You really want the US Postal Service to go away?

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usps You really want the US Postal Service to go away?

I received this letter in the mail yesterday. I noticed the return address had two things; a PO Box and the ZIP Code.* That’s it.

A few days ago, I read some tweets in my stream where a few people were cheering on the demise of the US Postal Service. My gut reaction was “not so fast, everyone. The USPS — with all its faults — is still a pretty vital spine in our democracy.”

The letter I received underscored how sophisticated the USPS really is. With no more information than a PO Box and a ZIP Code, it can get a letter to the right person from anywhere in the world.

That is something that just didn’t happen by accident.

*Altered for some privacy

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I became an artist because I hate math

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cmyk dots I became an artist because I hate math

During my stint at the Dayton Daily News, I used to do career day at local schools. I think everyone at the paper just wanted a day off from me which is why they always nominated me to go. That’s ok; give me an open mic and a stage and I’m all over it!

So I showed up at a Dayton elementary school to speak to a classroom full of fourth-graders. There was the usual collection of policemen with their uniforms and shiny badges and fireman in hats — with firetrucks parked out in front for the kids to climb on later — lined up ready to speak.

And then there was me, the newspaper guy with his rolls of pages and color proofs.

This time, though, there was a quiet, almost shy, odd-looking man in the mix, sitting next to me with a large bag on his lap.

“What do you do,” I asked curiously.

“I’m a church minister,” he replied.

The minister got up to give his presentation right before me. He unzipped his bag, pulled out a keyboard, set it up and started channeling Martin Luther King, belting out a chorus of “Your attitude affects your altitude!”

I was a dead mutt walking.

When he was done, he had every kid on his feet with their hands in the air, singing at the top of their little lungs. I could have sworn that as he came back to the row of chairs all us adults with jobs were all sitting in, his eyes shimmered with an evil glint that said, “Follow that, dead tree media sucker!”

I strode to the front of the class, wondering how I was ever going to follow that. Clearly my practiced presentation I had given hundreds of times before was not going to cut it this time. I took a deep breath and I blurted out, “I’m an artist and writer for the Dayton Daily News. I got into art because I hated math in school. How many of you hate math?”

All hands shot up. And the teacher gasped in horror.

I had no idea where that came from, but I knew at the moment where I was going to go with it. By the time I was done, I had every kid in the class calculating leading percentages, guessing the resulting color from CMYK percentages, giving me the word count on a 10/12 copyflow in a 3×11 space… the usual things an artist who hates math does.

The teacher was incredibly relieved I wasn’t a math heretic.

And I think I even converted a minister that day.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Taking as second look at the familiar. To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Drug testing our way to a Master Race

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drug test bottle Drug testing our way to a Master Race

In October, Linn State Technical College in Linn, Mo., notified its 1,200 students that they will have to take a drug test to enroll there

Florida requires citizens applying for pubic assistance to submit to a drug test. Supporters of the policies note that public assistance is meant to be transitional and that drug tests are increasingly common requirements for getting jobs. So, the argument goes, people get drug-tested all the time so it must be ok.

Only it isn’t ok.

The question is not if it is ok that we test welfare recipients but that we are testing people at all for drug use. It is not an invasion of their privacy. It’s about assuming they are guilty of using and proving they are not. It assumes that people who test positive (whether or not they really are positive) are unemployable, bad credit risks, stupid or unworthy of basic human assistance

We don’t test for alcohol yet alcohol kills more people and contributes to more workplace accidents than marijuana does.

If we are wondering how to create a “Master Race,” this is how we do it. Only employ people with high FICO Scores, no prison record and a clean drug test. The rest with any human faults and frailties we can leave to the ravages of poverty.

But that is probably ok as we work toward privatizing prisons and then replace public sector employees with prisoners who make less than a $1.00/day. They are already being put to work as highway workers and firefighters.

Maybe we can replace teachers with prisoners one day as well.

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Who are you?

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some cares Who are you?

On Nov 15, The New York Times published a story about Facebook forcing Salman Rushdie to use his real name — Ahhmed — on his profile, even as he is commonly known as Salman. Facebook makes the argument that forcing people to use their real identities creates a more civil discourse on the Internet.

Bull crap.

Google and Facebook want you to use your real name because they want to sell you to merchants who buy their ads. Merchants can’t and won’t buy anonymous or aliased users. Facebook and Google have no interest in policing good behavior on the Internet, but they know the real argument for your real identity won’t be picked up by technologists.

In fact, the parrots are already squawking the “civil discourse” talking points without any proof that it is true.

When companies and governments justify their actions with “for your security” or “for your convenience,” start clutching your wallet.

Follow the money, folks.

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Essential Thanksgiving food

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cranberry Essential Thanksgiving food

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to make a meal from scratch. I do every year, with the exception of one item on the table.

Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. From a can.

I know, I know. I’ve tried making every cranberry relish recipe you can dream or look up and it remains uneaten. Even the dogs wouldn’t eat it (not really. Never feed your dog dark fruit, seeds or dark turkey meat.)

So, every year, without fail, I buy two cans of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce.

Here’s the recipe:

1) Buy two cans Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce
2) Punch a hole in the bottom end of the can.
3) Use a can opener to remove the lid.
4) Shake hard once over a serving plate. Listen for the slurp and plop noises.
5) Cut into slices.

Easy-peazy.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, It’s Thanksgiving, so let’s blog about food To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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The passive-agressive guide to OccupyWallStreet

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ows was here kilroy The passive agressive guide to OccupyWallStreet

I grew up Catholic in St. Paul, Minnesota or as I like to say, I had a season ticket front-row seat to the “Minnesota Nice Guilt-Fest.” We used to hold passive-agressive contests at the local parish church every Sunday where the best competitors went on to compete in the Dairy Barn at the Minnesota State Fair.

Our church ladies always took home the blue ribbon.

I was watching a bit of #OccupyWallStreet live camera stuff on UStream last week and like many of you, read the accounts of the early morning Zuccotti Park raids and book trashing.

So the OccupyWallStreet movement has been given the heave-ho by the government that was trusted to provide protections the citizens thought they had. Apparently the right of free assembly does not mean the right to camp out on public property and beat drums. The rights of others who don’t wish to participate need to be respected.

Fair enough. The Occupiers will have to just assemble and disband every day. I’m sure they will make that work somehow. They are bright, young and tenacious. If it were me, I’d assemble in silence in the park every day and just stare at people coming and going on Wall Street.

But where they can really make the Occupy movement work is to slowly infiltrate the rest of America with nonspecific, irritating, passive-agressive actions that anyone who supports the movement can take.

Here are just a few suggestions:

Banks and Credit Card Companies
Quit going paperless. Ask for paper statements to be mailed to you each month. Quit using the ATM and go into the lobby. Don’t show up prepared. Ask that they look up your account number and fill out the deposit slip at the window, not before. Call their 800 number almost daily to inquire about your balance or ask that they verify a check was cleared or some other inane question.

Cell Phone Companies
Again, do not go paperless. Make them mail you a bill every month. Call them to verify the terms of your agreement or check the signal strength or some other nonsense almost every day. Resist the urge to upgrade until after your contract has expired or even later.

Grocery Stores
Quit using the self check-out lanes. Ask for paper bags. Shop when they are giving out free samples and don’t buy any product they are sampling. Carry cash and lots of coins so you can pay in exact change, but take a while to count out the small coins. If you have to start over every now and then, ok. Make multiple trips a week so your purchases are small.

Libraries
Use them!

Your Employer
Punch in on time, punch out on time. Don’t give any more time than they are paying you for. Take ALL your sick and personal days. Don’t bring in anything for office potluck parties. Don’t bring in anything from home.

Gas Stations
Buy only a few gallons of gas at a time and never pay at the pump. Go inside; use the restroom, pay in cash with coins and small bills. Count it slowly. Irritate the clerk who can’t add but can see the line getting longer behind you.

Above all, never become annoyed or defensive with anyone. Be clueless, act helpless, ask inane questions. A true passive-agressive always controls the situation be remaining in character.

Sure, all this stuff takes time and effort, but what else were you gonna do? Stand around in a park?

These are just a small sampling of ideas where you can exercise some passive-agressive behavior against corporations. For the past several decades, they have been pushing their cost-savings onto their customers in the form of shadow labor without giving any of the benefits back. No wonder many of them are able to make record profits! They are getting free labor.

Be everywhere, but be nowhere. Cause small disruptions and annoyances for corporations but not enough that they can target you. Frustrate their efforts to push off expenses onto you. Frustrate their forward momentum in pushing out new products designed to give you more shadow labor without compensation.

Large crowds may be easy to disperse, but thousands of years and millions of guilt-ridden Catholics have proven that passive-agression can be a pretty formidable weapon. Learn from their years of mastery.

*Thanks to David Carr (another Minnesota ex-pat) of the New York Times for the perfect image to this post. His inspiration can be found here.

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How stupid is Mike Bloomberg?

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I have nothing to add other than when the weak become fearful, they start shooting and hitting.

On YouTube

Regardless of what you think about Keith Olbermann, elected leaders who choose to start arresting and repressing the pubic only fuels protesters. I’m not really sure why nobody teaches that in the “So you want to be a politician” classes these guys should be taking before they take an oath.

But they should.

Governing for Dummies. I wonder if that title exists?

The things that make us out here in Middle America pause, think, sympathize, fill with rage and then act:
- Book trashing
- Cops in paramilitary dress
- Arresting or restricting journalists’ access
- The use of “health and safety” laws for cover
- DHS involvement against American citizens
- ‘Freezing’ a public area
- Raids under cover of darkness

On February 27, 1968, Lyndon Johnson said, after watching a special report on CBS News by Walter Cronkite, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the American People.” We don’t have a Walter Cronkite, but we do have Internet that brings us these stories of elected officials abusing their power given them by the people who trusted them to govern. We can see for ourselves the lengths they are willing to go to in order to maintain the power of which they have long forgotten the source.

Mike Bloomberg, you are losing the American People, one middle-aged mutt at a time.

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The complete and authoritative guide to social media

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socialmedia icons The complete and authoritative guide to social media

My buddy Neil Hedley wrote a blog post yesterday that I just had to comment on. That comment turned into a blog post for me. (yay!)

This came on the heels of a post by Bonnie Stewart on Salon.com about Klout. And here on her blog earlier. Neil Kramer penned this little rant today and Saxon Henry threw this out for discussion on her weekly Adroyt.com salon last month.

It occurred to me that perhaps the online community needed a dog to strap up and take the lead position in this runaway social media sled, so here goes. The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Social Media.*

Your Blog: This is where you live. This is yours, all yours. This is home. EVERYTHING happens here. You own it. Start here; end here.

Twitter: Random crap that pops into your brain during the day. A place to huck your stuff (like blog posts, new books, other writers’ new books, shout out to friends who got mentioned in the press.. except in the police blotter.. leave that out icon smile The complete and authoritative guide to social media )

Facebook: Ugh. Post as little as possible, push to blog, Comment rarely, never more than 2 responses deep. NEVER engage in an argument there.. ever.

LinkedIn: Only post what you want people with money to see. Only reply to posts in groups to establish your authority on a subject.

YouTube: Only to host your videos so you can embed them on your blog. Don’t spend any time customizing your “channel” and never, never care about comments there. Never.

Google Plus: Post for the purpose of smashing keywords into the Google search engine. Push folks to your blog. Comment rarely. No social goal, only SEO/SEM.

Foursquare: Check in if you have B2C clients or sponsors; need an alibi for the police; want to annoy your son who is a chef by checking into chain restaurants.

That’s it. You need nothing more social than that and probably never will. Ignore any other advice you get about social media.

For every other connection that is worth a damn, use the phone or email.

Would a dog lie to you?

*Not responsible for a drop in revenues, self-esteem or any other “in real life” assets you foolishly attached to any of your social media identities. If you ever want to know what is real, take your dog for a walk. Nothing else matters.

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You cheated me. You stole my destiny.

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lt dan You cheated me. You stole my destiny.

There is a scene in Forrest Gump where Lt. Dan hauls Forrest to the floor of the military hospital and lashed out at him for saving his life. His destiny, he yelled through clenched teeth, was to die in battle like his ancestors before him. He was angry and bitter that had been taken away from him, even though he had been given his life in exchange.

We see this facet of the human condition all around us.

Mitch McConnell was supposed to serve in a government that was stately and hallowed, where learned white men exchanged discourse of higher ideals. Instead, he found himself in a Congress where he perceived the shoe-shine boy and coat check girl were in charge. And that made him a bitter, frustrated old man.

The same could be said about the recent spontaneous student riots when Joe Paterno was fired from Penn State. The media prattled on about how the students were showing support for JoePa. No, they weren’t. They were scared, bitter Lt. Dans, lashing out at any ol’ Forrest, screaming “you stole my destiny.” They knew in their hearts they were not ever, ever going to be a part of that great football legacy of Penn State. It was stolen from them.

To understand Occupy Wall Street is to understand this fundamental facet of the human condition. An entire generation (or class, or 99%) of Americans have become overwhelmed by the fear of losing the destiny that they were promised. The same is also true of the Tea Party.

The media spins stories around facts. They have to. They need to be able to verify human behavior — especially perceptibly irrational behavior — around a series of facts. This caused that, that caused this other thing, etc. Journalism isn’t about waxing philosophically about the inner workings of the human mind and heart.

And so we end up having a discourse around the talking points that are on the surface, those that we were told were the causal elements of an event instead of what is really going on.

What is really going on is basic human fear. The real cause is nothing you can prove, but deep in our hearts, we know it to be true.

Nobody stole our destiny. The truth is our destiny is to create our own world, to figure out how to grow legs when the world cuts us off at the knees. While our initial reaction is to lash out at the world, to get drunk on New Year’s Eve and rail against God and his creation, eventually we need to figure out the answer to the fundamental question Lt. Dan asked of himself in that military hospital; “What am I gonna do now?”

Some of us will figure it out, find peace and go get some new legs. Others will simply run out of time. Most will remain angry, frustrated and bitter.

What are you gonna do?

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Puppies of Mad Men

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midge puppies Puppies of Mad Men

I was transferring some rather large iTunes libraries and one of those little buggers is bound to start playing in the background. Season one, Episode One Smoke Gets in your Eyes was the one that started playing.

By the time I figured out it was playing, it made it all the way to the scene where Don knocks on Midge’s door and she shows him the greeting card she is drawing for Grandmother’s Day. It was a puppy! I missed that scene.

Anyway, it got me thinking that if Mad Men started off with a puppy, there has got to be a ton of other puppy references throughout. So I am going to find them and add them here.

If anyone wants to join in on the project, just holler below in the comments and let me know which episodes you will be watching. Post the time dogs or puppies are referenced and we should have a list in short order.

Hey, it’s research!

Season 1, Episode 1, 3:42

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I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker… but mostly I’m a welder who writes haiku and works as a janitor on the weekends

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tailor Im a joker, Im a smoker, Im a midnight toker... but mostly Im a welder who writes haiku and works as a janitor on the weekends

When I was young, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up; EVERYTHING.

I wanted to be on the receiving end of a firehose of experience that was exciting and revelrous and peaceful and satisfying all at once. Almost a lifetime (well, so far!) of living and I’m still looking for the perfect experience that stands still in time as well as moves the human race forward by a leap.

This morning, I wanted 5:00 am to last forever, with a hot cup of coffee, the New York Times and a large dog with his head in my lap. But I also wanted to write that perfect book chapter that was swirling in my head. 5:00 am turned into 6:39 am too soon and 6:39 am turned into 11:00 am and I had not stopped the clock nor had I moved humanity forward by a leap.

Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

Earlier this year, the photo above got a fair amount of ribbing on Twitter by the interior design community, architects and some other folks who will remain unnamed. It was a good bit of fun as we poked at how this current recession was driving folks to diversify skills and service offerings from one store front. It also produced a lot of puns that, in hindsight, are probably a bit too embarrassing to recall. I think the photo was originally discovered by @concretedetail It illustrates the map of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

By the way, this is a real tailor shop in New York. Their Facebook fan page is here. I suggest you like them for all sorts of reasons that might occur to you after you read this post (you are gonna stick around for that long, right?)

Most people are confused when they get to this blog for the very reasons that it is having problems getting traction. It can’t be defined in the nine-second sound byte requirement. And I’m sure I lose readers because I don’t get to the point fast enough for them to decide to stay. On the other hand, I am convinced I keep readers because they give me some patience and trust that eventually I will be worthwhile reading, like a Steinbeck novel or a Thurber story. (Seriously, guys if you picked up the pace in the first few chapters….)

“So, is it a dog blog? Oh, wait, you talk politics… now you’re talking social issues and education…” thoughts wander off, finger clicks…

“Oh, good you rant about the evils of society just like me and … wait, are you a dog? thoughts wander off, finger clicks…

“Another one of those personal branding…. no, wait, he’s talking marketing? …. design? thoughts wander off, finger clicks…

My publicist rails against me for not being able to focus and write about any one thing for too long. “I don’t know how to package and sell you,” she laments between deep sighs, during which time I’m almost sure she is slinging back the remains of a bottle of Syrah she popped at the beginning of our conversation ten minutes ago. “Media wants experts at SOMETHING.”

I’m giving her some time to think about my “packaging.” She’ll find something eventually because she is the very best at her game. And she will be super-passionate about it because she will have solved this huge puzzle of “What is DogWalkBlog” that has been hanging over me since I started writing this little collection of stuff in 2005. I’m not in a rush because I’m enjoying the journey too much. I’m not sure I’ll like the destination.

Where was I… Oh, yes…

I’ve always had this condition. I want to be everything all at once all the time. In college when I absolutely had to declare a major, I picked English because to me that signified a juxtaposition* of the absence of a commitment and the presence of a full-on commitment. “You’ll never get a good job with an English degree,” my narrow-minded idiot of a freshman advisor warned. She was right, but that has not stopped me from having a fantastic experience. And making a ton of money off employed and mentally-jailed people along the way.

Wait a minute.. I thought you were a dog? How can a dog do all that stuff? *Sigh* Move along quickly… you’re gumming up progress.

And because of my condition, I worry that I am entirely unemployable. I look at job sites all the time and get befuddled by the continually narrowing of choices I am required to select. Geography, industry, sector, specific job… forget it, I’ll just stay out here paying my own insurance until that cost becomes too painful. I don’t envy friends between the AARP and Medicare age who are out looking for a job. They have too much life experience to stuff into one job description, yet they must to appease the hot-shot HR folks.

I have the same problem with my corporation. I write a blog post or an article and then look on Businessweek, OPEN, Digg or some other cataloging site and just stare at the categories I’m supposed to smash this multi-faceted gem of knowledge into. I end up not doing anything which probably hurts my SEO and Google ranking and all that crap. Chris Brogan kinda lamented the same thing a few blog post back, only not in such a whiny howl as I’m doing here. (I searched for the post; I couldn’t find it right away so I’m hoping Chris will drop the URL in the comments.)

I worry that I have not taught my son well. During a recent lunch with Saxon Henry, she turned to him and asked, “So, what is it that you do?”

Without drawing a breath, he said, “I cook.”

I was dismayed and proud all at the same moment. He had his elevator speech nailed down which showed that he was paying attention to my rantings about getting a good carnival bark. He got it that the world expected short, direct, decisive answers to direct questions.

On the other hand, I was secretly hoping he would say something like, “I breathe! I live! I create art! I ensure the survival of the human species! I am changing the world and being here with you now, having this conversation, I am changing your perspective on one little thing which you will share with another and they will share with another and eventually that spark of an idea will move a mountain.” Maybe he did it during the course of the conversation and I missed it. Maybe he does this in the company of his close friends. I hope he does.

Maybe the good-natured ribbing of the twitter on the photo above was an uneasiness with our own insecurities about our life choices or the fact that the skills we all worked so hard to master and hone will be marginalized and eradicated by the job market within weeks during the next recession without apology or remorse. Maybe it is an admission to our inner selves that we have “sold out” our humanity by defining ourselves as just one thing; Joe the Plumber, Bob the Builder, Frank the Blogger. Maybe some of us define ourselves more narrowly on the outside so that we can be more free to be ourselves inside without others imposing expectations on us.

Maybe the world really is mostly made up of one-dimensional people and I’m out here being strange with a few other lost folks.

I’m ok with that.

*That is my street cred. If you can’t work “juxtaposition” into something that runs at least 1,000 words, your English degree ain’t worth a tinker’s damn.

###

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, What did you want to be when you grew up? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Who do you trust?

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dog cat trust Who do you trust?

When Steve Jobs died, I knew about it a few minutes afterward because I saw a tweet from Chris Brogan asking if it were true. But I didn’t immediately retweet or reply; I went to nytimes.com. And cnn.com. And msnbc.com. And apple.com.

I also turned on my television and tuned to CNN. (They tend to break in with confirmed news fastest, though not always.)

When twitter gets it right, the pundits all point to the powers of social media, how they are scooping traditional journalism and why print and television is dying. When twitter gets it wrong, everyone has a good laugh and points to how silly and lemming-like twitter is.

Thank God we have some smart journalists at the control switch who can pull the handbrake on this runaway ham sandwich, they remark.

We continue to assess truthiness based on hit volume and forget that only one small child actually had the guts to say the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. According to the Google and Klout (and ABC for print) analytics, only the most viewed and recommended links are trustworthy even if only one small child or one barking dog says otherwise and in the end, turns out to be correct.

It all boils down to: Who do you trust?

We sometimes forget that Twitter and Facebook are commercial products and they have an agenda. This agenda may or may not be aligned with the users’. As Liz Heron of the New York Times remarks, “It’s helpful to have a journalist still.” (30:50 in the clip below)

Even liars have to get you to trust them or the whole game is off.

That is what Rupert Murdoch understood when he shuttered News of the World. Readers didn’t mind being lied to as long as he had their trust. FOX News understands this as well. That is why they spend so much of their time with phrases such as “Fair and Balanced and “No Spin Zone.” Their news day cycle consists of a slow building of “evidence” for their eventual “news” presentation in the evening.

Rush Limbaugh does the same thing by going through a formula of “logical” presentation of the story. He contorts a nuanced story into a blatantly simple ipso facto argument that basically says, “Trust me, I’ve thought all this out, here is the trail of evidence and here is the simple conclusion.”

At the end of the day, however, it boils down to, “do you trust me?” If the answer is “Yes,” then you believe your source.

Below is the opening session of the Journalism Interactive Conference at the University of Maryland, “Social Media: Best Practice in Journalism.” The link is at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18160056 in case the embed does’t work. The folks on the panel are Jim Long, Lynn Sweet and Liz Heron moderated by Adam Ostrow. It is probably the most succinct piece on social media for journalism I’ve seen yet. No grandiosity, no hyperbole, no silver bullet solutions. These folks have thought deeply about the issue and it shows. It is an hour long, but worth the listen.



Video streaming by Ustream

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There, I fixed my Klout Score

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Klout messed up my score, so instead of complaining about it like everyone else on the twitter, a little bit of duct tape, a black Sharpie and I just fixed it myself!

Problem solved.

fixed klout score e1319755801957 There, I fixed my Klout Score

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PS I just took your picture

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camera devin PS I just took your picture

Today’s post is a guest post by the novelist and essayist, Jane Devin. We’re delighted she stopped by to bark and walk in our back yard and welcome her any time she wants to wander in. If you haven’t already, buy her book, Elephant Girl. It is nothing short of amazing.

I have social media friends who would be appalled if someone reposted one of their tweets and didn’t give them credit as the original author—even if the tweet was mindless and casual. They’d be outraged if another blogger lifted a picture from their site and republished it without permission—even if it was a picture that required no particular skill or time to take.

Yet when it comes to taking stealth pictures of other people’s faces or bodies for the purpose of putting them online, these same bloggers rigorously defend the practice. It’s not theft, they claim, but art. Their subjects tacitly agreed to the invasion by being in public.

People in public shouldn’t expect any level of privacy.
If people want privacy they should stay home.
It’s not illegal.
I have the right.
But photographers have been getting crowd shots for years.
It doesn’t harm anyone.
Asking permission before the fact would be embarrassing.
If I ask permission after the fact they might tell me no.
I might not get the candid shot I want.
The government and businesses videotape us. What about that?
It’s art.
It’s fun.
It’s funny.
Everyone’s doing it.

I’ve disagreed, sometimes hotly, with my blogging friends about the phenomena of covertly taken cell phone pictures being posted online. I’m not likely to change my mind and neither are they, but for those sitting on the fence about the issue I’d like to offer up a few thoughts on the subject.

The essential question is: To whom does a person’s face and body belong? The logical answer would seem to be that these things belong to the individual who possesses them—and if we believe that, then we should also believe that people have some rights as to when and how their own image is used.

Being out in public shouldn’t negate all reasonable expectations of personal space and privacy. As a matter of social decorum, most of us don’t purposely brush up against strangers or stand too close to them in a line or an elevator. We consider it rude to purposely eavesdrop. Very few of us would think that it was okay to record and podcast the intimate dinner conversations of others without their consent. Most of us would agree that an up-skirt shot would be less likely to identify a woman than a picture of her face, but as a matter of social propriety (and in some states the law) it’s considered the aberrant act of a Peeping Tom.

So why do some cell phone users believe it’s okay to secretly photograph strangers and post their pictures online?

The argument that there’s no expectation of personal privacy in public comes from the same faulty reasoning of the underwear snappers: The shot was available and they took it. People in public shouldn’t expect others to respect their bodies, particularly if they’re dressed in a way or engaged in an activity that piques a photographer’s interest. If the photo-snapper asked permission, they would probably be told no. If some states don’t have a specific law against cell phone owners using other people’s faces and bodies for their amusement, then it’s legal and therefore a right.

There are a host of unpleasant things people could legally do in public, but that we don’t do as a matter of courtesy and respect for others. Most people don’t step outside their door in the morning wondering how they can make the world a more uncomfortable and invasive place for others, yet for many a cell phone camera seems to be a license to do just that.

It doesn’t matter if the picture is bitter, sweet, repulsive or beautiful. The pretty woman dining with her lover probably may not feel any better about her picture being posted online than the unattractive young woman with the pockmarked face who’s dining alone. The well-dressed elderly man taking his dog for a walk may feel as uncomfortable about a stranger taking his picture as the toothless old man who’s asleep on a park bench. The point is, without asking permission, the photographer doesn’t know. Without asking permission, the integrity of the photographer is already questionable. Whether they post a picture for people to laugh at (look at this overweight woman in Lycra shorts!), cry at (see how thin and frail this homeless man looks), or ooh and ahh over (isn’t this young couple cute?), the fact is that they’ve invaded someone else’s life in order to get their shot. They’ve unapologetically stolen someone else’s image for their own purposes. They’ve put their own impulsive wants above any consideration and respect they might have for other human beings.

There’s a world of difference between accidentally capturing the faces of strangers while snapping photos of your kids at Disneyland and purposely whipping your cell phone out to take a picture of the 400 pound man in a scooter so you can post it online and rouse the disgust of your friends and readers. There’s a difference between historical event photography, like taking crowd shots of the #OWS movement, and sneaking a picture of someone who’s quietly shedding tears as she talks with a friend inside of a Starbucks.

As for those who insist that what they’re doing with cell phone cameras is no different than what photographers of bygone eras did when they captured scenes from their generation, I’d remind them that in those days cameras were a lot more noticeable. Photographers couldn’t pretend they were doing something else while snapping pictures. In those days, cameras didn’t fit into the palm of one hand — journalists and artists alike would have found it hard to take stealth photos while carrying around a tripod and twenty pounds of photo gear. The Internet also didn’t exist then. Photographers were lucky if their photos made it to the pages of a local newspaper. Today, anyone can post photos online, where they can be seen worldwide, by a potential audience of millions after being blogged, commented on, reposted, shared, catalogued in Google images, Facebooked, Tumbld and re-tweeted.

In general, the video cameras at the mall or on city streets don’t publicize the pictures they take unless there is a genuine public interest at stake, such as catching a suspected child abductor. To suggest that because some city police departments and businesses use video cameras without the explicit consent of each person filmed somehow makes it ethically “okay” for citizens to do the same is the worst kind of slippery slope excuse. Taking pictures of strangers slurping their spaghetti, kissing their partners, or wearing hideous shoes has nothing in common with protecting the public or a store from criminals.

There are times when cell phone pictures do serve the public interest. Citizens have caught police brutality and even murder on film. Citizens with cell phone cameras have filmed historical events, like the tragedy of 9-11 and the capture of Gaddafi, and have opened up a cross-cultural exchange of images that might never make it to the network news, such as the early protests in Egypt or the treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Images like these aren’t taken for amusement, though, nor are they being posted without regard for their subjects under the guise of “art”. There’s an inherent value to pictures that relate to news and events that is not shared by sites like PeopleofWalmart.com or, unfortunately, most of the stealth pictures being posted online today.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that being out in public suspends your right to privacy? Have cell phone cameras and the Internet made everyone a public figure? Would you be surprised to find a candid photo of yourself online? Do you think common courtesy should prevail or do we actually need laws that cover new technology?

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Water pressure

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shower Water pressure

I spent a huge chunk of my 20s and 30s traveling around the country for my corporate employer who no longer graces the list of the Fortune 500. I have stayed in thousands of hotel rooms and all of them had one thing in common; terrible, miserable, horrible water pressure.

But that might be a tad unfair of me. Let me back up a bit.

The previous owners of my current house in Dayton, Ohio had built a bathroom with a shower on the other side of the laundry/utility room, right off the family room. The family room is on the third level of a quad-level so it is a bit cooler than the rest of the house. And when we moved in twenty-plus years ago, it was not altogether the most “finished” room in the house. Since the bathroom had that permanent feel of a farmhouse between the woods and frozen lake on a snowy evening, nobody else saw much value in it. But it was the furthest room from the bedrooms, so I took to using it to get ready for the 5:30am flights so as not to wake anyone else.

It quickly became my bathroom. All mine.

And it had the best water pressure ever! The pipes (as I was to discover later as I was frantically looking for a shut-off valve and not finding one) were 3/4″ direct from the water line and the water heater. Apparently, the previous owner did not know to step down the pipes to 1/2″ for standard fixtures. When I flipped that handle, a million gallons a second rushed out of that shower head with the force of a sandblaster, flushing away the fog of Seattle, the chill of Minneapolis, the grit of Brooklyn (ok, Queens) and the sweaty grime of Atlanta. Water pummeled onto my head, massaging every follicle into preforming double duty to ensure I would have a full head of hair well into my sixties.

That water pressure spoiled me for every stay at any hotel anywhere, luxury or not. I wept at the prospect of visiting with relatives and counted down the days until I could use my own shower with my insane water pressure that blasted the dirt, sweat and fatigue from my travel-weary body.

A few years back, I finally remodeled the bathroom and family room, knowing I would probably have to give up my obscene water pressure. While the new stuff is much more pleasant to look at, it does not have quite the exhilaration of the old shower. But I’m learning to cope. I’ve run two separate 1/2″ lines from the 3/4″ pipes. It’s not quite the same, but it is pretty close. Still beats hotel showers!

Home is where the heart is? Yeah, right. Water pressure is where the real love is at.

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This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, What is home? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Posted in American Culture, BlogOff, Just thinking out loud, Pop Culture, Thinking out loud | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments