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Living in Society

Archiving Twitter

DPRK Twitter Image

I heard about the Library of Congress partnership with Twitter to archive all of Twitter, past, present and future since its launch in 2006. I hadn’t heard the project went bust with insufficient funding in 2017. Too many tweets, one presumes.

Should we care? We should, but not because there is profound knowledge on Twitter.

Yes, noted scholars create multi-tweet threads with reasoned arguments, citations, and links to references. Yet what role does that play in advancing learning? The potential audience seems limited on Twitter. Wouldn’t the same argument inform more effectively in a newspaper, blog, or scholarly journal? It would be more targeted, for sure. Such targeting would garner better impact on learning than the transitory ephemera of Twitter..

News writers use tweets as a source of quotations from prominent people. A quote is a quote, I guess. It’s easy, which prompts the related sentence, “they are lazy.” What point are they making? Why not get an actual quote from a news maker? I know the answer: access is easier on Twitter. Definition of the word “access” is peculiar here.

With hundreds of millions of tweets per day, who could read all of that to glean valuable content? Some form of artificial intelligence or tweet-bot, maybe. Not a human. I can’t think of who would want to review all of that. I hardly look at my own tweets from yesterday, let alone something I posted in 2008. There are three hundred million or more tweets per day.

If a user considers their universe in Twitter, a time line can be carefully curated. It is only within this curation that any of it has much meaning. Archiving Twitter would seem to preserve little of that personal vantage point. Tweets are a fungible commodity only to the extent an individual user loses their individuality. We Americans resist that.

The role for libraries and archives with regard to Twitter and other social media platforms is to push governments to define better laws regarding collection, archiving, and ownership of our posting. As the example of Cambridge Analytica during the recent presidential election illustrates, there were few rules about scraping the internet to collect detailed voter information and using the aggregated data to influence the election. At what point does that become an illegal invasion of privacy? The answer hasn’t been defined and doing so falls in the wheelhouse of people who spend their lives compiling archives of information and documents.

When we examine the history of libraries and archives, my bet is as much that was important has been lost as was saved. I think of the Protestant Reformation and its raiding of libraries and archives to destroy the physical records of the Catholic Church. There are plenty of other examples. Regarding Twitter, if the Library of Congress can’t preserve it, then who can and to what end?

With planetary warming, we may not have to trouble ourselves with these questions for much longer. If archives exist to tell the story of humanity’s demise to beings living multiple millennia from now, there is no point. Like us, I doubt future such beings will be much interested in those billions of tweets.

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Living in Society

Don’t Tell Us What to Read

Morning Reading for $1.25

I got my first library card in 1959 and have been reading ever since. When I was young, teachers kept an eye on my reading and made their opinions known. If they didn’t like a particular book, I read it at home where my parents supervised me.

My first conflict was in eighth grade over a book written by Ian Fleming, one of the 007 series. The priest saw I had it and confiscated it because of Bond’s interaction with women. I discussed it with my parents and eventually bought another copy from my allowance.

In high school I heard about J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye and wanted to read it. It was prohibited and unavailable in the school library. I read that one too. I managed the conflicts between teachers and my reading.

What I can’t abide is the state legislature regulating which books should be allowed in schools. This decision should be between teachers, librarians, and parents. The claim parents don’t know what books are in schools seems bogus. If the legislature wants to do something, fund on-line access to card catalogues throughout the state. We don’t need lawmakers telling us what to read.

~ First published on Jan. 22, 2022 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette

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Living in Society

Miller-Meeks Didn’t Support the Military

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks should be consistent about where she stands on support for the military. On Jan. 12, she voted against expanding eligibility for educational benefits to our National Guard and Army Reserves in the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021.

In June, Miller-Meeks said, “I can think of no better way to help those transitioning from our military than by giving them access to the benefits they have earned.” She gushed on her congressional website how she voted in favor of four bills to help our military members.

Which is it congresswoman? Are you for or against supporting the military with improved benefits?

I’m weary of hearing her military resume because while she used the GI bill for her own education, leveling the playing field between National Guard/Reservists and active-duty personnel is something she can’t abide.

I may have missed some fine print right wing politicians find objectionable, yet the big picture is Miller-Meeks voted against a bill to help men and women in uniform.

Our military personnel deserve our thanks on behalf of a grateful nation. But no, Miller-Meeks couldn’t provide it.

~ First published in The Daily Iowan and also in other local newspapers

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Living in Society

Funding Public Schools

Officer Writing a Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Photo Credit – Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Government should be in the business of funding public schools so that every child has access to a world class education. In her condition of the state address, Governor Kim Reynolds explained how much money state government was contributing to public schools. Everything was fine until school choice came up.

“But for some families, the school district doesn’t fit their values or meet the needs of their child,” Reynolds said, pivoting to school choice.

If parents want or need school choice, they should be able to find an alternative. At the same time, it is not government’s job to fund every parent’s dream education for their child. That’s where Republicans and I differ.

In the 1960s, compulsory school standards caused a problem in Oelwein. The school superintendent required Amish children to attend public school and they refused. Democratic Governor Harold Hughes intervened to request a moratorium on compulsory education for the Amish and defused the situation. In 1967 the legislature passed a law exempting the Amish from compulsory education and school standards based on their religious affiliation.

What is going on today is nothing like that. Public schools struggle with inadequate funding and we are talking about more money for private schools?

My member of congress, Mariannette Miller-Meeks is in sync with the governor and has adopted a D.C.-based approach to school choice.

In an editorial in the Independent Advocate, Miller-Meeks wrote, “Not every school is right for every student; thus, it is imperative that we give families the choice to send their child to the school that works best for them.”

Miller-Meeks introduced The Choice Act in the U.S. House. The Choice Act “would allow parents to be in control of their children’s education by expanding school choice programs and by creating greater awareness of different types of programs,” she wrote. The Choice Act takes us the wrong direction.

What is the limit on school choice? How much should the federal government be involved paying for school choice?

Public schools exist for a reason, to make the best use of tax dollars to provide quality education for all children. School choice as Reynolds and Miller-Meeks frame it is counter productive to good public schools.

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Living in Society

Congressional Survey Responses – January 2022

Portion of mailer from Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

My member of congress sent a couple of official mailings since she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. They are purported to be government business, yet any such outreach is obviously also political. These questions seem intended to frame political discussion going into the midterm election. I’m not going to reply in this format, yet I will submit my answers via message on the Miller-Meeks official website. Here are the questions and my answers.

What are your thoughts on the issues at our southern border?

Enable the Biden-Harris administration to manage border crossings along with the border state governors.

Should government be more involved in our health care system?

This is not a simple answer. Yes, regulation is needed, and as long a people can’t get access to care for any reason, there is not enough regulation and government support. At the same time, health care providers need to be able to make a living and I agree with the Obama administration in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that there is a role for for-profit health care providers and their employees. Since the federal government created all veterans, it continues to be needed to regulate and improve the care system for active military personnel, veterans, and their families. I fully support the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to manage the current global pandemic of the coronavirus.

Do you believe reducing federal regulations and red tape are more likely to 1. create jobs and improve our businesses, 2. allow corporations to harm employees and consumers or 3. other?

See previous question for my thoughts about government regulation of the health care industry. Since the government has been captured by undue influence from corporations that provide healthcare, and industry capture already harms employees and consumers, the best course of action is to reform campaign financing and reduce the ability for healthcare corporations to donate to members of congress and political action committees in order to influence governance.

How should Congress tackle our $29 trillion debt?

Of the suggested answers, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is first priority and overdue. The Trump tax cuts should be reversed as quickly and completely as possible as they drive a significant portion of the debt. In addition, the Congress needs to audit the military budget, which has seemed for some time to be out of control and enriched beyond the country’s national security needs. Why would the Congress approve a higher budget than the Biden-Harris administration requested? They shouldn’t. The Social Security Administration is self-funded and has a plan for when it begins to run out of money in 2034, namely, reducing benefits. Any debt reduction plan should include shoring up the protections for our seniors and disabled after 2034. We shouldn’t wait until then to start working on it.

Which issue should be Congress’ top priority right now?

If we don’t address the environment, the country we have now won’t exist. Mitigating both the causes and effects of the climate crisis should be the Congress’ top priority.

Should federal control and funding of education be reduced?

The states have proven incapable of providing racial equity in education, so there is a role for the federal government and funds are required. All federal funding of home schooling, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, and any school not defined as a public school should be phased out with a rapid off ramp for federal funding. This should be a discussion, not a mandate. The Choice Act takes us in the wrong direction.

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Reviews

Book Review: Peril

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Photo Credit – The Guardian

The effort to disrupt the Electoral College vote counting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 was appalling. It was made worse by the fact a sitting U.S. president, in order to overturn a legitimate election and cling desperately to power, organized, led and encouraged a mob. When events turned deadly, the president failed to call off the demonstrators in a timely manner. By any definition, what happened that day was insurrection.

Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa is the first draft of historical narrative of events leading to that day and its aftermath during the first months of the Biden-Harris administration. The authors interviewed more than 200 people for the book and it reads like history. It’s not that. It is more like an extended newspaper article. Discovery of new aspects of the events leading to Jan. 6 have been released almost daily. The pace of new information is expected to accelerate in 2022. This book is what we have now to provide an overview of what happened.

To the extent Peril recounts what happened, it is useful the way a newspaper article is useful. It left me wanting to know more. It is neither the best written political book, nor does it provide meaningful insights. Its narrative is believable yet incomplete.

The good news about Peril is that it took less than 48 hours to read. Combined with our first winter storm and in between snow removal, cooking, and indoor work, it made an engaging companion. There will be better books written about Jan. 6 once the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack finishes its work. For the time being, Peril can accompany us on the journey to determine what happened and what a voter can do to remedy the causes of this doleful day.

As an American the need for action is obvious. Reading Peril is an efficient way to get caught up after the end of year holidays. What comes next is an open question.

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Living in Society

Start with the Schools

Big Grove Township School #1

Republicans in the Iowa legislature are best to start with the schools. That is, choke funding, limit collective bargaining with union employees, restrict local control during a pandemic, and control the curriculum, especially as it pertains to racial equity. If Republicans don’t do these things, as children become educated they will vote them out of office when they get their first chance.

Public education is the largest line item in the Iowa annual budget approved by the legislature. How the legislature and governor handle education determines to a large extent whether Iowa is a desirable place to live. Republicans would like to significantly reduce the influence of public schools and their budget priorities show it. Issues with the Republican plan for Iowa’s schools are obvious.

  • There are not enough substitute teachers to fill in for sick and quarantined employees.
  • The Davenport school district cancelled school this week because of a shortage of bus drivers. Other districts did too.
  • Parents of students with disabilities can’t find paraeducators.
  • The legislature plans additional state control over compliance with CDC guidelines regarding vaccines in schools: not just COVID-19 vaccines, but the science of immunization as well.
  • Discussion of centralized control of school curricula is not finished. Legislators want to mandate a peculiar history of the United States be taught and are willing to legislate what that is. Efforts to teach racial equity are expected to be hobbled.
  • The legislature encourages use of public funds for private schools.

This Republican malarkey is far from over. In a Jan. 2 Washington Post article, Laura Meckler wrote, “The GOP’s case (in the midterm elections) will center on displeasure over pandemic-driven restrictions, including school closures and mask mandates, as well as the racial equity work underway in thousands of districts. … What’s clear is that the pressure on schools on both fronts will intensify.”

In this context, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are seeking a way to eliminate state income tax. Flush with one-time money, Republicans are looking for ways to spend it. They have the individual income tax in the crosshairs.

“It’s appropriate to call it a moon shot because you’d have to live on the moon to think that it was a good idea,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst told the Gazette. “It’s a political ploy, it’s a starting point, it’s a moon shot and it would have huge ramifications in the state one way or another for everyday Iowans. It is an extreme proposal to say the least.”

Education is the foundation of what makes living in Iowa a valued experience. Legislators should start with the schools, yet when we look at what Republicans have done, reasonable people scratch their heads and say, “Not like that.”

If readers have not done so, it is time to engage in what the legislature does in the second session of the 89th General Assembly beginning Jan. 10. It is also time to get to work to elect Democrats during the midterm elections. Republican control of our government has been a disaster. Just take a look at public schools.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Reviews

Book Review: My Own Words

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Official Portrait. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The final book I read in 2021 was My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams. It is a compilation of writing by Ginsburg framed by the co-authors as autobiography.

In 1993, when Ginsburg was sworn in to the Supreme Court, I was busy living: moving from Indiana to Iowa to take on new work at the corporate headquarters of the company with which I would finish my transportation career. I wasn’t paying much attention to this supreme court appointment. Maybe I should have been.

Reading My Own Words was part of expanding my range of what types of memoirs have been written. It became more than a writer’s exercise. I realized on how many important decisions Ginsburg opined, and the prominent impact her work for the court had on my liberal sensibilities. Her writing on gender equity, presented in this book, is particularly noteworthy.

My Own Words was for me an infrequent foray into the judicial branch of government. A justice’s official writing, mainly in the form of court documents and opinions, is a matter of public record. To a large extent their work eclipses the personal story of a justice’s life. I am more interested in Ginsburg’s remarks on Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. than I am in her opera-going habits with Justice Antonin Scalia or her twice-weekly workouts in the Supreme Court gymnasium. I do not own a Notorious RBG t-shirt and am unlikely to get one, even after reading this engaging book.

The writer’s question was how did she handle her prolific writing as it relates to autobiography. I read reviews that expressed disappointment this wasn’t an “actual memoir.” I don’t understand that criticism. As a public figure, one of the most prominent in the United States, we come to the book knowing more about Ginsburg’s personal life than normal. News media of the time tended to focus on the fact her spouse was an excellent cook rather than her intellectual capacities as a jurist. The latter is clearly more engaging.

If you are a liberal, read this book. If you are a conservative, read this book. If you are engaged in society with its cultures around abortion, gender equity, corporate influence, equal protection under the law, or how the supreme court works, I recommend it as a primer. While Ginsburg was a liberal jurist, the lessons she presents in these writings apply to us all. Highly recommended.

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Living in Society

Plans for 2022

Book queue for 2022.

As long as my eyesight holds, I will continue to read books. As a newly minted septuagenarian I’ve had a discussion of eye deterioration with my ophthalmologist multiple times. When Mother’s eyesight began to fail, she converted to audio books and that’s where I’ll likely go when I can’t read anymore. For now, though, with some adjustment there is plenty to read.

About half the projected reading for 2022 was chosen when I didn’t get to a book in 2021. Going through my stacks would fill out the other half, although I have to leave room for books published in the new year. Now that I am motivated, and my vision passes muster at the eye doctor’s office, I’m enjoying reading.

I have plans besides reading books.

The time between our wedding anniversary and New Year’s Day has been traditional for reflection and consideration. This year ideas are settling without much action. To make every day count, I need a good idea of where I’m bound. First impressions are not enough by which to plan. When ideas come to mind, they ruminate. If they are any good, they persist.

I know the formats for writing in 2022. The next steps are determining topics, then schedule. That’s a lot of what occupies these quiet holidays. Rather than set goals, I’m leaving the mind open until the next project comes to me. It might be today, or maybe in the next couple of months. I know it will arrive and await patiently.

The sun rose on walkabout. Winter skies have been colorful at dawn and dusk. Around the perimeter of our property, deer and other animal tracks are frozen in the snow. It was a busy place the last 24 hours, and it shows after a snowfall. It is cold enough I won’t exercise outdoors today.

That leaves me reading, writing and working on indoors projects. It is a good life, one worth living. The rest before the storm 2022 is expected to be.

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Milestones

Looking Forward

The author at age five weeks with my baptismal sponsors, Aunt Winnie and Uncle Bill.

Today I am officially a septuagenarian. Deep in memories of the previous 70 years, on this day, my birthday, I’m looking forward.

Blessed with good health, I can see 80 from here. 90 is too far ahead for clarity. The goal is to make the best use of my time before shuffling off this mortal coil.

I have no profound thoughts or statements upon turning 70. It is another day to accomplish things. I may accomplish taking a nap after lunch. Priorities change with age.

Yesterday, for the third year in a row, this blog passed 12,000 views. While I’m not running a major outlet here, I am grateful to everyone who finds me and spends time reading what I wrote.

My best wishes for the next ten years. There is so much to do before the final curtain call.