New York City
.The Patriot Act was passed post 9/11, in the rush to combat the threat of terrorism. Clearly, the legislation was well intended. However, several provisions were given an expiration date due to concerns that they infringe ‘civil liberties’ and were therefore an overreach by Government. Legislation which will soon be passed, will extend three of the most controversial provisions of the Act, all which had expirations, namely: roving wiretaps, court approved access to any document that may be ‘relevant to a terrorist threat’, and surveillance on individuals not linked to terrorist organisations – the so called “lone wolf” provision.
Considering the complex issues at the core of this legislation, namely balancing civil liberties against national security, surely these provisions would be debated by legislators? Apparently not.
Congress is currently rushing through these extensions, with the aim in mind of meeting the midnight deadline for expiration. The move came after some nudging from senior intelligence officers (such as the director of national intelligence, James Clapper) who claimed that “Should the authority to use these critical tools expire, our nation’s intelligence and law enforcement professionals will have less capability than they have today to detect terrorist plots”.
I remember about a year ago reading an Economist article on new ways of visualising data. At the time I thought it would be a fairly handy tool in the fight to cut through the bullshit, and bring information directly into the public domain in an accessible manner. A year or so on, and I have a few example to share.
This harks back to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. The documentary made major strides forward in overturning the conventional wisdom that climate change was a myth. Much of the data used came from studies published in Science and Nature, which would not have otherwise reached such a wide audience. The visual representation and dissemination of data was a major contributor to the success of the production. Especially for those of us who are not mathematically minded, visulisation of data can bring it to life.
A quick precursor, before all the cries of “Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything” (Gregg Easterbrook). It is clear that statistics depend upon the questions that you ask, however this doesn’t necessarily render them obsolete. All it means is that special care must be taken to ensure that the data is 1) appropriate and 2) clearly defined and explained.
Here are a two of the better examples I have seen:
NewsMap gives a visual representation of the constantly changing GoogleNews aggregator. I will quote directly from the authors website for the explanation behind the algorithm: “A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information. Newsmap’s objective takes that goal a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe.” The real key and social utility of this website is that by revealing these underlying patterns, you can identify the emphasis of the ‘media eye’.
This visulisation charts data from the various official European databases (EUR-lex, PreLex & OEIL) in order to represent the growth of EU activity in specific policy areas. Each area is represented by a circle, and the growth of the circle represents the number of EU legislative acts in force, charted over time from 1950 to 2010.
Surely after the first Great Disappointment in 1844 – you would learn that some of these ‘predictions’ tend to be a little inaccurate. Apparently not:
“Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired transportation agency worker in New York, said he had spent more than $140,000 (£86,000) of his savings on advertisements in the run-up to 21 May to publicise the prediction.”
You almost have to feel bad for the guy.
“Some believers expressed bewilderment or said it was a test from God of their faith, after the day passed without event.” Ah, that ol’ chestnut again.
Update: Harold Camping has now given a new date for ‘rapture’. It has been re scheduled for October 21st 2011.
I will preface this post by stating that I am an ex-smoker. Now in most cases ex-smokers tend to be far more militant than non-smokers. Personally, I do not really care one way or the other, it is up to an individual if they want to harm themeslves, however second hand smoke is no joke.
I strongly support the harm principle, which is most clearly articulared in John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”. It states that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Furthermore, “He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because… in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. The only part of the conduct, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
On the 2nd of Febuary 2011, the New York City Council voted 36 to 12 in favour of extending current smoking restrictions to the cities 1,700 parks and 14 miles of beaches. Mayor M. Bloomberg signed the bill into law on the 22nd of May 2011.