A Robotic Solution To Homelessness In San Francisco

by William Skink

For the first time in years the homeless population is rising. Homelessness on the west coast is a big part of this nationwide bump.

Once the heart of hippiedom, San Francisco is now showing some disturbing signs of a possible dystopian, techno-fascist future. Sound extreme? How about using robots to keep homeless people away from an animal shelter?

For the SPCA, the security robot, which they’ve dubbed K9, was a way to try dealing with the growing number of needles, car break-ins and crime that seemed to emanate from nearby tent encampments of homeless people along the sidewalks.

“We weren’t able to use the sidewalks at all when there’s needles and tents and bikes, so from a walking standpoint I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment,” Jennifer Scarlett, the S.F. SPCA’s president, told the Business Times.

Once the SPCA started using the robot on the sidewalks around its campus in early November, Scarlett said, there were no more homeless encampments. There were also fewer break-ins to cars in the campus parking lot. It’s not clear that the robot was the cause of the decreases, Scarlett added, but they were correlated.

The city is moving to stop these robots from patrolling public right of ways. I say don’t deny this technological solution, San Francisco. Program “K9” to chase these pests all the way to the hinterlands. Maybe the fires will provide the final solution.

The ultimate irony is the booming tech-sector is playing a big role in driving up the cost of housing, which–surprise, surprise–makes more homeless people! Crazy, I know.

Too bad all that brain power and rapidly evolving technological advancements can’t stop the rentier class from draining the benefits of increased productivity.

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Why The Emotional Support Gap Between Boys and Girls Is Important

by William Skink

A former professor put up an article on Facebook about why boys need more emotional support than girls. It’s a very interesting read. Here is an excerpt:

In a 2000 study entitled “The Fragile Male,” Sebastian Kraemer states that baby boy brains are actually more fragile than baby girls’. Even in the womb, boy brains are more reactive to maternal depression and stress, while at birth, baby boy brains lag behind girls by a full six weeks.

Research has also shown that boys have higher cortisol levels (the stress hormone) after a traumatic birth where they were separated from their mothers, or their caregiver was unresponsive.

Kraemer argues that female brains have an early advantage that stays with them throughout childhood, while boys struggle and trail behind in a variety of areas.

As boys age, they can continue to struggle, which, when compounded by the lack of emotional support, only gets more serious. Although scientists go back and forth on this, it is thought that males are more prone to dyslexia and difficulty with reading and language, making school and learning difficult. Boys are also more likely to have childhood onset conduct disorder and are two to three times as likely to have ADHD than girls.

These neurological differences that researches are studying are then exacerbated by cultural stereotypes of masculinity, further depriving boys of the emotional support they need for their development.

What broader implications could studies like this have on our understanding of why men behave the way they do? Could being deprived of emotional support early in a boy’s life lead to acting out violently later in life? And what does this say about the effort to equalize the sexes? In conflicts between men and women, women are often the victims of male aggression. Does this gap in early emotional support complicate those roles of aggressor/victim?

It’s something to think about, especially now as men are being broadly demonized due to the individual actions of men in positions of power. Instead of just blaming men and the entrenched power of the patriarchy they represent, maybe studies like this will lead to a better understanding of what boys need in terms of support, and if that understanding leads to changes in providing that support, both men and women could benefit.

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After Unionizing, Mental Health Workers Call Out Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss

by William Skink

Last month, amidst the anxiety and uncertainty of Montana’s budget crisis, case managers at Western Montana Mental Health Center chose to unionize:

On Sept. 20, case managers at the Western Montana Mental Health Center voted to unionize, a development that shop steward and six-year WMMHC case manager Cheryl Nguyen-Wishneski attributes largely to fear over the impacts of state budget cuts. Nguyen-Wishneski says case managers first got together in a state of shared shock mid-summer to discuss their options, after they were informed of impending layoffs in their department. She adds that the new union also includes community rehabilitation aides, who frequently work in tandem with case managers for high-need clients.

“Pay was going to go down, workloads were going to go up, and that’s what was presented to us,” Nguyen-Wishneski says of the explanation she and other case managers were given for how WMMHC would absorb a 37-percent cut to Medicaid reimbursement for case management.

Case managers already have an incredibly difficult job. It’s also an incredibly important job. Good case managers work to keep their clients stable and out of costly institutions, like Warm Springs and County Detention. With homelessness on the rise, and no clear path out of the jail overcrowding crisis, case managers are a critical resource that need to be supported by this community and it’s political leadership.

That support was not happening. This was made perfectly clear in an op-ed penned by Cheryl Nguyen-Wishneski and Lisa Leon. They called out Jean Curtiss specifically because she is the president of the board of directors of the Western Montana Mental Health Center. Here is a good portion of their complaint:

We want to be treated with respect and dignity in our places of employment. That is why we voted on Sept. 20 to form a mental health workers’ union. We have two goals that go hand in hand: the just and compassionate treatment of our clients, and the just and compassionate treatment of mental health employees.

On several occasions the mental health workers of Unite Here Local 23 have requested an audience with Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, who also serves as president of the board of directors of the Western Montana Mental Health Center. On every occasion she has refused, with a resounding “no” to democratic process. Do not elected officials represent the working class? We have been led to question if Curtiss is the most fit and qualified candidate to represent the workers of Missoula County.

We are currently facing severe state Medicaid cuts. We could shortly be unemployed. If this happens, the population at the Poverello Center, the population at the State Hospital, the prison population, and the population of the homeless camps under the bridges will increase. Some of the most vulnerable persons in society will be unable to seek help, and their helpers will be left to collect unemployment.

We implore you to support the care and treatment of persons suffering from disabling illness, as well as the just treatment of mental health workers throughout the country. Be kind and offer a smile the next time you pass a homeless person on the sidewalk. Think carefully about who you want to be your next county commissioner. And be a voice for democracy and a living wage for all persons who work hard daily to meet the needs of the most at-risk of society’s members.

Unionizing was a good move. Maybe now unresponsive political officials, like Commissioner Curtiss, will realize they can’t keep squeezing workers to do more with less while they give empty lip service to living wages amidst increasing caseloads and budget cuts.

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Is Missoula Returning To Pointless Ordinances And Felony Football?

by William Skink

I am feeling seriously triggered by both the University of Montana and City Council. I think that’s the right word, considering it’s dealing with past traumas that seem to be repeating.

Bringing back Bobby is brilliant if the idea is to create a different PR problem to distract from a plethora of other bad moves, like trying to hide information on the prioritization process and firing/hiring/firing/hiring contracted lecturers. Poor Seth, this shit-show is now his to try and deal with. He may want to check the Missoula County Inmate Informational Portal every morning, especially weekends. It would have to be early, before those fancy lawyers can spring ’em out.

For more frequent posts on the ineptitude of UM and the terrible reign of King Clayton, Logicosity has been great. I’m listening, Ed! I care!

Bringing back Bobby Hauck is not the only throw-back, dumb-ass move by a critical institution of Missoula. Missoula’s City Council is re-visiting trying to ordinance away a nuisance issue, this time “urban camping” by people in unsightly RVs.

Is this a pervasive problem? Or are a few, persistent violators confounding police and health department officials? From the link:

Mike Haynes, director of Development Services, said the regulatory change came after health and law enforcement officials and the city attorney’s office struggled to deal with several long-term campers who caused sanitation issues and safety concerns.

In a memo to the City Council, Haynes explained: “Temporary and occasional cases of ‘urban camping’ rarely generate complaints, but there have been cases where individuals have parked in neighborhoods for long periods of time, presented significant problems for residents, and generated citizen nuisance complaints that have required code enforcement and law enforcement interventions.”

In one case, a couple camped for nearly two years in various Missoula neighborhoods, resisting all attempts at enforcement by moving whenever neighbors began to complain.

According to Haynes, this is not a pervasive problem. “Several” is a pretty low occurrence rate to warrant passing an ordinance. But that’s what Missoula has done under Engen, and will continue to do, apparently. Hey, people keep voting for him, so I guess this is what “progressive” Missoula wants.

Does Engen support these changes to the ban on urban camping? How does this fit into the housing initiative Engen constantly referenced as he was campaigning? I’d like to know. I would also like to know how, specifically, would these changes address the “several” cases police and city officials can’t apparently handle. If they can’t afford the fine, and don’t show up to Municipal court, is this just another “failure to appear” that could land a violator in the debtors jail on Mullan Road?

The city of Missoula and UM, acting like the it’s the aughts with ordinances and Bobby Hauck. What’s next, pretending like Jon Tester will be a foe to wars and a friend to enviros like it’s 2006?

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Jon Tester, Wall Street Tool

by William Skink

Jon Tester is a tool of Wall Street, but progressives in Montana refuse to acknowledge this. Despite tangible evidence of Tester’s tool status, the mighty fear of Republicans continues to be enough to scare spineless progressives in Montana toward supporting Tester’s bid to stay in office.

The recent theatrics Tester engaged in before the tax bill passed got all kinds of attention, but it was an empty gesture—bullshit theatrics from a duplicitous politician seeking re-election. Tester knows who his real constituents are, and they are not your average Montanan. Tester’s support for this misguided deregulation legislation is the proof. Here’s a quote from an Intercept piece:

Four Democrats — Banking Committee members Joe Donnelly, Ind.; Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.; Jon Tester, Mont.; and Mark Warner, Va. — negotiated S.2155 with Republican leaders. In all, 10 Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, giving it enough support to break a Senate filibuster if all Republicans sign on. That makes the deregulatory effort more than theoretical; it’s a real risk to pass.

Democratic staffers on the Banking Committee cite three major problem areas for S.2155. First, despite being pitched as relief for community banks and small lenders who played no role in the financial crisis and got caught up in the regulatory undertow, the bill extends that aid to the big boys. It eliminates automatic enhanced standards, like higher capital requirements and “living wills” that lay out how to unwind the firm in case of trouble, for banks with between $50 and $250 billion in assets. This includes large regional and national players like American Express, SunTrust, and BBT, and foreign megabanks like Barclays and Deutsche Bank, whose holdings in the United States fall within that threshold. These international lenders have been notorious “repeat offenders,” paying tens of billions of dollars in fraud penalties for actions like repossessing the cars of service members while they fought overseas.

In all, the bill removes enhanced supervision from 25 banks that control $3.5 trillion in assets and received $48 billion in taxpayer bailouts, according to an analysis from Public Citizen.

The effort to re-elect Jon Tester is not going to leave much resources for down-ticket races in Montana, just like the effort to keep Bullock in the Governor’s mansion was the all-consuming focus of Montana Democrats in the last election cycle. That means Democrats will continue being a weak minority barely able to fend off the short-term greed and cruelty of Montana Republicans.

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Daily Outrages And Chosen Delusions

by William Skink

It’s so easy to get sucked in to the daily outrage. I am by no means immune. The tax catastrophe is one of those monumental deceptions that boggles the mind. Trickle down economics never worked, so watching deficit hawks become deficit pigs wallowing in the spoils of class warfare is more than just obscene. It’s demoralizing. Especially because their base will not revolt.

Meanwhile, Democrats up for reelection like Jon Tester are doing their best to exploit this GOP Christmas gift to corporations and the donor class. My reaction to seeing Tester flinging around the hefty tax bill is about the same as my reaction has been to any empty Democratic posturing for votes: I’m not buying it.

Democrats do not represent legitimate opposition to the policies of the plutocrats because they serve the plutocracy. As disastrous as the tax plan will be it will be no worse than the bailout of Wall Street after the housing bubble burst. That happened under a Democrat controlled Congress and a shiny new biracial president who successfully lulled white liberals to sleep for the next 8 years.

Those positioned to feed at the trough are doing so because they know the Great Contraction is coming. They are taking whatever they can get before this fantasy cluster of bubbles starts popping off like fire crackers. And the bubbles will burst.

What I’m less sure about is whether it will be some unforeseen trigger or a controlled pin-prick to set it off. I lean toward the latter. Those at the tippy top of this ponzi pyramid economy will do anything to maintain their positions of power and control.

While the .000001% continue consolidating their hold we will continue fighting each other and sliding deeper into fictions and delusions.

I’m working with my own fictions and delusions. And I’ll keep checking in on other strains of delusion, even if it belches up hoax theories about AIDS from time to time.

Here’s a new video.

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Fiction Taking Over

by William Skink

As we stumble toward the dystopia science fiction writers anticipated decades ago, I wonder what Philip K. Dick would think of Facebook’s roll out of AI technology to detect suicidal posts before they’re reported.

Why does it feel like every episode of Black Mirror is whispering to us from a world lurking just around the next corner?

The latest season of American Horror Story, my friend tells me, synched weirdly with current events. One episode was quickly edited after the Las Vegas shooting because the content was deemed too similar and too soon after the massacre. Another coincidence was the death of Charles Manson near the end of a season that featured a cult leader with undertones of Charlie.

Is fiction taking over? Are stories stronger than facts?

I say yes, and yes. Fiction is taking over because we increasingly can’t trust the sources trying to define what the facts are. Faith in institutions, faith in authority, is bottoming out. The compass is broken.

And Skynet is getting the red carpet roll-out from Facebook.

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Artists As Little Monsters

by William Skink

What do we do with the art of monstrous men? That is the question Claire Dederer tries to get at with this piece in the Paris Review. Whether you are selfish enough to call yourself an artist, or you are not, it’s worth a read.

Dederer is getting a lot of flak for comparing her admittedly minuscule acts of monstrousness to the acts of Woody Allen and alleged pedophiles like Kevin Spacey. If you read her piece she makes it perfectly clear there is no comparison, and I think engages honestly and thoughtfully about how selfish we sometimes have to be to get work done.

With the idea of getting work done I may try something a little different. I haven’t decided yet.

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Responding To Fan Mail

by Travis Mateer

For this post I’m using my real name because someone out there really wants to convey to me that writing under a pseudonym is an act of cowardice. This message couldn’t be posted as a comment or sent to me via email. Nope, this anonymous critic (irony alert!) has now sent two letters to the non-profit where I work to let me know how cowardly I am for hiding behind William Skink.

When I told one of my co-workers about this letter she admitted to Googling me and finding this piece I submitted to Last Best News after leaving my job at the shelter. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect example that illustrates why I choose to maintain a thin firewall between the name on my pay stub and the name on my blog post.

The stigma of being a “conspiracy theorist” keeps getting more ominous. I heard an interview recently on NPR about an Atlantic piece titled The Making Of An American Nazi. This is the part that stuck with me:

INSKEEP: Did he go straight to white supremacy?

O’BRIEN: No, he went first into what I like to call trutherville (ph) – this kind of horror-scape (ph) of conspiracy theorists and raving lunatics online, the most notable figure among them being Alex Jones and…

INSKEEP: This is the conspiracy theorist who has been praised by President Trump, and the president has appeared on his program.

O’BRIEN: Right. And I think what a lot of people don’t realize about Alex Jones is that he actually is a gateway into white nationalism because a lot of these white nationalists arrive at their hateful views through conspiracy theories. And his ideology is starting to take shape over time as he dwells in these echo chambers online. And he was trying to create his own echo chamber and attract disciples to it so that he could then have his own following.

Do I believe in conspiracy theories? Some of them, yes, so check. Am I white? Definitely, so check. Do I try to understand the election of Trump as something more nuanced than every vote being from a hateful racist Nazi thug ready to goose-step with Putin to destroy America? Yes, I do try to understand things beyond the 2 minutes of hate our Orwellian propagandists attempt to instigate through corporate media, so check, check and check.

The mistake the sender of this hate mail is making is the assumption William Skink is just a mask I use to hide behind. William Skink is much more than that.

So stay tuned…

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Special Session Shit Show

by William Skink

It didn’t take long for Montana’s Special Session to devolve into a partisan shit show. This should come as no surprise. Last month George Ochenski offered this prescient warning to Montana lawmakers:

While it’s understandable that Democrats would want to preserve the spending priorities they feel are important to their constituents, it’s extremely naïve to believe the Republicans wouldn’t want to do the same thing. In this case, their goal would be the core Republican belief in shrinking, not growing, government — exactly as Sen. Jones has already said.

For those who have been through special sessions and know their pitfalls, the Democrat legislators asking the governor to call a special session are asking for more trouble than they know — especially given they don’t have to votes to control the agenda, let alone the outcome and it could backfire horrendously on the very priorities they hold most dear.

While Ochenski assumes naiveté on the part of Montana Democrats I’m not so sure. Maybe Democrats are just allowing Montanans to get what they deserve.

Think about it. Montana Democrats have been getting their asses handed to them in recent election cycles, so why continue to fight when the electorate is clearly choosing to elect politicians who explicitly state their intentions to take a machete to the safety net of government social services?

I don’t think Democrats in this state are that naive. It was apparently obvious during the legislative session that revenue estimates were grossly inflated, meaning the triggers for cuts if revenue marks weren’t met should have been anticipated as a near-certainty. Yet Bullock signed the bill and legislators went home as their budgetary time-bomb ticked.

Now that it’s about to blow, Bullock and Montana Democrats have initiated a process they knew they couldn’t control. What we are seeing now is the shit show Ochenski predicted could happen.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Democrats, realizing how powerless they are to stop the Republican agenda, decided to feed enough rope to Republicans so they can make their noose to strangle government.

Montana voters have chosen this path, have they not? So why keep trying so hard to stop the inevitable pain from the brutal cuts Bullock will be forced to make? Why not just give Montanans what they apparently want?

When the cuts happen, and the pain begins to be felt, Democrats can say I told you so. This is what you get, they can say, when you vote for the Republican agenda.

The other interpretation is that Democrats in Montana really are just naive and clueless. Did they really think Republicans would listen to families and service providers about the resulting pain of cuts to services for the most vulnerable in our communities? Did they really think Republicans would stick to the Governor’s script for the Special Session?

I don’t know what’s worse, Democrat naiveté or Democrat complicity. In the end it doesn’t really matter because the result will be the same: already difficult living situations for Montana’s most vulnerable citizens will become unlivable. Hospitals, jails and other institutional environments will become more burdened by increasingly desperate need. And vile Republican extremists will continue turning this critical legislative process into a circus.

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