Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 1st, 2017

How to Build a Robot That Wants to Change the World

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John Pavlus writes in Quanta:

Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics — constraints on the behavior of androids and automatons meant to ensure the safety of humans — were also famously incomplete. The laws, which first appeared in his 1942 short story “Runaround” and again in classic works like I, Robot, sound airtight at first:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Of course, hidden conflicts and loopholes abound (which was Asimov’s point). In our current age of advanced machine-learning software and autonomous robotics, defining and implementing an airtight set of ethics for artificial intelligence has become a pressing concern for organizations like the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and OpenAI.

Christoph Salge, a computer scientist currently at New York University, is taking a different approach. Instead of pursuing top-down philosophical definitions of how artificial agents should or shouldn’t behave, Salge and his colleague Daniel Polani are investigating a bottom-up path, or “what a robot should do in the first place,” as they write in their recent paper, “Empowerment as Replacement for the Three Laws of Robotics.” Empowerment, a concept inspired in part by cybernetics and psychology, describes an agent’s intrinsic motivation to both persist within and operate upon its environment. “Like an organism, it wants to survive. It wants to be able to affect the world,” Salge explained. A Roomba programmed to seek its charging station when its batteries are getting low could be said to have an extremely rudimentary form of empowerment: To continue acting on the world, it must take action to preserve its own survival by maintaining a charge.

Empowerment might sound like a recipe for producing the very outcome that safe-AI thinkers like Nick Bostrom fear: powerful autonomous systems concerned only with maximizing their own interests and running amok as a result. But Salge, who has studied human-machine social interactions, wondered what might happen if an empowered agent “also looked out for the empowerment of another. You don’t just want your robot to stay operational — you also want it to maintain that for the human partner.”

Salge and Polani realized that information theory offers a way to translate this mutual empowerment into a mathematical framework that a non-philosophizing artificial agent could put into action. “One of the shortcomings of the Three Laws of Robotics is that they are language-based, and language has a high degree of ambiguity,” Salge said. “We’re trying to find something that is actually operationizable.”

Quanta spoke with Salge about information theory, nihilist AI and the canine model of human-robot interaction. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.

Some technologists believe that AI is a major, even existential threat. Does the prospect of runaway AI worry you?

I’m a bit on the fence. I mean, I do think there are currently genuine concerns with robots and the growing influence of AI. But I think in the short term we’re probably more concerned about maybe job replacement, decision making, possibly a loss of democracy, a loss of privacy. I’m unsure how likely it is that this kind of runaway AI will happen anytime soon. But even an AI controlling your health care system or what treatment options you’re getting — we should start to be concerned about the kind of ethical questions that arise from this.

How does the concept of empowerment help us deal with these issues? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 8:13 pm

Posted in Evolution, Law, Memes, Technology

We Need a New Word for the Trump White House

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Trump says something—on camera—and then in a few hours the White House (specifically Sarah Huckabee Sanders) denies that he said it.

Keven Drum has the clip and the denial. I’ve never seen anything like this, where people deny they said something that is on tape.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 4:53 pm

Administration’s Nominee for CIA Watchdog Allegedly Misled Congress

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Jennifer Valentino-DeVries reports in ProPublica:

Two former CIA employees say the Trump administration’s nominee to be CIA inspector general misled Congress last month when he testified he was unaware of pending complaints they had filed against him.

The allegations against nominee Christopher Sharpley, the acting inspector general, have prompted concerns among both Democratic and Republican senators and could delay his confirmation. They also expose a rift between the CIA inspector general’s office and the oversight office for all intelligence community programs. More broadly, they raise questions about how well intelligence agencies are implementing policies that were introduced to protect whistleblowers after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was charged with espionage for leaking classified documents.

Lawyers for Andrew Bakaj and Jonathan Kaplan, both ex-employees of the CIA inspector general’s office, sent letters to the Senate in the past two weeks, saying that Sharpley is one of the CIA officials named in pending complaints they filed in 2014 and 2015. Sharpley “deliberately misled Congress during his sworn testimony,” Kaplan’s attorneys wrote in their letter.

The complaints, included as attachments to the letters, allege Sharpley and other senior officials violated whistleblower safeguards by retaliating against the staffers for reporting wrongdoing in the inspector general’s office. Bakaj’s security clearance was suspended and he was placed on administrative leave, and Kaplan received a warning letter that ultimately resulted in the loss of his security clearance.

During Sharpley’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 17, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein cited a published report that showed there were pending complaints against him. “What do you know about this?” she asked.

“If there are complaints, if there are investigations out there, I’m unaware of it,” he said.

Only five days earlier, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, which is investigating Bakaj’s complaint, had asked to interview Sharpley in the matter and been told he would be available after his testimony on Capitol Hill, according to a letter sent by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley to Senate Intelligence Committee members. Wyden is on the committee; Grassley isn’t, but has long championed whistleblower protections. The Wyden letter also says the investigating attorney for DHS frequently visited the CIA inspector general’s office this year to review relevant documents.

“In light of these facts, we believe Mr. Sharpley should explain in detail precisely how it is possible that he could have been unaware of any open investigations against him at the time he testified,” the senators wrote. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 3:54 pm

The double life of the “respectable” men who harass women

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Mimi Kramer writes in Vox:

The actor Stephen Collins once fondled me at an awards ceremony. It’s true. Almost 30 years ago, when I was a theater critic at the New Yorker, I had my butt fondled by Stephen Collins at the Drama Desk Awards. Is “fondle” the right word? It was really more of a caress, I suppose, or it would have been if we had known each other at all. And liked each other. It was very much the sort of thing I do to my husband when he’s wearing his shiny black gym shorts. Sometimes when we pass each other on the stairway or in the kitchen I reach out and give his butt a little caress because I know it will make him laugh or smile  —  after all, we’re getting on in years.

That’s pretty much what Stephen Collins did to me up on the podium at the Drama Desk ceremony while we were presenting an award. Can you imagine? He swept his hand along the lower part of my bottom, and then he did it again as I was walking away. The first time, I couldn’t believe it had happened. The second time, I turned back to look at him, and he smiled and winked at me before going back to smiling and winking at people in the audience. I’d never been to an awards ceremony before, and I remember I was wearing a shiny black dress that I was very proud of because I’d bought it for a song at Fowad’s on Broadway and thought I looked great in it. Maybe I looked as good in my shiny black dress as my husband does in his shiny black gym shorts and Stephen Collins just couldn’t resist.

I hadn’t thought about Collins for years until I ran across his name in an article I was reading about the Weinstein scandal. Apparently, some years ago, Collins — now a famous television star — confessed to having sexually abused several underage girls. I saw his name in the article and thought, “Stephen Collins, isn’t that the guy who — ” and then I Googled him and saw that it was. There was the face that had smiled back at me so smugly. I saw it and I burst out laughing. How funny, I thought now, 30 years later. How funny to have been “fondled” at an awards ceremony by a serial sex offender. I guess I got off easy!

The hypocrisy game

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the Weinstein scandal. Like most women, I imagine, I’m fascinated by it and by everything that seems to be happening  —  and not happening  —  as a result of it. My interest probably derives from the two years I spent being sexually harassed by a married writer at the New Yorker. There’ve been some wonderful things written on the subject, not only the original exposés by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in the New York Times, and by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, but also think pieces, mostly by women, that have made my heart soar: Rebecca Traister in the Cut, Lena Dunham in the op-ed section of the Times, Jia Tolentino again in the New Yorker, Amanda Marcotte in Salon, and Megan Garber, in the Atlantic, who used the history of the phrase “open secret” to craft the most elegant and purely literary treatment of the subject I’ve come across.

I’m not sure, though, that anyone had really put their finger on what this kind of behavior is all about and what makes it possible  —  until this week when news broke that Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary editor of the New Republic and one of our premier moral intellectuals, had been harassing women colleagues for decades. More than once in Wednesday’s coverage, a statement Wieseltier made in a 1994 essay (“Against Identity”) was cited, albeit out of context, and quoted as well on Twitter: “I hear it said of somebody that he is leading a double life. I think to myself: Just two?”

That, right there,  I’d argue,  is the impulse behind sexual harassment. It’s about getting away with something. It’s about seeming to be one sort of person, a “pillar of the community”  —  responsible, dignified, respectable, a family man, a liberal, a progressive, presidential, whatever  —  while really being A Very Bad Boy. That’s exciting for some men. Not the being bad part. The getting-away-with-it part. It isn’t just about power over individuals, the women you victimize. It’s about power over society and the court of public opinion, the thrill of risking everything on one roll of the dice, knowing that it isn’t really all that much of a risk  —  because nobody will believe her.

That’s what the story of Susanna and the Elders is about. And Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. (“Who will believe thee, Isabel?” and “To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, Who would believe me?”) Perhaps not all sexual harassment or abuse is about this. But the kind allegedly routinely practiced (on a spectrum of degrees of awfulness) by men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Leon Wieseltier is. In most cases, their brand of sexual harassment is about the hypocrisy itself, the “leading a double life.” That’s where the real sense of power comes in. Which is why all this guff about “therapy” and “wake-up calls” and the half-baked, halfhearted apologias are all just more masking. Deep down, these guys know they can get away with what they do, and that’s what thrills them; it’s what gets them off.

What made the Weinstein case historic was, first, that it revealed the crucial hypocrisy underpinning most sexual harassment. The man of stature who is also a serial sexual predator is almost always too powerful, too girded round by society to be held to account  —  and he knows that. That’s why he does it; that’s how he does it. The community is invested in him ,  morally, financially, politically, even culturally. We as a body cannot afford to condemn him or allow him to be exposed. We would have too much to lose. So when some nobody comes forward with a nightmarish tale, we find another way of dealing with the situation  —  any other way than to credit her story.

That’s the second thing that made the Weinstein case a turning point: Suddenly women have been granted the license to speak up with a chance of being believed.

Power, prestige, and plausibility can derive from various sources, and in our society one of those is marriage  —  at least it was 30 years ago. It was and may still be the case that even where a man doesn’t appear to have direct control over a woman’s professional fate, the mere fact that he is married and she isn’t can be a powerful weapon against her.

A man who is merely unhappily married or who wants to stray from his wife generally finds a social peer, a similarly unhappily married or perhaps divorced woman, or a single woman who works in some other professional context. The sexual predator seeks out a single woman in his own sphere, knowing that his prestige and plausibility as a “family man” make him untouchable. The single or man-less woman is always vulnerable to whispers and innuendoes of instability and/or predatory motives. The assumption is that she wants a man or that the fact that she hasn’t got one is somehow suspect.

Those are two things that make sexual assault and harassment so difficult to litigate and combat: the hypocrisy factor and the assumption that it is all single women, rather than certain married men, who are inherently predatory. A third aspect that complicates the sexual harassment scenario is, typically, crudity: The sexual predator tends to enact deeds that have no real place in a romantic or sexual context, things so extreme or disgusting that they are simply not credible. Why  —  we’ve all asked ourselves recently, as the stories about Weinstein, about Hugh Hefner, and now about Wieseltier have come out  —  is there always such a strong ick factor? Is it because the man really has a penchant for ejaculating into a potted plant? No, it’s because no one would believe that anyone would do such a thing.

scathing piece by Lee Smith in the Weekly Standard analyzed the repulsive nature of the acts that populate stories about Weinstein, connecting it with Weinstein’s own self-loathing and his intuitive grasp of how to project that onto others. “That was [Weinstein’s] essential insight, and how he managed to combine the worlds of politics, entertainment, and media,” Smith writes. “They’re all repulsive  —  and I know they’re disgusting or else they wouldn’t be courting, of all people, me.

This never would have occurred to me and may be spot-on. But if so, those disgusting acts are also valuable to the predator for their very implausibility. They are the pubic hair on the Coke can, the grope carried out before hundreds of people in the middle of an awards ceremony. “Why,” people are forced to ask, “would someone do such a thing?”  —  because it doesn’t make any sense. Well, that’s why.

Who will survive this?

There’s a line in Hamilton that my husband finds very moving. It’s the tagline, in fact: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” In the play, George Washington is telling Hamilton about the greatest regret of his life, a disastrous battle.

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory.
You have no control:
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

I once asked my husband what men think about when they hear that line: Do they think about fate? About the mistakes they’ve made? The latter, he said.

Everyone who hears that line relates it to themselves, and because we live in the modern world, we transpose it to the context of the workplace. But I think men and women listening to that line may experience it differently. Women probably feel a slight frisson, because for women in the workplace, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” is largely up to men.

What goes through the mind of every woman who has ever been sexually harassed in the workplace  —  and what working woman has not?  —  is, “Who will survive this? And who will control the narrative?” It’s largely men who control the fate and the perception of women in the workplace. And when it isn’t men, it’s the powerful women who enable them. Women like Tina Brown, who co-founded Talk magazine with Weinstein and recently went on the talk show circuit trying to distance herself from him.

This is, as Smith pointed out in the same Weekly Standard piece, a bit of a farce. Brown did more than anyone else in America to blur the lines between print journalism and Hollywood, creating the very climate that made someone like Weinstein untouchable. “The catchword,” Smith writes, “was ‘synergy’  —  magazine articles, turned into books, turned into movies, a supply chain of entertainment and information that was going to put these media titans in the middle of everything and make them all richer.”

It’s actually even more of a farce for Brown to hold herself out as a champion of women. (“This is a purifying moment,” she said about the Weinstein revelations.) Brown fired more women staffers at the New Yorker than Elvis fires up engines in Viva Las Vegas, and when you pointed this out to men on the staff, the response tended to be something along the lines of, “Well, she wants to be the only chicken in the henhouse.” I remember one editor using exactly those words not long before I was fired, after Brown had fired Veronica Geng, a celebrated New Yorker writer and editor who, oddly, had had an affair with the same married writer who targeted me.

There are  —  if I may be permitted to oversimplify wildly for a moment  —  two kinds of women in the working world who achieve great power. The first is those who are good at what they do and enjoy working with other smart or talented or thoughtful women. And there’s another kind that isn’t really good at much of anything at all but self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and manipulating other people. That kind of woman will always enable and protect the Weinsteins of the world and encourage men in the demeaning of other women. There may be an element of self-loathing there, like the self-loathing Smith attributes to Weinstein himself; the women enablers may have some unconscious need to diminish and devalue something they lack.

There can be something almost sexy about working with gifted, brilliant people of either gender, whether you’re gay or straight. I remember once being stopped in the hallway by a veteran editor (she wasn’t even my editor) who had seen Bill Irwin’s stage show The Regard of Flight, which I was writing about, and told me  —  with great tact and even more passion  —  that I’d left out the most important point about the show, how it was really all about race in America; and she was right. That was probably the most exciting moment in all my time at the New Yorker.

And I remember a story told to me by Veronica, who was in on a few of Brown’s early editorial meetings. The question of how certain managerial roles would be meted out came up, and someone brought up the name of the editor who had stopped me in the hall that time. Veronica told me that Brown quipped, “Oh, you mean the fat, homely girl with glasses,” and the men all laughed. Yes, they agreed, that was who was meant. Veronica pointed out that the woman under discussion was an accomplished poet and translator, and the men, chastened, all quickly agreed, “Yes, yes, very accomplished.”

Tina Brown was the enabler-in-chief. It’s absurd for her to carry on as though she didn’t know of Weinstein’s depredations and wasn’t complicit. She’s the woman who put a young actress who wouldn’t sleep with Weinstein on the cover of the premiere issue of Talk dressed in S&M garb, crawling painfully toward the camera on her stomach like a submissive, and so generically made up as to render her unrecognizable as an individual. What the hell did she think that was saying?

It’s cunning, if mistaken, for Brown to try to get herself off the hook by blasting Donald Trump in the same breath as Harvey Weinstein in her public statements about the allegations. It’s enemy-of-my-enemy logic; she’s banking on the idea that Americans are too stupid to hold more than one idea in their heads at a time, hoping if she goes on record as a non-endorser of Trump, no one but Republicans will call her out on her hypocrisy. For her to get away with that would be more than a farce; it would be an obscenity. Not endorse Trump? She helped create the cesspool that made it possible for someone like Donald Trump to become the president of the United States.

When does the clock start ticking?

In addition to the many articles and opinion pieces about Weinstein, there have been statements from many of the women he allegedly victimized or tried to victimize. Some have sought, as I’ve done here, to articulate the numerous and varied factors that make sexual harassment so difficult  —  perhaps impossible  —  to deter. There is the sense of bewilderment and confusion that always attends on the experience. Kate Beckinsale, in an Instagram posting, looked back on her 17-year-old self, remembering how she couldn’t understand how Weinstein  —  this repulsive old man  —  could imagine her finding him desirable or attractive. She calls herself naive. But naiveté can sometimes be a desperate form of wishful thinking. There’s a tremendous impulse to disbelieve that what you think may be happening is actually happening, or to hope that it isn’t.

You are, after all, good at what you do. You have value. You are accomplished or talented or smart, and this man has nothing whatever to offer you. How can he possibly not see that?

In fact, I think the most dangerous element for women caught in the morass of the sexual harassment experience is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

The Twitter thought experiment that exposes “pro-life” hypocrisy

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Paul Rosenberg interviews Patrick Tomlinson in Salon:

Last Monday, a tweetstorm eviscerating abortion foes went viral. Science fiction writer and comedian Patrick Tomlinson introduced it this way:

Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly.

The question is as follows: Would you save one 5-year-old child from a burning building, or save 1,000 embryos. The point: No one actually thinks that embryos are the same as living children. But an entire movement is based on lying about it, and using that lie to manipulate people, in order to control women like slaves.

You can see the whole tweetstorm at the link above, or at Crooks and Liars or Raw Story, which both republished it. It’s very straightforward, which is part of why it went viral so furiously. Naturally the obfuscation brigade came forward, with Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire leading the way. But he didn’t actually dispute Tomlinson’s main point. “Tomlinson is correct that we all have a moral instinct: to save the five-year-old,” he admitted, then going on to argue that it didn’t matter.

But it clearly does. If it were one 5-year-old vs. 1,000 actual babies, things would be different. “No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children,” Tomlinson wrote. “Those who claim to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women.”

If no anti-choicer could answer the question Tomlinson posed, they could still respond — with everything from death threats to a DDOS attack on his website. Which only proved his point: They can’t handle the truth. And they desperately need to protect the lie, as if their very lives depended on it.

If the tweetstorm was simple, its echoes and implications are not. They are as broad as the culture wars, and they go back centuries — if not millennia. I’ve written before about the book “Asymmetric Politics,” for example, but Tomlinson’s tweetstorm reveals a different, more basic sort of asymmetry than the one between “ideological Republicans” and “group interest Democrats.”

It’s an asymmetry between fanciful big lies and direct, concrete truths — the kinds people actually have to live and struggle with. The kinds that novelists have been writing about for centuries, that TV and movies and comics and more all deal with today, much to the consternation of traditional moralists, who have all the pre-packaged answers for us laid out on their Procrustean beds.

As a writer and comedian, Tomlinson seemed perfectly suited to shed more light — not just on the tweetstorm 10 years in the making, but on how its exposure of lies, hypocrisy and manipulation fits into a bigger picture. So I spoke with him last week. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You say you’ve been putting this question out there for 10 years. How did you first come up with this hypothetical, and what were the first responses?

When I say I’ve been saying it for 10 years, I mean I’d say it to people over beers, in bars, in different contexts. So for 10 years in conversation, I’ve thrown this at people. A lot of folks online have been like, “Oh that’s just a modification of the trolley problem,” and yeah that’s true. But it’s also irrelevant. If you look at the trolley problem, it was probably called the cart problem back in the horse-drawn carriage days. Before that it was probably the rolling rocks problem. It’s a modification of something that I didn’t claim was my own.

I came up with it because I was sick to death of the irresponsible and frankly dishonest framing of the whole debate. I am not, as Ben Shapiro called me, a “pro-abortion fanatic,” which is complete nonsense. Nobody is pro-abortion. People are just pro-“Hey maybe since I don’t have a vagina, I shouldn’t really have a whole lot of say in what people do with theirs.” The framing of the debate from people who want to call themselves pro-life — I prefer anti-abortion, or anti-choice — they frame it as “you’re killing babies” or “you’re killing children.” ​T​hat kind of language absolutely suffuses the whole argument that comes from their side. And it’s completely false. It’s completely dishonest, and it’s intended only to emotionally manipulate the conversation.

I think we can have an honest debate, an​ ​honest​ conversation about abortion and its proper place in our society. But when you’ve got somebody calling everybody on the other side baby-killers, you’re not contributing to that honest debate. You are emotionally manipulating people, you’re trying to appeal to that paternal and ​m​aternal instinct that we’ve all got on some level, to protect kids, to protect children — because we all care about them — but it’s not appropriate to the situation. So that’s why I started saying that to ​people. Not to say, “Hey, you’re wrong to be against abortion. You’re wrong to be pro-life.” That’s not actually the point I’m trying to make. The point I’m trying to make is, you’re wrong to say these are children, because they aren’t, and you don’t even believe it.

It’s not just that I don’t believe they’re children, it’s that you don’t even believe what you’re saying. You’re just using this as a club to beat people who are standing up for the rights of women. That’s all. That’s all you’re doing. For 10 years, in one-on-one scenarios — which is the point I was trying to make in the tweets — when having one-on-one conversations with people, they never answer. Never. I never had somebody say, “Oh, I would save the 1,000 embryos and let the child burn to death.” No one’s ever said that. And no one will ever say that. Not when you’re looking at them. And I never had somebody say, “I would save the child,”​ because they know what they’re conceding by saying that.

They instead have always – again, I want to emphasize, when talking to someone one-on-one, not talking at​ 50,000 of Ben Shapiro’s followers on Twitter. When I’m talking to people in one-on-one conversations, they try to weasel out of answering. They’re like, “Oh, well, what if …” And I’m like, “No, no, no. Just answer my scenario. We’ll get to your scenario, but you have to give me an answer to mine first. Then we’ll worry about if it’s an elderly person in a wheelchair, or whatever the heck you want to do with it. Answer mine, and ​then we’ll deal with yours.”

They never want to do it. Because they would have to admit that ethically, morally and logically, we aren’t talking about children. We aren’t talking about babies. And it is dishonest for them to use that language as a weapon against people who are trying to stand up for the rights of women. That’s all I’m looking to get out of it. I’m not trying to say that they’re wrong for opposing abortion. I’m trying to say they’re wrong for saying that we’re murdering children.

Did you start off not knowing how anti-abortion folks would respond, or did you have a feeling from the beginning this would be a real conundrum for them?

I didn’t realize how much of a conundrum it would be for folks. I’ve asked it enough times that I know how much it flummoxes them. But when I brought it up on Twitter, it wasn’t because it was “Oh, this is going to earn me 7,000 followers” or, “This is going to help my book sales go through the roof.” I love people who accuse me of that whenever I have a tweet that goes kind of viral. It’s like, “Dude, if I knew which tweets were going to go viral, I would only write those tweets, wouldn’t I?” You can’t predict this stuff.

Anyway, the reason I put it up when I did was that the House has just passed that complete nonsense 20-week abortion ban. Which is so flagrantly unconstitutional. It’s just a complete waste of time. Everyone knows it’s going to get shot down; they’re just wasting time and trying to appeal to this base that they are just whipping into a frenzy, while ignoring the fact that they kind of elected a serial sexual predator to be president. The moral disconnect there makes me so angry.

I do some standup comedy, and I’ve told that in joke form in front of audiences a few times. Depending on the audience, it can go either way. Either people are really with that, or I lose the audience forever. But that’s down to me, my timing,​whether I read the audience right. That’s just comedy. So I didn’t expect it to blow up. I didn’t expected to be on Raw Story, I didn’t expect Ben Shapiro and Matt​ Walsh to write pissy articles about it the next day. I didn’t think any of these things was going to happen, and I wasn’t shooting for those things. I had something to say and I put it out there.

One reason this caught my attention is that I think this is a much broader problem than the abortion issue. There’s a lot of deceptive and manipulative framing from the right, and while there is something to be said for both sides having extremes that get carried away, it’s highly asymmetrical.

It’s very asymmetrical. The nature of the NFL protests, for example. All of a sudden Trump decides to bring that up, because oh, by the way, Robert Mueller keeps interviewing people closer and closer to his inner circle so let’s declare war on the NFL because we’re not winning any other battles. He brought that back up and then dishonestly refram​ed the whole thing as “They’re attacking our soldiers!” What the hell are you talking about? The entire protest had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag, it had nothing to do with saying our soldiers were whatever. It had nothing to do with that.

It was just Trump and the right co-opting the debate and the narrative away from black athletes who have influence and have a platform so they can talk about these things that impact their communities and their families in a way that white people in the NFL and white people in the Trump administration will never have to deal with.

So they’re like, “Gosh, how can we make this no longer be about the fact that black men are three and a half times more likely to be killed by police than white men? How can we get away from that conversation? Oh, I know: We’​ll say black athletes are attacking troops.” Which is a complete and utter lie — and was from the beginning. But it plays well to the NASCAR crowd. So, right. It is very asymmetric. There’s no similarity between how both sides are handling themselves on these issues.

The Weinstein thing is another example. You’ve got Harvey Weinstein finally, apparently, exposed as a sexual predator, and what does the left do? Well they started giving his donations back, or giving them to women’s groups. He got fired from his job. And everybody on the left condemned him. What did the right to when they found out that Donald Trump was irrefutably a sexual predator? They elected him president. So there’s nothing resembling equivalency here. Nothing. And I say that as someone who identifies as a classic conservative, by the way.

How would you define that, being a classic conservative? . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. One later question and answer:

As you say, no one’s ever answered the question, but you have gotten death threats. That’s a whole other level of asymmetry.
​The attacks are meant to silence and intimidate, in order to preserve the status quo of the conversation and the underlying power dynamic. The nominal right wing has long positioned itself as the true arbiter of absolute morality, patriotism, fiscal responsibility, respect for the troops, defenders of life, liberty, yada yada. It lets them set the parameters and tone of public debate.
Never mind that in literally every instance, their claims to ethical and moral authority are laughably false. “Conservatives” are responsible for installing a Russian traitor in the White House, exploding the deficit under Bush II (which Obama cut by a trillion dollars, with a T) and refusing funding for the VA to handle the surge in wounded veterans that resulted from their wars of choice. They have relentlessly attacked the gains we’ve made in health care coverage and the uninsured rate with the ACA, and on and on. 
But it’s not enough to point out their hypocrisy and their “do as I say, not as I do” approach to governance. The baseline assumption that they have the authority in the first place to decide ethical standards of public policy needs to be attacked. And when it is, hoo boy, do they get nervous.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 12:43 pm

Obamacare/Affordable Care Act open enrollment starts today and ends December 15: Move fast

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I just received an email from Vox:

Obamacare’s sign-up period starts today.

The 9 million Americans who purchase coverage through the health law’s marketplaces have from now until December 15 to pick their 2018 coverage. For those buying coverage — or just interested observers — here are the five things you need to know about this open enrollment period.

1) Open enrollment is short this year — 45 days instead of 90. Over the past few years, the Obamacare open enrollment period typically ran from November 1 through January 31. That gave enrollees about three months to pick a plan. Many would wait up until that late January deadline to sign up. That will not work this year. The enrollment period now ends on December 15, which means that shoppers will have to move quicker to sign up for coverage this time around.

2) Premiums for some Obamacare plans are spiking by double digits. The cost of mid-level silver plans is rising a lot this year, on average 37 percent, according to Health and Human Services estimates. Most of that rate hike is due to the Trump administration’s decision not to pay cost-sharing reduction subsidies. I wrote more about this in yesterday’s VoxCare, but essentially insurers jacked up premiums to offset the loss of this other funding source. This means that the sticker price of silver plans often looks a lot higher this year. But…

3) There are some great deals to be had on bronze and gold plans. In many states, health plans made their biggest premium increases in their silver plans. This is important because (again, this builds on yesterday’s newsletter) the size of the premium tax credit is tethered to the price of the silver plans. More expensive silver plans mean bigger premium tax credits. And Obamacare enrollees can take those credits to buy a less generous plan (called a bronze plan) for a really cheap price, maybe even free.

Many Maine residents, for example, qualify to buy these bronze plans with a zero-dollar premium, the Portland Press-Herald reports.

Shoppers can also go in the opposite direction: use their new big tax credit to buy a more generous gold plan at a lower out-of-pocket price.

4) It is really, really, really important to shop for coverage this year! The prices for Obamacare insurance this year are, well, just weird. Sometimes plans with low deductibles cost more than plans high deductibles. There are a decent number of free health insurance plans out there for people who receive financial assistance paying their premiums. And there are some really expensive plans out there, too.

All of this makes it so important for Obamacare enrollees to shop for coverage. There are a lot of cases out across the country where enrollees could save hundreds or thousands of dollars by switching health insurance. There is the opportunity, in many cases, for enrollees to get a better plan for a cheaper price. This year more than ever, it is crucial that enrollees compare their options.

If you need a bit of help, the New York Times has put together a great guide to how different Obamacare enrollees in different situations can best shop for coverage. Check it out here.

5) There is enrollment help out there — just less of it. The Trump administration made steep cuts to Obamacare outreach. Funding for in-person assistance fell 72 percent this year, and some groups closed up shop entirely.

Still, there is help out there. Get America Covered offers a tool that lets Obamacare enrollees search by zip code to see the closest Obamacare navigators and even make online appointments.

Those groups are scrambling to provide assistance in this shorter enrollment period, so it’s better to get an appointment early rather than wait till the last minute.

Are you an Obamacare enrollee who has questions about this year’s sign-up period? Covered Florida will be dropping into our Facebook group to help provide guidance. If you’re an Obamacare enrollee, you can join the group here.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 12:27 pm

Trying the Feldenkrais Method for Chronic Pain

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Jane Brody writes in the NY Times:

After two hourlong sessions focused first on body awareness and then on movement retraining at the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, I understood what it meant to experience an incredible lightness of being. Having, temporarily at least, released the muscle tension that aggravates my back and hip pain, I felt like I was walking on air.

I had long refrained from writing about this method of countering pain because I thought it was some sort of New Age gobbledygook with no scientific basis. Boy, was I wrong!

The Feldenkrais method is one of several increasingly popular movement techniques, similar to the Alexander technique, that attempt to better integrate the connections between mind and body. By becoming aware of how one’s body interacts with its surroundings and learning how to behave in less stressful ways, it becomes possible to relinquish habitual movement patterns that cause or contribute to chronic pain.

The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, mechanical engineer and expert in martial arts, after a knee injury threatened to leave him unable to walk. Relying on his expert knowledge of gravity and the mechanics of motion, he developed exercises to help teach the body easier, more efficient ways to move.

I went to the institute at the urging of Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the recently published book “Crooked” that details the nature and results of virtually every current approach to treating back pain, a problem that has plagued me on and off (now mostly on) for decades. Having benefited from Feldenkrais lessons herself, Ms. Ramin had good reason to believe they would help me.

In her book, she recounts the experience of Courtney King, who first experienced crippling back spasms in her late 20s. Ms. King was taking several dance classes a week and practicing yoga, and she thought the stress of these activities might be causing the pain in her tight, inflexible back. But after a number of Feldenkrais sessions, she told Ms. Ramin, “I realized that the pain had more to do with the way I carried myself every day.”

Even after just one session, I understood what she meant. When I make a point of walking upright and fluid, sitting straight, even cooking relaxed and unhurried, I have no pain. The slow, gentle, repetitive movements I practiced in a Feldenkrais group class helped foster an awareness of how I use my body in relation to my environment, and awareness is the first step to changing one’s behavior.

One common problem of which I’m often guilty is using small muscles to accomplish tasks meant for large, heavy-duty ones, resulting in undue fatigue and pain.

The group class, called Awareness Through Movement, was followed by an individual session called Functional Integration with a therapist that helped to free tight muscles and joints that were limiting my motion and increasing my discomfort. Using gentle manipulation and passive movements, the therapist individualized his approach to my particular needs.

The ultimate goal of both sessions is, in effect, to retrain the brain – to establish new neural pathways that result in easy, simple movements that are physiologically effective and comfortable. Although the Feldenkrais method was developed in the mid-20th century, neurophysiologists have since demonstrated the plasticity of the brain, its ability to form new cells, reorganize itself and, in effect, learn new ways to do things.

The beauty of Feldenkrais lessons is that they are both relatively low-cost (group classes average $15 to $25, individual sessions $100 to $200) and potentially accessible to nearly everyone. There are more than 7,000 teachers and practitioners working in 18 countries, including large numbers in the United States. You can be any age, strength, fitness level and state of well-being to participate. The exercises are slow, gentle and adjustable to whatever might ail you. Their calming effect counters the stress that results in contracted muscles, tightness and pain.

Many Feldenkrais practitioners, like Marek Wyszynski, director of the New York center, start professional life as physical therapists, although many other practitioners begin with no medical background. They then undergo three years of training to become certified in the Feldenkrais method.

Mr. Wyszynski explained that he starts by observing how patients are using their skeletons – how they sit, stand and walk in ways that may cause or contribute to their pathology, be it spinal disc disease, arthritis, shoulder pain or damaged knee joints. In accordance with Dr. Feldenkrais’s astute observation, “If you don’t know what you are doing, you can’t do what you want,” patients are then given a clear sensory experience of how their posture and behavior contribute to their pain and physical limitations.

For example, some people may use excessive force, clench their teeth, hold their breath or rush, causing undue muscle tension and skeletal stress. Years ago, I realized that my frequent headaches resulted from an unconscious habit of clenching my jaw when I concentrated intently on a task like sewing or cooking. Feldenkrais teachers do not give formulas for a proper way of behaving; rather, they rely on their patients’ ability to self-discover and self-correct.

Once aware of their counterproductive habits, students are given the opportunity to experience alternative movements, postures and behaviors and, through practice, create new habits that are less likely to cause pain. . .

Continue reading.

And read the comments as well. Here’s one, fairly typical:

Kristin   Brooklyn  4 hours ago

I can’t say enough about how effective Feldenkrais is for chronic pain. When I first starting seeing Marek Wyszynski I was ready to get a hip replacement. Even though I was relatively young for such an operation, I was in so much pain I didn’t think there was any other alternative. I’d tried regular physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, even cortisone shots, but was never able to get anything more than temporary relief. Like the author, after one Feldenkrais session I had substantial relief that lasted. I’ve been able to resume yoga, dancing and swimming, but most importantly, I’m no longer in constant pain.
And Feldenkrais works for far more than just chronic pain. I referred a friend’s son, a nationally ranked tennis player who was having trouble with his game following an ankle injury. Marek instantly spotted how he was unduly compensating and throwing off his stroke and he was soon back in winning form. I highly recommend Marek and the Feldenkrais Institute to athletes, dancers, anyone suffering from chronic pain, or anyone who wants to move with greater ease and freedom.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 12:19 pm

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