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Revenge: United Breaks Guitars

In the spring of 2008, the Halifax group Sons of Maxwell headed out on a one-week tour of Nebraska. They flew United Airlines from Halifax to Omaha, with a connection in Chicago. While waiting to deplane at O’Hare, band members heard a woman behind them cry out, “My God, they’re throwing guitars out there!” They watched helplessly as ground crew pitched their instruments recklessly across the tarmac. Before boarding the next  flight, the band took all the steps normal people would to report the abuse, only to be shunned by every United employee they encountered.

Once in Omaha, band member Dave Carroll discovered the peghead of his $3,500 Taylor 710 six-string had had been smashed. For nine months, he pursued a damage claim, only to be stiffed by United employees with every imaginable Catch-22. So he promised the last United rep to slam the door on compensation, one Ms. Irlweg, that he would write and produce a song trilogy about his experience, complete with videos for all the world to view on YouTube. United Breaks Guitars is the first installment.

Read a detailed version of Carroll’s travails with United here.

Hat tip: Emmy Alcorn.

The 12-member cabinet is too small – feedback

Three contrarian readers respond on the right size for cabinet:

Give some thought to those 11 very busy politicians, and how easy it will be to control them. Dexter and Dan O’Connor will have complete control of the first-year agenda. The really big issues, NSP for example, will come from the department to the Issues Committee of Cabinet chaired by the Deputy Premier. — XX

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Rebuilding the pyramid

Just when you thought the financial crisis might be settling down, the New York Times’s Frank Rich delivers a scathing (and link-studded) assessment of the foxes rebuilding the chicken coop. Moneyquote:

As the economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote in this month’s Vanity Fair, “In the developing world, people look at Washington and see a system of government that allowed Wall Street to write self-serving rules which put at risk the entire global economy — and then, when the day of reckoning came, turned to Wall Street to manage the recovery. They see continued re-distributions of wealth to the top of the pyramid, transparently at the expense of ordinary citizens.”

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Are windmills too noisy?

Crest Halifax has a thoughtful discussion about the problem of low frequency noise from windmills, and the illness some say it causes.

Of course it is possible that those reporting the symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome are more sensitive to sound and vibration than most people, or even than detection instruments. It’s also possible that other factors are at work. Could the illness be, to some extent, psychosomatic in nature? Read more »

How the Guardian parlayed a rival’s scoop into its own journalistic triumph

Imagine you’re the editor of a major London daily. Your crosstown archrival has obtained two million pages of explosive documents, outing a Parliamentary expense scandal that’s rocking the nation. They’ve parlayed the document trove into a  fire hose of blockbuster stories.

What do you do?

If you’re the Guardian, you enlist your readers in a ground-shifting, game-saving exercise in crowdsourceing. The Nieman Foundation’s Journalism Lab picks up the remarkable story, complete with four crucial pointers for would-be imitators.

Journalism has been crowdsourced before, but it’s the scale of the Guardian’s project — 170,000 documents reviewed in the first 80 hours, thanks to a visitor participation rate of 56 percent — that’s breathtaking. We wanted the details, so I rang up the developer, Simon Willison, for his tips about deadline-driven software, the future of public records requests, and how a well-placed mugshot can make a blacked-out PDF feel like a detective story.

Hat tip: Andrew B. Cochran.

Retired Ontario judge slags Herald’s Steve Maher


Writing in this morning’s Toronto Star, retired Ontario Superior Court Justice Daniel Ferguson waxes indignant over the decision by Chronicle-Herald Ottawa reporter Steve Maher to listen to and report on an accidental recording of a private conversation between Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt and her communications director, the recently fired Jasmine MacDonnell. Moneyquote:

Does this scenario not merit any comment from his fellow journalists?

If his colleague had left her briefcase in the washroom, would he have rummaged through it, too?

His comment about MacDonnell leaving it with him for five months sounded like a weak argument that perhaps she had abandoned it. But there is no such evidence. He knew whose it was. He knew it was personal. But he listened to it nevertheless.

In fact, the scenario has provoked comment from Maher’s fellow journalists, including a tortured defense of Raitt by Tory hack Christie Blatchford, and a roundup of reaction from the inside-Ottawa journal Hill Times. For our part, contrarian has praised Maher’s exemplary restraint.

Calling bullshit

This week, the Washington Post, a once great newspaper that has descended deep into neocon territory, fired Dan Froomkin, a blogger whose column on the White House appeared on the Post’s website.

Post editors and columnists frequently belittled Froomkin as “liberal” or “opinionated,” but his real sin was doing what was once thought to be a journalist’s main job: challenging the factual assertions underpinning White House policies and pronouncements. He was a rare exception to the craven press corps cheerleading in the run-up to the Iraq war, and he had begun holding Obama’s feet to the fire when the Post dropped him.

Froomkin himself defined his role as, “calling bullshit.”‘s Glenn Greenwald offers this analysis of the ensuing furore. Replete with useful links, it is a must read for anyone interested in the state of journalism.

Paving the way for Tories — (cont.)

The Toronto Star weighs in on Ranger’s departure.

Iran and the Internet

James Fallows thinks fellow Atlantic Magazine blogger Andrew Sullivan’s coverage of the election crisis in Iran represents a sea change.

In coverage of Iran over the past week and especially in these last few days, Andrew Sullivan has on his site illustrated the way the internet and related technologies have permanently changed journalism for the better. So have a number of other people at other sites, which have made themselves clearinghouses for information coming out of Iran in emails, blog posts, camera-phone and ad hoc video transmissions, and other forms including, yes, Twitter feeds. Collectively they’ve let the outside world know more about what is happening in a would-be sealed-off country, and given people inside that country a place to share and compare news as they could not possibly have done even a few years ago.

This fact is worth noting its own right, as a moment when we see that something truly new and positive has occurred. It’s also worth observing in light of the many seemingly-permanent changes for the worse in journalism that have coincided with the internet era, whether or not they’ve been caused by it.

Sullivan is essential reading for anyone wanting to know what’s happening in Iran. More on how Twitter is serving as an essential conduit here.

Snappy delivery


When a foot-long snapping turtle paid a visit to the Burnside offices of Terrain Group, on the shores of Spectacle Lake, yesterday morning, office staff didn’t have to wonder who to call. A Purolator driver took matters in hand and delivered Snappy back to the water.


According to the Nova Scotia Museum website, Nova Scotia snappers emerge from water only in late June and early July to dig a nest and lay eggs.

Contrarian trusts Snappy will find a more felicitous nest site uncontaminated by engineers and couriers.

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