District Attorneys rent out their letterhead to debt collectors, split the shakedown loot

Over 300 US district attorneys have made arrangements with strong-arm debt collectors, through which the debt collectors send out threatening notices on the DAs' letterhead to people who've allegedly bounced checks, and split the payments they get back (including hefty "service fees" levied by the collectors) with the DAs' offices. Jessica Silver-Greenberg writes in the NYT:

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected.

“The companies are returning thousands of dollars to merchants that is not coming at taxpayer expense,” said Ken Ryken, deputy district attorney with Alameda County.

Consumer lawyers have challenged the debt collectors in courts across the United States, claiming that they lack the authority to threaten prosecution or to ask for fees for classes when no district attorney has reviewed the facts of the cases. The district attorneys are essentially renting out their stationery, the lawyers say, allowing the companies to give the impression that failure to respond could lead to charges, when it rarely does.

“This is guilty until proven innocent,” said Paul Arons, a consumer lawyer in Friday Harbor, Wash., about two hours north of Seattle.

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Quick self-promotional item: I will be in one of Anderson Cooper's "Tweet Seats" tomorrow morning!

So, Boing Boing readers, here is a media alert for you: I'm going to be sitting in one of Anderson Cooper's "Tweet Seats" tomorrow morning at his daytime show, Anderson Live, which means that I'm going to be on national television! All y'all are going to find out what I look like! I'll be hijacking the Boing Boing Twitter account, live-tweeting the show, which will feature an interview with Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and the Long Island medium Theresa Caputo. And watch out, '90s sitcom joke ahead: Tamar Braxton (sister of Toni) will be hangin' with Mr. Cooper as co-host. To find out when you can see me tweet in the midst of a live studio audience, visit Anderson Live's site and enter your zip code. And I promise: There will be many more Hangin' With Mr. Cooper jokes, because that's how much I like you guys. Read the rest

Saturday Night Live recap: Seth MacFarlane and Frank Ocean

Last night, NBC's Saturday Night Live returned early to get a head start on the presidential election season. And not only did it spend considerable time on the topic, it introduced us to three new cast members and shiny new opening credits! Our host for the 38th season premiere was Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and director of Ted, with musical guest Frank Ocean. Here is how I'm approaching this recap, ladies and gents: I like this show, and I laughed a lot at stuff that was on it last night. And now, I'm going to tell you about what made me laugh the most, and which sketches I could have replaced with five minutes of brushing my teeth. But here is my recap in a nutshell: this was a good one! And it started with a former Barack Obama impersonator passing the baton to a new one. Read the rest

Hot Wheels corkscrew jump with real car

As a kid, did you do insane stunts with your Hot Wheels cars? So do the people at the Hot Wheels Test Facility, but with real cars. This 92-foot "corkscrew jump" broke the world record. "Making of" video here. Read the rest

Jill back

Due to popular demand, we have returned Jackhammer Jill to the logo. Read the rest

Spider Robinson's podcast returns with an excerpt from The Free Lunch

Hurrah! Spider Robinson's put up another installment of his podcast (it's been understandably erratic for the past few years, as Spider and his family were doubly afflicted by cancer). As always, it features some great blues, jazz, roots and eclectic music (including some great tracks by Jeff Healey and Mose Scarlett as well as a Folk Uke's delightful tribute to poop) and a wonderful excerpt from his Read the rest

William Gibson on where the Internet's Bohemias are

Here's more of Geeta Dayal's Wired interview with William Gibson (see also), wherein Gibson discusses the way that the Internet impacts on "Bohemia" and how subcultural moments like the birth of punk differed from modern "viral" phenomena like the Gundam Style video. We'll be discussing this further on Oct 20, when we do a joint appearance at the Vancouver Writers Festival.

Wired: What if punk emerged today, instead of in 1977? How do you think it would be different?

Gibson: You’d pull it up on YouTube, as soon as it was played. It would go up on YouTube among the kazillion other things that went up on YouTube that day. And then how would you find it? How would it become a thing, as we used to say? I think that’s one of the ways in which things are really different today. How can you distinguish your communal new thing — how can that happen? Bohemia used to be self-imposed backwaters of a sort. They were other countries within the landscape of Western industrial civilization. They were countries that most people would never see — mysterious places. You’d pay a price, potentially, for going there. That’s always cool and exciting. Now, where are they? Where can you do that? How are people transacting that today? I am pretty sure that they are, but I don’t have that much firsthand experience of it. But they have to do it in a different way.

My initial experience of punk was I went to Toronto, and I happened to go to a couple of nights of what historically turned out to be their first punk concert series.

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UK Tories put a spam kingpin in charge of the party

Grant Shapps is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield and the new co-chair of the UK Conservative Party. He's also co-owner (with his wife) of a spam factory called HowToCorp, which markets a product called TrafficPaymaster, a program that scrapes blogs/RSS/search results, runs the text through a thesaurus (seemingly to avoid copyright infringement charges) and pastebombs the resulting word-salad onto pages slathered in display ads, in the hopes of tricking search engines into returning them as results for highly ranked queries and racking up accidental click money.

Danny Sullivan explains the workings of "spinner" software like TrafficPaymaster, and documents the tricks that the Shappses' company uses to market its wares, including a web of aliases and elaborate, misleading accounts of how Google views products like TrafficPaymaster and its useless output (here's a sample of the material the Shappses' program outputs: "A free of charge golf swing lesson appears a very little as well superior to be accurate." Here's another: "So the to begin with phase to getting a quality golfer is to order some clubs that match you.")

It’s high-profile, of course, because it’s fairly hard to believe that the new co-chair of the UK’s ruling political party (mostly ruling, the Conservatives share power with the much smaller Liberal Democrat party) is behind software that “plagiarizes” content to spam Google.

Technically, I’m not sure if the spinning is plagiarism, but both UK papers I’ve mentioned are running with that angle. They’re also big on this quote posted on Warrior Forum that appears to be from the aforementioned Sebastian Fox:

Google may or may not like a particular approach, but the real question is whether there are any signs about how a page has been created.

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Maria Del Camino, a mutant excavator mated to a 59 El Camino, with the face of Maria from Metropolis

Maria Del Camino is Bruce Tomb's magnificent mutant vehicle. It started out life as the body of a '59 El Camino, and was then riddled with thousands of hand-drilled holes, turning it into a meshwork. On the hood, the holes form a pointillist portrait of Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The whole thing was then mounted on an armature supported by a hydraulic tracked excavator, giving it the ability to rumble along at an angle, or poised many feet above the tank-treads, or vertically.

Bruce is one of my Burning Man campmates at Liminal Labs, and he brought Maria out again this year, and took her out early in the morning to the deep playa -- the area of the desert well away from the main action -- and used a GPS and the excavator blade to carve and burnish a huge piece of vector art out of the desert surface, with the intention of having it captured by the Google satellite flyover. He plans to make this process fully automated in future years, giving Maria the ability to turn herself into a giant, diesel-powered mutated Etch-a-Sketch.

Bruce has just updated Maria's blog with some beautiful photos and videos from this year's burn, and a report from the burnishing experiment:

The maximum deviation of the GPS unit is stated as 33 feet and can be as accurate as 3 feet. The graphic deviation showing in this satellite photo, is purely me following instructions from the device, setting aside my perceptions and judgement.

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Talking Heads Live in Rome, 1980

A followup to this 2007 post about the handful of clips from Talking Heads' Live in Rome concert footage: the whole movie is now online in one big, 1:05 YouTube clip. The 1980 concert is a kind of precursor to the spectacular Stop Making Sense tour, and is a perfect delight for a Sunday morning.

Colin Marshall at OpenCulture writes,

Talking Heads enthusiasts, note that Live in Rome features the group’s full “Afro-Funk Orchestra” lineup. Additionally, you’ll see on guitar a certain Adrian Belew, who would begin fronting King Crimson the following year. (As he might, in another reality, have fronted the Heads themselves; in our reality, he turned down an offer to take Byrne’s place.) The songs not heard in Stop Making Sense include “Stay Hungry,” “Cities,” “I Zimbra,” “Drugs,” “Houses in Motion,” “Born Under Punches,” and “The Great Curve.” No die-hard fan will feel completely satisfied with this concert, of course, until someone remasters it on Blu-Ray with a complete surround sound mix. But if you simply need a hit of a pack of art-school rockers unlike any others America has produced, this Remain in Light-era hour merits a permanent bookmark. H/T Biblioklept

Live in Rome, 1980: The Talking Heads Concert Film You Haven’t Seen (via MeFi) Read the rest