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Random Notes

On a mailing list of media educators, I heard about an article in Wired about corporations and people at the CIA editing articles in Wikipedia. A CalTech grad student built an application to track where anonymous edits were coming from and found that people from Diebold, Walmart and others were editing articles about their companies and that the CIA was editing articles on just about everything, including an entry which “deals with the details of lyrics sung in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode.”.

Twenty-four years ago, I spent eight months traveling around the United States and Europe. This year, Noel Hidalgo is on “an open-source journey around the world documenting free culture, social innovators and global change”

Recently, he interviewed Dirk Slater about eRiders. Stop by and watch the video. Also, if you can spare some change, toss it Noel’s way. Now that Beth Kanter has raised the money she needs for her trip to Cambodia, I’m updating the widget I have to point to Noel’s effort.

Back here in Connecticut, Andy Thibault continues his excellent coverage of the Avery Doninger Case. His latest post is about the amount of money that the school district is paying their lawyer to thwart openness.

The Journal Inquirer adds more to the discussion. This paragraph from their article jumped out at me:

When attempts at compromise failed, Doninger, a community college instructor who has been researching the First Amendment in a doctoral program in educational leadership, said she and Avery decided to bring the matter to court.

From the little bit that I’ve read, Avery is pretty lucky to have such a cool mother and the community college where she is an instructor is pretty lucky to have her as well. If I were at Gateway Community College, I’d probably sign up for one of her classes based on how she has handled herself in this course. I wish her luck on her doctoral thesis and I hope that she gets some useful material for her dissertation.

As a final note, when I was preparing for my presentation last week on educational opportunities in Second Life, I took a little bit of time looking at the Idaho Bioterrorism Awareness and Preparedness Program website.

I’ve been feeling pretty run down recently. I believe it is from all the dust that our moving is stirring up aggregating my dust allergy. I noticed on Facebook many of my friends updating their statuses about whichever cold they were currently fighting. This made me stop and think, how do tools which promote constant partial attention fit in with any bioterrorism or epidemic situation? I remember back in 2001, I was active in a few online chat rooms and when the planes crashed into the World Trade Centers, many of us connected via these chat rooms. If we ever face a massive epidemic, how will people communicate online?

State Legislative Websites

ReadtheBill.org is an organization advocating that “bills should be posted online for 72 hours for anyone to read before Congress debates them”. I think this is a great idea, and I’ve often brought this up to friends. People who are interested in the legislative process typically ask about the role of the Library of Congress’ Thomas system for tracking legislation. Thomas would be a great vehicle for posting legislation online for people to review. The problem is that bills are not currently required to be posted on Thomas for 72 hours before they can be debated.

Others suggest that this requirement should apply to state legislation as well. I think that is a great idea, and I’ve been thinking about and exploring State Legislative Websites a bit recently.

At the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) annual meeting last week, I attended various sessions about blogging and legislative websites. I decided to review some of the websites and present my thoughts on where we are.

It seems as if the biggest hurdle that State Legislative Websites face is that of getting people to use them. When Kim ran for State Representative, I was struck by the number of people who didn’t know who their State Reps where. People told me that 85% of the people in the United States don’t know. If that is the case, one wonders how many people would ever look at State Legislative Websites.

During the sessions at NCSL, legislators and their staff expressed the belief that the community of bloggers is actually pretty small, and they are the same people that you always see on election night or at any political event. They wondered how to get more people involved.

A good starting point would be to improve the State Legislative Websites. Many have basic search mechanisms to help people find bills, but often those mechanisms are based on the assumption that the searcher already knows about the bill, its bill number, and how it is working its way through the legislative process. Numerous sites used abbreviations that would flummox people not closely following the legislative process, and modern tools like RSS feeds and the ability to subscribe to a bill’s status via email was notably lacking.

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Wordless Wednesday



NCSL Keynote, originally uploaded by Aldon.

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Recovering our Full Capacity for Joy

As we prepare to move, we are confronting issues with Fiona. She will have a much smaller room in a much smaller house, and we need to get rid of some of her toys. This shouldn’t be a big issue. There are many toys that she is too big for and hasn’t touched for years, but they still have an emotional attachment and we need to be gentle about how we remove them.

One toy, we weren’t gentle enough about in our plans for getting rid of it, and she had a melt down. We talked it through with her can came up with plans that she was happy with, and she quickly recovered from her meltdown.

I am on a mailing list with a person whose mother just died. The list is made up of psychologists and the discussions can get pretty intense at times. One person spoke about a friend who lost her daughter to cancer eleven years ago. She described her friend as struggling with rage and aching grief for years. Her friend used this grief to work for positive social change. The writer reported that it was only this year that her friend “recovered her full capacity for joy”.

What a remarkable phrase. Fiona, at age five, has not experienced the level of grief that many of us have. The grief she experiences and feels deeply are about the loss of a toy, and she bounces back in a matter of minutes. She quickly recovers her full capacity for joy.

As we get older, we build up one emotional scar after another. Our ability to recover our full capacity for joy weakens, and some of us don’t manage experience joy in its fullest.

Kim and I had only been dating for six weeks when her mother died. Over the first few years of our marriage, we attended many funerals together. Kim’s mother’s mother died within the year from a broken heart. Kim’s mother’s father died a slow agonizing death from Alzheimer’s.

When Kim was little, she used to go over to her grandparents house almost daily. It is important to her that Fiona be able to get to her grandparents house frequently, and the house we are moving to is about two blocks from Kim’s grandparents and a short drive from Fiona’s grandparents.

This is a very different orientation than I grew up with. My father’s father died 64 years ago, yesterday; years before I was born. His mother died eight years later, so I never got a chance to meet either of my paternal grandparents. My mother was the youngest in her family, and her parents were quite old by the time I came along. We would see them a couple times a year. My early memories of my grandfather are restricted to him watching Red Sox games on a small old black and white TV and sneaking us kids sourballs when our parents weren’t looking. I never really experienced the joy that Fiona finds with her “papa”.

So, as we build up the collection of emotional scars that life gives us, I wonder, how do we go about recovering our full capacity for joy. I’m sure that my therapist friends would talk about the importance of therapy. I’m sure that priest friends would talk about God’s role.

Mary Gauthier’s song, “Mercy Now” captures some of this. She writes about her father dying of Alzheimer’s,

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor
Fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over
It won't be long and he won't be around
I love my father, and he could use some mercy now

In these days after September 11th, in these days of war in Iraq, in these days of financial uncertainty, we could all use a little mercy now, we could all use a little help in recovering our full capacity for joy.

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race
Towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, well
They'll do anything to keep their crown
I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now

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The canary and net neutrality

We all sit quietly in our computer rooms and blog our hearts out about the latest outrage by our government and our worries about how large companies efforts to limit net neutrality could affect our ability to get out important messages. Yet, for most of us, this is academic or hypothetical. How many of you know someone who has had his account terminated because of stuff that he has written?

Yet this isn’t hypothetical or academic. Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder, noted Iranian Blogger has constantly been the canary in the coal mine. He has been blogging about Iran since 2002. He has received death threats. Today, I received an email in which he talks about how his hosting service, Hosting Matters, terminated his account because of what he has written.

Doing a little searching, I found this post by Roger Simon about a denial of service attack on Hosting Matters, which knocked out Instapundit, LGF, Tim Blair, NZ Bear, etc..

In Hoder’s case, Washington Institute fellow, Mohammad Mehdi Khalaji threatened to sue Hoder because of comments Khalaji asserts were defamatory. Instead of seeking due process, Hosting Matters abruptly terminated Hoder’s account. Hoder is now considering legal action against Hosting Matters.

This is a good illustration of why net neutrality is so important. Hosting companies should not be able to restrict content because of a feared lawsuit against someone using their service. Hosting companies need to be protected from such lawsuits so that people like Mohammad Mehdi Khalaji cannot take away people’s freedom of speech by threatening a lawsuit.

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