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Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Mar, 13/01/2015 - 20:45

ON MONDAY, one day after as many as 2m people turned out in Paris to rally for the freedom of speech in the wake of the gruesome slaughter of French journalists, America's Supreme Court gathered to consider what may be another threat to free speech. The case of Reed et al v Town of Gilbert, however, is somewhat less dramatic. At issue is whether signage regulations in the town of Gilbert, Arizona run afoul of the US Constitution’s First Amendment free-speech guarantee. But while the complaint is fairly quotidian, the case proved vexing. Near the end of the hour-long hearing, an exasperated Justice Stephen Breyer asked, "What is this about, this argument?" 

The case arose in 2007 as a challenge to Gilbert's rules sharply limiting the use of temporary “directional” signs alongside...Continue reading

#Oops

Mar, 13/01/2015 - 05:24

IT MAY have been a coincidence, but it was still highly embarrassing. On January 12th Barack Obama called for new federal laws that would tighten up how students’ personal data is protected and force companies whose systems have been breached to notify their customers promptly. Yet it seems America’s military needs a reminder to keep its own data safe, too. The same day, hackers calling themselves the “CyberCaliphate” briefly took over the Twitter and YouTube channels of the country’s military command that oversees operations in the Middle East.

American officials scrambled to downplay the severity of the attack, with a Pentagon spokesman describing it “as little more than a prank or as vandalism”. Before the channels were shut down by the Americans, the hackers had time to post a few propaganda messages about their “CyberJihad”, including one telling American troops fighting Islamic State’s advance to “watch your back”. They also posted a number of military documents, such as a list of generals and maps that appeared to show maritime defences along China’s coastline and the location of missile sites and nuclear...Continue reading

Rand Paul's troubled triangulation

Lun, 12/01/2015 - 18:24

RAND PAUL, the junior senator from Kentucky, is probably running for president. In very early polls, Mr Paul is running fourth in a crowded field of potential contenders, lagging behind Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan. He faces an uphill climb and, as the son of the former libertarian-ish Texas congressman and perennial presidential candidate, Ron Paul, he faces some unique challenges. In order to become a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, Mr Paul needs to draw in a significant portion of his father's unusually enthusiastic supporters, to whom he owes his political existence, while appealing simultaneously to mainline Republican voters, to whom the elder Paul's anti-interventionist foreign policy is anathema. It's a tough trick, and it is doubtful Mr Paul will be able to strike the necessary balance. That said, in Mr Paul's Thursday comments on Sean...Continue reading

Drawing blood

Jue, 08/01/2015 - 00:10

MASKED gunmen killed 12 people today in an assault on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satire magazine famous, and infamous, for skewering nearly everything, but especially sacred cows. Their targets included religious fanatics of every kind, and they did not hesitate in publishing images of Mohammed, a practice considered blasphemous by some Muslims. The murderers remain at large, so their motive cannot be established with certainty, though a fleeing gunman was heard to shout "Allahu akbar", Arabic for "God is great". In this context, it is very easy to jump to conclusions, for it is very hard to imagine what might have inspired a killing spree targeting humour magazine staffers, including a handful of France's best-known cartoonists, other than the violent Islamic fanaticism that has scourged Charlie Hebdo for years. In 2011, for example, the magazine's office...Continue reading

Still strong

Mié, 07/01/2015 - 22:48

BOSTON'S Old South Church has been a steady fixture throughout the city’s history. During an outbreak of pox in 1677, the church’s minister published what was said to be the first patient information brochure in the colonies. The church’s old meeting house was a recruiting station for the Union army during the civil war, and it is where Sam Adams, a congregation member, launched the Boston Tea Party. The church stands at Copley Square, steps away from where home-made bombs exploded near the Boston marathon finish line in April 2013.

For many in Boston that day is still raw. It was Patriots Day, a local holiday, which families usually spend watching the marathon or attending a baseball game. Three spectators were killed, including an eight-year-old boy, and more than 260 people were badly injured. Many lost limbs. A police officer was apparently shot by the suspects a few days later. It was the deadliest act of terrorism in America since the September 11th attacks. Resiliency is a point of pride for the...Continue reading

Bracingly, bitterly windy

Mié, 07/01/2015 - 18:07

WHEN your correspondent moved to Chicago at the end of October, her friends gave her a thermal blanket, her godmother two pairs of gloves (one for cold and one for even colder weather) and her mother sent her to The North Face, a retailer, to get the warmest winter boots they make. “Is it very cold?” they asked every time they called the newly arrived Chicagoan. “Do you have the right kit?” For all of December I laughed about their well-meaning concern. “Piece of cake, it’s like London, only sunnier and windier.” I wasn’t sure what the fuss was all about.

This changed with the onset of the first real snow—and the first real cold of the winter this week. Temperatures started to plunge in the evening of January 4th—and have gone down ever since. On January 6th residents of the greater Chicago area woke up to between two and five inches of snow, a pretty sight, best enjoyed in a warm room with a cup of cocoa in hand. By then the temperature had gone down to minus 12 degrees Celsius (10 Fahrenheit), which felt much colder thanks to the ever present wind. Today temperatures are forecast to go down...Continue reading

Just like Airbnb

Mar, 06/01/2015 - 20:34

IN A hospital emergency room, patients with the most urgent problems are usually treated first. It makes little sense to mend a broken finger if someone is waiting with a heart attack. Yet this one-size-fits-all approach has long informed the way the country handles homelessness. Housing subsidies and assorted services are often doled out on a first come-first served basis, regardless of need. With wait times measured in years, and little co-ordination between agencies, the homeless who are best served tend to be the easiest to treat, as they are the most capable of navigating—and tolerating—a Byzantine bureaucracy. The most critical cases often end up slipping between the cracks. 

Cities can save a lot of money if they swiftly place these needy cases in supportive permanent housing—a plan known as Housing First—while offering fewer services to those...Continue reading

Home of the unbrave

Lun, 05/01/2015 - 23:30

THE ominously named "Winter Storm Gorgon" is set to dump scads of the white stuff across a broad swathe of America, from the Rockies to the Poconos. Law-abiding families mustn't rush to break out the toboggans, however, for there is a trend afoot to outlaw sledding

[F]aced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills rather than risk large liability claims.

No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks.

"We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them," said Marie Ware, Dubuque's leisure services manager. "We can't manage the risk at all of those places."

Other wholesome locales, such as Des Moines, Iowa and Lincoln, Nebraska have also restricted sledding to certain hills posted with sled-at-your-own-risk warnings. This crackdown on unregulated sledding seems of a piece...Continue reading

Hamlet on the Hudson

Sáb, 03/01/2015 - 22:54

DAYS before Christmas in 1991, a private plane at Albany’s airport stood ready to take off at a moment’s notice to carry Mario Cuomo, then New York’s governor, to New Hampshire to meet the filing deadline to run in the presidential primary. At the time there were already six Democratic candidates ready to take on George Bush senior, the Republican incumbent, but no one stood out—not even Bill Clinton, the eventual President. Many Democrats were hoping Mr Cuomo would step up to the plate. He had impressed the nation with his spell-binding keynote speech during the Democratic National Convention in 1984, when he described the country as a tale of two cities, a rich one and a poor one filled with mounting despair. The Democratic candidate that year, Walter Mondale, went on to lose every state, bar his home-state of Minnesota, to Ronald Regan; many on the left wondered aloud if they had backed the wrong Democrat. Liberals urged Mr Cuomo to run in 1988, to little avail. Surely he would run in 1992, and put an end to his party’s losing streak.

But that aeroplane never did take off. Instead, Mr Cuomo stayed in New York to battle the state...Continue reading

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