Friday, March 31, 2017
One of the things I endeavor to remind people of consistently when I am asked to speak to groups around the country is to consider the possibility that we are led by a pack of idiots. This is not out of any animus toward our leadership class, but borne out of experience. I have seen cabinet secretaries who type with two fingers. I have listened as senior staffers with authority over constructing legislation in a particular scientific field engage in debate on whether or not the moon landing was a hoax. I have seen a man charged with revolutionizing incredibly complex government information technology systems who did not know how to use a thumb drive. I have seen the bill from a highly paid consultant, an incredibly expensive bill, for a PowerPoint deck that I had seen him present for another client with different logos. And, more personally, I have been told at many varied points in my career by accomplished people why the thing I wished to build was impossible, why it would be a failure, and why I should instead join company X, Y, or Z, none of which are relevant or in some cases even exist today. This is why we should never forget the possibility that underneath the façade of government and business, which projects authority and success, there are a host of fools who are just along for the ride and got to where they are by dint of internal politics, a nice resume, and good timing.
Indeed, indeed, indeed. I say again, indeed.
The Internet is on fire after an in-depth Washington Post profile of Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence. The article revealed that Pence explained, in 2002, that unless he is with his wife, he won’t eat alone with a woman or attend an event where alcohol is served, a spin on what evangelicals call the “Billy Graham Rule.” Twitter threads and think pieces have abounded. “Mike Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ has Internet yelling sexism,” blared a USAToday headline that could have read, but didn’t, “Mike Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ is sexist.”
Unless they're Muslim, presumably. But Orthodox Jews don't really get a pass though, because you know those Jews. These people won't be satisfied until you're simply not allowed to be religious except secretly. Oh, and the Amish. They're so quaint and I just love their furnishings. It's so authentic.
Facebook already uses facial recognition software to tag individual people in photos. Apple’s new app, Clips, recognizes individuals in the videos you take. Snap’s famous selfie filters work by mapping detailed points on individual users’ faces. (Snap says on its website that its technology doesn’t take the additional step of recognizing the faces it maps.) That’s similar to how software by the Chinese startup Face++ works. Its software maps dozens of points on a person’s face, then stores the data it collects. The idea is to be able to use facial recognition systems for keyless entry to office buildings and apartment complexes, for example. Jie Tang, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, described to MIT Technology Review how he uses his faceprint to pay for meals: “Not only can he pay for things this way, he says, but the staff in some coffee shops are now alerted by a facial recognition system when he walks in,” and they greet him by name.
(This is an extended family life update, but the same caution applies.)
This morning I took my niece Emily Cassell to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead which is south of Jamul, literally at the border, about a 45 minute drive down the 94. The old, rusted panels of the border fence are just a stone's throw away. Emily is an amazing athlete (and a scholar as well, but that's another story) and I have few doubts that she'll make record time on the trail. Tomorrow morning I'm picking up her dad, the famous law professor Paul Cassell, and dropping him off about 10 miles north of there where he'll join his daughter for a day.
But that's not what's provoked me to write this post. On the way back home, I stopped at the Border Patrol checkpoint and got pulled out for a drug search after their dog evidently alerted at my truck. Or maybe the newfangled photo thingy they have didn't like the algorithmic look of me. I was in the regular vehicle line, expecting to be waved through, when the tallish and serious under a veneer of jocularity seeming guard starting asking me questions. Meanwhile, a female officer and her dog were sniffing around my truck. I have not ever smoked or transported weed -- that's marijuana to you non-baby boomers -- in the truck, much as I would have liked to, were it legal, which it is not, at least as far as I can tell. They don't sell it at the 7-11. That's when I think the dog alerted.
After that I was directed to pull out of line and wait for them to take a closer look. I was asked to exit my vehicle, and I was peppered with sort of friendly questions. "Do you smoke weed?" Not that it was any of his business, but I said no. All of the witty answers I have now sort of fled my mind. "So your daughter is hiking the trail, huh?" "No, my niece." "You don't come this way often." "No, I was just dropping her off." "Is she going all the way to way to Whatchamacallit Springs?"(I look stupidly at the officer; I don't know what he's talking about.) "Uh, no, she's going all the way to, to, Washington, if she doesn't get slowed down by the snow . . . " In the meantime, the female officer and the young drug dog, who seemed to be having a great time, had opened my doors and hopped into my truck, literally sniffing around. My truck is not notably clean in the normal sense of the word.
Earlier I was asked "You don't mind if we give you vehicle a quick search do you?" I automatically said, "Sure, go ahead," which would have been stupid in any other context, but here, just perhaps 10 miles north of the border, La Migra has extraordinary search powers, I thought. Did they think they had probable cause? No, I guess, or they wouldn't have asked. I don't have anything to hide, at least nothing involving drugs, but mistakes happen. So I just said yes, doing the easy thing. "So where did you drop your daughter off?" "At the trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail, and she's my niece." I got the definite feeling they were trying to confuse me. "What, at Barona?" --or someplace. Now the female officer, who looked like she ran and kickboxed in her spare time, had joined in. "You know, the one right by the border. It's like a stone throw away.""There are several," she said, completely incorrectly and daring me to correct her. I didn't.
Anyway, they finally let me go. The whole experience left me feeling rattled, grateful for my freedom, curious about the female officer, annoyed at the drug dog, vaguely outraged at the intrusion, and oddly exhilarated and pissed off at the same time. I forgot to mention, yes, I am an American citizen. They asked me that too.
The other startling result was how many such men there were. In 10 different studies undertaken between 1985 and 1998, between 6 per cent and 14.9 per cent of male college students (who made up the majority of respondents) admitted to rape or attempted rape, and roughly half of this number had done so repeatedly. These studies relied on a standard questionnaire, the Sexual Experiences Survey, where the phrase ‘without their consent’ (or its equivalent) appeared in every question used to determine whether a man was a rapist. All such questions referred to vaginal, anal or oral sex. Furthermore, in personal interviews, men who admitted to non-consensual sex made no attempt to claim that there had been a misunderstanding. They knew their victims were unwilling. They were just terrifyingly bad at making the connection between non-consensual sex and rape.
What such studies discovered about the character of these men was less startling. Were rapists less empathetic than other men? Unsurprisingly, yes. Were rapists more self-centred and manipulative? To no one’s amazement, yes. Did rapists have negative attitudes towards women? Unastonishingly, also yes. On all these parameters, the difference between rapists and non-rapists was small but significant. The conclusion seemed to be that rapists weren’t monsters, totally distinct from normal men, but did tend to be (to use layman’s terms) misogynist arseholes. Again, this was not earth-shattering news.
It’s also not good news. If relatively common levels of callousness, selfishness and sexism can turn a man into a rapist, the problem seems insoluble. We might conceivably end sexism, but people have been trying to root out callousness and selfishness for thousands of years with no noticeable success.
I think I basically agree with this article. I would but the number at about 5 percent of men, a little lower than the low of 6 in the studies. This is based on my deeply insightful gut feeling. I like to think it's less than 10 percent. This 5 to 10 percent are essentially sociopaths, unempathetic, manipulative and without basic morals. Complete assholes, basically. Strangely, more men than women. But hey, this also means 9 out of 10 are not. And it's probably more like 95 out of 100.
A broad national consensus is developing that health care is indeed a right. This is historically new. And it carries immense implications for the future. It suggests that we may be heading inexorably to a government-run, single-payer system. It’s what Barack Obama once admitted he would have preferred but didn’t think the country was ready for. It may be ready now.
As Obamacare continues to unravel, it won’t take much for Democrats to abandon that Rube Goldberg wreckage and go for the simplicity and the universality of Medicare-for-all. Republicans will have one last chance to try to convince the country to remain with a market-based system, preferably one encompassing all the provisions that, for procedural reasons, had been left out of their latest proposal.
Don’t be surprised, however, if, in the end, single-payer wins out. Indeed, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Donald Trump, reading the zeitgeist, pulls the greatest 180 since Disraeli dished the Whigs in 1867 (by radically expanding the franchise) and joins the single-payer side.
Talk about disruption? About kicking over the furniture? That would be an American Krakatoa.
It would represent a kind of equilibrium, where are our aspirations came to match the illusion of our competencies. It wouldn't lead to better health care, or longer lives, or better people, but it would give us the feeling that we were striving for all those things, not in the best way we know how, but in the best way that could be taken maximum advantage of by nearly everyone in the business of selling ideas about what we should do to those of us who spend most of the time thinking about other things. At least it's not the worst outcome; pretty bad, but not the worst.
Authors of a new paper suggest that T-Rex and other tyrannosaurs had sensitive skin on their noses they used to better explore their surroundings as well as their lovers' bodies, The Guardian reports.
I have nothing against animals enjoying their lives including foreplay. But this strikes me as having more to do with scientists being sensitive to what will get their research publicity than it does with terror-lizards getting their jollies.
Trumpism is in crisis.
This isn’t a function of poll numbers, or the Russia controversy, or any other melodrama of the past three months, but something more fundamental: No officeholder in Washington seems to understand President Donald Trump’s populism or have a cogent theory of how to effect it in practice, including the president himself.