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Quite the World, Isn't It?

WiFi + FCC = Warrantless Search?

There's a bizarre story over at Wired that explores something I hadn't seen before. If you have a wireless system in your house, the FCC asserts, then federal inspectors have the right to warrantless entry.

According to the piece, for years the FCC has used the Communications Act of 1934 to enter properties in search of rogue radio stations and other violators of federal communications licenses covering use of radio frequencies (RF). That used to be limited to pirate radio and ham operators, the only folks with radio transmitters in their homes. The reasoning is similar to that under which fire and health inspectors are allowed to make warrantless entries to businesses. But the FCC says we're all suspects, in a sense.

From Wired: “Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference,” says FCC spokesman David Fiske. That includes devices like wireless routers that use unlicensed spectrum, Fiske says.

The piece goes on to cite cases in which FCC inspectors entered properties without warrants, didn't find what they were looking for but did find evidence of unrelated illegal activity, and the Supreme Court upheld the convictions.
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Getting crowded here on the outside

For a truly demoralizing look at the state of the newspaper meltdown -- we're all adults here, we can handle a little blood -- check out the Paper Cuts blog. In 2008 their map mashup detailed more than 15,970 jobs lost. So far this year,they count more than 9,564 jobs have been cut.

As bad as that is, the broad retrenchment in readership of the print editions, steep fall off of advertising because of the consumer shift to the internet, and this killing recession, have squeezed the freelance market nearly shut. This afternoon I had a travel piece rejected by a major newspaper, the editor saying his space and budget are shot for the year. In May. Maybe he was fibbing to let me down lightly, but other people are saying similar things. No space, and limited budget.

This is bad news for folks like me, obviously enough, but what the freelance conduit brought to newspapers was the outside set of eyes -- story pitches from people seeing the world a little differently than the set of desk editors running the budget meetings. The result is ever less inclusive news coverage.

I'm feeling more and more like my old autoworker buddies in Detroit, or the steelworkers in Pittsburgh, our industries collapsing around us and there's nothing we can do about it.

Except blog.
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Paper borrows cash from local government

This is not a good idea.
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A troubled process for a troubled state

I've got an idea. Why don't we have one more California ballot initiative -- a binding, non-reversible proposition that would bar more initiatives? Because, as the old saying goes, this is no way to run a railroad.

Voters yesterday rejected five proposals that Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic legislative leaders said were necessary to close the state's $21 billion budget gap. Now that the measures have been shot down, look for some serious budgetary bloodletting -- not all of the dark-day scenarios the governor trotted out over the past few days were scare tactics.

But we also need to take a step back and look at how California got in such straits. And one of the biggest culprits is the initiative process itself. It began as a Progressive-era embrace of direct democracy, but has become so dominated by money-backed agendas that it has just added another mechanism for lobbyists to influence policy.

And I know it's heresy to say out here on the West Coast, but one of the biggest problems is Prop. 13, which has resulted in our absurd tax structure. A family that just bought the same size and design house as ours, a couple of blocks away, will pay more than double the property taxes. Why? Because we bought our houses at different times.

But back to the process itself. Over the past near-century the process has been used to do everything from trying to deny government service to illegal immigrants to taxing cigarettes to provide daycare. Between 1912, when the first initiatives began, to 2002, nearly 1,200 initiatives had been prepared, 290 made it to the ballot and 99 were passed. More, obviously, have been approved since then.

But this is why we have a Legislature, to handle these issues through the mediation of the legislative process. After years of covering politics I understand fully the cynicism with which most people view politicians and legislatures. But this initiative process has done little more than give people with money and an agenda a way to circumvent the legislative process and get their desires inserted into the law books. Instead of making government more responsible, it has, combined with term limits, made it less accountable -- and made it harder to govern.

So let's have one more initiative: End the process. And while we're at it, let's get aggressive about ending the role of money in the political process. That's the fire behind the smoke.
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"What would Cheesus do?"

This is just too funny not to link.
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Book deals -- but not mine

Some good news for my former LA Times colleagues Chris Goffard and Sonia Nazario -- Publishers Lunch reports they both have new book deals.

"LA Times reporter and author of Snitch Jacket Chris Goffard's You Will See Fire, about an American priest in Kenya who takes on the country's brutal dictatorship as well as the Catholic church while fighting social injustice, only to die under mysterious circumstances, to Alane Mason at Norton, by Lydia Wills at Paradigm and Seth Jaret at Jaret Entertainment (NA). UK/Translation: Philip Patterson at Marjacq Scripts"

Snitch Jacket was a solid debut -- character-driven and evocative of the part of Orange County that falls far far outside the upscale image.

Nazario focuses next on women.

"Enrique's Journey author Sonia Nazario's book, intimately documenting five women as they deal with a major social issue, including poverty, hunger, prison reform, and gang violence, to David Ebershoff at Random House, by Bonnie Nadell of Frederick Hill Bonnie Nadell Agency (World English)."

Love to see this.
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Helping ourselves

One of the reassuring things that came after the mass layoffs across Tribune -- owner of the Los Angeles Times, my former employer -- is the way so many of us have come together with a sense of mutual aid. A flood of "what do we do now?" and "Anyone have any idea what that letter meant?" emails led me to launch a Yahoo group for ExLATers, now closing in on 100 members. It's been a great tool for pooling knowledge and unscrambling often contradictory bits of information -- especially after Tribune entered bankruptcy.

Elsewhere, folks have launched a web site to track where former Trib employees across the properties have moved to on the web. This one is fairly new and is a good and growing showcase of the breadth and depth of talent cut loose in this crisis (thanks to LAObserved for posting it, and ExLATer Saul Daniels for alerting our Yahoo group).

And now former photographers at the LAT are joining with former shooters for the Long Beach Press Telegram and Santa Clarita Signal in their own freelance photographer network. My former colleague Matt Randall put it together, and says he hopes to have a website live next week linking to all the photographers. It augments nicely the online work our fellow ExLATer Bret Levy has been doing with webinars at WriteThru.

These are all innovative ways to address the problems we face as individual journalists. The future is ours, kids, let's keep fighting for it ....
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What the hell, may as well join them

I've resisted going the blog route for myriad reasons, the most significant of which was a belief that I didn't have that many opinions. "Yeah, right," I can hear you say. Fair enough. I have one or two. So, what the hell, I may as well join the 21st Century.

What can you expect in this space? Hopefully a regular flow of material. Updates on progress on my current book, The Fear Within, which is due at Rutgers University Press in (ulp) December. Appearances and developments related to Blood Passion (feel free to give one to any Hollywood producers and directors you know - it would make a damn fine film).

But I'll also talk about some of my journalism as it unfurls, post thoughts on current events that catch my eye, and link to a whole bunch of stuff, from politics to books to soccer (Go, Arsenal!) to whatever else crosses the screen. And I'll likely throw in some postings on my travels -- such as next week at Book Expo.

So stay tuned.
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Eugenides and Herzog

A friend over on Facebook was wondering the other day whether she had maybe picked up the wrong book when she decided to read Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, which, admittedly, can start a little slow. No, several of us advised, stick with it. You have to attune yourself to Bellow's pace. Give it time.

So today I stumbled across a link on Mark Sarvas' The Elegant Variation to a piece by Jeffrey Eugenides on Bellow's Humboldt's Gift, another wonderful novel that takes, in this age of gussied up novellas and skin-thin memoirs, a little more attention span to digest. I haven't read Humboldt's Gift in years, and the piece makes me want to dig it out of the stacks in the garage (yes, like a library, we have stacks). From Eugenides' piece:

"Of course, there is a danger, with a great stylist, that the sentences will outclass what the sentences are about. Not with Bellow. Bellow gets the mix between form and content about as right as possible. His sentences pack maximum sensual, emotional and intellectual information into minimum space — all the while generating an involving, deeply moving story."

What I like about this, beyond the nudge to go re-read Bellow, is that the appreciation is out there at all. So much of contemporary book coverage (scant as it is) is tied to the marketing juggernaut of what's new. That's the nature of the beast -- the new is the news, to state the obvious. But it's refreshing to be reminded of the arc of literature itself, and that it's not always about the latest writer from Brooklyn.
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