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4/21/2010

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear, but if you happen to be one of the winsome ne’er-do-wells caught up in litigious Smurf village of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, your recorded past is about to determine your uncertain future after your stats are fed through a computer algorithm. Science!

Last Wednesday, April 14, the juvie junket announced that it had implemented brand new “predictive analytics” software via IBM subsidiary SPSS that will throw all of your teenage indiscretions – past offenses, demographics (black people!), gang affiliation, who you hang out with and what your home life is like – into a big clunky machine that will then spit out what restrictions would be appropriate after your release. Naturally, they say it’s all about reducing recidivism among those whom are by nature “high-risk,” a terribly modern manner of nipping future problems in the bud before they blossom into weedy crackheads. Also, it’s profiling, and that’s scary. 

If it all sounds a bit like a stodgy old Philip K. Dick notion as translated through the science fiction consternation that is Tom Cruise (hello, Minority Report), it isn’t really. The analytic software reportedly replaces an archaic Excel spreadsheet that similarly assigned values to whatever messes you made – kind of like a credit report – and tallied them up for human consideration. One of the people responsible for analyzing those figures, chief of research and planning for the Dept. of Juvenile Justice Mark Greenwald, is one of the new system’s biggest proponents. He won’t have to work as hard!

“My job is to put myself out of business,” he joked to beach-reading rag Government Technology. “It’s important that we direct what resources we have to kids who need us the most and use the software to build upon the decision-making process.” 

All well and good when you’re talking about widgets, maybe – even widgets that are supposed to be people likely to do things -- but predictive analytics don’t necessarily gel with the presumed innocence inherent to the judicial system, and the implications in this case are by nature punitive. If you seem like somebody who is likely to run to the bottle and the pipe (again) then you will be treated like somebody who already has, and you’ll be tossed into a treatment program. In fairness, if you seem less likely to offend, your restrictions will be less severe. IBM is already utilizing similar programs on a larger scale in the UK, so you can bet that this little bit of guinea-pigging on the powerless and young is just a first step. 

Although Greenwald would only say that the new software cost the state several thousand dollars, the fact that IBM has thrown $12 billion into its analytics wing portends a grave future for human rights. They’re coming to take you away, ha ha. 

There’s been something missing from this year’s gubernatorial battle since its inception, and until now we haven’t been quite able to put our collective wagging finger on it. Sure, Democrat Alex Sink is a likable slice of Southern charm with a twang of moderate fiscal authority, and yeah, Republican Bill McCollum is a heap of acrimonious awful, but for some reason watching them go at each other – or rather not go at each other – in a vague ring of passive aggression has been about as entertaining as watching two substitute teachers play bridge behind the Piggly Wiggly. We want surprises!

That’s why we were positively tickled last week to see the waxy, golden dome of healthcare magnate Rick Scott tumble into the political periphery. Scott, who has literally made his fortune off of your (broken) back via his hospital chains and Solantic urgent care clinics, came into prominence last year as the stuffed wallet behind those Conservatives for Patients Rights commercials about putting “a bureaucrat in charge of your medical decisions.” The skinny bald man launched his campaign Thursday April 15 with a $1.5 million television ad buy in which he proclaims, perhaps pompously, “I am a Florida businessman who’s lived the American dream!” In doing so, he’s positioned himself as just the latest crackpot entrepreneur to ride the tea-flavored wave of populism in service of his own megalomania. And that suits us just fine!

McCollum’s been riding high in the polls on the heels of the name recognition bought by his crazy anti-healthcare lawsuit coalition of angry attorneys general, see. But McCollum’s also been notoriously weak on the whole Republican Party spend-a-lot scandal while fixing his political comb-over in Tallahassee. So here we have a new guy, Scott – an “I am not a politician,” talk-with-my-two-hands guy – who actually fought against healthcare with his own money and is bald. He wins! Scott’s already popping up at fat people tea parties in places like Naples and, as the current climate permits, will be eating away at McCollum’s anger base in no time, clearing the way for Sink to win and make everything nice again. Or something.  

Whoops, somebody noticed: The first phase of the much-touted high speed rail plan to connect Tampa with Orlando doesn’t really connect Tampa with much of Orlando. It starts at downtown Tampa, all right, but is slated to make its next stop at Orlando International Airport, miles from the city center.

Decrying the notion that Orlando’s only function is as a tourism transit point and supply depot for Disney, a Facebook group formed to proclaim that “Voters demand a Downtown Orlando train stop for the FL High Speed Rail!”

This drew a quick but lengthy response from Carson Chandler, Mayor Buddy Dyer’s flack, who sought to soothe the masses with the logical point that to really get up some speed, a train can’t afford to stop all the time. (We could argue that if the purpose is speed rather than service, a train could go much faster if it didn’t stop at all, like a Christmas display in a department-store window.)

But the SunRail commuter system is coming soon, with lots of local stops, Chandler argues. Regrettably, downtown Orlando just doesn’t have the required traffic volume for a high speed rail station, he says. A proposed high-speed line to Jacksonville would include a downtown stop, but that’s a “long-term priority.”

Chandler was taken to task by an anonymous but acute critic who noted that the stated purpose of High Speed Rail is to connect big city centers. It’s planned to run between Interstate 4’s lanes for most of its length, while SunRail would run on existing railroad tracks. If planners really expect people to switch easily between those train systems, it would make sense to put stations close together. And where do I-4 and the train tracks most closely coincide? Downtown, not at the airport, the mysterious voice of reason says. 

For most high school and college students, the truth hurts. There’s the bladder-bust hangover of last night’s social engagement followed by a series of sputtering realizations: I’m a whore, I cheated, I’m gay. But for Exodus International, Orlando’s creepy little ex-gay conversion concentration camp, the truth is normally something that you hide. That’s why their usurping of this year’s annual Jesus sing-a-long Day of Truth celebration – the April 15 holy-day intended to make Christian students talk too much about themselves all day -- from the Alliance Defense Fund this year is particularly perplexing. Turns out, at Exodus the truth is a press-quotable lie. 

“When I was a young man, I struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction and found that God not only had answers, but could change my heart and life,” says Exodus employee Jeff Buchanan in a press release. Keep telling yourself that, Jeff! 

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