Just up on Wired: A Bush Administration bill that would have given retroactive immunity to big telecoms that helped the administration conduct warrantless surveillance on domestic communications is now dead in the Senate till next year. It looked likely to pass until Senator Christopher Dodd threatened to filibuster if the immunity provision wasn’t removed; Senate leadership pulled the bill so they could get other work done before the Christmas recess.
Immunity for the telecoms would cut off the only available avenue to legally challenge warrantless wiretapping. It’s based on a ridiculous premise: that the telecoms should be excused for doing something illegal and unconstitutional because the government told them to do it! The essence of democracy is that citizens are responsible to know and obey the law on their own accord – not just do whatever government orders them to. What are we coming to?
Would this “end run” around campaign finance law be “hacking” (which implies good-hearted mischief) if the Swift Boaters did it? I don’t think so. Regardless of what I think of Ron Paul (and he does seem like the sanest man in the Republican primary), this is kinda dodgy.
Google recently announced its response to Wikipedia, a collection of webpages called “knols,” so called because they’ll be discrete chunks of knowledge. The announcement on the official Google blog puts a lot of emphasis on the way in which knols are not Wikipedia with a link to Gmail in the top corner: expert authors. Knols will be written by people who already have a reputation connected to the relevant subject, with prominent attribution for contributors.
It’s an interesting idea. First, it should prevent people and organizations from tweaking entries to suit their PR preferences (unless, of course, the Pentagon gets to write its own knol). Second, it could be a great opportunity for academics to make their work accessible to the lay audience that doesn’t have university-provided access to the journal sites. Disseminating your work to the unwashed masses looks good on grant applications (filed under “broader impacts”), and lord knows we can all use the practice at explaining our work in common sensical terms.
At this early stage, knols contributions are invitation-only. Hey Google! Want a knol about Joshua trees?
The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell has a short but worthwhile column about James Flynn’s observation that worldwide I.Q. test scores are rising, and its implications for the interpretation of I.Q. in general. Gladwell takes the opportunity to snipe at William Saletan’s recent defacement of Slate.com with a series of columns on race and I.Q., which (after stirring up a hurricane of scorn on Slate’s reader forum) culminated in a sad non-apology when Saletan’s main source turned out to be a known white supremacist.