Monday, October 20, 2014

Monetizing Ebola

Some people see everything in terms of whether they can turn it into money.  An empty lot, a disaster, older folks who aren't as sharp as they once were, and now Ebola. 

I got this in my emailbox this morning:

  From sort Date sort   Subject sort Size sort
Ebola Bulletin Oct 19, 2014   Shocking Revelations from Ebola Expert 27 k

I'd seen an article or post on people exploiting Ebola, but the email above was the first direct contact I'd had.

My first reaction was - how low can you go?   How despicable must you be to use Ebola to victimize others for personal gain?

But I don't think it's quite that simple.  I can think of at least two factors at play here. 

First, there are people who, for whatever reason - no conscience, no empathy for other people, or personal desperation, or whatever else - think nothing of scamming people for their own personal gain.

Second, a society that values money above most everything else.  It doesn't matter how unscrupulously people make money in our society (and much of the world), if it's not illegal or if you don't get caught, the money gives you a veneer of respectability.  Certainly money can buy you all the facades of respectability and it can even buy you a 'get out of jail free card.' But I can envision a society where such bad behavior would so taint the money one gained that far fewer people would be tempted.

Until we find a cure for conscience numbing conditions like  psychopathy  we're going to have people among us without a conscience, thus unconstrained from the kinds of social and moral constraints that keep most people from exploiting others. 

But we can make people accountable for how they made their money.  We can give other factors - decency, less monetizable skills and talents, helpfulness, etc. - more respect and power in our society than we currently do. 

Every time we do something that gives respect to people simply for having money, regardless of how they get it, we support the culture of wealth worship.  Every time we click the teaser links on every monetized website that take us to trivial information, we reward this kind of mentality. 

Unless, of course,  people start using that method to exploit the exploiters.  How about teasers like "The Ten Slimiest Ways the Koch Brothers Make Money" or "Frank Murkowski's Wealth Analyzed, Dollar By Dollar"?  Teasers that lead us to solidly researched information that helps us better understand why some people have more power than it seems they should. 

I'm still thinking about possible legitimate ways to profit from Ebola - drug companies that make legitimate cures, comedians who profit from Ebola jokes (if their joke make people think, it's probably ok), media coverage of Ebola.  But that's tricky, as can be see from this MediaMatters piece entitled  Right-Wing Media Exploit Ebola Outbreak In West Africa To Spread Immigration Fears.

Basically, I think the kinds of people who send out emails like I got - I didn't even open it by the way - are despicable.  I'm just trying to point out though that people aren't despicable in a vacuum.  The more we understand the factors that make them do despicable things, the greater our likelihood of figuring out ways to reduce the number of people doing them.   

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Lost Causes Are The Only Ones Worth Fight For" - Should Parnell Keep Fighting Same-Sex Marriage?

A lot of people are criticizing Governor Parnell's decision to continue to appeal the rulings allowing same-sex partners to get married in Alaska.  Mainly, they argue, given the Ninth Circuit and US Supreme Courts' recent actions, appealing is a lost cause.  But are no lost causes  worth fighting for?  Which ones would you fight for?  Which wouldn't you?  And what factors make the difference?   I'm going to start that discussion in this post.

"Lost Causes Are The Only Ones Worth Fight For"

After the death of a US senator in the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Mr. Smith (Jimmy Stewart)  is  appointed to take his place. His hero is the senior Senator from his state, Mr. Paine.  But Smith learns that Mr. Paine is supporting corrupt legislation and Smith filibusters to stop the legislation.  Near the end of the filibuster, tired and near collapse, Mr. Smith says:
"I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for,  and he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them."
Here's the clip of that scene:

What Exactly Does It Mean?

"Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."  If might be good rhetoric, but it really doesn't make any sense.  It impliwa that good causes that  have a chance of winning aren't worth fighting for.  That's clearly not the case.  It's a phrase, spoken passionately though, that might sway an unthinking audience

And it wasn't the last word on lost causes in the movie either  If you watched the video clip to the end, you heard that Jimmy Stewart didn't stop there.  He gives a rule for why you fight lost causes.
". . .   for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain,  simple rule, "Love thy neighbor,"     

That makes a lot more sense, but again, this is rhetoric.  It sounds good.  "Love thy neighbor" is a sentiment many will agree with (until they think about the neighbor who leaves his barking dog outside in the cold all day) but is it really the only reason to fight lost causes?

I'm going to end this post here and in a near (I hope) future post, try to come up with a model of lost cause situations.  I've already come up with a list of different situations that onlookers might label a lost cause.  I'll try to tease out of these examples, a way to evaluate how noble any specific lost cause situation is. 

Here are a couple I've thought of so far:
  1. Searching for a missing child, all leads are cold, and the odds of finding her now are low to nil.
  2. Fighting an armed battle, grossly outnumbered and outgunned, against an enemy who tortures and kills their captives.
  3. Refusing to divulge information about your fellow rebels to your torturer. 
  4. Refusing to accept a plea bargain because you know you are innocent, even though there are witnesses who swear they saw you and you’ll get life, when you could bargain for a lighter sentence. 
Then when the model is complete, we can apply it to the Governor's insistence that he must spend state resources to fight the overturning of the same sex marriage ban in court.

One friend I chatted with about this said I was making this too complicated.  It's just about power and the election.  That may well be the case.  But I hate to jump to conclusions about other people's intentions.  And such a model surely will have usefulness in other situations. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

AIFF 2014: Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, Poland - Some Countries Getting Features Into Anchorage International Film Festival 2014

The Anchorage International Film Festival is just around the corner - Dec. 5 - 14.  The films selected for the festival recently were announced, and if I weren't ping-ponging between Anchorage and LA to look in on my mom, I would have had this up earlier.  But here's a quick look at the features selected.  Those checked as being "In Competition" were selected by the judges to be in the running for a Golden Oosik Award.

You can check out the AAIF website to get more details of these films and information about the films in the other categories.

Feature, at AIFF, means 'fiction films over 55 minutes.'


Title Director(s) Country Runtime In Competition

6 Bullets To Hell Tanner Beard Spain, USA 80m
The Ambassador to Bern Attila Szász Hungary 77m
Appropriate Behavior Desiree Akhavan USA 90m
Come to My Voice [Were Denge Min] Huseyin Karabey France, Germany, Turkey 90m
I Believe In Unicorns Leah Meyerhoff USA 80m
Kurmanjan Datka [Queen of the Mountains] Sadyk Sher-Niyaz Kyrgyzstan 136m
Listening Khalil Sullins USA 98m
The Lookalike Richard Gray USA 100m
Mr. Intangibles Ben Bolea USA 82m
Porch Stories Sarah Goodman Canada 73m
Rocks In My Pockets Signe Baumane USA, Latvia 88m
Sacrifice Michael Cohn USA 105m
The Secret Sharer Peter Fudakowski United Kingdom, Poland 103m
Teacher of the Year Jason Strouse USA 82m
These Hopeless Savages Sean Lewis USA 87m

It's That Time

Birch and Amur Maple Leaves


Amur Maple

Dantzing With Pollsters - Follow Up

Yesterday I did a  post about ways to respond to political pollsters that raises questions like what do you owe telephone survey folks?  The only things I said you owe them are some respect and friendliness, because it's not an easy job.  I just got a call from a local Anchorage number - 268 2121.  It's a bit late for calls, but I answered it.

Caller:  May I speak to Steve?
Me:  Whose calling?
Caller:  Tanya.  I'm from MRS.
Me:  [She sounded tired, and remembering my advice, I answered in a very friendly]     Hi Tanya, how are you doing tonight?  What is MRS and where are you?
Tanya:  McQuire Research Service, in Nevada.

Well she was clearly pleased to get a friendly response and, in her words, "not to be yelled at."  But I did tell her about yesterday's blog post and she asked if I wanted to do the survey.  Since she'd identified her company, which I'd said yesterday legit pollsters should do,  I said, 'Sure."

Tanya:  How likely are you to vote next month?
Steve:   Barring getting hit by a bus . . . you know Tanya, actually, I plan to vote next Monday when early voting starts.  So I'm definitely voting in October, not next month.
Tanya:   . . . .
Steve:  If I say I'm not voting next month, that ends the survey, doesn't it?
Tanya:  Yes . . .
Steve:  I guess they didn't write the question very well, because I'm sure they don't care when I vote, do they?  But since I'm not going to vote next month, and I answered honestly 'no,' you have to end this right?
Tanya:  Yes,

I thought I heard an unspoken, "but . ."

I hope she still gets paid, even though we only did the first question.  But she shouldn't be penalized if people don't plan to vote.  That's information too.  I should have asked her. 

[OK, this post is sort of a stall.  I'm working on several longer posts that aren't quite right yet, and this seemed like an easy filler.  But if you didn't see the original post Dantzing With Pollsters, that has a little more meat.

I don't generally watch television or listen to much AM radio, so I'm relatively spared a lot of the political advertising.  The mailed advertising doesn't make noises and is easy to put into the recycle bin.

But I noticed tonight, getting a Youtube clip for a post I'm working on, that I got a Dan Sullivan ad linking Mark Begich to Obama before the video.  But I had to play the video several times and then I got Begich ads with a women talking about how Sullivan would interfere between her and her doctor at her clinic. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Complexity Talk Human-Environment Interactions - And Free Maps

I'm on the mailing list for the UAA complexity series.

I realize this is a specialized topic, but I've always found the complexity presentations particularly interesting.  The talks are designed for an interdisciplinary audience.  It's free and Fridays offer free parking on campus. 

Title: Spatially Explicit Modeling of Human-Environment Interactions.
Presented by: Dr. Frank Witmer. UAA. Computer Science and Engineering
When: Friday,  October 17th 2014 11:30-12:45
Where: CPISB 105A 

Abstract: Modeling complex human-environment interactions can take many forms.  Most of the data we use to inform our models has a spatial dimension to it, even if it is not recorded as an attribute in the dataset. This presentation discusses the importance of explicitly incorporating the spatial dimension when modeling human-environment relationships.  Some common modeling approaches using simulation and regression will be discussed before looking at an example from my research modeling climate variability and violence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Note:  The names of buildings at the university are difficult enough, but then when they become acronyms they are almost impossible.   This talk is in CPISB.  I figured the B was for building.   What mnemonic device can I use to remember this? I didn't have to think.  It jumped right out.   See Piss Building.  So I immediately thought of this famous Belgian statue. Mannekin Pis, which should be on top of the building.

Image (and there are many more) from Minube

I looked it up.  Probably this should be on top of the building:  Conoco-Philips Integrated Science Building.   It's back behind the library. 

And  Free Maps

I also got a link to the USGS site which announces:

Nearly Every USGS Topo Map Ever Made. For Free.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been producing detailed topographic maps for more than 125 years. Today they are nearly all digitized and free to download through the USGS Map Store, an incredible treasure trove for both map junkies and casual hikers alike.

Dantzing With Pollsters

I didn't answer, waiting for them to leave a message.  They called twice yesterday.  Once he must have been paying attention to something else and missed the message because he said, "Steve?"  six or seven times on voice mail.

But they left no messages.  I googled "Dantz 925 948 9469" and got 2012 stuff at 800Notes:

"R Squared
Just got a call today from that number. This is research center conducting statistics for the upcoming elections. The agent asks: "are you going to vote during the upcoming elections?" And you answer yes or no. That was it.
Caller: Research Center
Call Type: Survey"

This number has called me several times in the past few days. I don't pick up and they don't leave a message. I tried calling back, but it said the number wasn't in service."
Why are they calling?

Well, basically, they are calling you to get information from you that they get paid to gather.

OK, pollsters call for different reasons.

  1. On the top of the pecking order (for me)  are academic researchers who are trying gain understanding of some issue or human behavior and the results of their research will be available to all and might give us more insight into how the world works.
  2.  Political pollsters whose data are available to anyone.  They are trying to get a handle on a coming election or some other issue.  And to improve their reputations so clients will pay them to do private polls. 
  3.  Pollsters who get paid by a political candidate so that candidate can see how close the election is and to figure out the best way to reach voters with his message or get voters to actually vote.

  4. Pollsters who get paid by PACs or other political operators who want to figure out how to get a particular candidate elected or a particular initiative to pass or be defeated.

It's not unreasonable during an election, to try to get a sense of how likely it is for one candidate or another to win, especially if you are one of the candidates.  Nor is it unreasonable for candidates to try to get a sense of which issues are most important to the voters.  But some candidates do this more honorably than others.

And nowadays, when outside PACS have tens of millions of dollars to spend to manipulate an election, things get less honorable and reasonable.

What Do You Owe The Pollsters?

They're making money off of your information.  You didn't invite them to call.  In fact you may even be on the "do not call registry."  While I think there can be a public benefit for answering the calls of academic pollsters, and there are honest politicians who are legitimately gathering information to better get their message out (rather than to pander to whatever the voters seem to want to hear),  it's hard to tell which pollster is which.

A good, legitimate pollster will tell you which organization they work for, but not necessarily who their client is, particularly if it's a political poll.  Knowing the client might bias the respondent's answers.

Basically, I've come to the conclusion that I don't owe them answers.  I don't owe them picking up the phone, answering their questions, or if I do answer, I don't have an obligation to tell the truth. 

I do owe them a modicum of respect and friendliness.  After all, these are people who are trying to earn a living in difficult economic times.  Of course, this goes with all transactions.  And if they are not respectful or friendly back, you don't even owe them this.  Though, staying polite, if uncooperative, shows them you are a nobler person.

Can You Have Fun With Pollsters?

Happiness is all about finding the positive in what you encounter in life.  Look toward these calls as an opportunity to be playful.  Some options.

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  No problem, I charge $120 per hour, with a 15 minute minimum.  Send me a $30 check and when you call back I'll be happy to answer for up to 15 minutes.

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  And I'd like to ask you some questions too.   Let me ask you some questions and depending on your answers, I'll then let you ask me.
1.  Who do you work for and where are you calling from?  [This one they should answer - at least the polling company, not the client]
2   And what client is paying you to do this poll?
3.  How much are you getting paid per hour?
4.  If your company is getting paid and you're getting paid for my information, don't you think it is reasonable that I get paid too?

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  Sure, no problem, but I don't promise to answer honestly.  [This has sometimes ended the call and other times not.]

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  Hey, I'm sorry that the economy is so bad that you've had to stoop to making these kinds of calls.  What did you do before?  or What is your degree in?

If you get a particularly nasty push poll (where they give you leading questions and the poll isn't to get information, but to influence your vote by slandering a candidate) you can
1.  record the call (in Alaska it's legal to record a call if one party knows it's being recorded - for an overview of this one-party consent nationally see here) and then send the recording to the slandered candidate so they know what's going on.  If both parties must consent in your state, you can simply tell them "I hope you don't mind but I record all my calls" or you can just ask if they mind and if they do, say, "Sorry then. Goodbye."
2.  move to your computer and type up their scripts as they read them.  You can ask them to slow down and repeat questions because you can't hear them or because you need to think about it.  You can make a 30 second call take five minutes.  It will drive them crazy.  And you can send your transcript of the questions to the candidate they are trashing.

Another activity is to try to get the pollster off their script.  If it's a legitimate poll, they should be asking each person the exact same question and not give any extra information, except to repeat the question.  But these folks have been doing a lot of calling and they can get bored and might be susceptible to a little subterfuge of their polls.

Again, try to ascertain what kind of poll it is.  The most reputable will tell you who they are and possibly what the poll is about (if that doesn't bias the information.)  For instance:

Pollster:  Hi, I'm calling from the University of X and I'd like to ask you some questions about health care.  The information will be confidential, your name will not be on the response sheet I keep, though we will have a coded identifier. 

But remember, a lot of university polling is done, not really for academic research, but because the university is being paid by a client to gather the information.  Sometimes this might be for a state agency, other times it could be for a private company.  You can ask and if they won't tell, you can politely decline.

Make this into a little dance of wits.  A game you play with the pollsters.  With a little imagination you can change how you view pollsters, change them from a nuisance into   pollsterade.  Think of each new call as a challenging game.  Some of the callers will enjoy it too if you're polite and clever about it. 

One more catch - robot calls.  You can't play with them usually because they aren't programed to hear you.  The best I can think to do is just not respond and make them use up as much time as possible before they automatically hang up.  If they do respond to voice, tell them you only respond to real people. Or try "Operator" to get a real person.  But don't hold your breath. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Speaking of Conspiracies - "I cannot be certain that they were all humans"

I got this email yesterday.  Generally these go straight to junk, but with the conspiracy theme in my head, I decided to look.  These people should either be getting psychiatric help and/or writing science fiction, except there's no science involved.  This is just an excerpt.
After I prayed today with a friend, our Blessed Saviour gave me several visions relative to the ebola plague, its spread in this nation and also its spread in some other nations. . .
After seeing this nation, which seemed to be covered in blood, I saw piles of dead people. The dead seemed to pile up so quickly! In great heaps, they were piled up! Then, I saw workers, who took the dead, who were stashed in plastic bags, and they began to toss the heaps of dead bodies into open box cars and onto long flat-bed trucks. Thereafter, I saw them unload masses of these dead bodies and throw them into empty houses and set afire those houses, which were stacked with dead bodies and they burned the bodies and the houses together! Then, I saw these workers take more bodies and throw them into square pits, which had concrete bottoms and concrete sides, but were otherwise open pits and on top of the bodies, they poured accelerants and set afire these bodies and burned them in this way.
After I received the above part of this vision, I then was taken into an underground base and there I saw the President of this nation. Along with him were a small group of people, though I cannot be certain that they were all humans; and I say this because of the high-reptile hybrids, who look like humans. However, they are not human, but can be up to 99% reptilian and they are very great enemies of all people.
I watched them there and I knew that they were in the midst of a plot, a very great plot, indeed; and that plot was to determine how to spread this virus among the people in this nation at a more alarming rate. I saw what they plotted, at least some of it, and firstly I saw that they were planning to put this virus into packaged meat in some of the grocery stores. Then, I saw that they were plotting to put some of this virus into open reservoirs of drinking water. Then, I saw that they were plotting to release terrorists into shopping centers, who would run quickly from one to another shopper and inject certain of these unsuspecting shoppers with the ebola virus, and thereafter flee! . . ." [emphasis added]

Yet people think the CIA raising money for Nicaraguan arms by selling drugs (see previous post)  is far-fetched and they belief this deluded fantasy.  The reptilian stuff is listed at Mother Jones' list of Obama conspiracies.  It's second from the end today as i write, but surely more will be added quickly.   The email did not ask for money or even have a link.  But I guess when I opened it they took all the information they needed from my computer.  Oh, yeah, another conspiracy. 

Kill The Messenger - Go See The Movie

A favorite relative of mine suggested I blog about conspiracy and how do you determine what's bullshit and what's real.    I reminded him of a post I did called Does Idaho Exist?  What Everyone Should Know About Philosophy  which touches on that, but it was a good idea to go further.

I got my first glimpse of real conspiracy when I lived in a small provincial capital in Northern Thailand and American military jets flew low over my town, headed north, to  bomb Laos and North Vietnam. Were those planes over my town doing the bombing?  I can't be sure, but they were flying very low and we were secretly bombing during those years.  From
"Flying out of bases in Thailand, U.S. Air Force fighter‐bombers—primarily F‐105 Thunderchiefs and later F‐4 Phantoms—joined U.S. Navy Phantoms and A‐4 Skyhawks from a powerful carrier task force located at a point called Yankee Station, seventy‐five miles off the North Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin. In 1965, U.S. aircraft flew 25,000 sorties against North Vietnam, and that number grew to 79,000 in 1966 and 108,000 in 1967. In 1967 annual bombing tonnage reached almost a quarter million. Targets expanded to include the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and factories, farms, and railroads in North Vietnam. "
I wasn't looking for the story, but it was happening in plain sight and sound above me.  And since it was the middle of the Vietnam war  (or the American war as the Vietnamese call it) there were lots of reporters in Vietnam and in Thailand who had to know as well.  But no  officially it wasn't happening and no major media were writing about it.

So when I heard reports in the 1990s that the CIA had a scheme to fund the Contras in Nicaragua with drug money and that had led to the flood of crack into Southcentral LA,  I didn't dismiss it, even as the story was attacked and discredited, but I was busy doing other things and it was just one more story.  But it seemed to outrageous for a reporter to just make up the whole thing.

Tonight, watching the film Kill The Messenger I was drawn back into that story and reminded how important tenacious, fearless reporters are.  Gary Webb.  When you write good stuff, people reach out to you with more information.  He made his luck.

I haven't had time to do all the background checks, but I'd strongly encourage folks to go see the movie while it's in theaters.  I know, you can download movies these days, but there is something about watching it in a theater with other people.  For people in Anchorage, it's playing at the Wednesday and Thursday.
Kill The Messenger
Century 16 Anchorage and XD
301 East 36th Ave., Anchorage, AK
‎11:40am‎  ‎2:25‎  ‎5:10‎  ‎7:55‎  ‎10:40pm‎ 
Wednesday Oct. 15, Thursday Oct. 16
I'm not sure if it will play after that.  And after going to the movies in LA last week, let me tell you, the movies are a bargain in Anchorage. 

It tells stories that Americans need to know.  It's a feature based on a true story.  It's not a documentary.  It's well done, you won't go to sleep.  Reporter Gary Webb at the San Jose Mercury News gets one huge story and does the legwork to tease out the information and ignores the warnings to drop the story.  It gets out to the world, and then the rest of the media get the same sort of full-court press from the CIA they got about planes bombing Laos and Cambodia. National security.  Don't write about this. Webb's making it all up.  NPR, which seems to have done more background checking than I, writes about the attacks on Webb by the LA Times and the Washington Post:
"(One of the L.A. Times reporters who led the paper's attempts to discredit Webb's reporting later called his own efforts "overkill," and the Washington Post then-ombudsman Geneva Overholser accused that paper of "misdirected zeal" in its attack on Webb.)"
The movie focuses on the reporter getting the story.  How his small town newspaper wasn't quite prepared for such a story and later retracted much of it under an onslaught of criticism that the movie suggests was orchestrated by the CIA.  But it also, of course, gives the basics of the story of the CIA involvement with Central American drug traffickers to clandestinely get arms to the Contras in Nicaragua when Congress refused to fund help for the Contras.

And it raises the issues of conspiracy and how do we know whether one is happening or not.  I've concluded long ago that there can be a small groups of people who plot to get their way.  But there are also people who, through similar backgrounds, schooling, and values come to the same conclusions and take actions that are the equivalent of a conspiracy without having to actually meet and agree.  And as the movie shows, there are webs of mutual interests that can be cajoled or threatened that will back the official line.

As a blogger, I watched carefully how he asked questions and got people to talk.  I'm a different sort and don't think I can do it like he did.  (And we only know how the film makers portrayed what he did, not necessarily what he actually did.)  Jeremy Renner's Webb pulled me right in.  And while there were other actors, he dominates the movie.  I can't recall any scene that he wasn't in. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

White Geranium

When we got back the other day, this geranium out on the deck was in full bloom.  Here are a few views.  Getting close and using filters at Photoshop causes me to rethink what and how I see things.

Mirrors meeting in a corner offer a great spot to put flowers.

This poster filtered version using Photo Shop focuses on the shape in a different way.