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April's Fool

An earmark of a clever April Fool's joke is that it is just plausible enough to to give us pause and just outsized enough to make us panicked or outraged.

Yesterday, WNYC's Brian Lehrer offered a fake segment on a Moral Rectitude Index supposedly being implemented by New York City. The "initiative" would tie records of our personal habits to our license plate numbers, which would trigger rebates to the congestion pricing plan proposed by Mayor Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, American Public Media's evening Marketplace report reported on a fictitious plan by the IRS to buy goods for people in heavy debt, rather than send them the $600 or $1,200 they should receive as part of the federal economic stimulus package. The idea, according to the report, is that the government wants to force the money to be spent instead of paying off existing loans, thus actually stimulating the economy, and the IRS would use their extensive financial data on individuals to determine who's at risk to simply use the rebate on debt.

I find it interesting that, in both instances, the hoax was plausible and outrageous for the same information-related reasons: plausible in that the data the government would require to implement both "programs" is out there, ready to be used; outrageous in that it's only their good intentions and some semblance of transparency in government that stops them from doing so.

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