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Thursday, January 20, 2021

pay through the heart
Perhaps it’s a perverse joke that a notably heartless organization like the Internal Revenue Service should pick this Valentine’s Day as the official date for accepting 2010 itemized income tax returns.

Late last year, the IRS said it would need extra time to reprogram its processing systems because Congress acted so late this year in cleaning up the tax code… As a result, the 50 million taxpayers who itemize their deductions will have to hold off until Feb. 14 to file.

Nothing stokes the romantic juices like filling out a 1040. By candlelight, of course.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/20/2011 10:26pm
Category: Business, Politics, Society
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Friday, January 14, 2021

You’ve got nothing else to do while draining your weasel, so Sega and its play-urinals ask, why not make a game out of your flow?

According to Sega and Akihabara News, the four types of video games on the Toylets include:

- “Mannekin Pis”: a simple measurement of the urine produced.
- “Graffiti Eraser”: where you move your urine back and forth to remove paint
- “The North Wind and Her”: a game where you play the wind, trying to blow a girl’s skirt up. The stronger you pee, the stronger the wind blows.
- “Milk from Nose”: A variation on sumo wrestling, where you try to knock the other player out of the ring using the strength of your urine flow (shown as milk spraying from your nose). The record of your pee is saved and used as the opponent for the next player. So the game is sort of multiplayer. Toylets even lets you save information onto a USB drive! I fear the MMORPG that will arise from this.

In a way, the concept of actively standing up while videogaming evokes the old coin-op machines of arcades yore. Instead of being hunched over a plastic/wooden cabinet while manipulating the joystick, you’re now leaning into a porcelain basin while… well, manipulating your “joystick”.

This bathroom-breaking action is, as you might expect, in Japan only. For now.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 01/14/2011 08:52pm
Category: Society, Videogames
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Wednesday, January 12, 2021

As the old saying goes, everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.

Except that they do — they obsess about it. Especially when the inclement stuff hits. Or even threatens to hit. Perpetual panic is the result of our exaggerating the impact of the elements:

We barely have time to dry off from the assaulting rains of spring and the insurgent swelter of summer before we begin to fortify ourselves for another coming cold war — with its insidious sleet, lethal icicles and villainous black ice…

All of this hysteria over storm alerts and weather warnings, [author John] Balzar says, stems from “an impoverished sense of wonder about nature … and an exaggerated sense of self-pity.”

When we speak of weather “events,” Balzar says, “the jargon of sports, war, economics have all blended into one, and weather has been dragged into the fray.”

There’s definitely an element of titillation here as well. Who knew Mother Nature could impart such a thrill?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/12/2021 10:01am
Category: Society, Weather
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Tuesday, January 11, 2021

Whenever I hear some twentysomething moaning about his/her quarterlife crisis, I point out that, based on current life expectancy, they’re being wildly optimistic.

Most of the time, I get back a blank stare. Occasionally, someone will figure out the quick math, and respond with a scowl. I’ve never asked if it was because they’d just realized that they were 5-10 years overdue on this post-adolescence marker, or if they resented my questioning their youthful immortality. Either way, a win for me!

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 01/11/2021 10:16am
Category: College Years, Society
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Monday, January 10, 2021

What’s your sign? If you’re going by the age-old Zodiac calendar, then you’re off by a planetary wiggle-wag:

The ancient Babylonians based zodiac signs on the constellation the sun was “in” on the day a person was born. During the ensuing millenniums, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis, creating about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment.

The result?

“When [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” said Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

Basically, a presumed Pisces is really an Aquarius — the traditionally preceding sign. You take a step back to get to your “true” astrological essence. Or something.

So then, I’m not really a Gemini? This revelation would shake me to my self-identifying core, except that it’s not 1977 and I’m not hitting any discotheques tonight.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/10/2021 10:38pm
Category: Pop Culture, Science, Society
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Thursday, December 30, 2020

don't forget toAmongst the pearls of wisdom dropped in this list of “What Men Think (words to live by)” is this revelation:

You can never fix us. If we’re douches, we’re staying that way. You are not going to be the one. Save yourself some heartache. Not going to happen. And the bigger the douche, the better we are at manipulating people because we need to manipulate people cos we’re a douche.

Actually, not much of a revelation, if you’re at all acquainted with douchebaggery. But someone should clue in all those hot chicks with douchebags.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/30/2010 09:21pm
Category: Society, Women
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Tuesday, December 28, 2020

While New York seethes under a blanket of mostly-unplowed snow, in southside Boston cleared curbside parking brings a bizarre sideshow of placeholder objects:

Mrs. Simon, a Southie native, said the most “awesome” space saver she had seen was a table set for two, complete with a bottle of wine. Mrs. Maguire said her weirdest sighting was a toilet — “I can’t imagine the person moving it every time they park,” she said — and Kevin Carroll, who marks his space with an orange cone, said his strangest sighting was “one of those old TVs in the wooden cabinets.”

Space savers spotted Tuesday included a tripod, several containers of kitty litter, a stroller, a cat scratching post, an air purifier and a laundry basket full of folded clothes. None, though, rivaled the bust of Elvis Presley that someone used in 2009.

Quite the territorial hassle. Although probably less work than the proverbial task of parking your car in nearby Harvard Yard, which requires filling out multiple forms.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/28/2010 09:38pm
Category: Society, Weather
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Sunday, December 26, 2020

Argentina is far from the only country to experience political and economic instability over the years. So there must be some other reason for the ingrained national obsession with psychoanalysis:

Buenos Aires is one of the world centres of psychoanalysis and has been since the earliest days of Freud’s work.

Unlike in many countries, where psychoanalysis was, and remains, a psychology for the rich, the practice took off in Argentina during the 1960s to the point where is is common for everyday folk to see an analyst. The Wall Street Journal cites a recent survey suggesting that 32% of Argentinians have seen an analyst at some point in their lives.

Indeed, there are more psychologists per capita in this South American country than anywhere else in the world. One big reason for that seems to be some doubling-up on therapy:

Meanwhile, on TV, a drama series called “Tratame Bien,” (“Treat Me Well”), focuses on the travails of José and Sofia, a husband and wife, each of whom has an analyst. Facing midlife crises, the two make a momentous decision: retaining a third analyst they can see together for couples’ therapy.

Argentine psychosis is obviously big business. They’re practically begging to be the backdrop for the next Woody Allen movie.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/26/2010 01:04pm
Category: Movies, Science, Society
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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Because old-fashioned electronic mail doesn’t support the Texting Generation’s “social intensity”, online communication is structurally streamlining:

[Facebook] is rolling out a revamped messaging service that is intended to feel less like e-mail and more like texting.

The company decided to eliminate the subject line on messages after its research showed that it was most commonly left blank or used for an uninformative “hi” or “yo.”

Facebook also killed the “cc” and “bcc” lines. And hitting the enter key can immediately fire off the message, à la instant messaging, instead of creating a new paragraph. The changes, company executives say, leave behind time-consuming formalities that separate users from what they crave: instant conversation.

“The future of messaging is more real time, more conversational and more casual,” said Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering at Facebook, where he oversees communications tools. “The medium isn’t the message. The message is the message.”

“More casual” is the key. It’s important to remember that the users here are interested exclusively in one-time instant communication — no one is looking through IM archives for a message to reference back to. Email is suited for information that you might want to preserve, so the formal trappings of that medium make sense there. But for chatting within social networking and mobile contexts? It’s overkill. Naturally, users want to bypass that.

But speaking of overkill, why dismantle email strictly to accommodate chit-chat behavior? The inbox still has “official” utility, and that shouldn’t be impacted by preferences in the social media sphere. I’d think there’s room for both channels.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/21/2010 10:56pm
Category: Social Media Online, Society
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Monday, December 20, 2021

So, fingerless gloves — the winter accessory that, in our handheld-device age, has finally met its functional purpose:

Fingerless gloves are nothing new (hello, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and David Bowie). They were a style staple of rebellious ’80s pop stars and have come back on the hands of Taylor Momsen, Rihanna and tons of teens and twentysomethings for whom texting, tweeting and typing is a full-time job no matter what the climate.

And yet, I have a couple of problems with this handwear:

- It evokes a homeless-junkie look to me. That’s the group I most closely associate with these half-gloves, basically as improvised tear-wear.

- The fingers are the part of the hand that get the coldest when exposed to freezing temperatures. So what’s the point in covering up your palms? You’re still going to feel the chilly numbness.

Because of those two strikes against, I don’t see donning a pair of these, even with my constant keyboard-typing and touchscreen-tapping. Not that I’m not tempted, with some of the drafty locales I’ve had to endure lately.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/20/2010 09:16pm
Category: Fashion, Society, Tech, Weather
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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Recent Boston-based films like The Fighter and The Town — and even The Social Network — have featured female characters cut from the same unflattering cloth:

Why must the celluloid version of Massachusetts’ blue-collar babes be so harsh?

Not every woman in Lowell gets into a punching match on their front porch. Or drops the F-bomb from her second-story window within earshot of unsuspecting neighbors. They’re not all Parliament-sucking hos with bleachy, frizzed-out hair and baby-daddies doing six months at MCI Shirley.

But it seems each time I fork over $9.50 for a ticket at AMC Loews Boston Common, I’m being sold another sleazy, stupid Boston Area Broad.

Disparaging portrayals of the Bay State are more of a New York tradition, versus Hollywood. But the movies in question are Oscar-level material, so perhaps there’s a typical Los Angeles-style mixed-message dissing going on here: General acclaim, accompanied by a backhanded swipe to the local womanhood.

The other part of this trend I’ve noticed: These Southie characters are desirable vehicles for glam-girl actresses to change type. In the aforementioned movies, Amy Adams and Blake Lively each donned pretty-but-tough personas, letting the hairspray and curse-words fly in an attempt to “show range” in their acting abilities. It’s a convenient shorthand for expanding career options, but doesn’t particularly come off as convincing.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/19/2010 07:37pm
Category: Movies, Society, Women
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Saturday, December 18, 2021

If you think that comic book geeks are an insufferable lot when it comes to film adaptations of their beloved characters, consider the wrath of those who sorta-kinda believe said characters are real. Thor, the next big-budget production coming from Marvel Studios, is facing a boycott from British white supremacists over the casting of a black actor as one of the Asgard crew:

The Council of Conservative Citizens is upset that London-born Idris Elba, star of The Wire and BBC detective series Luther as well as a number of Hollywood films, is to play deity Heimdall in the Marvel Studios feature. The group, which opposes inter-racial marriage and gay rights, has set up a website, boycott-thor.com to set out its opposition to what it sees as an example of leftwing social engineering…

“Now [Marvel] has taken it one further, casting a black man as a Norse deity in their new movie Thor. Marvel has now inserted social engineering into European mythology.”

Note that in the Norse chronicles, Heimdall is the watchman of Bifrost, the rainbow-colored bridge between Midgard (earth) and Asgard (heaven). Given that this Council has a thing against gays and blacks, it’s not surprising that this mythological juxtaposition — black guardian, rainbow-flag road — would have them protesting in favor of a whitewash.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/18/2010 08:00pm
Category: Movies, Pop Culture, Society
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Monday, December 13, 2021

If you’re tired of exposing yourself to sun-shiney solar radiation while vacationing on some beach, perhaps you’d prefer the man-made irradiation to be had with an officially-sanctioned tour of Chernobyl:

While the area remains heavily contaminated, a ministry spokeswoman said, tourism routes had been drawn up which would cover the main sights while steering clear of the dangerous spots.

Wandering would not be encouraged, Yulia Yershova said: “There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn’t stray away from the group.”

It is already possible to visit the area with private tour firms, usually operating from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, 60 miles south. The country’s government, however, says these are illegal and tourists’ safety cannot be guaranteed.

If you want a preview of this wasteland excursion, you can always track down a copy of Andrey Tarkovskiy’s 1979 eerie classic Stalker. Not that the Ukrainian Board of Tourism would endorse it, as it’s clearly one of the illegal jaunts through the exclusion zone.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/13/2010 09:33pm
Category: History, Science, Society
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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

I’m sure it’s been noted by others, but I find it interesting that, in the DVR era, a semantic shift has taken place when referring to “live television”. Here’s a handy example:

[Online advertising provider Say Media] found that almost 56 million Americans belong to a group that the study categorized as “Off the Grid” — they spend more time watching non-live videos (say a YouTube video, or a TV show recorded on DVR) than they spend watching live TV.

Essentially, “live TV” now refers to the broadcasted (or cable-casted) stream of programming. It doesn’t factor in whether that consists of a pre-recorded show or a true live-time telecast. Basically, if it’s coming at you in synchronous state, and you can’t control the playback — saving, pausing, rewinding, or otherwise time-shifting the experience — then it’s “live”.

Traditionally, only certain events like awards shows, sports, or news are considered truly “live” television. The spread of digital video recorders, DVDs, and Web video has redefined that designator. This has more to do with the level of viewer customization, than the actual state of the medium. Obviously, most of what’s on the air is pre-recorded fare; but in the context of active viewer experience, it’s all untamed content. That’s the mass perception that’s taking hold.

It might be more accurate to refer to the programming pumping out of the networks as “raw television” — raw-material media before it’s corralled via digital storage and manipulation. But DVR marketing has touted the ability to “pause live TV” and such, which undoubtedly is a relatable way to convey the functionality. So for better or worse, “live TV” has been redefined.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/07/2021 02:18pm
Category: Society, TV, Tech
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Sunday, December 05, 2021

In a digital domain where people have no problem getting poked, friended, and liked, apparently dating is off-limits:

In theory, Facebook should be a mecca for singles looking to connect. The site already contains pictures and relevant information on hobbies, occupation and location that romance-seeking men and women could use to determine their interest in an intriguing stranger. Moreover, it allows people to see their ties to friends-of-friends, adding a level of familiarity online dating sites can’t offer.

In the past few years, dozens of services and applications have been built to capitalize on the opportunity. But as [would-be dating service provider Sunil] Nagaraj realized, most of them failed to consider one factor: Not everyone wants to broadcast to the world that they’re single and looking for love.

“I wouldn’t mind telling my five good friends that I’m dating, but I don’t want my loose connections to know,” Nagaraj said. And Facebook, unlike predecessors such as MySpace, has moved away from being a site where people cruise for dates by allowing users to shield their profiles from public view.

So the most ubiquitous of social networks is considered to be incompatible with perhaps the most social activity of all. This would be ironic, except that it’s par for the course when it comes to online interactions.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/05/2021 03:53pm
Category: Social Media Online, Society
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The attempt to give a name to the freelancer phenomenon of hours-long wi-fi workspacing in coffeeshops — “Laptopistan” — is exceedingly lame. But at least the article imparted the business strategy behind hosting such seemingly freeloading behavior:

While the people behind the screens spent a paltry $6 to $10 per day, their true value is as a draw for more profitable takeout customers, [Brooklyn-based Atlas Cafe co-owner Enrico] Lorenzetti said. From the moment the door opens at 7 a.m. until it closes at 9 p.m., the place is buzzing, a productive society, visible from the street through wraparound windows. “People come in to buy food and coffee to go, because they see a full crowd,” he said. “They think ‘Hey, this place must be good if I can’t even get a table.’”

I’ve logged my fair share of time on Starbucks‘ wireless network, notebook computer propped open the whole time. And I definitely didn’t break the bank during these work sessions: A cup of tea plus a bagel would last me for my requisite couple of hours (with a refill for which they might or might not charge a few cents). When you’re shuttling between clients all day, there’s no better mobile office setting.

However, I’ve never frequented a coffeeshop that was utterly dominated by this co-working presence. That is, it’s still unmistakenly a public place of business, and you have to “put up” with regular coffee-drinking patrons coming in, making noise, and otherwise not engaging in any sort of work-like quietude. I’m able to achieve some task-centric focus in this non-home-office, but I can’t rely on it as a fully-functioning workspace.

But again, it does the job for what it is. And if my occupying a space helps the store draw in crowd-seeking customers, it’s a win-win.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/05/2021 01:44pm
Category: Business, New Yorkin', Society, Wi-Fi
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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Low income + low expectations = A job for Underearners Anonymous:

“Jean” (I’ve changed names in this column to protect members’ anonymity) has a typical story. She’s attractive, ridiculously articulate and has a master’s degree from Columbia. When she “hit bottom,” the 30-something writer was earning $10,000 a year doing freelance work and falling behind on the rent. Her solution? She applied for a job at Staples.

Sounds crazy, but for Jean, minimum-wage jobs served a purpose that she had yet to admit to herself: They came with few expectations and responsibilities. “I didn’t want to be controlled,” she says. The price, of course, was poverty. Now, she says, she’s earning 10 times her old pay and has launched an acting career, but it’s been an arduous journey. “The underearner doesn’t want to do the work required to make their life better,” she says. “UA gives you the willingness.”

It’s certainly a sign of deep trouble if you’d rather retreat than double down for basic survival. But is this pseudo-religious 12-step program approach really the solution? The self-destructive mentality on display practically screams for psychiatric help.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/02/2021 11:32pm
Category: Business, Society
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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Is Facebook too behemoth-like for your friending tastes? Then maybe you should give Smiley a try.

Sure, Smiley. Why not? I know, it looks pretty cookie-cutter and amateurish. That’s because it is. I only found out about it from a subway-plastered flier, which consisted of nothing more than long run-on text in all-caps, exhorting anyone who bothered to read it to join up. Oh, and that this little site supported videochatting, pointing out that Facebook did not. As hokey (and even suspect) as the pitch was, I couldn’t help but be a little touched, and even more curious.

It’ll be the miracle of the century if Smiley ever grows to challenge Facebook. But who knows — with the do-it-yourself social networking sites and software services out there, the odds are that some homegrown walled garden will achieve some measure of success. Unless the concept of decentralized social networks is inherently unworkable — which it probably is.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/01/2021 10:31pm
Category: New Yorkin', Social Media Online, Society
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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Villainize that Comic Sans all you want, but it may have an educational-retention advantage over prettier typefaces:

[Princeton University] researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.

They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards. It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.

“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study. “So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.

Along with Comic Sans, the other intense-comprehension fonts tested were Bodoni, Haettenschweiler, and Monotype Corsiva. All these were versus the “easy” Arial — admittedly, as generic a baseline font as there is.

The concept makes sense: If you expend more mental energy toward something, you’re likelier to remember it, just due to the effort. The biggest challenge is achieving balance — using a font that’s distinctive enough to stick in memory, but not so stylistically out-there that it’s an indecipherable chore to read.

And while this information delivery method is ideal for receptive learning, it’s not a good idea for other media messaging:

The traditional strategy is to design all of the information you’re presenting in a way that is as clear and easy to read as possible. This makes sense, I think, because most often designers are tasked with delivering information to an audience that is assumed to be at worst hostile and at best indifferent to the message. But this policy may be self-defeating in non-advertising contexts.

So if the message is meant to be rapid-fire and not particularly deep, then clean font design is the way to play it. For deeper mental penetration, the funkier designs work. I’m not sure all advertising needs to adhere to the former; you want the sales pitch to stick, after all. If anything, the “easy” fonts are best applied to video-based delivery, where just getting the exposure counts. Anything meant to be more lasting, like print and archived text, can go with the complex serifs/sans serifs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/27/2010 05:11pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Science, Society
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Friday, November 26, 2021

hello neighbors
Let’s throw practicality and reality right out the window while we imagine a world with country populations relocated to their equivalently-ranked national territories.

So basically, China moves its global No. 1 population to the world’s largest country by land area — which happens to be next-door neighbor Russia. More dramatically, the No. 2 world population of India moves across the globe to Canada, the planet’s second-largest country. And so on.

No need for Mr. and Mrs. America to call the moving vans, though:

Strangely enough, the US itself would not have to swap its population with another country. With 310 million inhabitants, it is the third most populous nation in the world. And with an area of just over 3.7 million square miles, it is also the world’s third largest country. Brazil, at number five in both lists, is in the same situation. Other non-movers are Yemen and Ireland. Every other country moves house.

Meanwhile, other nationalities would have to adjust to strange new climes and neighbors, like the above-referenced 1-billion Indians in the Great White North. Although one current geopolitical flashpoint would merely shift from northeast Asia to southern Africa in this statistical re-shuffling:

Those South Koreans probably couldn’t believe their bad luck. Of all the potential new friends in the world, who gets to be their northern neighbour but their wacky cousin, North Korea? It seems the heavily militarised DMZ will move from the Korean peninsula to the South African-Botswanan border.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/26/2010 09:27pm
Category: Creative, Political, Society
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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

What hue is the current Homeland Security threat level? Doesn’t matter, because the 9/11-born color-coded terror alerts look to be going away in favor of descriptive designations.

By scrapping the colors, President Barack Obama would abandon a system that critics long have said was too vague to be useful and that Democrats criticized as a political scare tactic. And it would represent a formal undoing of one of the George W. Bush administration’s most visible legacies…

Under the current system, green, at the bottom, signals a low danger of attack; blue signals a general risk; yellow, a significant risk; orange, a high risk; and red, at the top, warns of a severe threat. The nation has never been below the third threat level, yellow — an elevated or significant risk of terrorist attack.

It’s a cerebral vs. instinctual way to process information. Very reflective of the divergent approaches of the past two administrations.

There’s no reason to lament the loss of the rainbow of terror alerts; I don’t think they really permeated the national consciousness, except maybe among longtime frequent fliers. But I’m sure the right will seize upon it come campaign time, and hype it up into some sort of symbol of Democratic “softness” on national vigilance.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/24/2010 10:37pm
Category: Politics, Society
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