Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Evil Infests Augusta

April 21, 2016

John Brunner said it exactly right in The Shockwave Rider:  “If there is such a phenomenon as absolute evil it consists in treating another human being as a thing.”

With that in mind, let me give you the latest from Maine’s governor, the utterly odious Paul LePage:

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Wednesday that would allow pharmacists to dispense an anti-overdose drug without a prescription, saying that allowing addicts to keep naloxone on hand “serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.” [via Kerry Eleved at GOS]

That’s nonsense on its own terms, as the deeply valuable Maia Szalavitz — herself a former addict — has argued over and over again:

As with needle exchange, opposition to Naloxone distribution has mainly come from those who fear that reducing drug-related harm will lead to increased drug use.   Fortunately, also similarly to the data on needle exchange, the research doesn’t find this occurring.

But don’t let any actual experience bother you, LePage!

“Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” LePage wrote, repeating a contention that has caused controversy before. “Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

It’s a strong word to use, I know.  But this is evil.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_Christ_with_the_Sick_around_Him,_Receiving_Little_Children_(The_'Hundred_Guilder_Print')_-_Google_Art_Project

In LePage’s telling the addict isn’t a person.  He or she is rather just the worthless meat sack that locally reverses entropy between one overdose and the next.  He’s rather let those suffering an overdose die than live because, as he frames it here, the state of addiction robs the user of all other human attributes.

This is how a monster thinks.

I won’t say that this is the view that infects all of your modern Republican party, because on this issue it’s not.  But it remains a perfectly mainstream one — one that kills.

If you needed any more reason to go all yellow-dog Democrat on every line of your ballot, Governor (sic!) Paul LePage is exhibit (n)*

Last, to help wash the taste of tiny-minded misery out of your mouth, here’s Szalavitz again:

…one of the biggest misunderstandings we have about addiction is that tough love—is that being kind will fail and tough love will work. What really helps and why harm reduction, which is this idea that we will meet you where you’re at and we’ll help you whether you’re ready to stop or not—why that works is because when you have addiction, you tend to be very marginalized, self-hating. You might be homeless. You feel like a criminal. Nobody has any respect for you. And when somebody just hands you a clean needle or gives you access to naloxone and says, “I believe you deserve to live, regardless of whether you do what I want,” that’s a really powerful message of kindness.

And here a plug (full disclosure: she’s a friend) — here’s Maia’s new book on addiction.

*Where n is an arbitrary large number.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ Preaching (The Hundred Guilder Print) c. 1649.

Submissives In Your GPS — Or As Long As We’re Talking About Hilary’s Campaign

February 8, 2016

Reading Ann Laurie’s post  over at Balloon Juice reminded me of the obvious: being aware of the experience of others takes constant effort.  And, (as I wrote about one example here), the failure to do so amidst white male self-assumed universality leads to harm in just about any domain — more for those dismissed, but non-zero for the presumed pre-MOTUs as well.

With that as pre-amble, check out this from CNN Money:

All virtual assistants have to deal with inappropriate comments and questions. From seasoned vets like Siri and Google Now, to the rash of new specialists with names like Amy, Molly, Mia and Robin.

When Microsoft launched Cortana in 2014, a good chunk of early queries were about her sex life, according to Microsoft’s Deborah Harrison.

It turns out people feel very comfortable talking freely with text and voice assistants. Humanizing the bots with names, faked emotions, personalities and genders (mostly female) helps build trust with users.

Microsoft has its corporate head in the right place, at least on this one:

Cortana is clearly identified as a woman. She has a female avatar and is voiced by human woman Jen Taylor. But the writers are conscious about avoiding female-assistant stereotypes. Cortana isn’t self-deprecating and avoids saying sorry.

“We wanted to be very careful that she didn’t feel subservient in any way … or that we would set up a dynamic we didn’t want to perpetuate socially,” said Harrison.

But the ‘bros and any MRA/PUA trogs need not worry.  The market will make sure that their all too familiar sex/power fantasies will find their representation in our brave new era.

Not all assistants will take the same firm approach. Robin Labs, which makes a voice-assistant for drivers, thinks there might be a market customizing personalities. CEO Ilya Eckstein says there is a high demand for an assistant personality that’s “more intimate-slash-submissive with sexual undertones.”

Full title: The Arnolfini Portrait Artist: Jan van Eyck Date made: 1434 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

All of which to say is that it’s easy to call out, say, Chris Christie, when he talks of beating Hilary Clinton’s rear end.  As all here know, it’s far harder to combat the influence of the jabs and gestures that pervade daily life, well below the level of explicit speech, up to and including the robot in your GPS.

How this post may be read in the context of Hilary Clinton’s candidacy and (some of) its discontents?  You make the call.

Image: Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding1434.

More Of This Please

January 5, 2015

Via TPM, this from White House spokesman Josh Earnest:

“Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage. So it’ll be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.”

There’s an old political story — I’ve heard it told about LBJ — about the candidate who tells his campaign manager to spread a rumor that their opponent enjoys the carnal knowledge of barnyard animals.

“I can’t call him a pig-f**ker!” the staffer replies. “No one will believe it.”

“Sure,” says LBJ (oh heck. Go with it).  “But make him deny it.”*

Darwin_Domestic_102

The beauty here is that there is no phantom pig in the room at all.  There’s no possible denial, just, at best a bit of weaseling:  “I didn’t know; I didn’t mean it; I’m sorry if anyone was offended.”

Republicans are who they are, the people their actions define them to be.  The Democrats’ job is to make sure they own it.  To that end, Mr Earnest, keep stuff like this coming:

“It is the responsibility of members of the House Republican conference to choose their leaders,” Earnest said. “Who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are, what their values are and what the priorities of the conference should be.”

*The line works best when you really bear down on “deeeennnnyyyy”

Image:  Charles Darwin, Head of Japan or Masked Pig, Copied from Mr. Bartlett’s paper in Proc. Zoolog. Soc. 1861, p. 263.illustration in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Vol. I, Ch. 3 1868.

Spread The News: The GOP Objectively Hates Veterans. Tell Every Vet (And Family) You Know

February 27, 2014

Once upon a time there was a bill in Congress.  It had a number: SB 1982.  It had a title: “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.”  It had a sponsor, Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, and 28 co-sponsors, all Democrats, from among the most conservative members of that caucus to some of the most liberal.

It does or would do things, supporting health care needs for veterans, including mental health and family/caregiver support for those aiding vets with mental health disorders, and health care related to sexual trauma.  It provides support for veterans seeking jobs and more.

It is, in other words, the kind of measure you support if you take seriously the easily-said words in praise of Americans who serve in our armed forces.

Which is why it’s important to tell every last veteran, family member of a vet, friend of a vet, dog or cat or sentient robot pet of a vet exactly why it failed to advance through the Senate today.  Here’s the roll call, but no peeking.  Guess what happened. No prizes; the question answers itself.

Rembrandt_-_Old_Soldier_-_WGA19196

I’ll tell ya:  the vote to suspend budgetary rules (the procedural step at hand) was 56 to 41 in favor.  In our dysfunctional Senate, that rump minority was sufficient to block further action on the bill.  Every Democrat voted in favor of proceeding.  One Two Republicans did: Senator Moran of Kansas and Senator Heller of Nevada.*  All 41 “nays” were Republican, including, of course, the loud crowd of war-first types as Lindsay Graham and John McCain — so often eager to send men and women in harms way, so strangely reluctant to pay the debts they thus incur.

Democrats:  better for the economy.  Better for kids.  And, as here we see, walking the walk for vets, while the Republicans hope that talking the talk as loudly as possible will obscure the damage they do.

Tell your families; tell anyone affected by this; tell them to pass it on….

Remember: Friends don’t let friends (and vets) vote Republican in 2014.

Last:  a side note. Soonergrunt and I had a brief exchange on this on Twitter.  He said this would only matter if the Democrats had the guts to pound the GOP on this from now to November.  I hope the folks in Congress do.  But we can spread the word ourselves, and should.

Image: Workshop of Rembrandt, Old Warrior, c. 1630

*I missed Senator Heller in my eyeballing of the roll call.  I regret the error.

Oh Yes, Please! Please, Please, Please!

January 4, 2013

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_053

Come on, Deval.  You know you want to:

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), whose 32 year career in the House of Representatives came to an end yesterday, said Friday that he’s told Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) that he would welcome an interim appointment to the seat expected to be vacated by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Frank said that the fiscal cliff deal that passed the House of Representatives earlier this week and set the stage for a return to the same legislative fight in a matter of months “means that February, March and April are going to be among the most important months” for the American economy….

“I’m not going to be coy. It’s not anything I’ve ever been good at,” Frank said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’ve told the governor that I would now like, frankly, to do that because I would like to be a part of that. It’s only a three-month period. I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again.”

If this happens, it will be proof that the Flying Spagetti Monster is a kind and generous fiction.  I can’t believe I’ve been good enough to merit a benison* such as this.

*Yes, that does raise images of rack of benison, but this is a family show, so I’m not going there.¤

¤And yeah, I would pick your pocket.

Image: Francisco de Zurbarán, St. Francis in Meditation, 1635-1639.

I’m Still Loving The Smell Of Schadenfreude In The Morning: Geek Edition

November 8, 2012

A tale of two campaigns:

First, Obama, as reported in a fascinating and tantalizingly brief piece by Michael Scherer over at Time.com:

For all the praise Obama’s team won in 2008 for its high-tech wizardry, its success masked a huge weakness: too many databases. Back then, volunteers making phone calls through the Obama website were working off lists that differed from the lists used by callers in the campaign office. Get-out-the-vote lists were never reconciled with fundraising lists. It was like the FBI and the CIA before 9/11: the two camps never shared data. “We analyzed very early that the problem in Democratic politics was you had databases all over the place,” said one of the officials. “None of them talked to each other.” So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.

The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn’t just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign’s most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data about voters helped round out the picture. “We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,” said one of the senior advisers about the predictive profiles built by the data. “In the end, modeling became something way bigger for us in ’12 than in ’08 because it made our time more efficient.”….

The magic tricks that opened wallets were then repurposed to turn out votes. The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states. In the past month, said one official, the analytics team had polling data from about 29,000 people in Ohio alone — a whopping sample that composed nearly half of 1% of all voters there — allowing for deep dives into exactly where each demographic and regional group was trending at any given moment. This was a huge advantage: when polls started to slip after the first debate, they could check to see which voters were changing sides and which were not….

“We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” said a senior official, describing the computer simulations the campaign ran to figure out Obama’s odds of winning each swing state. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”

…The numbers also led the campaign to escort their man down roads not usually taken in the late stages of a presidential campaign. In August, Obama decided to answer questions on the social news website Reddit, which many of the President’s senior aides did not know about. “Why did we put Barack Obama on Reddit?” an official asked rhetorically. “Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.”

And now the Romney approach, from reporting at Politico:

A much-touted mobile app used by Romney campaign poll watchers to track voters faced hiccups across the country Tuesday that left one prominent conservative Romney critic declaring it on Twitter “nothing short of a failure.”The system, known as the ORCA Project, was intended to give the Republican challenger’s team real-time information so campaign workers could call, text or visit people who hadn’t yet voted in attempts to corral them before polls closed.

Yet dozens of Romney poll workers across the country took to Twitter throughout the day to gripe that they were unable to log in, lost data they had inputted or found it moving slower than they needed to keep up with poll traffic.

Jeffrey Cook, a Romney poll worker from Fort Dodge, Iowa, gave up after eight hours of being unable to log in and tried to provide his data over the phone after the campaign sent out information about a telephone helpline….

“This looks like hundreds and hundreds of people,” said Akbar, whose popular Twitter handle @ali became a central repository for ORCA complaints. “Something’s going wrong. More people are experiencing problems than are saying it’s working.”

That’s damning for a feature of Romney’s digital campaign that was expected to be a blockbuster. Earlier this month, in fact, Romney deputy political director Dan Centinello was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying of ORCA, “There’s nothing that the Obama data team, there’s nothing that the Obama campaign, there’s nothing that President [Barack] Obama himself can do to even come close to what we are putting together here.”

The Obama campaign has a similar app, Mobile Pollwatcher, which had no reported problems on Tuesday

Ahhhh. This isn’t getting old, is it.

One more thing.  As ever, it’s never their fault.  Conservatism cannot fail. It can only be failed — or betrayed:

In the heat of the election, some pro-Romney tweeters blamed the press for suggestions that ORCA wasn’t working quite right.“Media stories reporting ORCA efforts shut down by hackers are false,” wrote Tommy Duggan, publisher of The Valley Patriot newspaper in Massachusetts. “We just got first-hand confirm[ation] that system worked brilliantly.”

As we might say in the framing familiar to this blog:  Continue acquiring intimate knowledge of Colonel Sander’s best friend.
Images:  Vincent van Gogh, The Blue Train (The Viaduct in Arles), 1888.
Hendrik Gerritsz. Pot, Flora’s mallewagen. (Allegory of the Tulip Mania.) 1640.

Do You Feel Lucky (Enough To Mess With A Nun)? Well, Do Ya’ Punk?

September 6, 2012

Before we get all whipped up into that necessary frenzy that will carry us across the finish line 60 days hence…here’s a look back at what was to me the most moving speech from last night that wasn’t by an ex-President:

Oh! Does she bring it — joyfully and hard — to the very core or the matter.

You can’t lead a good life, you can’t lead a good society, if you live only for yourself.  She quoted Matthew 24:40 — “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me…”* and while the committedly Jewish atheist in my might counter with the more direct Hillel aphorism,** if I were Paul Ryan, and if I had that last residue of conscience left in me, I would be quaking in my boots just now.  Sister Simone ripped away the cloak of sanctity with which the GOP has shrouded so much of its viciousness over the last years — the venom directed at GLBT folk, the terror in the face of women claiming agency, the desperate drive to dismember any claims on either self-interest or conscience that the poor may have on the society as a whole.

Best part?  When she reminded Paul Ryan that the bishops…the bishops! and not “merely” some nuns!…had condemned his budget as immoral.  1A:  stating proudly that her version of a pro-life commitment extend to those who are in fact living among us.

A truly great speech, and one is rocking me into the right mood for what’s to come.

*I grabbed the King James version, which is not what I think she quoted last night.  But I do love the music.

**”If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, who am I?  If not now, when?”


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