Everyone should fear the police state

Salon has an amazing piece of investigative journalism by Radly Balko about the militarization of the police force in the United States over the last few decades. It’s a bit long, so I excerpted the parts I think everyone should see. If you have the time, I recommend reading the whole story.

A 2009 G-20 summit shows us that we can be arrested for pretty much anything:

The most egregious police actions seemed to take place on the Friday evening before the summit, around the university, when police began ordering students who were in public spaces to disperse, despite the fact that they had broken no laws. Students who moved too slowly were arrested, as were students who were standing in front of the dormitories where they lived.

A University of Pittsburgh spokesman later said that the tactic was to break up crowds that “had the potential of disrupting normal activities, traffic flow, egress and the like. . . . Much of the arrests last night had to do with failure to disperse when ordered.” Note that no one needed to have broken any actual laws to get arrested. The potential to break a law was more than enough. That standard was essentially a license for the police to arrest anyone, anywhere in the city, at any time, for any reason.

“What’s that? Freedom of press you say? ‘Cuff him, Jim.”:

At the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, police conducted peremptory raids on the homes of protesters before the convention had even started. Police broke into the homes of people known to be activist rabble-rousers before they had any evidence of any actual crime. Journalists who inquired about the legitimacy of the raids and arrests made during the convention were also arrested. In all, 672 people were put in handcuffs.

I think we can all agree that matching shirts are cute. Especially when they’re bragging about beating non-violent protestors:

Perhaps the best insight into the mentality the police brought to the DNC protests could be found on the T-shirts the Denver police union had printed up for the event. The shirts showed a menacing cop holding a baton. The caption: DNC 2008: WE GET UP EARLY, TO BEAT THE CROWDS. Police were spotted wearing similar shirts at the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. At the 1996 DNC convention in Chicago, cops were seen wearing shirts that read: WE KICKED YOUR FATHER’S ASS IN 1968 . . . WAIT ’TIL YOU SEE WHAT WE DO TO YOU!

“I don’t care about any of this, the only people who have to worry about the police are criminals.” Or, you know, small business owners:

In June 2006, Ruttenberg filed a civil rights suit alleging that, among other things, using a SWAT team to conduct an alcohol inspection was an unreasonable use of force.  In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied his claim. So for now, in the Fourth Circuit, sending a SWAT team to make sure a bar’s beer is labeled correctly is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The price of solar is falling faster than experts expected

What Tech Is Next for the Solar Industry?:

The technology that’s surprised almost everyone is conventional crystalline silicon. A few years ago, silicon solar panels cost $4 per watt, and Martin Green, professor at the University of New South Wales and one of the leading silicon solar panel researchers, declared that they’d never go below $1 a watt. “Now it’s down to something like 50 cents of watt, and there’s talk of hitting 36 cents per watt,” he says.

While small changes to the way solar panels are responsible for much of this price drop – things like being able to print the ultra-fine wires used to connect the cells in a panel and cells that can absorb sunlight from both the front and back – the biggest change is going to be the introduction of different semiconductors in the cells themselves:

Even longer-term, Green is betting on silicon, aiming to take advantage of the huge reductions in cost already seen with the technology. He hopes to greatly increase the efficiency of silicon solar panels by combining silicon with one or two other semiconductors, each selected to efficiently convert a part of the solar spectrum that silicon doesn’t convert efficiently. Adding one semiconductor could boost efficiencies from the 20 to 25 percent range to around 40 percent. Adding another could make efficiencies as high as 50 percent feasible, which would cut in half the number of solar panels needed for a given installation.

Failure of ads leading to sponsored articles

Sponsors Now Pay for Online Articles, Not Just Ads:

Advertisers and publishers have many names for this new form of marketing — including branded content, sponsored content and native advertising. Regardless of the name, the strategy of having advertisers sponsor or create content that looks like traditional editorial content has become increasingly common as publishers try to create more sources of revenue.

[…]

Publishers are largely being driven to support the use of sponsored content because of fewer people clicking on banner ads, the abundance of advertising space and other factors make it more difficult to make money from traditional online advertising. As advertising technology becomes more sophisticated, ads can be bought and sold at cheaper rates across the Web. Often they are ignored by the very customers advertisers are trying to reach.

It’s a pretty great deal for both advertisers and publishers. By having their advertisements appear to be regular content, people are willing to share the articles with their social networks. As opposed to banner ads, which people have learned to automatically ignore, this content actually has people telling their friends that they should give it a look:

An article on Google Glass technology was shared almost 2,000 times on social media, indicating that readers may not have cared, or known, if it was journalism or sponsored content, although the series was identified as such.

For publishers, it means less of a reliance on banner ads while still being able to offer content for free (though Forbes and the Washington Post are using both sponsored content and paywalls).

There hasn’t been any major backlash from readers against this rise in sponsored content, so perhaps they don’t care as long as the posts aren’t outright ads.

How to convince science skeptics

A psychology professor at Yale found that when looking at new scientific evidence, we tend to interpret facts through a lens based on our previously held beliefs. With the wrong framing, our brain subconsciously jumps into a defensive mode where we try to rationalize the new information in a way that either makes the information support our preconceptions or pick out the faults so as to not shift our beliefs.

So the key to convincing someone isn’t throwing facts at them, it’s presenting the facts in the context of certain values:

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.

 

“I was raped at Disney World and nobody cared”

Dana Wierzbicki was raped by a Disney World coworker after-hours. After figuring out the proper channels to go through to deal with the situation, she met with a counselor provided by the company. The (female!) counselor responded in pretty much the least helpful way imaginable:

I recounted everything that happened that night while the counselor stayed silent and seemed at least mildly sympathetic. When I told her we had been drinking, her face changed from “concerned” to “you made a mistake.”  Still, I told her, I said “no” the entire time and he never listened.  

The first thing she said to me was “Well, now you know not to be hanging around boys in the middle of the night. You know what they want.”

Take a few seconds and re-read that. Now let’s unpack it.

A certified counselor was insinuating that it was my fault that my coworker decided to rape me — as if I should have known better than to interact with any man after dark. Not only that, but she was advising me to approach every interaction with a man as if he is a potential rapist, including every man that works at Disney World. If I react to a man with anything less than hostility after sundown, whatever happens is my fault.

The big media monopoly on scoops is over

Big News Forges Its Own Path:

Traditional news organizations used to be free to break news — or not — in their backyard and on their chosen beats. Now they have to be looking over their shoulder — at everyone. And in virtually every aspect of culture, from business to technology to fashion, the big guys now compete with a range of Web sites that break their share of news through obsessiveness and hyperfocus.

The big news that Rupert Murdoch was getting a divorce after a 14-year marriage to Wendi Murdoch did not come from tabloid newspapers, gossip magazines or E!, but from Deadline Hollywood, the business entertainment site run by Nikki Finke.

The business disruption in the media world caused by the Internet has been well documented. But a monopoly on scoops, long a cherished franchise for established and muscular news organizations, is disappearing. Big news will now carve its own route to the ocean, and no one feels the need to work with the traditional power players to make it happen.

Being a big organization with sources at all the major players in every industry isn’t so valuable when other sites can take your big scoop and get as many or more page views by giving a more eye-catching headline and some photos or extra context.

For instance, yesterday the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Google is making an Android-powered game console. Here’s a Google search for “Google game console”.

80,500,000 results and the WSJ article doesn’t even get the top spot.

The New York Times brings metered paywall to mobile

The New York Times plans to limit non-subscribers to just 3 articles per day on mobile:

The restrictions mean that non-subscribers will have access to just three stories per day from across all sections of the site including blogs and slideshows, the company said, although video content remains free within the app. While in some ways it’s a reduction in the number of articles that people can read per day (currently, mobile readers can only view news from the ‘Top News’ section) it does at least provide a better choice of which three articles or sections those can come from. Subscribers get unlimited access to all the content from a mobile.

I’m glad that The New York Times is bringing its metered paywall to mobile. What with the relative success of its paywall on the web and its struggle to sell ad space, I’m hoping the company will do what it takes to keep its wonderful newsroom afloat (as long as quality doesn’t suffer for it, of course).

New Mac Pro has decent CPU, insane graphics

Far Too Much Analysis Of The Alleged New Mac Pro Geekbench Score:

The new Mac Pro is also extremely power-lopsided: it will initially max out at 12 cores (almost certainly this exact CPU), which is upper-midrange by Xeon standards, but it comes with a ridiculous amount of GPU power. This is overkill to just be about future desktop Retina Displays — clearly, Apple’s pushing for pro and scientific apps to shift more of the heavy lifting to OpenCL.

Also perfect for professional photo/video editing and graphic designers. To be honest, I almost wish I had a reason to buy one of these bad boys. Maybe I’ll get one for doing continuous integration with Xcode Server when my projects start involving more people.

Poor and middle class students more likely to get stuck with unpaid internships

The Second-Biggest Myth About Unpaid Internships: They’re Just for the Rich:

If anything, poor and middle class students are extra likely to get stuck in unpaid internships. Rich kids, by and large, seem to prefer collecting a paycheck.

Such were the findings of a fascinating 2010 study conducted for Intern Bridge, a consulting firm that specializes in college recruiting, and one of the few major sources of data on the internship market. After analyzing survey responses from thousands of college students, the paper concluded: “Our findings do not support the common contention that students from the wealthiest families have greater access to unpaid internships, even among most for profit companies. Low income students have a much higher level of participation in unpaid internships than students from high income families.”

This was a myth that I believed until I read this article. Turns out I wasn’t completely wrong though: rich kids do tend to take a large share of the unpaid internships in Hollywood and Wall Street.

No, we don’t live in ‘1984’

Sorry, We’re Not Living in Orwell’s ‘1984’:

The information leaked by Snowden should cause alarm as should the loose legal oversight governing the NSA’s massive data-mining campaign. Nevertheless, the invocations of Orwell are not unlike Bush-era claims of an emerging strain of American fascism, or the Tea Party’s frequent panting that Obama is indistinguishable from Fidel Castro. A few points of similarity, like the monitoring of huge amounts of data without sufficient congressional or legal oversight, do not establish the literary analogy. The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984.

[…]

In his 1941 essay “England Your England,” Orwell took pains to highlight this distinction. While identifying the United Kingdom’s numerous “barbarities and anachronisms”—and even declaring the country not a “genuine democracy”—he argued that these defects meant that ideas like “democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism” were colossally wrong, employing fallacious “arguments [that] boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread.”

Yes, the NSA is collecting a lot of data about our communications. That doesn’t mean we live under a totalitarian state. To claim that we do is overly reactionary and keeps us from looking at realistic reforms.