Ground rules?

中国日报网 2015-04-17 10:56



Ground rules?Reader question:

Please explain "ground rules" in this sentence: Arabs reject talks without ground rules.

My comments:

In other words, the Arabs won't come to the talk at all if they don't know exactly what to talk about, plus how those talks are conducted, and where, etc. and so forth.

They want to see specific rules regarding those talks established first before committing themselves to the negotiating table.

By asking for "ground rules", the Arabs want to establish the parameters for the talks first, making sure they, and all other participating parties for that matter, know what issues are to be debated and what issues are off limits.

Ground rules, you see, are basic rules to abide by. It's called "ground" rules because this term comes from the game of baseball, originally referring to rules concerning how a baseball field, or ground, is shaped and formed. Specifics include, for example, how big the playing park will be, whether the playing area should be separated from the spectators with a fence, etc.

Ground rules are basic to the game of baseball because without them, for example, one wouldn't know how to score a home run. A home run is awarded when a ball is hit so hard that it flies into the crowd sitting on the stands. So you have to first draw the lines for the playing area and the stands. And you have to separate the playing area with the stands by a fence because otherwise spectators will all try to grab the ball flying their way – thus interfering with play. They still do that, as a matter of fact, but with the fence, fan interference is kept at a minimum.

Anyways, ground rules are basic to the game of baseball and "ground rules", hence, become synonymous with basic principles regarding not only how a home run is made possible but how things are run in general – in all walks of life.


All right. Let's read a few media examples:

1. Federal agents who said they were hedging their bets against terrorists asked hotels and airlines in Las Vegas for lists of customers over the holidays, says a wire report.

Las Vegas has been a focus of the increased security during the "high" terrorism alert declared late last year. A no-fly zone was declared over the city's famous "strip," and extra security was on hand for celebrations there to ring in the New Year.

Gaming Wire reports that among the steps taken by federal officials was to request the names of guests from hotels and lists of passengers from airlines using McCarran International Airport, which serves lost Vegas.

An FBI spokesman confirmed the move.

An airline spokeswoman said the bureau's request covered people who arrived in or departed Las Vegas from Dec. 22 to Jan. 4.

According to Gaming Wire, the information was subpoenaed from airlines.

Under a new law, financial companies — including casinos — are required to turn such information over to federal authorities without a subpoena, if national security concerns are raised, so no subpoenas were sought for the casinos.

An FBI spokesman said the move was a "normal investigative procedure." But civil libertarians took issue with it, since the move targeted not just terrorists but average citizens as well.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, federal agents have conducted more aggressive domestic intelligence gathering, aided by new laws and changes to bureau regulations.

That has marked a significant shift from decades during which domestic spying was discouraged, after revelations that federal agents went to great lengths to infiltrate and undermine dissident groups in the 1960s.

The USA PATRIOT Act allowed agents to demand information from libraries and bookstores without establishing probable cause, and without the subject's knowledge.

The act, which became law in October 2001, also broadened a 1978 surveillance law by allowing the FBI to request special warrants in investigations that aren't mostly focused on foreign intelligence.

The FBI often uses these specialized warrants — issued under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — to record the telephone calls and e-mails of citizens and immigrants believed to be agents of a foreign power.

The government requested and won approval for a record 1,228 warrants in 2002 for secret wiretaps and searches of suspected terrorists and spies, a reflection of aggressive efforts to prevent terror attacks in the United States.

Last year's total was significantly higher than the 934 warrants approved in 2001 and the 1,003 approved in 2000.

Operating with permission from a secretive federal court that meets regularly at Justice Department headquarters, the FBI has broken into homes, offices, hotel rooms and automobiles, installed hidden cameras, rummaged through luggage and eavesdropped on telephone conversations.

Besides break-ins, agents also have pried into safe deposit boxes, watched from afar with video cameras and binoculars and intercepted e-mails. They have planted microphones, computer bugs and other high-tech tracking devices.

Details about some FBI techniques emerge from court records spread across dozens of cases. But only a fraction of these surveillances each year result in any kind of public disclosure, so little is known outside classified circles about how they work.

More recently, the FBI has implemented new ground rules that allow even more sharing of information between agents working on intelligence and those pursuing traditional criminal cases.

Police and prosecutors have increasingly turned the force of the new anti-terrorism laws not on al Qaeda cells but on people charged with common crimes.

- Feds Roll On Vegas Rollers,, January 5, 2004.

2. This week the Supreme Court decided (in an 8-1 vote) a closely watched case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. Its decision – and perhaps more importantly, what it didn't say – leaves open a debate that could echo through the next round of legislative redistricting in 2010 and beyond.

The suit, brought by the North Austin Municipal Utility District Number One -- NAMUDNO, for short -- questioned whether Congress has the power to impose voting rights obligations on some states and jurisdictions but not others. Specifically, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that 8 states and several dozen counties must receive prior approval from the Department of Justice for any changes they want to make in their election administration practices.

Some observers expected the Court use the case to declare section 5 of the VRA unconstitutional. Instead, the Justices made a narrower ruling, allowing the utility district to appeal to get out from underneath those "pre-clearance" rules. This decision could in itself have implications for the VRA's power: if many local jurisdictions are able to get out from underneath statewide coverage, then the VRA could lose much of its authority over local election administration.

But the Court did not decide whether it still considers all the VRA's protections for minority voters as necessary, forty years after its initial passage and the election of President Obama. As that debate continues, it could add to the already-contentious process of redistricting that looms after 2010. Even as the Court decided not to formally weigh in on it, Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority that the VRA section in question might not account for "current political conditions," an apparent opening for future challenges. How the Court would decide future cases in this domain could depend on Justice Kennedy, who has cast the pivotal vote in other recent voting rights cases.

After the 2010 Census, the new count of the population will force state and local governments redraw political boundaries from precincts to U. S. House districts, partly in order to comply with the VRA, the requirement of equal population districts, and other standards. New boundaries may bring new lawsuits, as they have in the past -- and so could reopen the questions of the currency and constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

Some have called for Congress to revise the Act in order to preempt future lawsuits or actions by the Court. If it did so, Congress would likely need to review and re-establish which areas will be covered by the VRA's rules, and which will not. Congress renewed and President George W. Bush signed an extension of section 5 in 2006. But as many commentators have already noted, Congress might read the Court's latest opinion not as tacit approval of the VRA, but as a sign that it needs to undertake another review.

The existing formula for that coverage determination is based on voting behavior patterns that existed in the 1960s and 1970s. If Congress decides it is needed, certainly there is a wealth of data from recent election returns and other sources that offer new information about the American electorate today.

For example, in an amicus brief (not taking a side in the case) Nathaniel Persily, Stephen Ansolabehere (co-author of this entry) and Charles Stewart provided the Court with an examination of voting patterns in the 2008 election, finding that they "revealed the intransigence of racial differences in voting patterns," pointing out that there were "persistent geographic and racial differences" in 2008 and differences between areas covered by the VRA, and those not covered. "President Obama's victory," they wrote, "derived from an increase in his share of the white vote in the noncovered jurisdictions and a nationwide increase in his share of the vote cast by racial minorities."

The next couple of years are sure to bring more heated debates over all this – all central questions about how the nation sets the very ground-rules for its elections.

- What's Next For The Voting Rights Act?, June 26, 2009.

3. Do I get results, or what? Less than a day after this column posted, Comcast announced it would ditch its 250GB data cap in favor of a 300GB cap with the option to buy additional 50GB chunks for $10 each. Not bad, although it's amusing timing given their current fight over Net neutrality and cap-free Xfinity on-demand streaming.

Bandwidth caps, the death of unlimited data plans, throttling, "data hog" accusations...I get it. Pay-per-use bandwidth is inevitable: the end of unlimited Internet access is at hand. Bandwidth is a limited resource, especially on wireless networks, and despite all the hand-wringing and hair-tearing, the companies that provide us with that bandwidth are going to insist on being paid to provide, maintain, and expand our access.

But before I go quietly into that dark night, it's time we consumers laid down a few ground rules for these companies and for life in a pay-per-use world. Let's start by facing facts: the reason we're so angry about things like Comcast and Time Warner's data caps, Verizon's killing of its grandfathered unlimited data plans, and T-Mobile's service throttling is that we simply don't believe that these companies are telling the truth about their bandwidth hardships.

More often than not, bandwidth management at the corporate level feels like an exercise in greed than in actual resource allocation. (Unchecked greed from American companies with shareholder responsibilities that far outweigh the needs of their customers? Why, I never.)

- Pay-per-use bandwidth? Not without some ground rules, by Molly Wood,, May 17, 2012.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:彭娜)


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