aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Saturday, April 12, 2008
And we wonder where violent kids come from
The gaming site for parents, WhatTheyPlay.com, runs a “Question of the Day” poll that asks visitors to the site (i.e. mostly parents) a question that usually reveals something about people’s general attitudes towards games. Recently, the poll asked “As a parent, which would you find most offensive in a video game?” The results, as you can see to the right, found that more parents would be okay with cursing or even a severed head in video games over hetero-sex and “two men kissing.” Yep, horrific violence just ain’t so bad compared to two adult sharing a passionate moment together… a Norwegian gaming site decided to run the same poll. Their results were almost the exact opposite, with 65.8% of people saying they’d be most offended by a severed head.
a BIG experiment…
...the Atlanta Ballet dances live with Big Boi. Performance end tomorrow. From the rehearsals:
AP Video. The NYTimes review:
At best, “big” has moments of fascinating intersection between the movement and the firecracker verbal delivery of Mr. Patton’s work. At worst, the dancers simply look like a rather sophisticated back-up troupe.
Alvin Ailey 2 will be in our town next week. At my age, more my speed.
We don’t need a conversation… Let’s debate!
Barack Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia last month was said to be the beginning of a “national conversation” on the subject. I was among those saying it.
Conversation is all well and good but this ain’t it.
On Fresh Air a couple weeks ago linguist Geoff Nunberg wondered what, exactly, a “national conversation” is - and when we started talking about them:
The phrase is meant to conjure up that famous Norman Rockwell painting of a New England town meeting, where ordinary citizens gather as equals to hash over the affairs of the day.
Back in the 1930s George Gallup claimed that polling in the modern media had recreated those meetings on a national scale. As he put it, the nation is literally in one great room. Of course when you get that many people talking in one room, it’s hard to tell if everybody is paying attention. But by the time the phrase national conversation entered the language in the 1970s, the simulated public forum had become the model for a new bunch of media formats. Jimmy Carter staged the first ersatz town meeting in the 1976 presidential campaign, the format that later found its Pavarotti in Bill Clinton.
As it happens, that was also when Phil Donahue was pioneering tabloid talk TV and when Larry King launched the first national radio call-in show. There was something reassuring about the idea of everybody participating in a vast, extended conversation, particularly for a country trying to get past the angry divisions of Vietnam in the ‘60s. As the alternative therapies of the era were teaching us, no conflict was so rancorous that it couldn’t be dispelled by open conversation, so long as people were honest about expressing their real feelings.
True, we probably shouldn’t be calling these discussions conversations at all. A genuine conversation has no purpose. It’s about the pleasure of merely circulating. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott described conversation as an unrehearsed intellectual venture. It has no determined course; it does not have a conclusion. And it’s always a little disconcerting when somebody calls for a conversation about a specific topic. `We have to have a little conversation about all those calls to Toledo.’ It sounds like an appeal for an open exchange of views, but you know that most of the script has already been written. [...]
Actually, what’s usually most informative in all this is the debate about whether to have those conversations in the first place. If you really want to know what Americans think about race, punch “national conversation” and “Obama’ into Google News or one of the blog search engines. You’ll get an earful. And the subject being race, the tone often falls short of what you’d call conversational. If we ever did get to the point where we could really conduct a national conversation about race, we probably wouldn’t need to.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Vote for Stephen Now!
Broun likes nukes & english
Well today he gone and done it! Who better to quote for the occasion than the American Family News Network’s One News Now out of Tupelo, Mississippi:
Rookie Congressman Paul Broun (R-Georgia) has introduced the “English the Official Language Act of 2008,” which states that “no person has a right” to receive federal documents or services in languages other than English. The legislation is identical to a companion Senate measure sponsored by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).
Although Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and every major Democratic presidential candidate voiced opposition to the legislation last June during debates on CNN, Broun contends there is widespread support for the bill across the country.
“I am pleased to hear the news of Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG, and Dalton with Westinghouse/The Shaw Group agreeing to build two new nuclear generating units at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Augusta .
“While final review and certification will be performed by the Georgia Public Service Commission against competing bids for new electric generation, Georgia Power’s commitment to move ahead with this contract is good for the Tenth Congressional District and is good for the citizens of the state of Georgia.
“Nuclear power has operated safely in the United States for decades, and in Georgia since 1975, and now accounts for about 20 percent of our electric generation.
“Locally, this decision will be strong for our economy, adding needed jobs and spurring investment in our communities. With Plant Vogtle already being a positive influence in our district, I welcome two new units â€“ with new advanced AP1000 design technology â€“ being added.
“This decision ensures that the energy needs of our growing state and district will continue to be met, and I applaud the decision to move forward.”
Meanwhile, AP is reporting:
Georgia Democrats have quietly assembled a group of five military veterans—including three fresh out of Iraq—to challenge Republican congressmen from around the state in November’s elections.
The candidates are criticizing the incumbents on domestic issues such as the sluggish economy, but they also say they have the moral authority to challenge their opponents for giving President Bush lockstep support on the five-year war in Iraq.
They are all long-shots, political newcomers in a conservative state that routinely elects Republicans. Bobby Saxon, 46, of Nicholson, GA, an Army veteran who served with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq and now runs a software consulting firm, is set to take on Broun.
I wish him well.
A Public Defender Visitors…
Click Here! Unavoidably, my link changed. Sorry for the inconvenience!
On Alan Abel’s sophisticated media criticism
It would be so wonderful if it turned out that yesterday’s Today Show nursing home predator problem segment was a hoax perpetrated as commentary on the shortcomings of our corporate media system, on the need for better funding and better policy around elder-care, and as a call for a more enlightened approach to the very serious problem of sex offenders in our society.
If Alan Abel had done it, that’s what it would be.
I fear that it was none of that. I fear that it was, instead, what passes today for serious journalism from “one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience.”
Garbage in. Garbage out.
Alan Abel is an American prankster, hoaxter, writer, mockumentary filmmaker, provocateur and, I would say, a very sophisticated media critic famous for several hoaxes that became media circuses. He and his daughter were interviewed for On The Media recently. This is his description of what the media looks for in a story:
Well, you’re looking for perversions and calamities. Really, you want obscene, offbeat stories.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
NBC on nursing home sexual predator problems
NBC’s today show had a “Consumer Alert” report this morning that had me screaming at the television set. It told the story of a Jacksonville, FL, woman who was raped by an 83-year-old man with a criminal record 20 pages long that included convictions for sexual assault and child molestation.
And so begins the sensational story of an
epidemic apparent wave of sexual predators preying on nursing home residents:
MORALES: Elder rights advocate Wes Bledsoe says this is not an isolated case. He’s tracked more than 1600 registered sex offenders living in nursing homes across the country.
Mr. BLEDSOE: We’ve uncovered over 50 murders, rapes, sexual and physical assaults committed by criminal offenders while they were residing as residents in long-term care facilities.
MORALES: In 2006, this government report also raised concern. It found registered sex offenders living in nursing homes were considerably younger than the general nursing home population, making other residents attractive targets. Despite this, it found most homes do not impose different supervision or separation requirements on residents who are offenders.
Mr. BLEDSOE: Two questions remain: who’s next and when? Because when you put predators in with the prey, somebody’s going to get bit.
Now, I just want to say that I do sincerely sympathize with anyone victimized by a predator in a nursing home. But on its face this report is problematic.
Mr. Bledsoe’s numbers do not show an
epidemic overwhelming problem. Out of 1,600 offenders in how many homes he comes up with a whopping 1 crime per state over an indeterminate period of time (the government report wasn’t tied to Bledsoe’s findings and apparently only raised “concerns"), and the assortment of crimes he sites varies widely (from murders and rapes—how many, who knows?—to physical assaults—how severe, who can say?).
For comparison purposes, how many cases of neglect do you image we might find in nursing homes? Or malnutrition? Or missed medication leading to serious, even deadly, complications? Or abuse of patients by staff? Do you want to bet it’s more than one per state???
But let’s go ahead and call the problem of sexual predators in nursing homes severe. Let’s call it heinous. What’s causing it?
Well, first we’ve got underfunded, understaffed, under-regulated nursing homes. And then I’d throw some blame at our star-spangled health-care system given that the geriatric set is not its favorite population.
Let’s move on to the sex offenders.
Our “brand-them-for-life, track-them-by-bracelet, or GPS, or any means necessary, and put in place residency restrictions that don’t allow them to live near schools, or day care centers, or bus stops, or churches, but by all means DON’T!!! TREAT!!! THEM!!!” approach means that they, of course, HAVE NO PLACE TO GO!!! So is it really, really, surprising that they are winding up in those under-funded, under-regulated, under-supervised nursing homes?
I don’t think the Iowa County Attorneys Association would find it surprising. Two years ago they put out a potent and important prosecutorial statement against sex offender residency restrictions saying that the broad sex offender residency restriction in place in Iowa then “does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measure.”
Even Georgia’s parole officers—not exactly the liberal elite—called for earlier parole for some sex offenses. That was quickly shot down. But these groups are seeing a problem and proposing a real fix, not just whipping up paranoia then pandering to it!
Back to the topic at hand…
The horror of stories like this is the distorting effect it has on public perception. I have no doubt that there are stories to be told here. But the one NBC is telling is so dramatically warped that I honestly had to wonder if it was an elaborate hoax. A bad joke. Of course, it wasn’t. It was a tragedy. Because the consequence of this story will be bad policy. Money spent in bad ways when there is so much real need.
For example, this is what the NBC report proposed as the solution to the nursing home predator problem:
MORALES: Now, [Wes Bledsoe has] rallied lawmakers in his home state of Oklahoma to introduce new legislation to create separate nursing home facilities for registered sex offenders.
That’s right. A whole separate system of nursing homes, just for sex offenders. And just exactly who is going to pay for that? And is that going to solve, or exacerbate, the problems described?
LATER: I have removed the word “epidemic” from my post. NBC didn’t use it, I don’t need to. Their report is incendiary; I was playing their same game. The change is intended to clean up my act.
Couric likely to leave CBS before contract is up
After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the “CBS Evening News” anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011—possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year.
Ms. Couric isn’t even halfway through her five-year contract with CBS, which began in June 2006 and pays an annual salary of around $15 million. But CBS executives are under pressure to cut costs and improve ratings for the broadcast, which trails rival newscasts on ABC and NBC by wide margins.
The story speculates that Couric could replace Larry King on CNN. How pathetic! Now, I had very high hopes for her move to CBS. In fact, I saw it as an opportunity and kept quoting former ABC News producer Paul Friedman that they should completely reformat and rethink the show along the lines of the old Nightline:
Summarize the news of the day in five minutes or so; spend a big chunk of time-10 minutes or so-on covering one really good story; and give people even more to think about by ending with opinion.
I thought it could easily be ported out to other platforms and she could really become a new kind of evening news star.
So Katie still gets crap for doing the crappy show that I sure as hell don’t watch while the guy who I was quoting calling for a revamp was overseeing the stagnation!
I have no idea who is heading up the show now but I have to hope that the notion of Katie taking Larry King’s CNN spot was some disgruntled production assistant gloating at how successfully they have duped the Wall Street Journal. Howard Kurtz puts the kibosh to that flight of fancy:
Couric had lunch earlier this year with CNN President Jon Klein, a former CBS executive, prompting speculation that he might be eyeing her as a potential successor to Larry King. But another source said the two are friends and that there are no plans to replace King, 74.
Kurtz has some more reasonable speculation:
If Couric is eased out as anchor, CBS plans to offer her either a syndicated talk show or a full-time role on “60 Minutes.” Otherwise, executives have signaled they would release her from her contract to seek a better deal elsewhere. [...]
CBS considers Couric, 51, a valuable franchise, whether she remains as anchor or not, but economics will be a factor. Network executives could not justify Couric’s $15 million annual salary through 2011 if her only role were at “60 Minutes,” and Couric has indicated she wants to ensure a successful launch if she assumes a new role, the sources said.
Whatever happens I think Couric a terrific talent and would like to see it put to good use somewhere. God knows it’s needed.
Sally Kern: lying homophobe exposed
I think I have been fairly generous towards Sally Kern. Appalled at the outset as any self-respecting gay person would be, I thought her son made a decent case that his mother might come around one day.
While the meeting with Oklahoma PFLAG was hopeful, things turned sour quickly. From PFLAG’s National Blog:
Oklahoma Representative Sally Kern just doesn’t seem to learn: Tape recorders are decidedly not her friend.
It’s been just over a week since the midwest’s favorite homophobe told her local paper, The Oklahoman, that PFLAG supporters from the state took her “statements and have spun them” to misrepresent her views on anti-gay job discrimination and her vow to at least consider an ongoing dialogue with us. Her comments followed a meeting at the state capitol with Oklahoma City PFLAG president Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards and two other local supporters.
PFLAG applauded Kern for agreeing to the sit-down . . . only to be on the receiving end of a mad Sally slap-down. Kern and her supporters went so far as to refer to the three members of the clergy who took part in the meeting as “false prophets,” and attacked the credibility of our Oklahoma PFLAG families. And even though we weighed in with our own fact-check of Sally’s allegations, she continued to insist that she did not say what she said.
So now it’s time to get out the audio player again. Sally Kern, meet yourself on the YouTube.
That’s right. Sally’s staff consented to having her meeting with PFLAG recorded, and her words speak for themselves. . . listen in as Sally pontificates on job discrimination . . . gay millionaires . . . lesbian golfers . . . and a little boy named “Jimmy.”
As the full 40-minute audio recording released this morning by PFLAG proves, Kern said not once (at about 15 minutes and 30 seconds in) that she does not believe GLBT people should be fired from their jobs . . . but she said it twice (again at about 33:15), confirming her stance when Rev. Kathy McCallie recaps the meeting near its end. [...]
Kern also weighs in on “the homosexual agenda,” which, she explains, is a lot like a “to-do list.” And to-do lists are suddenly all the rage, for sure. According to Kern, everyone has one these days, Jesus and Tim Gill included.
But perhaps Sally’s most poignant moment is one that exists only in her head. Midway through the conversation, and clearly an hour or so before her next round of medication is due, Kern waxes philosophical on the awesome power of teachers . . . to convince our children they’re gay.
It is the story of little Jimmy, a theoretical Oklahoma school boy who leaves home one day, presumably heterosexual, and heads off to learn his ABCs. But little Jimmy is unaware that his teacher has an entirely different “to-do list” for the day.
The teacher, Kern explains, lines the children up on the playground and begins to count off: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 . . . and then, abruptly, declares little Jimmy to be a little bit gay.
Yes, it’s all included - in five parts, kind of like the Star Wars saga - in the long awaited Sally Kern sequel. Our lady of the perpetual audio tapes answers all of our burning questions.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Who needs a librarian?
DePauw University Libraries Visual Resource Center was among the recipients Tuesday night of a video award presented at the annual Computers in Libraries conference in Arlington, Va. The awards recognize libraries that create YouTube videos that creatively market their libraries’ services.
Via Siva Vaidhyanathan.
In the ongoing saga of Scrabulous, the unauthorized online version of Scrabble that has found many fans on Facebook but has upset Mattel and Hasbro (who own the rights to Scrabble), it appears that RealNetworks and Mattel have finally put out an official version of Scrabble for Facebook—but the problem is that it’s terrible. As the NY Times reports, “Facebook Scrabble takes a long time to load, does not always quickly update to show recent moves, and the words the game will accept do not reflect standard Scrabble dictionaries, or even the English language.” While it’s nice to see that Scrabulous still hasn’t been forced offline, it seems odd that the authorized version is so terrible. It still probably would have made the most sense to just do a deal with the brothers who created Scrabulous (and there are still rumors that a deal has been discussed, but without a decent resolution), but if that doesn’t work, the way to compete is with a better product. Putting out a product that’s not very good isn’t likely to win over many fans.
Ellen tops Oprah in popularity poll
The results of a March 26, 2008, AOL Television popularity poll of television hosts reveal Americans may now embrace Ellen DeGeneres over Oprah by a wide margin. Forty-six percent of the 1.35 million people who participated in the poll said the daytime talk show host that “made their day” was Ellen, compared with only 19 percent who chose Oprah. Nearly half (47 percent) said they would rather dine with Ellen, compared with 14 percent who preferred Oprah.
To be sure, Oprah remains one of the most popular figures in America, but recent data suggest her popularity has eroded. One possible explanation for this decline is that her endorsement of Obama and her support for him may have done more to damage impressions of her than to strengthen support for Obama. Then again, Obama may become the next president of the United States, and he may feel he has Oprah partly to thank for going out on a limb for him - not a bad situation for the talk show queen.
If this analysis is correct, daytime chat viewers don’t much like overt political endorsements by show hosts, but are comfortable with Ellen ("Yep, I’m Gay") Degeneres, who doesn’t browbeat her audience over the issue but did recently movingly address the murder of young Lawrence King.
As both Rosie O’Donnell (back when she was seen as the Queen of Nice) and Ellen have shown, gay women have broken through a media barrier. But no out and proud gay man has come anywhere close to such onscreen success as of yet.
I’m not so sure I agree with the analysis of wither Politico’s Panagopoulos or IGF’s Miller. But I can’t say that I’ve got a theory of my own either!
High Deductible Plans Will Take GA Down the Wrong Path
Knowing what I think of flexible spending accounts it probably won’t surprise you that I’m no fan of high-deductible insurance plans either.
Recently, Susanna Guffey at The Georgia Forum wrote to point me to Daniel Blumenthal, a pediatrician arguing that high deductible insurance plans are the wrong path for Georgia:
Faced with a high deductible and an outlay of cash to meet even minimal health needs, many consumers will postpone needed care and forgo preventive services altogether. In the short run, money will be saved for the consumer and the health care system. In the slightly longer run, asthmatic kids will wind up in the hospital, middle-aged adults with uncontrolled high blood pressure will have heart attacks, and the elderly who failed to get screened for cancer will have it discovered in advanced stages. Health care costs will increase and Georgians will be less healthy. [...]
High deductible health plans are not affordable options for the majority of Georgia’s uninsured population, who come from low to moderate income working families. They are uninsured because they cannot afford coverage, and the modest tax breaks included in this proposal will do almost nothing for them.
Instead, these small incentives will be more likely to motivate already-insured individuals, families and employers who offer comprehensive coverage to their employees to switch to high deductible plans. And, rather than reducing the number of uninsured, the state would increase the number of underinsured.
By definition, high-deductible health plans cannot cover primary care services, prescription drugs, mental health care, and many other services until the purchaser has reached the deductible, which often exceeds $2,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family. Proponents of high deductible plans claim that the “personal responsibility” of the consumer will motivate them to live a healthier life, but research has shown that high deductibles simply prevent people from getting medical care.
High deductible plans fail to meet the needs of the majority of the 1.7 million Georgians who currently need health coverage, but cannot afford it. We need a plan that will help Georgians receive the health care they need and deserve. Asking people to pay more money out-of-pocket is not the answer.
I’m at war with SHPS
Before we begin let me stipulate that I think Flexible Spending Accounts are bad public policy. I sat in the New York living room of a friend arguning as much in 2005, even as I had signed up for a measly $500 in 2006. Well a hernia operation and Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss turned that into a bad decision quick!
Anticipating more of the same, I upped my 2007 contribution to $1,500 and monitored it throughout the year. I knew I would come in under, but because my company had a new “2.5 exemption” (we can use medical expenses from January through March 15 of this year against last year’s balance), and because I had not been submitting all of my expenses through the year (mileage, for example, my doctors are in Macon, 45 miles away) I figured I’d adjust things at the beginning of this year.
SHPS don’t like that!
When it came time to do the adjusting, all hell broke loose! I have had to fight lick the dickens to get my money back. And to this minute, April 9, 2008, they are still holding $179 even though I have documented the legitimate medical expense over and over and over again. Here’s my latest email to SHPS:
I was away for a while, then back and getting caught up. I hope that you have had time to review the [recorded customer service phone] calls* by now. I wonder if you can provide those calls to me so that I can refresh my memory? Without them my memory is limited. Below is the best that I can do.
I remember at least three or four calls. The calls started off very cheerfully. Your service representatives were helpful but not always clear and sometimes confusing. When the first person informed me of a 2007 remaining balance of nearly $600, she acted as if she expected me to get angry.
I did not get angry because I knew there would be a balance. I was, though, surprised and confused at the size of that balance. The confusion was because all through the year I had been getting notices of “Potentially Ineligible Expenses.” I did not know until that call that those expenses were included in the running balance at the upper right of the web page. She explained that they were.
In another call it was explained that my plan did not include a “2.5 exemption.” I argued that it did. The representative, after much looking, ultimately found that I was correct. She then explained that I could not use my SHPS Visa card for those reimbursements. I objected. I asked why and was told something about the card being “emptied” from one year and “loaded” for the next. I argued about the fairness of that.
I have since been told by our Human Resources department that the information that customer service representative gave me was not correct.
In the last call the arguing grew angry. That’s when I sat with my unduly large healthcare records file—the file that contains every receipt for every expense that I have submitted for reimbursement. During that call I was informed for the first time and quite suddenly that I had a $256.80 “overpayment.” An overpayment??? Nowhere on the website is there any mention of an overpayment. In none of the copious correspondence is there any mention of an overpayment. In none of the other phone calls was there any mention of an overpayment. Now, out of the blue, there was an overpayment.
Well, of course, I knew there was no overpayment. But even with all of my records I was at a loss to prove it. And as I rustled through my ungodly large pile of papers trying to find the single one I needed confirming that I had sent a fax I was left sputtering, wondering, what if I didn’t have that one? What if I never received that one? What if I actually lost that one? Then I’d just be lost, wouldn’t I? So, yes, I was angry. Very, very, angry.
I’d love to hear that phone call. Will you provide it to me? As I recall it, in the end I asked, desperately, could I appeal?
Well it turned out that I did have the letter. And the fax receipt. So I faxed it again. And that’s when you got involved. And only then, after who knows how many calls and faxes, did I learn that it was the wrong KIND of receipt. Of course, that was the only receipt that the doctor had given me. So after all of the calls and faxes and service representatives and human resources and visits to the doctor (That’s efficiency??? That’s convenience??? That’s what SHPS has to offer???) I returned to the doctors office and got the correct receipt, faxed that to you—9 business days ago—and the disputed amount has yet to be deposited into my account!!!
So about those IRS requirements you mention… I have no doubt that you are correct. But I want to propose back to you that a company of your size—that does hundreds of millions of dollars in business and has thousands of employees—should have some leverage there. You should be able to do something about those systems. In point of fact, your website boasts precisely that. You say that you are “transforming healthcare” with “health management tools, resources and services.”
I’ve used them. I don’t think so.
Instead I think the receipt I sent you that you ultimately accepted—the one that makes the IRS so happy—could be forged by a 4th grader. In fact, I know that it can be forged by a 4th grader. I work in technology support. So your procedures, if they are designed to thwart theft through false claims, instead thwart only the hundreds, the thousands, of honest people like myself who are merely seeking to be reimbursed with their own funds for their own legitimate healthcare expenses.
Your system thwarts the good guys who are trying to comply and lets the bad guys go free. Those who are trying to scam the system can forge their fake documents like the one I sent you that you accepted. Forgers can easily double the amount for [eye]glasses and have it accepted. Your system doesn’t work! It hurts the good people. It wastes their time, their money, their productivity. It is a sham. What the public is left with is an expensive needless burdensome inefficient system. And deep animosity. I sincerely believe the results of your system have done me wrong.
Now, as promised in my last phone call, I have contacted my congressman, John Barrow, and copied Miss Johnson from his office on this email. But I have since learned that SHPS is a huge provider of services for the federal government and a good many southern states. So if I have to I will expand my quest for allies to include health and other advocacy organizations. I also want to be clear that I do not believe that any individual at SHPS is acting in bad faith. I have no doubt that you and your colleagues are trying to do the best that you can. But I fail to understand how your best efforts leave me without my lousy 179 bucks after all this time and effort. And for the benefit of Ms. Johnson I will say again that I firmly believe that “healthcare consumerism” is bad policy, but that bad policy has been compounded by very bad implementation.
* ABOUT THOSE PHONE CALLS: When you call Chase Manhattan Bank they tell you that they record every call. When you call SHPS they tell you that they may record your call to improve your customer service. But Ms. Quigley told me that she was going to go “pull all my calls.” That sounds to me like they record every call. Is that legal? I have no doubt it is. I should have access to all of those recordings.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Innocence Project Files Complaint to Revoke Dr. Hayne’s Medical License
I’ll have more on Mississippi’s wacky medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne over the next few days. But today, the national and Mississippi Innocence Projects have filed a whopping 1,000-page complaint to the Mississippi Board of State Medical Licensure calling for the revocation of Hayne’s medical license.
The report "outlines several violations – spanning two decades – of the Mississippi state law that regulates medical practice," including the Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks cases, as well as several of the cases I first reported for reason last October.
From the press release:
“Steven Hayne’s long history of misconduct, incompetence and fraud has sent truly innocent people to death row or to prison for life. This is precisely why regulations are in place to revoke medical licenses. Steven Hayne should never practice medicine in Mississippi again, and the complaint we filed today is an important step toward restoring integrity in forensic science statewide – and restoring confidence in the state’s criminal justice system,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. [...]
“We have only presented the tip of the iceberg to the State Board of Medical Licensure, but this evidence shows Steven Hayne’s unprofessional, dishonorable and unethical conduct that has deceived, defrauded and harmed the public,” said W. Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project.
The complaint filed today says, “We believe the conduct in this complaint alone is sufficient to justify immediate revocation of Dr. Hayne’s license … His work compromises the accuracy and integrity of medicine and criminal justice throughout the state. We urge you to put an end to his misconduct through an expeditious, thorough investigation of his work and revocation of his license."
LATER: Hayne Responds.
License plates shield CA officials from tickets & tolls
With all the fuss recently over red light cameras, Boing Boing points us to a fascinating story about how somewhere around one million Californians have special license plate that basically shield them from toll booth transponders and red light cameras. Basically, the system was originally designed for police, putting their license plate info in a special secret database to shield home addresses from criminals who might want to hurt them. That system is no longer needed because DMV records are all now private. But one of the unintended consequences of the system was that it became nearly impossible to send a remotely recorded ticket (such as via a toll booth reader or a red light camera) to the guilty party—since you couldn’t get their address. It even works in some cases when people are pulled over by police, because once the plate is looked up the record indicates that the plate is in this protected category, so officers often let the driver off for being “protected.”
The truth about racial sterotypes and spending
Bill Cosby has famously accused blacks of spend money unwisely, buying expensive sneakers rather than investing in their kids’ education and thereby reinforcing harmful stereotypes.
I have to admit that I have been unsure of what to think myself. I’ve tended to choose the more generous notion that such spending is in line with the nouveau riche, who just haven’t yet learned how best to spend their money, something I can also relate to.
Research by Erik Hurst and Kerwin Charles has definitively resolved my doubts. Chicago GSB Magazine:
The anecdotal evidence seems to be everywhere. “There’s a perception that if you go into poor black neighborhoods, the value of cars is much higher there than in comparable-even white, middle-class-neighborhoods,” said Hurst, professor of economics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow. And, in fact, he found supporting data eight years ago with Kerwin Charles, Steans Family Professor in Education Policy at the university’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies and visiting professor for 2007â€“08 at the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the GSB. They stored the idea away while they worked (together and independently) on other studies about racial wealth differences.
When Cosby made his remarks in 2004, Hurst, who is white, and Charles, who is black, had been focusing on conspicuous consumption and the signaling value it communicates. The resulting study, “Conspicuous Consumption and Race,” shows that blacks and Hispanics spend 30 percent more than whites on clothing, cars, and jewelryâ€”an amount that averages out to around $2,000 per year per household. What’s more, blacks and Hispanics are spending less on education and health care and saving less money.
The reason? Status, according to Hurst and Charles. Because blacks and Hispanics have lower income on average, they’re more likely to be perceived as poor. Wearing nice clothes, driving a flashy car, and sporting fancy jewelry, they hope, shows other people that they are not poor.
What’s more, white people do it, too, their research shows.
In comparing spending data for whites in southern states with that of whites of comparable income in the Northeast, they discovered that southern whites outspend northeastern whites when it comes to highly visible, highly portable consumer goods that denote status. “People do care about their position in society and will work hard to signal their relative rank,” Hurst said. “If people don’t know your income and you want to show them, the way to do it is to consume visible goods. You see it among blacks, whites, and Hispanics.”
We believe what we want to believe
It’s always worth remembering and science backs it up:
Psychologists have long known that humans have a remarkable ability to tune out facts that don’t jibe with pre-existing beliefs. Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, says the natural draw toward “truthiness” has run amok in the modern media age.
Manjoo was interviewed last week for On The Media:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you show how false facts on both the right and the left make their way through partisan echo chambers, but you do suggest that conservatives have a different relationship with their media.
FARHAD MANJOO: Right. People have studied how conservative blogs, for instance, link to each other and how liberal blogs link to each other, and they found that the people on the right generally have a tighter network and are more likely to indulge in only those sources.
And this has been a longstanding pattern where psychologists have noticed that people on the right are more efficient at filtering out things that kind of don’t really support their views.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We all know it’s really easy to manipulate audio, video, and especially with Photoshop and digital images. But it was interesting â€“ you said that the biggest effect of the Photoshopification of our society is not that it’s easier to fool people but that now they have even more reason not to believe the evidence of their eyes and ears if they don’t want to.
FARHAD MANJOO: If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there’s been some digital foul play there and that it’s possibly not a truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do we have an informed society if you can disbelieve anything you aren’t likely to approve of?
FARHAD MANJOO: Well, in a number of areas I argue that we don’t have an informed society; that one of the problems of this age is that we have people disagreeing over things that in the past I don’t think they would have disagreed about â€“ over the basic science behind global warming, for example, where you have huge numbers of Americans who simply dismiss the science.
And one of the difficulties about this situation is that the whole system sort of operates unconsciously. You can’t really tell people that your truth is not true. They’re not going to believe you.
Monday, April 07, 2008
6 Quirks of Ownership: Possessions Bend Perceptions
Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog has done an absolutely terrific job of summarizing Chapter 7—“The High Price of Ownership: Why We Overvalue What We Have”—of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.
From his post 6 Quirks of Ownership: How Possessions Bend Our Perceptions:
Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational argues that ownership has 6 strange effects on us:
1. Ownership increases perceived value to us: As soon as we acquire something we start to develop an attachment to it. Just the sheer fact of ownership increases how much we value it - we seem to develop a relationship with objects.
2. We tend to focus on losses: When selling we tend to overlook the money we’ll be gaining and focus on the object we’ll be losing. Our natural aversion to feeling bad then motivates us to place a higher asking-price on the long-cherished house, car or record collection than the market will bear.
3. We assume others share our perspective: Surely potential buyers understand how strongly we feel about our dusty old vinyl records? No, they don’t care - in fact they’re far more likely to notice how badly we’ve stored them or what poor taste in music we have.
4. Effort increases perceived value: A table I have bought and struggled to build myself has more value to me than the same table I bought, for the same price, ready assembled. Expending our own effort means we’ve invested ourselves in an object, so it has more perceived value to us. Other people don’t recognise this (and there’s no reason why they should).
5. Virtual ownership: We can even start feeling we own something before we actually do. Dan Ariely argues that the prices people are prepared to pay on auction sites like EBay are often inflated by people’s imagined ownership. Once we place our first bid we start to fantasise about ownership. Consequently when other bids come in we ignore our previously stated maximum because we’re now starting to value the item more, since we’ve been thinking about owning it.
6. Partial ownership: Marketing executives know the power of ownership so they use all kinds of tricks to encourage partial ownership because it often leads on to full ownership. We don’t usually return our furniture within the 30-day money-back guarantee period because we’ve grown attached to it - it’s ours.
So the high price we tend to put on our own possessions is not just greed, we really do begin to perceive stuff in a different way once we own it. Unfortunately these biases open us up to all sorts of detrimental effects.
We might set unrealistic prices for things we’re trying to sell, resulting in us failing to sell them at all. Or, when buying, we can be suckered into virtual or partial ownership en route to full ownership of something we didn’t necessarily want in the first place.
Of course the solution to these problems is trying to think objectively about our own possessions and those that we’d like to acquire. But that’s easier said than done. It’s very difficult to be dispassionate when selling something that you treasure and it’s easy to form an imaginary relationship with something we want to own.
Edits to gay soldier’s Wikipedia entry traced to Pentagon
I was traveling when the story of Maj. Alan Rogers, a gay soldier who was killed in January in Iraq, made news because media sources such as the Washington Post and National Public Radio chose not to mention that Rogers was gay in their coverage of his posthumously awarded Purple Heart and a second Bronze Star. See, for example, here, here and here.
Well, it turns out that a Pentagon computer was used last week to edit the gay soldier’s Wikipedia entry. The Washington Blade:
A Wikipedia article about Maj. Alan Rogers, a gay soldier who was killed in January in Iraq, was apparently edited by someone in the Pentagon, who removed any mention that Rogers was gay.
The user on Monday redacted details about Rogers that appeared on the online encyclopedia site. Information that was deleted included Rogers’ sexual orientation; the soldier’s participation in American Veterans for Equal Rights, a group that works to change military policy toward gays; and the fact that Rogers’ death helped bring the U.S. military’s casualty toll in Iraq to 4,000.
Rob Pilaud, a patent agent and a friend of Rogers who attended the soldier’s funeral, restored the information to the Wikipedia article the next day. Pilaud was among Rogers’ friends who created the Wikipedia page.
The anonymous poster also provided the following comment in the “discussion” section about the article:
“Alan’s life was not about his sexual orientation but rather about the body of work he performed ministering to others and helping the defense of the country,” the poster wrote. “Quit trying to press an agenda that Alan wouldn’t have wanted made public just to suit your own ends.”
The IP address attached to the deletion of the details and the posted comments is 126.96.36.199. The address belongs to a computer from the office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2) at the Pentagon. The office is headed by Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, who was present at Rogers’ funeral and presented the flag from Rogers’ coffin to his cousin, Cathy Long.
The Army’s public affairs office did not return a call seeking comment.
RELATED: Kevin Naff has an editorial in that same edition of the Blade, The Washington Post’s gay problem—Why did editor Len Downie go to such lengths to hide the simple fact that a soldier was gay?
Sir Ian McKellen becomes bishop for a day
Never one to shy away from controversy, Sir Ian McKellen is secretly plotting to launch a campaign to shame the Anglican Church over its refusal to give equal rights to homosexual clergy.
In an act of solidarity with the Rt Rev Gene Robinson, the Church’s first openly homosexual bishop, the celebrated actor intends to read out a sermon written by the prelate, who has been barred from the landmark Lambeth Conference this summer that is seeking to prevent a schism over the issue.
Standing alongside the bishop, who will remain silent throughout, the star of The Lord of the Rings will deliver a broadside against the Church’s attitude to homosexuals with the kind of passion and force normally reserved for his performances on the stage.
A Dose of Libertarian Paternalism
Shankar Vedantam has a column in the WaPo today looking at Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s important work:
In their new book, “Nudge,” [link] the authors suggest that policymakers should artfully guide people to make better decisions by designing the way choices are presented to them. The work has drawn the attention of the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and Thaler said that he and Sunstein have become informal advisers to the campaign. Several ideas related to mortgage-policy reform and the credit markets have been “adopted and adapted” by Obama, Thaler added.
Sunstein, a law professor, and Thaler, an economist, have long been students of psychology. They call themselves libertarian paternalists—because they agree with the libertarian insight that people benefit from having choices. But Thaler and Sunstein also argue that people regularly make systematically irrational choices. (Many academics divide their money equally between stocks and bonds.)
“We agree with people who want to allow the market to flourish, so we are libertarians in that sense,” Sunstein said. “On the other hand, we don’t believe you can just have markets and then declare victory. It is legitimate to be paternalistic in terms of steering people in directions that will increase the likelihood they will do well.” [...]
Setting up default choices is one of the recurring themes of “Nudge,” because a lot of research shows that people are powerfully influenced by default options. When new employees are told that retirement accounts will be started for them unless they object, for example, most sign up cheerfully. When told that the accounts will not be started unless they opt in, most employees do not sign up because not having the account is then the default choice.
It is not surprising that Thaler and Sunstein’s approach would appeal to Obama’s post-partisan views: On the meltdown in subprime mortgages, Thaler and Sunstein criticize the liberals who call for the end of such mortgages as well as the conservatives who reject any form of regulation. The problem, they argue, is not that the mortgage industry came up with a tool to offer money to people with poor credit, but that the industry got away with being deliberately opaque.
Most home buyers, including MBA students at a top school, as one study found, have trouble comparing loan offers and discerning broker fees—money that goes to middlemen—from interest, money that investors need to take on the risk of lending their cash. Consumers who get the best mortgages invariably pay the least in fees.
If all mortgage lenders were required by law to disclose the terms of their loans electronically, Thaler predicted that Web sites would immediately emerge to translate those offers into plain English so people could compare loans: “You apply for a mortgage, and you get an e-mail with a file that has all the features of your mortgage. You upload it into Mortgage-Helper.com, and it will tell you what that mortgage really means. It will say, ‘Here are your payments this year, and here is what happens next year, and here is what happens if interest rates went up, and are you aware there is a prepayment penalty of $7,000, and, by the way, here are three other loans that have the following features.’ . . . This is the way to make markets efficient.”
Here’s Sunstein and Thaler’s principal paper, Libertarian Paternalism Is Not an Oxymoron (a brief 45 pages).
Republican Offenders dot com
An internet agitprop artist publishing the website “Republican Offenders dot com” has produced a list of 272 Republicans charged with criminal activity, 60 of which are pedophiles. Each name is linked to a group heading of the type of crime alleged or convicted. (Among the categories are rape, bribery and “assorted felonies”.)
I live in a town with six state prisons. Recently I joined the advisory board of one of them, the YDC (Youth Development Center). Their Internet access is strictly limited and, I learned, the large majority of inmates receive no visitors.
For the families and friends of those who do receive visitors, Prison Talk is a community website that sounds like it may be an invaluable resource.
Yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine:
Prison Talk, a big board with nearly 150,000 members and 2,500 regular readers a day ...caters to what turns out to be an underserved consumer niche: family and friends of the incarcerated. Prison inmates, whose Internet access is extremely limited, also turn up periodically, usually seeking pen pals through a third party. The site, which costs nothing to join, was founded seven years ago and has drawn around 3.5 million messages, including poetry, small talk, business deals, memoirs, sermons, laments, photo albums and ideological screeds. Like the sprawling American prison system itself, the board has come to constitute a robust social reality - albeit one whose contents can’t be searched with Google or other engines, since Prison Talk is closed to the unregistered.
The board’s activity is propelled by the frustration and enterprise of lonelyhearts who crave contact while fighting boredom and despair. The postings, including those from former inmates, dramatize the widespread effects of imprisonment as vividly as any book since the 2000 exposÃ© “Newjack,” Ted Conover’s chronicle of his year working as a corrections officer in Sing Sing, the maximum-security state prison in New York. And even Conover couldn’t offer the sheer volume of fine-grain logistical detail and jaw-dropping incongruities that surface on Prison Talk: topics on the site include marrying someone in prison; raising children whose parents are imprisoned; loving lifers; curing dry winter skin; preparing for executions; and having fun (jokey guards, nightly dance-offs) behind bars.
The posts themselves are by turns rueful, salacious, puzzled and pleading.... Prison Talk promises support without judgment, and in accordance with the site’s bylaws, uncooperative members are banned. (The site also counsels members to be circumspect with information that might be used against inmates or jeopardize their appeals.)
David Frisk, an aerial photographer and home-automation expert, started Prison Talk in 2001 to helped convicts’ loved ones navigate the prison system. Frisk hatched his idea in a jail cell: he served time in the early ‘90s in a medium-security federal prison for pawning a rifle while on probation for auto theft. Like anyone working online, he has since developed theories about revenue streams. Small but constant banner ads, targeted for his audience, run along the top of Prison Talk.... Frisk, who is known on the site by his screen name, Fed-X, has been accused by detractors of exploiting a vulnerable and largely female membership by encouraging dependence; soliciting contributions as if the site were a charitable cause and not an ad-sponsored business; and promoting dodgy ventures like a print magazine that some subscribers say they never received…
Most Prison Talk members, however, seem fiercely loyal to him, and say they feel deeply beholden to Prison Talk itself. Many of them virtually live on the site, concluding their posts with tickers - countdown widgets, like the ones used on pregnancy and weight-loss boards - showing how much time is left in their chosen inmate’s sentence....
A small band of board activists, led in part by a Prison Talk member named Judy Wickliff, has recently used the site to plan a latter-day Boston Tea Party to protest the disenfranchisement of American prisoners. “No incarceration without representation” is their slogan. In July they plan to bombard legislators with mailed tea bags and a list of proposed reforms to the criminal-justice system. It could be said that Prison Talk is steadily documenting and even galvanizing a subculture, if it weren’t for the February report from the Pew Center on the States that one in 99 people in America is now in prison. Let’s call it a culture, then.