Wednesday, May 29, 2013

America Porks China

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 11:48 AM


Turns out all those people who put money into pork futures were right, after all. Today it was announced that Chinese company Shuanghui will buy Smithfield, one of America's largest pork producers, for $34 per share, about 30 percent above its closing share price yesterday. Reports on the value of the deal vary; some report it as $4.7 billion, some say it's $7.1 billion. Either way, this is the largest takeover of an American company by a Chinese company.

There are concerns on this deal, naturally. Shuanghui was embroiled in a tainted meat scandal two years ago in China, but the companies say this deal will primarily focus on exporting American pork to China. Shuangui says it also hopes to learn more about the United States food safety processes. China is the world's biggest pork market.

So, it seems the only thing we don't get from China these days is pork, retaining it as a part of our American heritage. And now they're taking our pork. It's easy to say this is a win for the overall health of Americans, a blow to the "obesity epidemic," as it were. But bacon isn't to blame, it's the maple coating on the bacon, the chocolate bar in which the bacon is mixed, the 1,400-calorie burger on which it sits that is the real culprit. Only time will tell how this deal plays out.

Smithfield says it's keeping its operations in the U.S., which is good for its 46,000 employees. The headquarters will remain in Virginia and no facilities will close, says Smithfield. For now, at least, it's only the profits that will be leaving.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Can—and Can't—be Known by a Short Video Clip

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Anyone who goes near the internet or a television has at least heard of the Cotati police who kicked the door down at James and Jennifer Woods' house after being called on a domestic disturbance charge and tased Jennifer.

Crime reporter for the Press Democrat Julie Johnson wrote a story about the video going viral, and a follow-up that went a little more in depth about the incident and addressed the use of tasers.

All of these things are relevant and worth discussing. The video undoubtedly produces a visceral reaction—cops kicking in doors, a lot of yelling, a woman screaming before, during and after her tasing experience and the man with her who shot the video and who was yelling back and forth with the cops about not coming in.

Yet whatever one's thoughts are about cops, when they are called on a domestic disturbance, they are required to check to make sure there is nothing abusive or salacious going on.

I also want to state clearly that I am not justifying in any way this particular situation or the police's action. I am not a police apologist, I have in fact participated in Cop Watch and am very skeptical about a lot of things police-related.

But in terms of the viral video and the media issues surrounding it, my mind quickly went to ask questions about what had happened first. Why were the police there? Why was the man in the house yelling at them to go away? What was actually going on? And until there was some reporting done, and some questions were answered, what I saw was a man yelling at police who seemed to think it was very important to get into the house and used force to do so and then responded to the screaming woman by tasing her.

Certainly there are corrupt police who take advantage of their power. In my poking around into this situation, it is pretty clear this officer doesn't have the best track record. But what interested me about this was my instantaneous negative reaction of a clip of a situation. It reminded me that in addition to "just the facts" the media needs to provide context and some analysis of a situation to create understanding. Understanding about what happened as well as understanding as to how to prevent it from happening again.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Sonoma County Book Festival Launches a Kickstarter Campaign

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 1:09 PM

It's official. Books are still rad. And the people who provide a venue for the authors and book-sellers that stilll believe in the power of the book are still rad. That's why the Sonoma County Book Festival received a Boho Award in 2011, and that's why it would be nice to keep the only major book festival in the county around for years to come. Like pretty much everyone else these days, they've turned to crowdfunding for help.

Today, the organizers announced the beginning of a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign to keep the festival running and fund an Executive Director to run the whole shabang, since its hard for volunteers to pull of something like this off. This year, the festival moves to Santa Rosa Junior College, instead of running through downtown Santa Rosa, like it has for the past 12 years each September.

From the Kickstarter page:

"The Sonoma County Book Festival has been celebrating books and authors and readers and our local community for the past 12 years each September, and it's been a glorious contribution to Sonoma County. What you may not know is that we've done it on a wing and a prayer. And at this juncture, our funds are low and our volunteers are tired. As the board of directors, we've had to ask ourselves, "Do we stop offering this incredible community celebration of books and literacy?" The answer came back as a loud, "Heck no!" The Festival and our community deserve more. In fact, we believe we can make the Festival even better for 2013."

For more information, here's the Kickstarter page.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Extended Play: Direct Energy

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 11:43 AM

In this week's news story, we reviewed the final four contenders for Sonoma Clean Power. Direct Energy, especially, might raise the green-leaning eyebrow.


As we wrote in the news story: Between 2001 and 2004, Direct Energy was found by several regulators to have signed up unwitting clients in four U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. According to a newspaper report, the company brought attention to itself by accidentally signing up an Atlanta man who had been dead for over 20 years. It was charged with unethical business practices and fined $500,000 stateside and $150,000 in Canada.

There's a series on this fiasco in the Calgary Herald, which is this writer's new Canadian regional newspaper crush.

The Direct Sell: An Investigative Report

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Five best Time Magazine millennial spoofs

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Maybe you've read the recent, controversial Time Magazine cover story about how the Millennial generation (hey, that's me!) is made up of a bunch of lazy, unemployed narcissists who live with their parents. I haven't. I've been too busy having government-subsidized babies and getting my mom to take care of them while I sit around taking photos of my own reflection in the mirror.


I did get around to reading The Atlantic's analysis of it, which points out how faulty writer Joel Stein's data is. But I had to do it quickly, because I was in the middle of brunch/interviews with potential trainers for the new pet dolphin I was just able to buy. I've been living with my parents, see, and my college professors have actually been paying me in monthly increments of $400 just for eventually landing a job.

But anyway, these are funny, courtesy of Policymic.

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Maybe the Whistles Will Keep on Blowing

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 11:48 AM


The New Yorker just launched a pretty awesome tool called Strongbox intended to allow people to anonymously send tips to the newsroom. Though this isn't in direct response to the recent Department of Justice subpoena of Associated Press phone lines—the New Yorker has been working on this for several years—it certainly could not have come at a better time.

Basically, the program allows anyone to upload information, photos, complaints, documents, etc., that they believe should be reported, and the people on the other end (in this case, the New Yorker) receive an encrypted version that requires a key to unlock the information, which is performed on another computer.

What's especially beneficial about the program is that the New Yorker isn't being all proprietary about it. The program itself, Dead Drop, was created by Aaron Swartz, is in fact open-source, and is available for any news agency to use.

Department of Justice, be damned!

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Watch Cotati Police Kick Door In, Tase Resident

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Just how private is your private life?

A video of Cotati police kicking in a door and tasing a man filming them has spread like wildfire around the internet, raising questions about citizens' Fourth Amendment rights and excessive use of force.

Last week, when a neighbor called to alert Cotati police about an alleged domestic disturbance incident between James and Jennifer Wood, officers arrived at the couple's front window. Speaking through the window to the police, the couple denied any domestic violence had been taking place, and refused the officers entry to their apartment, with James stating, "We don't live in a police state, sir."

Since it made the front page of Reddit last night, what happened next in the May 10 incident has been seen around the world:

Speaking to the Press Democrat, Cotati police chief Michael Parish insisted that in the case of a domestic disturbance call, police don't need a warrant to enter a residence. “The officers simply cannot walk away from a domestic disturbance call without ensuring that all parties are safe and secure,” he told reporter Julie Johnson.

Johnson spoke with James, and also with Jennifer, who said of the responding officers: "They could plainly see I was not in distress." An administrative review of the officers' actions will be taken, Parish said, but he defended the officers' behavior and blamed the Woods' "poor choice... not to cooperate with law enforcement."

Read the Press Democrat report here.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

News Agencies Fight Back

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM


It's hard enough to get someone to pick up the phone when you're a regular reporter. But what will happen now that the Associated Press has announced the Department of Justice has subpoenaed phone records from its reporters?

A lot of people are very concerned this will create a space where people are even less likely to talk to the press, effectively making whistleblowers scared to tip off reporters to important information.

In a letter to Eric Holder signed by 50 news organizations, from NPR to the Bay Area News Group to Politico, Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press wrote:

The scope of this action calls into question the very integrity of Department of Justice policies toward the press and its ability to balance, on its own, its police powers against the First Amendment rights of the news media and the public’s interest in reporting on all manner of government conduct, including matters touching on national security which lie at the heart of this case.

The letter goes on to say that by subpoenaing two months of records from 20 phone lines, the DoJ has gone against all guidelines set forth about phone records. It goes on to call for a shield law:

The Department’s actions demonstrate that a strong federal shield law is needed to protect reporters and their newsgathering materials in a court of law where the adversarial process ensures a fair weighing of the issues. While Congress should provide that remedial legislation, there is still much that this Department can do to mitigate the damage it has caused.

Right here in Sonoma County, in Rohnert Park, someone started a petition calling for legislation against this practice.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

There's Something Happening Here

Local group asking some tough questions about journalism and its role

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2013 at 4:43 PM


A media interest group has recently formed in Sonoma County. They have dubbed themselves The Sparky Project, a "group of local media thinkers seeking a vibrant and sustainable multimedia ecosystem for Sonoma County and the North Bay," according to the group's website.

In its infancy, the site is a kind of forum for the members of the group: Jake Bayless, who runs Empire Report; Joshua Simmons, web developer; Kerry Rego, social media consultant; Gretchen Giles, writer, editor (and former Bohemian editor); and Terry Garrett, Leadership Developer at Sonoma County GoLocal. So far, members have hashed out questions about local media. The public can view their discussions and, if they want to participate, join the group's Facebook page to enter the discussion.

Some of the questions the Sparky Project has asked so far are about journalism and its potential issues:

What is news, anyway? (And who should decide?)
What information do people need to conduct their lives?
In order to reach its highest good, does a democratic state require a well-informed citizenry?

Giles responded to the question about what's news, and who should decide: "If the gate has been unlocked and anyone can post items at any time under the guise of 'news,' how do we sort out the necessary from the unnecessary without gross error?"

An excellent question, and one that needs a lot more discussion. It's laudable for this group to have formed, and to be brave enough to ask these questions in a public way. What I'm unsure of is where this is going and what the end result will be. Whatever happens, though, the group was founded by people who are certainly well-versed in the media—it should be interesting to see what comes to fruition.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Dramatic Duckling Rescue in Marin

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 4:40 PM

According to this Marin IJ story, a deputy sheriff rescued six ducklings from a storm drain yesterday using a handy device made of string and a shoebox.


While this may not exactly be hard-hitting news, it does include a video of the duckling rescue, during which the box is lowered into the drain and tiny, chirping fluff balls are lifted out. Basically, it's the cutest thing you've seen someone that video of a cat dressed as a shark chasing a duckling from a moving vacuum.

Watch the video here.

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