Archive for June, 2010

Hightower racism

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Could populist crusader Jim Hightower be a racist? Well, it depends on what that word means. I’m using it here a bit generically, so that “race” is a category that some individual person or thing belongs to and “racism” means attributing characteristics to the individuals in a category as a whole.

Given that expansive definition, I’ll assert that Hightower and Phillip Frazer said something racist in the June 2010 issue of their newsletter, “Hightower Lowdown”. They wrote, “Cooperatives … are democratic entities in which decisions are not handed down from the top, but made by the members. As opposed to aloof, absentee, autocratic corporate owners who extract wealth from communities, coops are of, by, and for the community ….”1

What we have here is a statement assigning good and bad properties to entities denoted with “bare plurals”. Speakers of English, in my experience, most commonly interpret such statements as universal generalizations. Statements such as “cooperatives are democratic”, “lawyers are dishonest”, “Norwegians are peace-loving”, and “Jews are stingy” are all racist statements by my definition. Keener observers than I have made that point before.

Statements containing references like “autocratic corporate owners” are formally different, but in them the adjectives are often interpreted as preposed appositives, not as restrictive modifiers, so they get unpacked perceptually as “corporate owners, who, by the way, as we know, are all autocratic”. Knowing that perceptual tendency, a nonracist writer would avoid such constructions.

Jim, you can begin to undo your racism here by adding “most” to your assertion and providing some empirical evidence for it.

Roberto Michels in his classic Political Parties investigated the claim that populistically based organizations are democratic. He concluded from his observations of labor unions and socialist parties that oligarchy emerges and persists in all kinds of organizations, even those nominally dedicated to democratic governance. His work would lead one to predict that a careful inspection of cooperatives will find most of them democratic in name only. I’m familiar with one cooperative whose members mostly appreciate the secretive and high-handed ruling style of its elected officials. When a member demands that freedom-of-information and open-meeting regulations be complied with, other members call him a wrecker.

If I wanted a more egalitarian world (which I do), I wouldn’t be optimistic about getting it after reading such racist rhetoric. It only encourages gullible trust of, and therefore subservience to, oligarchies masquerading as self-governing collectives.


1Thanks to S.M. Colowick for pointing this statement out.

Iron Fist Strikes Again?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

It has been reported that today a newly (even if illegally) appointed member of the board of directors of Berkeley Town House (see my recent posting on this) threatened a member of our community with a restraining order for harrassment. The harrassing behavior was to say hello.

It’s RealManage!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Yesterday the Board of Directors of Berkeley Town House Cooperative Corporation announced that it had entered into a contract with RealManage for the management of this senior housing cooperative (informally, HOA). RealManage is expected to assume the management on 1 July 2010.

Over time I hope we’ll become an enthusiastic reference for RealManage. There should be increasing amounts of information on this blog and at the unofficial Berkeley Town House website.

For some impressions of RealManage gathered during the competitive search process, see my earlier posting.

“Not if I see you coming”

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

This evening the board of directors of Berkeley Town House decided to make itself a lot nastier and more antagonistic than it has been in recent memory. It replaced the mild-mannered, peacemaking, sensitive K M, who is resigning as she prepares to move out, with none other than S P, whose motto might be “Leave no stone unthrown” and who is remembered by long-timers for her iron-fisted presidency. The (unanimous) vote gave the lie to the board’s recent calls for “peace” and “forgiveness”.

During the comment period, a member asked S P about her previously circulated open letter attacking “aggressive newcomers” and urging people that she disagrees with to move elsewhere. The member asked S P whether she could work with members of various opinions. Answer (paraphrased): Yes, if they behave themselves. The member asked S P whether she would begin acknowledging her again when they met in the corridors. Answer (exact quote): “Not if I see you coming.” The member also asked S P whether she would be willing to ride in the same elevator with her. No answer. Another member said she, too, was always ignored by S P. Answer: I don’t consider her a member in good standing. (It’s an honor to report that S P has recently crossed me, too, off her greeting-eligible list.)

This appointment was a declaration of spite by the board against the membership, or at least a mammoth lapse of judgment. There were far more constructive, open-minded, friendly members to choose among.

On the positive side, S P’s addition to the Board will increase its candor. When she despises you, she says so. A refreshing change. It’s also admirable that the board actually voted on this appointment in an open meeting, not in secret, as it had illegally done with its last two replacements.

This vote was flawed, too. It wasn’t legal (as I read the law) for K M to vote on her own replacement, nor for the board to hold this vote before K M’s resignation had taken effect, but those are technicalities. The important thing is that the board did something dumb in front of the members, and the members got an opportunity to give a live demonstration of that fact. That’s progress.

Electronic Medical Records—Hype

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Electronic medical records are all the rage these days. Unfortunately, some organizations that are working on implementing them don’t have the patience to call them “Alpha” or “Beta” for the time (probably years) that it will take until they work well. Instead, they are hyping these as panaceas.

One example is my insurer, State of Washington Uniform Medical Plan. The personal-health-record (PHR) system that it has bought merits no more than an “Alpha” designation, but UMP is shamelessly advertising it as a complete portable repository for all there is to know about the patient’s health and health care.

Here is my gripe sent to UMP today. UMP tends to respond promptly, so its reply should appear here soon.

You say “MyActiveHealth lets you keep track of all of your doctor visits, health screenings, and prescription drug history. The information is updated automatically every time you receive services covered by UMP.”

This appears to be false. I have had medical care in 2010 with claims paid by UMP omitted from my personal health record.

Moreover, the information that appears in the PHR is often useless to another provider. An example is “OTHER ABNORMAL CLINICAL FINDING”. Other examples are tests, which are reported as having been performed but whose results are not reported.

You say that the PHR “Makes it easy to share information with your doctors.” This appears to be false. In fact, the PHR makes in difficult, because the patient must combine the very incomplete information in the PHR with information from other sources.

Adding information to the PHR oneself does not solve the problem, because the PHR’s printed output omits crucial information added by the patient. For example, hospital visits added by the patient include diagnoses, but the diagnoses are omitted from the printout.

I conclude that the PHR offered by UMP is grossly deficient in comparison with the claims that UMP makes for it. A patient relying on your statements could print a PHR report or grant access to a provider and simply assume that all pertinent information about UMP-covered treatments is being communicated. The results of this false assumption could be catastrophic.

Will you clearly and prominently tell your customers about the limitations of the PHR and warn them not to consider it a source of complete information about UMP-covered test results and treatments?

Connotational Inversion

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Deciding how to vote today in the California primary election, I perused the Web sites of some candidates, and it was a delight to see a paragraph beginning with the following sentence on the site of Janice Hahn, candidate in the Democratic Party election for Lieutenant Governor:

Sacramento politicians and state bureaucrats need to be given greater authority to improve the quality of education in our schools, colleges and universities.

How refreshing! Hahn seems to be doing to “politician” and “bureaucrat” (and, for that matter, “Sacramento”) what activists at other times have done to “poor”, “black”, and “queer”: recapturing a sneer word to invert its pejorative connotation.

The trouble is that this inversion seems to be an isolated incident in this candidate’s statement, which otherwise flaunts its fair share of trite slogans like “cut wasteful spending”. So, is Hahn subtlely nudging her readers to be less hostile toward a couple of undeservedly demeaned concepts, or is she possibly just exhibiting editorial incompetence?

The answer to this question may be inferred from the way that the previous paragraph ends:

Janice Hahn will empower local classroom teachers and schools principals, because educators, not

There are a couple of “p” tags between these paragraphs. Somebody did this. Who? Why? Did opponent Gavin Newsom’s campaign hack into Hahn’s Web site with this minory surgery, hoping nobody would notice?

Complaining about mobile-phone telemarketing

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Since March 2010, I have experienced a major growth in the frequency of prerecorded sales calls to my mobile telephone. If I’m not alone, then other people will want to know what they can do to stop this.

I don’t know what really works, but here is one thing that you can do if you have about 5 minutes to spare. Complete the FCC complaint form.

Unfortunately, this complaint form asks for information that you won’t have if you hang up immediately when the recording starts to play. To complete the form fully, you’ll need to listen to the whole message and take some notes, writing down any company names, telephone numbers, products, and services that the recording mentions.