Month: May 2019

HistorySocial Justice

Do we need prisons?

Should we end prisons? I have been thinking through this question since reading a recent New York Times article on Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s efforts to dismantle, if not slow the role of, the prison industrial complex. Her focus has been the California prison system and has a book you should check out called The Golden Gulag.

Whatever your views on the criminal justice system, you owe it to yourself and your community to read the article. Angela Davis has been talking about this for decades.

My current thinking is that the prison abolition movement is really about getting a dialog going to question our assumptions about prison. Even getting the prison population down to 1980 levels would be a positive step.

For example, the definition of what constitutes a crime itself is constantly in flux. A good deal of Nobel Prize winners were imprisoned, from Martin Luther King to Andrei Sakharov. People in Georgia serve prison sentences for selling marijuana, in Colorado and California marijuana sellers get venture capital. Missouri wants to imprison doctors for performing safe abortions. So even in the “nation of laws”, the laws are arbitrary, are not equally applied across race, gender, and class, and can change in an election. But the sentences are still extreme and rip apart families and communities.

I struggle with the issue of violent crime. I don’t think the people who stole my bike or car radio need to have their voting rights suspended or their families jacked up. I don’t feel that serial murderers need to be on the street. But most of the countries with low murder rates don’t lock up murderers indefinitely. Those countries seem to take rehabilitation seriously.

Let’s put it this way. Somehow, Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, South Africa, and Liberia found a way to reintegrate people who’d committed unspeakable crimes. Surely if broken child soldiers can be put back together in poor countries, then there has to be a way to put back together the people that we now lock up and put away indefinitely in the “nation of laws”.

A dialog needs to happen.

As usual I’m on the hunt for data, particularly in Georgia.

What do you think?

AIAlgorithmsSocial Justice

San Francisco passes facial recognition ordinance

San Francisco recently passed an ordinance controlling the use of facial recognition in the city. The ordinance was in large part thanks to the pioneering research of Joy Buolamwini.

The argument against the technology is twofold: first, the technology is highly invasive in public spaces and may constitute a direct threat to basic (US) constitutional rights of freedom of assembly; secondly the feature extraction and training set construction methodologies (for newer deep learning based models) have been shown to have racial and gender biases “baked in”. For example, the systems analyzed in Buolamwini’s work are less accurate for Black people and women — either because the data sets used for training include mostly white male faces, or the image processing algorithms focus on image components and make assumptions more common to European faces.

Consider uses in policing, where an inaccurate system mis-identifies a Black or LatinX person as a felon. Especially when there is no transparency into the use or internals of such systems, the chances for abuse and injustice are in incredible. Despite these concerns, Amazon shareholders think it is ok to release the technology on the public.

Do you know if such a system is deployed in your city? If so, are there measures to control its use, or make audits available to your community? If not, have you considered contacting your elected representatives to support or discuss appropriate safeguards?

FoodGender EqualityGeorgia

Liberté for Georgia

Buy a French dessert by Friday, post a comment here, and I will donate up to €37.00 to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood to protect women’s rights in Georgia.

I saw amazing desserts in Paris, but I cannot possibly eat that many calories! Help me out while preserving Liberté for women in the United States.

Delacroix’s Liberté guidant le peuple is the post inspiration

If you purchase a traditional French dessert between now and Friday and comment on it here, I will donate a dollar to the ACLU to preserve a woman’s right to safe abortion. Up to a total of €37.

Here are some inspiring desserts to inspire

These are too amazing for me! Eat one yourself and I’ll donate to ACLU!

HistoryPoliticsTravel

Austria as harbinger of change

Last night the, right-wing Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned. He was allegedly videotaped asking a Russian citizen for donations in exchange for government contracts. It is a trope all too common in the democracy of my citizenship, tragically banal as mass shootings.

The impact in Austria was the apparent collapse of the current governing coalition of centrist+right parties. There were protests in Vienna, and the president has called for September elections. The people might need them sooner.

I hope that the elections bring about a political change that invokes the kind of open and forward thinking Austria, the kind of Europe even, that the world is desperately in need of.

Austria has no dearth of vision. The cover photo is of Ute Bock — a Vienna educator who worked on behalf of asylum seekers, especially with respect to educational opportunities, access to housing, and fairness in policing.

Bock’s legacy lives. When I arrived in Vienna, I encountered a poster featuring Katerina Anastasiou, top candidate of a coalition of the Green, Communist, and other leftist parties called KPÖ PLUS.

The agenda described on their website, emphasizes equal housing, job opportunities, and the dismantling of fascism. I’m too far removed for a subtle understanding of Austrian politics — I don’t even pretend to speak German — but the basic outline seems more in the line of public service than fascist money for favors.

To quote from one of Anastasiou’s recent speeches:

The Europe we want does not exist yet, but it lives in us!

So reminiscent of the last lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address

that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth

That the left is sounding a call for support of immigrants and access to housing is not surprising, I learned that they’ve been effective at it in Austria — Vienna at least since the early 20th century.

These are photos I took outside of the Karl Marx-Hof public housing complex, erected in the late 1920’s. To equate it with the oppressive housing complexes of the US is a sacrilege.

The day I visited, the grounds were vibrant. 20-somethings debated in the courtyard. In the steps leading to the entrance, the diversity of Vienna was on display, as Somalian, Bangladeshi, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Eastern- and Austrian-Europeans went about their way basking in the sun. Kebab vendors sold savories and outlined the veggie prospects to me.

As I entered the courtyard I encountered the following plaque

A testament to the 60 families, residents of the Marx-Hof, that had been executed by the Nazis in 1938 and 1939.

Austria’s gift to humanity is its ability to build from the memory of unspeakable horror. To help bring about that vision of the world to which we all aspire. I am with them as the continue the long march forward.

HistoryTravel

Stalinists in Georgia (the state)

We dined at the restaurant Lingenhel Käserei in Vienna on Wednesday night. It had an installation by the Georgian (as in Tbilisi) Helmut Spudich.

The title of the installation was “Georgia on my mind”!

This Op Ed by Stacey Abrams makes clear the case that the current government of the US State Georgia has been spinning into a one party, patriarchal, oppressive, racialist, and anti-democracy state for some time.

It is time to remove the would be Stalinists.