both in special-run print books and in what is said to be the future of all reading, e-books on devices such as the Kindle.
There could be full-page ads. Ads in the book's margins. Ads that open when you click on them. Ads individualized to you the reader. And ads pinned to what the book is about.
"For instance, if the requested content includes a novel taking place in Europe, the advertisements may include information about European hotels, resorts, etc.," the Amazon patent application reads.
Or: "If a paragraph ... describes a sports competition, the content manager may place a sports equipment advertisement, such as an ad for a sports shoe, on the left or right margin closest to the paragraph describing the sports event."
This idea has launched a cottage industry of jokes pairing ads with your favorite books. "Catcher in the Rye," brought to you by Clearasil. "Lord of the Flies," sponsored by Parenting Magazine. "
We laugh as a way of saying: Amazon, what are you thinking?
Ring-fencing medical knowledge is one of the great grotesqueries of our age
by Johann Hari
This is the story of one of the great unspoken scandals of our times. Today, the people across the world who most need life-saving medicine are being prevented from producing it. Here's the latest example: factories across the poor world are desperate to start producing their own cheaper Tamiflu to protect their populations – but they are being sternly told not to. Why? So rich drug companies can protect their patents – and profits. There is an alternative to this sick system, but we are choosing to ignore it.
To understand this tale, we have to start with an apparent mystery. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been correctly warning for months that if swine flu spreads to the poorest parts of the world, it could cull hundreds of thousands of people – or more. Yet they have also been telling the governments of the poor world not to go ahead and produce as much Tamiflu – the only drug we have to reduce the symptoms, and potentially save lives – as they possibly can.
In the answer to this whodunnit, there lies a much bigger story about how our world works today.
Our governments have chosen, over decades, to allow a strange system for developing medicines to build up. Most of the work carried out by scientists to bring a drug to your local pharmacist – and into your lungs, or stomach, or bowels – is done in government-funded university labs, paid for by your taxes.
Drug companies usually come in late in the process of development, and pay for part of the expensive, but largely uncreative final stages, like buying some of the chemicals and trials that are needed. In return, then they own the exclusive rights to manufacture and profit from the resulting medicine for years. Nobody else can make it.
Although it's not the goal of the individuals working within the system, the outcome is often deadly. The drug companies who owned the patent for Aids drugs went to court to stop the post-Apartheid government of South Africa producing generic copies of it – which are just as effective – for $100 a year to save their dying citizens. They wanted them to pay the full $10,000 a year to buy the branded version – or nothing. In the poor world, the patenting system every day puts medicines beyond the reach of sick people.
This is where the solution to the swine flu mystery comes in. Ordinary democratic citizens were so disgusted by the attempt to deprive South Africa of life-saving medicine that public pressure won a small concession in the global trading rules. It was agreed that, in an overwhelming public health emergency, poor countries would be allowed to produce generic drugs. They are the exact same product, but without the brand name – or the fat patent payments to drug companies in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands.
So under the new rules, the countries of the poor world should be entitled to start making as much generic Tamiflu as they want. There are companies across India and China who say they are raring to go. But Roche – the drug company that owns the patent – doesn't want the poor world making cheaper copies for themselves. They want people to buy the branded version, from which they receive profits. Although not obliged to, they have licensed a handful of companies in the developing world to make the treatment – but they have to pay for license, and they can't possibly meet the demand.
And the WHO seems to be backing Roche – against the rest of us. They are the ones best qualified to judge what constitutes an overwhelming emergency, justifying a breaching of the patent rules. And their message is: Don't use the loophole.
Professor Brook Baker, an expert on drug patenting, says: "Why do they behave like this? Because of direct or indirect pressure from the pharmaceutical companies. It's shocking."
What will be the end-result? James Love, director of Knowledge Economy International, which campaigns against the current patenting system, says: "Poor countries are not as prepared as they could have been. If there's a pandemic, the number of people who die will be much greater than it had to be. Much greater. It's horrible."
The argument in defence of this system offered by Big Pharma is simple, and sounds reasonable at first: we need to charge large sums for "our" drugs so we can develop more life-saving medicines. We want to develop as many treatments as we can, and we can only do that if we have revenue. A lot of the research we back doesn't result in a marketable drug, so it's an expensive process.
But a detailed study by Dr Marcia Angell, the former editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, says that only 14 per cent of their budgets go on developing drugs – usually at the uncreative final part of the drug-trail. The rest goes on marketing and profits. And even with that puny 14 per cent, drug companies squander a fortune developing "me-too" drugs – medicines that do exactly the same job as a drug that already exists, but has one molecule different, so they can take out a new patent, and receive another avalanche of profits.
As a result, the US Government Accountability Office says that far from being a font of innovation, the drug market has become "stagnant". They spend virtually nothing on the diseases that kill the most human beings, like malaria, because the victims are poor, so there's hardly any profit to be sucked out.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a serious campaign is afoot - aided and abetted by the national Republican Party - to question Barack Obama's citizenship. Over the past two weeks, an inordinate amount of news coverage has been afforded to "birthers," conspiracy theorists who claim that the President was not born in Hawaii, as his birth records indicate, but in Kenya.
It is not Obama's right-wing opponents, however, who are devoting the most attention to this obscure, Internet-driven "movement," if one can even use that label to describe such a paranoid groupuscule. Rather, it's liberals, bent on portraying their conservative opponents as extremists - and changing the subject to help a President under increasing scrutiny for the substance of his policies - who are driving this story.
Making the rounds in the propagation of this meme is a deceptively edited video produced by far-left Web site FireDogLake, in which an interviewer chases Republican congressmen around the Capitol asking if they believe Obama is a natural-born citizen. Some respond in the affirmative while others ignore the questioner, and it is this latter handful that liberals have proffered as evidence that the GOP is "fearful" of disparaging its "birther base."
But the refusal of Republican congressmen to answer questions from a Michael Moore wanna-be is understandable; public figures are frequently accosted on the street by crazy people and amateur propagandists wielding cameras. In fact, it was later revealed that one of the supposedly fearful Republicans running from the camera's glare was a Democrat late for a vote.
by Kris Wernowsky
A federal judge has cleared the way for the government's seizure of a creationism theme park in Pensacola owned by a couple convicted of tax fraud.
A ruling by U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers states that the nine properties that make up Dinosaur Adventure Land as well as two bank accounts associated with the park will be used to satisfy $430,400 owed to the federal government.
Kent Hovind, who founded the park and a ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, is serving 10 years in federal prison for failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $470,000 in employee taxes.
He was found guilty in November 2006 on 58 counts, including failure to pay employee taxes and making threats against investigators.
The conviction culminated 17 years of Hovind sparring with the IRS. Saying he was employed by God and his ministers were not subject to payroll taxes, he claimed no income or property.
Hovind is incarcerated at the Edgefield Federal Correction Institution in South Carolina.
His wife, Jo, also was sentenced to a year in federal prison for her role in the tax fraud. She's currently jailed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna.
Rodgers' 16-page order released late Thursday gives the government the green light to divide up the nine properties in and around the 5800 block of North Palafox Street and begin to sell them until the $430,400 forfeiture amount is satisfied.