Friday, December 25, 2009

Patience Required During the Holidays

Last night was a great example of how a little bit of patience can make a difference, especially during the holidays.  I wasn't thinking about the fact that it was Christmas Eve when I stopped at the grocery store last night.  I had been driving around the 2-4 miles required to let the "flat tire fix" work it's way through my always low tire before filling it with more air.  And it had totally frustrated me that I paid for air at a gas station and the pump didn't work.  I even tried it on another tire; no luck.  This was the 5th gas station this month where I've tried to fill that tire and found a broken or unavailable air pump.  And the attendant didn't seem to care that I'd paid for a service that wasn't delivered.  He just took my gas money and I was on my own -- even though I had him try the pump too.  I'll go back during the week and speak to the owner; I shouldn't have to pay for something that doesn't work. 

So, back to the grocery store story.  I needed 2 or 3 items to bake some rolls and a quiche this morning (my next task!).  We grabbed a cart and heard the announcement: "Attention please, Stop and Shop will close in 20 minutes.  Please bring all your items to the checkout line.  We will close at 6 PM.  Merry Christmas."   We really did have only a few items to get and knew the store layout, so it only took us a few minutes to get what we needed and get in line.

Oh...very long lines.  Seems everyone was stopping at the grocery store on their way home from work.  One woman was taking charge while yelling back at the loudspeaker, "Hey, just put some Christmas music on.  It would be nice to hear something pleasant for a change."  She had no one behind her and snagged our cart and dragged it up behind her.  "Come on, I'll be fast; don't worry. " 

She talked nonstop; our new friend.  We quickly realized that she probably has some mental health issues but was making the best of a crowded store with employees who wanted to get home.  Thankfully, the store was staffed with extra help at the front, especially for those self-serve checkout registers like ours.  She picked up some perishables someone had left behind and shouted for a store clerk to come get them before they went bad.  Then she yelled at the loudspeakers again.  We settled in for what we suspected would be a long wait.

Our new friend finally got to the register, still promising us that she'd be quick.  Of course, she spent enough time gesturing and talking to us that it slowed her down.  But she was compensating for the stress of the lines, the looks people were giving her, and her own internal issues that make such shopping difficult.  She had a system.  She'd put through 4 or 5 items, then go down to the end and bag them and put them back in her cart.  She bagged each item separately -- yes, each single item got its own plastice bag and then was placed in two more bags; each item got 3 bags.  I started to revisit Monk, recognizing that her OCD was in full force.  So we just settled in and waited.  We knew this would be a little bit of a wait but we really weren't in any hurry.  The store was in a hurry, but that was immaterial.  We were next in line and had no need to try to hurry this woman up. 

She talked with us the whole time she scanned and bagged her items.  Then she found an item that had a mark on the package.  Oh, Oh.  That usually means something has to go back.  "You know," she said, "Normally I'd have to send this back, but I can adjust.  I can do this."  She really was trying to be quick, to adjust to the situation, and to hurry herself.  I was impressed with her candor and efforts. 

The young man behind us moved to another line and was out of the store before we got to the register.  But we stayed put and talked with this woman who was trying so hard to accommodate the situation and control her impulses.  She was impressed that we were so patient, so I imagine that people generally give her a hard time.  I was glad we were not on any sort of deadline, because we would have been out of the store much more quickly had we not been in line behind her.  But we had no deadlines, no one waiting for us to bring dinner home, or anything like that.  Spending a little more time in line, enjoying ourselves and talking with this woman, seemed like the right thing to do.  She made it out of the store without the usual stress I imagine she feels and the store didn't have to deal with angry customers fuming over someone holding things up. 

It was a small piece of the day, overall, but one that reminded us that everyone has their issues and problems.  Sometimes these affect us; in this case, very indirectly.  But this woman has to deal with this every day, all day; directly.  A little patience on our part meant she could get out of the store still in a pleasant mood and we were still in the same frame of mind as well. 

Patience.  Isn't that one of the 7 Virtues?  We don't practice it often enough.  Road rage is largely due to impatience at the wheel.  Texting while driving is largely due to impatience (can't wait to stop somewhere to safetly send a message).  Pusing others, either verbally or physically, is often due to impatience.

I think we need to practice patience a lot more.  It can help us slow ourselves down so we can appreciate others and ourselves even more.  And it can help us when someone else isn't able to not do what they're doing that aggravates us so much.  Like the woman last night, some things are difficult to control.  Yet, she did try to control it and it was partly due to our patience with her.  Our patience helped her relax enough to maintain some control over something that tends to control her.

So we gave each other a gift; our patience to her control.  And isn't that what a Christmas gift should be all about?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Thinking Out Loud: Feminist Edition"

For the past few months I have been been a recurring guest and sometimes co-host of the show, "Thinking Out Loud, Feminist Edition," on WUML, 91.5 FM, Friday 9:00 AM, produced by Charlotte Crockford in Lowell, MA. 

Charlotte and I quickly became friends after re-meeting several years ago at the 501 Tech Club.  We'd first met at the Lowell Telecommunications Corporation, when I was consulting to them and several other Lowell community based organizations on volunteer management.  Charlotte was managing volunteers at this public access center and learning all she could about media publishing and broadcasting. 

What I admire(d), then and now, about Charlotte is her energy, drive, and desire to mentor to younger people. In her retirement, she works harder now than she probably did during her working years.  Always on the go - to a shoot or interview, training someone on portable, digital camera and sound equipment, looking for people to interview - whatever the task, it's move, move, move.  Charlotte is unstoppable. 

"Thinking Out Loud, the Feminist Edition" is a weekly show and Charlotte has interviewed many notable and not-so-well-known women, including Paula Poundstone, Linda Fife, Paula Fortier, Lorre Fritchy, Jaclyn Friedman, Paula Fortier, Tamara Krenn, Young Sisters for Justice in Philanthropy, Amy Goodman, and Angela Davis.

Just as important as the interviews, though, is the fact that Charlotte is training young women in studio technology and techniques through her show.  She mentors to several young women and has mentored to both men and women over many years.  She's a natural teacher and says she gets some of her energy from being around younger people.  But I'll warn you that she outlasts many of them in a given day, so pack your energy bars if you're going on the road with Charlotte!

Some places to pick up the show include
Charlotte and I share a passion for teaching, irreverence for conventional wisdom, and the delight and wonder at all the great technology tools we have today to education, mentor, and just have fun.  Tune in to any of her weekly shows.  On Spinitron, you can select the entire hour or just portions of it, depending on how much time you have at the moment. 

Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Day

On this Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to express my thanks for family, friends, a job in this tough economy, a roof over my head, and in general the people who accept me for who I am and not what I have. 

While it's tough to pay the bills because the paycheck always seems just shy of catching up, I have a job and many people don't.  I have a warm apartment and many are homeless.  I have family and many are alone.  These things are very important but we sometimes take them for granted.  For the hundreds of thousands of Americans out there who have no job and/or no home, it's a daily reality.

Life is getting harder and harder for many every day.  People are still getting laid off.  Bank accounts are shrinking for those who have been out of work for months or even a few years.  Temp work is not steady work, even for those with the necessary skills.  Unemployment goes only so far, for those who were fortunate enough to get it and the several extensions they have made.  Some folks who were laid off earlier in the game did not receive any of these extensions.  They've been unemployed the longest and are getting the least help.

Many people who lived and worked quite normal lives, but may have had a mild emotional disorder, were hit hard by layoffs, little unemployment, and tough living situations have become "unglued," so to speak.  Their slightly fragile psyche has lost the mental guards they'd always put in place in public. Now they are lost in the shuffle of struggling to pay rent, always a little bit behind, find work, see if they qualify for any assistance anywhere, and maintain their dignity in the process.  It's a little like always being on stage and having to make wardrobe changes publicly.  They are exposed, emotionally fragile, and quite vulnerable to a host of issues.  A mild emotional disorder grows proportionately to the degree that their public facade slips, and the longer this continues the more difficult it will be to help them build themselves back to normal functioning.  Soon they will be homeless; these are the people who will not survive in a shelter.  Instead, they will become a statistic of the violence and abuse that occurs in some shelters when staff is not vigilant.  [I am not denigrating shelters; many are good.  But tight budgets that are getting cut even more mean shelters will be less able to be as vigilant as they need to be.  Good staff can only do so much and it takes a tough psyche to handle shelter living.]

I realize this Thanksgiving message may sound very dour.  It wasn't meant to be.  Instead, I see the very people I have described above wishing me and other staff a Happy Thanksgiving.   They come in with a smile more often than not.  They search job boards & apartment listings, network with each other, attend networking events to learn of other opportunities, and do whatever they can to get out of the hole they're in.  They are America's latest victims of greed, opportunism, and whatever you want to call the mess we're in.  They are facing it as gracefully as they can.

So what is the good news in all this?  The tenant association I advise collected food to give to our local food bank (Bread of Life in Malden, MA).  The food bank is hosting a complete Thanksgiving Dinner at the high school today and scores of volunteers will be there to assist in peparation and serving.  Some volunteers will be delivering those same meals to shut-ins.  Many other organizations are doing exactly the same, all across America.

One thing Americans do is help people in need. I'm thankful for that too because it means that when I work with someone who is just getting into this "system" of need, I can point them to resources that help them out.  Two resources in my area to find food pantries and soup kitchens, by the way, are listed below.  It's the same list of sites, but one is calendar-based and the other is a geographic map of locations.  If you are in need and live in my area, check them out.

Have a safe holiday folks.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NASA Declares it Finds Water on the Moon

Last month (10/10/09) I posted a brief notice about NASA launching rockets into the Moon in its search for water.  Yesterday (11/13/09), after several weeks of analysis, NASA announced success in finding water.  A number of websites have interesting articles related to this and Google has modified its ever-changing logo to reflect this announcement. 

The revised Google logo will only be there a short time, so check it out now.  Google has also updated its Moon MapMashable has a brief article describing some of the new features, such as panoramic views, scientific charts, and more. 

Other articles on, CNN Tech, and all the major news outlets have articles, but be sure to go to NASA's website for articles on what this means to the scientific community as well as future space exploration plans.  One other site of interest, and it'll only take a few minutes to view it, is Live Science's page on the Top 10 Amazing Moon Facts.  And if you're an armchair scientist, be sure to read the comments as other readers discuss the science of the facts.  Just remember that many people talk as if they know their facts but that does not make it so.  Don't confuse assertiveness with correct facts.

Personally, I am excited about all this.  Having watched the space program grow from infancy - from looking up in the night sky to see Sputnik after its launch by the Russian space program and waiting for our own space program to develop, to Apollo missions, to today's missions - I eagerly await our next advancements in space.  Go NASA!  (Can you tell I'm off to homecoming today at NU?)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Southwest owed no aplogy to woman kicked off plane

This morning's article about Southwest Airlines' apology to a woman who was taken off the plane because of her 2-year old's screaming irked me. Why should the airline apologize to someone who had no control over her child? The flight crew should have removed her, in my opinion, if the child's screaming outbursts,"Go! Plane! Go!" and "I want Daddy" really did prevent other passengers from hearing the preflight safety announcements.

An airplane is a very different environment and travelers need to demonstrate a certain level of controlled behavior if they want the privilege of traveling by air. Cabin crews (flight attendants and others) are not just glorified waitrons serving a blanket, pillow, or drinks. They are highly trained in safety and emergency procedures. They must make a judgement call regarding any situation that might affect passenger safety and that includes considering someone's preflight behavior and how that might escalate once in flight.

I have two sisters who between them had more than 70 years experience as flight attendants. The many stories they've told over the years about passenger behavior, dangerous situations (one was even highjacked to Cuba in the 60s or 70s), and overall airline regulations and safety make me a firm believer that I do not want to be on a plane with a passenger who cannot control their own behavior or the behavior of the children accompanying them. When I fly, I want to have confidence in the flight crew and the cabin crew. If they are not permitted to exercise some discretion over the risks posed by passenger behaviors, then we are removing from them one of the tools they have to ensure our safety.

But in today's society, it seems everyone wants an apology and they want money to accompany it. The mother in this episode is expecting reimbursement for having to rent a crib for her overnight stay in a hotel. If the mother had control over her child, she would not have been removed the from plane! So why should the airline cover the cost associated with her inability to control her child's behavior?

Watching some reality TV shows today demonstrates a marked shift in people's behaviors from when I grew up. In Parking Wars, we see people who state the city has no right to boot their car after they have xx number of unpaid parking fines and have shown no intent to pay. Then they try to drive off with or remove the boot, which they've just been told is illegal. In one episode, the man managed to drive off and in the process damaged three other cars. In Airline!, we see people berating gate attendants and supervisors or cabin crews over regulations the staff cannot break.

What makes people think this behavior is justified? In some cases, it is just to show off in front of a camera. But so much of it is also just plain ignorant, rude, selfish behavior that people engage in even without a camera present. Stand in any line and watch how people behave when they do not get what they want. Far too many people leave their manners at home when they go out, if they have any manners at all. They swear and scream at the window agent. They threaten. They broadcast their life story and personal business to everyone around them. The hope is that if they get mean and nasty enough, or just plain loud enough, they'll get what they want.

The standard today has become, "Since the best defense is a good offense, I'll be as offensive as I can be and get my way." Where I live, we have a gated entrance so you can only drive in if you have a cardpass or you are permitted in by a resident whom you buzz on an intercome at the gate. But people literally drive through the gate, breaking it, rather than stopping to buzz the resident. Or, they drive up your bumper when you're going through the gate and ride in on your cardpass. Hey, I'm not letting that person in and I don't want to be responsible for their behavior on the property. It's my cardpass they're coming in on. They have no right to do that and, technically, they're trespassing. I live here and they don't. But if I stop and get out and tell them to back up so the gate can come down, the first words out their mouth are, "Get the F---- out of my way, B----!" This is a total stranger and someone who has no right to be on the property until a resident permits them on it. And yet their first words are that.

This antisocial behavior is becoming the norm. And the norm is being channeled down to younger and younger children by parents who don't parent and older siblings and others who don't think about the effect their words and behavior have on children.

Parents who let their children run amuck and get in other people's way say nothing to them, but if you say something to the child, the parent comes screaming at you. "You have no right to say anything to my child! blah blah blah..." Well, if I even knew you were with the child I would have said something to you but you're on your cellphone and paying no attention, so how am I supposed to know you're the parent? You certainly are not in charge of this child's behavior! The old proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," has been lost on entire generations. If you don't want others to make comments to your children about their behavior, then you need to be aware of and manage your child's behavior!

I used to live near a public school and parents who drove their children to school were so obnoxious I vowed never to live near a school again! One day I had to get out of my car and knock on a woman's window to ask her to move her car which was blocking me in my driveway. Her child was already in the school but she wouldn't move until she finished writing out her checks to pay her bills! What made her think that parking in front of my driveway was OK? Why should I be late because she wants to sit and write out checks? Interestingly enough, I now live near two schools, but there is more parking and access available for them so I don't have the same problem.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that flying is a privilege. We have lost sight of the fact that many things are privileges and not rights. Driving is a privelege. Flying is a privilege. Many things are privileges and owners/operators have the right to deny you that privilege if your behavior warrants it. It is not all right to come into my establishment and let your children pick up things off my desk or run around as if it's a playground. It's not all right to bring your child to a restaurant and let them run around and play unless you're at McDonald's and they are playing in a designated play area. Oh, and at the local buffet, it's not all right to make your children -- who are supposed to be accompanied by adult at the buffet table -- be your waiters and keep running up to the buffet to get your meal and dessert. And I see that a lot!

This post is long enough and I think I've made my point(s)! Adults must be responsible for their own selves and for the children with them. If they cannot or will not, then they should be denied these privileges until they grow up and act responsibly. No compensation is due for denying privileges or revoking privileges based on inappropriate behavior!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Digital ‘ants’ take on computer worms

I was amused by the article title, on this morning, but the title is accurate and an interesting new way to fight computer viruses and hopefully malware as well. (For a definition of malware and how to combat it on your computer, go to my business site, Murray Learning.)

Basically, researchers have "created an army of digital ants and their superior officers, digital sergeants and sentinels, to search out viruses, worms and other malware." Using the structure found in ant colonies and modeling human immune system behaviors, the researchers' small digital army was able to successfully identify threats on several computers the researchers had intentionally infected.

This is a promising new way to address computer threats and relies more on hardware resources than software resources, so the detection process can work constantly yet not interfere with human computing needs.

I hope to see more on this topic in the near future, as the time and money wasted on detecting and removing threats from our computers, as well as the disruption to our normal computing time -- whether it be for work or pleasure -- makes it a high priority in my book.

If you know of other novel approaches to virus and malware threats, respond to this post and let me know. I'll look into it. If it looks promising, I'll blog it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grassroots Community Cookout (and snow)

This past Sunday Malden Grassroots held their annual Community Cookout and Social Justice Fair.   Despite the driving rain, and eventually snow!, a good number of people came to eat, take information from the many community organizations' tables, and enjoy the sacred drumming presentation and the youth martial arts demonstration.

Weather did not prevail, as we had a beautiful indoor location for the festivities at the First Parish Church,  Universalist, in Malden.  The warm atmosphere, surrounded by artwork, framed the event nicely.  Three organizations were honored by Malden Grassroots for their commitment to the ideals of community engagement, volunteerism, cultural diversity, human equality, and justice for all

Honored were:
  • Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square
  • Muslim American Cultural and Civic Association
  • Youth ACT!
We thank the many people and organizations who braved the weather to join us.  If you missed this event, we hope you'll come next year.  

Malden Grassroots promotes community change from the bottom up. The group hosts monthly activities such as film showings and discussions and provides support for local grassroots campaigns. Each year it sponsors the Grassroots Community Cookout and Justice Fair that brings together hundreds of local residents and organizations to meet and talk about pressing social and economic issues. A racially and culturally diverse organization, Malden Grassroots believes it will take all of us to address such issues as equal rights, housing, healthcare, racism, poverty, and war at a root level.
Email for more information.

Monday, October 19, 2009

10th Annual GUT Conference

Friday night and Saturday I spent some quality time with other community organizers, writers, and activists who gathered for a combined Digital Media Conference organized by the Organizers' Collaborative (10th annual conference), National Writers Union, and Open Media Boston.  I often go to conferences on my own dime, so to speak, but always end up bringing back valuable information to use in my work.  This was no exception.

Overall, I was able to gain something important for my work from the conference and that's always a plus.  I consider conferencing successful if it brings me into touch with people who have knowledge or skills I can learn from -- the oh so important networking aspect of conferencing -- and it's a bonus if the sessions provide even more knowledge on topics.  I've gone to so many conferences over the years that many workshop sessions are not all that valuable to me.  But I have to say that the GUT Conference each year has provided important session content as well and this year was no exception.  (Another conference that has done that is PodCamp, but that's another post entirely.)

Combining workshops by writers and media activists brought broader content and additional depth to the workshops, with common threads of organizing/activism and technology.  It seems like a smart thing to do when people have scarce resources and technology is so pervasive in our lives. 

Technology is a real concern to writers as they struggle to earn a living while technology is getting so good at making so much free.  Newspapers, for example, are struggling to redefine themselves in the technology economy and determine what should be free and what should be paid for. Organizations and individuals who want to use the Internet for fundraising or to earn a living need to understand what technology is available to do what, how it works, and how to make it work for them. 

The question of how consumers would pay for information was part of a session I attended on microfunding, where consumers can pay for content on a subscription, per article, or tip basis.   Many web-based content providers want to earn money using the Internet.  Setting up a payment scheme that works for that type of content and gets people to pay can be tricky and may require trying more than method before finding one that works for a person or organization.  Try Delicious' website and type microfunding in the search bar to get an idea of the many options you have for setting up a payment scheme for your website's content.

I have been learning Joomla web development software to convert my websites from a proprietary platform to open source.   But also of concern to me is a good database structure that lets me manage course registrations and payments, memberships and payments, volunteers, and fundraising.  Having a database that works with Joomla, so this is available online and I can manage it from almost anywhere, is important to me.  So I attended the CIVICRM workshop and learned more about it in one hour than I'd learned from research on the Internet I'd done.  That was very valuable to me and can help me make a decision about whether to move in this direction or not after my Joomla sites are running.

Of course, having such a database online raises security issues, so the session on Data Safety, while focused on the Massachusetts law that goes into effect March 1st, seemed a logical session to attend.  I realized during this session that I still have some work to do to comply with the law and now need to absorb more info about it so I can pass this along to others at work.  Thankfully, some tools provided during the session will make compliance much easier. 

Too many conferences focus on workshops and not enough on networking.  Quality sessions are important, but networking can make or break a conference.  There isn't enough networking time built into the GUT Conference in general and this is something I'll bring to the organizers' attention.  I hate having to choose between a session I want to attend and spending some time with people from whom I can learn.  While it seems counterintuitive, I've found that the PodCamp model of 90-minute sessions with 30-minutes in between provide a great balance between the two.  It really works and this is something I'll try to encourage GUT organizers to adopt.  Session facilitators might find it a bit intimidating at first, and some topics can benefit from a Part 1 and Part 2 or a long session, but if you want people to gain as much as possible from their time, you've got to give them time to talk about what they're seeing/hearing and learn from each other.

Overall, I'd give it a good grade and feel it was worth my time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wrapping up the Week, 10/10/09

I've not posted much lately because so much has been the same thing over and over, especially on health care.  But this week was a little different and I'll give brief mention to a few items today.

Being on the East Coast was a bonus on Friday, permitting me before heading to work to watch NASA launch twin rockets into the Moon surface in the search for water.  The experiment was designed to capture and analyze the plume of debris from the rocket impacts.  The debris, once ejected from the moon's dark side and exposed to the sun, will begin to break down into its basic components before vaporizing; any water-ice, hydrocarbon, or organic materials will be exposed to NASA's collection instruments.  It will be several weeks before NASA has all the data coordinated from the many sources collecting it and can state whether or not they found water.

If you've never explored NASA's website, here's a chance to do so.  There is a ton of "neat stuff" for all ages.

Health Care Indignities by CIGNA Just Keep on Coming
Cigna is a major health insurer with some major press issues.  Of course, that's not why I'm writing about them.  I'm writing because they do a terrific job of making the case for health care reform! 

Example 1:  Cigna is still experiencing fallout from a protest over the 2007 death of Nataline Sarkisyan who died needing a liver transplant that Cigna deemed too experimental.  After protests in 2007, Cigna reversed its decision, but Sarkisyan died hours later.  In 2008, Sarkisyan's mother and supporters from the California Nurses Association went to Cigna headquarters to confront the CEO and demand an apology.  Angry protestors were heckled by Cigna employees, with one employee literally "flipping off" (giving the "bird" or middle finger) to them.   Sarkisyan's mother left, feeling defeated and stunned by the employees' actions.  She also did not get to meet with CEO Edward Hanway.  Read the article on Huffington Post or this article on Los Angeles Times

Read more at:

Example 2: Cigna has another battle on its front lawn and this fight is being supported by and its supporters.  Dawn Smith is trying to fight a treatable brain tumor, but with Cigna as her insurer, it's not a battle with the disease that has Dawn in a fight - it's been a 2-year battle with Cigna which won't even tell her why they won't cover her treatment.  Cigna recently reversed its decision and says it will cover treatment, but they won't tell her why they denied it for 2 years or why it will treat her now.

Cigna only reversed its decision after the public spotlight was thrown on it; does this mean everyone has to go public with their medical conditions to get appropriate treatment?

Health Care Reform is Still a Political Game that Ignores What Americans Want
The above are just 2 examples of why our public health care system needs reform.  The large health insurers are the major voice that seems to get the attention of the Senate Finance Committee.  They continue to ignore the huge numbers of Americans who have signed petitions calling for a "public option" in health  care.  And my previous posts on health care tell that story pretty well. 

Current proposals to include the public option but permit states to opt out show that legislators are not listening; they are playing politics as usual.  They want to be able to say they support the public option and voted for it, so voted for this proposal to get the bill passed.  Others will say they didn't support it but voted for it because it will then be up to each state to adopt or not adopt it.  This is how Congress has its cake and eats it too.

On the Local Front...
Here's something I learned about this week.  Last month, a Massachusetts senior received notice that her October Social Security check was going to reduced by almost $200 (for that month only) and then subsequent checks would be reduced by almost $100.

How many of you can afford to have $200 taken from one month's income, and following that it would be reduced by $100/month?  Now answer that question again knowing that your monthly income was only around $1,100 in the first place!

You probably agree with me that this is a lot of money.  Seniors depend on Social Security for rent, food, medical bills, clothing, and more.  Getting a 10% cut like that hurts.  And getting 20% in one month hurts even more.  The senior was advised to ask Social Security about it, who informed her that MassHealth was taking the money out to cover her Medicare premiums.  Interestingly, the senior had received a letter from MassHealth in August stating that MassHealth was paying her Medicare premiums and that she should not have any money taken out of her Social Security check for it!

A phone call to MassHealth confirmed that the August notice was correct, so the senior brought the caseworker's notes on that call back to Social Security.  The person at Social Security again said they were taking out the Medicare premiums, but the senior argued back, showed her the notes from the previous day's conversation, and insisted that the worker check again.  A little further checking, going farther back into her Social Security computer record, showed that MassHealth was correct and Social Security was wrong.

This senior will get her money back and we hope this is resolved.  But it demonstrates how easily an agency can get something wrong, insist on maintaining what is wrong by not taking a look beyond the initial computer screen, and severely affect someone's life.

For anyone who is having this sort of difficulty, and for the advocates who assist them, documenting every phone call, getting the name of the person you speak with (& confirmation # of calls when they're available), and being politely persistent can make a difference.  We all have the right to question decisions that are made like this.  We also have the right to file an appeal.  Be sure to read notices to determine your rights to appeal and follow those instructions carefully and to the letter.  Meet those deadlines, even if you file a very brief appeal and then follow it up more details later.

Obama Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

People have mixed reactions to the news that the Nobel Committee has selected President Obama as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace.  I'm pleased.  I think many people have not given Obama the respect he deserves for what he has accomplished and tried to accomplish in his first year in office.  Some talk as if he's been in office several years and cannot seem to get everyone behind his programs.  Some are seriously trying to derail anything he supports.  The Nobel Committee reflected on what he has done and is doing to stimulate peaceful talks and negotiations between and among several world communities and also what he's doing to try to reduce nuclear arms.

The award is recognition of the immediacy with which he tackled these tough world issues and has tried to lead by example in bringing people together to effect change on such important world issues.

Congratulations, Mr. President, and continue this important work.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Physicians Support the Public Option; Why Does the Senate "Gang of Six" Ignore That?

On Huffington Post, a brief report from their Congressional Blog notes that physicians from all specialities and geographically spread support the public option. 

"We asked them [physicians across all 50 states] how much they would support expanding health insurance to the uninsured through a public option similar to Medicare in combination with private options, through private insurance only, or through a public-only system.

Our findings were extraordinary—an overwhelming majority of physicians supported the public option (63%)."

I'll be delivering a notice to my senator today, along with a lemon, to tell him what I think of Sen. Max Baucus' bill that doesn't even carry the support of the 3 Republican members of his committee and is not well supported by the 2 Democrats on his committee. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Glenn Greenwald on the Populist "Lie"

Glenn Greenwald provides a compelling argument regarding populist leaders who argue for smaller government while actually helping fuel the division between beltway insiders and outsiders so that the power in DC actually never changes hands. Greenwald argues that it's in the hands of the corporations that benefit from government all while the populist radio personalities and others pretend that middle-class Americans are paying for programs that others (lower-income and other disenfranchised groups) benefit from. 

Greenwald purports that the real beneficiaries are the corporations with ties to the beltway.  Read his column,  then come back and tell us  what you think. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama Must Not Back Down on Health Insurance Reform

Each day there are more articles revealing how some Republican leaders in town hall-style meetings are permitting misinformation, myths, and distortions about the health care reform bill to go unchallenged.  They're even furthering the "untruth" by tacking on additional editorial comments to the questioner's statement and taking the false scenarios even farther.

This is an intentional ploy to derail President Obama and is not about health care reform.  And it could work.  They pretend to discuss compromise but have no interest in forward movement.  These leaders are not serving the American public; they are serving a political party that wants its power back. Some of these leaders on the Senate Finance Committee, part of the "Gang of Six."  that is reviewing the bill for areas where they can compromise.  (See my Aug 29th post on this topic.)  

There are many people who have legitimate concerns about the costs and benefits of the reform bill under discussion.  Democratic and Republican leaders are among those with concerns.  This is not a bad thing.  Disagreement can lead to a better bill that serves us better.  Concern, discussion, and disagreement can lead to compromise.  But as I've discussed before, some of the dissenters are not interested in compromise.

These vocal opponents are interested only in derailing Obama's power.  Health care reform is their weapon. 

My message to the President, and to my legislators, is to stop playing "pretend compromise" and focus on what is best for the American public.  The Public Option is vital to true health care reform.  You knew that going in; now refocus and move forward.

The Democratic Party needs to find those Republican legislators who have the guts to vote on conscience, defying Republican leaders who are using this important bill to derail the President.  If there are areas where compromise makes sense without gutting the bill, then compromise.

Democrats and Republicans who have issues with the bill need to discuss those issues without distortion.  And they all need to tell the American public the truth, pointing out what the lies and distortions are when they surface so Americans can be informed and not lied to; the lies of omission must stop.

But overall, they must listen to the American public.  Our voices have been raised, loudly and clearly.  But it seems as if leaders in both parties are not listening.  Their ears are tuned elsewhere.

Tune in to us.

Listen to us.

We're talking to you...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Republican Leader Admits He's "Simply Blocking Health Care"

Health Care Reform news from Huffington Post earlier this week makes me wonder....

"Mike Enzi, one of three Republicans ostensibly negotiating health care reform as part of the Senate's "Gang of Six,*" told a Wyoming town hall crowd that he had no plans to compromise with Democrats and was merely trying to extract concessions."

Enzi is Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and also serves on the Committee on Finance , the Committee on Budget, and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.  Senator Edward Kennedy (deceased) was Chair of the Committee.  

Looking at Enzi's Senate page, with a lead article this week on how it is not in the Democrat's best interests to shut out Republicans and moderate Democrats, one would think Enzi is interested in actually working towards compromise.  
"U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., today said that if the White House and Democrat leadership in the Senate choose to shut Republicans and moderate Democrats out of the health care debate, their health care plan would fail."

So what part of compromise does Enzi not understand?  Compromise, often defined as mutual concessions, can be a bit more than that.  Compromise can be brought about by reflection/examination of one's initial viewpoint, research on claims by each side, and subsequent adjustment of what one perceived as the barriers to agreement.  It's good compromise if it means one does not give up one's principles in the process.  Just giving in is not compromise, it's giving up.  

The Finance Committee is reviewing health care reform to supposedly see where it can move the bill forward.  That requires some compromise by both sides.  Enzi, however, isn't interested in compromise.

The American public has been voicing its opinion, loudly and clearly, that there are certain points they don't want to compromise on.  Are legislators listening?

A few members of Congress, and a lot of other people, have spent too much time distorting the content of the bill.  Now, powerful members of Congress who know those are distortions don't even bother to correct them.  They prefer that Americans believe the distortions so these legislators can look as if they serve them.  What would serve the American public better than the bare truth on what is in the bill and what is not? 

Give the public some credit.  If legislators' concern is over a cost/benefit analysis, help us destroy the myths and distortions, get the truth out, and then engage in a real conversation with constituents over what they want. 

Oh, and as far as serving the American public, see the paragraph below on the Gang of Six...

* The "Gang of Six" is a group of 3 Republican and 3 Democratic Senators on the Senate Committee on Finance that wants to slow down the process of health care reform in the name of better studying the costs and benefits.  Collectively, the Gang of Six represents about 2.6 percent of the American public, yet are significantly delaying legislation that affects almost all Americans at some point.  See Robert Reich's blog post, Why the Gang of Six is Deciding Health Care for Three Hundred Million of UsMembers are Senators Max Barkus (D-MO), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Charles Grassley (R-IA and Ranking Member of the Finance Committee),and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Health Care Reform: One Argumentt -- Two Sets of Rules

Don't you just hate it when you are trying to understand an issue and someone comes along and starts talking about it -- but they're not really talking about it?  Instead, they're injecting a different topic into the conversation disguised as a position on the original topic?  It's like changing the rules in the middle of a game without telling the opponent.  The purpose, of course, is to derail the original discussion and get people talking about something else and never have to deal with the guts of the original.

The discussion was about health care reform.    Now Republican leaders are attempting to derail the conversation by introducing a senior health care bill of rights.  Republicans supposedly put this forward to ease seniors' concerns over health care "rationing" and cost-cutting under Medicare.  Now I wonder where that idea came from? 

"Under the Democrats' plan, senior citizens will pay a steeper price and will have their treatment options reduced or rationed," according to Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, in an op-ed in Monday's Washington Post (subscription required to view most articles).  This is the same Michael Steele who, in 2006, called for cuts to Medicare to control runaway costs.   How convenient that the GOP has an answer ready to assuage seniors' fears, making a radical shift in position from 3 years ago.  How ironic that this "ready answer" deals with a concern that they created! 

In 2006, Steele felt that the way to reduce Medicare costs was to cut benefits to seniors.  In the current health care reform bill, H.R. 3200, Medicare costs are reduced by reduction of payments to providers.  Everyone seems to complain about runaway health care costs, but when there is a plan on the table to curb those rising costs while maintaining a level of coverage for vulnerable seniors, the Republication option is to derail the conversation. 

And that moves the discussion away from real health care reform.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Immigrants Than Non-Immigrants are Uninsured

A memorandum by the Center for Immigration Studies finds that more immigrants than non-immigrants are uninsured. This would seem to contradict my post of yesterday that immigration is good for the economy, since providing medical care for uninsured residents tends to drive up medical costs for everyone else.

I'm looking at it a bit differently though. Many businesses that need low-skilled workers rely on immigrants to do these jobs. When there are fewer immigrants, the jobs go unfilled. Sometimes it's because citizens won't take those jobs. Immigrants tend to stick to these jobs to bring money home for the family while Americans will quit and go elsewhere to try to earn more.

But low-paying jobs mean people cannot afford to pay health insurance premiums. Oh, here's an idea! Why not develop a health care system that will provide low-cost premiums for people in low-paying jobs; get insurers to come down a bit in their premiums and partly subsidize the plan so the insured pays what they can afford. It will certainly cost less to subsidize premiums a bit, helping keep people healthy, than to pay the full cost of emergency care for serious illness brought on by lack of access to preventive health care. And this plan gets the insurance providers to share the burden.

Oh, wait -- that's what the current health care reform is all about!

Instead of seeing health care reform as government intrusion, let's look at it as another choice being put into the mix. Along with current insurance options and insurers, there would be an additional option for people who have low-paying jobs or may be long-term unemployed. Let insurers bear part of the burden, the government bear part of the burden, and the individual and company s/he works for bear part of the burden.

Small businesses could opt for a subsidized plan that covers their employees but is affordable for both the business and the individual. Why is that so threatening? Wouldn't it cost less, in the long run, to keep people healthy through preventive health care? Wouldn't business owners rather be able to say, "yes, we're small but we can provide basic health insurance."?

The current health care system has a lot of problems; rising costs -- skyrocketing costs -- among them. We need to work on containing those costs. Let's acknowledge first that among the reasons for those costs are several factors that don't improve health care (rewarding physicians for unnecessary medical procedures comes to mind) and a number of factors that are directly related to good health care or illness (research into diseases and treatments, covering medical costs for the uninsured, unhealthy lifestyles, etc.).

We need a health care system that provides preventive health care for all, shares the cost-burden among all the players as much as possible, provides incentives for good health care, eliminates excesses where they don't improve health care, and reduces costs by helping create a healthier society.

I don't know that any reform plan out there does all that. But I do believe that current reform efforts are a step in the right direction. If we move in the current reform direction, I believe we can help immigrants get health insurance, get better preventive health care, and reverse those numbers derived by the Center. And that would be good medicine in my book.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Immigration Reform Heats Up

I listened this morning to Power Breakfast from Capitol News Connection, a 2-minute briefing on a hot topic of the coming day on Capitol Hill. This Power Breakfast, by CNC Senior Correspondent Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, focused on two topics , Immigration Reform and Government Transparency. I want to focus on Immigration Reform this morning.

Immigration Reform
Legalization of America's low-skilled illegal workers (undocumented immigrants) could deliver $180B benefit to US households, according to a study released this week by the Cato Institute. The Cato Institute is a "pro-free market, libertarian think tank" in Washington DC, according to this page in wikipedia.

Their study reveals that legalization of these low-skilled workers would benefit the US economy and the immigrants. It would also reduce or eliminate many of the negative elements associated with illegal immigration: smugglers' fees, low productivity, unfilled entry-level jobs, etc.

Tighter restrictions on undocumented workers already in the US would end up costing the US economy. While restrictions may show initial costs savings, these would be offset by lower economic output and fewer job opportunities for skilled workers.

In dollars and cents:
- Tighter restrictions. reducing the number of low-skilled immigrant workers by 28.6, would show a temporary gain of 0.5 percent, or $80B. This figure was reached by projecting a reduction of US household welfare.

- Legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers could show a gain of $180B.

One conclusion from the study:
Reduced Immigration Causes Drops in Investment, Output, and Consumption

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sarah Palin -- "a flaky, intellectual lightweight "

Paul Begala thinks that Newt Gringich's advice to Sarah Palin, while good advice, is wasted on Palin because she's not in the same league as Gringrich and "almost anybody in the Republican party." I think he's correct. The best description I've read on this comes from "blak n lovingamerica," in one of the responses to the HuffPost blog.

"If we would only discuss Sarah Palin when she does something, or says something containing real substance, she would go away. People on the left should realize that Palin is a prop used by the right to get a rise out of the left. By attacking her intellegence (sic), or perceived lack thereof, it energizes their base and gives them a reason to be gratuitously mad and fight anything noble the left initiates. Palin is a small pawn that moves like a queen in a large right wing chess game. The sooner folks realize that, the sooner she'll be neutralized. Why do you think the right insists that libs are "scared of Sarah Palin?" They know it will create a strong response and some of those responses will be hateful and perpetuate the cycle."

My new term for Palin is Sensationalist Sarah. She goes for the headlines but has no substance. That's not a problem for her, however, since she can just make it up or rely on what has been made up by others. Sometimes there's a grain of truth in there somewhere, but it gets distorted, blown out of proportion, or just plain exaggerated to make headlines.

That's Sarah's job today. As "blak n lovingamerica" states so well she is the Republican Party's pawn in a game of political chess. Another term that describes her role is jester.

However, the traditional role of the Jester, as used in literature, was also to give counsel to the monarch. Only the Jester could get away with giving advice that was contrary to the monarch's already-stated desires. The Jester had the cover of being a fool to hide behind.

Is Sarah Palin hiding behind "the cover of being a fool" or is she a fool? You decide.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who is Behind Health Care Misinformation?

I don't know whether these folks oppose health insurance reform due to true conscience -- and huge change of heart about government intrusion into our lives -- or if they are playing the same old, "I lost at my turn, so now I'll cheat and make sure you lose at your turn."

Either way, some of the champions behind spreading myth and misinformation are the same people who felt that Congress should step in and take over the life-or-death decision regardng Terry Schaivo about 4 years ago.

From the Huffington Post...
"Some of the same conservative figures taking potshots at Democrats for wanting to fund voluntary discussions about end-of-life decisions between doctors and their patients were leading the charge four years ago to contravene the decision by Schiavo's husband and guardian to remove the feeding tubes from his wife after she had spent 15 years in a vegetative state."
...learn more with wikipedia information on the Terry Schiavo case...

Once again, GOPers want to have it both ways. It's interesting to note, however, that their charges of government intrusion in the health insurance reform bill are actually made up, fictitious, as in not real. The language of the bill does not mandate any end-of-life decisions. The langauge does encourage and provide incentives for end-of-life discussions between physician and patient about every 5 years.

They are getting the headlines, though. And this is confusing the heck out of a lot of people, especially those with limited access to information from both sides of the issue. Who are the people with such limited access to information? Why, in many cases, they're the very people that health insurance reform is supposed to help! They're low-income elderly who don't have cable (yes, America, not everybody in America can afford even basic cable), they're homeless, or non-English speaking, and others who aren't digitally connected to high speed Internet or aren't computer savvy.

Another problem is that sorting out this misinformation takes time. I've spent many hours reading through different viewpoints and actual text of legislation. I've had the privilege of a summer intern who did some basic research for me, bookmarking websites and getting bill #s and references so I can do a more thorough review. Not too many people have that assistance. I'll do a separate post with many of those links.

Why is the GOP so intent on spreading myth and misinformation? Could it be that they have no valid reasons to fight against health insurance reform? Is this just a GOP tactic to make it difficult for Democrats to push through reform? It isn't a stretch for me to believe that. I just look at some of the other tactics they've taken over the years when it looked as Democrats might win. The "Swift Boat" attacks on John Kerry come to mind.

The GOP seems to find it easier to make things up rather than argue the facts. The sensational headlines are an easy grab, make for more media coverage, and give them air time when they have nothing real to say. Shame on them.

Health care and health insurance reform are needed. Now. Whether the President's plan is the best one to follow, it's a start in the right direction. It does not create socialized medicine, which is something so many people fear. It creates a multi-player and multi-payer system that extends health coverage to a great many people who don't have any coverage now.

Let's face it; staying healthy is less expensive than getting sick. If we can provide health care to more people, so they stay healthy, we'll have gone a long way toward fixing a broken system.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Debunking Health Care MISinformation, 2

Many people (many, many people) don't really know what's in the huge health care bill and will never read it. They rely on journalists and others to tell them what's in it and how that affects them. That's somewhat understandable. Legislation is really dry reading. And you've got to pay attention to what section and subsections you're in so that you can piece together which facts actually affect which other facts.

Which is why I'm steamed over the current health care bill. Actually, I'm steamed over the attempts by conservatives to distort the facts and misrepresent what's in the bill. The fear-mongering and scare tactics are especially cruel to people who are currently worried about health care costs and have medical issues that mean this bill will affect them very quickly when/if it passes.

A few places where you can begin fact-checking are Debunking Health Care Misinformation, which I mentioned in Monday's blog; The Washington Post (and be sure to click on related links so you can get updated articles; and the Huffington Post. You can search for more information and I'm sure you'll find many different stories out there.

That's what is so difficult about this issue; there's so many stories out there. But many of them are not true. Why is it that lies travel faster and farther than truth? Why does health care create such a ferver and bring out the worst in the GOP?

I'm going to single out Sarah Palin because she's getting a lot of attention with statements about fear of the government "pulling the plug" on her Downs Syndrome son. That's just so blatantly untrue and demonstrates her true nature. She's a sensationalist and will use anything, including her own children, to put herself into the spotlight. I'll wager that she hasn't even read the bill! And as a key figure in her state (before her resignation) and in her party (they'll use her for as long as she can grab attention), she should have read AND UNDERSTOOD every word.

We have a few more weeks that Congress is out-of-session. Let's use the time to actually research the facts about the health care bill, understand what it means for those we represent or our family members, and then expose the lies and distortions being played out across the airwaves, Internet, and newspapers. Let's help get the truth out to our families and seniors and those who don't have access to the truth. Let's talk to the staff of our legislators and find out their views on the bill.

And for those of you can stand it, get on those radio shows and debunk those myths that are being spouted by hateful, harmful people. Me, I can't stand talk radio and cannot listen for even 5 minutes, so I'd have a hard time listening long enough to call in! But if you can stomach it, go ahead and do that part.

Then, we need to inform our legislators on what we want them to do for us. We need to bring facts to them, not rhetoric. We need to bring voters to them, not lies. We need to gather the signatures of our families and people who have learned the truth and tell our legislators what we want them to vote on and how we want them to vote.

If we don't fight back, we lose; it's that simple.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Debunking Health Care Misinformation

I still have more reading to do, but this site is a great resource for getting behind the many rumors and misinformation regarding the Health Care bill.

Check it out for yourself and see what you think. I'll post more on it later, but wanted to get this resource out there, in your view.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

PodCamp Boston 4, Part 1

I've been to the last 3 Boston PodCamps and they are evolving just as the Internet itself is evolving. What was a very grassroots, "hey, I do a podcast on this topic..." and "here's how you do a podcast" set of sessions has changed.

I do miss some of the types of sessions I encountered at my first PodCamp. It had a campy, homey, feel to it and I met a lot of everyday people who had something to say and used the Internet, specifically podcasting, to say it. And they were thrilled to help others learn the process too.

However, I am truly amazed and impressed with the change in PodCamp. I do wish it had more of the original elements along with the new elements. That would make it just right. I suspect it might draw more people too.

First, PodCamp sessions have evolved into much more technically-driven content. There still are sessions on "How Do I Turn My Dining Room into a Recording Studio?" and those very necessary basic how-to's. We need those as new people are getting into the process all the time.

The change is that there are many more sessions on ROI (return on investment) for the corporation (or non-profit), measuring the impact of social media, how to use podcasting for employee training or (B2B) business-to-business marketing, etc.

Two sessions I attended yesterday afternoon were very powerful not just because of the content, but because the presenters were less than half my age. At last year's PodCamp, we had several high school students presenting. This year, while a bit older (college age), again, young people are leading us into our future with technology. I wonder if our schools even know how to tap into the talent of some of the young people in it.

We have some very bright young minds who are grappling with the Digital Humanities -- the intersection of philosophy (yes, Plato and Socrates) and technology; looking at both the study of technology and the technology of study, among other things; -- and how social technology has changed and is changing web culture -- with an impact beyond the web, of course, which changes or influences social culture.

PodCamp Boston 4 has much more of a technical flavor to it this year. It's more about capturing and managing data than podcasting for fun. That doesn't take away from it's value. For many, it enhances the value because podcasting has become a tool for businesses and not just an outlet for the average person. And I'm glad to see topics that help non-profits use social media to engage their communities. I think non-profits really need to learn about and use social media much more than they do, but that they first must educate themselves on it. PodCamp is one education tool they could use for that.

I go to PodCamp each year even though I am not a podcaster. I don't have the time to set it all up and get things going, yet. It took me a while to carve out a space for myself to blog regularly. But I know I'll get around to it, when the time is right. Meanwhile thought, I go each year to listen, learn, share in discussions, and see where things are going. I see friends and make new friends. But mostly I go because it expands my thinking about my interactions with the world and who the shakers and movers are in the social media space. I get more resources than I'll ever use, but can always share those with someone who can use them.

So, it's back to PodCamp this morning to get more soul food. I'll have more to say after that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Web 3.0, the Philanthropic Edge

Peter Deitz, founder of Social Actions, spoke last evening at the Ethos Roundtable about Web 3.0, the Philanthropic Web. Peter founded Social Actions, whose slogan is, "you make a difference, we make it easy," to help people take action on social issues.

Social Actions is an action aggregator. An aggregator is a website that pulls in feeds from other websites. Many people are familiar with news aggregators that pull in news articles from other websites. Aggregators can work by pulling information from pre-approved or pre-selected sites, which is how Social Actions works, or by searching the web for relevant text based on a search algorithm. Social Actions targets the hubs of civic engagement opportunities on the web and aggregates the action feeds. Action feeds are the social actions people can take, such as donate something, volunteer, give to a cause, attend a rally, etc.

Here's how this works. I want to volunteer or donate or work on a social issue, etc. I could go to a search website that I already about and see if they have any opportunities that fit my interest. If they do, then I can take action on that interest and connect with the organization that listed the opportunity. But what if that search website doesn't have the opportunity I'm looking for? What if the organization with the need didn't list opportunity on the search website I know about?

Social Actions subscribes to the feed from more than 50 such websites and is actively working to add more to the list of participating organizations. If I go to Social Actions to search for my opportunity, I will get relevant information from multiple partners who have opportunities that fit my criteria. Social Actions does not list opportunities; it lets other organizations manage that while it subscribes to their feeds to provide the opportunities to the widest possible audience.

Organizations with social actions available benefit from wider posting of their opportunities. Individuals benefit from having a wider range of opportunities from which to choose. Once you find the opportunity, you click on it and go directly to the website listing that opportunity. Social Actions tracks its click-throughs so it knows how well it serves partnering organizations.

The opportunities that Social Actions lists run the gamut from youth to health to petitions to climate and many, many more. If you have a cause you care about, you'll probably find it there. And if you have a favorite search website you use to find or post opportunities, you'll probably find them on Social Actions.

Peter believes that the non-profit community should define Web 3.0 and not wait for the for-profit community to do so. That means they should create the tools they need to spread their mission, organize, get volunteers and/or donors, and -- most important --they need to define the standards for these web-based tools or others will define them.

Defining standards for Linked Data is a huge project; one that Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web (the www in those Internet addresses) and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is actively pursuing. Linked Data, simply put, is data embedded on a website that becomes searchable and usable; it links the data to other data sets (locations, news, actions, etc.) and helps create the Symantic Web*.

Currently, search engines provide lots of raw data; do a topical search and you may have thousands of possible links. Using Linked Data, the same search could narrow the results to much more relevant data, eliminating sites that may mention the keywords but are not relevant in actual context.

Once again, the Ethos Roundtable provided a timely, informative topic to the non-profit community. Deborah Finn always seems to be on the cutting edge of technology for non-profits. She knows who is "in the know" and uses Ethos Roundtable to bring them to us. Ethos Roundtable is an informal group of people who are interested in 1) measuring and extending ethos, and 2) using technology for positive social change. They meet once a month in Harvard Square (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) for discussions and presentations.

*Symantic Web: According to wikipedia, the Symantic Web is "an evolving development of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Engaging My Community Using Social Media

This morning's post is in response to the question, "How has engaging your community changed with your use of social media?" The question was posed by Amy Sample Ward as the July Net2 Think Tank. The Think Tank is sponsored by Net2d (Net Squared) which is an initiative from techsoup. The answer has multiple parts because I am part of several communities, as are most of us.

My organization is not yet using social networking tools other than to post job openings. My personal use of social networking tools is beginning to creep into the picture though. And, they are in the early stages of website redesign that will bring more community/client interaction to them through the website. They will do more with social networking, I'm sure, once they understand it better and can clarify how to use it to enhance their mission.

Client Community
For my client community, social media hasn't had as much effect on how I engage because so many of my clients are not using social media. I hope this will change and I am actually a partner in an effort, the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square, to provide the technology, tools, and training so they can engage electronically. But many of them are a long way off from doing so. Despite this, I use blogging tools to provide resources and other information to them and thus am exposing them to bits and pieces of it. It's very limited engagement, as it's primarily one way communication.

One example is a jobs posting list. We used to print out copious pages of job listings and place them in a binder and hope people would find something that fit them. It was a huge drain on resources and often out-of-date. Now, we use a blogging tool to email job postings to the blog as they arrive on our desk and link that site off our main site. Clients sit down at the public computers and can search through current listings and email their resume without ever having to print anything out. It saves time, money, and trees. It puts them in charge of the process as they can use hyperlinks to explore other job opportunities with that company too.

Even with limited use, client feedback is strongly positive. They come looking for assistance with one issue, but end up with tools that will help them work on several issues. These tools empower them, even if they're not the one using the tool. If they don't know how to use a computer or a particular tool, the Cyber Cafe often has volunteers who can work one-on-one with them to learn and yet be productive during that learning curve. They walk out the door with more options that they had when they came in the door.

Peer Community
Social networking has expanded my ability to keep up with my peers within my organization as well as in the larger community. I'm a networker. I have a question or problem -- I ask someone whom I think will know the answer. I don't care much about organizational boundaries. Someone out there probably knows the answer and I use lists, contacts, and shared contacts* to get answers. LinkedIn has good tools for that. I tend to use Facebook more, though. It just is a more relaxed, casual interface; I use it a lot for professional pursuits and I also use it for personal pursuits.

A colleague from another organization and I just set up a social networking tool for a network of organizations who meet regularly around health care access. We physically meet monthly; in the virtual world, we can meet more often and accomplish so much more; share resources, ideas, and documents; collaborate more quickly on deadline oriented issues, etc. For my tastes, having a group that combines social networking with face-to-face gatherings is ideal.

All work and no play makes Claire grumpy. So I also use social networking with my peers to be me -- playful, joking, serious, hard working... The social time we spend with people is often what drives them to come to us with a work question. In fact, I think it's very important to be able to socialize with your colleagues, away from work, occasionally. Timewise, it doesn't happen often in the real world because our days are long and the work is intense. In the virtual world, however, I can take a few minutes in the early morning or late evening and engage using social networking and do something frivolous with them. Facebook has some fun tools for that.

Volunteer Community
Volunteers are unpaid staff; that's a long-held philosophy of mine. So they need the same nurturing (if not more) as paid staff, yet I don't have a lot of time to spend with them. And many of them are not physically on site; they're on committees or work on projects remotely. Various social networking tools aide me in communicating, informing, scheduling, and generally interacting with them. Wiggio has become my recent group collaboration tool. It's fairly new and is developing new tools, but I need basic calendaring and communication for now and it does the job.

What's Coming
As I develop better CMS (content management sytem) web developer skills, I'll be converting a bunch of my websites to ones where all 3 of these communities can interact more easily, which basically means sharing my networks more broadly. What I see happening as a result is that some of these will overlap.

I don't want to lose sight of the fact that sometimes we need to keep our client community somewhat distanced from our personal communities. So I don't want too much overlap. There are times when we need to close our door and have some time for ourselves. Client needs can be overwhelming and that's where I do need boundaries. Many of our clients don't have any boundaries. So expanding social networking to meet their needs will take some balance between meeting their needs and meeting my own needs for a separate space and some "me time."

For me, spending less time on the phone trying to chase down a lead, answer, or person is one of the blessings of Web 2.0 tools. Phone tag is so wasteful. Sending an email is more productive. But using a tool that gets the message out to many, with responses from a broader community, including our clients, brings more options into play.

Options -- I like having options, especially since there are no "one size fits all" solutions to people's problems. At the end of the day, I have to remember that I am not dealing with problems, I am dealing with people. Social Networking tools put me in touch with so many more people, who arrive at solutions differently and arrive at different solutions. I end up with more information, more options, and better solutions that let me do a better job of helping the client who doesn't use social networking -- yet!

*shared contacts: for the uninitiated, my definition of a shared contact is someone who is not in my network but is in one of my network contact's network; I ask you and you ask that person and put us in touch with each other.

Friday, July 10, 2009

More on "Ask Your LawMaker"

Recently (June 7th), I posted about"Ask Your LawMaker" and this morning ran across this better description by Andy Orami that includes some analysis of the potential for this site/service.

If you want to influence lawmakers, this is an incredibly powerful tool. Simply put, if people don't use it, it won't work. If you don't have a burning question, check it out anyway and see what others are asking. You may find that what you think is something only you care about is really something that others also care about. Then you add your vote and others add their votes and you discover that your "unimportant" question is really something that a lot of people care about.

Ask Your LawMaker can only work if we use it and if we also check the questions periodically to vote on those questions that are important to us. So, check it out, see what questions people are asking, and vote for those questions that you want asked.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sarah Palin, Warrior - OR - Sarah Palin, Whiner

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's surprise announcement the other day that she is stepping down at the end of the month -- almost 18 months before the end of her first term in office -- caught a lot of people by surprise. But she's full of surprises. Many of her surprises, however, seem to stem from an acute lack of judgement rather than some innate sense of good politics or timing.

Some of the "winners" she's come up with include:

  • during the Presidential campaign, asking Steve Schmidt, chief strategist for the McCain campaing, to lie about her husband's 1995-2002 membership in the Alaska Independence Party, a secessionist Alaska organization. to related story

  • in her emails to Schmidt on the above topic, she failed to mention that she delivered the AIP's opening convention remarks in 2008 ...oops, she just forgot???

  • failure to credit author Craig Shirley & Newt Gringich for significant portions of her introduction of Michael Reagan at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts last month to recording

  • not only did she borrow liberally from their 2005 article--she mentioned Gringich but failed to mention Shirley at all--not once did she reveal that she was actually quoting heavily from their article with some slight paraphrasing to related article

    Palin has a habit of exaggerating what is, and spinning it to an out-of-control level that seems to justify her rage & retaliation; when people say unflattering things about Palin, she gets mad and when she's mad she doesn't seem to think.
    Latest case in point? Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, issued a letter stating that Palin is considering legal action against Alaskan and Huffington Post blogger Shannon Moore, as well as the Washington Post, New York Times, MSNBC, and Huffington Post. Moore was apparently individually singled out because she talked about, on national television, the rumors that Palin resigned because she is under criminal investigation. Van Flein's letter is innacurate (oh, those pesky details) and charges that Moore said it is "fact" that Palin is resigning because she is under federal investigation; in reality Moore stated that rumors have been floating for "6 weeks or two months" that Palin was under "criminal investigation." Put that together with her sudden resignation and the rumors are increasing; Moore reported on this.

    Rumors about politicos circulate all the time, but Palin felt that Moore's exposure on national television merited at attack. Moore has been put "on notice by Sarah Palin's lawyers not to speak crtically of Palin in the media." Moore did not even receive the actual letter before dozens of others received it, but when she did, on July 4th, her response was incredulity that on our national day commemorating our freedom, she received an order attempting to limit her freedom as a reporter and citizen or be subject to legal action. Of course, since nothing she said is libelous, Moore will ignore the letter and continue to report.

    In reading through many blogs and other articles to create this post, I came away with one major impression of Sarah Palin. She's a whiner. Rather than gather facts, admit faults, and deal with reality, Palin goes after the person who points out her deficits and declares war. She is upset that the media picks on her, points out her flaws, demands accountability, and reports on her mistakes. Uh, that's part of their job, isn't it?

    This woman thought she was qualified to be our Vice President. She'd be the person to take charge if the President were unable to complete a term of office. And she cannot deal with the scrutiny of her actions while in office? We are talking about scrutiny of her actions related to office, not her personal life, so she had better learn to take the heat and perhaps starting thinking before she makes some of those questionable decisions that brought the heat on in the first place.

    Sarah Palin, Warrior? NOT! Sarah Palin, Whiner? YES!

    For a more indepth, but unflattering, look at Palin, check out Vanity Fair's lengthy article by Todd Purdum .
  • H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

    What sounds good on the surface -- the protection of our food supply system -- seems to have a number of people and groups up in arms against what they say is a badly written piece of legislation that will end organic farming as we know it today.

    "To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes."

    The bill, H.R. 875, is now in committee. It would put food safety monitoring and control under the a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate is considering a similar bill, S. 425, and the House also has a substitute bill, H.R. 759.

    At a time when food-borne incidents are widespread and growing, it's time for some type of action. However, good intent does not always mean good results. A petition organized by the Natural Solutions Foundation is solidly against the bill, although it supports removing food supply oversight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Organic farmers are afraid the bill will force them to feed chemicals to their food animals, spray chemicals on crops, and generally eliminate "organic farming" as a chemical-free alternative. I haven't found this stated in the bill, but can imagine that the proposed Food Safety Administration could do this because of what is left out of the bill.

    Congress must listen to its constituents, including the small farmers and individual voters. Small farmers and micro- and mini-agricultural businesses, which describes many organic food suppliers, need not be legislated to the same degree as large agricultural suppliers.

    What I do not know, and therefore am cautious about, is who is really behind both sides of the issue. Some claim that large chemical manufacturers that produce chemicals for the agriculture industry are behind these bills. Opponents of the bill claim that small, organic farms will be too tightly regulated--but who is and what are behind these claims? I cannot imagine that the growing business of organic farms is composed only of very small businesses. In the tug-of-war over legislation, it's important to do some fact-finding before jumping on the bandwagon of either side.

    Some questions the legislation, as currently written, bring to my mind include:
  • how will it affect the farmers markets across the nation?
  • will it severely burden small farmers who provide produce locally?
  • who will staff this new department (credentials, influence, etc.) to protect consumers not just from "bad food" but also from large chemical manufacturers that want to chemically enhance all our food supply?

  • I'm sure you can think of a few questions too. The sites I've linked to in this article will bring you to a number of others. You can do your own research and make your own decision as to whether this is good or bad legislation.

    Friday, June 26, 2009

    "Don't Tell People You're Poor; Say You're Broke -- Broke is Temporary"

    Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said those were his grandmother's words when he grew up "broke" in Chicago. The Governor's comments came during the unveiling of the Massachusetts Asset Development Commission's report on an 18-month study of effective ways to help "broke" people move out of poverty.

    Asset Development programs help low-to-moderate income people develop assets so they can move off of public assistance and out of poverty. It has taken advocates many years to get policy makers to understand that people will never be able to move off of public assistance if getting a job and moving toward self-sufficiency means they have less to live on and pay their bills than when they received public assistance.

    The current system is filled with disincentives to people getting trying to get off assistance. Part of the dilemma is that many public assistance programs prevent people from having assets -- assets that are the means by which they can move off such assistance. When people are getting back to work, they get cut off of public assistance too soon. They are not permitted to have sufficient assets to cushion unexpected crises or to move towards greater self-sufficiency. If they're a single parent, child care costs are prohibitive and they need greater assistance in this area. If they're unskilled, they need job training. And the system prevents many people from getting to jobs.

    For example, it's often difficult to get to job interviews or a job without a car, but a car is an asset. The value of that asset can prevent someone from getting assistance, or, eliminate assistance they are getting if the value of the car is more than a certain amount. The price of today's cars means even an older, deteriorating car is a barrier.

    Among the Commission's recommendations; raise some of these asset limits, permit people to have more money in the bank, provide greater child care assistance, and more. I'll give more detail on the Commission's recommendations later, in a separate post.

    An OpEd, How Not to Help the Poor, and an article, Sweeping Welfare Changes on Tap, in yesterday's Boston Globe have more information.

    While the spotlight yesterday was on the Asset Development Commission, I was privileged to have worked with Sandy Venner, Policy Director, and Jonas Parker, then Principal Researcher, of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, over the past few years. They not only worked closely with the Commission and many agencies to design and collect the study data, but they made themselves available to us (agency staff) to help us understand what the data meant. Both are able to present the information in non-jargon terms and with a human face behind the data.

    The report is available as a download via the link to Brandeis above and at the Asset Development Commission website.