Stacey Morris: This Is The Fat Girl's Dilemma 2014-04-20
I get mail all the time from people wanting to know how I dropped nearly 200 pounds and kept it off. Understandably, they want answers so they can apply the same techniques to their own lives. Most expect a prescription that involves me telling them what to eat. They want details on calorie ranges, protein-carb ratios, daily fat gram allotments, etc.
Instead, and in the interest of being true to my story and how I did it, I begin by telling them what NOT to eat. And it has nothing to do with food. My healing began in earnest when I decided one day, circa the year I turned 40, that I would no longer be the willing recipient of crap. That's right: No more eating it. As a fat kid turned obese adult with a crippling desire to be accepted, I'd been on a steady diet of it for decades, and I'd had enough.
You see, it was the ingestion of cutting remarks, judgmental glances, and outright insults that were really responsible for the weight. The potato chip binges were just a means to quelling my rage and salving my hurt feelings. What was really responsible for the pounds piling on was me accepting mistreatment from others and pretending to be OK with it.
Sure, it hurt when a stranger was mean to me simply because they didn't approve of the way I looked. But what injured me to the core is when the vitriol came from members of my inner circle, or as some of them liked to call themselves... "my friends."
I qualify with quotations because I finally broke through the wall of denial and woke up to the fact that anyone who claimed to love me and care for me would not deliberately insult or hurt me. I can hear some of you gearing up your battle cry for the "What about the health issues?" argument, but let's get real. If health were a valid concern, you'd also be badgering your friends who smoke, drink immoderately, go on spending binges, and I never saw that happen. I only heard these sanctimonious types recite grave would-be statistics, like me being at risk for high-blood pressure, diabetes, and an early grave if I didn't do something about my weight NOW... and by the way, how's your latest diet going?
I'm not denying health risks can be a factor, but I also had to go with my gut every time a lecture or chilly remark came my way, because they were delivered with an unmistakable cloud of antipathy, and not empathy. It became my normal, and because it started so early I didn't question it when it happened.
School years were the genesis, with mean girls who lacked emotional maturity laughing and shouting names at me. Sometimes, when my close friends were in a random mood to lash out, who was the easiest target? If you guessed the fat girl, you'd be absolutely correct.
Anyone else out there familiar with The Fat Girl Drill? You're part of a demographic that's universally looked down on, so run for cover. Compounding the emotional Molotov cocktail is the perception that the fat girl deserves the crap storm because it's her fault she's fat in the first place. Just stop overeating and go on a diet... any idiot can figure that one out. Actually that's largely untrue. If a diet were what I needed, the first one would have worked and I wouldn't be writing this blog.
The true healing of an emotional eater takes years. No one wants to hear that, but it's the truth. And when I realized I could diet no more forever, I started to heal the things that really mattered. Like friendships. Since you don't have to be Freud to figure out that the quality of your relationships sing volumes about who you are and how you view yourself, I got to work.
Out went the phony friends whose primary reason for being in my proximity was to look down on me. Yes Virginia, there are quite a few emotionally-stunted people out there who enjoy the company of those in compromised situations in order to feel unblemished and superior. I fired those friends, one by one. Some evacuated of their own accord when it became clear I'd no longer be dining on their well-meaning crap casseroles they delivered in such a pseudo-caring manner to my door. Others straightened up and decided to fly right, and they were allowed to stay. And the newfound confidence meant an influx of wonderful new friends, who didn't care if I was 330 pounds or 130 pounds.
As I was digging through old photos the other day I came across one of me and my friend Stan. He loved and accepted me exactly where I was. He saw and embraced all of my qualities: a great listener with a fabulous sense of humor; also a passionate writer, who is sensitive, impatient, intelligent, and fat. And that's a problem because...? If you cross someone off your list of potential friends because of their weight, please get into therapy, or return to it. You've got some work to do.
With Stan, I never felt apologetic or shameful of who I was. And I NEEDED this. My soul needed it, and so did the broken and betrayed heart of the little girl who just wanted to feel accepted. I needed a friend like Stan far more than I needed to count calories and fat grams. It was a phase that was absolutely crucial to my healing and emotional evolution. And of course, it had to precede any physical healing.
Take a look at the photo of the two of us and how he's looking at me. At that moment in time, what would you say I needed more: a boot camp DVD complete with seven-day food plan, or the simple resonant feeling of being loved?
Arianna Huffington: Sunday Roundup 2014-04-20
This week began the way so many do: with more tragic gun violence, as three people were killed in two shootings at Jewish centers in the Kansas City area, part of the 86 killed by guns in the U.S. every day. "We are united in our condemnation of this heinous attack," said Attorney General Holder. "These acts cannot be ignored." And yet, one year ago this month, the Senate rejected even a modest background check bill, despite the support of 90 percent of Americans. In the wake of the Kansas shootings, Michael Bloomberg's $50 million gun control effort, "Everytown for Gun Safety," unveiled its first ad. We "have another chance to stop a child from being killed," it said. We do, but only if we refuse to lower our expectations. As Gabriel García Márquez, who died on Thursday, wrote, "It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams."
Umar Lee: Why Progressives Should Think Twice About Embracing Uber And Lyft 2014-04-19
Since 2005 it has been my pleasure to be a cab driver in my hometown of St. Louis. On a daily basis I get to see all parts of St. Louis City, St. Louis County and often the Metro-East and beyond. While I love my job there are also many challenges. I've had to deal with attempted robberies, people throwing up in my cab, urinating in the cab, fighting in the backseat, inappropriate sexual behavior in the backseat, people who jump out and run, passengers who have tried to fight me, and almost anything else you can think of. Still, I love my job.
What do I love? I love meeting new people every day and hearing their stories. There are some passengers I've been picking up for years and by now they know my kids' names and I know their kids' names. There have been passengers I became friends with and others I have counseled through divorces and deaths in the family. When my ex-wife and I divorced, I told my passengers even before I told my family. These relationships, and the thrill of seeing the look on the faces of my passengers when they see the Arch, Old Courthouse or Central Library for the first time, makes all the hard times worth it. We get them all. One day I picked up former St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan and dropped him off at Busch Stadium and my next passenger was a homeless guy out of the New Life Evangelistic Center. The full microcosm of society.
What Uber and Lyft Do and How They Damage the Profession
Uber and Lyft may sound like a good idea and may sound "progressive." They probably sound the best to people who know the least about cabs. We can start with the knowledge that St. Louis has a long history of cab companies. Some still operating and many who have went away. There are many professional cabbies who have been driving for decades. For cabbies to earn a decent living there has to be proper regulation of the industry. Too few cabs and the public isn't served and too many and drivers can't make decent money. St. Louis has done a pretty good job at regulating the industry through the Metropolitan Taxi Commission. Not perfect by a long shot; but one of the better regulatory bodies by national standards.
Driving a cab in St. Louis is a job that has allowed drivers to buy homes, raise families and send their children to college. Its not a plaything for me. I work six or seven days a week on this job (usually 10-12 hours a day) and that's the money I use to support my children and pay my bills. While business in the fall, winter and spring is brisk, for the most part come summer time business grinds to a halt. Drivers barely make it in the summer time and there is little margin for error. With Uber and Lyft appearing on the scene that margin of error may be wiped away, drivers may lose their jobs, tuition may not get paid, the lights may go out, the gas may get cut off, evictions can happen, and marriages and relationships may crumble. Its that serious.
St. Louis is already a city that has lost so many good-paying blue-collar jobs. America has become a nation of haves and have-nots and St. Louis is no different. Gone are the days when you could walk up and down Broadway or Hall Street and find good-paying jobs with ease to feed your families. Good jobs are scarce in this city for the working-class and driving a cab is one of those good jobs. Lyft and Uber are part of the Walmartization of America. Part-time workers earning fast-food wages. These drivers are in a very real sense akin to scab workers, and like the companies they drive for, represent regression and not progression.
There is nothing progressive about lowering earnings for working-class people, nor is there anything progressive about undercutting labor costs to the point workers are driven into poverty and homelessness. It's a game as old as the laborers in the days of the Bible and as recent as those sweating in the mines of Western and Southern Africa. Play the working class against one another for the benefit of the wealthy who seek to be served no matter the human cost.
Who Catches Cabs
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about who actually catches cabs. In a city with the "Delmar Divide," where black and white don't mix as much as we should and the poor and the rich mix even less, people tend to not know a lot about each others lives.
Most of the people who catch cabs in St. Louis are not hipsters, or yuppies or business people or college students. They're not out drinking and partying. No, the bulk of our passengers are the elderly and the working poor. People who catch cabs to and from work every day. Those who take cabs from the grocery store or to the doctor's office. Sunday is Easter and without a doubt I will be taking people to church and to their families homes to celebrate, There are others who we pick up from the emergency rooms of hospitals, rescue from domestic violence taking them to shelters or pick up from the Ronald McDonald house for sick children. No tips and usually not that much money.
We can afford to do that because come Thursday night we get the college kids from Washington University and St. Louis University and on Friday and Saturday night we are both delivering and picking up those enjoying the nightlife of St, Louis. That's where we are able to make serious money. Take that away and we lose drivers -- and losing drivers will hurt the poor and working-class people who need cabs the most. Lyft and Uber are not designed to serve the poor and working-class populations in the St. Louis area. It's an elitist concept for an elite crowd. But rest assured its casualties will be in deep south city, north city and north county. Problems With St. Louis Cab Service
No business or business-model is perfect. People aren't perfect and from time to time we all may need a little rejuvenation. There are certainly things cab companies and drivers can do to improve the industry. There are also things that have already been done like the "STL Taxi" and "Taxi Magic" apps to order legal cabs in St. Louis.
However, allow me to share how customers can be proactive in improving their experience. Since Uber and Lyft are designed to serve the hipster population let me share with you some of the problems hipsters seem to have with catching cabs:
Making time-orders and then still coming out late or not coming out at all
Calling from high-rise apartment buildings and not waiting in the lobby forcing drivers to double-park and block traffic
Calling for a cab from a bar and then just hopping into the first cab you see regardless as to whether its your cab or not
Getting into unlicensed cabs and then complaining you got screwed
On the driver's part, if you are displeased with any licensed driver or have a complaint, you can call the company or the MTC. There are safeguards in place to protect passengers.
Hipsters and a Just Society
To call a spade a spade, Lyft and Uber aren't coming to serve good ol' St. Louis Hoosiers or North St. Louis. Nope, they are coming by invitation and for the hipster population (and to a lesser extent business people and college students). Hence they kicked off at Nebula (the center of hipster thought in St. Louis).
So, now, let me use this time to call out hipsters and ask: What kind of a society do you want to live in? Do you favor the right-wing economics of the GOP or do you favor a more humane and just society? Hipsters are mostly associated with the left and being progressive. But with a closer look you could very well come to a different conclusion. Of course there are many brilliant and progressive folks in the hipster population who do much good, but still these questions need to be asked.
If you're supporting the decimation of good working-class jobs you can't make a very good claim of being progressive. Uber and Lyft are conservative economic ideas. Over the last several years, I've heard several young hipsters tell my they're socially-liberal and economic-conservatives, a popular trend in American politics. Well, I hate to break it to you buddy, but it's economics and the role of the state that defines politics. If you're an economic conservative, despite how ironic and sarcastic you may be or how tight your jeans are, you, my friend, are a conservative.
However, there is something even worse. If you believe the resources of the state should be used to help the affluent and disenfranchise the poor, which often happens during gentrification, that puts you in a category that conjures up some very nasty images from the 20th century.
Some will look from the outside and say hipsters succeed because of three things: government aid, racial solidarity and class solidarity. If I were a hipster, I would be looking to counter that image. I would be looking to hire African-Americans in bars and restaurants opening up in heavily black areas and let it be known those in the neighborhoods will be the first to be hired. Yet, that is not the case. These bars and restaurants open in black neighborhoods with high unemployment rates and the staffs are either all-white or nearly all-white and not from the neighborhood. St. Louis cabbies are mostly minorities; but I am willing to wager most Lyft and Uber drivers won't be. This is an issue the local NAACP, Black Clergy Coalition and Urban League needs to take up for this reason.
There is nothing progressive about moving into black neighborhoods. The term "settler" and "pioneer" are hardly progressive. St. Louis was a Native American neighborhood when the Europeans arrived and that didn't turn out to be very progressive. If moving into black neighborhoods made one a progressive surely the likes of Cecil Rhodes, the Belgians employed by King Leopold in the Congo and the Afrikaans of South Africa would be seen as the most progressive people ever. If being a settler and pioneer was such a beautiful thing, Israel wouldn't need to keep over 100,000 troops in the West Bank. It's what you do when you move in. Do you move in as brothers and sisters or do you move in as conquerors? Do you come to work with the local population or do you come to eradicate the local population?
Gentrification fueled by hipsters is in its early stages in St. Louis. You have a choice: do you want to repeat the methods that have brutalized the poor and working-class in cities like New York, DC and San Francisco -- or do you want to be true leaders and trailblazers in St. Louis and advocate for a just society? Saying no to Lyft and Uber and yes to good-paying working-class jobs will be a step in the right direction and a show of good faith.
The media also has a role. While hipsters may be few in numbers, they have a stranglehold over conversations about St. Louis in the media (particularly in public media). Their side tends to be the only side to get air or ink. So, I ask the local media to be fair and just and cover both sides of this issue.
Solidarity With Labor and Show-Me 15 and Mayor Slay
Lyft and Uber come at a time of great turmoil for the working-class in St. Louis. Republican lawmakers (who I'm sure would love Lyft as Lyft has hired GOP lobbyists before) are trying to make Missouri a right-to-work state. In other words, they're trying to get rid of unions in Missouri and make our state more equivalent to Mississippi or Arkansas in terms of worker's rights.This was tried in the 1970s and failed miserably. Those were different times though. That was a Democratic Party committed to the poor and working-class. Many Democratic voters today think being progressive is about watching Stephen Colbert and eating from Whole Foods (owned by a right-winger, by the way) and are not concerned with issues like right-to-work. Yet there are many who are fighting on behalf of the people. As St. Louis cabbies we must stand with them because Lyft and Uber come in the same spirit as right-to-work. We must also support the Show Me 15 campaign organized by fast-food workers in St. Louis. Lyft and Uber want to drive down our earnings and McDonald's and Burger King are seeking to do the same with their workers. Working-class solidarity between professions.
In closing, I would like to thank St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who has been supportive of St. Louis cabbies and the MTC. Today more than ever I am happy I voted for Mayor Slay and worked for his re-election and consider him a friend to cabbies and a great mayor (now don't let me down).
Umar Lee is a full-time cabbie, father of two, and author of crime-fiction novels. He writes a blog at: umarlee.wordpress.com
Vivek Wadhwa: The Rise Of Big Data Brings Tremendous Possibilities And Frightening Perils 2014-04-19
Debates are raging about whether big data still holds the promise that was expected or whether it was just a big bust. The failure of the much-hyped Google Flu Trends to accurately predict peak flu levels since August 2011 has heightened the concerns.
In my mind, there is no doubt that data analytics will one day help to improve health care and crime detection, design better products, and improve traffic patterns and agricultural yields. My concern is about how we will one day use all the data we are gathering -- and the skeletons it will uncover. Think about how DNA technology is being used to free people who were wrongfully imprisoned decades ago. Imagine what supercomputers of the future will be able to do with the data that present-day data gatherers haven't yet learned to use.
Over the centuries, we gathered data on things such as climate, demographics, and business and government transactions. Our farmers kept track of the weather so that they would know when to grow their crops; we had land records so that we could own property; and we developed phone books so that we could find people. About 15 years ago we started creating Web pages on the Internet. Interested parties started collecting data about what news we read, where we shopped, what sites we surfed, what music we listened to, what movies we watched, and where we traveled to. With the advent of LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and many other social-media tools, we began to volunteer private information about our work history and social and business contacts and what we like -- our food, entertainment, even our sexual preferences and spiritual values.
Today, data are accumulating at exponentially increasing rates. There are more than 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and even more video is being collected worldwide through the surveillance cameras that you see everywhere. Mobile-phone apps are keeping track of our every movement: everywhere we go; how fast we move; what time we wake. Soon, devices that we wear or that are built into our smartphones will monitor our body's functioning; our sequenced DNA will reveal the software recipe for our physical body.
The NSA has been mining our phone metadata and occasionally listening in; marketers are correlating information about our gender, age, education, location, and socioeconomic status and using this to sell more to us; and politicians are fine-tuning their campaigns.
This is baby stuff compared to what lies ahead. The available tools for analyzing data are still crude; there are very few good data scientists; and companies such as Google still haven't figured out what is the best data to analyze. This will surely change rapidly as artificial-intelligence technologies evolve and computers become more powerful and connected. We will be able to analyze all data we have collected from the beginning of time -- as if we were entering a data time machine.
We will be revisiting crime cases from the past, re-auditing tax returns, tracking down corruption, and learning who were the real heroes and villains. An artificially intelligent cybercop scanning all the camera data that were gathered, as well as phone records, e-mails, bank-account and credit-card data, and medical data on everyone in a city or a country, will instantly solve a crime better than Sherlock Holmes could. Our grandchildren will know of the sins we committed; Junior may wonder why grandpa was unfaithful to grandma.
What is scary is that we will lose our privacy, opening the door to new types of crime and fraud. Governments and employers will gain more control over us, and have corporations reap greater profits from the information that we innocently handed over to them. More data and more computing will mean more money and power. Look at the advantage that bankers on Wall Street have already gained with high-frequency trading and how they are skimming billions of dollars from our financial system.
We surely need stronger laws and technology protections. And we need to be aware of the perils. We must also realize that with our misdeeds, there will be nowhere to hide -- not even in our past.
There are many opportunities in this new age of data.
Consider what becomes possible if we correlate information about a person's genome, lifestyle habits, and location with their medical history and the medications they take. We could understand the true effectiveness of drugs and their side effects. This would change the way drugs are tested and prescribed. And then, when genome data become available for hundreds of millions of people, we could discover the links between disease and DNA to prescribe personalized medications -- tailored to an individual's DNA. We are talking about a revolution in health and medicine.
In schools, classes are usually so large that the teacher does not get to know the student -- particularly the child's other classes, habits, and development through the years. What if a digital tutor could keep track of a child's progress and learn his or her likes and dislikes, teaching-style preferences, and intellectual strengths and weaknesses? Using data gathered by digital learning devices, test scores, attendance, and habits, the teacher could be informed of which students to focus on, what to emphasize, and how best to teach an individual child. This could change the education system itself.
Combine the data that are available on a person's shopping habits with knowledge of their social preferences, health, and location. We could have shopping assistants and personal designers creating new products including clothing that are 3D-printed or custom-manufactured for the individual. An artificial intelligence based digital assistant could anticipate what a person wants to wear or to eat and have it ready for them.
All of these scenarios will become possible, as will thousands of other applications of data in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and other fields. The only question is how fast will we get there -- and what new nightmares we will create.
Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke's engineering school and distinguished scholar at Singularity and Emory universities. His past appointments include Harvard Law School and University of California Berkeley.
This post first appeared in the Washington Post.
Diane Dimond: The Us Prison System Needs A Total Overhaul 2014-04-19
"We have embraced the idea that being mentally sick is a crime."
It is way past time to overhaul the U.S. prison system.
I'm not talking about a little tweak here and there. I'm talking about throwing a massive metaphorical hand grenade into the entire system and starting over from scratch. We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing the system to have morphed into what it has.
Why should you care about this? Well, because you're paying for it. Between states and the federal government the U.S. spends about $74 billion a year housing, feeding, providing health care (such as it is in prison) for inmates and supervising the newly released.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2012 there were nearly 7 million Americans under the supervision of adult correctional systems. Translated: one in every 108 adults in the United States was incarcerated, a per-capita world record. The problem, as I see it, centers on who we are locking up. The Washington Post reports that only one percent of them are in for murder. Four percent are serving time for robbery. The most serious charge against 51 percent of them is a drug offense.
But here is the most startling, heart-wrenching statistic of them all. According to a Justice Department study more than half of the prisoners in the U.S. suffer from a bona fide mental illness. Among female inmates, about three-quarters have a diagnosable mental disorder.
Why in the world are we locking up the mentally ill in the same place we house violent and predatory criminals? The answer is simple. Because there is nowhere else to put the "crazy people," so we put them in jail after they act out. Many times their families have spent years begging for mental health care for their disturbed loved one to no avail. And sometimes, the "crazy people" deliberately commit crimes knowing they will be housed, fed and minimally medicated in lockup.
Back in the mid-'50s, psychotropic drugs like Thorazine were found to be so successful in quelling mental patient's delusions and agitation that within a decade society decided it was cruel to continue to institutionalize them. The abuse of patients and unsanitary conditions found at some mental hospitals were ascribed to all such institutions so we closed them down. Patients were given a prescription for their meds and told they were "free." No one seemed to notice that the planned community mental health centers never materialized and when one of these former patients had a problem there were very few places they could go for help.
The pattern continues to this day. There are simply not enough mental health beds to service everyone who needs help. Today, commitment is difficult and, sadly, we have to wait for the mentally ill to actually commit a crime before the state steps in. In the last few years, many of America's mass murders were committed by untreated mentally ill people who should have been in a mental health care facility -- for their protection and for ours.
It's ironic, isn't it? The very society that once agreed it was unjust to lock people up in mental hospitals now allows the mentally disturbed to be locked up in much more dangerous jails and prisons.
We have turned our backs on these folks and our prisons have become de facto psychiatric facilities. We have decided that these are throwaway human beings and embrace the idea that being mentally sick is a crime. Our children and grandchildren are going to look back and wonder what was wrong with us.
I could fill this entire page with quotes from wardens describing the horror of what happens to sufferers of schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and other mental illnesses once they enter prison. But the ugly truth is that some of those same wardens employ practices that are, literally, creating even more disturbed individuals.
The widespread use of solitary confinement in prisons has been shown to have a tremendously negative effect. Mostly because inmates -- be they habitually violent, in danger from other prisoners or simply a rule breaker -- are often held for months and even years in isolation. You know what being locked up, alone, for years at a time does to the human mind?
According to Dr. Stuart Grassian, a veteran psychiatrist from Harvard who is considered an expert on the effects of solitary confinement, prolonged seclusion only leads inmates to exhibit more impulsive and violent behavior.
"Ninety-five percent of these people will get out and be released back on the streets," Grassian said on a National Geographic documentary. "All isolation will have done is make them as violent, crazy and dangerous as possible when they get out."
So how long does the system continue doing what we know doesn't work? When do the priorities shift away from warehousing chronic drug addicts with the hope that they will somehow cure themselves by their release date? When do we stop thinking it is morally defensible to house the mentally ill alongside career gang-bangers, rapists and killers? And, what will it take to convince prison administrators to reject the rage-filling practice of prolonged solitary confinement?
Look, I'm not advocating letting anyone out of prison. I'm suggesting its way past time to take a fresh look at revolutionary new ways to spend that $74 billion every year.
How about we start with a plan that separates the hardcore, habitual criminals from the mentally sick and persistently addicted? Keep the first group in a standard prison setting. Then, turn some of our prisons into psychiatric centers to help the more fragile inmates. The past confirms that an overwhelming majority of those who suffer from mental illness and addiction are not violent. They are lost souls who could possibly get their lives set straight if exposed to the right therapies and medications.
I'm embarrassed that we have adopted a toss-and-forget attitude about so many of our weakest citizens. Prison is not where they belong and it certainly isn't where they will ever learn to become contributing members of society again. By continuing our current policies we insure only one thing: America's per-capita standing as the world's number one jailer.
Visit Diane Dimond's official website at www.dianedimond.com. You can reach her here: Diane@DianeDimond.com. Diane is active on Facebook and Twitter @DiDimond
Joan Feigenbaum: Is Data Hoarding Necessary For Lawful Surveillance? 2014-04-19
The NSA's mass surveillance activities, including the collection of billions of U.S. cell phone records every day, have sparked vigorous debate about whether such surveillance is legal, consistent with democratic principles, or effective in catching the terrorists it ostensibly targets. One essential question has received little attention, however: Is amassing mountains of privacy-sensitive "metadata" technically necessary for effective, lawful electronic tracking and surveillance of legitimate targets?
The answer is emphatically no. Well understood cryptographic techniques can enable lawful intercept and surveillance without the creation of centralized hoards of personal information. This is not a geeky footnote in the mass surveillance saga. Such hoards are dangerous as well as unnecessary; they could be leaked or sold to a foreign state or criminal gang by a future, more venal incarnation of Edward Snowden.
The FBI is already adept at catching criminals without hoarding the cell phone metadata of all Americans. The High Country Bandits were two men who robbed 16 rural banks in Arizona and Colorado before being caught. After one bandit was observed using a cell phone near a robbery site, the FBI obtained cell tower dumps -- records from cellular providers listing all cell phones that had electronically "checked in" around the locations and times of three past robberies. This request yielded three sets of phone numbers, one from each cell tower, containing approximately 150,000 numbers in total. However, only one phone number appeared in the intersection of these sets, i.e., in all three: that of the phone one bandit had carried during the robberies. The bandit need not have made any calls; his phone merely needed to have been powered on and communicating with the cell towers.
In computer security, this is known as an intersection attack, with the FBI in this case playing the role of "attacker." Intersection attacks are a powerful, general, and in this case effective method of answering questions of the form, "What is common to several large heaps of otherwise meaningless-looking data?"
Intersection attacks are also evidently the foundation of the NSA's CO-TRAVELER program. To find unknown associates of a known target, the NSA collects cell tower dumps of all users carrying cell phones near the target at different locations and times. The NSA then identifies previously unknown cell phone numbers common to several of these sets, representing people who may be "traveling with" the target. Although the U.S. government has offered scant evidence of this claim, let us assume for the sake of argument that location-tracking methods like CO-TRAVELER are effective at catching terrorists.
The FBI did not need to hoard the cell phone records of all Americans to catch the High Country Bandits, but they still swept 149,999 other phone numbers into their intersection attack: numbers probably belonging to innocent people who happened to be in the vicinity of one robbery site but not all three. Did the FBI immediately delete the rest of these phone numbers, or were they stashed for possible use in future investigations? Part of the widespread opposition to New York City's "stop-and-frisk" regime was the NYPD's policy of retaining the names, addresses, and descriptions of people who had been stopped, frisked, determined to be doing nothing illegal, and released without ever having been arrested, much less convicted of a crime. Should the FBI need to do the equivalent of a retroactive "stop and frisk" of 149,999 innocent cell phone users, gathering their phone numbers and potentially storing them forever to use in ways yet to be determined, in the process of catching one pair of bandits? Even if the FBI were to declare a policy of deleting data incidentally collected on users not under suspicion, must Americans simply trust that every FBI agent will follow this policy faithfully?
The answer is still no. Modern cryptography has moved far beyond merely encrypting and decrypting data. We can now perform many computations on encrypted data, while keeping it encrypted and unknown to the parties performing the computation. For example, we have efficient methods for privacy-preserving set intersection, which start with several sets of encrypted items, decrypt only the elements in the intersection, and leave items not in the intersection encrypted and unreadable by anyone. Thus, cell phone carriers could have stored cell tower data in encrypted form, used privacy-preserving set intersection, and delivered only the bandit's phone number to the FBI without disclosing the other 149,999 phone numbers to anyone. This may sound like magic, but it is merely an illustration of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke's maxim that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Like any technology, modern cryptography can be misused: for example, to conceal spy agencies' activities without accountability or privacy protection for innocent users. Proper uses should ensure that lawful electronic surveillance activities protect the innocent, are properly authorized and limited in scope, are subject to robust oversight, and follow transparent processes that the public can debate or challenge in court. With proper system design, adequately informed by both policy and technological capabilities, this combination of surveillance power and privacy safeguards is achievable with existing technology.
For example, cell phone carriers could encrypt their lawful intercept records so that neither the carriers themselves nor any single government agency can decrypt them. These records would be useless to malicious insiders at the carriers or hackers who might compromise the carriers' networks, mitigating one valid reason carriers don't want to hold this hot potato. Records could be "unlocked" only when independent agencies representing all three branches of government coordinate, e.g., when an intelligence agency electronically requests a warrant, a judge digitally signs it, and a legislative oversight agency digitally attests that the warrant has been tallied in statistics reported to Congress. This electronic coordination need not be slow; the process could occur within seconds of the judge's signing the warrant.
With privacy-preserving set intersection, an agency need not have a name or phone number to request a warrant. For example, the FBI could have issued a "John Doe" warrant merely listing the cell tower dumps of interest in the High Country Bandits case. The judge authorizing this warrant could limit its scope by specifying a threshold number of these dumps that a phone number must appear in before that phone number can be decrypted and revealed to the FBI. The judge could also specify the maximum number of phone numbers that the warrant may reveal. If, for example, the three requested cell tower dumps unexpectedly coincided with three Justin Bieber concerts, then the warrant might net the phone numbers of thousands of innocent regular teenage fans without yielding useful intelligence. In this case, the set-intersection process would abort without revealing any phone numbers, protecting the fans and requiring the FBI agent to request different cell tower dumps or otherwise narrow the search.
Recent breakthroughs may soon make it practical to perform any computation on encrypted data. Currently, the use of encrypted input data may impose some performance cost, but often such costs are not show stoppers for intelligence agencies following targeted leads. And the costs are falling: DARPA is funding a major effort in computing on encrypted data as part of its PROCEED program.
The NSA is a major employer of cryptographers and computer-security experts. If the US government had directed the agency to work with the broader security-research community on proper application of privacy-preserving technology for warrant-based surveillance, instead of directing it to hoard cell phone metadata of U.S. citizens, a giant and still-ongoing controversy might have been avoided. It is not too late to begin such a collaboration, but that window of opportunity may be closing.
Peter W. Wood: Bowdoin's Double Bogey 2014-04-19
A year ago I published What Does Bowdoin Teach? Or, more precisely, my co-author Michael Toscano and I posted a 376-page obsessively-detailed campus tour, subtitled How A Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students. Those reading at the leisurely pace of a page a day should be finished by now.
WDBT was not a great hit with Bowdoin's president, Barry Mills, or for that matter with most of the students and faculty members. Some were offended. Mr. Mills took it as a personal affront. Nearly all the faculty publicly ignored it. The college's official stand was, in Mills's words, that we "attacked" Bowdoin, and that the attack was "mean spirited" and "personal."
But while many pretended to stay within the circled wagons, we kept hearing from those who sneaked out at dark to say, "You got it right!" "Keep it up!" And, "You don't know the half of it!"
Then last week President Mills announced that he is resigning -- at least a year earlier than he had planned and with nothing lined up, though he says he is not retiring. Mills said he is leaving because of his "affection for the college," and the Bowdoin trustees' statement says Mills was doing "what he thinks best for our College." Both statements suggest a resignation under pressure, but it is hard to know what the source of that might have been. I have no reason to think that WDBT had anything to do with it. But I would like to think that Bowdoin's board did eventually get around to reading our study. If so, it might have wondered why Mills was so grimly determined not to pay it any heed.
If this is the first you've heard of this controversy, there are two things you should know: the golf story and the game plan. The golf story is this. In 2010, an affluent New York businessman played a round of golf with President Mills. A month later, Mills gave a speech in which he caricatured the businessman as a bad sport, and an ignorant, boorish, and racist conservative. Mills then published his speech. The businessman read it and responded with an elegant essay of his own in the pages of The Claremont Review of Books, deflecting Mills' taunts mostly by demonstration of keen intelligence and social sophistication.
Mills didn't come off looking good from this and was even more irritated when a group of students invited the businessman -- Tom Klingenstein -- to campus to debate.
Now the game plan. At Tom's invitation, I joined him on that trip. I'd debated people on political correctness and the excesses of campus activism many times before; Tom hadn't. He wanted back-up. As it happened, Mills called the student organizer of the event "a traitor" and refused to come. We ended up talking with an auditorium of Bowdoin students for a few hours. They stoutly defended Mills's main idea: that the college gave them a perfectly good education and they weren't missing anything of value.
Could that be true? I launched What Does Bowdoin Teach? as an effort to find out. But as I told Tom at the outset, poring over the details of a curriculum, academic requirements, faculty appointments, research foci, official documents, the rules of student life, and all the other minutiae of a contemporary college would likely result in a study drier than the Sahara.
And WDBT is indeed exactly that. We dressed it up with palm trees at the beginning. Bill Bennett contributed a foreword and Tom added a "letter to the alumni." And I put aside the Saharan sand long enough to write an "interpretive preface" that calls Bowdoin out on some of its more egregious educational missteps. But after that come hundreds of pages of finely-sifted detail on who teaches what and why. You can learn about the college's internal battles over student unpreparedness and whether to require a foreign language. You can watch the rise in honors projects and the decline in survey courses.
It ain't the stuff that would set the world on fire. Yet it did. At least the parts of the world I spend my working life paying attention to. The report became a big deal in conservative circles as the first and so far only meticulously documented account of how a liberal arts college lost its way. Or, maybe better put, lost its educational way and yet prospered in every other way. For Bowdoin is a raging success by many standards. It has an endowment of over $1 billion; US News & World Report last year elevated it to fourth in the nation among selective liberal arts colleges; its applicants far outnumber the students it admits; it pays its faculty handsomely; and to the extent anyone can tell, its recent alumni do fine.
With that kind of record you might think Bowdoin could have smiled indulgently at our study and thanked us for our eccentric interest in obscure details of old catalogs, minutes of faculty meetings, and long-forgotten speeches. But instead Bowdoin went into full-scale alarm. We truly did touch a nerve. The interesting question is, "Which nerve?" Proposed study: Why Did Bowdoin Panic?
Part of the answer lies in how the report was received elsewhere. I've heard from faculty members and college administrators across the country who reacted, "This could just as easily have been written about us." Bowdoin felt singled out and its guilty response to much of what we said was a version of, "Why pick on us? Everybody does it."
That, of course, is the complaint of the driver pulled over for speeding. But it was exactly our point. We said that, for us, Bowdoin was only an example: small enough to study in depth, wealthy enough to fully realize its dreams of what a liberal arts college should do. What we hit upon, quite unexpectedly is that, at some level, Bowdoin has a bad conscience. It knows that it has made some wrong turns but it doesn't like hearing that from a stranger. Nor does it know how to get back on track.
This is American higher education today: an angry driver, lost and confused but too proud to stop and ask directions. "I'm not lost! I know exactly where I'm going!" And to prove it, that angry driver speeds up and zips past the next exit.
Bowdoin's confusions are too many to drop into a single final paragraph. They range from a truly chaotic curriculum; an overestimation of what students -- even very bright students -- know when they first arrive on campus; a series of hard-to-undo judgments that unbalanced the faculty in favor of highly-specialized researchers; a smothering embrace of identity politics; the elevation of political piety over intellectual freedom; a distaste for America's political traditions; and an over-the-top sexualization of campus life. These are interwoven in some surprising ways. I'll explain that in some further posts.
Zach Wasser: Nba Eastern Conference Playoff Preview 2014-04-19
Before the start of the season and even through the first quarter of games played, the outcome of the Eastern Conference playoffs seemed predetermined: the Indiana Pacers would square off against the Miami Heat for a spot in the NBA Finals. Now, with the Pacers in rapid decline and the Heat sliding not far behind, anything seems possible. Check that: almost anything (sorry, Charlotte). With hopes of early upsets, here are my picks for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
#1 Indiana Pacers vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks have a better offense than the Pacers? Yes, yes they do.
Atlanta used that somehow-superior offense to embarrass the Pacers on April 6th, beating them by 19.
I'm hard-pressed to pick an eighth seed over a one -- especially this eighth seed, a team that lost it's best player, Al Horford, in December to a torn pectoral muscle and whose own general manager, Danny Ferry, said that he didn't care if the team made the playoffs or not.
That being said, the Hawks do pose a matchup problem for the Pacers -- specifically Roy Hibbert's inability to guard center-ish Hawks big man, Pero Antic. I'm not completely comfortable pegging this thirty-something year-old Macedonian rookie as a potential "difference maker" in this series, but Pero has torched the Pacers this year.
With Roy reluctant to meet him on the perimeter, Pero shot a staggering 72 percent from the field, 60 percent behind the arc and averaged 17 points per game in two Hawks wins this season against the Pacers. This is an admittedly small sample size and could definitely just be an aberration. For the season, Pero averaged 7 points and shot a pedestrian 41.8 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from long range. But I like this guy -- I'm not sure why.
Since the NBA changed its first round series from five to seven games in 2003, three eighth seeds have upset the top dog in the first round: Don Nelson's Warriors over Dirk and the Mavs in 2007, Grizzlies over Spurs in 2011 and Philadelphia over a Rose-less Bulls team in 2012.
Of those three upsets, I think this Pacers-Hawks matchup most resembles that 2007 Mavericks-Warriors series. The Pacers, like the Mavs of yesteryear, have a yet-unproven star (Paul George and Dirk respectively). Of course Dirk was much more accomplished in 2007 than George is now, since Dirk actually won the MVP award in '07 while George was merely an early season third-place candidate for the award at best.
But my point is that George is not a reliable star (don't forget Dirk choked the year before in the Finals after going up 2-0 against the Heat and then followed that up with a subpar postseason series against the Warriors in which the Mavericks were the first one seed to lose to an eighth seed since the first round changed to seven games).
And just as the Hawks stretch the Pacers out -- drawing Hibbert and David West out of the paint to guard Pero and Paul Millsap on the perimeter -- so too did the Mavs face a match-up nightmare in Golden State. The 2007 Warriors, coached by Don Nelson, were ahead of their time. Nelson favored smaller, quicker lineups, shunning the conventional wisdom that any good team had to feature a back-to-the-basket big. Nelson encouraged his players to take the first good look they had which led to a lot of field goal attempts early in the shot clock often from downtown.
Of course, this Hawks team lacks the swagger (what's a good synonym for swagger? I'm not a fan) which defined that 2007 Warrior team - a group of players that no other team wanted and who were brought together by Nelson, the mad scientist, who encouraged them to be their purest and baddest selves. And the 2011 Hawks are nowhere near as talented as '07 Warriors. Yes, Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star appearance this season and Pero is a real problem for Roy, not to mention the lights-out shooting of Kyle "Ashton Kutcher" Korver giving the Pacers fits and the improved play of Jeff Teague... wait, the more I write, the more I am convinced. Alright, I'm in Hawks. You can all laugh at me later when they get swept or hail me as a prophet. Pacers's top-ranked defense be damned! Atlanta in seven!
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats
Heat in five. Wah-wah. When the Heat want to be the best defensive team in the league, they flip that proverbial switch and send teams packing quickly, especially in the first round. Kemba Walker, though it breaks my Hungry Husky Heart to say it, is an average NBA point guard (which, in truth, is not really an insult considering the quality at that position in the league today). He's not a great shooter -- he's below 40% from the field -- and the Mario Chalmers/Noris Cole combo should play him to a relative standstill. Yes, Big Al Jefferson can dominate the interior offensively, but he's also a kitchen-door defender. Which is a problem because the other team has Lebron James and a well-rested Dwayne Wade (at his best this season, Wade looks like he's just woken up from one of those perfect two hour naps -- not groggy, just ready to attack the day). And just for good measure, the Heat have Chris Bosh -- a player that would be the go-to guy on that Bobcats -- as a third option. The Bobcats will steal one on their home floor and after which we can finally, mercifully lay the Bobcats nickname to rest forever; amen.
#3 Toronto Raptors vs. #6 #6 Brooklyn Nets
This might be the most intriguing matchup of the first round in the Eastern Conference. I've gone back and forth on this one, but I like the Nets in six. Jason Kidd, to his credit, righted the ship after a shaky start to the season. After losing Brook Lopez, Kidd adapted his lineups and game plan to fit his personal, starting Shaun Livingston - who has been a revelation -- benching Derron "Horrible Hairline" Williams and utilizing Paul Pierce as a stretch-four (a progressive move reminiscent of how Kidd's former coach, Mike Woodson, changed Carmelo Anthony's role in 2013). So often NBA coaches are rigid seemingly for no good reason (Scottie Brooks and Marc Jackson, come on bros). It's refreshing to see a new head coach as unflappable and as open-minded as Kidd.
The biggest question for the Nets is Garnett. KG has averaged 20.5 minutes in 54 games this season.
Put another way, he's missed over a third of the season and in the games that he actually got on the court, he was only out there for less than a half of the game. Considering the way Jason Kidd's career ended - forty-years old, exhausted and having no legs under him from having played too many minutes earlier in the season, Kidd shot 0 for 17 over his last ten playoff games and limped off into the sunset. Perhaps Kidd had KG on the Duncan plan so that he would be fresh for the games that really matter. Or maybe KG just can't play any more than 20-plus minutes at this point in his career. The answer to that question will influence how far Brooklyn can go in these playoffs.
#4 Chicago Bulls vs. #5 Washington Wizards
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is one lonely dude, or so I imagine.
He's 56, he doesn't have a wife or kids -- really any family to speak of -- which leaves him with plenty of free time to design defensive schemes as maniacal as his laugh.
For that reason alone, I'm taking the Bulls over the Wiz in six -- but I'm not happy about it. I want the Wizards to win: they're a more entertaining team largely because of their fourth year point guard, John Wall. Wall has developed a consistent outside shot to compliment his freakish end-to-end speed. And he's playing with great pace this season. In years past, he only had one gear, but this year he's learned how to shift down in order to read the defense and make the best play rather than barreling headlong toward the rim without a plan. I would love Wall to prove me wrong and emerge as the star of these playoffs, but I don't know if he has enough help to make it happen.
Plus, the Bulls have an advantage in the frontcourt (even with Boozer? You ask, and I, ashamed, shake my head yes). The trio of Joakim Noah - my choice for Defensive Player of the Year - Taj Gibson and and the Booze Cruise should outplay the Wizards line of "Fragile, Do Not Shake" Nene, the ne'er-defend-well Marcin Gortat and Drew Gooden who I hear is having a good season, but I refuse to believe it.
The fact that the Bulls are a four seed with D.J. "Chubby Gopher" Augustin as their -- wait, what? -- LEADING SCORER upsets me deeply. Augustin's improved play is proof enough that Thibodeau is so deeply bored and deeply evil that he has the time and the pathological yearning to create a system in which the chubbiest of gophers can thrive as an NBA point guard.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: Don't Forget The Other Irs Scandal 2014-04-19
Washington, DC and the right wing outrage machine are all abuzz that the IRS allegedly targeted groups based on their presumed political affiliation. Obviously, that was wrong to do, but let's not forget that there are two IRS scandals. The other is allowing big shadowy forces to meddle in elections anonymously through front groups that file false IRS statements.
Let's go through this. It's pretty clear that Americans have a strong interest in knowing who's trying to influence their vote in elections. Even the Supreme Court agreed 8-1, in the otherwise loathsome Citizens United decision, that "effective disclosure" provides "shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters."
Although the law in America requires lots of disclosure, and the Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of disclosure, a company or a billionaire trying to hide their political influence-seeking can use a front organization to hide behind. Not many organizations can hide their donors that way; one is called a 501(c)(4), a tax-exempt non-profit form of corporation regulated by the IRS.
For secretive donors, there's a problem. That kind of organization, a 501(c)(4), needs to be set up "exclusively... for the promotion of social welfare." And the IRS's own regulations explicitly state that "the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." To enforce this, the application form for 501(c)(4) status asks: "Has the organization spent or does it plan to spend any money attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any person to any federal, state, or local public office or to an office in a political organization?"
Some groups reported to the IRS that they would not spend money on elections, but then reported to other government agencies that they had. You cannot tell one federal agency that you spent millions to influence elections, and tell another federal agency that you spent no money to influence elections, and have both statements be true. Making a material false statement to a federal agency is not just bad behavior, it's a crime. It is a statutory offense under 18 U.S. Code Section 1001. The Department of Justice indicts and prosecutes violations of this statute all the time; I used to as U.S. attorney.
But no matter how flagrant the false statement, no matter how great the discrepancy between the statements filed at the IRS and the statements filed at the election agencies, no matter how baldly the organization's activities belie its answers, the IRS never makes a referral to the Department of Justice. The result: no investigations.
No one is suggesting that conservative groups should have their First Amendment rights limited (or other groups, for that matter -- liberal groups were also singled out by the IRS for further review based on certain keywords). No one has a First Amendment right to lie to a federal agency, in order to claim an improper tax status in order to avoid legal disclosure requirements on political spending, and thereby receive undue tax benefits. That's a criminal false statement and possibly a fraud.
Evelyn Leopold: Is Justice Possible For North Korea's Victims? 2014-04-19
What to do about torture, rape, political prison camps and other atrocities in North Korea? A UN investigative panel says the isolated country is a "totalitarian state without parallel in the contemporary world" and its abusers must be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
Three members of the inquiry commission, mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, presented their 400-page report -- along with witnesses- at a session of the UN Security Council.
It was the first time the body dealt with human rights abuses in North Korea rather than its nuclear ambitions. The informal meeting was closed to the media.
China, which keeps North Korea alive by closing its borders to defectors, did not attend the meeting. Neither did Russia, an indication the Security Council would not refer North Korea to the ICC in the near future, anyway. Both countries have veto power in the 15-nation Council.
Up to 100,000 people in camps
But Michael Kirby, the retired Australian jurist who headed the year-long inquiry, said nine of the 13 attending were favorable to an ICC referral and the others asked questions about how they could help.
"If ever there is a case about referral of a matter to the ICC, it's hard to think of a more appropriate case for referral," he said, citing 80,000 to 100,000 people in brutal political camps.
He also suggested sanctions on individuals most responsible for the crimes, which could include Kim Jong-un himself, the supreme leader. But this too requires Security Council approval which is unlikely.
Still, Kirby, in an hour and a half news conference, wanted an open vote on North Korea, saying that despite the prospect of a Russia-China veto, there should be not be a deal behind closed doors.
It had to be "done upfront and those who take that step must be held accountable." Asked repeatedly about Russia and China, he said, "One should not be too impatient."
Nothing worse today than North Korea
Kirby, accompanied by commissioners Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia and Sonja Biserko of Serbia, said he was well aware that the Council was dealing with conflicts in Syria, the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Crimea. (See photo below)"In order of magnitude, in order of the suffering, in order of the duration, the situation in North Korea is the gravest of these cases"
"Enough is enough!"
Among those testifying was Shin Dong-hyuk who was born in a prison camp and was the subject of a book by Blaine Harden, Escape from Camp 14, about his defection. He recalled how he witnessed the execution of his mother and sister.
Beating preferred to starvation When it came time for punishment, he said, "Starving is unimaginable pain, so I chose the beating," according to Council members.
Another witness was Teruaki Masumoto, whose 24-year-old sister was abducted from the Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan 36 years ago, Kyoto News correspondent Seana Magee reported.
"The DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) has inflicted suffering and sorrow on the victims of abduction and their families," he said. "These abductions should rightfully be considered crimes against humanity and terrorism."
Kirby said among the abductees from Japan were young school girls, brought to North Korea on the flimsy pretext to help understand Japanese idioms and language.
North Korea is under a slew of sanctions for its nuclear tests, which China approved in the Security Council. They target cash transfers and luxury items, travel and shipping firms, among other measures.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who attended the session, said in a statement."Given this extraordinarily severe repression, it would be unconscionable for the Council to continue limiting its work on North Korea to the nuclear issue. The ICC was created to stand with the victims of such atrocities."
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador, who chaired the event along with Australia and France, said:"These first hand accounts -- horrific stories of torture, rape, forced abortions and forced infanticide, extermination and murder -- paint a chilling picture of the regime's systematic and remorseless repression of its citizens."
When the report first came out, North Korea and China said that defectors were not seeking political asylum but entered illegally for economic reasons and some were engaged in theft and robbery.
North Korea is a not a member of the ICC so only the Security Council can refer the case to that court.
If the resolution is ever presented and fails because of Russian and Chinese vetoes, the case could go to the 193-member General Assembly, which could set up independent tribunals, although the difficulties would be profound and expensive.
But for Kirby, the appeal to the Security Council was to make sure the issue did not sink "into the black hole of inattention"Commissioners Marzuki Darusman, Michael Kirby, Sonja Biserko (UN photo)
Glen Browder: How Would Southerners Describe The South To Outsiders? 2014-04-19
• If American Southerners had to describe the South to someone not from the South, would they offer positive or negative descriptions of the region?
• Among their descriptions, which aspects of the South would they articulate?
• Would native Southerners, converted Southerners, and non-Southerners (who live in the region) describe the South in different ways?
• Would there be any differences between White Southerners and Black Southerners, males and females, older and younger citizens, educated and not-so-educated individuals, rich people and those less-well-off, born-again Christians and non-born-again respondents, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives?
Residents of the American South are used to seeing their home region depicted in stereotyped derision. Some Southerners try to deal with such disparagement with various strategies, such as polite silence or impassioned rhetoric about their "New South" homeland. Often, "rebels" delight in such criticism; and they give as well as take in outrageous debate.
But how would most Southerners respond if they had an opportunity, in a reasonable conversation, to describe the South to outsiders?
Some of my political science colleagues recently reported the results of such hypothetical conversations at the Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics in Charleston, SC. Scott H. Huffmon and Allie Briggs (both of Winthrop University) and Christopher N. Lawrence (Middle George State College) conducted a study among South Carolinians. In April, 2013, as part of the Winthrop Poll series, interviewers asked for responses to the following probe: "Imagine that you had to describe the South to someone who had never been to a Southern state in America in just two words or two very short phrases." The co-authors then coded the responses for substantive analysis.
Positive or Negative Self-Descriptions?
As might be expected, this survey elicited overwhelmingly positive comments about the South. Over two-thirds of the responses were positive and only about a fourth were negative. Combining first and second mentions, around 60% gave two positive terms or phrases; and only 14 percent offered two negatives.
The positive mentions related mainly to the region's people and culture (32 percent of first mentions) and quality of life (26 percent of first mentions). The respondents seemed ambivalent about the economy and government.
Using a scale from +2 (both first and second mentions of a positive nature) to -2 (both first and second mentions of a negative nature), the authors derived an overall positive score of +0.81 for their collective audience.
Natives vs. Converts vs. Non-Southerners.
The authors found, again expectedly, that native Southerners and converted Southerners (with mean scores of +0.84 and +1.06 respectively) had more positive evaluations than those who considered themselves non-Southerners (+0.21).
Race, Gender, Age, Education, Income, Religion, Party, Ideology.
Race was a significant divider among the respondents. African-Americans were more likely to offer negative terms and less likely to offer positive terms (mean score of +0.39) compared to Whites (+0.99).
Gender differences were insignificant; men (+0.78) and women (+0.81) scored substantially the same.
Age played a role. Older respondents had more positive views of the region, with each additional decade of age corresponding to an increase of +0.07 in the average score.
Education seemed to make no difference. No pattern appeared and there were no statistical differences in descriptions based on educational attainment.
Income produced complex and unclear patterns. A general trend suggested that higher incomes were associated with more positive evaluations; but the authors expressed little confidence because of the few respondents with high household income.
Religion also was of little value in distinguishing among these respondents. Born-again Christians had a net positive rating of +0.85 and non-born-again respondents had a score of +0.77.
Party was a divider. Republicans scored +1.22 and Democrats scored +0.56 (independents scored +0.67).
Finally, differences surfaced in terms of ideology. Very conservative respondents had an average positivity of +1.04 compared to a very liberal score of +0.29.
My colleagues found that most of their respondents would describe the South positively; but there were important differences in how they would describe their region to outsiders. Natives to the region or those who have adopted a Southern self-identification were substantially more positive than those who have moved into the area but retain a non-Southern identity. There also were noteworthy patterns along racial, age, party, and ideological lines.
As a native Southerner, I found this study generally confirms what most of us might expect. But it does more. It provides statistical data under-girding these expectations. And I'm sure it will generate some strong responses from readers of this post.
AUTHOR NOTE: This column is part of a series of posts about Southern Politics. These posts derive from the 2014 Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, a gathering of regional specialists in historic Charleston, SC. This Symposium has been held every-other-year since 1978; and it has become a "main event" for serious South-watchers from around the country. A hundred specialists -- representing scholars from about fifty academic institutions -- participated in the most recent conference, March 6-7, 2014. In this series, I will attempt to incorporate pertinent aspects of the presented papers and some of my own comments into various themes.
Stephen Hawking: Transcending Complacency On Superintelligent Machines 2014-04-19
As the Hollywood blockbuster Transcendence debuts this weekend with Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman and clashing visions for the future of humanity, it's tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction. But this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake ever.
Artificial intelligence (AI) research is now progressing rapidly. Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars, a computer winning at Jeopardy!, and the digital personal assistants Siri, Google Now and Cortana are merely symptoms of an IT arms race fueled by unprecedented investments and building on an increasingly mature theoretical foundation. Such achievements will probably pale against what the coming decades will bring.
The potential benefits are huge; everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of war, disease, and poverty would be high on anyone's list. Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history.
Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. In the near term, for example, world militaries are considering autonomous weapon systems that can choose and eliminate their own targets; the UN and Human Rights Watch have advocated a treaty banning such weapons. In the medium term, as emphasized by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in The Second Machine Age, AI may transform our economy to bring both great wealth and great dislocation.
Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved: there is no physical law precluding particles from being organized in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains. An explosive transition is possible, although it may play out differently than in the movie: as Irving Good realized in 1965, machines with superhuman intelligence could repeatedly improve their design even further, triggering what Vernor Vinge called a "singularity" and Johnny Depp's movie character calls "transcendence." One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.
So, facing possible futures of incalculable benefits and risks, the experts are surely doing everything possible to ensure the best outcome, right? Wrong. If a superior alien civilization sent us a text message saying, "We'll arrive in a few decades," would we just reply, "OK, call us when you get here -- we'll leave the lights on"? Probably not -- but this is more or less what is happening with AI. Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, little serious research is devoted to these issues outside small non-profit institutes such as the Cambridge Center for Existential Risk, the Future of Humanity Institute, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, and the Future of Life Institute. All of us -- not only scientists, industrialists and generals -- should ask ourselves what can we do now to improve the chances of reaping the benefits and avoiding the risks.______________________
Stephen Hawking is Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Physics at Cambridge and a 2012 Fundamental Physics Prize laureate for his work on quantum gravity. Stuart Russell is a computer science professor at Berkeley and co-author of "Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach." Max Tegmark is a physics professor at M.I.T. and the author of "Our Mathematical Universe." Frank Wilczek is a physics professor at M.I.T. and a 2004 Nobel laureate for his work on the strong nuclear force.
Dr. Peggy Drexler: Not All Women Get To Decide Between Opting Out And Leaning In 2014-04-19
The Pew Research Center released a report showing that, following a long-term decline, the number of stay-at-home moms is on the rise. Nearly 30 percent of American mothers with children under 18, Pew found, do not hold a job outside the home, up from 23 percent in 1999. On the surface, these findings would seem to represent a defeat for Sheryl Sandberg and her "Lean In" cohorts: More stay-at-home moms means that more women are opting out, eschewing "having it all" in favor of a more "traditional" arrangement in which the husband earns the money and the wife raises the kids.
Or does it?
The thing about the conversations surrounding women and work is that they tend to center around the idea of choice, and the decisions women -- from the career girls embracing their potentials as breadwinners to the feminist housewives who are "having it all by choosing to stay home" -- are making. But choice isn't a factor for everyone. In fact, Pew's report doesn't point to any sort of victory for women at all. Quite the opposite, actually.
What it does point to is the fact that the choices for moms are increasingly limited. A growing number of non-working mothers, Pew found, are unmarried. The percentage of children raised by a stay-at-home mother with a working husband has fallen to 20 percent, from above 40 in 1970. That is, it's not the privileged elite staying home to raise the kids, but increasingly single women living in poverty.
And even among those stay-at-home moms who are married, six percent -- up from one percent in 2000 -- say they'd like to work, but either can't find a job or can't get hired. Others don't go back to work because of prohibitively high childcare costs. It doesn't help that salaries for women aren't rising in proportion to those for men; a Pew report from a few weeks back looked at the economic mobility of women compared to their parents and found women today earn less than their fathers did. The majority of men, on the other hand, out-earn their dads.
Indeed, the new findings are less about values than about economy. The new Pew report reveals that stay-at-home moms are younger, less likely to be white, less likely to have a college education, and more likely to have been born outside of the United States. 34 percent of them live in poverty. By contrast, those moms who choose to leave the workforce because they can afford to hovers around a mere 5 percent.
In the ongoing Mommy Wars, the stay-at-home mother has been, at turns, revered and demonized. But there's a third reality that rarely enters the discussion: Moms whose choices to do one or the other -- stay home or return to work -- are not really choices at all. The truth is that it's possible to use findings to satisfy a variety of agendas, to twist numbers to prove whatever point you're looking to make. And that the real story is often far more complex than the latest statistic. More women are staying home -- that's true. More women are working -- that's also true. But not all women get to decide between opting out or leaning in. That, as Pew has shown, is a luxury becoming increasingly rare.
James Zogby: What Democrats Must Do To Win In November 2014-04-19
In this November's mid-term elections, the Democratic Party will be focused on winning back the governorships and legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. They lost decisively in these battleground states in 2010, giving Republicans the opportunity to institute far-reaching changes in programs, benefits, and regulations that for generations had provided economic security for the middle class.
As Democrats are currently debating their 2014 electoral strategies, not a week passes without an article appearing arguing what the party must do to regain lost ground in these critical states. Some Democrats make the case for doubling down on increasing voter turnout among those constituencies that have become the new base vote of the party: youth, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and professional/educated women. They make the case that this approach worked for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and so if these same groups can be energized again in the mid-term contests, Democrats can win in 2014. But although Obama won these same states in 2008 and 2012, it doesn't automatically convey that Democrats will win them in a non-presidential election year. National contests mobilize different voters than local races, and so it cannot be assumed that those who voted for President Obama will vote for a Democrat or even vote at all in more localized contests.
While I fully agree that these groups should be energized, I also believe that Democrats cannot afford to ignore the importance of reaching out to other groups of voters who can provide the margin of victory, especially in these important states.
According to the 2010 Census, over one-third of all residents in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants from European and Mediterranean countries. Many retain a strong attachment to their heritage, belong to ethnic organizations and churches, and remain connected through their ethnic media. Many of them also have deep roots in the labor movement and in the Democratic party.
A decade ago, based on polling conducted by my brother John Zogby, I wrote "What Ethic Americans Really Think." What we found was that these ethnic voters embrace values that are at once progressive and traditional. They are progressive on the role of government in public education, health care, Social Security, and protecting the minimum wage and labor standards. At the same time, they are traditional in their attachment to their families, their heritage, and their communities.
These ethnic voters were once core constituents of the Democratic party, but along the way, we stopped talking to them and directing our message to them. As a result, we lost their support.
This disconnect came through quite clearly for me one night in 1984 at the National Italian American Foundation Gala in Washington, DC. The evening featured speeches by Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan.
Mondale spoke first. His speech had nine applause lines -- most came when he mentioned the name of his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro. The rest of the speech was a litany of issues and pledges, as in: "I'm for the teachers..." and "I'm for unions..."
Ronald Reagan came next and after a pause began something like this:
"My grandmother, like yours, came to this country with nothing but her hopes and dreams. She worked her fingers to the bone, believing in the promise of America that some day one of her own could run for president of this great country. I stand before you the beneficiary of her hard work, the fulfillment of her dreams."
I left that night knowing that Reagan would win the Italian vote -- and he did. And I left troubled because the speech he gave was one that Democrats had given when I was growing up. It evoked themes of family, heritage, hard work and the values and promise of America. It represented the messages we had lost.
In reality, Mondale had the better program to ensure progress for middle class ethnic voters. But he wasn't talking to them in language that showed he understood their identity and their values. Over the years, the disconnect has only grown.
This November, Democrats will have chance to reconnect with these ethnic voters and win support from them while still courting other key groups. It is not an either-or proposition. Immigration reform, expanding health care coverage, creating good jobs, promoting women's rights for equal pay and opportunity, improving public education, and protecting workers rights are issues that affect us all.
We just have to broaden our appeal and expand our base by speaking directly to older immigrant groups, as well as to newer immigrants -- white ethnics, as well as African Americans and Latinos.
European and Mediterranean want to be recognized and respected. And because they are connected through their churches, clubs, and media it's not that difficult to reach them. If we stop treating ethnic voters as if they were an undefined mass and speak to them as descendants of Irish, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek, and Lebanese immigrants whose history we celebrate and whose values we embrace, we can win them back. They were once Democratic voters and there is no reason why they can't be again.
Paul Abrams: Tom Cotton Wants To Make Medicare Doubly Dead... Attacks From Two Fronts 2014-04-19
It is not on his website; it is not in his campaign platform. But, do not let this stealth candidate fool anyone: Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton (R-AR) really wants to kill Medicare. So much so, that he attacks it on two different fronts.
First, by repeatedly voting to repeal Obamacare, he votes to make Medicare become insolvent in 2016, as it was destined to do.Solvency is greatly improved from the insolvency date that was projected before enactment of the Affordable Care Act . This legislation improved Medicare's financing by reducing the rate of increase in provider payments, phasing out overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans, and increasing Medicare payroll taxes for high-income individuals and couples. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, would move up the insolvency date to 2016. [Emphasis Added].
By contrast, Obamacare extends Medicare's solvency to at least 2026, an additional decade.
But, that was not enough for this anti-Medicare warrior. Cotton also voted for the Ryan budget that scraps Medicare's guaranteed benefits and replaces them with vouchers for seniors to purchase health insurance on exchanges. (Vouchers... exchanges... hmmm, sound like anything you know that Cotton voted to repeal?)
Of course, killing Medicare would only partially satisfy Cotton. He would like to see the demise of Medicaid, and he has a two-pronged attack against that as well. Repealing Obamacare would throw more than 100,000 Arkansans off of Medicaid for which they are now qualified. This is an vicious attack on the working poor.
Then, for his double-whammy against Medicaid, Cotton votes to "block grant" Medicaid to the states. Sounds benign, doesn't it? Who would object to getting a "grant" in a big "block"?
The "block grants" he voted for are cleverly designed to decrease in value over time -- just like the Ryan vouchers he voted to replace Medicare.
Think of that. Of the ~74 million children in the United States, ~43 million are covered by Medicaid.
That is not all. About 60 percent of nursing home costs for the elderly are covered by Medicaid. Yes, Medicaid, not Medicare.
So Tom Cotton not only wants to reduce seniors' health care coverage when they are ill but not infirm, and then follows that up with a "sorry, too damned bad" when they need nursing home attention.
Of course, he will never, ever, say that that is what he wants to do. Heavens, no.
But, if it were up to Tom Cotton, Medicare would be doubly dead.
All his sweet words are not going to provide a single medication, a single doctor's visit, a single surgical procedure or a single night in a nursing home for our nation's senior citizens.