January 2009

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Does anybody know how to file a Freedom of Information Act request? Because there’s something I’ve just got to know.

I was visiting the DEA site to see if they had any information about their anniversary celebration (“35 Years Of Ruining Lives For Nothing“), when I discovered something that stopped me cold: Like many law enforcement agencies, the DEA has a Victim Assistance Program. Since using and selling drugs is a classic victimless crime, I’ve got to know how much money the DEA spends helping the “victims.”

They seem to realize there’s a problem, because on their web page, they call it the Victim Witness Assistance Program even though the text on the page talks only about victims and says nothing about witnesses. I suspect the DEA is funneling victim assistance money into any regular law enforcement activity that can be characterized as helping a witness.

Keep in mind, too, that many witnesses in drug crimes are criminals who have been flipped by the government.

Last week I blogged about Kip Esquire’s pie-in-the-sky wish to be a reporter or a commentator for a news organization. Kip has no direct experience in that area, but as a blogger with a background in law and finance, he’s not totally unqualified. I’m sure he realized it was unlikely anyone would make him an offer, but he put it out there anyway, just to see if anybody was interested.

That got me thinking about whether I have any similar aspirations that I could appeal to my readers to help me fulfill. It would have to be something that met all three of these criteria:

  1. It has to be a real stretch for me—Not just learning a new programming language or getting some better blog stats, but something really new and challenging.
  2. It can’t be so much of a stretch that it’s out of reach—I have no chance of becoming a rock star, movie director, Navy Seal, or stand-up comedian.
  3. It has to be something I can solicit on this blog—I’d like to be a celebrity photographer, and it’s not impossible that I could become one, but no one’s going to read about it here and offer me a job.

It took me a while, but I think I’ve figured it out: I want to write a book.

I’m not expecting anyone to offer me a book contract, but maybe someone out there has been thinking of writing a book and is looking for a co-author—someone to bounce ideas off of and take up some of the writing load—or maybe just a contributor to do some piece of the job.

Here’s what I bring to the table:

  • My writing experience consists of this blog, a few news articles at the Chi-Town Daily News, writing software documentation and proposals on my day job, and one professional sale to The VAX Professional magazine.
  • I helped as a reader on Philipp Lenssen’s 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google.
  • I’m not a professional photographer, but I can take a decent photograph.
  • I am a professional software developer.
  • I’m half-way decent at doing research on the web.
  • My education and job experience includes a bit of math, a bit of science, and a bit of engineering.
  • I’m located in Chicago.

If you’re a software developer who wants to write about some new technology, I could write or test the example code and help you write the book.

If you’re a photographer thinking of writing a book about your craft, I know enough basic photography that I won’t be totally lost helping you with the text surrounding your images.

If you’re a scientist or engineer with a plan for a popular book (or maybe an introductory textbook), I can probably understand the subject well enough to help you explain it to people.

If you have an idea for a book about the war on drugs, civil liberties, free speech, criminal defense, eminent domain, free markets, or any other subject that interests me, I probably know a little of the background, and I’d love to help if I can.

If you want to write a book about something in Chicago, I’m right here in the Windy City, and I can take pictures.

So if you like the way I write on Windypundit, and if you’ve got an idea for a book, and if you think I could help you write it, my email address is in the sidebar. Think about it.

Obama is displaying some of that weird anti-corporate attitude that has been worrying me:

President Barack Obama issued a withering critique Thursday of Wall Street corporate behavior, calling it “the height of irresponsibility” for employees to be paid more than $18 billion in bonuses last year while their crumbling financial sector received a bailout from taxpayers.

Then there’s Biden, who just seems to say whatever flits through his head at the moment:

Vice President Joe Biden also chimed in, saying the level of bonuses “offends the sensibilities.”

“I mean, I’d like to throw these guys in the brig,” Biden said in an interview with CNBC.

You may be wondering, as I was, why paying $18 billion in bonuses is a bad thing. After all, Obama and the Democrats in Congress are planning to spend over $800 billion on various projects to stimulate the economy and stir up consumer demand. Doesn’t the $18 billion in bonuses also stimulate the economy?

A later paragraph makes it all a bit clearer:

Obama said he and Geithner will speak directly to Wall Street leaders about the bonuses, which threaten to undermine public support for more government intervention as the economy keeps reeling.

So the real problem here is that the American public might not like Obama’s plan to give billions of dollars of our money to failing companies. What’s next? Following Bush’s lead in the Iraq war by scolding the news media for reporting that the stimulus funds are being wasted?

What’s irresponsible and shameful here is giving hundreds of billions of government money to private businesses. Whining about how they spend it doesn’t help. Just don’t give them the money.

Said Obama about Wall Street leaders: “There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time.”

The arrogance here is amazing. Did it ever occur to these buffoons that not every department of every financial company is in ruin, meaning that some of these people must have earned those bonuses? Or that you have to pay bonuses to keep good people? Or that for many workers, a so-called “bonus” is actually a regular part of their pay?

I worry that this is only the beginning. I’m afraid that once government “stimulus” money starts flowing into every economic sector, the folks in Washington are going to think they should run it all.

Update: This AP wire story explains it nicely:

To President Barack Obama, Wall Street’s $18.4 billion in bonuses is “shameful.” To thousands of bank employees who don’t sit in corner offices, that money helps pay the bills…

While Wall Street investment banks and other financial firms make headlines for the millions paid out to certain executives, more modest bonuses go to workers from human resources representatives to secretaries as well as employees who actually made money for their companies last year.

A product manager at one investment bank said she is cutting corners after her 2008 bonus fell by 38 percent, even though her job performance exceeded expectations and her division posted a profit. To save money, she’s raising the deductible on her health insurance to lower the premium, shopping around for less expensive car insurance and cutting back on small luxuries.

“My bills haven’t gone down by 40 percent,” said the worker[.]

Heh, this is a pretty cool trick:

Authorities are miffed, and the news media naturally found people to speculate on how dangerous it could have been. In addition,

Austin police are investigating the situation, and the vandals could face a Class C misdemeanor charge of tampering with a road sign,

Whatever.

This is a classic hack. Whoever did this had some fun and revealed a weakness in the system without doing any serious damage.

I’m not saying the hackers were doing a public service, but the authorities would do well to consider this a lesson learned and be thankful the message wasn’t something really bad, e.g.

Death To America

We Have Sarin Gas

Turn Around or Die

That could have really messed things up and gotten someone hurt.

(Hat tip: Mark Bennettt)

The attorney for Chicago real estate developer Peter Holsten has subpoenaed Google for information about two anonymously authored blogs that have been critical of neighborhood politics and the Wilson Yard TIF project. The Chicago Journal has the story:

Johnson said the subpoena asks for ownership information of the blogs. Uptown Update is an active blog that has gained popularity as a clearinghouse for information about the neighborhood. What the Helen was active during the 2007 aldermanic election and has not been updated in over a year.

Both blogs have been highly critical of 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller. Shiller’s supporters and detractors often debate the alderman’s policies and neighborhood issues in both blogs’ comments sections.

[Link added. God forbid a newpaper would link to anything. The What the Helen blog has been removed.]

Holsten’s attorney, Tom Johnson, has confirmed he filed the subpoenas, but he hasn’t explained why. Holsten is being sued by the community organization Fix Wilson Yard, which opposes his development plans.

If you’ve ever used Google Earth—or it’s online cousin Google Maps—you know you can pan around an image of the Earth and zoom in on interesting stuff.

As an experiment, the folks at Google have worked with the Prado Museum in Spain to digitize 14 of their paintings and make them available online using the same display technology. Just search for “Prado Museum” in Google Earth, then click on the labeled rectangle to get to a menu of the paintings. Once you click on a painting, you can pan and zoom all over it.

Here’s a quick video I made to show the zoom capability:

You lose a lot of the detail in low-res streaming video. This higher quality version might help, but you really should try it for yourself in Google Earth or you can visit the online Google Maps version of the exhibit.

(Hat tip: Google Blogoscoped.)

Got an email from Bob (not his real name.  His real name is Karl Keller*) earlier today, and it’s worth sharing:

I went on a date with Kristy last night and we ended up in the emergency room. Well, that’s the short version.

It’s not as bad as I make it sound. A close friend of Kristy’s (on blood thinners, I believe, for other conditions) called her while we were making supper. He’d been bleeding from a cut on his shin for a couple hours without clotting and needed to get to the emergency room.

We picked him up, got him there, and stood by while he told us jokes and funny stories for an hour or so as the doctor and nurses patched him, cleaned him up, and started in on some tests. All in all, this was a very successful trip to the emergency room. I made some mistakes, but no one died. For your benefit, here are a few mistakes not to make.

1. When removing items from the back seat to make room for the patient, don’t remove the bag containing your major first-aid kit.

2. Find out how badly the patient is bleeding and how much blood he’s lost before putting him in the car.

3. Even though you left the major first-aid kit behind, don’t forget about the QuickClot bandage in your carry-bag. Sure, you might carry it to deal with knife, bullet, shrapnel, or other accident related trauma type injuries, but it’ll probably help the patient with a popped vericose vein structure and thin blood just as well–but only if you remember you have it. Remember, review your kits often or they will be of little use when you are under pressure.

The idea is not to be looking out for opportunities to play doctor, but that, if you have only a little bit of knowledge, a clear understanding of where that knowledge begins and ends, and a fair amount of humility, you might end up being able to make a bad situation less bad.  Then again, maybe not; you pays your money, and you takes your chances.  But there are a fair number of times in life where doing something constructive right now is a lot better than doing the perfect thing days later. 
   
__________________
* Yes, I have permission to post this, and name him, silly. 

A few days ago, Virginia prosecutor Ken Lammers suggested that someone wanting to break into the criminal lawyering trade should try working both sides of the aisle:

Personally, my hope is that working both sides will lead a person to have more loyalty to the system than a side. That’s not to say I don’t expect people to play their part in the system to the fullest extent of their ability. The system doesn’t work if they don’t. Still, all this silliness about being at “war” with the other side tends to come from “True Believers” and True Believers tend to come from people who have never seen and don’t understand the other side.

(Ken walks the walk: He used to be a criminal defense lawyer. Before that, he was in Army intelligence. By the time you read this, he might be a professional dog trainer.)

Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Mark Bennett didn’t like that idea:

the system doesn’t work, period. Even with zealous advocates on both sides, innocent people — that is, factually-innocent people — get convicted of crimes and sent to prison. No system that sends a single innocent person to prison deserves our loyalty. No system that sends a guilty person to prison for a day longer than necessary deserves our loyalty.

I’m not sure loyalty is the right word for how a person behaves with respect to a system, but Mark is overstating his case, as Virginia prosecutor Tom McKenna points out:

But if one understands that the system itself impliedly allows for the potential of a certain number of innocent people being convicted (by not demanding a standard of “absolute proof” or “proof to a metaphysical certitude”) then it can be understood that the system is no way broken simply because some very small number of mistaken convictions occur.

In sum, we do not, and have never had, a system that adopts the old saying of Blackstone, “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” in the sense that we fashion our system to be absolutely infallible in assigning guilt. There is, in effect, a built-in error rate inherent in the process.

Quite right. No system is perfect. Mark’s protest against a system that “sends a single innocent person to prison” is great rhetoric, but I’m pretty sure that if our justice system was somehow reformed to the point where it could be proven to falsely imprison only one person per year, Mark would no longer want to burn the M– F– down.

I’m not saying that imprisoning the innocent isn’t an injustice—of course it is—but that perfection comes at a very high cost. Medicine is imperfect, and Doctors kill patients all the time while trying to save their lives, but medicine is still a good idea. We’re better off killing a few people to save the rest of them than letting all of them die of natural causes.

Unlike medical patients, criminal defendants are not volunteers, so the tradeoff isn’t the same. Nonetheless, the cost of never convicting the innocent is probably too high. It doesn’t do a lot of good to free the last innocent man from prison if he’s one of a thousand people killed that day by marauding gangs.

That last sentence is a great soundbyte, isn’t it? As a writer, it would be cool to stop right there. I can’t do that, though, because I think Mark Bennett is mostly right. He may be exaggerating about that single innocent person, but the justice system is nowhere near that good. We’ve got a long way to go before we have to start worrying about that last innocent man.

Start with the false conviction rate: Even if you believe our justice system protects the innocent with 99% accuracy, that means there are 23,000 innocent people in prison right now.

Then, as Mark points out, you have to consider whether people deserve the severity of the sentence they receive—for whatever meaning of deserve you believe is just. At its simplest, this is a matter of time. If you send a truly guilty man to prison for ten years when he really only deserves five, it’s kind of like you imprisoned an innocent man those extra five years.

It gets more complicated than that, however, because guilty is a multi-valued concept. Similar acts can constitute different crimes, and even the same crime can come in different degrees. If we sentence a man to life in jail for first degree murder when he should be doing 15 years for manslaughter, we could call it a wrongful murder conviction or we could call it too severe of a sentence, but either way it’s a failure of the system to reach the right result.

It’s hard to get a handle on just how bad the problem is, but I think a report issued last year by the Pew Center on the States sheds some light on the subject:

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million, after three decades of growth that has seen the prison population nearly triple. Another 723,000 people are in local jails.

The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

In other words, slightly more than one percent of the entire U.S. adult population is behind bars. This is an astonishing number. Here in the “land of the free” we imprison a larger share of our population than any other nation.

(It’s even worse for minorities. One out of every fifteen adult male black Americans is locked up. In the 20-34 age group, that figure rises to more than 10%.)

It’s been that way for a while, which is why about three years ago, I asked:

The United States imprisons a larger portion of its population than any other country. Is that because the people of the United States are a pack of criminals? Or is that because the government of the United States is a cruel tyranny?

In his post, prosecutor Tom McKenna pretty much gives his answer. He thinks even more Americans need to be imprisoned:

What is more disturbing is the approaching loss of public confidence that “The System” convicts and adequately incarcerates enough of the guilty

I’ve heard that before. We still have crime, the thinking goes, so we must still need to imprison more people. McKenna and others who take this position somehow don’t see that their view conflicts with the size of our prison population.

It comes down to this: How is it that we (a) put more people in prison than any other nation and (b) still have such high crime rates?

The answer is obvious. There’s only way both of those facts can be true. We are imprisoning the wrong people for the wrong crimes.

I’ve been blogging about this from the start. Literally. On my very first day, I blogged about how the feds were prosecuting a college student for selling her used underwear. Less than a year earlier, a mysterious terrorist had killed five people with envelopes full of Anthrax, but the Department of Justice was wasting time with envelopes full of soiled panties.

It’s not just the silly stuff. We prosecute hundreds of thousands of people every year for crimes that don’t even have victims, such as using the wrong recreational drugs or exchanging money for sex. We even prosecute people for exchanging money for money with our laws against gambling and money laundering.

It’s gotten so bad that we now prosecute people for crimes that have fictional elements. You can be convicted of prostitution without selling sex or drug dealing without selling drugs. You can be convicted of money laundering—hiding the proceeds of a crime—without any proof of an underlying crime, and Martha Stewart was essentially convicted of covering up a crime that the FBI never proved happened.

If it’s a failure of the justice system to convict people of crimes they didn’t really commit, then surely it’s also a failure of gigantic proportions to convict hundreds of thousands of people of crimes that aren’t really crimes.

Update: One of Scott Greenfield’s posts today is about an aspect of this problem:

America has a regulation for just about everything.  Often, the regulation has a sound reason for its existence, and is a well-intended effort to protect the public.  The problem is that regulatory violations sometimes result in fines and orders to change procedures, but other times result in criminal prosecutions resulting in extraordinarily harsh prison sentences for people who make a business mistake.  Neither malice, nor even gain, need necessarily be involved.  Some of these prosecutions will blow your mind.  I know that the defendants prosecuted can’t fathom their reality.

I’d probably be more willing to listen to cops and prosecutors complain about how hard it is to fight crime if they fought, you know, real crime.

Update: Then there’s the problem of all the idiotic laws cities are passing these days. Dallas, for example:

Don’t smoke. Not even in bars. Because you might ruin the health of those bar-hoppers who are there to get a cardio workout. Take those stickers off your window. No dogs allowed. Put on your bike helmet. Put down that toy gun. You are under surveillance. Hang up that cell phone. Don’t touch. Don’t walk. Don’t run. No horseplay. Tear down that dangerous playground equipment. Fireworks? High-dive boards? Are you kidding? It’s the crazy minutiae of it all that gets you. You end up breaking the law without even knowing it.

Among the myriad problems with these kinds of paternalistic laws is that they are generally so unenforceable–except those that are cash cows. The slipperiness of the paternalistic laws creates a contempt for legitimate laws, and it burdens the system with paperwork that doesn’t get resolved. Half a million class C misdemeanor citations were written in the 2006-2007 fiscal year for picayune things like panhandling, jaywalking, and the like; more than half of those are in warrant status. The city spends time and money fining and even incarcerating people for “crimes” that present a danger to the offender and no one else. Given how many violent crimes are committed every year in Dallas, enacting paternalistic laws raises the question of priorities.

Update: An earlier version of this post left out the word “adult” in the phrase “one percent of the entire U.S. adult population is behind bars.”

Andy Levy has some mostly-good advice for the Obama opposition. For example,

  • DON’T make it personal. We don’t need another Derangement Syndrome. We don’t need people doing things like emphasizing Obama’s middle name in a derogatory fashion. How anyone would think that’s beneficial to their cause, or to the country as a whole, is beyond me. Also, it’s not even clever. Neither are smushwords like BusHitler, or sillywords like Rethuglicans and Dhimmicrats.

I would add that all the sneering references to Obama as “the one” or “the messiah” stopped being clever long ago.

  • DON’T pretend you’re being brave when you criticize your government. Not while people in other countries actually, y’know, DIE, when they do that.
  • DON’T use the word “divisive.” At this point, all that word means is “You disagree with me,” and the English language gets mangled enough these days.
  • DON’T say or do everything in your power to drive this country apart and then claim you want unity when it’s your guy in power. This is like the convicted felon who conveniently finds God when he’s up for parole.
  • DON’T automatically think people who disagree with you are stupid or evil. Some of them are, of course. But most of them aren’t, and you might actually learn something if you listen to them.

Most of these items are, of course, things Bush’s opposition was doing for the last eight years, and Levy addresses that too:

  • And finally, DON’T use the fact that many on the left behaved abominably for the past eight years as an excuse to behave the same way. America needs adults. And if it bothered you when they did it, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t do it.

Read the whole thing.

Technically, Barack Obama didn’t swear out the correct presidential oath, as specified in the constitution. Chief Justice Roberts flubbed it, which lead Obama to flub it too.

I sure hope one of the thousand or so lawyers standing nearby (or taking the oath, even if he’s not authorized to practice law) thought to dot the i’s and cross the t’s by having him swear out the correct oath later in the day, because you know the deranged Obama haters are going to go crazy insisting he’s not really the president.

Update: Yup, he swore the oath again.

It’s official. As of noon yesterday, Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America. Despite the truly horrible history of how black people have been treated in this country, we’ve just elected a black man to the highest office in the land.

It’s not the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream. It’s not the end of racism, but it is the point in history at which the end of racism became inevitable. It is something we should all be proud of.

So let’s enjoy it while we can, because this is the highpoint of the Obama Presidency. It’s all downhill from here.

As the most glamourous presidential candidate in decades, his supporters have been projecting their hopes and dreams onto Obama for almost two years. He’s been Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, reflecting back their heart’s desire.

That’s all about to change. Starting today, his ambitions are going to get a lot more specific and concrete than just “change” and “renewal” and “rebuilding.” Starting today, we’re going to judge him not on what he says, but on what he does and—even more importantly—on what he accomplishes.

If you have high hopes for Obama, he’s going to disappoint you. He has to. He’s made over 500 campaign promises, and he can’t possibly keep them all. He hasn’t even given his daughters their new puppy yet.

If Obama wants to get anything done, he’s going to have to make some tradoffs, and then his choices will reveal his true nature. His supporters will find out what his presidency is really all about. They’ll find out which of them he really loves, and which get left in the cold.

As a libertarian, I have little to look forward to in an Obama administration. The most I can hope for is that he’ll undo Bush’s threats to our civil liberties without doing too much violence to our economic freedom. And maybe…maybe…as a black man who’s lived in an American city, he’ll do something to stop the police from trampling our rights…instead of giving them federal funding to do so.

Or maybe I’m just catching a glimpse of the Mirror of Erised myself.

The reality can never live up to the dream, and starting today, the reality of the Obama presidency is unavoidable. Whatever it is, here it comes.

Meet Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough:

While the sudden suspension of CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough last month came as another shocking challenge facing a transitioning administration, several campus officers say his absence comes as a breath of fresh air to the department — putting what several independent sources called his “reign of terror” on hiatus.

Listing numerous accusations of improprieties ranging from falsifying police documents, to mandating the special treatment of student athletes, to teaching students illegal police tactics, several timid police officers say the President’s Office had plenty of alarming evidence to take action long ago but turned a blind eye to a handful of alleged abuses of power.

This guy is clearly Colorado State University’s answer to Scalia’s new professionalism.

In one classroom lecture in spring 2008, Yarbrough advised his students — including many aspiring police officers — to provide illicit drugs to informants as payment for information.

“Let me tell you what I would do: You give it to them, but you let them know that, hey, if you get caught with this, you know, don’t say my name. Or if they get sick or something, I never gave them those (drugs).

“Didn’t I tell you guys that sometimes the police lie? Didn’t I tell you guys that? If I didn’t, there you go.”

Here’s my favorite part of the story:

In a later lecture, the chief, who was a Chicago policeman prior to entering academia, said sometimes excessive and violent force against a suspect is a “reality of law enforcement.”

“If there’s a news conference going on, I can’t get in front of a crowd and say. ‘He got exactly what the f*** he deserved.’ You know the police should have beat him, you know. I used to beat ass when I was in Chicago, too. I can’t say that.

“I’d have to say, ‘Well, you know we’re going to have to look into this matter seriously … all of our officers, we like to think that they operate with the utmost integrity and ethics … All of that sh** sounds good. That sh** sounds real good, but in the back of my mind, damn. He got popped. If he would have done it the way we used to do it in Chi town (Chicago), man, none of this sh** would have happened.”

Second City Cop (from whom I stole the title of this post) sums it up for us: “What a mope.”

(Hat tip: Rogier van Bakel)

Update: The rumor mill in the comments at Second City Cop fills in some of Yarbrough’s background.

A couple of weeks ago, Kip Esquire posted a New Years Day update explaining that he was changing careers. He’s made up his mind do something entrepreneurial rather than work for someone else, but,

I would entertain one exception: namely this blog. Punditry and commentary. If anyone out there has any interest in hiring me as a paid occupational journalist or commentator, then I would consider that — but nothing else.

I didn’t say anything about it at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think Kip doesn’t have a chance. It’s not because of any shortcomings on his part; nobody else has a chance either. Despite my dislike for blogger triumphalism, I think the long historic view of newspapers will be that they sprang into existence with the invention of the printing press, which made it affordable for everyone to be a reader, and then vanished with the invention of the World Wide Web, which made it affordable for everyone to be a publisher.

Many news stories are little more than some reporter summarizing what he or she has been told by one source and then getting a response from the opposition to provide some balance. With the explosive growth of the web, however, interested readers can skip the reporter’s story entirely and visit both sides’ web sites themselves. They can even do their own background research using Wikipedia and a search engine.

There will still be room for good old-fashioned shoeleather reporting at its most fundamental, interviewing participants and eyewitnesses and then writing the story, but I can’t see why it would have to be done in the context of a traditional newspaper, not even in one of its online incarnations. Already, nearly every other component of the traditional newspaper has been or will be replaced by something on the web:

  • Weather: Available from several sources, including direct from the National Weather Service. Current measurements, forecasts, and even radar and satellite imagery are all available in near-real-time on your computer’s desktop.
  • Movie listings: Available from several sources, including direct from the movie theaters.
  • Television listings: Available from several sources, including direct from the television stations. If you miss a show anyway, you can probably download it.
  • Financial data: Available in vast steaming piles all over the web.
  • Classified ads: The lifeblood of newspapers, and almost completely replaced by things like Craigslist and Ebay.
  • Sports: Information is available everywhere, including directly from the leagues and teams, and you can re-watch highlights or entire games over the Internet. I’m sure they’re working on streaming live games.
  • Commentary, editorials, opinions: 50 million bloggers.

The most important thing that newspapers still provide is editorial control, and even that is slipping away from them.

When I used to read the print edition of the Chicago Tribune, the appearance of a story in the paper told me two things: (1) The Tribune‘s editors believed the story was accurate, and (2) the Tribune‘s editors believed the story was worth my time to read.

(Anyone who doesn’t think those are important services should try clicking the Next Blog link on Blogger a few times and reading stuff at random. Actually, does anybody remember back when Technorati and the big blogging hosts had “random blog” links on their home page? There’s a reason those have gone away.)

Nowadays, however, I get most of my news by reading blogs that cover subjects I’m interested in and following the links to the stories in the primary media. In other words, I have replaced the Tribune‘s editors with a bunch of bloggers whose news decisions are more to my liking.

As a consequence, I am no longer limited to the contents of one newspaper but can pick and choose article from many papers all over the country. Under such a system, it’s difficult to imagine a role for newpapers themselves. We can replace the traditional editorial function with some combination of news aggregators, bloggers, social network voting systems, and search engines. All we need are the reporters writing the stories and the bloggers who link to them.

This brings me, at long last, to my point: If you or Kip or anyone else wants to be a reporter, just get out there and do it. Interview someone, take a picture, write a story about it, and publish it on your blog.

If you want something a bit more organized, or a bit less lonely, join a community publication like Chicago’s Chi-Town Daily News. With no print edition and absolutely no non-local reporting (not even the suburbs), a paper like the Daily News is essentially a city news bureau, pumping out pure news stories without doing much else that newspapers usually do. It’s likely to be around a lot longer for that reason.

It may not earn you much money, but neither will choosing journalism as a career these days.