phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

Three weeks, 2,000 lives lostwww.nytimes.com

From Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times:

For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.

In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.

See also: Friday’s front-page editorial, “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” the first since 1920. Also: The Guardian’s visualization of mass shootings.

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Sovereignty, holograms, and international sports

I was reading a story today on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website and fell into an internet rabbit hole. I’ve always understood that Native Americans who live within U.S. borders enjoy a certain sovereign status similar to that of a nation state. Declaring yourself as an independent state is pretty straightforward, the more complex part is proving your legitimacy at actual border crossings.

I got curious about this seemingly basic question: who is allowed to cross U.S. borders, and how does one qualify? (more…)

Spooky action at a distance (updated)hansonlab.tudelft.nl

Here’s a video from TU Delft explaining quantum “spooky action,” which they claim to have proven to exist in their experiments.

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Update: this video is, ironically, unavailable to inform us at a distance. There is a version hosted elsewhere however. Thanks, NYC Mesh!

Update 2: it seems the video is working again. Weird!

From the NY Times:

The Delft study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, lends further credence to an idea that Einstein famously rejected. He said quantum theory necessitated “spooky action at a distance,” and he refused to accept the notion that the universe could behave in such a strange and apparently random fashion.

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Why we don’t have much good data on gunswww.nytimes.com

From Michael Luo’s 2011 series on guns and public safety, this gets at the heart of the political limitations on doing research into the health risks of guns in America.

C.D.C. financing for research on gun violence has not stopped completely, but it is now mostly limited to work in which firearms are only a component.

The centers also ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the N.R.A. as a courtesy, said Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the centers.

Invariably, researchers said, whenever their work touches upon firearms, the C.D.C. becomes squeamish. In the end, they said, it is often simply easier to avoid the topic if they want to continue to be in the agency’s good graces.

Emphasis added. I’m curious if these circumstances have changed much in the past 4 years.

Link via southpaw

On The Media: After Oregonwww.onthemedia.org

This week’s On The Media was a rerun, but they ran a podcast extra about the Umpqua Community College shooting that’s worth a listen.


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Also, here is Michael Luo’s Medium post about his role in provoking Oregon’s state legislature to restrict public access to gun license records.

I had planned to cross-match the data of license holders with other records on criminal convictions. But Oregon officials repeatedly delayed turning over the records, and I wound up focusing instead on the licensing process in North Carolina, where officials released the gun permit data to me right away. I discovered that about 10 percent of permit holders in North Carolina over a five-year period had gone on to commit felonies or misdemeanors. Perhaps more disturbingly, I found that the authorities had failed to revoke the permits of many of those who had been convicted of felonies.

Stone-walling journalists from uncovering these kinds of legislative oversights is dangerous—not just in the rhetorical sense—it is literally endangering citizens.

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Oliver Sacks is dying of terminal cancerwww.nytimes.com

Reading this made me wonder how much time any of us has left. To what degree do each of us belong to the future?

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

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Doug Henwood vs. Adam Davidsonlbo-news.com

Last January Doug Henwood, one of my favorite lefty blogger-radio people, wrote a nasty response to Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine article on Wall Street:

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on how NPR is more toxic than Fox News. Fox preaches to the choir. NPR, though, confuses and misinforms people who might otherwise know better. Its “liberal” reputation makes palatable a deeply orthodox message for a demographic that could be open to a more critical message.

The full critique will take some time. But a nice warm-up opportunity has just presented itself: a truly wretched piece of apologetic hackery by Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money economics reporting team, that appears in today’s New York Times magazine.

So I was excited to see that Davidson recently appeared on Henwood’s radio show, Behind the News:

Adam Davidson, host of NPR’s Planet Money and columnist for the New York Times Magazine, on finance, innovation, bourgeois ideology, journalism, and being mean on the Internet.

The discussion starts out with a lot of Henwood talking uninterrupted, and coming off a bit defensive, but then they get into an interesting big picture discussion about the nature of ideology in popular media. The blog post Henwood mentions in the introduction on Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin (and its follow-up) is also worthwhile.

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Class and attention quality

From yesterday’s New York Times article, “Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era”:

“Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,” said Vicky Rideout, author of the decade-long Kaiser study. “Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.”

Policy makers and researchers say the challenges are heightened for parents and children with fewer resources—the very people who were supposed to be helped by closing the digital divide.

The same day Matt Mullenweg posted this video to his blog. It’s a presentation about the social implications of constantly using one’s iPhone, given at a country club.

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Digital literacy and attention quality are certainly important across the socioeconomic spectrum, but I do think that it’s legitimate for public policy to focus on the needs of lower income people. More from the Times article:

The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.

Separately, the commission will help send digital literacy trainers this fall to organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Some of the financial support for this program, part of a broader initiative called Connect2Compete, comes from private companies like Best Buy and Microsoft.

Let me preface this by saying that I have much respect for Microsoft’s danah boyd, who is quoted in the article. But the idea of Best Buy and Microsoft funding a national digital literacy program sounds to me like McDonald’s funding a new school lunch program. “Connect2Compete” sounds like a great name for some dystopian parody of corporate-training-mill style technology education.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support these kinds of initiatives. I just think we need more independent efforts, for example Jonathan Baldwin’s Tidepools. As part of his thesis project at Parsons, Baldwin set up free community wifi for primarily lower income residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook. The community mapping application he created uses the visual language of gaming to do things like improve civic infrastructure and map out the locations of NYPD stop-and-frisks.

It’s impressive work, and I’m happy to hear he’ll be developing it further under the New America Foundation. And it’s given me a lot of ideas about how I should proceed with Occupy.here.

Bryan Denton in today’s NY Timeswww.nytimes.com

It’s pretty thrilling to discover someone you know doing amazing work. I went to elementary school with Bryan Denton, a photojournalist working for the New York Times. He has some great photos accompanying this front page article about attacks on U.S. soldiers by their Afghani trainees.

Capt. Mohamed Qasem of the Afghan Army, left, lighting a cigarette for Lt. Jason Davis of Greenville, S.C. At the personal level, the Sangesar attack was a nightmarish betrayal for the units involved, whose commanders initially struggled to figure out how the Afghans and Americans who share the base could possibly cooperate again.

He was also featured last year on the NYTimes Lens blog:

Q: You returned to Misurata after Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were killed there. Why?
A: It was hard. I had this knot of dread in my stomach the entire time we were on the boat on our way back to Misurata. I had a lot of confidence in the way Chris [Chivers] and I were working and moving around the city, but more than any other moment on this assignment, I seriously considered the prospect of getting hurt or killed.

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Antonio Bolfo’s NYPD vs Ramarley Graham’s NYPD

This morning I was taking a second look at this post from the excellent Lens blog. It’s an interview with ICP- and RISD-trained photographer Antonio Bolfo, who became a cop and did some amazing photojournalism of rookies patrolling housing projects in New York City.

From the roof of a housing project, Officer Weadock looks over Mott Haven in the Bronx. October 2009.

I was curious about how the Lens editors might have connected the project, called NYPD Impact, with the Ramarley Graham shooting, which happened two days before the post went up. It turns out there’s no mention of Graham in the post, and I couldn’t find any comments that made that connection.

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I did find this link to an anonymous response:

‘This is like a safe haven for them,’ Bolfo tells the Times. ‘Kind of like, collect their thoughts, talk to their loved ones, be people. Shed their police persona and relax a little bit.’ It is a place forbidden to civilians. The intensity of the relief this seclusion brings the officers is inverse to their connection to the community. The more they are merely foreign occupiers, the more they enjoy the view, a view that the very residents of the buildings on which they so symbolically trod are not allowed to enjoy … The many must be excluded so that the few may have the privilege of aesthetic contemplation. After all, isn’t that the way Art works?

It’s a pretty harsh perspective, but I can’t help but wonder whether the audience for NYPD Impact actually includes those who live in the projects. The Lens piece does mention the symbolic aspect of Bolfo’s project:

[The photographs] are at turns raw and tender, scary and sweet, and they humanize people on both sides of the badge — those who wear one and those who face them, night after night.

The photos are definitely amazing (be sure to check out the full set) and certainly humanize the NYPD. But I wonder if they do so to the same degree for residents of the housing projects. I wonder about the timing of the interview, which is about a project from 2008-2009. It’s hard not to see the post as a response to community outrage, although I realize it’s most likely just an unintended coincidence.

Update: I contacted Michael Wilson, the reporter who interviewed Antonio Bolfo, and the timing of the interview was in fact coincidental:

The piece was scheduled to run when it did about a week prior, and it was completed and filed in the system before the shooting, I believe. It’s even possible the piece was edited the day of the shooting. I can see where your questions seem like obvious ones after the fact, but at the time, it just wouldn’t have occurred to anyone here to link the two.

A proposal for Penn Stationwww.nytimes.com

Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times:

To pass through Grand Central Terminal, one of New York’s exalted public spaces, is an ennobling experience, a gift. To commute via the bowels of Penn Station, just a few blocks away, is a humiliation.

What is the value of architecture? It can be measured, culturally, humanely and historically, in the gulf between these two places.

The original Pennsylvania Station was razed in 1963.

I wholeheartedly agree with this, tear that sucker down:

The only way to fix Penn properly is to move Madison Square Garden.

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US drones in Pakistan

This morning, after turning off the interminable NPR coverage of the Republican primaries, I saw that The Morning News recently linked to this ABC News story about the case of Tariq Khan, a 16 year old Pakistani killed in a US drone attack.

In late October, he accompanied a group of tribal elders when they traveled down to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for the anti-drone conference. There, he sat with dozens of foreign lawyers and journalists and displayed no signs of hatred or animosity at them or the government, according to the people who spoke with him. According to family and associates, he said he wanted to refute Washington’s claim that the drone program had killed zero civilians in the last few years.

Tariq Khan was killed when a small missile fired overhead piercing the roof of his vehicle. (Neil Williams/Reprieve)

I was struck by the wide range of civilian deaths in various reports compared to the CIA’s claim of zero civilian deaths. From Wikipedia:

Daniel L. Byman from the Brookings Institution suggests that drone strikes may kill “10 or so civilians” for every militant killed. In contrast, the New America Foundation has estimated that 80 percent of those killed in the attacks were militants. The Pakistani military has stated that most of those killed were hardcore Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. The CIA believes that the strikes conducted since May 2010 have killed over 600 militants and have not caused any civilian fatalities, a claim that experts disputed and have called absurd. Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391 – 780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children are reported among the deaths.

Zero civilians is a pretty bold claim that I can only come up with two explanations of. Either each attack is backed up by thoroughly documented research or the CIA simply designates anyone they kill as a de facto terrorist. Perhaps it’s a mix of both, but without any public accountability we’ll probably never see evidence that it’s the former case.

If accurate, this description of drone tactics contradicts the “heavy research” explanation, and is eerily reminiscent of the follow-up bombing tactic used by Iraqi insurgents:

Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed’s deaths, [the attorney for Tariq’s family] did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack.

It’s maybe no surprise then that two thirds of Pakistani journalists regard US drones attacks as acts of terrorism.

At least for now these attacks have been suspended.

Drone strikes were halted in November 2011 after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala incident.

Update: this NY Times article offers a more nuanced discussion of the “zero civilian deaths” claim. It sounds like John Brennan simply overstated drone effectiveness and offered a more evasive explanation that “the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths.”

Update #2: I’m coming back to this post after several months, and thinking I might have underplayed this a little. Just to spell it out more clearly: an anti-drone activist, who was trying to draw attention to Pakistani civilian deaths, was himself killed by a drone. This would be kind of funny and ironic, if it wasn’t so not funny.

Strangely, the coverage of this incident on Democracy Now has his name as Tariq Aziz.

New York Times photographer being bullied by NYPD

There have been many reports of press suppression at Occupy Wall Street protests, but this is the most obvious example I’ve seen.

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The New York Observer:

While we don’t have an exact copy of the memo, NYT’s VP and assistant general counsel George Freeman said:

It seemed pretty clear from the video that the Times freelance photographer was being intentionally blocked by the police officer who was kind of bobbing and weaving to keep him from taking photographs.

And while the NYPD’s department head has acknowledged receiving the note, there has been no response from Commissioner Kelly or one of his representatives. Because who needs to answer to journalists anymore?

Chinese ethnic minority theme parkswww.nytimes.com

Ethnic Han make up 96% of China’s population according to official statistics. Other ethnic groups might be found performing in an ethnic theme park.

The most famous park, the Nationalities Park in Beijing, is a combination of museum and fairground. Ethnic workers from across China dress up in their native costumes for mostly Han tourists. (For a while, English signs there read “Racist Park,” an unfortunate translation of the Chinese name.) In some parks, Han workers dress up as natives — a practice given legitimacy by the Chinese government when Han children marched out in the costumes of the 55 minorities during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Having just seen a play recently on the history of Minstrel shows, it’s hard to be too judgmental.

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