Saturday, May 30, 2015

Is Coercion Really the Way to Wellness?

Here's another outrage du jour.  This story on NPR news online really got my blood boiling. How 'voluntary' are employer wellness programs in reality?

One focus of the article is the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.  One thing they do is not hire smokers.  Oh, gee.  That may be legal, but it sure sounds like discrimination to me. They also have a wellness program:

"About 80 percent of Scotts employees submit to health screenings, and those deemed to be making unhealthful choices pay more for health insurance."
Spokesman Jim King "says Scotts' wellness policy attracted outside scrutiny, but its employees embrace it."

Employees embrace it?  Really?  Are they just so glad to have jobs they'll do pretty much whatever the employer demands?  Can they just not afford to pay more for their health insurance?  Or have we come to value our own autonomy so little that we're willing to have employers dictate our lifestyle choices - legal ones that are really none of their business?  Wellness may be a fine goal, but this program sounds punitive and coercive to me. 

I did find the comments of Christopher Kuczynski, Associate Legal Counsel at EEOC to be more on target.  The EEOC is considering regulations regarding incentives for these programs and ways to insure that such programs follow the law, including health privacy statutes, and are not discriminatory.

This topic has come up here before.  There was the coercive CVS employee wellness policy

There was also a mini-trend of not hiring smokers - back in 2005.

I do hope there is pushback.  I do hope the EEOC institutes some good regulations.  For my part, I have not patronized CVS since that policy started in 2013.  I haven't kept a close watch, but I'm assuming it's still going on.   And to bring this post full circle, I have decided that although I have found Miracle-Gro products fine for my houseplants, I will no longer use that brand and will look for an alternative.  It may not always be possible to stay away from companies with such dictatorial policies toward workers, but I will keep my eyes open and make some effort to not support them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Unity Word Cloud

Something both verbal and visual for you...

Remember:  "Divided = Conquered, But United = Empowered!"

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Migrant Crisis - Letter to Sign

Greetings.  I hope many of you are touched by the stories of migrants from Africa and Asia who are braving all kinds of conditions and seas to try to get to a better place.  The Guardian had a report of an excellent letter written by some European academics criticizing the latest European response.  You can read the letter here -- and you can also sign it.  I did.  Those who know me can search for my name...

We need to pray and to find ways to help these fellow humans.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Musical Losses...

How sad that B. B. King has died.  He was 89 and certainly had a great life and career.  Still, it's a great loss for all music lovers.  

I didn't get to post about Ben E. King's death some days ago (in NJ no less), but that was also very sad.  How can you not love "Stand By Me?"

NPR reported on B. B. King's passing just a short time ago.  Here is the article memorializing  Ben E. King. 

I guess the very best way to memorialize these great musicians is to keep their music alive.


a video of The Thrill is Gone - B. B. King

a video of Stand By Me - Ben E. King singing

and for the "heck" of it:  video of Stand By Me - John Lennon covering

These three music men are certainly greatly missed.  May they rest in peace and keep the music going in the next world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Any More Doubts(2)?

Well, well -the Houston office of the FBI violated FBI procedures in investigating - now get this - environmental protesters.

This report from The Guardian details how procedures were skipped and that protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline were labeled "environmental extremists."  The major subject was a group called the Tar Sands Blockade.  The article states:  "Environmental activists affiliated with the group were committed to peaceful civil disobedience that can involve minor infractions of law, such as trespass. But they had no history of violent or serious crime."   A key organizer stated that some members were arrested  "but not one of them was accused of violent crime or property destruction." Folks who photographed oil-related facilities were also scrutinized.

Mike German, a former FBI agent, now fellow at Brennan Center for Justice in NY, and who consulted with The Guardian on this article had this to say:  “It is clearly troubling that these documents suggest the FBI interprets its national security mandate as protecting private industry from political criticism,” he said."

While the FBI has done good work, we cannot forget that they spied on Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.  SHAME on RFK for authorizing the spying.  There's also another report here. And the FBI apparently had a role in crushing the Occupy protests.  I hadn't seen this article by Naomi Wolf at the time; I just ran across it while doing another search.  I think it makes clear that there was a concerted effort against a peaceful movement which a conglomeration of security state and corporate interests labeled a "terrorist threat."

And lest we forget our neighbor to the North, we've mentioned before Canada's C-51.  Watch out!  The government may use hate crime laws against groups there involved in the BDS movement - that's Boycott, Divest, Sanction against Israel.  You might want to read The Intercept's two-part story (the link here is to the first part, and that story contains a link to part 2).

This is somehow making us more safe?  Remember the President's own Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board did not find mass surveillance to be effective.  Is monitoring peaceful protest and dissent the role of even tightly targeted surveillance?   I think not.  We must continue to speak out against mass surveillance, especially now with Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act set to expire if not renewed. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

There is Logic In...Unity!

Hello all -

Is anyone still reading?  Comments would be so appreciated - I'd love to know who readers are (if any) and wonder if this is indeed still worth doing...

Anyway, On Intercept comments, I started using an end tag-line of "Divided = Conquered But United = Empowered!"  Another commenter, Cindy, wasn't sure exactly what I was saying and Benito M.  went on to explain what I probably meant (along the lines of 'united we stand but divided we fall." Well, they also developed an 'alternate reading' - which I'll get into a bit later.

Well, I let them know I did indeed appreciate another interpretation and wondered if I should use parentheses to make my meaning clearer.  It is said that the brain is continually working on making connections, but sometimes my neurons take their sweet time in doing so.  After this being put in the back of my mind and getting some sleep (although I didn't know I was sleeping on this!) it occurred to me that - whoa -I used to teach a unit on logic and in translating to English - from logic symbols, what we would use in place of parentheses was the comma!  Well, that really got me started and I thought: 'Hmmmm... wonder if I could really translate my phrase into logic symbols and do a truth table?' 

(Now if you're unfamiliar with logic, have forgotten, or want more info, here's a nice reference, as I can't put a whole unit on logic in one post.)

Getting to a truth table is what I did. First, there was the matter of the equals bit.  In logic there is 'is logically equivalent to' but that would be quite unwieldy to do in this case.  Then I thought, well, how about the biconditional - the "if and only if" construction in logic.  Then there was the matter of divided/united and conquered/empowered.  For simplicity, I considered them to be pairs of opposites. In other words, united is the logical negation of divided and empowered is the logical negation of conquered.  The word but didn't seem to be a problem as in logic it traditionally gets translated as the logical operator 'and.'

So I thought of it in English as:  "Divided if and only if conquered, and united if and only if empowered."  I translated that into logic symbols and did the truth table, but the results weren't exactly as I'd hoped.

So I tried this:  "If divided if and only if conquered, then united if and only if empowered."

Here is the resulting truth table:

If you look at the final result column, it tells us that what this compound logic statement is is called a tautology.  That is, the statement as a whole is true regardless of the truth values of its substatements.

Now Cindy and Benito M. were thinking of an interpretation which I think I can best express as a statement  to translate into logic symbols as:  "If divided if and only if conquered and united, then empowered."  (deeper meaning, uniting after being divided and conquered leads to empowerment).

If I used that construct, the result was also a tautology:

So one might say I finagled a bit (maybe?). And of course our English language isn't the most precise means of communication sometimes.  Still, I think this exercise shows that there IS a certain logic to being united, to coming together to work for common goals and the common good.  Conclusion:

  "Divided = Conquered, But United = Empowered!"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

World States of Surveillance

Updated Below!!!

There are so many issues around to be concerned about.  There's the situation in the Middle East and the plight of Americans in Yemen who have been abandoned by their own country.  There is the situation of migrants seeking to better their lives with perilous trips across the Mediterranean.  There is economic inequality here at home as well as plenty of issues based on race, class and the justice system.   Sometimes I feel as though we are having to address so many problems that it can be overwhelming.

In this post,however, I do want to concentrate on issues of mass surveillance, a very important issue that hasn't gone away.  Quite the opposite.

When this article was posted, Canada was on the verge of adopting some very troubling anti-terror legislation called C-51.  From the article:  "Critics of the legislation say the imminent law gives Canadian spies sweeping new powers to investigate and disrupt broadly defined threats to public safety, with language that makes no distinction between terrorist plots and legitimate political protests and demonstrations. At the same time, it neglects to provide any increased oversight of the country’s vastly empowered chief spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service."

The article also describes the legislation as having a wide and diverse group of opponents and said public opinion about it had been souring.  You can read here an open open letter which was written by law professors urging the Canadian Parliament to reject this legislation.

And over in France, the anti-trerrorism bill proposed in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack has passed lower House of the French Parliament. The vacuuming up of data and the warantless spying with - basically no oversight -  that this would authorize do indeed sound Orwellian.

Then there's German Chancellor Merkel.  Just check out her first remarks about recent revelations of Germany spying on European officials and businesses.  "And this ability to carry out its duties in the face of international terrorism threats is done in cooperation with other intelligence agencies, and that includes first and foremost the NSA."  Can this be the same person who was quite indignant when it was revealed the NSA spied on her?

Now speaking of the good ol' NSA, The Intercept has a very revealing article about this nefarious agency and its exploits with voice to text.  Oh yes, just imagine the NSA searching through a text of your last phone conversation.  Creepy doesn't begin to describe it for me.

And this is all in spite of the fact that all this mass surveillance has been shown to be ineffective in protecting us against real threats.  This is in spite of the fact that, as is noted by critics, that definitions have been drawn so broadly that anyone could be (if not already) made a target.  This is in spite of the fact that such spying with so little, if any, oversight and privacy protections make it ripe for abuse (see excerpt about Canada's C-51 above).

As the Freedom Act gets debated here(and the privacy/civil liberties community is split as to it having ANY merit), and as HR1466 also gets considered (see this post), we need to be aware and to keep pressure up tor real reform and pushback against the surveillance apparatus.  We need to speak up and to speak up NOW!

UPDATE:  A three judge Federal Appeals Court Panel has ruled mass phone surveillance by the NSA illegal and sent the case back to District Court level for further proceedings...  Read about the decision here.  Small victory, but we'll take it!