Restricted Voting

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An opinion writer in the Wall Street Journal says that lowering the voting age to 18 during the Vietnam War era was a mistake. It should go back to 21.

His logic, if you can use that term for this essay, begins with his assessment that “adolescents today are dramatically unprepared to vote”. Considering the results of the last presidential election, many much older folks are also “dramatically unprepared” (or don’t vote at all).

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The Chaos of Facebook

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It’s probably an understatement to say that Facebook has been in the news a lot in the past three or four years, and not in a good way. In the US, we’ve seen a long parade of issues just regarding Facebook and it’s part in the 2016 elections.

But Facebook is a global company. We are not alone in the their executives putting profits before the welfare of their “members”.

For part of that international perspective regarding Facebook’s impact on elections and democracy, watch this talk from the recently completed TED Conference. It’s presented by a UK reporter who went back to her hometown in the southern part of Wales to learn how Facebook had impacted the 2016 Brexit vote.

And this entire referendum took place in darkness, because it took place on Facebook. And what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook, because only you see your news feed, and then it vanishes, so it’s impossible to research anything. So we have no idea who saw what ads or what impact they had, or what data was used to target these people. Or even who placed the ads, or how much money was spent, or even what nationality they were.

But Facebook does. Facebook has these answers, and it’s refused to give them to us. Our parliament has asked Mark Zuckerberg multiple times to come to Britain and to give us these answers. And every single time, he’s refused. And you have to wonder why. Because what I and other journalists have uncovered is that multiple crimes took place during the referendum. And they took place on Facebook.

She ends her talk with a passionate challenge to the “gods of Silicon Valley”, many of whom were likely in that TED audience.

Because what the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken. And you broke it. This is not democracy — spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash, from God knows where. It’s subversion, and you are accessories to it.

And what you don’t seem to understand is that this is bigger than you. And it’s bigger than any of us. And it is not about left or right or “Leave” or “Remain” or Trump or not. It’s about whether it’s actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. Because as it stands, I don’t think it is.

I would argue that our own 2016 election also demonstrates that broken democracy.

If you can stand a deeper dive behind the more recent problems at Facebook, read the long but excellent cover story in the May issue of Wired.1 The reporter covers what they call “15 months of fresh hell” inside the company, based on interviews with “65 current and former employees”.

It’s ultimately a story about the biggest shifts ever to take place inside the world’s biggest social network. But it’s also about a company trapped by its own pathologies and, perversely, by the inexorable logic of its own recipe for success.

As I said, the story is long and is difficult to summarize in one post. But the TL;DR is that the leadership of Facebook either don’t think they’ve done anything wrong or they’re afraid to make substantial changes that will hurt growth and profits.

It’s excellent reporting and worth an hour of your time to read the whole thing.

The graphic is from the animated header of the Wired story. Seems an appropriate illustration given the chaos being sown by Facebook.

1. Wired Magazine offers some of the smartest reporting available on tech and its impact on society. It’s worth a few bucks to subscribe.

One Small Step

Women's March on Washington

It’s been almost three weeks since the midterm elections.

Although the pundits on the talking heads channels are probably completely convinced they understand the historical significance of the results, the rest of us are still pretty confused. Big events, and even some relatively minor ones, require more time and context to fit them into history.

Regardless, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the vote at least pushed things in the right direction.1

But it was just one small step. The real work is still ahead.

For one thing, we need to get all those new people who showed up at the polls to come back next year. The elections coming next year will be much lower in profile but potentially very important.

In this area we will be choosing representatives for the state legislature, new county supervisors, and a school board. Decisions made by those officials often have more impact on day-to-day life than those at a national level. Similar votes will be going on all over the country.

Then those new voters, and many more, also need to participate in 2020 and beyond. We still have too many indifferent citizens that must be convinced that their participation matters. Plus the millions who were excluded from voting by corrupt and greedy politicians who can’t hold onto power in any other way.

All of that will require the new House of Representatives, and newly elected state and local officials, to decide that establishing a fair and transparent voting process for every citizen in every state is a top priority. No significant progress in any other area will be possible until that happens.

Beyond that, the list of problems that have piled up during the Twitter/Facebook wars is staggering. 

Many people are calling for investigations of many people and events, egged on by a news media that thrives on political fights. Certainly that’s necessary, especially since Constitutionally mandated congressional oversight has been sorely lacking for the past two years.

But just digging into the past won’t move the country forward. Unless those hearings and reports result in concrete plans to change the system, it’s all just noise.

In the long run, making actual progress to improve life in this country for all will require leaders willing to articulate a clear vision for the future. Innovators at all levels, state and local as well as national, with the courage to explain and defend their ideas. With the skills to organize people to make them happen.

And those of us not in leadership positions still have a role to play. We must pay close attention to what our representatives are doing in our name. When they are working for progress, we must let them know. When they are wrong, we must speak up and do what we can to push them in the right direction.

All of that starts today, not at some vague point in the future.

The image is of the Woman’s March on Washington, January 2017. Posted to Flickr by Mobilus In Mobili and used under a Creative Commons license. I expect more protest like this will also be necessary to move things forward.

1. Everything in this post is based, of course, on my personal view of where this country is and where it needs to be. You have every right to disagree. Politely.

3-2-1 For 10-30-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Many parents (and other relatives) post millions of pictures of kids on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other places online every day. The co-author of a parenting book wonders if that is an invasion of the child’s privacy. It’s a good question. At least everyone should remember that any materials posted to Facebook is fair game for them to use in ways you may not like. (about 7 minutes)

The Guardian has for you a list from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, 40 things you can stop doing right now. A couple of them are UK-specific, and I’m pretty sure I can never talk my wife into the one about never owning more than 10 items of clothes, but the serious entries are intriguing. (about 6 minutes)

Despite living right outside DC, I don’t pay close attention to the minutia of politics, although it’s hard not to notice during this never ending presidential election. However, New York Magazine’s inside look at the Final Days of the Trump campaign is thoughtful and very compelling. Read it, then go watch some Adult Swim to regain a little sanity. (about 16 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

For rational members of the 50% or so who believe there is “massive” voter fraud going on in the US, know that it is really, really, really hard to pull off that conspiracy. Really! Listen to this episode of Decode DC for directions on how you too can be a fraudulent voter, and why it’s not happening. (33:02)

The Smithsonian is trying it’s hand at podcasting with one called Side Door. With only two episodes, it’s promising but still a little rough around the edges. But the first episode, titled tech yourself, is worth a listen just for the discussion about how teens use their smartphones. They could have spent the whole program on that topic. (20:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

You may not think of the Blue Man Group as musicians but the folks at NPR invited them to do a Tiny Desk Concert anyway. It’s very entertaining to watch these performers up close. I want someone to try that Meditation for Winners activity at their next faculty meeting. “Your day won’t get any better than this, I guarantee it.” (13:15)

Fearing the Fear Itself

We here in the US are heading into yet another “election year” in 2016. And it would be nice if everyone kept these thoughts from the brilliant Charlie Pierce in mind as we withstand the flood of fear mongering from the candidates who want to lead us.

If you want to see what losing the war on terror really looks like, don’t look to the Middle East. Instead, watch the television commercials approved by the various Republican presidential candidates. The three Democratic candidates are better, but not by much.

The fact is that you can’t win a “war” on terror any more than you can win a “war” on hate or a “war” on any other easily activated human emotion, if there are enough powerful institutions that can profit from its activation. It’s really up to the rest of us, as active citizens in a self-governing republic, to keep things in perspective about the genuine dangers and the fantastical ones by which other people profit. There are genuine threats to our safety–bridges near collapse, gas leaks that may ruin a whole town, the unfettered access to firearms and the readiness to use them. That should be inspiration enough for We, The People to fulfill our pledge to each other to provide for the common defense and to promote the general welfare. John Quincy Adams was only half-right; if America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, then it ought not to create them here at home, either.

I wish we had more of those “active citizens”, instead of media-created “average” Americans. People who passively accept the ominously-voiced crap dispensed in 30-second bursts of political advertising as fact. Along with the ratings-bait fair and balanced “debates” that substitute for civic dialog in this country.