November 7, 2011

Occupy Winter Park!

Filed under: Business, Football, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:35

Minnesota is blessed with some particularly colourful legislators, but all of them must take second place to State Representative Phyllis Kahn. She has a long history of, shall we say, “imaginative” legislative proposals, and this one is a doozy:

Throw in one more idea for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium: Have the public buy shares in the team, enabling them to own a piece of the Vikings and help finance a stadium.

The community ownership idea has been floated before but Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said Monday she would introduce legislation to require Gov. Mark Dayton and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to work with the National Football League to make it happen. The commission owns the downtown Minneapolis Metrodome, the team’s home for nearly 30 years.

“Dayton asked for all ideas to be put on the table and that’s exactly what I’m doing here,” said Kahn. “No single idea [for funding a new stadium] has gained enough traction to pass the Legislature.”

The Vikings are hoping to get a new stadium built, and the state legislature has been doing what they can to kick the issue down the road every time it’s come up. I don’t have a say in the matter, as I’m not located in Minnesota and I’d probably still cheer for the team even if it moved elsewhere (though it would be a sad thing to see it move after half a century in Minnesota).

In general, I don’t think governments should build stadiums for professional sports teams, as it’s using tax money to subsidize private profits. If a new stadium is going to generate a profit, the team’s ownership should bear the costs themselves. The fact that they generally don’t — mostly because politicians don’t want to deal with angry sports fans after the team leaves town — doesn’t make it right.

However, Rep. Kahn’s proposal won’t fly because the NFL itself forbids public ownership of teams (the grandfathered-in exception being the Green Bay Packers). What’s even more interesting about her plan is that the proceeds of selling shares in the team would be put directly towards building a new stadium:

The funds from selling stock in the Vikings, said Kahn, could go toward helping the team build a new stadium. She added that, under her plan, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his family could retain a 30 percent controlling interest in the team.

So the Wilfs will be allowed to retain a minority share, but wouldn’t be compensated for the proportion of the stock that was being sold? Isn’t that just expropriation? I didn’t realize the DFL was a modern-day successor to Mussolini’s Fascist Party.

Charles Stross on “evil social networks”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:29

You could say that Charles Stross isn’t a fan of social networks in general, and Klout in particular:

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

In the past I’ve fulminated about various social networking systems. The basic gist is this: the utility of a social network to any given user is proportional to the number of users it has. So all social networks are designed to tweak that part of the primate brain that gets a dopamine reward from social activity — we are, after all, social animals. But providing a service to millions of customers is expensive, and your typical internet user is a cheapskate who has become accustomed to free services. So most social networks don’t charge their users; they are funded indirectly, which means they’ve got to sell something, and what they’ve got to sell is data about your internet usage habits, which is of interest to advertisers.

So the ideal social network (from an investor’s point of view) is one that presents itself as being free-to-use, is highly addictive, uses you as bait to trap your friends, tracks you everywhere you go on the internet, sells your personal information to the highest bidder, and is impossible to opt out of. Sounds like a cross between your friendly neighbourhood heroin pusher, Amway, and a really creepy stalker, doesn’t it?

So what is it about Klout that sets it apart from the other social networks?

Klout operates under American privacy law, or rather, the lack of it. If you created a Klout account in the past, you were unable to delete it short of sending legal letters (until November 1st, when they kindly added an “opt out” mechanism). More to the point, Klout analyse your social graph and create accounts for all your contacts without asking them for prior consent. It also appears to use an unwitting user’s Twitter or FB credentials to post updates on their Klout scores, prompting the curious-but-ignorant to click on a link to Klout, whereupon they will be offered a chance to log in with their Facebook or Twitter credentials. So it spreads like herpes and it’s just as hard to get rid of. Is that all?

[. . .]

Anyway: if you sign up for Klout you are coming down with the internet equivalent of herpes. Worse, you risk infecting all your friends. Klout’s business model is flat-out illegal in the UK (and, I believe, throughout the EU) and if you have an account with them I would strongly advise you to delete it and opt out; if you’re in the UK you could do worse than send them a cease-and-desist plus a request to delete all your data, then follow up a month later with a Freedom of Information Act request.

“It is a sad state of affairs when an amazing feat of engineering is only seen in bleak environmental and misanthropic terms”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Environment, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:16

Nick Thorne wonders why the soon-to-be-completed road link between Peru and Brazil, the Interoceánica, has gotten such poor press in the west:

In July this year, an amazing feat of engineering and testament to the progress of Latin America went almost completely unreported in the Western media. With the opening of the Puente Billingshurst, a half-mile suspension bridge across the Madre Dios river, the interoceanic highway or Interoceánica neared completion. Soon, a long-held dream will finally come true: for the first time, a road will stretch all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic, crossing the whole of South America.

The road starts in the Peruvian capital, Lima. It crosses the Andes, reaching a highest point of 4,850 metres (higher than Mont Blanc), then plunges into the rainforest, crosses several tributaries of the mighty Amazon, and after a total of 3,400 miles it reaches the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Much of the route has been in place for decades, but a 460-mile middle section was still missing. With the opening of the bridge, the road’s completion is in sight.

Comparisons have rightly been made between the Interoceánica and the first North American transcontinental railroad completed in 1869. In Brazil, the highway has already been dubbed ‘the road to China’. In 2009, China overtook the US as Brazil’s largest trading partner. Chinese trade will be able to use the Peruvian ports on the Pacific coast, cutting out a long detour via Cape Horn or the Panama Canal. While Brazil will be the main beneficiary, Peru will benefit as a middle-man. The think tank Bank Information Centre estimates that the highway will lead to a 1.5 per cent annual increase in GDP in Peru. The highway will facilitate greater regional integration and is a real symbol of Latin America’s economic awakening. A triumphant banner along the highway reads ‘once a promise, now a reality’. In 2006, a mere 3,500 people crossed the border from Peru to Brazil. By 2009, with the partial completion of the highway, this had already increased ten-fold to 35,000.

Another throwback to Victorian views of women as weak and in need of protection

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

Brendan O’Neill thinks much better of women than those pushing for censorship (or worse):

One of the great curiosities of modern feminism is that the more radical the feminist is, the more likely she is to suffer fits of Victorian-style vapours upon hearing men use coarse language. Andrea Dworkin dedicated her life to stamping out what she called “hate speech” aimed at women. The Slutwalks women campaigned against everything from “verbal degradation” to “come ons”. And now, in another hilarious echo of the 19th-century notion that women need protecting from vulgar and foul speech, a collective of feminist bloggers has decided to “Stamp Out Misogyny Online”. Their deceptively edgy demeanour, their use of the word “stamp”, cannot disguise the fact that they are the 21st-century equivalent of Victorian chaperones, determined to shield women’s eyes and cover their ears lest they see or hear something upsetting.

According to the Guardian, these campaigners want to stamp out “hateful trolling” by men — that is, they want an end to the misogynistic bile and spite that allegedly clogs up their email inboxes and internet discussion boards. Leaving aside the question of who exactly is supposed to do all this “stamping out” of heated speech — The state? Well, who else could do it? — the most striking thing about these fragile feminists’ campaign is the way it elides very different forms of speech. So the Guardian report lumps together “threats of rape”, which are of course serious, with “crude insults” and “unstinting ridicule”, which are not that serious. If I had a penny for every time I was crudely insulted on the internet, labelled a prick, a toad, a shit, a moron, a wide-eyed member of a crazy communist cult, I’d be relatively well-off. For better or worse, crudeness is part of the internet experience, and if you don’t like it you can always read The Lady instead.

The likely result of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:48

Ralph Peters paints a grim picture of the immediate results of any US or Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear weapon program:

How would Iran respond to strikes on its nuke facilities? Inevitably missiles would be launched toward Israeli cities — some with chemical warheads — but these tit-for-tat attacks would be the least part of Tehran’s counterattack strategy. The Iranians would “do what’s doable,” and that means hitting Arab oil-production infrastructure on the other side of the narrow Persian Gulf. Employing it mid-range missiles, aircraft and naval forces, Tehran would launch both conventional and suicide attacks on Arab oil fields, refineries, storage areas, ports and loading facilities, on tankers in transit, and on the Straits of Hormuz, the great chokepoint for the world’s core oil supplies. The price of a barrel of crude would soar geometrically on world exchanges, paralyzing economies — exactly as Iran’s leaders intend. Ten-dollar-a-gallon gas would be a brief bargain on the way to truly prohibitive prices. And, in the way of the world, Tehran would not get the blame. We would.

And we would be in one hell of a war, with the Middle East literally aflame and our Navy able to conduct only limited operations (if any) within the Persian Gulf, given that the body of water would become a shooting gallery: Even our finest surface-warfare ships can’t fight or maneuver effectively in a bathtub. The flow of oil would not resume, and we would have no idea how to end the war (not least, since we’re unwilling to inflict serious pain on our enemies anymore).

So . . . if we are forced to attack Iran’s nuclear-weapons facilities at some point, what would it take to do it right and limit Tehran’s ability to respond with such devastating asymmetrical attacks?

H/T to Doug Mataconis for the link.

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