In all the hair-splitting going on about the US government intelligence apparatus having access to citizen activity metadata, I have yet to see a lot of crunching going on about what privacy means. It seems to me that privacy constitutes a relationship first between “I” and “me,” that is my cerebral activity, and how much of it leaks out and captured by another agent. Imagine Basho on his rounds, leaving poems on the side of the road for others to read and, in future, to be recorded in other forms. It’s hard to say whether another traveler is wandering by with a poem by Basho in their head. The observer can’t know what is in a person’s head. If I read a tweet, I don’t necessarily know if the “thought” is actually authentic. I simply take it as a “factual” grain.
This is a cut and paste of part of Twitter’s Collection clause:
Our Services are primarily designed to help you share information with the world. Most of the information you provide us is information you are asking us to make public. This includes not only the messages you Tweet and the metadata provided with Tweets, such as when you Tweeted, but also the lists you create, the people you follow, the Tweets you mark as favorites or Retweet, and many other bits of information that result from your use of the Services. Our default is almost always to make the information you provide public for as long as you do not delete it from Twitter, but we generally give you settings to make the information more private if you want.
The implication here falls on the idea of “choice,” that Twitter makes available “information you are asking us to make public.” Agreeing to the services by provided is something the user “asks” for and therefore the service complies with software. This seems fair, as it’s observed that people freely chose the service and that they understand that “you asked for it.” It would seem fair that the NSA could use this metadata, just like any one else who understand the API.
Here’s the Log clause:
Our servers automatically record information (“Log Data“) created by your use of the Services. Log Data may include information such as your IP address, browser type, operating system, the referring web page, pages visited, location, your mobile carrier, device and application IDs, search terms, and cookie information. We receive Log Data when you interact with our Services, for example, when you visit our websites, sign into our Services, interact with our email notifications, use your Twitter account to authenticate to a third-party website or application, or visit a third-party website that includes a Twitter button or widget. Twitter uses Log Data to provide our Services and to measure, customize, and improve them. If not already done earlier, for example, as provided below for Widget Data, we will either delete Log Data or remove any common account identifiers, such as your username, full IP address, or email address, after 18 months.
This is the sort of metadata any run of the mill database will have spaces for, IP, time stamps, whatever. People agree to this sort of backend storage, assuming they know what a device ID is. If they don’t, they might agree to use and basically lie to the service. Meaning: I agree but I really don’t know what I’m agreeing to because I don’t know what a device ID is. I would assume this data would be interesting to law enforcement. But my authentic question is: is log data private or public information?
In this, I think about passwords and the encryption tools, such as SALT, that make them work. Again, I am assuming that a password is related to a “thought” I might want to keep private, “to myself,” as there’s risk in making it “public.” We know, though, that passwords are stored all over the place. They are also persistently entered, altered, and key-logged by at least two listening systems, else the system wont open. In any event, everyone who uses Twitter possesses a password but it’s strange to think of a password as “private” as it is “shared” in a sort of “middle place,” a limbo, let’s say between private and public, or, as we say in modern terms, a database, which is sort of also like the modern rendering of a nature deity.
None of this, however, gets to a definition of privacy in the context of digital tools. Part of the legal stroke here has to do with “presumptions” of privacy. We have a reasonable presumption that our in-door conversations are none of the government’s business, therefore the government has no “interest” in peeping at us through the window: presumption and interest. Of added complexity is the notion of privacy itself in the linguistic storehouse. We know that digital culture has provided spaces for dispute about the meaning of choice and sharing. It may be that in the future people drop out of the culture and chose to live more selectively. Or people will sanitize their participation, so that all we get on Twitter are links to frog images. But metadata will still grow and accumulate, as data in and of itself is neither this or that until it’s related to something else. Jaron Lanier has an interesting opinion piece in the NYT on the nature of data gathering and manipulation that’s well worth plowing through in this regard.
In literature courses, we can trace how people have viewed the line between private and public ideas. People have probably always known that they can get into a lot of trouble by speaking their minds. The image of the secret police has made vigilance the protagonist to the lordly “eye’s” antagonist. When one signs onto the Verizon contract, one should also know that something physical needs to be stored. If it is a 1, then we can always read the 1, then scramble the 1 to hide its identity. But does this constitute privacy?
It was back in the 90s when I started telling students to watch for workers outside the US to suddenly realize that they wouldn’t stand for low wages forever. They’d organize and stand up. It’s now a story to follow and consider with much more seriousness.
Then people here might might wake up again too.
From Paul Ford (from my growing lists of readings on technology)
If you read old manuals (I do), they were the same in the punch-card era. They’re the same now. What’s changed is, of course, the total penetration of the computer and Internet into society, and the way that this way of organizing the world has started to prevail, so much so that we sometimes fantasize about life five or six years ago.
One of the cool things about teaching is the revisiting. We’ve had a few of these this week. You know who you are. But we also have those who revisit in different ways. Jason Davis was a massive person. A lamp. A voice. A speaker. He attended many of my courses and became a friend. Graduated Trinity College, Hartford.
Sadly, he has passed.
I was looking forward to reconnecting.
Swift passage to you.
Yesterdays Shakespeare Uncovered on Richard the II gave me new insight into how to approach Shakespeare in the future. I’m a fan of Derek Jacobi and of the history plays, not so much of plays like MacBeth or Hamlet. What got me, however, was a video cut of Thatcher about to enter her car after the Heseltine issue and the look on her face, an image that follows a theme of Richard II. It’s not necessarily about the loss of power but the appearance of oneself into a new space minus it–when the self is stripped of its props or of what gave it shape and proportion. Looking forward to next week.
At the moment, the temp outside is about 5 degrees f. Last week we had our new generator started by the good tech, with his lap top and advise for self-tests. At initial test, the power went out and the generator came on a few seconds later and repowered the house. The machine continually assesses the Grid and will respond accordingly. Smooth and simple. Currently, it’s running off temporary propane while we wait for conversion to natural gas. Our addition is pricey so we figured a generator should be a part of the bargain. This equipment is watted enough to deal with the entire house, plus the addition, and should go smoothly if properly maintained. But we don’t have to worry about gasoline power and the dedicated gas will provide for future simplicity.
But it’s super cold. It would also be nice if we never had to use the generator. But it’s there; it’s big; it’s something around which to do more landscaping. It’s also amazing to think that such an expensive appliance might actually never be used. Given the changing state of the weather, this seems unlikely.
I’ve been away from this weblog for a time, thinking, changing course, working through. A new novel’s coming. A new year, with lots of exploring. New reference points. Those to thank, you know who you are. In any event, I’ve been reading lots of local, Simsbury history. Prepping for courses, with a mindfulness for ecology.
Vibert’s book has renewed my interest in the kinds of history and storytelling that makes better sense than general overviews. The day to day experience, for example, of people just after the initial push-out from Windsor Connecticut into the pine territories of northern Connecticut for tar and pitch to serve the naval concerns of England is a robust knowledge and wisdom. I’d love more mining into this subject. The social network is not new.
I have readings ready for class on Tuesday, November 4. I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s voting day, and the day represents a culmination of semester long work in terms of a course plot. In any event, given the elections, which feels strangely distant from reality, this post by Greenstein and Kogan at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reminds me of some frustration about political ecology, by which I mean the way people interact with and shape governance culture.
November 4 will be a good example of this ecology in the ambient round. The relationship on display between the states and the federal government is a part of the Christie/Obama narrative but not part of the larger narrative on display in the governance sales job.
I’ve learned over time that politics should be a form of problem solving. But it’s hard to solve problems when the wrong narrative is being written. We could ask this question and try to make people care. We could ask what drives “the nations long-term fiscal problems” outside of the immediate issue of a destroyed abode after a storm somewhere on the eastern coast.
Several conservative analysts and some journalists lately have cited figures showing substantial growth in recent years in the cost of federal programs for low-income Americans. A recent report the Congressional Research Service prepared for Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) provides one such set of figures. These figures can create the mistaken impression that growth in low-income programs is a major contributor to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.
In reality, virtually all of the recent growth in spending for low-income programs is due to two factors: the economic downturn and rising costs throughout the U.S. health care system, which affect costs for private-sector care as much as for Medicaid and other government health care programs.
I ask: why should it matter that the narrative that defines a problem be taken more seriously?
When there are critical problems that need solving.
I leave the rest to suggestion.
The first major papers are done and evaluated. And now some thoughts on my College’s ability-based approach. A fast internet search will provide loads of listed links.
While Ability-based may sound like a buzzword approach, this method of teaching and learning involves defining a set of “abilities” in descriptive form with the student as subject, as in: the student Writes articulate arguments with increasingly sophisticated claims using authoritative, documented evidence, and appeals. Our department has broken such language into different degrees of ability and demonstration in the form of standards of evaluation, often called a rubric, which is somewhat inaccurate. I prefer standards or degrees of evaluation.
The notion is that people can learn to drive forklifts. Some drivers, however, are the “go-tos.” Others keep backing into the walls. Others can do just fine. There’s no real reason to bother with “why” questions or with the typical judgement that standardized tests provide. This method involves standards but resists standardization as the concepts are broad and learnable.
Long ago, I would develop fairly complicated explanations for grades, as I grew tired of justifying them. A meant this and C meant that. In our current model we represent each degree of ability with a number (humans, apparently, are doomed to hierarchies). Doing this assist in understanding that the number or the grade doesn’t matter. What matters is the meaning of the thing. It’s entirely possible to provide a set of explanations on a student paper that illustrate the degree to which they are writing “articulate arguments” or that provide information about how to improve their method of evaluating a source for bias or motive. In a poetry course, we can move the language toward the requirements of the particular discipline or adhere to a general definition of “problem-solving” as poets do it. Practical politics, however, gets in the way. Students express themselves differently when they say I got an A, what’d you get? versus I got a “can assert a conclusion that doesn’t rely upon belief,” what’d you get?
Students will often tell me they want to know what their grade is, and that’s all they want to know. They use code for this; they say, “I want to know how I’m doing.” I might say, “Well, you need more aggressive analysis and stop using hard-core partisans as experts.” “Yeah, but how do I get an A” is the typical coded response, when the response I gave is the answer. I say: just work on improving analysis or find better sources with which to practice. It can get heated because the modern student isn’t typically acclimated to academic or professional material, communication norms, work load, and subject matter. It’s not something one can just explain.
I’ve been using this method going on nine years. I started in English Literature courses, providing students explanations and means for improvement on their work rather than grades, and boy did I get hell for from students. The ire I’ve received in response has always been difficult to deal with but no more difficult necessarily than the responses I used to get to grades. “Why a C? I need an A to keep my GPA or I won’t get into my program” Or, “I’ve never got D in my life! You’re the worst fucking teacher ever.” From there, the conversations would go haywire.
This semester has proven interesting in the evolution of this system of evaluating as I reviewed some of the best papers I’ve ever read at midterm. More than half of the students nailed the assignment. Student work in an ability-based model theoretically provides a narrative of learning. Students should begin early unable to demonstrate satisfactory work but after practice, writing, and reading, should improve. Why? Because early work involves foundational stuff like summary writing, research basics, short analyses, comparison work, and then the student can move to making a claim or taking a position. Those who stick with the approach typically do improve. Those who want top scores early and won’t take time to understand where they might improve if they put their noses to it typically drop (this is merely a hypothesis). Some students think this makes me a shitty teacher, who explains nothing, and doesn’t give a crap about their needs or wants. (I had a student recently whistle with disbelief at what students have said on the “professor rating” web site; I don;t dare look myself.) Other students grin, bear it, and make out fine in the end. Statistically my success rate is pretty good ( I often grab stats on how students do after they move on), and students who come back by the office claim that the torture paid off. For teachers, anecdotal evidence can be instructive. We deal with people as people and need to know what they do with what they learn.
This last round of bulk good work, some of it excellent, is good and excellent because it demonstrates that the students are learning into the abilities. Some students are still guessing about the difference between an argument and a statement of fact. Here’s an example of guessing: “So ‘n’ so argues that Romney or Obama said that if elected every one will get healthcare.” In the ability-based model guessing amounts to a boolean expression. Why: because people can learn to discriminate between these concepts. When students identified and evaluated evidence in relation to an argument, they got it right, maybe not expressed as well as Keats could express but good enough to show that they can do the job.
This doesn’t, however, validate the pedagogy I employ. Too many variables get in the way of this. What the student success does tell me is that they are learning and they’re learning beyond my assistance. It’s important often to avoid pedagogy validity arguments as in some cases courses might simply get lucky with a whole bunch of stars or struggle with a whole bunch of people who needed more preparation or lots of assistance.
Some of the methods are risky. Firstly, I don’t read and comment on drafts anymore. I don’t ask students to provide drafts that I then give back with comments, as my own teachers did and as I once perpetrated. This is not a methodological crime. Past experience has taught me that this method leads to the encouragement of poor study and editing habits, especially for raw freshmen who need more learning in study habits than anything having to do with good writing. Instead, I ask students to read other student drafts and edit against the abilities in typical peer review sessions. How students edit their peers tells me a lot about their own habits of reading and resilience in the face of problems. I ask students to provide me with their edited copy for kicks.
This is risky as final papers may indeed show a great deal of missed opportunity or lack of learning in comparison to more polished work that teachers traditionally poor over in prep for final copy. When it works, the amount of learning a student shows is apparent in comparison to past work. A writer notices the difference between the past and present if they make decisions on their own. This gives me more dramatic information about what I need to do in the classroom. If the majority of students are still having issues with paragraph divisions and transitions, then I can see that in unadulterated copy, and I can work with this issue more in class. In addition, heavily edited drafts by teachers may produced more polished final drafts. This, however, may not assist students when they’re asked to write for later courses where assistance from the professor is no longer provided.
Secondly, I do a hell of a lot of modeling, which is where a screen and word processor really come in handy in a writing course. Using the computer I can build a set of paragraphs and show students what synthesis and analysis looks like on the fly. They see and hear my thought process; they see how I correct spelling; they see how I clean up a cut and paste job from an online article with embedded links or superscripting. We discuss the process a lot. We throw an article up on the screen and we talk about why a writer fell down on the job, either leaping to a conclusion or providing an irrelevant example to support an otherwise perfectly reasonable argument. Then the students are expected to go out and read, practice, and study the notes they generated in discussion, in modeling, and in draft revision, as I will typically grab a student draft and take it apart for all to see (of course, only if agreed upon by the poor student under glass) and then put it back together using the concepts we’re trying to learn: elements of persuasive writing, paragraphing, analysis, quoting and reference, and idea development.
From a teacher’s perspective, observing a range of student performance is a good thing. This range provides a framework for evaluating the story of learning in a particular course. For several years I’ve been struggling with low performance, low preparation, and heavy drop rates. I don’t see an end to this trend. But sometimes the story of performance is encouraging, some times not so encouraging, but it’s valuable nonetheless in instructing the instructor.
I have engaged friends at the college with a simple question: how big can a federal republic get before it collapses? Hopefully I can grab some answers. It reminds me a Ryan Avent post at The Economist in reference to something Romney told a press conference (for some reason the video is no longer available embedded at the magazine). Romney said:
Do you believe in a government-centred society that provides more and more benefits, or do you believe instead in a free enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams? …We have a very different approach the president and I between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams…
Here Romney is alluding to scale, while at the same time setting up a false dichotomy and a false set of choices that use typical and meaningless political buzz words. Avent remarks on this to some degree:
To me, this perfectly illustrates the massive blind spot in current GOP orthodoxy. The belief that there is an irreconcilable conflict between government benefits and the freedom to pursue dreams can only arise among those who have never had to worry about the reality of equality of opportunity in America. For most Americans, public schools are a critical piece of the machinery of economic mobility. Things like unemployment insurance and social security, meagre though they are, sometimes mean the difference between destitution and the possibility [sic] of a second chance or a non-wretched standard of living. For many Americans, the ability to even contemplate dreams for a better life is down to the small cushion and basic investments provided by governments, provided for precisely that reason, because an economy in which only those born with a comfortable financial position can invest in human capital and take entrepreneurial risks is doomed to class-based calcification.
Avent points to the “class” appeal in the Romney quote. But I’d rather go after the dichotomy and then an inaccurate and infantile use of terminology: “We have a very different approach the president and I between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams . . . ” The false dichotomy has to do with the stated choice of beliefs. The audience is supposed to “believe” first in either a “government-centred society” or a “free enterprise society.” Romney provides a definition for each: the first is a “society that provides more and more benefits” while the second is a “society where people are able to pursue their dreams.” It is taken as “fact” that a society that provides “more” benefits is a society in which people are inhibited from pursuing dreams. This is not, however, a “fact,” as we can imagine societies where healthcare is provided as a major “benefit” by the government and have, under such great “benefit weight,” demonstrated ample ability to “dream.” Example: Norway, whose ranking on the Human Development Index is nothing to laugh at, unless, of course, you’re inclined to accept gross generalization.
The other side of the coin is the “free enterprise society,” defined as a place where people are free to “pursue their dreams.” It is treated as a fact that such is a place where the government “does not provide more benefits” is expressed as a legitimate counterweight, which is just an odd phrase to utter in the company of people with brains. Is there such a thing as “unfree enterprise”? Is it not possible for people in a “free enterprise society” to have their dreams crushed? Another problem is Romney’s method of using rhetorical amplification by subtly equating “government-centered” with “government-dominated,” when the first phenomenon can be refuted by even fifth-grade research, and neither is effectively defined in the context of a reality-based system of classification. “Government-centered,” I assume, is a keyword for a Fascist state.
This is argument by trigger words. “Benefits” is the first case is another way of saying that people are handed what they should otherwise work or “dream” for. One should both “work” for a college education and then, after graduation, “work” for a high standard of living. An underwritten education, on the other hand, signifies that the college student in this scenario is “dominated” by the government. By extension, one could argue the principle of the slipper slope and claim that underwriting would lead to a narrow or hollow curriculum. But Madison would have a lot to say about that, and it avoids constitutional realities. For Madison, the people underwrite.
Romney’s are not smart arguments. They belittle the American electorate and Close the American Mind.
Joseph Stiglitz writes this about what amounts to a correction of the terms:
Inequality in “market incomes” — what individuals receive apart from any transfers from the government — has increased as a result of ineffective enforcement of competition laws, inadequate financial regulation, deficiency in corporate governance laws, and “corporate welfare” — huge open and hidden subsidies to our corporations that reached new heights in the Bush administration. When, for instance, competition laws are not enforced, monopolies grow, and with them the income of monopolists. Competition, by contrast, drives profits down. What is disturbing about Romney and Ryan is that they have done so little to distance themselves from the economic policies of the Bush administration, which not only led to poor economic performance, but also to so much inequality. Understandably, perhaps, Romney has not explained why those, like him, in the hedge fund and equity fund business should be able to use a loophole in the tax law to pay 15 percent taxes on their earnings, when ordinary workers pay a far higher rate.
The buck doesn’t really stop at the desk of the President. Ultimately, the buck stops with us.
So, the course continues, the debates are done, and the decision coming around the bend. At the college a few colleagues and I are having discussion related to the election. They stem from Romney’s exposition on the 47%, ponderings on the issue of inequality across the states, and energy.
I my opinion the later two issues are the issues of the day.
My current concern is an issue I’m trying to get going on campus and that’s a discussion of the parties and what they mean for the day to day in the United States. Since 2000 and earlier, perhaps even going back to Goldwater, it seems to me that the Republican Party as a thread of the conservative movement has crumpled to an unfathomable blob of odd ideas. This crumbling does’t explain the current polls, as of this day, or the positions of either candidate, which are fairly clear to me but, rather, the persistence of tropes attributed to our moiety system. True or no, conservative tropes are difficult to list as real factors in our politics.
One trope, for example, which forms the central image of the economic narrative is taxation as a means of defining a relationship between the individual, the state, and the federal government. I have yet to be convinced by friends that taxes provide a good measure of political position attributable to a party. “We need to lower taxes” as a question of identification with a position is difficult for me to understand. Why? Because one could associate with liberal or conservative ideals and have no opinion about the question of taxes. The story goes that autonomy is affected somehow by the federal government’s taxing power, that taxes are somehow related to freedom of movement, autonomy, and many more values. Conservatism has become associated with local control and the effective power of money as the means of maintenance. Local control becomes a trope when the image of individual autonomy butts against an external abstract force.
The conclusion here defines the problem, as this conclusion would require that conservatism and liberalism merge as a common notion or conflict whose core is the individual. Is sustainable economics “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive”?
In Burkean terms, which would require an anachronistic set of definitions, in my opinion, there is no liberalism against which the ideas of an early conservatism would apply. Conservatism has gone through a series of reformations. The Glorious Revolution shifted Tory focus of sovereignty onto the new divisions of Parliament, following “whose the authority of the day” syndrome, if such a syndrome makes any sense.
But that’s just a small part of the history. What serves as a marker is to create a broad brush division in England after Restoration: those who supported rule my monarchy and those who defended rule by the new construct of “the people.” Which, of course, should lead back to James Madison or to supporters of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism.