Slate Hates Us

Slate Hates Us

Slate, the online magazine, has a new web site. Actually, “new web site” might not be an accurate description. I might prefer “attack on the public” or “insult to the intelligence” or “rain dance of hatred upon the consumer.”

It’s a Rohrschach of a web site. You don’t have any idea what it’s supposed to mean and after a time, you no longer believe anyone else knows either. Someone just threw colors and titles on the page like an electronic Jackson Pollack. The web site re-lists the same articles repeatedly apparently with the idea that maybe if you the title in a different font with a different background, you’ll like it better. If you want to find anything, you’re on the scavenger hunt from hell. I just want to read Doonsebury and I’m never sure where it is in there.

Some days, it’s just not worth hacking through the electronic jungle of obstruction and there are easier sights beckoning.

I know where they got the designer – same guys did the ACA site except better.

James Pilant

Emily Yoffe Needs Advice

Rape (Photo credit: Valeri Pizhanski)









Emily Yoffe Needs Advice

I believe you can write a column and strongly recommend that women be careful about drinking too much while still holding men accountable for their behavior. Ms. Yoffe wrote a column discouraging women from over indulging but did not hold men accountable. That’s not acceptable. She said she did hold them accountable but I did not get that from her writing, if you did please comment. 

Is this a business ethics problem. Yes.

Giving people advice is a serious business. Implying that female drinking puts too much temptation out there is different than saying taking precautions is wise. The difference is where you place the responsibility. The responsibility is always on the perpetrator not the victim.


James Pilant


Emily Yoffe, advice columnist, blames college women for Rape Culture


Okay, Emily Yoffe–obviously alcohol makes you randy and more aggressive, no matter your gender. And obviously college-aged women invariably act like Lindsey Lohan when they consume too much of it, and, worse yet, can be unwittingly drinking a mixed drink full of date rape drugs. However, to somehow suggest that their consumption of alcohol creates a more rape permissive environment and only seeks to embolden potential rapists is, well, like saying women should be raped for wearing provocative clothing. Furthermore, a woman can be discussing her menstrual cycle while drinking O Doul’s in a beekeepers uniform, and college dudes will still try to rape her. As we all know, rape is purely about dominance. The introduction of alcohol, although certainly offering rapists a golden ticket, is by no means the fault of the woman or somehow the only invitation to rape. And this is coming from a guy, Emily Yoffe.


via Emily Yoffe, advice columnist, blames college women for Rape Culture.


From around the web.


From the web site, Yes Means Yes.

Yoffe is wrong, as her Slate colleague Amanda Hess, tells us, because you don’t solve a structural problem with a personal self-help solution. We didn’t deal with drunk driving in this country by telling people, “hey, you can’t control drunk drivers, so minimize driving when the bars are closing!” We dealt with it by a combination of a massive public awareness campaign, and imposing real accountability- not just jail sentences, but more prosaically, license suspensions. Drunk driving costs the drunk drivers something now, and it didn’t three decades ago. We didn’t end drunk driving deaths, but we knocked them down a lot.

 Yoffe is wrong because rapists are not weather systems. I mentioned this earlier today, and I’ve written about it before. The implicit model of rapists in her piece is one of an unthinking phenomena, one that does not respond to stimulus, that therefore we can’t do anything about but get out of the way. There’s a pernicious undercurrent to this thinking in many areas, from forest fires to global climate change – but for a moment, let’s just accept that there are some things we can’t prevent or deter. All we can do it look out for them, avoid encountering them, and minimize the damage when they occur. Yoffe, and many others, treat rape like this. That’s wrong. Often, they start from the proposition that rapists are bad people who don’t misunderstand, but rather rape because they want to. That’s true. But they take the wrong lesson from the research that shows us that. They infer that the rapists are irrational and can’t be influenced, when the Predator Theory research indicates just the opposite: that they do, in fact, respond to stimulus, by choosing the tactics that are least likely to get them caught. I’ve seen it in small, tightly-knit communities, too. When they have enough victims report and can no longer convince people of narratives about crazy victims, misunderstandings or one-time poor judgment, they move on to new communities where they can get a fresh shot at bullshitting their way through their victims’ reports. Since we know that they use the tactics that work and respond rationally to stimulus, we know that they are not like weather systems and we should discard that model.




Lance Armstrong, American Villain

Lance Armstrong, American Villain

prologue1Lance Armstrong’s Oprah interview: His threats and bullying are the real story. – Slate Magazine

Armstrong couldn’t deny all the lawsuits he had filed and all the times he’d accused people of lying. So he attributed these intimidation tactics to fear, a rough childhood, and his cancer. He had vilified witnesses who told the truth because he saw them “as a friend turning on you.” He had attacked any threat because when he was a kid, his family “felt like we had our backs against the wall.” And, tragically, “my diagnosis … turned me into a person” who was resolved to “win at all costs,” since cancer compels you to “do anything I have to do to survive. … And I took that attitude, that ruthless and relentless and win-at-all costs attitude, and I took it right into cycling.”

That seems to be the game plan Armstrong brought to this interview. Downplay your power over others. Deny issuing explicit orders to dope. Convert any such story into a matter of setting a poor example.  Take responsibility for yourself, but suggest that others—those who claim you pressured them—must do the same. Recast your threats, retributions, and demands for silence as products of a hard life. Reduce your sins of coercion to a sin of deceit. When Winfrey asked Armstrong “what made you a bully,” he answered: “Just trying to perpetuate the story and hide the truth.”

That’s Armstrong’s message: Everything he did, no matter how domineering, menacing, or manipulative, was a desperate effort to protect a single lie. “I tried to control the narrative,” he says. And he’s still trying to control the narrative. Which is a good reason not to believe it.

Lance Armstrong’s Oprah interview: His threats and bullying are the real story. – Slate Magazine

Armstrong seemed to be exposing himself the most when he confessed to bullying Emma O’Reilly, the former massage therapist who tried to expose Armstrong’s doping in 2003. “We ran over her, we bullied her,” he said. But then when Oprah asked if he’d sued O’Reilly, he couldn’t remember even the basic details—who he’d sued, for example. His admissions stopped exactly at the point when it turned from a character trait to real adult, legal action, which caused actual measurable harm in another person’s life. Yes, sure, we agree with Lance Armstrong he was a bully. As team leader and megastar cyclist, he had far more power than the people around him, and he used it to make their lives miserable when they did things he didn’t like, especially exposing the cheating and lying that allowed him to build his own myth and stay on top. But bullying hardly covers it. More like, “he assaulted people with intent to absolutely destroy,” as a Twitter user named Brian G. Fay wrote to me last night.

Lance Armstrong was a bully, but that hardly covers it. – Slate Magazine

Yes, cycling is corrupt. If there is any one individual who made it impossible to compete without cheating, it’s Lance Armstrong.

I don’t think, people are getting the picture here of a long term criminal conspiracy to subvert a sport. Yet, that is exactly what was going here. Armstrong is the Bernie Madoff of cycling. He didn’t just cheat, he used such a wide variety of banned substances, the only way he could’ve broken the rules further was by riding a motorcycle, or putting in a double.

He didn’t just steal money. He stole our ideal of what a sports figure should be. He cheapened heroism, and made a world of high athleticism, cheap and tawdry.

His victims include those who deserved those medals, those endorsements, the keys to the city and the honorary degree. We’ll never know their names or respect their accomplishments because he stole their glory.

He’s a villain, and he deserves to be treated like one.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Poems and Sundry Writings by Rebekka Roderick:

Just go away and shut up already. You have done more than enough damage. Just fuck off. Everybody is tired of your BS. Just go. We know you don’t mean what you say. We know you’re just a liar who kept lying right up until the entire house of cards was pulled down, torn up and set on fire. I know this because I was a similar person the last few years, lying to and cheating on and not appreciating the man that loved me unconditionally. I was not a tad bit remorseful, contrite or altruistic about it at all until the ultimate realization of all the pain I had caused him and the awareness that I had let go of somebody that I was important to, a once in a lifetime thing, hit me in the face.

From the web site, Live STRONG Blog:

We expect Lance to be completely truthful and forthcoming in his interview and with all of us in the cancer community. We expect we will have more to say at that time. Regardless, we are charting a strong, independent course forward that is focused on helping people overcome financial, emotional and physical challenges related to cancer. Inspired by the people with cancer whom we serve, we feel confident and optimistic about the Foundation’s future and welcome an end to speculation.”

From the web site, Growing Dogwood:

I never bought the fact that he was not using. Call me a skeptic if you must, but it never made sense that that these athletes could do what they did and then turn around and do more the next day – for three weeks. Sorry, I think they’re all using. With that said, what’s the problem? How different is the use of PED’s from say the actress that has plastic surgery to enhance her performance? I would never endorse or do either, but I guess I just don’t want success that badly. At the same time I am not in any position to judge anyone’s decision on what they do.

As far as I care what he did is still a great accomplishment. Like I said, everyone was cheating and he was clearly the best cheater. So hats off to Mr Armstrong on those seven yellow jerseys.

From the web site, [un]-conscious stream- [ing]:

Meaning that to look at the whole picture of a person is to see the truth about their material reality. Peter used the idea that behind closed doors, Hitler may well have been a ‘really nice guy’, when he was playing the piano and people were drinking tea and having dinner with the polite house painter. But the material reality of Hitler – the totality of his existence, the big, whole picture was that he sanctioned and ordered the ethnic and elitist ‘cleansing’ of Germany and the killing of over six million Jews.

Which led me to the thought that, if Lance does admit to the doping allegations, then no matter who interviews him, we have already seen the ‘real Armstrong’. The ‘real Armstrong’ is in the totality of his material reality, not in the soft, contrite and repentant man that we might see on a tv screen attempting to win back the favour of the public.

If the allegations are true, the ‘real Armstrong’ has already revealed his hand and shown his true colours: someone who is ruthless, prepared to systematically cheat his way to the top of a sport, push others out, lie repeatedly about it, bully his way through to rule the peloton and bully a number of journalists on the way as he churned out untruth after obfuscated distraction over and over again (I’ve heard many of the interviews over the years). Someone who has to be in control and on top and will stop at nothing to get there.

And finally, from the web site, Getting Back in Shape:

That pretty much sums up my feelings towards this whole confession. He sued dozens and dozens of people that said he was doping. Test after test proved without a doubt he was doping all those years. Eventually once the USADA took all his Tour De France wins away, banned him from the sport for life, and all his sponsors dropped him, did he finally admit his guilt. Really, what choice did he have? That is as rock bottom as one can get. Some might commit suicide, others might just live in a cave the rest of their life. He obviously is the type that wants to move on, and this was the only thing that could be done. If not, he would be treated horribly anytime he was seen in public, I’m sure of that. Disgraced is a good word I would use. But on the flip side, he did play a part in raising millions and millions for cancer research. And if so many other people are doping just like he was, it still shows his performance was superior to theirs. Coming back from being diagnosed and treated for cancer, that is very impressive.

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Aaron Swartz is Dead



Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wiki Meetup
Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wiki Meetup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Aaron Swartz is Dead


Aaron Swartz suicide: Prosecutors have too much power to charge and intimidate people for their crimes. – Slate Magazine


The underlying point Boyd is making, I think, is that the government doesn’t understand hackers and isn’t good at distinguishing between miscreant vigilantes like Swartz who are trying to free information systems and profit-driven or diabolical hackers who are trying to bring down those systems. That’s when an expansive law like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act becomes dangerous. Prosecutors persuaded of their own righteousness, and woodenly equating downloading a deliberately unprotected database with stealing, lose all sense of proportion and bring in the heavy artillery when what’s in order is a far more mild penalty.

I’d like to tell you that the prosecutorial overreach that took place in Swartz’s case rarely happens. But that’s not true. There are many principled prosecutors who only bring charges they believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But there are also some who bring any charge they can think of to induce a defendant who may be guilty of a minor crime to plead guilty to a major one. These cases usually are hard to call attention to: They’re not about innocence, easy and pure. They’re about the muddier concept of proportionality. If any good at all can come from Swartz’s unspeakably sorrowful death, maybe it will be how this case makes prosecutors—and the rest of us—think about the space between guilt and innocence.


Aaron Swartz suicide: Prosecutors have too much power to charge and intimidate people for their crimes. – Slate Magazine

There are some real villains here. The federal prosecutor, Carmen M. Ortiz and, of course, MIT.

I’m disgusted by the government’s and MIT’s actions in the case. There is nothing that Swartz did that was worthy of a day in prison much less 35 years of prison time. MIT did everything they could to actively push the case while giving the public the impression that they weren’t. Nice try, but the simple fact is, that without MIT’s heavy cooperation, the government would have had great difficulty making a case at all.

A few days ago, the government decided not to prosecute HSBC, a bank, that laundered nine billion dollars of money for drug cartels but they were pursuing a case against a man who “stole” documents that should have been accessible to the public for free, a man who sought no monetary  profit at all.

James Pilant

I find these remarks by Lawrence Lessig to be dead on point:

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.

For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”


From around the web –

From the web site, Shikhar Tech Labs:

This is the most shocking news for the Computer and Internet industries, a deafening blow for all those campaigners who demand internet freedom and for technology enthusiasts in general. Aaron Swartz is dead. Worst still is the fact that he has committed suicide. As the web mourns the demise of a computer prodigy whose body of work had very few parallels, the injustice done to him by the US prosecution and the MIT is very visible and very disheartening, and that’s putting it mildly.

Aaron was facing criminal charges for stealing more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service. And if found guilty he faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. But then he was also the face of the struggle against US laws of SOPA and PIPA as well as other government imposed sanctions that threatened to restrict internet freedom and which have been opposed by all major internet organizations including Google and Wikipedia.

A lot of people close to Aaron smelled foul play on the part of the US prosecution and the MIT because even JSTOR decided not to press charges against Aaron.

From the web site, Inundated, Things Matter Only When It Hits Hard:

The Guardian quoted the statement given by Aaron’s family, “Aaron’s death in not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”

As Aaron said, ” Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.” It is really painful to see someone brilliant – in fact, an enfant terrible going by what Aaron had done in a span of handful years – heeding to Plato’s injunction, “The punishment suffered by the wise who refuse to take part in Government, is to suffer under the Government of bad men”, ” making an attempt to change the modern powerful structures, go down.


P.S : One of the talks by Swartz How to Get A Job Like Mine, basically his personal story, bookmarked in my folder some time back, is a real classic with “just the facts.”

From the web site, American Everyman:

As I wrote a while ago, the feds decided to push for internet censorship via their last best hope: the free markets.

Big telecom companies are coming up with their own means by which to wipe certain people with certain ideas off the “internets”. I guess it’s payback for all that retroactive immunity they got from the Bush and Obama administrations when they could have been sued out the ying yang for allowing the feds to spy on us.

On the same day Aaron supposedly took his own life, Torrentfreak released a Verizon document detailing their new 6 strikes and your out plan.

The idea is basically this: Verizon will tell it’s customers when someone files a claim against them for copyright infringement. Verizon will give their users “x” amount of warnings then reduce their internet speed to something like a dial-up connection which will basically take them off the web for all intents and purposes.

As Aaron pointed out in a lecture he gave a year or so ago, the use of the ubiquitous “copyright infringement” charge is a dangerous and sweeping tool to use to shut down certain people. Everything is copyrighted by someone out there and the laws governing how much of what one can use are mirky at best.

Verizon claims they will set up a review panel with the American Arbitration Association and if you pay them $35 bucks they will review your case and find in favor of Verizon.

I find it very odd that Aaron just happened to take his own life when Verizon was about to launch this new SOPA/PIPA program of theirs own their own customers. I also find it odd that he was going to try his hacking case in court which would have brought tons of negative publicity down on JSTOR, portraying them as the guardians of knowledge for the elites.



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Contraception under Attack

The Norman north west tower prior to demolitio...

Image via Wikipedia

Comment: Putting religious group’s campaign against contraception into context | McClatchy

I was following my daily reading ritual beginning with Beat the Press, the next six, and then finishing with Slate.  McClatchy (fifth) is always interesting often going where the regular news media do not.

Sometimes, you read an article that is particular useful to your thinking (and one that I wish I had written myself).

This article puts the recent drive by fundamentalist and Catholic denominations to limit reproductive freedom, more precisely, contraception. The essay discusses the history of previous attempts of religion to limit rights. I was aware of these but had never thought of viewing the recent events in context.

I want to give credit to Sarah Lipton-Lubet of American Civil Liberties Union for building my understanding of the issue.

Here’s a paragraph from the story (link at the bottom of the page) –

Remarkably, contraception has recently come under attack with new vigor. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate Title X, the federal program that makes contraception accessible to low-income people throughout the country, and to defund Planned Parenthood’s family planning work. Mississippi was contemplating a constitutional amendment that would outright ban some of the most common forms of birth control. And now, important new federal guidelines that will ensure insurance plans include coverage of contraception are being targeted.

Once again, I thank the author.

James Pilant

Commentary: Putting religious group’s campaign against contraception into context | McClatchy

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Corporate Killing?

For most, my title might suggest that I accuse corporations of killing with vaccines. I mean nothing of the sort.

I am angry. I am angry that this tragedy ever happened. No child needed to die because of vaccine fear.

What I mean by corporate killing is corporate lies. Lies so pervasive, so expected, so routine, that when educated parents were given a choice between people who were little more than cranks and corporate information, they went with the cranks.

Did the parents have a choice of not believing the pharmaceutical companies but then going with the government’s analysis? No. Why not? Because the governmental agencies that are supposed to be protecting us are just as PR soaked and lacking in credibility as the corporations that have usually captured them.

That is pitiful.

As individuals and as a society, the facts we need to make good decisions are tainted. They are tainted by a corporate and governmental philosophy of damage control and psychological manipulation over any concern with the truth.

How do you make good decisions in a world of deception? A world in which these lies are so pervasive that you begin to wonder if the government and corporations sometimes lie out of force of habit.

Lies kill. The truth makes for good decision. Lies make for bad decisions and bad decisions can kill directly or as they accumulate over time.

It’s the corporate culture of deception that kills. And in this case it was effective.

James Pilant

From the Slate article – How Sane Parents Got Paranoid About Vaccines by Anna B. Reisman –

In his engaging, provocative, and angry new book, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear, Seth Mnookin traces the history of the myth that vaccines cause developmental disorders like autism. In the process, he profiles a number of mothers with autistic children who followed their gut instinct away from conventional medicine and ended up on the front lines of vaccine paranoia.

From later in the article –

Here is what baffles Mnookin most: How so many caring, well-educated, affluent parents came to buy leaky theories that vaccines cause autism. How 48 states allow parents to exempt their kids from vaccines for religious reasons, and how in 18 states all you need is a philosophical reason. How, in 2010, the journal Pediatrics reported that a staggering 25 percent of parents believed that vaccines can cause developmental disorders in healthy children. How, even after a 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found no link between MMR and autism, the anti-vaccine camp grew stronger.

Here is a video of the author, Seth Mnookin, reading from his book.

Social License

“Social License” is a term straight from the textbooks of the squishy soft science of sociology. However, it is an interesting and important concept. Social license is the willingness of others to tolerate your activities. An example might be the willingness of the neighbors to tolerate your bizarre lawn decorations. Presumably your lawn jockey although tasteless and ugly will be found tolerable while a Greek statue of the 5th BC will feature nudity and drive the local religionist into convulsions and conniption fits and send them straight to the city for  new municipal rule banning art. See, you lost your social license.

Of course, social license has more serious ramifications for the society at large. A good article in Slate discusses these implications. There is serious discussion here of how the perception of behavior determines whether or not organizations are able to continue in the face of social consensus.

It’s a good read, I recommend it.