Personal and corporate secrets

Corporate secrets are usually for competitive advantage or to shape public opinion. These can include a hidden scandal or documents from the NSA (blurry line there). When individuals keep secrets for personal competitive advantage we call them treacherous. When they reveal scandalous corporate secrets for the public good, we call them traitorous. But most of the time people keep personal secrets in self-defense against finger-wagging moralists – who can be very vindictive, even oppressive in their exercise of personal or corporate power.

The Republican’s sudden concern for voting process integrity

When the Voting Rights Act was overturned this year, (on the basis that racism is a thing of the past and it just isn’t needed anymore) Republican-dominated states responded by reigning in early voting, and with a plethora of “Voter ID” laws. The ostensible reason was to stop all that voter fraud which their fevered imaginations told them must be the only possible reason for their electoral losses.

Actually, no. Even if the actual reason weren’t blindingly obvious, a couple unguarded statements have let us know the real reason was to prevent Democrats from voting. Don Yelton, North Carolina Republican official, admitted the reason for their voter ID law was to “kick the Democrat’s butt“. And Florida’s Jim Greer straight-up admitted voter suppression was the reason for their election law.

Of course, as Don Yelton says, the photo ID is “free”. All you have to do is provide proof of identity at the Department of Motor Vehicles and you’re all set. And what constitutes “proof”? Former speaker of the US House of Representatives Jim Wright did so, but was turned away. Only a certified copy of his birth certificate would suffice. Of course most people already have a driver’s license, for which they didn’t have to provide a birth certificate. So the law will mostly affect the elderly or the very poor. Or young urbanites who don’t drive.

College students are targeted in a different way. You may recall that 18-year-olds won the right to vote during the 1970’s. Somehow it just didn’t seem right to ship them off to the Vietnam war without giving them the chance to vote. (The 18-year war was almost over by then. There were people registering for the draft who were born the year the war started.) But now Republicans want to reel that back, and residency requirements make a good start. After all, when a student is away at college, what is his residence? Shouldn’t he return to his home town to vote? (I use the male pronoun here deliberately.)

Republicans aren’t thrilled with (overwhelmingly pro-choice) women voters either. The curious custom of a woman changing her name when she marries is an opportunity to nudge them aside at the polls, as Texas judge Sandra Watts found out.  It’s also a problem for people in nursing homes, who are disproportionately women. And who have a lifetime’s experience being told by men what their options are in all things reproductive.

This concern for electoral integrity is odd considering the push for electronic voting machines, which are far less secure than Las Vegas slot machines. How do you check information stored on a chip, when the company that programmed it says it’s a big secret how it works?

Attempts to cheat “the other side” out of voting are not new. Today’s Southern Republicans are yesteryear’s Democrats, who were welcomed into the Republican party after Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the… Voting Rights Act. The tactics then were underhanded and occasionally downright vicious, but the goal was the same: to keep poor people, women, and especially black people, from voting. As a nation, we often claim to be some kind of a beacon of democracy. I suppose, as long as the right “kind” of people do the voting.

  • Join me for discussion of this topic on G+
  • Important clarification: The endire Voting Rights Act was not struck down, but section 4 was.
  • The Daily Show on Voter ID laws
  • History teacher Ed Darrell: “No one questioned who he was. He just can’t vote with the ID he has. If Jim Wright can’t easily get an ID to vote, who can?” (Do you read Ed’s blog? Crikey, you should.)
  • In Texas you can show a concealed-carry permit to vote. Maybe all Democrats should go out and get concealed-carry permits. Think of it, Republicans! Nearly every black person over 18 possibly packing.

Build The Right Monument

Until things change, this is pretty much my last word on 9-11. (Re-posted from 2011 entry on my old blog)

Annual 9-11 monument on campus
Annual 9-11 monument on campus

Do you care what I was doing when I heard about the September 11 attacks? I won’t be offended if your answer is “No”. Among hundreds of millions of people, practically every activity you could possibly think of was in progress when the planes crashed.

But there will be a lot of memorial services, monuments dedicated, special newspaper sections printed, and somber editorials. Cable television will be smoking-hot with replays of 9-11. Millions of little plastic flags will be planted. My dentist even sent out a memorial email.

On 9-11, innocent people died, who had nothing to do with conflicts between Muslim extremists and US foreign policy. We have a human need to make sense of it all, if we can, and try to steer a course to a better world from that awful day. If we can.

Almost every incident of mass death attracts monuments because the human race has a powerful forgettery. We forget context, we forget (or never knew) how it looked for the other side. We can forget the whole damn thing with astonishing ease. Battle of Antietam? 23,000 Americans dead in a single day in an area barely 8 miles square? Few remember that, but we remember symbolic acts like Washington throwing a coin across the Potomac… which did not even really happen.

So how best to remember 9-11? How best to honor the dead and elevate the living? I have a modest proposal.

When we’re done with the bronze and marble and granite and limestone, build another monument in our global moral standing and our daily freedoms. When we arrest someone, citizen or not, on our soil or not, let’s set the global standard of human rights instead of trying to maneuver around it. When someone points a video camera at a policeman in uniform on a public street, let the rest of the world see that our authorities are not afraid of accountability. When we talk on the phone let’s be certain that no one is listening without getting a warrant. Let’s not hide censorship behind corporate welfare. Let’s stop crotch-feeling 8-year-olds in airports and calling it security.

Bush was right about one thing: our enemies DO hate our freedoms. But in exercising those freedoms we will discover friends we never knew we had. A blogger, a gay couple living openly without fear, a citizen asking pointed questions of a politician or a policeman, peaceful Christian and Muslim neighbors, are all in a way ambassadors for our country. Every exercise of rights sharpens the distinction between us and our enemies.

Let’s get back to declaring war as Congress’ job – and pay for our wars on the books in real time. Let’s never again be manipulated and goaded into a vastly disproportionate response. Let’s recognize false pretext to war as a criminal offense. A former president in jail would send a powerful message to our allies and enemies: we really do believe in justice. You can trust us.

We spend more on “defense” in this country than the next 19 countries combined, while scientific questions go unanswered. In 1969 the physicist Robert Wilson had to explain to Congress why we should spend money on a National Accelerator Laboratory “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another”, he said; “the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”

In asymmetric warfare, the moral high ground truly is the defensible position: there is more power in trust than in any weapon. Battles and even wars might be won on the battlefield, but the future is won by the elapsed time between the last American shame and today’s date on the calendar. It is won by using our power to elevate others. It is won by our courage not to back down from our principles in search of an illusion of security. Our real strength isn’t anything that explodes; it’s something that only endures as long as we insist on it.

Let’s make it a flag worth waving. That would be a “monument” worthy of a day we really do need to remember.


NOTES and updates:

  • In Hiroshima there is a monument that says, optimistically; “Please rest in peace. The mistake will not be repeated.” No mention of whether they meant Pearl Harbor or The Bomb. Or the oil embargo that led to Pearl Harbor? Or their expansionism that led to the embargo? Atrocity always has antecedents.
  • Luckily the cable news networks are going to be responsible and low-key about this. They’re going to mention it, in a “this day in history” sort of way, without endless “Man In The Street” interviews and egregious repetition of horrifying videos. They won’t run up ratings by making life miserable for people with PTSD. Which is a lot of people, given that two of the four attacks happened in one of the most populated spots on Earth.
  • (Sorry, that last link was satire. You know the networks will milk this anniversary for all it’s worth.)
  • Mike the Mad Biologist nails The Hardest Thing about remembering September 11, 2001
  • Stephanie Svan’s meditation on The Importance of Forgetting: “We do not always learn the right lessons from history”. And Dana Hunter’s on Why We Have To Remember: “A terrorist act cannot destroy a country. A country can only destroy itself.” If you only have time to read one, read both anyway.

Don’t write that.

“Don’t talk about politics or religion on Facebook”

I’ve read a spate of articles lately offering rules for social media. Near the top of the lists are always admonitions to avoid political or contentious topics. We are told: “No one wants to see your political rant in their feed!” Occasionally this warning includes sports, or vacation pictures, or even pictures of grandkids.

Maybe this is true, which begs the question of exactly why social media exists. If your favorite subject irritates someone – even a lot of people – should you shut up? To avoid giving offense, should you confine your online expression to things that don’t matter to you?

Relax – you’re OK

To be clear, it’s fine if you want to “keep it light”. If you only like to post music videos and pictures of your pets, your kids, or your vacation that is perfectly OK. There’s no rule that says you have to “put it out there” or risk anything at all online. How heavy you want to be is entirely up to you.

A corollary is that when you see embarrassing pictures of some other person online, cut them some slack. Someone acting silly with a beer in their hand is not worth getting worked up over and it certainly isn’t worth a ding on their performance review.

…and so is that guy worked up about the environment

Some people are passionately interested in birdwatching. Some people are just interested in their grandkids. I grew up immersed in science and politics. My friends and my new friends know this. I’m pleased when others share my interests but if you don’t want to see my posts that’s fine.

What I have a difficult time accepting are online etiquette rules that insist on everyone being bland and inoffensive. Social media has begun to be a historical fulcrum of change. Entire governments have toppled on revolutions driven by Facebook or Twitter. US elections are influenced by people clicking “Share”. This is big news. It’s like living when the printing press was invented; information is democratized in a new way.

here are my social media etiquette rules:

  • Life is short, and if something really matters to you, it ought to be OK to say so. If you think the status quo is just great, fine – but if not, you have the right (and sometimes the responsibility) to speak up.
  • No one is forcing you to read my posts. A corollary is that no one is forcing me to read your posts either. Much resentment derives not from disagreement, but from perceived obligation. If you tell Facebook to show you fewer of my posts – or none at all – that is OK. As noted before, life is short, and I have other friends. I would appreciate an explanatory email, but that’s your choice.
  • Don’t troll. If you disagree with someone, you can say so in comments, giving a good reason and maybe a supporting link. That’s fine, but just one or two. When you’re on someone else’s thread, let them have the last word.
  • If it’s a chronic disagreement with another person, say what you want to say in your own space. You aren’t going to convert the other person to Jesus or socialism or Siracha sauce or whatever. But you might give the bystanders something to weigh in comparison.
  • It’s OK to delete another person’s comments on your feed. Social media is free, and you don’t owe them a platform.
  • Especially avoid arguing with friends or colleagues. There’s no way that story ends well. You have a whole internet full of jerks out there to make fun of – but please not the person in the cubicle next to yours.  I’ve occasionally told friends; “I’m not going to argue with you.” Perhaps not often enough.
  • Realize that what sounds uncontroversial to you might, to someone you know, even be offensive. So think twice before taking personal offense. Ask a question, maybe.

Social media can actually help you build meaning in your life, by engaging with society and history. It’s a chance to collaborate in imagining the future – a messy process.

Next post: how much personal information is too much?

Waging Peace

Regarding Ian Welsh; Bin Laden’s Insights And The Egyptian Coup

The points made in this excellent article stand on their own (please read it) but I would like to make one more. I don’t know if Bin Laden wanted to be listened to, but as a writer and thinker he did have something to say. The problem is that we are so busy hating him for his violent acts that we cannot listen to him. Bin Laden BAD!!! GRRR!!!

This is also true of the Unibomber, who wrote a manifesto that made several good points worth considering. Have you read it? Probably not, because Ted Kaczynski sent bombs through the mail, maiming and killing people. Violence utterly obscured his message.

The United States carries a message about freedom, about the common good, and about a better world not based on group hatred. But at the same time we’ve projected power violently in both overt and covert ways. You think the victims of a US-backed oppressive regime care what we have to say about anything? How about the parents of a child killed in a drone strike?

To the rest of the world, we are Bin Laden. We are Ted Kaczynski. They can’t hear us over the screams of torture chambers, or the ringing in their ears from explosions. When our medium is violence, what is our message?

If we want to be heard, we need to figure out how to wage peace.

Reposted from G+. h/t Mike The Mad Biologist for the link.

Social networking is no substitute for a blog – but it can compliment one

In the Fall of 2012 I suspended my long-running Decrepit Old Fool (DOF) blog for a hiatus, which ends with the page you are reading now. In the meantime I explored social networking on Facebook, G+ and Twitter. (I’ve since archived my DOF blog as static html; you can peruse it if you like.)

Social networking has some awesome advantages for connecting with people. I believe it will continue to expand its position in human society; we are, after all, social beings. But there are a couple things that social networking lacks: permanence and control. You might get up one morning and find out the bright minds at Facebook or Twitter have decided to change how everything on your feed is displayed. And there is little assurance that you will always be able to link to (or even find) something you have written. For a quick aside, this is fine – but for a carefully-written essay, not so much. 

The objection could be raised that is the same way, on a longer time-scale – and that is true. Hence downloading backups. If necessary, I can go back to running my own WordPress blog, but I’m just as happy to let them take care of system patches, etc. I do enough system maintenance at work, thank you.

Thanks for visiting and reading! I hope you’ll visit again, and look for me on G+ and Twitter.