October 10th, 2008

snark maiden

Demonizing immigration

NPR has just been running a call-in on immigration with two reporters from Ohio who've been doing studies and surveys and debunking myths. The whole thing was encapsulated for me by 'Jim from Charlotte, North Carolina' who didn't want illegal immigrants because NC doesn't want to be driven into bankruptcy and have their healthcare swamped by illegals the way California has. Er, came the reply; the studies we've just ben talking about show that's a myth; less than 1% of medicare (sp?) in CA goes to illegal immigrants and that's for child birth and urgent (I've fallen off a roof and broken my leg urgent) care. My Californian friends blame tax policy for the California budget, not illegal immigrants...

For one thing, that immigrant was probably up fixing the roof of someone who hired them because they were cheap; the bottom of the American economic pyramid has always been a gear wheel pulling in immigrants who will often move on and up to better jobs, so you need a continual supply of incoming lower-paid workers to keep services like roof repair and elder care running at current prices.

And then there were the reports from Oklahoma that women immigrants don't report domestic abuse to the police for fear of being deported.
But my overwhelming impression was that immigration is the new class war in the US. There's a perception that the US doesn't have a class divide; I think it's there and very clear - rich and poor. But a few years ago (conspiracy theory alert!), maybe around the time that tax cuts for the rich got even bigger, the finger-pointing at illegal immigrants as the leeches on the US began. And it reminds me of the anti-semitism of the 1930s, claiming that the Jews were leeching all the money out of Germany, that Hitler used to get elected. Someone to blame, someone to hate, someone to unite against that otherwise-friendly everyday folk feel comfortable being prejudiced against. And that's scary.

(I remember back in the 80s and 90s, as the cold war enemies became too reasonable to hate and demonise any more, predictions that the Arab world would take that scapegoat position. it seemed an abstract and clever analysis at the time... but it's uncomfortable how basic a human need turning us and them into a blame game and lever to power seems to be)

FT: Intelligent systems: Tools that will discreetly tap a shoulder to offer help

The last thing anyone needs when they are concentrating on a task is to be interrupted, whether by a visitor or a message. It might take 10 minutes or more to refocus fully.

“Some interruptions are courteous, such as a tap on the shoulder or a knock on the door,” says Eric Horvitz, the principal researcher for the Adaptive Systems and Interaction group at Microsoft Research. “We want to build our applications to be courteous and intelligent about the nature and timing of interruptions. We need a better alerting model that understands how busy you are and when to defer alerts till later.”

When Mr Horvitz holds a meeting, only the right people can interrupt: find out who by reading the rest on FT DB

The first thing Eric told us when we first had a meeting with him was who could and couldn't interrupt; the second meeting was in a conference room where he fired details of project after project at us. I didn't have space for half of them, including the idea of a social network like Bruce Sterling's Maniki Neko concept: as you pass this shop tomorrow, pick up a bottle of bay rum and leave it in that hotel and you'll get points in a reward account, take a photo for me from this place at that time of day so I can complete my Photosynth and get whuffie...

He has a lot of ideas about making hybrids smarter about where you're going. Say you live in a valley but you have to drive over a hill to get there. You go uphill and the gas motor kicks in, in case you run out of electricity before you get to the top; but if the car knew how high the hill was going to be and that you would be going down the other side, regenerative-braking all the way, it could keep the motor off.


PRs: if you've pitched me this week

I've put two requests on Response Source, for two stories with lots of buzzwords (green IT, cloud, SaaS) which has led to a flood of responses. Some very much what I was asking for, some rather broader, some really quite off topic, most as requested by email, a couple by phone (hint: this does not make me more likely to use that pitch). There's usually an expectation with these pitch services that journalists will respond to the pitches that they definitely want to pursue and not feel obliged to tell everyone else that they were flooded with more responses than they can possibly consider. I'd love to be able to respond to everyone individually but with pieces like this, if I get that many responses I have the choice between writing the article and spending the time thanking everyone I can't fit in this time. If I don't get back to you on this or another pitch request, please take this as thanks for responding, an explanation that I had too many responses to deal with and an apology that I haven't been able to respond personally.