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Face to Face With Insanity The dark 1970s film Taxi Driver depicts an aimless young man distintigrating rapidly as he fixates on a plan to assassinate a political candidate. In an improbable twist of fate, he ends up doing something of a good deed. There will be no such neat wrapup of the real life violence on Saturday, January 8, in Tucson, Arizona, when a distintigrating young man took aim at a Congresswoman and shot six people to death, and wounded 19, including his target.

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Sex, Drugs, and Whose Business Is It Anyway? A big German drug company is betting that women will buy a pill that will make them want to have more sex. The logic is twisted: trying to get people to want to want. The company says it has collected evidence that many women are unhappy with their libido. Whether or not this is true, the safety trials are under way.

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Writing on the Bathroom Wall in the 21st Century Anonymity on the World Wide Web is both a boon to free expression and a bonanza for boors, who abuse their freedom. Personal blogs are easy to set up, and almost all issues-oriented web sites allow readers to post comments freely under phony names. Is all the shouting and name-calling helping to destroy what rational debate we have left?

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Yesterday's Tea Bags Is it possible that the teabaggers are something more than a mixed bag of established far-right groups, offered up under a catchy name? Is it possible that they are a spontaneous outcry against big government? Although the national news media is taking them very seriously, I don't think so.

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God — Not Dead Just Nowhere To Be Seen At first, it amusing that Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti last month was god's wrath for a pact with the devil. But considering that Robertson has a huge following, and that disasters always prompt an outpouring of prophets warning about the price of sin, one has to wonder why naïve beliefs persist despite all evidence to the contrary.

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The High Court Stokes Up the Oligarchy Express The justices of the nation's top court expanded an election-law case over the financing of a movie pillorying Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign into a sweeping rewrite of the laws that restricted the political activity of corporations large and small.

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Can the New York Times Pass GO and Collect $200? Judgment Day is coming to the newspaper industry. The New York Times has decided to make online readers pay, according to New York Magazine. The paper, deeply in hock, is trying desperately to find its way in a world that in quick succession was turned upside down by television, and now by the Internet. Will the readers buy it?

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GOP Discovers Political Correctness as a Weapon Something was bothering me when I read the stories about Harry Reid's faux pas in race relations. Weren't the Republicans just blowing smoke to confuse the public on an issue they are losing: health care?

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Google, Oprah and the Decline of Western Civilization Was it necessary for Oprah to batter down the walls of individual privacy for Google to charge in and classify and categorize all of us for the sake of more efficient advertising?

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Health Care Blues A sense of déjà vu surrounds the health care debate. For the 15 years since the Clinton health care reform flopped, the problem has grown worse, but lobbyists and conservatives of both parties are out for blood again

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The News Business Buries Its Dead A former insider, now outside, looks at the trouble in the news business with a fresh, unbiased perspective.

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About Me

I am a computer scientist, that is I have a PhD in computer science from Columbia University. After graduation in 2005, I worked for several years as a postdoc at Columbia, staying on with the Natural Language Processing research group, and now I'm on my own.

Before I started working on that in 1998, I was a newspaperman for about 30 years. I was a reporter and a editor at several papers including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Over all, I liked the jobs I had, but something happened in the 90s when I started teaching myself to program. Programming was a distraction, very different from the liberal arts world of the news room. At some point, the distraction became a passion, and I went back to school. One thing lead to another and suddenly I had made a radical change in career.

Last year, I started thinking about writing. In November, I started to fool around -- another distraction. The kind of work I do slows down around the holidays. In my area in academia, several important paper deadlines come in January, but in the real world, hardly anyone starts a research project just before Christmas. So I plunged in. Then in the spring, work turned busy again, and my next piece was delayed -- for a long time.

Then the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, shook me up. I've been wondering about all the hype about attitudes toward politics. It largely seems to be a lot of hot air. But this burst of violence was something I had to find out about. The result is a new piece. Maybe I'll find a way to be better organized and write more.

My intention for this space is to add to it from time to time, on topics that I find interesting and important. For the moment I don't see a point in accepting comments as typical blogs do. I have a lot of questions about the meaning of notions like "the wisdom of the crowd" and "the democratization of the news."

The way to get in touch me with is via email. Send mail to "barry" at this domain, i.e. barryschiffman.com.

Updated 13 January 2011

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© 2010 Barry Schiffman