Blog Ipsa Loquitur

America’s having a conversation about whether a Confederate flag ought to fly over government buildings. I liked the perspective of Markus Feldenkirchen, a commentator from the German news outlet Der Spiegel:

How is it that for many politicians and American citizens, this flag has only now become a little embarrassing? Why are people only now asking whether it is really a good idea to name streets and public spaces after the greatest generals in the fight for slavery? They may have been brave soldiers, but if they were fighting for a despicable cause, they should not have monuments built in their honor. Unless, of course, we believe that what they stand for is not really so reprehensible.

This is basically how I’ve felt watching this conversation. The Confederacy was treasonous, and it doesn’t seem like they faced an awful lot of consequences for their actions. Now, a century and a half later, not nearly enough people see this as a traitor’s symbol.

Published on under Hail Hydra

Remember that time Stephen Colbert ran a years-long piece of performance art about the ridiculous election laws in America? He called it the Colbert Super PAC, it was eye-opening. Colbert’s show won a Peabody for excellence in journalism for that. On Comedy Central!

But one presidential candidate is out to prove the election laws are an even bigger joke than that:

Back in April, the executive director of the super PAC backing Carly Fiorina dared the Federal Election Commission to sanction the organization for calling itself “Carly for America,” which violated rules prohibiting using a candidate’s name in the name of a legally unaffiliated PAC.

“It could be Carly for Puppies, it could be Carly for Freedom,” Mr. DeMaura said then. “There’s no legal prohibition against the type of name that we use. I think the reason that many don’t do it is for practical political reasons not based in legal fact.”

The fact that the guy running a super PAC – ostensibly barred from coordinating with the candidate – didn’t know he couldn’t use the candidate’s name? Kinda funny. The comeuppance is a little funnier:

It took the FEC less than three weeks to send a formal letter of reprimand to Carly for America.

So after some deliberation, on Monday the Fiorina super PAC changed its name. It’s no longer Carly for America. It’s now Conservative, Authentic, Responsive Leadership for You and for America – though it will be known by the acronym CARLY for America.

The legal term for this is a “giant middle finger” to FEC.

Published on under Not The Onion

Lots of people apparently think the government is looking out for their interests online. These are some impressive numbers:

49% of American adults who use the Internet believe (incorrectly) that by law a supermarket must obtain a person’s permission before selling information about that person’s food purchases to other companies.

69% do not know that a pharmacy does not legally need a person’s permission to sell information about the over-the-counter drugs that person buys.

65% do not know that the statement “When a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites and companies without my permission” is false.

55% do not know it is legal for an online store to charge different people different prices at the same time of day.

62% do not know that price-comparison sites like Expedia or Orbitz are not legally required to include the lowest travel prices.”

Published on under Eyeballs For Hire

Barry Ritholz on the Amtrak derailment from last month, titled More Proof Of America’s Inadequate Infrastructure:

The details are still being sorted out on the deadly Amtrak crash that killed at least six people earlier this week and injured 100s more. But what we do know is that the stretch of track where the train derailed did not have the latest automated speed control system.

Oh, sure. It didn’t have the latest Bluetooth hands-free throttle or some crazy space age nonsense. Nobody is going to pay $900 a ticket for a deflector dish and inverse tachyon beam trains or whatever.

The NTSB has been pushing for this safety system to be put in place since 1970. That is not a typo, the need for this system has been known for literally 45 years. Following a commuter train(s) head-on collision near Darien, Connecticut, the NTSB began urging the development and implementation of positive train control systems.

<Spit take noise goes here> 1970?!

The bad news is that the train industry, through the Association of American Railroads, has been lobbying against this. The Unions are no better, fighting implementation for fear it will cost jobs.

My favorite kind of sci-fi dystopia might be the one where the machines are trying to kill us. Someone invents a robot that ends up flipping out and tries to kill all the humans. Then people of all races, colors, and creeds unite against our common metal foe. We triumph.

In this case, we invented a machine to save lives 45 years ago, and both labor and capital have united in a horrifying attempt to keep those machines from saving us from the machines that humans use to accidentally kill hundreds of people.

Congress, that bastion of partisan gridlock, got together in 2008 to say that by December 2015, almost all passenger rail tracks will have these safeguards in place. As a country, we’re almost at a place where easily-preventable accidents will be… well, prevented.

It is unlikely that the industry will meet the deadline set 7 years ago.

Oh, come on.

Published on under We Can't Have Nice Things

Google took a guy’s YouTube channel away from him. He’s still got all his videos and nearly a million subscribers, but the URL for his channel now points to a multinational cosmetics retailer. Why’s that?

Google said its algorithm decided which address Lush Cosmetics was given, based on data from YouTube, Google+, its search engine and other sources.

Lush cosmetics told the BBC it had not requested the change. Mr. Lush told the BBC: “I’ve been doing YouTube for a long time, but they’ve stripped this from me. I have that address on thousands of bracelets that I’ve sold, and it’s embedded in my videos. I can’t remake those now,” he said.

Google said Mr. Lush was a “valued creator” and that it had offered to pay for new marketing materials for his channel.

“Sorry, kid. We can’t do anything. It’s the algorithm we invented and developed. It’s not like we can just change it, or ignore it, or do anything but obey its ceaseless instructions.”

I’m not sure what’s more risible: Google’s dickery, or the implication that Google+ served as some sort of business intelligence metric.

Published on under Eyeballs for Hire

I didn’t necessarily agree with the points she made in her Wall Street Journal Op-Ed last summer, but Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple this week is pretty solid:

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.

This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.

Now, look. I’m old enough to remember when the RIAA went around suing kids and taking their college savings in retaliation for downloading songs on Napster and Kazaa. They’re a cartel which has lobbied for maximalist copyright laws and which exploits the artists in their employ by paying pennies on the dollar. I have as little sympathy as possible for the RIAA.

But the US music industry’s annual revenues are about $15 billion, and Apple is the largest company in the world; they have $193.5 billion in cash and securities just lying around. Swift is right: Apple can afford to pay, and the artists deserve to get paid.

Published on under Shakedowns Gonna Shake Shake Shake