The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Tennessee punishes teenagers with health mandate

The Tennessee Dept of Health will stop telling adolescents about vaccinesespecially about the HPV vaccine:

The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for coronavirus, but all diseases – amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers, according to an internal report and agency emails obtained by the Tennessean. If the health department must issue any information about vaccines, staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents.

The health department will also stop all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, despite holding at least one such event this month. The decisions to end vaccine outreach and school events come directly from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, the internal report states.

After the health department's internal COVID-19 report was circulated on Friday, the rollback of vaccine outreach was further detailed in a Monday email from agency Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones.

Jones told staff they should conduct "no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines" and "no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine." 

Staff were also told not to do any "pre-planning" for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.

Decisions to ratchet back outreach comes amid pressure from conservative lawmakers, who have embraced misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine, said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee's former top vaccine official.

Despite being Cassie's birthplace, not to mention the state other close friends come from, we must remember that it also hosted the Scopes trial in 1925. The state government has a long history of anti-science legislation. This mandate seems particularly idiotic, but we also have to remember that with the modern Republican Party, the cruelty is the point.

What a real filibuster looks like

Josh Marshall points to the Great Texas Democratic Legislator Escape going on today as an example of what a filibuster should be:

Democrats are making a huge spectacle. No one’s going to miss that. They also have to be very clear why they’re doing it. It’s because of an assault on voting rights in the state. They have to own that. And they’re taking this step because they’re clearly quite willing to own that.

Just as clear, this can only go on for so long. How do I know? Basically logic really but also history. We’ve seen this in Texas, Oregon, Wisconsin and various other places. Legislators are only willing to stay on the lam for so long. Over time there are various tools legislative majorities can use to get their way. (That’s not a bad thing. Majority rule is our fundamental system.) You also need a really good reason for doing it. Otherwise public opinion will rapidly turn against you.

The whole effort is best seen as an effort to stall, buy some time and they hope either slow the process down or shift public opinion in their favor. It’s not pretty but there’s some value in having that kind of escape valve in the legislative process. It’s public. It’s self-limiting. You have to own it and be politically accountable for your actions.

In other words, the Texas Democrats didn't just send an email to halt all progress in the Texas Legislature. Imagine if US Senate Republicans had to do the same thing.

Not exactly storming the ballustrades

Former Social Security commissioner, whom President Biden fired last week, "defiantly" "showed up" for "work" yesterday morning. It worked about as well as someone not born in the Pleistocene would have guessed:

Ousted Social Security commissioner Andrew Saul, the Trump appointee who declared Friday he would defy his firing by President Biden, on Monday found his access to agency computers cut off, even as his acting replacement moved to undo his policies.

“There will be more,” said Saul, a wealthy former women’s apparel executive and prominent Republican donor who had served on the board of a conservative think tank that has called for cuts to Social Security benefits. “Stay tuned.”

OK, Boomer.

Now, I'm not wild about the president firing an agency head, when the agency probably would have done better to stay out of politics. But when the head of said agency wants to dismantle the agency, maybe firing him is OK?

The preservationist leanings of Scooby-Doo

CityLab's Feargus O'Sullivan riffs on an Instagram account that celebrates Scooby-Doo's Victorian backdrops:

It should come as no surprise that creaking mansard roofs, vaulted dungeons and abandoned one-horse towns occur so often as settings. Americans have been identifying the Victorian with the macabre for more than 100 years. It still seems not completely coincidental that these particular backdrops were so often used for a show in its heyday in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

This, after all, is a period when America’s Victorian architecture lay on a major fault line. Long decaying as wealthier residents moved to the suburbs, America’s many Victorian neighborhoods fell prey to demolition during this period as urban renewal projects smashed through buildings that were often seen as musty, decrepit hangovers from a poorer, miserably car-less past.

San Francisco’s Fillmore District, for example, was substantially redeveloped, scattering its mainly African American residents to the East Bay, while the now celebrated Victorian district of Old Louisville saw over 600 buildings demolished between 1965 and 1971 alone.

Indeed, the show sometimes tackles these issues directly. The classic Scooby-Doo villain is a developer or greedy landowner, scaring people away from their property by dressing as a ghost or monster, only to be unmasked and confess everything to the band of “pesky kids” just before each episode’s final curtain. Occasionally, even urban renewal itself crops up. In one episode a developer constructing new buildings in Seattle is also secretly plundering treasures from the subterranean street network built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1889.

Down the street from me, a 6-bedroom house built in 1897 just sold for $412,500—less than half its estimated value, and probably closer to a third of what it might fetch once its restoration finishes next year. It went for $28,500 in 1979, which works out to about $110,000 today, during the worst period of urban decay in Uptown. Other gorgeous houses and apartments from the 1890s through 1920s in Chicago barely survived the 1970s, sometimes only because no one wanted to invest in the neighborhoods.

I've written about this phenomenon before, of course.

Andrew Sullivan moves left a little

But he still has a lot to say about what he calls "successor ideology:"

The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Obama was a straddler, of course, and did not deny that “so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” I don’t deny that either. Who could? But neither did he deny African-American agency or responsibility:

It means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

To say this today would evoke instant accusations of being a white supremacist and racist. That’s how far the left has moved: Obama as an enabler of white supremacy.

Personally, I favor liberalism, and I always will. We have the most successful multiracial society in history. We can do better; we must do better; but damn, we're not all good or all evil.

UIC's Dis/Placements project maps Uptown

Via Bloomberg CityLab and Block Club Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago started a project in 2017 to chart the "displacements of people and struggles over land, housing, and community in the city of Chicago:"

The issue of displacement and the efforts to stop it, in fact, has been present in Uptown for nearly 200 years. That history — in the words of the people who were displaced — is now being recounted through a new University of Illinois Chicago research project.

“In general, it’s poor communities and communities of color that have faced the brunt of the efforts to develop neighborhoods,” said UIC Professor Gayatri Reddy. “Uptown captures some of these remaining issues.”

The project also recounts the efforts to stop displacement and points to how modern activist movements have picked up the mantle from previous generations in the still very-much-alive fight in Uptown, the professors said.

Displacement and development that adversely impact the poor and communities of color have been happening in Uptown, and America, since its founding. But at least in Uptown, the scale of displacement has accelerated in modern times, Reddy said.

“It seems to us that there has been a steady rise in the breadth and scale of such efforts in the last 20 [plus] years,” she said. “With gentrification and other displacement mechanisms impacting an even wider swath of the population.”

The project site has interactive and VR visualizations of Uptown's history, with scads of GIS data and spotlights on specific instances of uncomfortable history.

We're dumb, but we're not that dumb

Two sad-funny examples of how, nah, we're exactly that dumb. The first, from TDWTF, points out the fundamental problem with training a machine-learning system how to write software:

Any ML system is only as good as its training data, and this leads to some seriously negative outcomes. We usually call this algorithmic bias, and we all know the examples. It's why voice assistants have a hard time with certain names or accents. It's why sentencing tools for law enforcement mis-classify defendants. It's why facial recognition systems have a hard time with darker skin tones.

In the case of an ML tool that was trained on publicly available code, there's a blatantly obvious flaw in the training data: MOST CODE IS BAD.

If you feed a big pile of Open Source code into OpenAI, the only thing you're doing is automating the generation of bad code, because most of the code you fed the system is bad. It's ironic that the biggest obstacle to automating programmers out of a job is that we are terrible at our jobs.

I regret to inform the non-programmer portion of the world that this is true.

But still, most of the world's bad code isn't nearly as bad as the deposition Paula Deen gave in her harassment suit in May 2013. This came up in a conversation over the weekend, and the person I discussed this with insisted that, no, she really said incredibly dumb things that one has to imagine made her attorney weep. She reminds us that the Venn diagram of casual bigotry and stupidity has a large overlapping area labeled "Murica."

Just wait for the bit where the plaintiff's attorney asks Deen to give an example of a nice way to use the N-word.

I will now continue writing code I hope never winds up in either a deposition or on TDWTF.

Down the Memory Hole

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder warns that "memory laws" recently passed in several Republican-held states bear a strong resemblance to similar laws supported by horrifying regimes:

After the Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, citizens of a newly independent Ukraine began commemorating the dead of the 1932-33 famine, which they call the Holodomor. In 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament recognized the events in question as a genocide. In 2008, the Russian Duma responded with a resolution that provided a very different account of the famine. Even as Russian legislators seemed to acknowledge the catastrophe, they turned it against the main victims. The resolution stated that “there is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines,” and pointedly mentioned six regions in Russia before mentioning Ukraine.

This ordering became habitual in the Russian state press: Mentions of the famine included an awkwardly long list of regions, downplaying the specificity of the Ukrainian tragedy. The famine was presented as a result of administrative mistakes by a neutral state apparatus. Everyone was a victim, and so no one was.

This spring, memory laws arrived in America. Republican state legislators proposed dozens of bills designed to guide and control American understanding of the past.

[T]he most common feature among the laws, and the one most familiar to a student of repressive memory laws elsewhere in the world, is their attention to feelings. Four of five of them, in almost identical language, proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult. The memory management enables the voter suppression. The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.

The Republican Party continues to follow established patterns to further its goal of minority rule. Memory laws fit them like a comfortable pair of jackboots.

Cosplaying soldiers arrested in Massachusetts

I mean...

Police in Massachusetts arrested 11 people Saturday after an hours-long standoff with a group of heavily armed men near Interstate 95, sparking stay-at-home orders for nearby residents and a highway shutdown during the holiday weekend.

According to the Wakefield Police Department, several men carrying rifles and handguns took off into the woods after refusing to comply with orders during a motor vehicle stop around 1:30 a.m. The men claimed to belong to a group that “does not recognize our laws,” police said.

“No threats were made, but these men should be considered armed and dangerous,” the department said in a statement at the time.

The incident concluded around nine hours later with authorities saying all those involved had been apprehended. The men are expected to appear in district court on a variety of firearms charges Tuesday morning. In the meantime, investigators are still trying to determine what, if any, motives the group might have had.

Apparently these guys belong to a group called "Rise of the Moors," which one must assume has nothing to do with Yorkshire:

The group’s website describes its organization as a collective of “Moorish Americans,” and its members believe they are the “original sovereigns of this land — America.”

During his phone conversation, the apparent leader said his men grabbed weapons Saturday morning on I-95 when they were approached by law enforcement because they felt threatened. The apparent leader asked to be served a summons, saying law enforcement officials could deliver the summons to a table that he offered to set up in the middle of the highway.

He expressed concern about being arrested and fingerprinted, which he described as a form of self-incrimination. He said he and his men wanted to go home.

“I want my men to be safe, alive, keep and bear their arms,” he said.

I mean...I'm less interested in where people come up with these ideas, which seem like legal mondegreens. But why do they persist in believing this stuff?

Thought-provoking analysis of our "four countries"

The Atlantic's current issue adapts veteran writer George Packer's latest book, in which he argues that the US has fractured into four distinct world views:

National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.

The 1970s ended postwar, bipartisan, middle-class America, and with it the two relatively stable narratives of getting ahead and the fair shake. In their place, four rival narratives have emerged, four accounts of America’s moral identity. They have roots in history, but they are shaped by new ways of thinking and living. They reflect schisms on both sides of the divide that has made us two countries, extending and deepening the lines of fracture. Over the past four decades, the four narratives have taken turns exercising influence. They overlap, morph into one another, attract and repel one another. None can be understood apart from the others, because all four emerge from the same whole.

All four of the narratives I’ve described emerged from America’s failure to sustain and enlarge the middle-class democracy of the postwar years. They all respond to real problems. Each offers a value that the others need and lacks ones that the others have. Free America celebrates the energy of the unencumbered individual. Smart America respects intelligence and welcomes change. Real America commits itself to a place and has a sense of limits. Just America demands a confrontation with what the others want to avoid. They rise from a single society, and even in one as polarized as ours they continually shape, absorb, and morph into one another. But their tendency is also to divide us, pitting tribe against tribe. These divisions impoverish each narrative into a cramped and ever more extreme version of itself.

All four narratives are also driven by a competition for status that generates fierce anxiety and resentment. They all anoint winners and losers.

The essay really has me thinking about our country, and how to get it back on track. I'm tempted to buy the book. Of course, it'll be about 80th in line with my current reading stack...but what's summer for?