Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Tao of AutoCorrectivity

This was written for RomanticPoetess...

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Originally published July 30, 2011 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): microsoft, microsoft word, ms word, ms/word, word, technology, helpful, spell, spelling, spelling correction, spell check, spell checker, grammar, grammar check, grammar checker, grammar checking, word choice, override, overriding, fix, fixing, check, checker, checking, autocorrect, auto correct, auto-correct, autocorrectivity

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sociopaths by Proxy

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) recently ran an exposé about American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a back room coalition of Republican legislators who meet to create “model” legislation which can then be pushed on a state-by-state basis in coordinated fashion. In an open letter, the CMD’s executive director, Lisa Graves, writes:

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs -- all Republican state legislators -- to approve "model" legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

It is a worrisome marriage of corporations and politicians, which seems to normalize a kind of corruption of the legislative process -- of the democratic process--in a nation of free people where the government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, not the corporations.

The full sweep of the bills and their implications for America's future, the corporate voting, and the extent of the corporate subsidy of ALEC's legislation laundering all raise substantial questions. These questions should concern all Americans. They go to the heart of the health of our democracy and the direction of our country. When politicians -- no matter their party -- put corporate profits above the real needs of the people who elected them, something has gone very awry.

. . . ALEC apparently ignores Smith's caution that bills and regulations from business must be viewed with the deepest skepticism. In his book, "Wealth of Nations," Smith urged that any law proposed by businessmen "ought always to be listened to with great precaution . . . It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

One need not look far in the ALEC bills to find reasons to be deeply concerned and skeptical. Take a look for yourself.

In my article Fiduciary Duty vs. The Three Laws of Robotics, I took the position that not only are corporations legal people, but in fact they are “legal sociopaths.” That is, they are by fixed nature incapable of caring about their employees, their customers, or their community except insofar as such caring accidentally maximizes value of the corporation for its stockholders.

I've also argued in the past, as in my 2008 article Election Stratego, that the Republican party is trending toward running strategic configurations of players, who are really just game pieces for other entities coordinating matters behind the scenes. Others have referred to this same phenomenon by talking about puppet governments, shadow governments, or plutocracies. Once the stuff of conspiracy theorists, recent reports and analyses seem to increasingly suggest that the practice of corporations purchasing legislation is becoming a reality. ALEC is only the most recent example. There's the influence of the Family, the Koch Brothers, and Grover Norquist, and other people and corporations with seemingly disproportionate interest and power in modern politics.

The Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court has seemed not only to legitimize these activities, but to ignite a fire in them. They can now operate much more in the open than before. Events we've seen in Wisconsin and in Michigan are just a few prominent examples of increasingly organized attempts that are going on nationwide that seem single-mindedly bent on bringing American workers to their collective knees.

In her recent article Obama fights full-tilt Tea Party crazy, Joan Walsh suggested “the president is dealing with a conscience-free opposition.” Reading this, something clicked in my mind that connected up this notion I have of corporations as sociopaths, and I realized the cancer has spread, so now due to this effect of politicians being bought off by corporations, we not only have corporations acting as sociopaths, but we have politicians hell bent on doing the bidding of these corporations. And if the corporations are, as I've argued, sociopaths, then these all-too-willing servants of the corporations are almost literally “sociopaths by proxy.”

And this is especially bad because government is really the only entity that exists as a counterweight to the forces of business. Government regulation is, by design, capable of regulating industry in order to assure the general welfare. Yet if these businesses are by nature singularly interested in their stockholders' needs and in general obliged not to care the concerns of other stakeholders (such as their customers, their employees, or the communities in which the corporation resides and operates), then who is to look out for the individual? A single individual is often too small to stand up to a corporation in any test of wills. And with legislative action afoot to systematically dismantle and disempower labor unions and to reduce or eliminate the ability to bring class action, good old-fashioned government regulation is the last line of defense for the ordinary citizen—protecting, even if imperfectly, against the tendency of business to exploit and oppress populations for monetary gain.

I've heard it suggested that government should do for people only what people cannot do for themselves. But individual citizens cannot keep banks from adopting predatory lending practices. They can't keep oil companies from using unsafe drilling practices. They can't make sure the food we eat is safe. There are a great many protections that government has traditionally seen as their duty to provide, and yet we're watching an organized attempt by certain politicians—in eager service of corporations—to eliminate the FDA, the EPA, and even the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They speak of “starving the beast,” but in the end the ones starving if this keeps up will be us, the American citizens.

America is under attack from within by forces that do not have the best interests of American citizens at heart, indeed by entities that have no heart at all—by corporations—legal sociopaths—and their dutiful servants in Washington, the Republican Party. The Republicans fancy themselves leaders, but they are not leading, they're clearly following. If they step out of line, they're harshly dealt with by forces outside of our view or control.

The Democratic Party is not immune to the suggestions of Big Business either, but at least they are not yet moving in 100% lockstep to the tune of their corporate overlords. In spite of some partial influence, many elected Democrats are still advocating strongly on behalf of the common citizen. So at least with the Democrats there is hope.

And let's be clear, I'm not saying that this new class of Republican “leaders” are themselves sociopaths. It's not inconceivable that some are, but let's generously assume not, since it won't change my point. Whether they are themselves sociopaths or just willing proxies for behind-the-scenes sociopaths, it's all the same. America's citizens need and deserve a government of, by and for the people—the real flesh and blood people, the ones the founders of this nation originally wrote the Constitution to protect.

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Originally published July 27, 2011 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Past Articles by me on Related Topics
To Serve Our Citizens
Fiduciary Duty vs. The Three Laws of Robotics
Teetering on the Brink of Moral Bankruptcy
Hollow Support
Election Stratego

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, legal sociopath, sociopath by proxy, center for media and democracy, cmd, american legislative exchange council, alec, control, power, power grab, protections, dismantling, attack, attack from within, people, we the people, of by and for the people, corporations, corporatism, plutocracy, shadow government, puppet government, puppet state, koch brothers, the family, c street

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Just a Gut Feeling I Have

A Slice of Life

In 1991, at a visit to Walt Disney World in Florida, I ate at the Coral Reef Restaurant in the EPCOT theme park. It’s a wonderful restaurant, with tasty food, great service, and a highly unique view into a huge aquarium [Mickey butter] where you can watch a fascinating variety of fish, rays, and turtles swim by as you eat. I’ve eaten there a number of times.

On the occasion I’m thinking of, they still had a practice that has since gone away: Butter was served to the table in in the shape of a certain well-known mouse. I mention this because it created quite an emotional complication for us: When we wanted to butter our bread, it was necessary to cut into this adorable figure.

It was just a block of butter shaped in a clever way, but the gut feeling that it was something more than that was quite strong—enough so that I complained to Disney about it by letter after I returned home.

I bet I wasn’t alone in my dismay. Butter comes in ordinary rectangular pats nowadays.

Emotions on Autopilot

My daughter recently dragged me to the TV to see something on Home Shopping Network. They were selling a pool cleaning robot from iRobot. But what had caught her attention was that they had the sample robot “trapped” in a small tank. She explained that it had seemed happy in the larger tank, which seemed to her more like its “natural habitat,” but looked distressed in this little tank. I’ve included a YouTube video of it here; just watch the first 30 seconds or so and you’ll get the point. She couldn’t help but see this cute little device a helpless, trapped animal.

The video that goes here is unfortunately no longer unavailable.
Sorry about that.

It isn’t a trapped animal, of course. But it’s easy to see why she felt that way.

We’re wired to look for hints of humanity. We see faces in clouds, in mountains, in coffee, and, of course, in the moon.

Sometimes it works in a way that is sort of the reverse of that, where we see what we want to see. This may happen by processes as disparate as imprinting, which helps a child detect a parent, or wishful thinking, which helps lonely people on farms and citydwellers with a passion for aluminimum headgear to detect UFOs. In both of these cases, rather than our brains seeing something that looks like a thing and telling us it therefore must be that thing, our brain can, instead, when properly primed, decide it’s seeing a thing merely because it expects to see that thing.

Hitting Below the Belt

So it should hardly be any surprise that when a woman undergoes an ultrasound device while she’s pregnant, she would readily identify what she sees as a baby. There’s a reason we sometimes refer to women who are pregnant as “expecting.” Hormones in her body is preparing her for the notion that a baby will at some point appear. [Ultrasound] And whether she is eager or simply apprehensive, it’s the obvious association to make. But that doesn’t mean it’s already the baby she is expecting to one day arrive.

A woman who is expecting may be anxious to see the end result. But that result cannot be hurried.

The truth is that the process of birth is a process of building scaffolding and doing piecewise substitution. The framework of a child is there long before the actual child is. Each of the pieces presuppose the existence of each of the other, so you can’t build it from toe to head. You have to put an approximate framework in place first, and then come back for the detail work.

So it’s little surprise that the pro-Life movement is pushing for legislation that compels women to view an ultrasound of their fetus before being allowed to have an abortion. There’s a great deal of emotional vulnerability just then, and if it gains tactical political advantage, why not exploit it? An example of just such legislation was recently signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in Texas. The idea is that if they can’t make abortion illegal, they should do anything they can to slow the matter or make it more emotionally complicated.

They’re counting on a visceral reaction even from women who have thought this through carefully as a logical matter. Warm emotion knows better than cold knowledge, or so the cold logic of research into warm emotion tells us. Ah, the delicious irony. Well, modern politics is full of it. I guess we should just get used to it.

It did give me an idea, though.

Labor Pains

It’s been really bugging me that companies in the United States seem to think it’s okay to make a profit by laying off US employees and hiring abroad for cheaper. It may save a few dollars for that company but bit-by-bit it compromises the integrity of the entire US workforce, threatening to drag down standards of living. As I wrote about in my article To Serve Our Citizens, it’s as if the plan to bring jobs back to the US is to first drive wages, working conditions, and health care to the very lowest level so that it’s competitive with most exploited countries abroad and then magically jobs will pour back into the US. Great.

A layoff is a little like an abortion. A corporation is just a great big person and it has people who live inside it just like a pregnant mother. But corporations don’t feel the same sense of responsibility for the care and feeding of those people they carry around inside them that an expectant mother would for any baby or babies she might be hosting. Disposing of unwanted employees who’ve become a drag on the mother ship is almost a lifestyle choice for some corporations.

From the corporate point of view, the employees don’t really matter at all because it only matters that the mother corporation itself survive, not the individual employees. The peers of corporations are other corporations, not people; people are too small to matter. Corporations may be people, but people are not corporations. People are just little parasites to be occasionally flicked aside. Corporate fetuses, if you will. Potential corporations, but not actual corporations. And, as such, they are easily replaced—easily aborted. Too easily.

So what’s to be done?

Well, what if we borrowed a page from the pro-Life playbook and required a bit of ultrasounding at the corporate level before we let them abort all those employees? What if we made a law that said that before a corporation could lay off a person, someone with sufficient budgetary authority that they could actually cancel the layoff if they wanted to had to sit down and chat with each affected employee for, say, an hour. One at a time. A kind of corporate ultrasound. They’d have to get to know the employee as a person before they’d be allowed to abort them. They’d have to hear how the planned procedure would affect the employee in a personal way. Maybe they’d even learn something about how having that person leave would impact the corporation itself. In sum, they’d have to put faces on those affected by this otherwise-sterile procedure. And maybe in so doing they could find a way to avoid the procedure.

Oh, and waiting periods—did I mention waiting periods? I think it’d be great to have a healthy waiting period after having had this little chat. A chance to reflect. Yeah, I know, after a while the waiting period might cause irreparable harm to the company. But I’m sure the pro-Life movement has an excuse for why that’s okay, too. We’ll borrow from that as well.

Author's Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

Originally published July 7, 2011 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, visceral, emotion, emotional, abortion, mickey mouse, disney world, coral reef restaurant, aquarium, irobot, wishful thinking, layoffs, outsourcing, waiting period, forced to watch, required, ultrasound, sounding out, listening, hearing, seeing, sensing, gut reaction, gut feeling, fetus, baby, life, effect, affect, affected, impact, law, manipulated, manipulation, potential life, potential corporation, scaffolding, Verro 500, pool cleaning, robot, hsn, home shopping, home shopping network