Monday, October 12, 2015

The 7.9% Solution

On the yet-again looming federal shutdown and national debt standoff

The U.S. House and Senate comprise 535 members. 42 divided by 535 = roughly 7.9%

The "House Freedom Caucus" consists of 42 right-wing House of Representatives zealots who have announced that they explicitly intend to shut the federal government down and default on the national debt if "necessary" next month in order to extort their way to their radical goals of things like defunding Planned Parenthood (and eliminating womens' reproductive rights more broadly) and trying yet again to kill "Obamacare" (and whatever else they don't like). They are now melodramatically obstructing the GOP effort to replace John Boehner as House Speaker, demanding that any successor share THEIR extremist minority view 100%.
The narcissistic chutzpah of these people is rich. They call themselves "principled." The salient "principle," though, is one of a my-way-or-the-highway absolutism. Indeed, they openly argue that political "compromise" is the cardinal Dirty Word, one they simply will not brook. There's a word for this. That word is not "democracy."
Let's be very clear here: While "defunding" and transiently shutting down the government by failing to pass budget legislation is a political act within the bounds of tripartite government (notwithstanding its inanity), intentionally defaulting on the public debt is a separate and explicit Constitutional violation of legislative branch members' Oaths of office -- notwithstanding the GOP extremists' conflating attempt to glom it all together. to wit,

Section 4 of the 14th Amendment declares that "the validity of the public debt shall not be questioned." Section 5 subsequently states that the Congress has the sole responsibility over this question.

More broadly, as set forth in Article I, Sections 7 and 8, only Congress has the authority to appropriate funds and levy taxes. They can appropriate funds by raising taxes and/or borrowing from the private credit markets in the name of the nation. If they choose the latter, they are required to see to it that payment is always honored, even should that mean raising taxes or cutting other program expenditures. Neither the President not the Supreme Court has any Constitutional authority here. Should honoring the public debt require a presidential veto override, so be it. Muster the requisite votes. Should it require negotiating out "poison pill" provisions in order to pass legislation, so be it. Those are among the legitimate mechanics of governance, in this case devolving to the Congress and no other entity.

The "poison pill" demands of the "House Freedom Caucus" in this public debt matter are simply extortion. There is no other word for it. Extortion is a crime. That it is now being perpetrated under cover of elected office makes it no less so.

Google "House Freedom Caucus." There's a Wiki page right at the top of the search results. These 42 domestic political terrorists all have names and contact info. You can bet they'll be hearing from me. All of them.

You think defaulting on the federal debt won't affect you? You fucking better think again. You have a 401k or IRA? Those are the first places you'll see the adverse effects. They will neither be trivial nor short-lived.

Interest rates would go up significantly across the board (with the inflationary upshot that would ensue), and unemployment will again worsen as the effects ripple out. The debilitating worldwide economic effects will dog us for years.

Last time I checked, 7.9% did not constitute majority rule. Last time I checked, defaulting on the national debt was still a violation of the Constitution by those sworn to uphold it, by those who have the only Constitutional authority to deal with it lawfully.

You should be acutely pissed by these preening, disingenuous derelictions. You should take action. This is not a joke.


I know that a lot of this is just "who will blink first?" brinksmanship, but this time there is an element outright nihilism here.

But, again, whatever you think about Planned Parenthood, using it as a weapon with the threat of default is extortion, pure and simple. If we want to defund Planned Parenthood (or any other federal program), that is entirely within the legitimate purview of Congress. But honoring the national debt is not a topic for horsetrading. That's not just my opinion, it's the plain text reading of the relevant provisions of the Constitution.

Monday, September 7, 2015



I am always amused (albeit rather irascibly so) by the maudlin Irony-Free Zone spectacle of “social conservative” Wingnuttia, with their legions of Perpetually Indignant news camera-loving lawyers racing off to the courts at the drop of a bigot’s bleat or besmirched Bible verse, their fine leather valises bulging at the clasps with myriad War and Peace-length amicus “briefs” purporting to drill down into the ostensibly inscrutable import of the placement of a comma, or the presence of the conjunctive “and,” or the plain text meaning of a Constitutional clause or expression of "legislative intent."

Two summary observations: [1] It necessarily follows that doing so validates the due process legitimacy of the Judiciary as a component of lawful governance. All part of the “checks and balances” system we otherwise take pains to laud when it suits us.

In an adult world, you don’t get to come out to the press conference mics in the wake of an adverse decision to pound the lectern and stammer on poignantly about the “Judicial Tyranny” of X number of "Unelected Judges,” adolescently invoking the apparition of Adolf for icing on the toxic red herring rhetorical cake for inflammatory, dog-whistling media effect.

You win some, you lose some. Deal with it. Libeling the judiciary via the Hitler Card is not dealing with it.

[2] Notwithstanding that it’s tiresome to have to keep pointing this out, ours is predominantly a federated “representative democracy” — a “republic.” We do not, in the main, govern by the plebiscite du jour. We elect and appoint people to vote and govern in our proxy, with concomitant provisions for their removal from office should they fail us egregiously. You can in fact “throw the bums out” should the need and sufficient body politic impetus obtain.

Moreover, as it pertains to those having been “appointed” to their offices — specifically our federal jurists apropos of this argument, they too have typically been vetted via multistage recursive majority vote proceedings, all the way from local bar association nominating committees to state bars to the ABA and finally, to Senate Judiciary Committees, ultimately culminating in the majority confirmation vote of a full Senate. Once confirmed and sworn, our jurists go on to decide and rule by (proxy) majority vote.

That this basic element of iterative majority-rule representative democracy escapes the gullible and willing prey of the demagogue and the political grifter in no way nullifies its lawful propriety and necessity. People need to grow up. You head to court, by that act you are making the statement that the court is legit. You don’t get to disavow that affirmation post hoc when a venue-specific lawful majority outcome is not to your liking.

Notice how the complaint is always voiced against "Five Unelected Judges." Not "nine." Opprobrium only goes to those who vote in ways you don't like.


From a Fox News segment in which Fox legal analysts wholeheartedly derided the claims made by the "Liberty Counsel" attorneys regarding their now-jailed-for-Contempt Kentucky marriage equality scofflaw client Kim Davis.

When you've even lost Fox, you know your schtick has no merit.

With respect to the controlling SCOTUS merits of the Kim Davis debacle:

[May 30, 2006] 
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.
It is well settled that “a State cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes the employee’s constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 142 (1983) . The question presented by the instant case is whether the First Amendment protects a government employee from discipline based on speech made pursuant to the employee’s official duties...

When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom. See, e.g., Waters v. Churchill, 511 U. S. 661, 671 (1994) (plurality opinion) (“[T]he government as employer indeed has far broader powers than does the government as sovereign”). Government employers, like private employers, need a significant degree of control over their employees’ words and actions; without it, there would be little chance for the efficient provision of public services. Cf. Connick, supra, at 143 (“[G]overnment offices could not function if every employment decision became a constitutional matter”). Public employees, moreover, often occupy trusted positions in society. When they speak out, they can express views that contravene governmental policies or impair the proper performance of governmental functions.

At the same time, the Court has recognized that a citizen who works for the government is nonetheless a citizen. The First Amendment limits the ability of a public employer to leverage the employment relationship to restrict, incidentally or intentionally, the liberties employees enjoy in their capacities as private citizens. See Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U. S. 593, 597 (1972) . So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively. See, e.g., Connick, supra, at 147 (“Our responsibility is to ensure that citizens are not deprived of fundamental rights by virtue of working for the government”)...

Ceballos did not act as a citizen when he went about conducting his daily professional activities, such as supervising attorneys, investigating charges, and preparing filings. In the same way he did not speak as a citizen by writing a memo that addressed the proper disposition of a pending criminal case. When he went to work and performed the tasks he was paid to perform, Ceballos acted as a government employee. The fact that his duties sometimes required him to speak or write does not mean his supervisors were prohibited from evaluating his performance...

We reject ... the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties. Our precedents do not support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job.
"We reject the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties."
The lawful and proper discipline here is incarceration until the offender decides to no longer be in Contempt. She holds the cell door key in her own hands.


Kim Davis is campaign and marketing a tool of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (above, left) and lawyer Mat Staver (above, right) of the 501(c)(3) "charitable non-profit" "Liberty Counsel." Staver appeared onstage with Huckabee on Sept 8th at Davis's jail release party during which Huckabee explicitly promoted his candidacy. That is a direct violation of IRS 501(c)(3) restrictions. That it used the conflated cover of Liberty Counsel's "pro bono legal services" accorded the anti-marriage equality scofflaw Kim Davis matters not one whit.

Liberty Counsel is located in Orlando, FL. Its two lawyer Principals are Staver (Chairman) and his wife Anita (President). They call their neat-o little family business a "Christian Ministry."

From their "About Us" web page:

"Recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization, this Christian ministry is funded by tax-deductible donations from concerned individuals, churches, businesses, foundations and other organizations."

Last year they paid themselves $317,087 in direct compensation (plus expenses, we can be sure). Of the roughly $4.1 million in gross revenue (from "contributions and grants"), they list about $1.3 million in "salaries and benefits," and ~$2.5 million in "other expenses. They list a number of "independent contractors" to to whom they paid about $1.6 million. I will be looking into whether they have any financial stake in those.

Under wholly-owned "related tax-exempt organizations on their 2014 Form 990 " they list six organizations; two more 501(c)(3)'s, three 501(c)(4)'s and a 527 PAC. They also list three directly and wholly controlled "trusts."

This is a money laundromat.

cc: Internal Revenue Service



Anita Staver. The Twitter avatar of Liberty Counsel President and wife of Founder and Chairman Mat Staver. How tasteful and  "Christian."

From the Wiki:
Liberty Counsel is headed by attorney Mathew D. Staver, who founded the legal ministry with his wife, Anita, in 1989 and currently serves as president. A close partnership exists between Liberty University, which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and Liberty Counsel; Staver served as Liberty University's law school dean from 2006 to 2014. In 2004, Liberty Counsel became affiliated with Liberty University/Falwell Ministries and Liberty Counsel opened an office at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia...
Liberty Counsel supports barring people from the military on the basis of "homosexual activity." Liberty Counsel opposes efforts to prohibit employment discrimination against gay workers. The organization further opposes 'the addition of "sexual orientation," "gender identity" or similar provisions' to hate crimes legislation. In 2005 the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Liberty Counsel as one of twelve groups comprising an "anti-gay crusade" and in April 2014 added the Liberty Counsel to its list of active anti-gay hate groups. Liberty Counsel also devotes its time to fighting against same-sex marriage, civil unions, and adoption by gay people.
501(c)(3). A "charity."

Monday, August 31, 2015

On Donald Trump®

"Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are...

Why is there so much bullshit? Of course it is impossible to be sure that there is relatively more of it nowadays than at other times. There is more communication of all kinds in our time than ever before, but the proportion that is bullshit may not have increased. Without assuming that the incidence of bullshit is actually greater now, I will mention a few considerations that help to account for the fact that it is currently so great. Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled—whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world…

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “antirealist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself."

Frankfurt, Harry G. (2009-01-10). On Bullshit (pp. 60-66). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
"The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."
Mr. Trump has attracted the nominal support of millions of frustrated, angry people for whom logical consistency, adherence to facts (and the difficulties involved in accurately discerning them), and acknowledgement of the complexities of life amid a world population of some seven billion contending people are simply irrelevant relative to their feelings of being left behind by our duplicitous, rapacious Elites. His brash confidence, putative "sincerity," and visible, garish evidence of "success" are all that matter.

Leadership expert Michael Maccoby:
No one pushes Trump around, and no insult goes unanswered. He fights back. He is not cautious or fearful of offending a critic or any of America’s adversaries. In this, Trump has a personality type that’s common to the charismatic leaders who emerge in times of turmoil and uncertainty, when people are ready to follow a strong leader who promises to lead them to greatness. Sigmund Freud called people with this personality type “normal narcissists” and he described them as independent and not vulnerable to intimidation, also noting that they have a large amount of aggressive energy and a bias for action. Freud included himself in this group and saw these narcissists as driven to lead and to change the world. Such narcissists can be very charming, and indeed, research has shown most of us like to follow narcissists.
An interesting, albeit troubling year awaits. The current front-runner in the GOP Primary season finds it mature, appropriate, and apparently effective thus far to obsessively use social media and the fawning mainstream media to publicly and crudely lambaste his political opponents and anyone else who dares criticize him, in unabashed adolescent fashion -- deploying the full arsenal of juvie epithets comprising his rhetorical bandiolier. He wears his lecherous misogyny proudly, and never passes up an opportunity to extol himself and his "wealth," while dismissively blowing off those who point up his myriad hypocrisies, inconsistencies, logical contradictions, and outright lies.

He continues to get away with all of it. An interesting year awaits, indeed.
"Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A speculation on the "afterlife."


In the moment of transition between life and death, only one thing changes: you lose the momentum of the biochemical cycles that keep the machinery running. In the moment before death, you are still composed of the same thousand trillion trillion atoms as in the moment after death— the only difference is that their neighborly network of social interactions has ground to a halt. 

At that moment, the atoms begin to drift apart, no longer enslaved to the goals of keeping up a human form. The interacting pieces that once constructed your body begin to unravel like a sweater, each thread spiraling off in a different direction. Following your last breath, those thousand trillion trillion atoms begin to blend into the earth around you. As you degrade, your atoms become incorporated into new constellations: the leaf of a staghorn fern, a speckled snail shell, a kernel of maize, a beetle’s mandible, a waxen bloodroot, a ptarmigan’s tail feather. 

But it turns out your thousand trillion trillion atoms were not an accidental collection: each was labeled as composing you and continues to be so wherever it goes. So you’re not gone, you’re simply taking on different forms. Instead of your gestures being the raising of an eyebrow or a blown kiss, now a gesture might consist of a rising gnat, a waving wheat stalk, and the inhaling lung of a breaching beluga whale. Your manner of expressing joy might become a seaweed sheet playing on a lapping wave, a pendulous funnel dancing from a cumulonimbus, a flapping grunion birthing, a glossy river pebble gliding around an eddy. 

From your present clumped point of view, this afterlife may sound unnervingly distributed. But in fact it is wonderful. You can’t imagine the pleasure of stretching your redefined body across vast territories: ruffling your grasses and bending your pine branch and flexing an egret’s wings while pushing a crab toward the surface through coruscating shafts of light. Lovemaking reaches heights it could never dream of in the compactness of human corporality. Now you can communicate in many places along your bodies at once; you weave your versatile hands over your lover’s multiflorous figure. Your rivers run together. You move in concert as interdigitating creatures of the meadow, entangled vegetation bursting from the fields, caressing weather fronts that climax into thunderstorms.

 Just as in your current life, the downside is that you are always in flux. As creatures degrade and your fruits fall and rot, you become capable of new gestures and lose others. Your lover might drift away from you in the migratory flight of tropic birds, a receding stampede of wintering elk, or a creek that quietly pokes its head under the ground and pops up somewhere unknown to you. 

Many of your same problems apply: temptation, anguish, anger, distrust, vice— and don’t forget the dread arising from free choice. Don’t be fooled into believing that plants grow mechanically toward the sun, that birds choose their direction by instinct, that wildebeest migrate by design: in fact, everything is seeking. Your atoms can spread, but they cannot escape the search. A wide distribution does not shield you from wondering how best to spend your time. Once every few millennia, all your atoms pull together again, traveling from around the globe, like the leaders of nations uniting for a summit, converging for their densest reunion in the form of a human. They are driven by nostalgia to regroup into the tight pinpoint geometry in which they began. In this form they can relish a forgotten sense of holiday-like intimacy. They come together to search for something they once knew but didn’t appreciate at the time. 

The reunion is warm and heartening for a while, but it isn’t long before they begin to miss their freedom. In the form of a human the atoms suffer a claustrophobia of size: gestures are agonizingly limited, restricted to the foundering of tiny limbs. As a condensed human they cannot see around corners, they can only talk within short distances to the nearest ear, they cannot reach out to touch across any meaningful expanses. We are the moment of least facility for the atoms. And in this form, they find themselves longing to ascend mountains, wander the seas, and conquer the air, seeking to recapture the limitlessness they once knew.

Eagleman, David (2009-02-10). Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Kindle Locations 1009-1041). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. See also "Possibilianism."

On the cusp of the afterlife...

[Homage to Sir Thomas Browne]

Shall I tell you once more how it happens?

Even though you know, don’t you? You were born with the horror stamped upon you, like a fingerprint. All these years you have lived you have known. I but remind your memory, confirm the fear that has always been prime. Yet the facts have a force of their insolent own.

Wine is best made in a cellar, on a stone floor. Crush grapes in a barrel such that each grape is burst. When the barrel is three-quarters full, cover it with a fine-mesh cloth, and wait. In three days, an ear placed low over the mash will detect a faint crackling, which murmur, in two more days, rises to a continuous giggle. Only the rendering of fat or a forest fire far away makes such a sound. It is the song of fermentation! Remove the cloth and examine closely. The eye is startled by a bubble on the surface. Was it there and had it gone unnoticed? Or is it newly come?

But soon enough more beads gather in little colonies, winking and lining up at the brim. Stagnant fluid forms. It begins to turn. Slow currents carry bits of stem and grape meat on voyages of an inch or so. The pace quickens. The level rises. On the sixth day, the barrel is almost full. The teem must be poked down with a stick. The air of the cellar is dizzy with fruit flies and droplets of smell. On the seventh day, the fluid is racked into the second barrel for aging. It is wine.

Thus is the fruit of the earth taken, its flesh torn. Thus is it given over to standing, toward rot. It is the principle of corruption, the death of what is, the birth of what is to be. You are wine...

Dead, the body is somehow more solid, more massive. The shrink of dying is past. It is as though only moments before a wind had kept it aloft, and now, settled, it is only what it is— a mass, declaring itself, an ugly emphasis. Almost at once the skin changes color, from pink-highlighted yellow to gray-tinted blue. The eyes are open and lackluster; something, a bright dust, had been blown away, leaving the globes smoky . And there is an absolute limpness. Hours later, the neck and limbs are drawn up into a semiflexion, in the attitude of one who has just received a blow to the solar plexus.

One has...

Examine once more the eyes. How dull the cornea, this globe bereft of tension. Notice how the eyeball pits at the pressure of my fingernail. Whereas the front of your body is now drained of color, the back, upon which you rest, is found to be deeply violet. Even here, even now, gravity works upon the blood. In twenty-four hours, your untended body resumes its flaccidity, resigned to this everlasting posture.

You stay thus.

You do not die all at once. Some tissues live on for minutes, even hours, giving still their little cellular shrieks, molecular echoes of the agony of the whole corpus. Here and there a spray of nerves dances on. True, the heart stops; the blood no longer courses; the electricity of the brain sputters , then shuts down. Death is now pronounceable. But there are outposts where clusters of cells yet shine, besieged, little lights blinking in the advancing darkness. Doomed soldiers, they battle on. Until Death has secured the premises all to itself.

The silence, the darkness , is not for long. That which was for a moment dead leaps most sumptuously to life. There is a busyness gathering. It grows fierce.

There is to be a feast . The rich table has been set. The board groans. The guests have already arrived, numberless bacteria that had, in life, dwelt in saprophytic harmony with their host. Their turn now! Charged, they press against the membrane barriers, break through the new softness, sweep across plains of tissue, devouring, belching gas— a gas that puffs eyelids, cheeks, abdomen into bladders of murderous vapor. The slimmest man takes on the bloat of corpulence. Your swollen belly bursts with a ripping sound, followed by a long mean hiss.

And they are at large! Blisters appear upon the skin, enlarge, coalesce, blast, leaving brownish puddles in the declivities. You are becoming gravy. Arriving for the banquet late, of course, and all the more ravenous for it, are the twin sisters Calliphora and raucous Lucilia, the omnipresent greenbottle flies, their costumes metallic sequins. Their thousands of eggs are laid upon the meat, and soon the mass is wavy with the humped creamy backs of maggots nosing, crowding, hungrily absorbed. Gray sprays of fungus sprout in the resulting marinade, and there lacks only a mushroom growing from the nose.

At last— at last the bones appear, clean and white and dry. Reek and mangle abate; diminuendo the buzz and crawl. All, all is eaten. All is done. Hard endlessness is here even as the revelers abandon the skeleton.

You are alone, yet again.
Selzer, Richard (1996-04-15). Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery (Harvest Book) (Kindle Locations 1368-1483). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Friday, September 12, 2014

SHS 1964: reflecting on our high school 50th reunion

I had a glorious time back in Somerville, NJ last week seeing so many of you former classmates and reminiscing about those long bygone 60's days. Hats off to those who planned and oversaw the fabulous events (link to my shots posted to Facebook here). 

I left home immediately after Commencement in 1964 (seriously bitten by the Rock 'n Roll bug, to the utter fury of my now-late Dad), and this was only my 3rd time back in New Jersey since leaving the state. I have had a busy, interesting, and fulfilling life, but I have to now admit to much regret that I never maintained friendships with my classmates. Feeling the loss now. You are an impressive bunch. I wish you all the very best going forward.

apropos, I wanted to share with you a book I just finished, Garret Keizer's amazing "Getting Schooled: The Re-Education of an American Teacher." Got it yesterday. Had to put the world on 'pause.'

I continue to be a lifelong learner. There remain more books I still have to read than there are hours in the day. I've been studying a lot of late on the myriad facets of learning and teaching (the pedagogy, the politics), mostly for my Health IT blog work as they pertain to the requisite elements for an adequately staffed and competent health care workforce.

"Getting Schooled" blew me away. It simply overflows throughout with elegant prose and humbling, reflective insight. I'd like to share just a bit with you. Highly recommended. Here's an excerpt from the close -- Commencement Day:
As in the past, I view commencement exercises as an act of penance for the sins of the teaching year. Not a full expiation, for sure, but at least an act of contrition. The lengthy monotony of the proceedings, the stifling heat of a gymnasium in mid-June, the oxygen deprivation that comes of sitting with hundreds of spectators in a scarcely ventilated space— what else besides a guilty conscience could keep a person coming year after year? Add to these the inevitable if unintended insult that comes of being publicly “thanked” for an education whose quality is thrown into doubt by every other sentence accompanying the thanks, the self-congratulatory tone and smug insider jokes of the valedictory speakers, the steady deflation of making the rounds afterward to congratulate students in whose eyes it’s clear that anything you might have meant to them or they to you is dissolving like a mirage. Most of all, the oppressive loneliness that is relieved only by remembering that any number of the students up on the dais are feeling lonelier still. At the conclusion of what many of them have repeatedly been assured are the best years of their lives— which in some cases will prove sadly true, the relative crappiness of those years notwithstanding— small wonder that more than a few of them will be stone drunk by nightfall.
Of course, there’s plenty to move even a jaded heart: the sight of kids who are the first in their families to graduate high school or the first to be going on for further study, the pride in their eyes and in the eyes fixed on them. The kids overcome with more emotion than the occasion would seem to warrant, as if this were their first encounter with transience. The kids who unashamedly give flowers to their mothers, embracing the only individuals in the world besides themselves who truly know how hard it was to get to this day and how close they came to not making it. The uncanny self-possession of those students who put their high school years in perspective a long time ago, who will go on to do the quiet useful work they’ve set their sights on all along, who will keep their yearbooks but not open them often, who have instinctively understood that life gives a person several true friends at most and who will remain true to their friends all their lives...

Had I been invited to speak at graduation, as teachers sometimes are, and had I accepted, what might I have said? Probably nothing too heavy. High school graduations are not the place for diatribes or manifestos. Neither are high school classrooms. I have always believed it is a teacher’s duty to teach the curriculum and not to pontificate, to inspire debates and not to settle doctrines. I did on one or two occasions tell my students that the society they were living in valued people of their age, region, and class primarily as cannon fodder, cheap labor, and gullible consumers and that education could give them some of the weapons necessary to fight back. Those things I did say, and I might have ventured at least that far in a graduation speech. I find myself wishing, though, that I had had a simple refrain, some terse slogan I could have repeated to my classes day after day, like the Roman senator Cato, who is supposed to have ended every speech by saying “Carthage must be destroyed.”

In fact, Cato’s refrain might have done nicely. As it happens, the people of Carthage worshipped the same god their Phoenician ancestors had, a Canaanite deity they called Moloch, whose signature burnt offering was the dearest thing his worshippers had. When the Romans eventually took Cato’s advice, they found within the walls of the doomed city a multitude of clay urns containing the tiny charred bones of children. The Romans worshipped their own version of Moloch, needless to say, as do we if our poets are to be believed. “Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!” So wrote Allen Ginsberg when I was a mere three years old, half a century before the financial meltdown of 2007– 08, an unknown number of years before the last American soldier leaves Afghanistan.

Carthago delenda est. I couldn’t say that to kids without more explanation than I had time for and more trouble than my long-suffering hosts deserved, but at least I can say it to you. The sentimental hypocrisy that holds children to be our most precious resource even as every indicator from the conduct of foreign policy to the debate over guns puts them several notches down in value from the availability of cheap oil and the goodwill of the NRA—delenda est. The fatuous assurance that children are happiest when their parents behave as if no happiness matters so much as their own and that of their live-in lovers— delenda est. The two-headed effrontery of believing that equal opportunity in the society at large can be promoted merely by reforming schools and that schools can be reformed without radically transforming the structures of society— delenda est, both heads at a single stroke. 

And who better suited to wield the sword than we who are charged with giving our students a “head start” only so that— as one civil rights worker put it years ago— the most disadvantaged of them can run sooner into a brick wall? Who better than us to demand the wall’s destruction? May I live to see the day when a teachers’ strike is at the vanguard of a general strike. 
Till then, I have a room to straighten and grades to turn in. I have an inventory to complete. I have one last installment of my productivity rubric to enter on PowerSchool. I have a few scattered opportunities to tell a few drop-by visitors that I hope they’ll have a safe and happy summer...

Keizer, Garret (2014-08-05). Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher (pp. 288-293). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

This dude can write!

On today's technology:
This fastidious obsession with visual resolution and digital sound, irrespective of the quality of the content depicted— what is it but the inevitable result of our gizmo-hawking market? Vacuity with special effects. We inculcate in our children the sensibilities of raccoons, a fascination with shiny objects and an appetite for garbage, and then carp about “the texting generation” as if thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds who couldn’t boil an egg are capable of creating a culture. They grow on what we feed them. It has never been otherwise. The only thing that changes is the food...
We sell the disease and we sell the cure, the carcinogenic chemical and the chemotherapy, the high-calorie soda and the exercise bike. We make kids illiterate by shrinking and/ or wiring their libraries; then we build wired support centers to teach the illiterates how to read. An iPad for the one and an iPad for the other, twice the profit from the same slick deal. I make it sound more conspiratorial than it is. In fact, it is the absence of conspiracy, of anything approaching a plan or vision, that yields these absurd results. A crapshoot is not a conspiracy, but as social policy it’s crap... [ibid, pp. 224-225]
One thing is clear from the outset: the biggest change in education since my departure from the classroom, bigger even than the place of technology in the curriculum, is the move toward uniform instruction. Students and teachers are obliged to be on the same page, or the same screen if you will, in terms of the “desired outcomes.” In many ways the changes are mutually supportive: the technology allows for greater standardization and oversight; it also provides the rationale for greater standardization and oversight. Our kids need to be prepared for the digital age and we need to be sure our teachers are preparing them.

Despite some strong misgivings— the “digital age” is not my god any more than the “global marketplace”— I want to work in concert with my colleagues. I want to do a good job. I recognize the dangers of the self-styled contrarian whose “different drummer” lesson plans amount to little more than a list of pet peeves and arbitrary waivers. I’ve met more than one English teacher, for example, who claimed that “writing can’t be taught” or that “grammar isn’t important.” At the same time, I’m not sure students are best served by a faculty of conformists, by teachers who are less shepherds than sheep. [ibid, pp. 33-34]
But, wait! There's more!!!
For someone who’s spent much of his adult life trying to mine personal experience for “larger,” often political implications, it’s hard not to feel a stinging challenge to my politics. Most teachers are some variety of centrist liberal, if only because they rightly see their own livelihoods as dependent on a generous social contract. But it is only with a great leap of faith that they achieve even the most lukewarm progressivism, which by its very definition requires the belief that human beings can progress— or want to. It’s in making that leap that I lose my footing. I have never doubted that many a disadvantaged kid was saved from the gallows by going to school. But to create a society in which gallows were permanently abolished— how many holdouts would first have to hang? At the risk of sounding impertinent, Comrade Guevara, how many people did your “great feeling of love” inspire you to execute? To reduce ignorance is one thing, but what remedy for inertia— for the tendency in many of us to find the demands of all but the most pedestrian forms of learning or liberation simply too much work? The question is way above my pay grade. I can’t even find a remedy for plagiarism. [ibid, pp. 201-202]
Not kidding. I could go on. But, I'd end up posting the entire book. A great read. Just thought you might like to know about it.

We were lucky to be in high school when we were. I taught "Critical Thinking" and "Argument Analysis" as an Adjunct at UNLV from 1999 - 2004. It was great fun, but, I'd look out over my undergrad classes sometimes and think 'man, you people need to re-take high school...'

We were indeed lucky. We have our parents and our teachers -- and each other -- to thank.

Be well, my friends. Hope to see you again soon.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mass layoff notice, Microsoft style

News comes that Microsoft plans on laying off up to 18,000 employees. Microsoft exec Stephen Elop delivers the bad news in an "empathic" internal email: 
Hello there,

Microsoft’s strategy is focused on productivity and our desire to help people “do more.” As the Microsoft Devices Group, our role is to light up this strategy for people. We are the team creating the hardware that showcases the finest of Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences, and we will be the confluence of the best of Microsoft’s applications, operating systems and cloud services.

To align with Microsoft’s strategy, we plan to focus our efforts. Given the wide range of device experiences, we must concentrate on the areas where we can add the most value. The roots of this company and our future are in productivity and helping people get things done. Our fundamental focus – for phones, Surface, for meetings with devices like PPI, Xbox hardware and new areas of innovation -- is to build on that strength. While our direction in the majority of our teams is largely unchanging, we have had an opportunity to plan carefully about the alignment of phones within Microsoft as the transferring Nokia team continues with its integration process.

It is particularly important to recognize that the role of phones within Microsoft is different than it was within Nokia. Whereas the hardware business of phones within Nokia was an end unto itself, within Microsoft all our devices are intended to embody the finest of Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences, while accruing value to Microsoft’s overall strategy. Our device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy and must be accomplished within an appropriate financial envelope. Therefore, we plan to make some changes.

We will be particularly focused on making the market for Windows Phone. In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia. In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices. We expect to make this shift immediately while continuing to sell and support existing Nokia X products.

To win in the higher price segments, we will focus on delivering great breakthrough products in alignment with major milestones ahead from both the Windows team and the Applications and Services Group. We will ensure that the very best experiences and scenarios from across the company will be showcased on our products. We plan to take advantage of innovation from the Windows team, like Universal Windows Apps, to continue to enrich the Windows application ecosystem. And in the very lowest price ranges, we plan to run our first phones business for maximum efficiency with a smaller team.

We expect these changes to have an impact to our team structure. With our focus, we plan to consolidate the former Smart Devices and Mobile Phones business units into one phone business unit that is responsible for all of our phone efforts. Under the plan, the phone business unit will be led by Jo Harlow with key members from both the Smart Devices and Mobile Phones teams in the management team. This team will be responsible for the success of our Lumia products, the transition of select future Nokia X products to Lumia and for the ongoing operation of the first phone business.

As part of the effort, we plan to select the appropriate business model approach for our sales markets while continuing to offer our products in all markets with a strong focus on maintaining business continuity. We will determine each market approach based on local market dynamics, our ability to profitably deliver local variants, current Lumia momentum and the strategic importance of the market to Microsoft. This will all be balanced with our overall capability to invest.

Our phone engineering efforts are expected to be concentrated in Salo, Finland (for future, high-end Lumia products) and Tampere, Finland (for more affordable devices). We plan to develop the supporting technologies in both locations. We plan to ramp down engineering work in Oulu. While we plan to reduce the engineering in Beijing and San Diego, both sites will continue to have supporting roles, including affordable devices in Beijing and supporting specific US requirements in San Diego. Espoo and Lund are planned to continue to be focused on application software development.

We plan to right-size our manufacturing operations to align to the new strategy and take advantage of integration opportunities. We expect to focus phone production mainly in Hanoi, with some production to continue in Beijing and Dongguan. We plan to shift other Microsoft manufacturing and repair operations to Manaus and Reynosa respectively, and start a phased exit from Komaron, Hungary.

In short, we will focus on driving Lumia volume in the areas where we are already successful today in order to make the market for Windows Phone. With more speed, we will build on our success in the affordable smartphone space with new products offering more differentiation. We’ll focus on acquiring new customers in the markets where Microsoft’s services and products are most concentrated. And, we’ll continue building momentum around applications.

We plan that this would result in an estimated reduction of 12,500 factory direct and professional employees over the next year. These decisions are difficult for the team, and we plan to support departing team members’ with severance benefits.

More broadly across the Devices team, we will continue our efforts to bring iconic tablets to market in ways that complement our OEM partners, power the next generation of meetings & collaboration devices and thoughtfully expand Windows with new interaction models. With a set of changes already implemented earlier this year in these teams, this means there will be limited change for the Surface, Xbox hardware, PPI/meetings or next generation teams.

We recognize these planned changes are broad and have very difficult implications for many of our team members. We will work to provide as much clarity and information as possible. Today and over the coming weeks leaders across the organization will hold town halls, host information sharing sessions and provide more details on the intranet.

The team transferring from Nokia and the teams that have been part of Microsoft have each experienced a number of remarkable changes these last few years. We operate in a competitive industry that moves rapidly, and change is necessary. As difficult as some of our changes are today, this direction deliberately aligns our work with the cross company efforts that Satya has described in his recent emails. Collectively, the clarity, focus and alignment across the company, and the opportunity to deliver the results of that work into the hands of people, will allow us to increase our success in the future.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Clapp Trap

Director of National "Intelligence" 
James Unwittingly Inspector Clouseau Clapp

It was rich to witness Clapp's obligatory melodramatic, derisively Harrumphing Indignation when the Snowdon NSA leak thing surfaced. Inconveniently for Mr. Pants on Fire:
 In a March 12 Senate hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper responded, "No, sir... Not wittingly." Since last week, it's become clear that Clapper's statement was not exactly true. Clapper's given a series of interviews to explain the comment, each time getting closer to admitting that what he said was not true. 
"Not wittingly"? Right.

I feel like I'm stuck in Groundhog Day.

Is the 4th Amendment effectively dead?


Some things are utterly predictable.
Lawyers eye NSA data as treasure trove for evidence in murder, divorce cases
By Bob Sullivan, Columnist, NBC News

The National Security Agency has spent years demanding that companies turn over their data. Now, the spy agency finds the shoe is on the other foot. A defendant in a Florida murder trial says telephone records collected by the NSA as part of its surveillance programs hold evidence that would help prove his innocence, and his lawyer has demanded that prosecutors produce those records. On Wednesday, the federal government filed a motion saying it would refuse, citing national security. But experts say the novel legal argument could encourage other lawyers to fight for access to the newly disclosed NSA surveillance database...

Mission Creep. Coming to a jurisdiction near you soon.

apropos, as I observed back in 2002 while writing about the Homeland Security Act and the proposed "Total Information Awareness" program:
...While HSA contains privacy and data security language restricting the use of TIA-type data to (ill-defined) Homeland Security purposes, we will likely see relentless pressure by law enforcement for access to the information, on the grounds that more effective overall law enforcement via access to TIA data will free up police resources for Homeland Security duties. One need not read far into the HSA to see blurring of enforcement lines. For example, the new Department is directed to

"...monitor connections between illegal drug trafficking and terrorism, coordinate efforts to sever such connections, and otherwise contribute to efforts to interdict illegal drug trafficking." [TITLE I, Section 101(b)(1)(G), page 14]

Given the federal government's simplistic yet relentless media campaign of the past year arguing that "Drug Use Aids Terrorists," well, you get the point (or should).


"Except as specifically provided by law with respect to entities transferred to the Department under this Act, primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism shall be vested not in the Department, but rather in Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over the acts in question." (pp 14-15)

Well, Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies may well -- perhaps quietly -- argue that they cannot perform their duties pursuant to HSA without access to the integrated, panoptic TIA data repositories. Conveniently, HSA is replete with broad language granting this or that Director or Assistant Secretary discretion over what constitute "reasonable" administrative measures under the Act.

It gets worse. HSA is also peppered with language mandating two-way coordination of activities, communications, and data-sharing with "the private sector." HSA officials are charged with "...creating and fostering strategic communications with the private sector to enhance the primary mission of the Department to protect the American homeland" (page 17), "...creating and managing private sector advisory councils composed of representatives of industries and associations designated by the Secretary" (page 18), "...promoting existing public-private partnerships and developing new public-private partnerships to provide for collaboration and mutual support to address homeland security challenges" (pp 18-19), and so forth...




Heard this author interviewed on NPR with Bill Moyers last night. Just bought the Kindle edition of the book.

FOREWORD by Lewis Lapham 

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. —Benjamin Franklin 

The evidence gathered by Heidi Boghosian on the following pages attests to the pathology of an American government so frightened by its own citizens that it classifies them as probable enemies. Suspicious of all forms of unlicensed expression, the custodians of the nation’s conscience find the practice of democracy to be both uncivil and unsafe. Entirely too many people in the room or the parking lot who don’t do what they’re told, don’t swallow their prescribed daily dosages of the think-tank swill slopped into their bowls by the wardens of the corporate security state. 

Such people present the risk of having thoughts of their own, and therefore they must be carefully and constantly watched. How constantly and how carefully is the lesson embedded in Spying on Democracy. Before reading the book I knew that over the last fifty years the U.S. government had been stepping up its scrutiny of a populace that it chooses to regard as a mob. I had yet to appreciate the extent to which the computers have been programmed with the mind of a lunatic conspiracy theorist. 

Heidi Boghosian shows the hydra-headed data banks to be targeted at all sectors of American society, at school-children and the mothers of school-children, at church congregations, credit card members, and Facebook friends, at everybody and anybody at work or at play with the tracking device otherwise known as a cell phone. 

So intrusive is the surveillance that nobody leaves home without it. The clothes sold in both upscale and down-market retail outlets come with radio-frequency ID tags sewn into a stitch or a seam. Thousands of cameras installed in the lobbies of apartment and office buildings (also on roofs and in basements, in movie theaters and barbershops, in the eye sockets of the mannequins in department store windows) register and record the comings and goings of a citizenry deemed unfit to mind its own business. The corporate and political gentry distrust democratic government for its being by definition a work in progress, a never-ending argument between the inertia of things as they are and the energy inherent in the hope of things as they might become. 

The country was founded by people willing to engage the argument. The Protestant dissenters arriving in the early seventeenth century on the shores of Massachusetts Bay brought with them little else except a cargo of contraband words. They possessed what they believed to be clear refutations of the lies told by the lords temporal and spiritual in Europe, and they settled the New England wilderness as an act of disobedience rooted in what they recognized as a “quarrel with Providence.” Translated into the eighteenth-century language of secular politics, the quarrel resulted in the Declaration of Independence and a constitution predicated on James Madison’s notion that whereas “in Europe charters of liberty have been granted by power,” America would set the example of “charters of power granted by Liberty.” The government established in Philadelphia in 1787 sought to ally itself with the ongoing discoveries of something new under the sun, with the ceaseless making and remaking not only of fortunes but also of laws. To a woman who had asked what the gentlemen had made of their deliberations, Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” 

The government enthroned in Washington in 2013 holds the view that the experiment with democracy has gone far enough, the upkeep of a republic more trouble than it’s worth. Let too many freedoms wander around loose in the streets, and who knows when somebody will turn up with a guillotine, or a bomb. The reconfiguration of Madison’s premise took shape during the prolonged Cold War with the Russians. How else to counter the threat of a paranoid offense unless with the fielding of an equally paranoid defense? The once-upon-a-time sons of liberty set to work replacing the antiquated U.S. republic with what President Dwight Eisenhower recognized in 1956 as a “military-industrial complex” arming itself with weapons of every conceivable caliber and size, with a vast armada of naval vessels afloat on eight seas and seven oceans, with guidance systems as “infallible” as those deployed by the seventeenth-century Spanish Inquisition. 

During the years 1947 to 1989, the constant reminder of next week’s day of judgment provided the parties in power in Washington with justification for muffling the voices of dissent. Unpopular during even the happiest of stock market booms, dissent during times of war attracts the attention of the police. The parade marshals regard any breaking through the rope lines of consensus as unpatriotic and disloyal; the voicing of impolitic opinions comes to be confused with treason, civil liberties to be regarded as so much toxic waste. Nor do governments willingly relinquish charters of power seized under the pretext of apocalypse. 

The loss of the Soviet threat in the 1990s brought forth as its replacement the war on drugs, a war waged not to defend the American people but to secure a perimeter around the majesty of the state. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on the morning of September 11, 2001, upgraded the war on drugs to a war against “all the world’s evil,” and by nightfall what was still left of the notion of a democratic republic framed on the premise of an argument had been suspended until further notice, cancelled because of rain. The barbarian was at the gates, civilization trembled in the balance, and now was not the time for any careless choice of word. 

Nor is such a time anywhere foreseen by the national intelligence agencies that in the years since the fall of the World Trade Center have added to their payrolls 100,000 inquisitors both petty and grand, have appropriated upwards of $ 750 billion for military enhancements, and have enlisted the close collaboration of the data-mining engineers in what was once known as the private sector. The government’s promotional literature describes the objective as “truth maintenance.” To detect and classify each and every one of America’s prospective enemies (terrestrial and extraterrestrial, real and imagined) high-speed computers sift through the electronic droppings of every human movement or expression— bank, medical, and divorce records, bookstore purchases, website visits and traffic violations, blood and urine samples, and so on. Connect the dots (all the names and places to all the dates and times), deploy “market-based techniques for avoiding surprises,” and if all goes well, what comes up on the screen is an American democracy as safely and securely dead as a pheasant under glass. 

Thus, apparently, the fond hope and eager expectation of the risk managers charged with the administration of the Department of Homeland Security, or with the command and control of a bank, an insurance company, a police precinct, or a congressional committee. The mission is the protection of property, not the preservation of the freedoms of the people. Royalist concentrations of wealth remain at liberty to do as they please— to poison rivers, cut down forests, charge cruel rates of interest, deny medical care, repudiate debt, eliminate species. Commonplace human beings, by nature untrustworthy, await instructions about where and how and when they walk the walk or talk the talk. Corporations dismiss employees for trafficking in ambiguous emails; no more than fifty people may assemble on the steps of Manhattan’s City Hall. The FBI searches even small-scale street demonstrations for “anarchists” and “extreme elements,” rounding up at random any participant deemed fit for a lesson in obedience. An arrest record discourages further experiments with the theory of free speech, and complicates the career plans for young and overly idealistic students obliged to meet the character requirements for admission to a prestigious university. Step out of line, my child, and you can say good-bye to the good hands people at Allstate and JPMorgan Chase.

When President Obama travels around the country to mouth the virtues of a government by the people, of the people, and for the people, the Secret Service sends advance scouts to set up “free speech areas” for the people who ask impolitic questions. Quarantined behind chain-link fences at a discreet distance from the presidential motorcade, the voices of protest remain out of earshot, the faces far enough away to avoid notice on the evening news. What is disheartening is the lack of objection on the part of a citizenry all too easily herded into the shelters of harmless speech and heavy law enforcement. Public opinion polls find the bulk of respondents willing to give up a generous percentage of their essential liberty in return for the shopping-mall measures of freedom (small and getting smaller) that they can still beg or borrow enough money to buy. 

It’s a poor trade. The well-being of a democratic republic depends less on the abundance of its cheap entertainment or the expense of its armies than on the capacity of its individual citizens to rely on their own thought. The big money never has much trouble drumming up smiles of prompt agreement, but democracy needs as many questions as its citizens can ask of their own stupidity and fear. We can’t know what we’re about, or whether we are telling ourselves too many lies, unless we can see and hear one another think out loud. Heidi Boghosian’s Spying on Democracy suggests that dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors, and preserves for our society the constitutional right to its own name.
Below: I posed this question to the author. We'll see whether she responds.

We speak of "business intelligence," of "confidential" and "proprietary information," of "ePHI" (electronic Protected Health Information) under HIPAA, etc. Is this now a naive and quaint notion? How can you even have actionable "proprietary information" if you cannot communicate it with others having the right and need to know (beyond furtive, paranoid Enemy-of-the-State-Movie midnight face-to-face meetings in some desolate parking lots beyond the reach of telescope microphones and high-powered binocular-aided lip-readers)? Beyond the spectre of government and corporate collection of digital dossiers on individuals, what would there be to stop NSA et al gumshoes from engaging in clandestine insider trading based on sensitive commercial information?

More to come...