The Facebook Revolution

From the Washington Post:

[…] Facebook, which celebrates its seventh birthday Friday and has more than a half-billion users worldwide, is not eagerly embracing its role as the insurrectionists’ instrument of choice. Its strategy contrasts with rivals Google and Twitter, which actively helped opposition leaders communicate after the Egyptian government shut down Internet access.

The Silicon Valley giant, whether it likes it or not, has been thrust like never before into a sensitive global political moment that pits the company’s need for an open Internet against concerns that autocratic regimes could limit use of the site or shut it down altogether.

The article is a great read about the company that wants everyone to use their own identity, the dissidents of the world using it to network, and the regimes trying to gather up information through the site. It reinforces the importance of social media as a platform that can have a greater purpose than a place to play Farmville. To me, it also rekindles the notion that one of the most powerful connections in the world is the ability to share ideas. Facebook certainly streamlines that option and brings the world a tiny bit closer than it was before.

It also makes me wonder why libraryland isn’t using it for specific calls for change. Off the top of my head: ebook lending, copyright & patent law revisions, and maybe even putting a school librarian in every school. It might seem silly to some, but an active and highly populated Facebook group can have some clout. Hell, it can even topple governments.

Not bad for a site that has a “Like” button.

(h/t: Alexis Madrigal)

Saint Crispin’s Day

This was at the top of an email from NJLA I got last week.

TO: NJ LISTSERV MEMBERS

FROM:  PAT Tumulty, Executive Director

RE: Updates-Advocacy

DATE: March 18, 2010

1. NJLA ADVOCACY RESPONSE

Make no mistake, if the current proposals affecting state and local library funding pass, NJ libraries will have to close their doors.

Gov. Christie’s budget calls for a 74% decrease in funding for statewide library services.  This cut includes the elimination of all statewide library programs and services.  What does this mean to NJ residents?

250 of the state’s 302 libraries will lose access to the Internet on July 1st

130 libraries will lose email service July 1st

124 libraries will lose their websites or access to them July 1st

Statewide interlibrary loan and delivery of library materials will cease on July 1st

The Talking Book and Braille Center (known as the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) will close on July 1st

NJ resident’s access to electronic databases such as RefUSA and EBSCO will cease on July 1st

Group contracts which bring down the cost of other electronic resources purchased by libraries will cease on July 1st

In addition, libraries will lose $3 million in state aid

At the same time the state is eliminating funding for library programs. Assemblyman John DiMaio has introduced A2555 which eliminates the minimum local funding requirement for municipal public libraries.

This assault on libraries must be stopped!  Here is what you need to know:

170,000 people enter a NJ library every day

The library programs eliminated from the Governor’s budget represent little more than $1 per capita in state funds.  And since library programs have been flat funded for 20 years it is hard to believe these programs have caused the state’s current fiscal crisis.

Local library funding targeted in A2555 typically represents less than 3% of local property taxes.

That’s a hell of a way to start a Wednesday.

Here, within these budgetary apocalyptic pronouncements, lay the very instruments to test the mettle of any librarian. We proclaim ourselves champions of information access, intellectual freedom, and a providers of materials and services to all who cross our threshold regardless of politics, economics, or social standing. Yet here, laid bare in tomes of numbers and figures, the value of such ideals has been coldly calculated by our fellow citizens within the Office of the Governor. This is no mere indictment by a passing critic of the machinations of government spending; no, dear friends, these are individuals of equal intelligence and a shared conviction for public service. Though these traits we share, what one thing we possess over them is our understanding of the far-reaching implications of the vastly expanding information universe.  In this grand age of information, the closing of a library is not simply a denial of the modern world of knowledge, but a denial of the modern world. This is the deeper potency of the communication revolution, the removal of barriers for the sharing of information and information resources. This is our shared professional frontier, the culmination of generations of predecessors, and our home.

We are but a number now, zeroed out on a buried budget sheet, but in the days ahead it is our charge to bring context to those lines. It is up to librarians, all of us, and any and all who read the words written herein, to take up this cause now. That now is the time to educate budget makers as to our return of investment; now is the time to demonstrate to the voters the breadth and width of the offerings of the modern library; that now is the time to raise our voices and make ourselves known for what the institution has become:

That libraries are a lynchpin of valuable public services, universal information access, and shared community commitment to the betterment of our friends, our neighbors, and ourselves.

***

For inspiration in days ahead, I suggest this from the Bard of Avon.

What can you do? (This is a continuation of the email above.)

  • Become a Library Champion (NJ residents)
  • Join the Facebook group Save NJ Libraries
  • Watch Capwiz for NJLA’s call to send a message to your Senator and Assembly representatives opposing the elimination of statewide library programs and A2555. 
  • Get Trustee Boards, Town Councils, County Library Commissioners, Friends groups, community organizations and School Boards to pass resolutions in opposition to these cuts (schools rely on these databases too – and the cuts to school libraries are already going to be bad).

Andy-W-Library-Poster-copy

Casualty of the Health Care Debate

Photo by The One True b!x

Photo by The One True b!x/Flickr

There exists another casualty of the health care debate: information literacy.

Regardless of the side of the debate that one subscribes to (but seen more noticeably by health care opponents), there exists a litany of misinformation paraded around as fact when a simple search through a newspaper, the internet, or other contemporary news source would immediately refute it. As a librarian, it pains me to see so many individuals failing to do the most basic of vetting when it comes to claims about health care reform. Has society grown so lazy as to accept wild and outrageous allegations on their face value? Has critical examination of presented evidence in a political forum become passe? For all the people who make assertions about not trusting politicians, they should expand that same policy to those who make recitations in the political arena. Rigorous political debate is a proud heritage of this country, but when participants spout proven falsehoods as fact, it is downright embarrassing.

I’m certain there are people in the health care debate forum who also decry the state of our education system, but they themselves are not a role model for the information literacy that they want for their children and grandchildren. Politically charged soundbites, chain propaganda emails, and rife word of mouth speculation do not replace an actual education on an issue as important as health care.

The New Know Nothings

On April 15th, the Tea Tantrum Baggers Party gathered at places all over the United States and protest… something. I wish I could say with clarity what the hell they are protesting, but between the media reports, their own PR, and what I have heard, I can’t really say I have an idea of what grievances they are petitioning the government. I would guess from the name that it had something to do with taxes, but the website, the pictures from the blogosphere, and the media coverage put it all over the place. (Thus a failure of modern protests when there is no central message.)

Moreover, it reminded me of a nativist party of the earlier American politics, the Know Nothings. While the 19th century Know Nothings earned their name as a reply to query of their activities (“I know nothing”), these 21st century Know Nothings would derive their name from the fact that they truly know nothing. Trifling matters such as facts, evidence, and reality do not deter them from decrying the apparent “excesses” of the newborn Obama administration. The taxes of the middle and lower class have been temporarily cut, not increased. The national debt generated from the Republican Congress and White House of the past eight years are finally being completely reconciled and included in the actual budget. We are not headed towards socialism, communism, or fascism due to the Obama policies; not even the true European Socialists believe such malarky. I won’t even address the claims of the Birthers, Creationists, gun owners, Creationists, or anyone not central to the tax issue since most are absurd and the others irrevelant.

The majority of these protesters truly know nothing. And their prejudices are so deep, their ideaologies are so firm, there can be no dialogue, no exchange of ideas, and no political compromise so we can move forward together. There is nothing but rage against a government that was not of their choosing, elected fairly in our democratic society. It’s the emotional exultation of those who felt that losing the election was the same as losing their country. You cannot argue the merits of democracy and then proclaim all opposing viewpoints as being traitorous. The lack of logic and reasoning makes my brain hurt. It’s as thought the mantle of minority fringe political theatre has been passed from the moonbat wackery on the left to the wingnut wackjobs on the right, and the cycle begins anew. (The benefit of the extreme politics of either side is that it drives people to the all powerful political center.)

I feel sad for the group of libertarians who started the tea party idea long before the past election as a means of protesting government taxation. They don’t deserve to have their excellent political point hijacked by these new know nothings. Ignorance as presented on such a grand political stage is disheartening for the future of our current system. A lack of grasp of the facts and political reality is also a sad moment for me as those who protest the spending and debt of the government said nothing during the previous years when it was created.

Another disconnect and shirking of responsibility all in the name of partisan politics. And, as a result, here arises the new Know Nothings.

Politics in the Age of Information

These days, there is a disconnect between politics and the information age that I find disconcerting. We live in an age where information is neatly digitized, indexed, and available upon demand for those who seek it. And yet, there are those public figures who do no such fact checking of their own to some of things things they have said in the past. I concede that positions change over time and with different fact parameters, but what always surprises me is the disconnect to these past statements. It’s not like there isn’t a way to determine previous positions on a topic via searching relevant databases or the internet.

In a recent example, take Rick Warren. In an interview with Larry King, he indicated that he had never spoken against the gay marriage issue embodied in Calfornia’s Proposition 8. Not only is there evidence that he did so, but it is a video. Where is the reconciliation?

Insofar as politics go, the best collection of position or statement reversals lies with The Daily Show. If it is left to satirical entertainment to keep people honest about their positions, then what the hell are journalists doing these days?

a brand new day for gay marriage

Earlier this week, the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled by unanimous decision that a statute which recognized marriage as being only between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. In their decision, the Court held that the statute was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Iowa State Constitution.

As one might imagine, there are a significant number of heads exploding since this decision was published. In looking at the language of the actual decision, there are some important aspects that jump out at me. First, for the decision to be unanimous is a huge legal indication as to how important the resulting opinion is as the Court is speaking with one voice. (Most people would say that this is a very obvious observation, but I’m not sure how to make my statement sound rational with a dozen or so exclamation points behind it.) Without a dissent, there is nothing for the opponents of same sex marriage to pick quotes from for future briefs in other states; and judging from the opinion as written, there will not be much for anti gay marriage advocates to choose from. Second, in reading the Background Facts and Proceedings (pg7), take a look at the language used to describe the same sex couples. The writing tone and language descriptors used are ones that humanize the case and bring emotionally evocative language to the opinion. This morphs the opinion from the dry context of legal concepts, an abstract exercise in technicalities, to the main street level where we see these couples as the friends and neighbors, as community contributors, and as regular folks with the same dreams and aspirations as everyone else. Third, in the culmination of dismantling of the legal arguments against same sex marriage, the opinion finishes with a very strong statement:

We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification. There is no material fact, genuinely in dispute, that can affect this determination.

We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law. Faithfulness to that duty requires us to hold Iowa’s
marriage statute, Iowa Code section 595.2, violates the Iowa Constitution. To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our
constitutional duty. If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded. Iowa Code section 595.2 denies gay and lesbian people the equal protection of the law promised by the Iowa Constitution.

(Emphasis mine)

To me, the highlighted line feels like a silver bullet to political objection to same sex marriage. The Iowa Court, in examining the testimony of various experts and amicus briefs submitted on behalf of the County, found their studies, reasoning, and rationale to be legally uncompelling. These are the same sorts of legal arguments that will be presented to other state courts; for the Iowa Supreme Court to set them aside so decisively and completely will lead the way in another case briefs. This opinion is a spear head into the bulk of anti gay marriage legal rhetoric and should be wielded as such. Lastly, as indicated by other observers, this is a case coming from the social conservative heartland. Even some of the justices are appointees by Republican governors (Ternus and Cady), including the justice who wrote the opinion of the court (Cady) . Some may argue that this is a conservative decision as it was based on the narrow interpretation of the Iowa Constitution; others may say that the statute was so poorly considered and written that the justices had no other choice but to uphold the lower court ruling. However, I think it represents a significant conservative step in taking the stand that the government has no interest in regulating those who wish to obtain spousal rights for their relationship. The religious tenets and dogmas cannot hold such sway in “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” They have a place in our personal lives, a basis for voting for candidates (perhaps), not a primer for legislation in a land of many beliefs and creeds.

As can be expected, there are social conservatives who are calling for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution. The “activist judges” charge has already been fired off by State Rep. Steve King in calling for a state constitutional amendment. (I would call upon Mr. King to educate himself as to the difference between a law and a constitutional amendment. I would start his education by informing him that a constitutional amendment trumps a law every time; that’s why there are things such as constitutional amendments. Ignorance of these distinctions and others does not bode well for confidence in future legislation writing.) Amending the Iowa Constitution is an onerous process, apparently, as it requires the approval of two consecutive state legislatures and a public on the issue. The Democratically controlled state legislature has indicated that it is not likely to take up the issue. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight crunches the numbers with the conclusion that a measure, on a long enough time line (2012 and on), would likely to be defeated by the Iowa voter. The Daily Beast has an excellent collection of different conservative reactions and their possible future actions as gay marriage starts turning mainstream. And, as can be imagined, this will make the Republican Caucuses in 2012 a very interesting event to watch.

As indicated in my bio, I live in New Jersey. New Jersey is one of the first states to support the creation of a civil union. I’ve written about how I feel about the role of government in the institution of marriage. What really turned the gay marriage issue around for me was a same sex couple I grew to be friends with. When the debates earlier in the decade were first stirred up, I was against gay marriage but for civil unions. As time went on and the debate roiled, I came to realize one thing: I could not bring myself to say to them that I was against the idea of them getting married. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even form the words outside of their presence. Who was I, I thought, to legally limit their love? These are two gentlemen who care about each other and I could not imagine one not being able to decide or care for the other in a catastrophe. That was my awakening to greater things: that if I could not comfortably tell someone that I was denying them a right, that I really wasn’t against the concept in the first place.

In other news, as previously mentioned in this blog, the Vermont state legislature is moving towards overcoming the same sex marriage law veto.