Solstice Reading: Robot Telemarketers, That McDonald’s Lawsuit, Stupid Bloody Kansas, and More!


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Pope Francis says -- thumbs up!

Jolly Pope Francis says “thumbs up!” as we mark the solstice and enter the final decaday of 2013.

If you’re the sort of person who needs to be reading the blogs on a cold Saturday afternoon, I suppose that we should nourish you.  So welcome to my Facebook feed — and here are some good things for you to read today.

Freakishly realistic telemarketing robots are denying they’re robots

Recently, Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer received a phone call from an apparently bright and engaging woman asking him if he wanted a deal on his health insurance. But he soon got the feeling something wasn’t quite right.

After asking the telemarketer point blank if she was a real person or a computer-operated robot, she chuckled charmingly and insisted she was real. Looking to press the issue, Scherer asked her a series of questions, which she promptly failed. Such as, “What vegetable is found in tomato soup?” To which she responded by saying she didn’t understand the question. When asked what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained of a bad connection (ah, the oldest trick in the book).

Click the link to hear some amazing audio recordings.  I think that I’ve gotten these sorts of calls — have you?

Ever Hear About The Lady Who Spilled Coffee On Herself At McDonald’s, Then Sued For Millions?

Watch the video from the New York Times and learn something important about the law.

Kansas Board of Regents Revokes Right to Freedom of Speech

From a friend who teaches at Kansas (who was not the author of this blog post):

As faculty grade their last student papers and exams before leaving town for the Christmas holidays, the Kansas Board of Regents quietly — and unanimously — voted to revoke their academic freedom and basic right to freedom of speech.  As the Lawrence Journal-Worldreports this evening, “The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a policy that would allow the firing of university employees if they communicated through social media in a way that aversely [sic] affects the school.”

According to the new policy, “improper use of social media” includes any “communication through social media that”:

“ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university”

“iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.”

“In determining whether the employee’s communication constitutes an improper use of social media under paragraph (iv), the chief executive officer shall balance the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern, and may consider the employee’s position within the university and whether the employee used or publicized the university name, brands, website, official title or school/department/college or otherwise created the appearance of the communication being endorsed, approved or connected to the university in a manner that discredits the university.  The chief executive officer may also consider whether the communication was made during the employee’s working hours or the communication was transmitted utilizing university systems or equipment.  This policy on improper use of social media shall apply prospectively from its date of adoption by the Kansas Board of Regents.”

In essence, anything can be grounds for firing. And the Board of Regents has defined social media very, very broadly:

 ”Social media” means any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

So, for example, if the university decides that this blog post is “improper use of social media,” it can fire me.  Posting a link to this blog post via Twitter and Facebook (which I will do as soon as I finish writing it) could, if deemed “improper use of social media,” also be grounds for firing me.  (I hope GooglePlus and Academia.Edu do not feel slighted by the Regents’ omission, but rest assured that I’ll push this link out via those means as well.)

Register your displeasure with the Kansas Board of Regents at 785-296-3421, or via its Chair Fred Logan – or, heck, contact them all!

Police Conduct Invasive Cavity Search on Woman, Find No Drugs, and Leave Her With A $5,000 Bill

Drug policies gone wild!

We’ve seen recently that police can charge you with assault if they fire at you and hit bystanders, and now apparently they can charge you for wasting their time by being innocent.

An unnamed New Mexico woman filed a federal lawsuit claiming that she was stopped at the U.S.-Mexican border in El Paso and given a nightmarish, 6-hour drug search which found no drugs and ended with no charges.

During the search, police conducted ever more invasive – but equally unproductive – searches including: a strip search, an anal and vaginal examine using probes and fingers, a CT scan at a local hospital, and watching her defecate to check her stool. None of which found even a speck of illegal drugs.

According to a local New Mexico news outlet, the woman was also given a surprise after the end of her warrantless search:

The suit claims the hospital “violated her” and then gave her the $5,000 bill.

The lawsuit names the El Paso County Hospital District’s Board of Managers, University Medical Center, Drs. Michael Parsa and Christopher Cabanillas, two unknown supervising U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and two other CBP officers only identified by their last names of Portillo and Herrera as defendants. The doctors and the agents could not be reached for comment.[source]

The search began when a routine stop at the border using a drug-sniffing dog indicated that she may be carrying some. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that a drug-sniffing dog’s alert can, by itself, be used by officers to conduct the search of a person’s car. The legality of a car search is – for now – established, but it ignores the fact that drug dogs are often wrong. Perhaps, even more than they are right. A study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor Richard E. Myers found that drug dogs are more likely to find false-positives (i.e. thinking there are drugs when in fact there are none) than actual cars with drugs in them.

With a pretty good dog, but a largely innocent population, a dog alert will signal drugs only about sixteen percent of the time. The reason is this: Because the officer is stopping mostly innocent people, one has to be more concerned about the false positive error (alerting when there are no drugs). Because there are more cars without drugs in them, the gross number of searches that result from the error rate will be higher than the gross number of searches that result from correct alerts. Overall, there will be many more searches of innocent people than there will be searches of guilty people. [source]

There’s more at the link.  (There’s always more.)

On the other hand — there’s always the new Pope, who has had quite a year for someone who started as an elderly Cardinal!  Here’s a thoughtful essay from the New Yorker.

Who am I to Judge?  A radical Pope’s first year.

“Who am I to judge?” With those five words, spoken in late July in reply to a reporter’s question about the status of gay priests in the Church, Pope Francis stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of Popes and bishops. This gesture of openness, which startled the Catholic world, would prove not to be an isolated event. In a series of interviews and speeches in the first few months after his election, in March, the Pope unilaterally declared a kind of truce in the culture wars that have divided the Vatican and much of the world. Repeatedly, he argued that the Church’s purpose was more to proclaim God’s merciful love for all people than to condemn sinners for having fallen short of strictures, especially those having to do with gender and sexual orientation. His break from his immediate predecessors—John Paul II, who died in 2005, and Benedict XVI, the traditionalist German theologian who stepped down from the papacy in February—is less ideological than intuitive, an inclusive vision of the Church centered on an identification with the poor. From this vision, theological and organizational innovations flow. The move from rule by non-negotiable imperatives to leadership by invitation and welcome is as fundamental to the meaning of the faith as any dogma.

Late last month, Francis issued the first major declaration of his pontificate, an “apostolic exhortation,” a long document addressed to Catholics which covers a range of issues. Titled “The Joy of the Gospel” and reflecting Francis’s style—there is no pontifical “we”—the exhortation is unrelentingly positive in tone. Francis writes, “We want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world.”

In an interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica,in August (later published in English in the magazine America), Francis elaborated his thinking about homosexuals. Benedict had defended the “dignity” of all peoples, including homosexuals, but called homosexual acts “an intrinsic moral evil.” Saying that “the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder,” he barred the admission of gay men to seminaries, even if they were celibate, and denounced the idea of gay marriage. Francis hasn’t altered the impossibility of gay marriage in the Church, but his tone is very different. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he said. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” He continued, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods.”

John Paul and Benedict used the Catholic tradition as a bulwark against the triple threat of liberalism, relativism, and secularism. In fact, Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, has been the era’s chief sentinel of orthodoxy. But Francis views the Church as a field hospital after a battle. “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful,” he said. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds.”

Francis has not hesitated to criticize the Church itself—including the clerical inner circle on which he now depends. Speaking before a gathering of newly consecrated bishops in September, he denounced the “psychology of princes,” and called the ambitious trek up the ladder of episcopal appointments a form of “spiritual adultery.” “The spirit of careerism,” he warned, “is a form of cancer.” But neither does he exempt himself from criticism. “Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others,” he wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel,” “I too must think about a conversion of the papacy.”

Happy Winter’s Solistice!


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.