Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric, technology, and writing.
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I'm tired of all the bashing

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Last year's election was a real drain. I remember as we were coming up to Election Day thinking maybe this will all be over soon. In my heart I kind of knew that it wouldn't. Though I wished it would. I'm a programmer, so I'm pretty fatalistic about bugs like Trump. You can't wish them away. You have to roll up your sleeves, address the problem, fix it. That's the school of programming I belong to. There is no moving forward until you fully understand the problem.

The biggest drain was the utter stupidity of all the anger on the social nets, when people should have been pulling together, to avoid the catastrophe that is Trump. People bashing Hillary or Bernie, or each other. So much hate. Even bashing Trump is pointless. We need to see each other as real people just like ourselves. The media was pushing us apart, not bringing us together.

Well it didn't get better. My Facebook world gets smaller and smaller because I have a rule to not engage with people practicing hate. I don't try to talk them out of it. I have a simple gentle way of dealing with it. Instead of objecting I silently unfriend and unfollow the person. It keeps conflict to a minimum, and I get to preserve my self-respect. Watching friends rant about how this group or that group is responsible, often a group I belong to, takes its toll. People I couldn't stand to say goodbye to got second and third chances. But ultimately once we lost them to hate they really are gone. They don't seem to come back.

So rather than fight I withdraw. The circle gets smaller. Eventually Facebook might just disappear, at least my version of it. I think about where I can move to withdraw from all of it. I dream of somewhere in the Rockies. Where the mornings are cold and the air is clear. Maybe start skiing again. But then I realize there really is no escape. That's America too. The hate follows you everywhere.

Last year when the music stars were dying, Prince and Bowie, and this year -- Tom Petty and Walter Becker, I would joke, well at least they don't have to live through Trump. Like all jokes it was funny because it was true. I keep wondering when the suicides will start, as people give up hope. I think that is the logical conclusion of my thought process. The way to make the world disappear is to make yourself disappear.

Don't worry dear reader, I have no intention of doing away with myself. That'll happen soon enough through the natural progression of things. But if I were a young person today I'd be angry and in the streets, shaking every person saying what the fuck are you doing to put a stop to this lunacy?

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betajames
19 hours ago
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Sadly but frankly, Donald Trump is not going anywhere

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Trump isn't going to be impeached by this or perhaps any future Congress as currently constituted.
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betajames
2 days ago
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Mueller weaponizes Microsoft Word

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Bob Mueller used the "Track Changes" function in Microsoft Word for Mac to make new accusations against Paul Manafort in a court filing yesterday — a new sign of the special counsel's creative, unsparing approach:

Key quote from the 41-page filing: "Manafort's conduct ... raises serious concerns about his trustworthiness that warrant denial of the motion to release Manafort from home confinement."


  • The backstory, via AP : Prosecutors for the special counsel argued that the former Trump campaign chairman is attempting "to mount a public relations campaign to defend himself while under house arrest."
  • Mueller discovered Manafort "was heavily involved in the drafting of an opinion piece about his involvement in Ukrainian politics. ... Mueller's office had accused Manafort of ghostwriting the op-ed with a colleague who they said had ties to Russian intelligence."
  • The response: "Manafort's attorneys had argued that Manafort had only edited the piece after receiving it from a former Ukrainian public official whom he knew through his consulting work in Ukraine. They also said Manafort hadn't violated the judge's order and was exercising his free speech rights to defend himself."
  • But now — with the filing of page after page of "Track Changes" notations from a document that was "Last saved by paul manafort" — "prosecutors revealed that they knew nearly every detail of that editing process."

Be smart: This is a rough message by Mueller to witnesses and targets that they can be tracked and recorded even when they don't realize it. Every signal Mueller sends — with his early-morning raid on Manafort, his hires of Enron and Mafia prosecutors, and his quick flips — is that he is playing ruthlessly.

P.S. N.Y. Times , on introductory emails to Hope Hicks from Russian government addresses during the transition:

  • " In some ways, the Russian outreach to Ms. Hicks undercuts the idea that the Russian government had established deep ties to the Trump campaign before the election. If it had, Russian officials might have found a better entrée to the White House than unprompted emails to Ms. Hicks."


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betajames
2 days ago
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Congressional Gridlock Is Putting Flint's Pipe Replacement In Peril

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Political gridlock has created a lapse in funding for a program that provides health insurance to poor children. It may also end up being culpable for preserving lead service lines that still run under the city of Flint, Michigan.

Since its creation in 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has provided healthcare for children and pregnant women from low-income families who don’t qualify for Medicaid. But this year, Congress failed to meet the September 30 deadline for the program’s renewal. Although committees in both the House and Senate have passed bills to reauthorize CHIP, no one is sure when a final measure will appear. The state of CHIP’s funding is up in the air, and those who rely on it are left in limbo.

CHIP doesn’t just provide money for straightforward medical needs like immunizations and doctor’s visits. Under a special contract with Michigan approved by the federal government last year, families in Flint can apply for funding to assess their pipes and sample their water quality, in the wake of a water crisis that contaminated water throughout the Rust Belt city and elevated the blood lead levels of thousands of children. Under the five-year agreement, CHIP has also provided aid for pipe replacement; contractors get paid using CHIP funds for those homes with children who qualify for the program. That money has been a boon for the underfunded city. And the longer the federal government takes to fund CHIP, the more administrators worry about how they can pay to keep Flint’s residents safe.

“The loss is going to be a huge issue,” said Retired Brigadier General Michael McDaniel, the head of the Flint Action and Sustainability Team (FAST Start). FAST Start was tasked in February 2016 with finding and replacing the service lines in Flint that were made of potentially toxic materials like lead and galvanized steel. Under McDaniel’s guidance, the city has replaced the tainted service lines in over 6,000 out of an estimated 29,100 homes. But, he said, “I know state funds aren’t enough to do all that we need to do next year.”

In Flint, Michigan, the toxic mix of corrosive water and hazardous water service line material put some of the city’s youngest residents at risk of a host of cognitive and behavioral problems for which there is no known cure. As a result, the government raised the age limit of children in Flint who could qualify for CHIP and Medicaid to 21.

McDaniel says Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) told him CHIP funds for Flint are still available through April 2018.

"MDHHS is closely watching the federal activity regarding CHIP funding,” Angela Minicuci, the MDHHS spokesperson, said in an email to CityLab. “Should the funding not be reauthorized prior to when the state exhausts our remaining allotment, we’ll need to either secure additional funding from the state Legislature or amend/cease the contract accordingly."

Essentially, if the program is not reauthorized before that, the city and MDHHS will have to fund the program through other means—and may need to cease CHIP use entirely should they come up short. Though McDaniel is relinquishing his position in Flint come January, the incoming FAST Start had planned to use CHIP funding in 2018. Now, McDaniel can’t sure what’s going to happen.

The costs in 2017 for excavation and line replacement came to just under $20 million—16% of which came from CHIP funding—and the allotted state funding for 2018 is less than that. McDaniel has been open about the fact that he does not think Flint has enough money to get rid of the lead service lines in the three-year window the city had hoped for.

Carin Speidel, coordinator of the state’s DHHS Lead Safe Home Program, told Bridge Magazine that CHIP funding has “really multiplied the services we’re able to provide for families.” She went on to say that, should the funding disappear, the consequences, “will be devastating.”

Roughly 9 million children across the U.S., including those in Michigan, rely on CHIP’s core function—providing health insurance to kids whose parents don’t qualify for Medicaid. And already, many states have explored shutting down their programs, warning parents to look for private insurers, or preparing to funnel money from elsewhere to temporarily cover the program.

There are also an estimated 7.3 million homes across America that connect to their local water systems using lead service lines. According to the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, the price tag of that nationwide replacement is more than $30 billion. Yet, over the next decade, America could fall $1.44 trillion short of what it needs to spend on infrastructure, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Flint has had targeted congressional funding to tackle its own pipe problems, but McDaniel sees CHIP as a useful tool for other cities dealing with the same issue, who might also seek similar contracts to Michigan’s for replacing hazardous pipes at qualifying homes. According to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, other states could enter into similar agreements for testing, preventing, and abating lead through a CHIP provision that allows “health service initiatives” (HSIs).

While Congress agrees that it should provide money for CHIP, neither the House and the Senate nor the Democrats and the Republicans can agree on how to fund it. When the House passed a bill to extend the program in November, Democrats voted against it because they did not like the cuts to public health programs and insurance coverage that were also included in the legislation. Meanwhile, Senate has thus far put off finalizing a bipartisan deal in order to focus on the tax bill.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder did not respond to requests for comment.

“You just look at this and shake your head,” said the former Brigadier General who has worked in infrastructure assurance for the Pentagon. “When what you’ve done for a living is planning, and you see something like [the holdup in CHIP funding], you say ‘Oh God.’ No matter what your political ideology is, it’s just stupid. We’re being so shortsighted.”

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betajames
3 days ago
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Facebook Doesn’t Care About Your Children

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Facebook is coming for your children.

Is that framing too stark? Maybe it’s not stark enough.

Facebook recently introduced Messenger Kids, a version of their Messenger app designed for six to twelve year olds. Antigone Davis, Facebook’s Public Policy Director and Global Head of Safety, wrote a blog post introducing Messenger Kids and assuring parents the app is safe for kids.

“We created an advisory board of experts,” Davis informs us. “With them, we are considering important questions like: Is there a ‘right age’ to introduce kids to the digital world? Is technology good for kids, or is it having adverse affects on their social skills and health? And perhaps most pressing of all: do we know the long-term effects of screen time?”

The very next line of Davis’s post reads, “Today we’re rolling out our US preview of Messenger Kids.”

Translation: We hired a bunch of people to ask important questions. We have no idea what the answers may be, but we built this app anyway.

Davis doesn’t even attempt to fudge an answer to those questions. She raises them and never comes back to them again. In fact, she explicitly acknowledges “we know there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the impact of specific technologies on children’s development.” But you know, whatever.

Naturally, we’re presented with statistics about the rates at which children under 13 use the Internet, Internet-enabled devices, and social media. It’s a case from presumed inevitability. Kids are going to be online whether you like it or not, so they might as well use our product. More about this in a moment.

We’re also told that parents are anxious about their kid’s safety online. Chiefly, this amounts to concerns about privacy or online predators. Valid concerns, of course, and Facebook promises to give parents control over their kids online activity. However, safety, in this sense, is not the only concern we should have. A perfectly safe technology may nonetheless have detrimental consequences for our intellectual, moral, and emotional well-being and for the well-being of society when the technology’s effects are widely dispersed.

Finally, we’re given five principles Facebook and its advisory board developed in order to guide the development of their suite of products for children. These are largely meaningless sentences composed of platitudes and buzzwords.

Let’s not forget that this is the same company that “offered advertisers the opportunity to target 6.4 million younger users, some only 14 years old, during moments of psychological vulnerability, such as when they felt ‘worthless,’ ‘insecure,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘defeated,’ ‘anxious,’ and like a ‘failure.'”

Facebook doesn’t care about your children. Facebook cares about your children’s data. As Wired reported, “The company will collect the content of children’s messages, photos they send, what features they use on the app, and information about the device they use.”

There are no ads on Messenger Kids the company is quick to point out. “For now,” I’m tempted to add. Barriers of this sort tend to erode over time. Moreover, even if the barrier holds, an end game remains.

“If they are weaned on Google and Facebook,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center of Digital Democracy, warns, “you have socialized them to use your service when they become an adult. On the one hand it’s diabolical and on the other hand it’s how corporations work.”

Facebook’s interest in producing an app for children appears to be a part of a larger trend. “Tech companies have made a much more aggressive push into targeting younger users,” the same Wired article noted, “a strategy that began in earnest in 2015 when Google launched YouTube Kids, which includes advertising.”

In truth, I think this is about more than just Facebook. It’s about thinking more carefully about how technology shapes our children and their experience. It is about refusing the rhetoric of inevitability and assuming responsibility.

Look, what if there is no safe way for seven-year-olds to use social media or even the Internet and Internet-enabled devices? I realize this may sound like head-in-the-ground overreaction, and maybe it is, but perhaps it’s worth contemplating the question.

I also realize I’m treading on sensitive ground here, and I want to proceed with care. The last thing over-worked, under-supported parents need is something more to feel guilty about. Let’s forget the guilt. We’re all trying to do our best. Let’s just think together about this stuff.

As adults, we’ve barely got a handle on the digital world. We know devices and apps and platforms are designed to capture and hold attention in a manner that is intellectually and emotionally unhealthy. We know that these design choices are not made with the user’s best interest in mind. We are only now beginning to recognize the personal and social costs of our uncritical embrace of constant connectivity and social media. How eager should we be to usher our children in to this reality?

The reality is upon them whether we like it or not, someone might counter. Maybe, but I don’t quite buy it. Even if it is, the degree to which this is the case will certainly vary based in large part upon the choices parents make and their resolve.

Part of our problem is that we think too narrowly about technology, almost always in terms of functionality and safety. With regards to children, this amounts to safeguarding against offensive content, against exploitation, and against would-be predators. Again, these are valid concerns, but they do not exhaust the range of questions we should be asking about how children relate to digital media and devices.

To be clear, this is not only about preventing “bad things” from happening. It is also a question of the good we want to pursue.

Our disordered relationship with technology is often a product of our treating technology as an end rather than a means. Our default setting is to uncritically adopt and ask questions later if at all. We need, instead, to clearly discern the end we want to pursue and evaluate technology accordingly, especially when it comes to our children because in this, as in so much else, they depend on us.

Some time ago, I put together a list of 41 questions to guide our thinking about the ethical dimensions of technology. These questions are useful way of examining not only the technology we use but also the technology to which we expose our children.

What ideals inform the choices we make when we raise children? What sort of person do we hope they will become? What habits do we desire for them cultivate? How do we want them to experience time and place? How do we hope they will perceive themselves?

Your answers to these questions may not be mine or your neighbor’s, of course. The point is not that we should share these ideals, but that we recognize that the realization of these ideals will depend, in greater measure than most of us realize, on the tools we put in our children’s hands. All I’m advocating is that we think hard about this and proceed with great care and great courage. Great care because the stakes are high; great courage because merely by our determination to think critically about these matters we will be setting ourselves against powerful and pervasive forces.




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betajames
4 days ago
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Flint lead pipe replacement could be jeopardized by CHIP stalemate

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Michigan is spending $119 million in children's health funds to remove lead hazards from home.
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betajames
6 days ago
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