Saturday, May 6, 2017

Slow Saturday Special: Date Night

I better make this quick because I need to get ready:

"Siri, find me a boyfriend" by Alex Frandsen Globe Correspondent  March 28, 2017

Another lonely night. Just you, your couch, a half melted pint of cookie dough ice cream, and the crushing absence of companionship.

So, like any good 21st-century single, you pluck your iPhone from between the sofa cushions and open up the matchmaking app Tinder. But all that swiping and judging and messaging is a pain and, frankly, exhausting. Instead, you press the home button until Siri (who will never abandon you) pops up.

“Hey Siri, find me a date,” you say. Siri jumps into action and within seconds she’s found tickets to a concert for a band that both you and a cutie a couple blocks away are into. And don’t worry, that nearby cutie will probably be your type: Tinder will take your personal romantic preferences into account when finding you a date.

This is the vision that Tinder CEO Sean Rad shared recently at the Start-Up Grind tech conference in Silicon Valley.

“It’s a little scary,” he acknowledged in an onstage interview. But scary or not, Rad said that we could see artificial intelligence serving as a matchmaker and date organizer within the next five years.

It’s a development that poses quite a few questions, obviously. While we’re used to AI lending its fleshy creators a helping hand in many fields, it hasn’t moved into an area as, well, human as romance.

See: Globe Gives You a Hand

I suppose at some point it will jerk you off, too.

After all, this is kind of supposed to be our thing: Google the words “love makes us human” and you will be awash in a deluge of quotes from Tumblr teens and renowned philosophers alike. The question of whether Rad’s proclamation is actually feasible, though, has a definite answer: Oh yeah.

The technology required for creating a digital date assistant exists already.

“There’s been quite a lot of work done on matching algorithms,” said Ariel Procaccia, a computer science professor at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University known for his research in the field of artificial intelligence. “I would imagine that roughly figuring out romantic preferences [would] not be that different from, say, figuring out your preference in movies.”

There are a lot of intangibles to consider in romance, of course, but there are also a whole lot of things that would fit in an online bio that can help predict compatibility. That, after all, is the whole premise behind services like OKCupid: Type out what kind of music you like, what your beliefs are, who your favorite Beatle is, and a program will go to work finding a match.

The trick to unleashing the algorithmic Tinder wingman of Rad’s dreams, though, would be getting users to reveal as much as they can to the app.


“Tinder is pretty well confined right now,” said Jay Schuren, vice president of field operations for Nutonian, a Boston tech company focused on data science and AI. “If it could loop into your Google calendar, your work schedule, as much personal info as you feel comfortable giving out, [Tinder] could easily make recommendations to set up a date.”

But if you’ve watched any science fiction movie about robots, you know that any discussion of AI comes with ethical issues to sort out. One that feels particularly pertinent given the divided climate in this country is the possibility that an AI matchmaker would discourage pairing singles of different political standings.


“If an automated system observes, perhaps correctly, that people with different political backgrounds tend not to get along, it might never try to match such people together,” explained Michael Littman, a computer science professor at Brown University, in an e-mail. “This kind of behavior is apt to reinforce existing biases instead of resolving them or working around them.”

Another potential problem area could be discrimination. There have already been instances of AI exhibiting downright bigoted tendencies.


Remember when Microsoft’s disastrous Twitter bot turned into a racist and misogynist?

No, but I remember Bush did 9/11 kept coming up.

Such problems arise because AI systems need “training,” and that often comes from white male engineers (or in the Twitter bot’s case, the general public). Although unintentional, bias seeps through when the AI carries out what it’s learned.

Oooh, I see. We all racist, albeit unintentional.

“One could worry that a certain phenomenon would happen in dating where the options that you’re shown would be based on attributes that shouldn’t necessarily be taken into account,” said Procaccia. “This is really a problem for machine learning and AI in general.”

Given those concerns, plus the weirdness of handing an algorithm the responsibility of ending your loneliness, it’s easy to imagine lots of people being uncomfortable with the type of product Rad is talking about. But his target audience with Tinder is millennials, so that demographic’s interest is what really matters to the CEO.

And for a few young Tinder users at least, an AI component would be, if not entirely welcome, then at least something worth checking out. “It’s absolutely something that I would try,” said Skylar Davis, a 20-year-old at Boston University.

“It feels a little creepy, but I would be curious to see who it matches me with,” added 22-year-old Morgan Krush, a health sciences major at Northeastern University.

Their concerns (again, aside from the whole creepiness thing) are more centered on branding.

“I don’t know if that’s what I think the app represents. It’s for casual hookups, just based on my experience,” Davis said, of Tinder. “Most people don’t go there looking for dates or romance.”


That's what elite scum think of you mindless millennials, nothing but empty souls to be filled with vacuous sexual experiences, or else you are all truly an immoral band of louts.

You know, judging girls on their hotness is dehumanizing.

Krush agreed. “People use it now just for hookups or even just when they’re bored. If it changed to more of a serious dating thing, I don’t know if it would boost the usage overall.”

Yup, bored on a Saturday night with nothing to do, (legs flop open).

Rad’s vision might be appalling to some and revolutionary to others. It all comes back to how much of a role you want AI playing in your life. Littman, who spends much of his life dealing with AI and machine learning, believes there is some promise in the idea of a date bot. But a dark side does loom.

“As a computer scientist, I’m taught to develop metrics for assessing how good proposed solutions are,” he said. “Then, I develop algorithms that search through possible solutions looking for ones with good scores. But, life satisfaction and human connection don’t really lend themselves to being captured by one-dimensional utility functions. The more we think about them that way, the more is lost.”

OMG, this guy sounds like he's never had a date in his life!! Too busy with his nose in the AI.


No concern about rapists, predators, spying, hacking, any of that stuff -- although I guess there would not be what with the elite pedophile rings and all.

Maybe you would be better of playing spin the bottle (the slime is everywhere):

"To use The League, a new dating app, you’ll need an invitation" by Mariya Manzhos Globe Correspondent  October 17, 2016

When Amanda Bradford was a business school student at Stanford in her late 20s, she found the world of mobile dating frustrating. Matches were based on superficial criteria, led to drawn out chats, and rarely resulted in successful dates.

“The process was super-broken and inefficient,” said Bradford, the 31-year-old founder and CEO of an invitation-only dating app called The League. “I said, ‘I’m going to fix this.’ ”

She realized the solution was right in front of her. From her class of 300 students, almost 40 couples had formed. “It was in your face — the chances of pairing up were much higher when people shared experiences in a community,” Bradford said.

That's a truism according to sociologist and is nothing new. It's in the celebrity feed to us daily.

She decided to replicate her Stanford experience of a carefully selected community in a dating app, betting that it would help busy and ambitious singles meet each other and quickly transition to building serious relationships.

The League officially debuts in Boston on Oct. 26 but has already accepted 2,000 local founding members. It will continue to add users over time. Bradford’s team worked to assemble a diverse group of singles from businesses, academia, the medical field, and the nonprofit sector. An Ivy League degree isn’t necessary to get in, but it helps, Bradford said.


Especially important to her was helping women find partners compatible with their professional goals.

Gold digging!

“If you’re a career-driven woman you want a partner who is supportive and comfortable with nontraditional gender roles,” said Bradford, who uses the app herself. 

Otherwise known as a pussy wimp.

The League is one of a few new selective apps catering to successful singles: Raya for celebrities, Luxy for high-income earners, and Inner Circle for European professionals. All of them are trying to improve dating by carefully crafting a specific community. For The League, that appears to be people who dream of being half of a power couple.

Looks like $upremaci$m to me.

See: Ashley Stewart Living Large 

I'm always getting those two confused!

To get into The League, Boston hopefuls might have to spruce up their social media profiles. The free app’s algorithm screens applicants’ Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to identify their university degrees, title and employer, preferences, size of their network, and other relevant variables.

The process is completed by a human review that’s mostly reserved for verifying the authenticity and quality of photos.

Applicants referred by friends get priority admission. And depending on the gender ratio, you might be put on a waiting list.

The League offers the option to upgrade to a $179 annual membership that allows access to additional features, such as customizing your profile and receiving more daily matches, usually limited to five a day.

They also get invitations to members-only events. In San Francisco, The League took its members on a yacht cruise, and in New York threw a party in the Hamptons.

“We want to do what a meet-up does but with a dating community,” Bradford said.

When The League was launched in 2014, in San Francisco, the app faced criticism for being elitist and exclusive. But Bradford prefers to describe it as “curated.”

Like Obamanews, etc.

Maria Boden, a 36-year-old senior executive at a Boston company, has tried the whole gamut of dating sites and apps, from Match and eHarmony to Tinder and EliteSingles. She has heard about The League and would like to test it out. Waiting for a friend at a bar in Somerville, she pulled out her phone to show just one of many lewd messages that she had received on Tinder.

Some guy thought that would woo her?

“It would be amazing if an app vetted people before joining,” Boden said.

Sparkology, another membership-only app, is trying to solve the unwanted-message problem by making men pay $3 to $4 per message, in addition to a $99 sign-up fee, said the company’s president, Cameron Amigo. Women can purchase monthly memberships for $40 a month. Started in 2011, the site had a strict vetting policy for men, admitting only verified Ivy League grads, but eventually broadened the criteria to all male and female professionals who are serious about dating.

What will they want next, your testicles?

Sparkology’s newly redesigned app is also entering the Boston market this month, according to Amigo.

The founder and CEO of the dating app Hinge, Justin McLeod, agrees that paid memberships elevate the quality of online connections. Recently, Hinge moved away from being a free app and relaunched itself as a $7-a-month service with an emphasis on creating serious relationships.

But McLeod doesn’t think that exclusivity is necessary for improving mobile dating.

“We believe that everyone deserves love,” McLeod said. The first generation of Hinge and Tinder users, he said, is entering a stage in life when they are ready to settle down.

“We want to be the place for those people who graduate from swiping [app] games into finding something real,” said McLeod.

Nevertheless, Kevin Lewis, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California San Diego who reserached online dating for his PhD at Harvard, tempers the expectations. “The reality is that there is a lot of people online,” he said. “But it’s not some magic solution to being single.”

Especially when you are harboring a resentment towards men.


She is what used to be called a tease!

Maybe you would like to go down to the meat market and select a prime cut to hook up with (wonder how she would look in yoga pants).

Drinks and then the theater?

"WPI develops an app to make drunk drivers toe the line" by Hiawatha Bray Globe Staff  December 20, 2016

When your smartphone tells you you’ve had enough to drink, it’s time to quit. Engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute say they’re developing an Android app called AlcoGait that’ll do exactly that, by keeping track of the way you walk.

It's okay to pass out as long as you are not driving.

“When you’re over the limit, the phone notifies you with a text message, and also it will buzz,” said Emmanuel Agu, the associate professor of computer science who’s leading the AlcoGait project. Agu has been working on the app since 2014, with assistance from a host of WPI undergraduate and graduate students.

Consumers can already buy breath-test devices that let them test their own blood alcohol level by blowing into the device. But AlcoGait is inspired by the “walk-the-line” tests that police routinely use to decide whether a driver is intoxicated.

“The most accurate biomeasure is the breathalyzer,” said Agu, “but the next most accurate is the walk test.”

With AlcoGait there’s no need to spend $50 or more for a personal breathalyzer; an Android phone alone will do the job. Also, users won’t need a human observer to grade their performance. Instead, the phone itself senses his body movements.

And where does that data go?

It’s made possible by centuries of research into human gait — the way people move. Aristotle is believed to have written the first work on how humans and animals move. But serious research on the topic began in 17th century Italy. The invention of photography in the 19th century enabled physiologists to review every detail of human gait, one frame at a time.

Today’s gait analysts use video images of humans walking to diagnose diseases, improve athletic performance, and even as a way to identify people. For example, automaker Jaguar Land Rover is working on a system of cameras that would recognize the gait of people walking past the vehicle. If the owner steps up to the car, its doors would unlock automatically. 

Great, great!

But AlcoGait doesn’t rely on cameras. Instead, it uses the motion-detecting accelerometer and gyroscope chips found in nearly all smartphones. An AlcoGait user would activate the app, place the phone in a pocket, and take a brief walk. The app uses data from the phone’s chips to create a “fingerprint” of the user’s gait when he’s sober.

When the user wants to go party, he or she would activate AlcoGait once more. The app primarily tracks the movements of the upper body, which tend to acquire a reeling, swaying motion after too many drinks.

The app displays an estimate of the user’s blood alcohol level, based on how much his body is swaying. AlcoGait can detect the exaggerated swaying before a user’s blood alcohol level approaches the legal limit. Once the limit is reached, an alarm goes off and the phone displays a message warning the user not to get behind the wheel.

Agu said AlcoGait could be programmed to prevent the user’s car from starting when he’s intoxicated. Or it could automatically place a call to a cab company or ride-sharing service, which could give the user a safe ride home. A future version of the app will run constantly, so a user wouldn’t have to remember to activate it.

No concern of possible rape?

Agu tested AlcoGait with the help of students wearing “Drunk Buster” goggles — special glasses that present a distorted view of the world, causing the wearer to walk as if intoxicated. But now, Agu needs to test AlcoGait in the real world.

He’s working with researchers at Boston University and Brown University, who plan to recruit 250 volunteers who will be given alcohol in various quantities. They’ll then be tested with a standard breathalyzer and with AlcoGait, to confirm the accuracy of the app’s blood alcohol estimates.

If all goes well, Agu expects AlcoGait to be available by late 2017. “Hopefully, it’ll be ready for next New Year’s,” he said.


Why not ban booze instead? 

"Artistic director caught in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ storm at Boston Children’s Theatre" by Don Aucoin Globe Staff  May 06, 2017

A brief nude scene during a Boston Children’s Theatre production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’’ has landed the company’s executive artistic director in professional limbo after what he calls an attempt at censorship by two “overreactionary ninnies’’ on the theater’s board of directors.

Burgess Clark, who has tried to broaden the definition of children’s theater with bold programming choices during his nine-year stewardship, told the Globe Friday that he has been laid off from his post, though that may be only temporary — one twist in a convoluted and disputed sequence of events.

You can decide for yourself whether you think this is appropriate or not.

There was additional fallout from the imbroglio Friday night, as staff members at the Children’s Theatre sent a letter to the board’s executive committee and to executive director Toby Schine announcing that they had begun a work stoppage.

The show must NOT go on!

“This ongoing and unresolved impasse between the Board and company leadership has been so disruptive to the daily operations of BCT that we no longer feel like we are able to fulfill the responsibilities of our positions,’’ the staffers wrote. Meanwhile, a petition by BCT students was circulating on social media, including Facebook, demanding Clark’s reinstatement.

Clark says that just before the final few performances of “Cuckoo’s Nest’’ last week, the two board members demanded, through an intermediary, that he delete the scene, in which a 21-year-old actor was seen naked for about 25 seconds. Clark, who directed the production, refused, viewing it as unacceptable interference with artistic prerogatives.

“Censorship is a much larger issue than one organization,’’ Clark said. “If I lose my job, it was worth it.’’

However, Peggy Barresi, one of the objecting board members identified by Clark, denied the assertion the board was engaged in censorship.

“Several Board members, including me, questioned why a decision to use nudity, a potentially controversial decision for a children’s theatre, was not brought to the Board for discussion,’’ Barresi said by e-mail. “The objection was about not following due process. There was never a dictate from the Board to censor the nudity.’’

Clark insists that there was such an attempt, relayed to him indirectly. He says that board member Nicole Gakidis made the demand of executive director Schine, speaking for herself and Barresi. Gakidis did not respond to a phone message and e-mail Friday.

A children’s theater may seem like an unlikely arena for the eruption of this particular kind of controversy. But while BCT presents shows like “The Velveteen Rabbit’’ and “Miss Nelson is Missing!,’’ Clark and Schine have also prided themselves on broadening the theater’s mission by staging productions like the world premiere of “Reflections of a Rock Lobster,’’ Clark’s play about the legal fight by a gay Rhode Island high school student to bring a male date to his prom, and a wrenching production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.’’

That was when I walked out.


Maybe after the performance you can spend the night at the Bansky?
GRAND OPENING -- Palestinian boys stood near a hotel being opened in the West Bank city of Bethlehem with the help of an elusive British graffiti artist Banksy. The hotel, which sits next to a mural-covered separation barrier built by Israel, has nine rooms packed with work by Bansky. The owner is calling it the "hotel with the worst view in the world.


At first I thought there was a crack in the wall and a section missing; then I realized it was a mural on the wall, and at the bottom of the V you can see someone has painted the Al-Aqsa mosque. That was when the waterworks started for me. If you look closely you can see a young Palestinian flashing a peace sign. Kids are sitting on a pile of rubble and yet somehow they retain hope.

Globe checked out quick on that one.

And now comes the moment, you are ready to hook up and....

"Tackling a tough subject for your teenager. Period." by Janelle Nanos Globe Staff  March 19, 2017

As a young girl, the event looms large in the psyche. It’s the moment detailed in Judy Blume novels and gossiped about in the locker room, the giggles tinged slightly with fear.

Getting your period has been making adolescentgirls nervous for eons. But Helen Walsh wants to make the first period a moment that’s much more, well, chill.


The Milton-based mother of two daughters is the founder of LoveJane, an online, subscription-based feminine care service, launched last month, that targets adolescent girls with BPA-free products that are sized for growing bodies.

It’s one of several subscription companies launched in recent years that pitch a more modern approach to menstruation, each hoping to chisel away at the $19 billion global feminine hygiene industry that’s been dominated by players like the Kimberly-Clark Corporation and Procter & Gamble for generations.

Coupling convenience and dye-free products, these new subscription models are selling feminine care in an Instagram era, with a “this is not-your-mama’s maxi-pad” vibe. But most brands, in targeting young professional woman, have not left much room for adolescents, many of whom are just beginning their lives as consumers.

Walsh said she saw that as an untapped demographic and stepped in.

“My friend’s daughter got her first period in school and it involved a trip to the nurse’s office,” Walsh said. “I knew as a mom that I wanted my daughters to have a different experience.”

I'm not saying it shouldn't be talked about, but to push a sales job with it.... I dunno.

While subscription services only represent a small fraction of the marketplace, several companies, including Cora, L., Conscious Period, and Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, have begun offering subscriptions targeting the monthly cycle. In December, the company Lola announced $7 million in new venture funding, led by Boston’s Spark Capital, for its subscription offering feminine products made of organic cotton. The company has now raised more than $11 million, with actress Lena Dunham as an investor.

“We liked that they were going after a category that was an essential part of a woman’s life but not overly crowded,” said Kevin Thau, a general partner at Spark. He believes there is room to expand.

“If their target today is the young professional, they definitely will want to go younger, and they’ll definitely want to go older to stay with a woman and create a long-term relationship with her,” he said.

Walsh isn’t the first entrepreneur to target adolescents — both Kotex and Tampax began making first period kits for schools in the 40s, and Modess spent decades publishing the “Growing Up and Liking It” booklets for teens. Today, the U by Kotex brand has a special shorter pad for tweens. But Walsh says LoveJane is the first subscription service to target girls who are just starting to menstruate.

The site offers several kits — a $30 first-time period kit includes a book, a carrying bag, and a pair of backup underwear. Follow-up monthly boxes of tampons and panty liners cost $15.

Walsh hopes her service has an edge in that it targets the parents of young women at the beginning of their periods, when they start developing loyalty to one brand.

That tracks with a recent research report on the tampon industry from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. “Mothers usually introduce a specific brand preferred by them to their daughters,” the report reads. “If the daughter finds the product satisfying her requirement, she is least likely to shift brand.”

The report also found that pricing rarely factors into a purchaser’s selection, noting that “only a small proportion of tampon using women prefer an economical choice to fulfill their menstrual needs.”

This comes in contrast to seemingly analogous subscription razor models such as Dollar Shave Club, which was bought by Unilever last summer for $1 billion after positioning itself as a cheaper alternative to established shaving brands.

That's my curse.

Instead, these new feminine care brands typically orient themselves around a few common themes: offering a “healthier” product, and using feminist mantras that hail menstruation as a part of womanhood. 

It is part of womanhood, no avoiding it (well, I suppose there are operations and other things).

Perhaps most important, they’re pitching the convenience of not having to dash to the store to pick up supplies, particularly if you need one at an imperfect moment.

Chris Bobel, a professor of women’s studies at UMass Boston and the president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, said the feminine hygiene industry is well-poised for the disruption of a subscription service. That’s in part because of the shame that’s long been synonymous with the purchase of feminine care products.

Getting tampons in the mail removes that awkwardness, she said, and hopefully, the stigma.

“It’s comedy gold,” she said, adding, “think about the number of sitcoms and movie subplots that have been animated by that tension of dad or boyfriend, uncomfortable or horrified” over buying tampons.

Indeed, Walsh said that she’s found an early audience in fathers, particularly single parents what want to have the appropriate supplies on hand should the first period arrive. The subscription model means they can’t make mistakes when they’re shopping, she joked.

She hopes that the company’s empowerment message sets young women off on a lifetime of positive associations with their periods.

You start worrying when it doesn't come.

“I feel like it’s the gift I’ve given them is that I’ve made the conversation so normal,” Walsh said. “Now my daughter comes home and says, ‘Mom, guess who just got her period at school!’”



Kind of spoiled the mood, huh?

I'm sure the sex would have been hot, and just in case something goes wrong with the contraceptive....

"Experts find mass grave at ex-Catholic orphanage in Ireland" by SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Mar. 3, 2017

DUBLIN (AP) — A mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children has been discovered at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland, government-appointed investigators announced Friday in a finding that offered the first conclusive proof following a historian's efforts to trace the fates of nearly 800 children who perished there.

The judge-led Mother and Baby Homes Commission said excavations since November at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, had found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing "significant quantities of human remains."

The commission said DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3 years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the overcrowded facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.

Friday's findings provided the first proof after decades of suspicions that the vast majority of children who died at the home had been interred on the site in unmarked graves. That was a common, but ill-documented practice at such Catholic-run facilities amid high child mortality rates in early 20th century Ireland.

The government in 2014 formed the investigation after a local Tuam historian, Catherine Corless, tracked down death certificates for nearly 800 children who had died as residents of the facility — but could find a burial record for only one child.

"Everything pointed to this area being a mass grave," said Corless, who recalled how local boys playing in the field had reported seeing a pile of bones in a hidden underground chamber there in the mid-1970s.

The government's commissioner for children, Katherine Zappone, said Friday's findings were "sad and disturbing." She pledged that the children's descendants would be consulted on providing proper burials and other memorials.

"We will honor their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately," Zappone said.

The report found that the dead children may have been placed in underground chambers originally used to hold sewage. Corless said she found records stating that the sewage systems were used until 1937, when the home was connected to a modern water supply.

A decommissioned septic tank had been "filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil" and did not appear to contain remains, the report said. But excavators found children's remains inside a neighboring connected structure that may have been used to contain sewage or waste water.

The commission's finding that most of the remains date to the 1950s corroborates Corless' collection of death certificates. It also dispels a popular argument that bones seen at the site might predate the orphanage's opening, when the building was a workhouse for the adult poor, or even be from people who died in the mid-19th century Great Famine.

Labour Party lawmaker Joan Burton said the Tuam orphanage's dead may have been interred "without normal funeral rights, and maybe even without their wider families having been made aware." She called on the Catholic Church to provide more assistance to investigators.

The investigators, who are examining the treatment of children at a long-closed network of 14 Mother and Baby Homes, said they still were trying to identify "who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way."

The Bon Secours Sisters order of nuns, which ran the home until its closure, said in a statement that all its records, including of potential burials, had been handed to state authorities in 1961. It pledged to cooperate with the continuing investigation.

And I thought they were better than the butt-pumping priests.

Corless criticized the Bon Secours response as "the usual maddening nonsense. They must apologize and take responsibility for what happened there."

She called on the nuns to promise explicitly to help the state organize proper marked burial places for every dead child once each set of remains could be identified.

"That's the least that can be done for them at this late stage," she said.


The Globe switched babies on me.

Almost makes you want to reconsider abortion, 'eh?

"Catholic leader quits, imperiling Belfast coalition" Associated Press

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government was plunged into crisis Monday as its senior Catholic leader quit in a showdown with his Protestant colleague that could trigger a snap election and shatter the bedrock of the region’s peace deal.

In his resignation letter, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the former Irish Republican Army commander who has helped to lead the unity government for nearly a decade, accused First Minister Arlene Foster of ignoring ‘‘a public mood that is rightly outraged at the squandering of public money and allegations of misconduct and corruption.’’

It's the $ame every where you go!

The government, formed under terms of Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace accord, requires support from McGuinness’s Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party and Foster’s Democratic Unionists, which represents the British Protestant majority.

Their unlikely partnership has been credited with governing the long-disputed corner of the United Kingdom in relative harmony following four decades of bloodshed that claimed 3,700 lives.

But tensions between Sinn Fein and the DUP have come close to a breaking point several times. And from the shadows, splinter groups opposed to the IRA’s 2005 disarmament and renunciation of violence still seek to sow division and disorder....

Like the FRU?


"Northern Ireland unity government crumbles, faces March vote" by Shawn Pogatchnik Associated Press  January 17, 2017

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland’s shattered unity government will be dissolved next week to make way for an early election. The warring parties face a potentially brutal election that could determine whether their unity government can ever be put back together again.

James Brokenshire, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, appealed to both camps not to make their relationship even worse with bitter accusations on the campaign trail.

‘‘While it is inevitable that debate during an election period will be intense, I would strongly encourage the political parties to conduct this election with a view to the future of Northern Ireland and reestablishing a partnership government,’’ Brokenshire told reporters at Stormont Castle, the center of power-sharing in Belfast.

Against the odds of history, a government led jointly by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein took office in 2007 and, until recent months, had governed the long-disputed corner of the United Kingdom with surprisingly few blowups.

Sinn Fein says it forced the government’s collapse to protest the refusal of the Democratic Unionist leader, First Minister Arlene Foster, to step aside voluntarily.

As they left Stormont, Sinn Fein leaders accused the Democratic Unionists of poisoning their partnership by treating them abusively and refusing to be held accountable for the bungling of a ‘‘green energy’’ program that was overseen by Foster.

No, not corruption there!

The program is expected to cost Northern Ireland, a land of barely 1.8 million citizens, $600 million in ill-regulated and open-ended subsidies.

‘‘There can be no return unless there’s fundamental change in how the DUP approach power-sharing,’’ Sinn Fein lawmaker Conor Murphy said.

Foster, who was forced from office when Sinn Fein counterpart Martin McGuinness resigned a week ago, accused Sinn Fein of pursuing another election barely 10 months after the last one to advance its own political ambitions.

‘‘They have forced an election that risks Northern Ireland’s future and its stability and suits nobody apart from themselves,’’ said Foster, who became Northern Ireland’s first female leader 12 months ago.

Has she started hollering sexism yet?

Analysts agree that Sinn Fein hopes to overtake the Democratic Unionists and become Northern Ireland’s No. 1 party for the first time, gaining the symbolically potent right to hold the post Foster previously held....


The Irish, like everyone else, desire change:

"Sinn Fein surge creates new Northern Ireland landscape" by Shawn Pogatchnik Associated Press  March 04, 2017

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape.

The outcome from Thursday’s election, forced by a surprise Sinn Fein withdrawal that collapsed the previous unity government, caught other parties off guard. The Democratic Unionists finished with 28 seats, Sinn Fein 27. The political affiliations of smaller parties meant the new assembly will have 40 unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom versus 39 nationalists seeking to merge the once Protestant-dominated north into the Republic of Ireland.

The whole point of power-sharing — the central goal of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord — is to promote compromise between two evenly balanced blocs. But analysts and politicians from all factions agreed Saturday that they cannot see any quick revival of cooperation between two parties that, against the odds of history, had governed Northern Ireland in surprising stability until their partnership unraveled spectacularly over the past year.

Sinn Fein leaders said Saturday’s result meant the day was drawing closer for an all-Ireland referendum on uniting the island politically outside the UK, an issue given greater importance because of Britain’s determination to withdraw from the European Union. Northern Ireland is heavily dependent on EU aid, a majority of its voters rejected ‘‘Brexit’’ in last year’s UK-wide referendum.

The immediate question facing all sides is whether the new assembly, when it meets for the first time Monday, will have a life beyond a few weeks of uncompromising, fruitless negotiations. Sinn Fein is demanding that the Democratic Unionists’ leader, Arlene Foster, step aside as a first condition on forging any new alliance.

Publicly, Democratic Unionist lawmakers say they won’t let Sinn Fein dictate who their own leader should be. Privately, many hope Foster — a combative speaker known for mocking opponents rather than building bridges — will resign voluntarily after barely a year on top. She stumbled trying to defend her oversight role in a wasteful ‘‘green energy’’ scheme that funneled tens of millions in subsidy payments to chicken farmers, including relatives of party figures.

‘‘People knew we were in a difficult place and sought to kick us when we were down, but we were tough enough to come through it,’’ said DUP lawmaker Edwin Poots. ‘‘We will lead for Northern Ireland and we will not let our case go by default. Sinn Fein can be absolutely assured that there will be no caving in to them.’’

If the two sides cannot quickly come together, Britain would be obliged to step in and resume governing the territory from London. That system, known as direct rule, supposedly ended for good when Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists struck a stunning power-sharing pact between lifelong enemies in 2007.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has made clear it doesn’t want Northern Ireland back on its plate full time while it focused on plans to leave the EU.

The moderate forces that led Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing government from 1999 to 2002, the Ulster Unionists and the Catholic-backed Social Democratic and Labour Party, won 10 and 12 seats respectively. The only traditional party seeking support equally from both sides of the divide, Alliance, won eight.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation Friday night. He said the failure of more reasonable middle-ground politicians to achieve any breakthrough demonstrated ‘‘that this society is now more polarized than ever.’’

‘‘Someday, Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy. We will vote in a post-sectarian election,’’ Nesbitt said. ‘‘But it is now clear that it will not happen during the duration of my political life.’’



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