Privacy: And How to Get It Back

Earlier this year author B.J. Mendelson emailed me and asked if I would like to talk with him about privacy and personal data in the era of Facebook. That was right about the time I decided to end the regular podcast so we didn't connect for a talk, but he kindly sent me a copy of his book Privacy: And How to Get It Back. I've recently had time to read the book, and since I have also recently deleted myself from Facebook, I thought it was a good time to finally get this review done.

Mendelson approaches this subject with humor and snark, and an eye toward what we can do about the use of our data in the 21st century. His book also ends each chapter with a summary, making it useful as a reference tool or textbook of sorts. It would be beneficial just to read this book so everyone can understand all the ways in which we generate data every day and how that in turn is used and sold. It's clear that we've plowed headlong into the era of social media with little forethought. But beyond that, Mendelson takes the time to give a brief history of privacy, data collection, and the laws and behaviors of the government and companies even going all the way back to the late 18th century. We may have new ways of blithely putting information about our lives out where anyone can find it, but in many ways it's not new. It's just much easier now for that information to be bought, sold, and misused.

And to be sure this goes far beyond social media (for a more Social Media centered book, read Mendelson's
Social Media Is Bullshit). Everything from our growing "Internet-of-Things" to our DNA profile is potentially on the sales block, and the laws that exist in the US are woefully inadequate. But not all is lost and there is a lot you can do to protect yourself in the online world. Start by reading this book to actually comprehend what's going on in the black box of modern data collection. And when you're done, Mendelson offers up a long list of further reading at the end of the book. We're living in the time that Carl Sagan feared, where more and more people rely on technology they don't understand. B.J. Mendelson's book will arm you with some valuable tools to combat your own ignorance, so that you can join others in leaning on the government and tech companies to behave better. We got here very quickly and the road back might be slow, but now is always a good time to start.

B.J. Mendelson, is a keynote speaker, author, and comic book writer. His books include Social Media Is Bullshit from St. Martin’s Press and Privacy: And How We Can Get It Back from Curious Reads. His comic books include Vengeance, Nevada and A National Story of Minor Significance.

Buy his books here
Buy his comics here
Support his newest comic creation here
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What Kind Of Freedom

We want freedom. We want freedom to think and be as we wish to be. We want to say that anyone can be whatever religion or not that they want, love who they want to love. We are free to think as we wish and we are free to express those thoughts. Yet there are limits and I can’t wrap my head around how you set or enforce them. We don’t have thoughcrime, and I do not think we should ever go that far. We live in a time when we do say that screaming “nigger go back to Africa” at somebody is not ok. But can we address the underlying thought? We can change laws but how do we keep a parent from passing that mentality on to a child? Can we? Do we have a right?

Some people, like those who voted for Trump, feel marginalized, and he spoke to their fears. People shouldn’t feel left behind or left out, but if they are because they hate brown people or think that gays should be put to death, do we change their minds? Do we just let them carry on hidden in the shadows? Do we isolate them and hope they die out?

How do we have freedom and equality when so many people still hold firmly to outdated, outmoded beliefs? To remove cancer from the body we use chemicals, radiation, and even surgically remove parts of the body. Can we do the same to thoughts we no longer find acceptable? I think it’s mostly forgotten in the 21st century that the term ‘meme’ did not always mean funny internet thing. It was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. A meme is the societal/cultural equivalent of a gene, an idea or behavior that can be passed to others. So it can be insightful to think of something like racism not just as an attitude or something that parents can teach their children through example, but even beyond that, as a meme that has imparted some perceived survival benefit to some group of people. It get passed down because the people who have this attitude are more successful that people in their group who do not. I don’t have any idea how big these groups might be. Probably small, family groups, or just the town you live in.

Changes in environment can change pressures enough so that certain gene traits die out. Changes in food sources or temperature mean that what once was a beneficial genetic specialization becomes ineffective. With unacceptable memes I’m not sure the same works. Like I said, we’ve changed laws. We tell people you can’t do that or say that in public. But it hasn’t died out. Will it just take more time? I return again to my concern that we just sweep it under the rug where it will fester until bursting out again in 20 years.

I don’t have answers here, I wish I did. All I know is that we need to do much better at dealing with the divisions of race, sex, gender, and religion if we are ever to evolve as a civilization.
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Air and Education

I heard a discussion on the radio today about the upcoming changes to the Supreme Court, as it related to education issues. I missed some of the conversation so I don’t know if there was a specific issue in question. But the gist of the issue was whether education and literacy are a right or a privilege for all American children, regardless of their means.
I think it is neither a right or a privilege. Literacy is a necessity. Like air, food, and water are essential for a living individual, so are literacy and education for for a living society. Without these basic essentials, civilization withers back to, at best, an agrarian existence, people spending all day in the fields, hoping that disaster stays far enough away to let them live another day. Just as a minimal amount of air, food, and water can sustain a living thing, a minimal education would allow a group of people to muddle along and continue as they are into the future.
But, given enough food to have all the best nutrition, enough water to use extra for sanitation, a safe place to sleep at night, an individual, relieved of the stress of mere survival, can thrive and grow, and pass along that benefit to other individuals. A healthy mother has healthy children.
Just the same, a society, given a good education, full literacy, and an ability to reason and think critically, think beyond immediate needs of survival, can grow. A healthy mind has a healthy culture. Given an opportunity to cultivate new ideas, ideas that stretch far beyond merely moving from cradle to grave while birthing offspring in the middle. Maybe some people would rather live merely as small village farmers or nomadic gatherers, as most people once did, but we have come so much farther. And we have much farther to go. I believe the only way out is through, and the key to the door is education.


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Why Our Brains Suck #1

Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds

"As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.

Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about."


This article is a fairly long read, but well worth your time. We humans are not nearly as good at reasoning as we think we are. It's up to each of us to constantly ask ourselves "why do I think what I think, why do I think I know what is true". It's not easy, but it's a skill that is perhaps more essential to learn than any other as we move further into the 21st century.
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Words of peace from The Dude

This was an interesting read: Jeff Bridges searches for peace in Trump's America, come 'Hell or High Water'

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Give it a look, Mr. Bridges makes interesting points and a compelling case. I think it's essential for our progress and survival to heed the call for level-headedness. As I occasionally give in to reading comments on posts or what people who share news items say about what they share, I am struck by the raw and violent hate I see coming from all sides of an argument. Every disagreement seems to immediately escalate into all out war. If that can't be stopped, we may as well take up arms now and get our next civil war over with.

I do have one point of disagreement with Bridges. From his closing: "We don't know what's right and wrong, you know, completely, it's our opinion." In matters of personal judgment I agree, but where science and scientific consensus can more completely inform our judgments, I think there is much less room for opinion. And that perhaps is one area that is now causing so much of the hate. I think many people are not comfortable being confronted with the idea that science can invalidate their opinions. As a theme this year, the need to communicate scientific consensus better than we do is ongoing. I'm still not sure what the answer is, but someone once told me sometimes all you can do is live as a good example, and don't sink into the mud with the arguing and hate. I think The Dude would abide.
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Laws Change, But What About People?

We can change laws. We can grow as humans and at certain tipping points we decide that what has been is no longer right, and to properly instigate widespread change, we enact laws. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves over 150 years ago. Almost 100 years ago women won the right to vote. Only recently we have legalized the rights of gay people to get married. But in this election year it is clear that while laws change, people don't always change with them.

Growing up I thought my generation would be more open than the previous one, but there is so much raw, gut-level hate flying about in our public forums this year I begin to doubt my feelings. Are less people racist, and the ones who still are, are just a lot louder than they've ever been? Or is the situation worse than it was before Obama took office? They call him muslim, foreigner, socialist, communist, dictator, liar, fascist, even anti-christ… all because they cannot openly call him nigger. His election did not end the discussion about racism, it opened the final book on the subject we were afraid to open, and 50 years after Dr. King marched on Selma, there is still a long way to go.

In 1995 Walmart pulled t-shirts from its stores that said "Someday a woman will be president" for fear of offending. A whopping ONE complaint was actually received. The store claimed the short was counter to it's family values. Mother, wife, caretaker, live giver, lover, it's all good as long as she stays in the kitchen.

It saddens me to think that 100 years from now, gay people will still be attacked for holding hands in public. I don't know what the answer is. At one time I thought hate would just die out when it was no longer codified by law, but now I think I'm wrong. For civilization to thrive and survive, we have to be better today than we were yesterday.
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